Eating apples cures birch pollen allergies
In the AppleCare project, a research team led by the Laimburg Research Centre developed a natural treatment to cure birch pollen allergies.
“An apple a day keeps the doctor away,” as they say; and once again, the old adage has proven to be grounded in compelling scientific rationale: In their work on the AppleCare project, an interdisciplinary research team coordinated by molecular biologist Thomas Letschka from the Laimburg Research Centre developed a treatment for birch pollen allergy which is based on the consumption of apples. In cooperation with the Laimburg Research Centre, the Dermatology Department of the South Tyrol Health Service, the Organic Chemistry Institute at the University of Innsbruck and the Clinic for Dermatology, Venereology and Allergology at the Medical University of Innsbruck also participated in the project. The team recently presented their treatment to the public; one patient who had suffered from a birch pollen allergy for many years, was intolerant to apples and was one of the AppleCare project test subjects has also spoken on the topic.
A patient who had been suffering from birch pollen allergy for years and who had participated in the AppleCare study as one of the test subjects reported on her experience.
Aim: Natural treatment of birch pollen allergies without synthetic medicine.
“An allergy is an inflammatory malfunction of the immune system in response to a specific substance,” explains Klaus Eisendle, Chief of the Dermatology Department at Bolzano hospital. “On first contact, the body generate antibodies to this substance, and more and more antibodies are added with each further contact until the body overreacts, typically manifesting as symptoms which include swelling, redness, chronic fatigue and so on.” In South Tyrol, 20 to 25% of the population suffer from allergies. The main triggers are pollen, pets and mites.
Birch pollen allergy peaks in Mach and April and affects one in five people in central Europe - a figure which is rising significantly, equally so in Tyrol and South Tyrol. The most common symptoms are swollen, red mucous membranes, a runny nose and sneezing, burning, watery eyes, fatigue and headaches. Many patients have no option other than to curb the symptoms with synthetic medicines or undergo extensive, protracted hyposensitisation therapy.
In view of these facts, the objective of the AppleCare project was to create a natural immunotherapy treatment to cure birch pollen allergies. “In immunotherapy treatment, allergenic substances are introduced into the body in small quantities which are gradually increased until the body has become accustomed to them and ceases to perceive them as a foreign body,” explains Bettina Nothegger from the Medical University of Innsbruck.
The founding premise of the project was the observation that people who suffer from birch pollen allergies also have an allergic reaction to apples and exhibit the same symptoms.
Cross-reaction between apples and birch pollen
How does the treatment actually work? In developing their immunotherapy treatment, the interdisciplinary research team made use of the structural similarities between birch pollen - which triggers an allergic reaction - and a related protein contained in the apple.
Some fruits - predominantly apples, but also peaches and cherries, and vegetables such as carrots, celery, fennel and nuts - contain particular proteins which are very similar to birch pollen allergens, and can trigger classic allergic reactions. This is known as a cross-allergy. And indeed, apple allergens (Mal d 1) and birch pollen allergens (Bet v 1) are barely distinguishable from one another. These similarities were analysed closely in the AppleCare project with the purpose of developing a natural treatment for birch pollen allergies.
The fundamental principle of the treatment is that controlled intake of apple allergens can also combat birch pollen allergies. If a patient consumes a small amount of a certain strain of apple - and with it, a small quantity of its allergens - they reach a state of “hyposensitisation” in which the body has gradually become accustomed to the allergen and ceases to mount a defensive response towards it.
In order to establish which strains of apples were best suited to birch pollen allergy treatment, the AppleCare project research team analysed 23 different commercial, local and new apple varietals, including a number of red-flesh cultivars.
After extensive laboratory and clinical testing, three promising apple varietals were identified and listed in the treatment protocol: one red-flesh varietal, the Cripps Pink/Pink Lady® and Golden Delicious.
The natural treatment developed in the project prescribes the consumption of these three varietals in a specific order; namely, from the lowest allergen potential to the highest. In September and October, the patient begins by consuming a small amount of the red-flesh varietal, and increases the dosage to one entire apple of the varietal per day. Red Love apples are well-suited to this phase. In November and December, the patient then switches to the Cripps Pink/Pink Lady®, beginning once again with a small amount and working up to one apple per day.
Finally, from January onwards, the Golden Delicious varietal phase follows, and lasts throughout and beyond the entire duration of the allergy. During this phase, consumption again begins with a small amount which is steadily increased. The Golden Delicious is a varietal with a high allergenic potential; however, following on as it does from the first two phases of the treatment using the less allergenic varietals (red-flesh and Cripps Pink/Pink Lady®), the body should have already become hyposensitised such that even subjects with severe allergic symptoms are able to tolerate it.
“It is important that patients continue to eat apples every day even after treatment has ended in order to retain the therapeutic effect,” explains Bettina Nothegger from the Medical University of Innsbruck.
The “Apple Therapy” developed in the AppleCare project has numerous benefits for allergy sufferers: “At long last, patients are able to eat fresh apples, tolerate a number of types of fruit and vegetables which they could not eat before, and can breathe freely during the spring months," says Thomas Letschka, Head of Applied Genomics and Molecular Biology at the Laimburg Research Centre and coordinator of the project.
These results have also been reported by a patient who has suffered from a birch pollen allergy for many years, is intolerant to apples and took part in the project. She participated in the study as a test subject in a number of clinical tests and trialled the apple-based treatment developed by the research team: “After fifteen years, it’s a wonderful experience to be able to eat an apple again without having a reaction,” she reported. “I also made it through the pollen season much more easily this year, and had far fewer problems with hay fever. I am delighted with the success of this treatment, which could only have been achieved through eating apples.”
The treatment is not intended as a substitute for a varied, balanced diet and a healthy lifestyle and, in any case, it is always advisable to consult a doctor.
Source: Laimburg Research Centre www.laimburg.it