Spring is officially here with it’s warm, sunny days, fresh produce, and the scent of flowers in the air-along with the inevitable cloud of ragweed and pollens from trees, grasses, and flowers. For many of us, spring is synonymous with allergies, and that means hiding indoors for the next few months or relying on over-the-counter medication. Your symptoms may include a runny nose, sneezing, itchy eyes, scratchy throat, sinus pressure, headaches (or an uncomfortable combination of all of the above), all of which feel crappy and prevent you from enjoying this long-awaited season. Allergies don’t have to be debilitating and inescapable. Read on to understand the underlying cause of allergies and how you can relieve them naturally.
First, it’s important to understand what happens during an allergy attack. Allergies are triggered by an inflammatory immune response to a foreign invader such as pollen, mold, pet dander, dust mites, food, or environmental chemicals. When pollen enters your nasal passageway, it is attacked by immune cells that release histamine and other chemicals, leading to those nasty symptoms. Histamines cause the blood vessels and tissues in your sinuses to swell, become inflamed, and produce excess mucus. This makes the tissue more permeable to allow white blood vessels to travel to the culprit and attack it. Constant exposure to these foreign substances heightens the immune system and leads to system-wide chronic inflammation. When addressing the immune system from a nutritional standpoint, it’s imperative to strengthen the defenses and remove the stressors.
The following steps will help people who suffer from hay fever, asthma, skin rashes, food intolerances, and other allergic responses.
Improve Digestion: Most allergies are the result of digestive problems and dietary stressors. The gut is the location for 70-80% of our entire immune system, so improving digestive function is the first step in combatting systemic inflammation. If your system is constantly bombarded by foods you don’t digest well, your ability to fight infections and allergies will be impaired. When digestion is working smoothly, your body’s ability to maintain health and fight infections will improve.
- Relax and get into “rest and digest” mode before eating by sitting down and taking several deep breaths before each meal.
- Chew your food slowly and thoroughly, 20-30 times/bite.
- Drink 1-3 tsp. of raw apple cider vinegar mixed with 1 cup of water 15 minutes before a meal to stimulate stomach acid production, which disinfects the stomach and digests proteins, bacteria, and viruses.
Heal Leaky Gut: If digestion isn’t running smoothly or you are eating foods you don’t tolerate well, undigested proteins and microbes damage the intestinal wall, creating intestinal permeability (also known as “leaky gut”). This allows large, partially-digested food particles to pass through the compromised lining of your small intestine and are seen by your body as foreign invaders. Leaky gut contributes to allergies, inflammation, auto-immune disease, and progressive degeneration.
- Know your food triggers and remove common irritants like grains, legumes, dairy, gluten and sugar.
- Heal the intestinal wall with bone broth, licorice tea, and L-glutamine (an amino acid).
Reduce Inflammation: Focusing on digestion and leaky gut will go a long way to reduce inflammation, but there are a few other things you can do to help. Because an allergic reaction is largely an inflammatory response, it is critical to remove inflammatory foods like refined seed oils high in omega-6 fatty acids (found in all processed food) and eat anti-inflammatory foods that include omega-3 fatty acids (found in salmon, sardines, herring, chia seeds, and hemp seeds).Turmeric also contains powerful anti-inflammatory compounds.
Eat the Rainbow: Strengthen your defenses by eating organic, colorful, immune-enhancing foods loaded with antioxidants every day. This includes leafy green vegetables, sweet potatoes, winter squash, turmeric, ginger, garlic, peppers, berries, tomatoes, and beets.
Hydrate: Water is a natural anti-histamine and is needed by the lungs to keep air passages moist. Good hydration supports lymphatic flow and proper blood viscosity, while dehydration can exaggerate histamine activity for the purposes of water regulation, which can play a role in asthma and allergies.
Beneficial Supplements for Allergies
Quercetin: A bioflavonoid high in antioxidants that inhibits the release of histamine and reduces inflammation. Foods high in quercetin include onions, apples, broccoli, cabbage, citrus, and tomatoes. Supplemental protocol can include 250-300mg several times daily.
Vitamin C: Boosts the immune system and also helps prevent histamine release. Foods high in vitamin C include citrus, radishes, bell peppers, strawberries, and cabbage. Supplemental protocol of 2,000 mg daily may be helpful in decreasing allergic symptoms.
Probiotics: Probiotics support digestion, immune function, and calm the response towards airborne irritants. A healthy bacterial community in the gut stimulates the development of healthy immune cells. Foods rich in probiotic bacteria include fermented vegetables, sauerkraut, kimchee, kombucha, and yogurt. Look for a supplement with multiple strains of bacteria, including Lactobacillus acidophilus, L. rhamnosis, Bifidobacterium longum, B. breve, and B. biffidum.
Omega 3 Fatty Acids: These fats create anti-inflammatory molecules that support a balanced immune response. Omega 3s are found in cold-water fish, chia seeds, walnuts and flaxseed oil, as well as grass-fed meat and eggs.
Nettles: Nettle leaf has been shown to relieve congestion and reduce inflammation. Nettle actually inhibits the body’s ability to produce histamine, and can be used in tea, tincture, or freeze-dried capsules.
Local Honey: Consuming raw local honey may help your body adapt to the allergens in the environment where you live. Although there isn’t much scientific evidence to back this approach, many people swear by this remedy. If you do use this method to combat seasonal allergies, make sure to get raw, unprocessed honey from as close to where you actually live as possible, and take a teaspoon every day, all year long, not just when you are experiencing hay fever.
If you are struggling with allergies, I encourage you to follow these steps and work with a holistic nutritionist to help identify the underlying causes of your allergies. Over-the-counter medication may temporarily relieve your symptoms, but that is all it will do. Masking symptoms won’t address the real issue, which is a compromised immune system under attack. Working with a professional to improve immune function will help you understand your triggers so you can feel better.
*The statements made here have not been approved by the Food and Drug Administration. These statements are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease. You assume full responsibility for how you choose to use this information.