As you may remember, I was feeling rather ill early in the week. I’ve had a nasty cold since last Friday, in which my throat was on fire and coughing was a killer. One day I drank apple cider vinegar and raw honey all day [Homemade Cough Syrup and Other Remedies], the next I decided to try sipping vodka. I spent way too many days sleeping on the couch, and I’m still not fully recovered. My throat made me not want to eat much, and my newly-worsened propylene glycol allergy meant that there were limited foods to eat that were both edible and didn’t feel like knives going down. The result: I lost five pounds.
What was strange about this event is not that I lost weight, but that a gradual allergic reaction spread across my upper body. On the first day, my forearms developed red, rashy spots. On the second day, the rash moved all the way up to my elbows. On the third day, the rash began to itch more and spread onto the backs of my hands and my scalp. On the fourth day, I had successfully treated the rashes on my arms but the back of my neck and shoulders was itching like mad. I wasn’t eating my allergens because I was hardly eating at all, and I wasn’t coming into contact with them because I was barely leaving my nest. Yes, stress can cause histamine release, triggering allergy symptoms, but I wondered if there was more to it than that. Could weight loss cause allergic reactions?
My first thought that was that my chemical allergens could be stored in fat tissue and released when the fat is used by the body. This study suggests that depending on the chemical allergen, this is indeed possible. The article states that adipose (fat) tissue has the ability to protect the body by regulating and reducing toxic exposure to persistent organic pollutants (and other lipophilic, xenobiotic chemicals, or chemicals that are easily absorbed by fat tissue and are foreign to the human body) by storing them and releasing them slowly back into the body. Weight loss speeds their release, leading to increased allergy symptoms. Fat loss also leads to higher concentrations of these chemicals in the blood, which leads to temporary take-up of more of these chemicals by the remaining fatty tissue. This is why excessive weight loss can be dangerous for anyone. Overall, weight loss does tend to lead to a slight long-term decrease in this chemical load in the body, as the body excretes these chemicals through feces, and also through pregnancy and lactation.
In addition, some of these persistent organic pollutants are considered obesogens, meaning that they cause or interrupt processes in the body that affect fat storage, leading to weight gain (or lack of weight loss). What is even more disturbing is that these chemicals can have an even greater (possibly lifetime) effect on children when those children are exposed in the womb, in early life, and during puberty. Our desire for convenience and simplicity in food, and body and home care choices while caring for young children (not to mention teens’ desires to experiment with popular body care trends) can have long-term effects on their well-being and risk of later-in-life obesity.
Some persistent organic pollutants have been shown to increase LDL cholesterol and plaques in the blood, not to mention acting on pathways related to certain common cancers. Finally, many of these chemicals have the ability to create inflammation, disrupt metabolism, and encourage the development of metabolic diseases like diabetes. Scary stuff, and a lot more than I bargained for by asking this question.
But are there any other reasons why a cold and weight loss might cause allergic reaction symptoms? Everyone knows the work that free-floating white blood cells do in fighting off infection. Mast cells are another type of cell that are located in most tissues throughout the body, especially ones that contact the outside environment, and act as first-alert “master switches” on immune activation. While mast cells detect a pathogen, including both infections and allergens, they activate myriad releases of mediating chemicals (including histamines), tailored to the type of incursion (as best the body can do). Histamines are the chemicals that lead to typical allergic reaction symptoms such as rashes and inflammation, and they help to attract other immune system components to the site of the defense breach. [The Role of Mast Cells in the Defence against Pathogens] [About Mast Cells – What are they and why should we care?]
Histamine release by mast cells can also be triggered by stress, and stress is both emotional and physical. Thus it is possible that the combined stress of weight loss and fighting a bad cold caused sufficient histamine release to worsen my symptoms. The combination of release of chemicals from fatty tissue and the release of histamine from stress on the body could be sufficient to cause my symptoms, with the caveat that I need to better understand whether my specific allergens are lipophilic (soluble in fat) enough to be stored in fat.
My study of these mechanisms brought a lot of interesting factors to light, most notably that there are toxic chemicals within our bodies that do not substantially dissipate over time. Thus it would be prudent to do what we can to avoid increasing that chemical load and further burden our bodies. When society at large is moving in the opposite direction, it is up to the individual to make choices to reverse that trend, if not for society, then at least for themselves and their families.
As next Monday is Family Day, Default to Nature will return with a new post next Friday.