HAND ME A HANKIE: IT’S ALLERGY SEASON
By Coach Kat, May 13, 2019, copyright Bronwyn Katdaré 2019
It’s May in Pennsylvania and we have entered one of the transitional seasons between winter and road construction known as “Allergy Season.” I see family, friends, and clients struggling with seasonal allergies and it seems to be getting worse every year. In fact, over 1:5 Americans struggle with allergies and/or asthma. The signs of seasonal allergies, sinus congestion, post-nasal drip, itchy eyes and skin, and sneezing, have people reaching for antihistamines, steroid inhalers, nasal sprays, and leukotriene inhibitors for temporary relief. However, over time these relief strategies lose their effectiveness and cause more harm than good. Let’s take a functional medicine look at what can be done for relief (without causing damage) and how to turn off histamine reactions over the long-term.
What is healthy immunity? First, a healthy immune system is both a detective and a defensive system. This means the immune system can identify potential threats and mount responses appropriate to those threats. Second, a healthy immune system is internally regulated, meaning that responses to threats are controlled and have a beginning and an end. Third, it is restorative in that it repairs damage from injuries or surprise encounters. Finally, a healthy immune system is tolerant. A healthy immune system will observe but NOT react to itself, beneficial microbes, food, or environmental antigens.
Does healthy immunity fly out the window when confronted by an allergen? Yes and no. Most immune function in the body happens without your knowledge. Observable inflammation – achy joints, stuffy nose, eczema - is a sign of more intense or extended immune system activation. Inflammation, therefore, is a lack of tolerance. The body is asking for help from cell to cell and is communicating via the inflammation. Inflammation is harmful if chronic or inappropriate.
The most common chronic inflammation triggers are food, “bad” microbes, toxins, and stress. I could write for a week on each of these, but I am zeroing in on seasonal allergies for today. Let’s define “Allergy” as an abnormally high sensitivity to a substance that is not usually harmful to humans which then causes a damaging, inflammatory immune response (School of Applied Functional Medicine). An allergic reaction is caused by a release of histamine and inflammatory mediators. Histamine causes muscle contractions and leakage of fluid from small blood vessels into tissue. Inflammatory symptoms (itchiness, swelling of mucous membranes, increased production of mucus, muscle contractions/spasms, low blood pressure, and skin inflammation) persist after the initial encounter with the allergen because leukotrienes release inflammatory chemicals and recruit responses from other cells. Hence, in the case of seasonal allergies, the first exposure sensitizes a person and causes them to make antibodies. Repeated exposure triggers a faster and more aggressive response. Chronic exposure weakens barriers and expands sensitivity to more antigens.
Help exists for the seasonal allergy sufferer. I will lay the foundation by saying that allergy has strong genetic components but the rest is diet. Did that just blow your mind? Yes, that’s right, you can blame a little bit of allergy on genetics but most of the blame goes to what you are eating. Seasonal allergies can be exacerbated by pro-inflammatory foods, especially gluten (not just wheat), dairy, sugar, processed foods and GMO foods, and food additives, because they increase the aggressiveness of histamine reactions. These foods should be eliminated from the diet. Also suspect are high histamine foods such as cured meats, fermented foods, alcoholic beverages, fermented grains (sourdough bread), eggplant, spinach, tomatoes, green tea, fish sauce, and vinegar. At minimum, gluten and dairy should be eliminated. Try eliminating all of these for at least a month to identify potential antigens and get relief from seasonal allergies.
Heal the gut. All disease begins in the gut. With any symptom associated with the immune system, intestinal permeability or “leaky gut” is involved. When the intestines are hyperpermeable, undigested protein molecules leak out into the bloodstream. If the gut is not healed, it continues to leak, contributing to inflammation. The immune response that shows up, in this case, is seasonal allergy. As mentioned above, an elimination diet will help this. Also helpful are broad spectrum probiotics. Omega 3 Fatty Acid intake should be considered. Natural sources of Omega 3 are walnuts, flaxseed, and algae oil.
Rapid relief. The above recommendations are guaranteed to work but they do take time. What if you have already used an entire box of tissues and want to scratch out your own eyes? There is a natural antihistamine called Quercetin that can come to your aid. Quercetin will NOT make you tired like most over-the-counter or prescription anti-histamines. Quercetin is a flavanol common in fruits and vegetables that suppresses histamine release from mast cells and dilates blood vessels by increasing nitric oxide. Choose a formula with bromelain to increase absorption. (Check with your physician if you have hypertension).
Functional Medicine toolbox. I have a several other tips and tricks but the above recommendations will get you on the road to root cause resolution and give you some immediate relief of seasonal allergy symptoms. If you are interested in learning more or need more support for your allergies, contact Bronwyn Katdaré Health Coaching at www.coachkathealth.com.