LOS ALAMOS – A retired Los Alamos National Laboratory biologist thinks he has found the solution to long-term allergy relief.
It’s a lollipop. Specifically, a lollipop that Cliff Han says tackles what he believes is the root cause of environmental allergies, rather than the symptoms. By stabilizing levels of “good” oral bacteria, he says, his product helps “switch off” an overworking immune system that makes people sneeze or cough.
His process isn’t nearly as passive as taking an allergy pill, getting a shot or letting a lozenge dissolve. It requires a user to perform a thorough mouth cleaning, including of the tongue, before using the lollipops, and to keep up a specified non-intensive oral hygiene regimen over time.
His original instructions for the AllerPops included 13 steps. Hans says users of his pops report a “black and white” difference depending on how well they follow the instructions, which he now has simplified to merely four steps.
Han, who launched AllerPops in February 2018 after studying his own struggle with allergies, briefly had a storefront at Santa Fe Place Mall, but he has shifted to selling online – through his website and Amazon – and at the Los Alamos Cooperative Market. Most of his current customers are from New Mexico.
He said he has sold around 1,000 boxes so far. A $39.99 box comes with 12 pops, which he says has been enough to provide relief for an estimated 70-80 percent of his customers. The pops are made in China.
Han credited a sales increase in January, during which he sold about 100 boxes, to a recent push with local television and online advertisements. Due to the costs, however, he said he’s temporarily suspending those efforts.
“Compared to 50 million people having (allergies), we have lots of work to do,” he said.
Han also has work to do to persuade allergists that his candy actually works.
“If people want to try it, I don’t see on the surface anything that’s detrimental, but I don’t believe it has the effects that he’s claiming,” said Richard Wachs, a board-certified allergist immunologist and medical director of BreatheAmerica New Mexico, an Albuquerque-based allergy and asthma clinic.
A spokesperson from the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America said in an email that the organization could not comment on the effectiveness of AllerPops because they’re an “unproven treatment method.”
Han, who was trained as a doctor in his native China, moved to the U.S. in 1996. He worked at Los Alamos National Laboratory for more than 20 years, mostly in its bioscience division. He retired last year to focus on his AllerPops business full time. Han sells the pops under his umbrella corporation, Knoze Jr.
The theory behind AllerPops is based on research Han conducted not on a trial group, but on himself. He started collecting his own saliva samples – and, later, others from members of his family – when he started having environmental allergy symptoms in 2014. His symptoms were ongoing, then became seasonal in 2015.
“I couldn’t sleep in the night, because the nose was completely congested,” he said. “I just couldn’t breathe. Any time I fall into sleep, my throat would be burning when I wake up. Each night, I would wake up five to 10 times a night.”
When trying to determine what could have led to his new sensitivity to pollen, he realized he had recently intensified his oral hygiene routine. He’d started visiting the dentist more regularly, and was supplementing his brushing with regular flossing, tongue scraping and mouthwash use.
He said says the extra cleaning could have killed both good and bad bacteria in his mouth. Comparing his saliva to that of family members, he noticed a correlation between the abundance of two specific types of bacteria, streptococcus and veillonella, and reduced allergy symptoms.
Together, these two kinds of bacteria create a fatty acid that has the ability to pacify the immune system, Han said. Without them, he said, the immune system will fight pathogens, but also overreacts to non-harmful foreign substances like pollen or mold, producing the familiar symptoms of allergies
“It’s just like the switch,” he said. “The immune system is on, the power is always there. You have to have a switch to switch it off if you don’t need it.”
He first tried completely eliminating oral hygiene to bring up the good bacteria levels, but that didn’t relieve his allergies. In 2017, he decided to make a candy to specifically promote streptococcus and veillonella. He made the AllerPops with sugars and amino acids based on research of what the bacteria prefer as their energy sources.
At first, the pops provided him only temporary relief. But during his testing, he caught a fever that killed off the biofilm on his tongue. Having a clear mouth meant it was a good time to try to promote good bacteria, he said, and he took a few of his pops the following day.
“The next day, everything was gone,” he said. “I could actually sit in the Ashley Pond (Park). That was March 15, 2017. You know March (is) allergy season, juniper pollen is the highest in the year. But at that moment, I could sit in the park without feeling anything. So that was the moment. It (was a) black and white change.”
With his pops, Han provides instructions to start with cleaning out the mouth. One hour before a meal, users are supposed to brush their teeth with no toothpaste, scrub the tongue of all biofilm and gargle hot water in 10- to 20-second intervals for five minutes. The process then calls for using one AllerPop for an hour until it melts and repeating the entire process, including the mouth cleaning and gargling, every other day until symptoms disappear.
He said people who follow the directions correctly, adhere to a proper oral hygiene routine – brushing daily, as well as occasional flossing and tongue scraping – and aren’t taking antibiotics, can enjoy relief that could last for months or years.
“What I guess is as long as you keep your oral microbiota stable (and) don’t interrupt it too much … your relief could last for a very, very long time,” he said. “I don’t know how long that could be. It’s just like flu, right? You could get it next season.”
On Amazon, there are reviews from users who say AllerPops provided lasting relief and from critics who complain it didn’t work. Other complaints included that the instructions are too complicated and about the candy’s taste. The pops are flavored with cinnamon, vanilla extract and cocoa powder.
Han’s instructions for AllerPops come with a warning that they should be used only until symptoms subside. He does not recommend using them long-term, “as over-pacified immune systems can increase the odds of other health problems, such as infection or some types of cancer.”
Allerpop’s instructions note that the product has not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration and is not intended to “diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.” It also states they should not be used in lieu of prescription medication or as a substitute for any treatment.
As a biologist, Han is used to needing numerous case studies to verify a result. But with his firsthand experience with AllerPops, as well as that of his son, who also suffered from allergies, he says he’s convinced his product works.
Han acknowledged his theories haven’t garnered support from the scientific community. He also speculated that journals he has submitted his study to may not like a one-person study or the fact that he conducted it on himself.
BreatheAmerica New Mexico’s Wachs said he’s not aware of any research that backs up the theory that changing bacterial flora in the mouth will alter the immune system, particularly for people whose immune systems have already formed the antibodies that overreact to allergens. He also described Han’s tiny self-study as more anecdotal than scientific.
Han said he isn’t surprised by the doubts, but that at this point, getting the scientific community to believe is a secondary goal.
“I choose to give the benefit to people who need first and over time they will see the benefit and do something (and) hopefully more research will follow,” he said.