Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Allergies, Asthma, and “Mental” Illness

When most people hear the word “allergies” they think of sneezing, drippy noses, red eyes, and maybe some wheezing and congestion. Some people may think of hives or maybe even an anaphylactic reaction to food or insect bite allergies. Some may also visualize allergic people feeling fatigued, and having slowed, fuzzy thinking. They feel sick and lethargic, and indeed may even get more frequent infections.

But most people do not connect “seasonal allergies” and even “asthma” to more severe brain symptoms such as Major Depressive Disorder, and children’s “raging” and prolonged tantrums. Yet that connection exists. Remember the scene in my book about Keri’s summer of allergies segueing into the deep dark depths of depression? After decades of observant parents noticing that connection, mainstream media is finally reporting on the research validating those observations.

One newspaper, in their carefully mainstream, conservative science news section, ran an article [1] about allergies being linked to a higher risk of depression, anxiety, and possibly even an increase in suicide, explaining a cause-effect scenario involving allergic inflammation affecting a brain neurotransmitter (thereby affecting mood).

Unfortunately, I saw other outlets reporting on the same research perpetuating the misconception that “psychiatric” (medical) is the same as “emotional” or “psychological” with misleading headlines (and text) about allergies causing “emotional problems” or being “psychologically harmful”[2] implying that having allergies causes so much emotional distress that the person’s personality becomes… what?… distorted in some way, and if only they had stronger character the inflammatory process causing brain function changes would not happen? No wonder the general public is confused and stigma persists about the illnesses that affect brain function, those that we term “mental illness.” The pattern of blaming the victim persists, in part, due to such reporting.

What does the actual research say about both allergies and asthma and the higher risk of “mental” illness? As we’ve previously discussed, allergic reactions release inflammatory cytokines.[1,2] The inflammation is said to precede symptoms as severe as bipolar disorder.[3] Now, scientists are saying the cytokines might reduce levels of the hormone/neurotransmitter serotonin, which helps maintain feelings of well-being.[1,2]

To complicate matters, some common allergy and asthma medications including those with corticosteroids and/or salmeterol can cause anxiety, mood swings, insomnia, hallucinations,[1,3,4] and paranoia[5].

The next big questions are 1- Is there other scientific medical research about the connection between asthma/allergies and “mental” illness, and 2- Why are there more cases of allergies and asthma?

In answer to #1 – Yes. Remember in my book I talked about the hypothalamic-pituitary axis? From an article in 2008 titled: “A Review of Candidate Pathways Underlying the Association Between Asthma and Major Depressive Disorder:”[6]
Results: MDD [Major Depressive Disorder] occurs in almost half of patients with asthma assessed in tertiary care centers. Dysregulation of the hypothalamic pituitary adrenal axis may predispose people to both MDD and asthma, and similar alterations in the immune, autonomic nervous, and other key systems are apparent and may contribute to this increased risk of co-occurrence.

Conclusions: High rates of MDD in asthma may result from the stress of chronic illness, the medications used to treat it, or a combination of the two. The high level of co-occurrence may also reflect dysregulation of certain stress-sensitive biological processes that contribute to the pathophysiology of both conditions.
Which leads to question #2 - why are more children ill with asthma and allergies? Theories abound, with many leading back to the gut/probiotic/brain connection. These theories include the increased prevalence in babies being delivered via C-section (referenced in my book), as well with the increased use of antibiotics[7].

In a study of antibiotic use in infants:[8]
Babies given antibiotics before the age of six months are up to 70 per cent more likely to develop asthma later in childhood . . .

In a report on their findings, the Yale researchers blamed the drugs for upsetting the balance of protective microbes in a baby's gut, which help to ward off illness in the early stages of life.

'Very early microbial exposure, particularly in the intestinal tract, seems necessary for a mature and balanced immune system in childhood.

