Fifty years ago, just one in 30 Americans was diagnosed with allergies, according to Dr. Leo Galland. Today, that number is as many as one in three.
Galland, a board-certified internist with a private practice in New York City, has spent more than four decades studying and treating allergic diseases such as asthma, hay fever and eczema as well as hidden allergies that lead to digestive problems, weight gain, fatigue, depression and chronic pain.
That research convinced Galland that a more effective treatment for allergies than drugs is food — and he’s devised very specific strategies for treating them. He discusses them in his one-hour public television program, The Allergy Solution, airing as a pledge program on many PBS stations this month. Check local listings for scheduling information..
This pioneer in integrative medicine has impressive medical credentials: He graduated from Harvard University and New York University School of Medicine, has taught at Albert Einstein Medical College and Stony Brook University School of Medicine, and received the prestigious Linus Pauling Award in Functional Medicine.
Book and TV Program
The idea for his public television program grew out of the research Galland was doing for his latest book, also called The Allergy Solution, co-written with his son, Jonathan.
The dramatic worldwide increase in allergies is the result of the interaction between the food we eat and our changing environment.
— Dr. Leo Galland
“I didn’t go into writing the book with a well-formed idea that, ‘Oh, this is the reason we have an allergy epidemic,’” Galland told me in an interview. “The project evolved out of my clinical experience. When you’re treating patients, you see a lot of individual phenomena. When you try to make sense of all that for a book, you have to go to the world medical literature to corroborate and support and expand and inform your observations. That’s when you start seeing patterns you knew were there all along. They just become very, very clear.”
In his practice, he sees patients with “traditional” reactions, such as sneezing, wheezing, eczema and asthma, as well as those who never traced their debilitating headaches, joint pain, digestive woes, mood swings or ADHD to allergy.
“That’s how I got the idea to write a self-help book for people to identify whether they have a hidden allergy and what to do about it,” he says.
When reviewing the medical literature, as well as government statistics, Galland was amazed at the numbers.
“What is clear from the data is the frequency with which allergic reactions show up in blood tests of random people. That number has increased quite substantially — you can even say dramatically — over the past forty years, from roughly five to ten percent of the population to over fifty percent.”
Those numbers are just as shocking around the globe, Galland says. “Roughly a billion people in the world have allergic diseases,” he notes. “About half of them have allergic rhinitis and maybe a quarter have asthma, and there’s some overlap.”
‘Hidden Truths’ About Allergies
The information-packed yet entertaining program is divided into three parts: the premise, in which Galland posits that allergies are caused by an imbalance in the immune system; the middle, where he discusses allergies and weight gain and the final part, which focuses on the digestive tract, since, he says, two-thirds of our immune system resides in the gut.
“The dramatic worldwide increase in allergies is the result of the interaction between the food we eat and our changing environment,” Galland opines early in the show (and states repeatedly in the book). “One hundred years ago allergies were very rare,” he says. “Today they’re among the most common disorders in the world.”
The good news, he says, is that you can reclaim robust health by restoring the immune system to its natural state of balance. But first you need to do some detective work. In the program, Galland describes what he calls four “hidden truths” that can affect your health:
- Fast food — consumed three times a week — causes allergies because of the fat, sugar and other detrimental ingredients, as well as the fact that these meals “rob” you of healthy and immune-balancing nutrients you’d get in other foods.
- Allergies like disguises, so they’re not always easily diagnosable.
- Common triggers often hide in plain sight under assumed names. For instance, wheat may be called starch or flour; soy goes by the alias lecithin or TVP; corn may be known as maltodextrin or dextrose and dairy is often called caseinate in soups and sauces.
- Allergies start in your gut.
Allergies and Aging
In our conversation, Galland referenced the “misconception that allergies start in childhood. They actually can start at any age,” he says, leading up to a very important point for boomers.
“The impact of allergies on aging is significant, affecting energy, quality of life, appearance, weight, strength and stamina,” he says. “Many disorders associated with age — cognitive decline, heart disease, cancer, diabetes and obesity — are associated with chronic low-grade inflammation. And a significant factor in provoking inflammation is allergy. While all allergy causes inflammation, not all inflammation is allergic in its mechanisms, meaning the epidemic of allergies in the world today is very hard to separate out from the epidemic of inflammation and inflammatory disorders that are affecting baby boomers.”
How to Detect and Eliminate Allergies
In both the show and the book, Galland guides the audience through his program for detecting allergies (largely with a very detailed food diary), “power-washing” the immune system with a three-day detox diet (a specific smoothie, soup and oolong tea) and then re-introducing foods systematically to pinpoint any triggers.
Two additional, and hugely important, elements of the program are cleaning out your home, especially of mold, dust mites and toxic products, and packing your diet full of immune-supportive foods and supplements, like probiotics.
While Galland’s cleansing program may be, as he says, “simple,” it’s not easy. But it is eminently do-able.
“There are two things that people need to be able to make important life changes,” he told me. “Motivation and reinforcement. Part of being an adult and a responsible human being is recognizing that the choices and decisions you make have an impact on you and on other people. You have to decide whether it’s easier to live without resisting social pressure and feeling as crummy as you feel or whether you’d rather feel energetic and vibrant and free of pain.”
But those who make the sacrifice agree it’s worth it. As Galland told me, “If you’re walking around in an allergic state all the time, you don’t know how well you could feel until you manage to break out of it. There are so many limitations on well-being that people accept as a manifestation of getting older, and when they can overcome that, they’re just blown away by how they didn’t need to be feeling like that.
“I would almost guarantee that once you’ve done this, you’re not going to want to go back to your old way of eating.”