Allergy and emotional stress: some hints for a world yet to be discovered


14304963_mFor years we heard that evaluating the levels of type-E immunoglobulins (IgE), those responsible for classic allergic reactions, such as hay fever or asthma, up to severe anaphylactic shock, allows to precisely defining the “physical” state of a person, while excluding emotional or psychological phenomena at the grounds.

In short, the fact that a person presents this type of immunoglobulins (those highlighted by the “little scratches on the arm”, that is, the Prick or RAST tests) against a specific type of pollen, a certain aliment or substance, has always been thought to be true and not something that can be manipulated: the patient has IgE, that’s all. He/she has to become aware of that since this is a “real” problem, not an imaginary one as for years many forms of allergy, hypersensitivity or food-related inflammation have been considered.

Instead, a few days ago, a study carried out by a team of allergologists, psychiatrists and virologists from several American universities, published on the Annals of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology, has confirmed what our illustrious Nobel Laureate Rita Levi-Montalcini had claimed with precision for years (KL Heffner et al, Ann Allergy Asthma Immunol. 2014 April 10. pios: S1081-1206 (14) 00192-6. doi:10.1016/j.anai.2014.03.008. [Epub ahead of print]).

I like to remember that I grew up in a training medical environment, in which my father used to claim the existence of such a link already several years before its actual definition, back when it was not possible to assess the interconnections between the nervous and the immune system.

The psycho-emotional state associated to conditions of alarm, worry or anxiety, is a sufficient trigger (and I even claim it is also necessary) to activate an IgE-based response as well as to induce a number of adaptive immune responses in the whole organism.

The change in IgE levels can be very rapid, almost immediate, as one would expect in a biological system that has undergone millions of years of evolution. In fact, this is exactly what happens.

For years, allergologists considered IgE values ​​as parameters not easy to change, whereas the study of the American team probably clarifies that the IgE absolute values may remain high, but certainly their action changes. These are not anymore IgE with high affinity (which generate reactivity, rhinitis, hives, anaphylactic shock), instead they become low-affinity ones, still present in the body but pretty harmless.

It may mean that the body is always able to activate a switch, such as a cytokine or a neurotransmitter, that can disable (or enable, on the contrary) the IgE-mediated reaction.

All this is to say that the solution to any allergic problem is no longer linked to the allergenic substance or to IgE. A third ingredient (personal and linked to psyche) comes powerfully into play and may become instrument of true healing.

The American researchers used a very simple model, applied to the allergic rhinitis. People clearly affected by such condition performed the Prick skin test (based on the tiny “scratches” on the arm, used to evaluate pollen-triggered IgE), and were then asked to run a validated test of emotional distress, followed by more “scratches” done after the test.

Significantly, the values ​​of skin reaction changed in relation to the test itself, highlighting higher changes in those people who stressed the most during the test.

It is extremely interesting to note that this does not happen to Prick tests linked to histamine (used as controls), which instead remain unchanged. The real switch happens on the greater or smaller activation of the IgE response, to testify the ability of the organism to activate or silence the responses in relation to the psycho-emotional state, in a quick and non-pharmacological way.

In our clinic, after many years we have become used to tackle allergic diseases through specific treatment programs, which always consider the role of food and food-related inflammation, as well as of the actual presence of IgE and, of course, of the type of emotional component present in the individual.

This is, in other words, a new integrated view that can often help healing clinical cases of patients only considered as “treatable” with symptomatic drugs.

Still, there is a long way to go for science, even though every single small piece provided or described towards this direction is needed to contribute to a global vision and a plan for the future in which every person is viewed as made of flesh and heart and not only of mere measurable antibodies.