The National Center for Health Statistics estimates that 40 million Americans are affected by seasonal allergies. Symptoms vary widely and run the gamut from mild and temporary to debilitating and persistent. Regardless of how springtime allergies impact your family, there are a whole host of simple actions and natural remedies you can take to make the season more enjoyable for everyone.
Before considering how to lessen the impact of allergies, let’s first consider what an allergy really is – your immune system on overdrive. Those who suffer from allergies have an immune system that is oversensitive and therefore reacts to substances in the environment that we would normally consider to be harmless. The substance in question, be it pollen, mold, dust, grasses, weeds, or animal dander, is called an allergen.
A common misconception about allergies is that they are caused by the allergens. Although allergens play a key role in triggering the allergic symptoms, the underlying cause is a compromised and out of balance immune system. The causes of this imbalance vary, and may be the result of genetic, dietary and lifestyle factors. Clearly we can’t change our genetics, but we can modify our diet and lifestyle to decrease our allergies.
What leads to immune system imbalance? One important consideration is the balance of healthy vs. harmful bacteria and yeast in our digestive tract. The human colon is lined with trillions of microorganisms that are essential to our digestive and immune systems. In fact, a healthy digestive tract contains more microorganisms than there are total cells in the human body. These organisms (such as Lactobacillus acidophillis ) are known as probiotics, and help prevent permeability defects in the gut – otherwise known as leaky gut syndrome. They do this by supplying the cells that line the colon with essential nutrients, which enhances cell health and therefore helps to maintain a barrier between the bloodstream and potential allergens.
Unfortunately, the Standard American Diet of processed foods, an overload of environmental toxins, chronic stress, and the overuse of antibiotics have created an epidemic of dysbiosis (an imbalance of the good and bad bacteria). As a result, harmful microflora (pathogens) can over-take the good guys and result in a host of diseases including allergies. Taking a high quality probiotic can help rebalance the microflora in your gut significantly cutting down on allergy symptoms.
A healthy diet based on organic whole foods that is free of your specific food sensitivities is also essential. Allergic symptoms develop when people exceed the cumulative threshold of their allergic intolerance. That is, the combined assault of chemicals, air pollutants, excessive pollens, dusts, and molds along with too much dairy, wheat, soy, corn, chocolate, or sugar (the most common food sensitivities) can overload the resistance system to the breaking point. Therefore, discovering and eliminating the foods to which you are sensitive may allow you to better tolerate environmental allergens (pollens, dust, animal dander etc.). This may partly explain why a person may react to a food one time and not another. For example, some people have wheat sensitivity only during the pollen season; and as a corollary, if they do not eat wheat in the spring, they will not have hay fever when they mow the lawn.
Beyond the basics of a healthy diet and probiotics, there are a variety of other natural treatments that can help. The first of which is the daily use of a netti pot or sinus irrigation system. Over the course of the day allergens naturally build up in the nasal passages resulting in worsened allergy symptoms. By flushing the nasal passages daily with a lukewarm saline solution, you help to flush out the allergens as well as decrease congestion.
Another natural treatment works by decreasing the allergic response at the cellular level. There are cells in our body called mast cells, that, when exposed to an allergen release histamine. It is that histamine which triggers the allergy symptoms. So in treating allergies it makes sense to try to decrease the release of histamine. Fortunately, mother-nature gave us a few key nutrients that due just that. Vitamin C, Quercitin (which is often derived from onions), and other bioflavonoids (from things like berries and citrus) all help to stabilize the mast cells so they are less likely to release histamine.
The histamine response is a type of inflammatory response in our body. So another approach to treating allergies is to work to decrease general inflammation in the body. Fish oils are an excellent means of achieving this. The omega 3 fatty acids that are rich in fish oil are great natural anti-inflammatories.
There are also a variety of herbs that can be helpful in treating allergies, but by far the one I see the best results with is stinging nettle. Nettle has been used for hundreds of years as an effective allergy treatment. Nettle contains a variety of antioxidant compounds that protect cells and enhance tissue health. It also contains a number of anti-inflammatory compounds, which may account for its multiple uses for treating inflammation and allergies.
Lastly, there are homeopathic allergy drops that can be used to help desensitize an individual to their specific allergens. For example, if grasses and weeds are the issue we can utilize specific homeopathic remedies to address those allergens. Homeopathic treatments exist for each and every allergen, and act as the perfect complement to nutritional modifications.
To learn more about how to become allergy free, naturally, contact Dr. Deb Bossio, Naturopathic Physician.