'Antibiotic use, especially broad spectrum antibiotics, may alter microbial flora in the gut, thereby causing imbalances in the immune system and a poor allergic response.'
Doing a further search on the allergy-asthma connection we find links to acetaminophen use in infants (increasing risk of both asthma and eczema)[9], stress during pregnancy[10], and even the excessive consumption of fast-food hamburgers (more than 3 per week)[11].

Which in my mind just leads full circle to the fact that environmental stressors on the organism, whether due to toxins (constantly increasing in our world), absence of normal gut biota, emotional traumas, poor nutrition, poor sleep, poor health, etc… leads to inflammation and immune malfunction, mitochondrial dysfunction, more poor sleep, more poor health, more stress, etc.

Remember what different doctors both said about my daughter’s illness – that it was systemic—body-wide—not just “in her head?” One factor affects multiple parts affecting the whole of the person, even though modern medicine is set up to just look at pieces of us.

Our job is to break the cycle. Heal the whole.

This post is long enough. I haven’t even touched on “brain allergies” which are so commonly associated with reactions to foods and chemicals.

Here is interesting reading on that topic: BRAIN ALLERGIES.
Be sure to see the books and video below!

This video news story about a boy with autism really resonated with me with talk about the boy’s illness affecting the WHOLE BODY, causing pain and affecting mitochondria and the gut … or should we say when something affects the gut and the mitochondria, and causes pain, the WHOLE BODY is affected.
Autism Now: Meet Nick, Robert MacNeil's Grandson, PBS NewsHour, PBS Video
Related article: Autism Is Not a “Mental Illness”

If you read nothing else, at least get some ideas from my book, and read this books by Dr. Doris Rapp, MD - pediatrician, allergist, and board-certified specialist in environmental medicine, and watch this video!!

WATCH this child get "bipolar" and perseverate with just a drop of pollen!

Here is Dr. Doris Rapp's website:

If you have read my book, you'll know - our lives would have been at least partially better if we had read her book twenty years ago!

Related Books:
Food Sensitivity TESTS:
Learn more about healing your gut, and other tests available: Gut, Brain, Bacteria, and Behavior

[1] "Studies link allergies to higher depression risk" Lexington Herald-Leader 12 April, 2011.

[2] New York Times Are Allergies and Depression Related?

[3] Inflammation of Body and Brain

[4] See listed side effects for Advair, pseudoephedrine and Benadryl.

[5] "It’s Not Mental" (the book) by Jeanie Wolfson

[6] A Review of Candidate Pathways Underlying the Association Between Asthma and Major Depressive Disorder Psychosomatic Medicine February/March 2009 vol. 71 no. 2 187-195

[7] Babies given antibiotics before six-months have a higher asthma risk

[8] Gut, Brain, Bacteria and Behavior

[9] Acetaminophen may raise asthma risk in kids
Study covered pain reliever's use among children in 31 countries

[10] Pregnancy Stress Ups Kids' Asthma Risk Study Shows Stress on Moms May Affect Child's Immune Response

[11] Hamburgers Linked to Asthma Risk in Kids Study Shows Higher Risk for Asthma in Kids Who Eat 3 or More Burgers a Week

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Last Updated: 23 March 2012


[M] said...

Have you read the book "Brain Allergies: The Psychonutrient and Magnetic Connections" ?

I think you would really like it. It has a wealth of information. Here is the amazon link...

Herb said...

In March, 2008, I posted a comment to the effect that I hoped that, in the future, researchers would recognize that pharmaceuticals, many times, are stressors in themselves. While there have been studies linking antibiotics with asthma, I wonder if there has been any study that might suggest a link between antibiotics and autism, as there has been an alleged link with vaccines. After all the onset of autism seems to increase around age 2 about the same time use of antibiotics increases.

Anonymous said...

Sometimes researchers are too smart for their own good and become moderately retarded. When the asthma or allergies show stronger/more severe symptoms or than usual, the person would be more depressed than otherwise

Charlotte said...

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Baby Allergies and Conditions