20 Second Summary...
- Allergies are simply the result of our body protecting itself from foreign invaders
- Uncontrollable allergy symptoms are a sign of an imbalanced immune system and a runaway inflammatory response
- Healing inflammation and supporting the immune system are key to fighting allergy symptoms
- This can be achieved in part by healing the gut, and avoiding inflammatory foods
- Certain foods can also help improve allergy symptoms
The Inflammation Game
My husband and I have been together for nearly 9 years. Every year around this time our house was sprinkled with a snowfall of snotty tissues, and the constant sound of “achoo” was the soundtrack of our spring. Watery eyes, soar throat, leaky faucet nose – it was basically as if he was sick for 3 months straight. The worst right?
Well about 2 years ago all that changed.
As I began my nutrition program and started learning more about anatomy and physiology, I realized that seasonal allergies were merely the body trying to protect itself again “foreign invaders.” Simply put, as part of this defense mechanism, our immune systems releases mediators – histamine, prostaglandin, and cytokines primarily – to deal with the invasion, which causes a number of symptoms such as a runny nose or itchy eyes etc. All this is basically just inflammation. I realized that the key to quashing seasonal allergies is to reduce systemic inflammation and heal the digestive system to further reduce an inflammatory response, and improve general immune function and strength.
It’s worth noting that inflammation has many causes and is not inherently bad, but is merely the body trying to heal itself. Our bodies are designed to inflame to heal, and to anti-inflame when the healing is done. The problem occurs when there is runaway systemic inflammation, creating an over-reactive body thanks to chronic stress, high carbohydrates diets, and constant toxic burdens from pollution, chemical-laden cleaning and body products, and highly processed packaged foods. The truth of the matter is that technically we shouldn’t have seasonal allergies (or to the extent that people do), but we live in a world with overburdened bodies and runaway inflammatory responses, including poor digestive function. Knowing this, I suggested to my then fiancé, that he try cutting out a few things. Thanks to my prowess was already on a pretty solid food routine – grains were sprouted/soaked, almost all produce was organic, all meat, poultry and eggs were from pastured sources, all seafood was wild – but there were still some tweaks that could be made. We took out grains, super sugary fruits, and dairy, and seriously reduced other inflammatory foods like almonds (we discovered that almonds were surprisingly a big trigger for him inflammation-wise). We are also more diligent in using only natural household cleaners and body products. We did this in January and when April hit, surprise surprise, no symptoms! While the rest of the folks in his family were sniffling away, my man was free and clear. Post-allergy-season, he re-introduced some grains, almonds, all types of fruit, and even small amounts of dairy, but the following January he was back on his pre-season prep.
And what does digestion have to do with it?
Our gut houses 80% of our immune system, so if our gut is unhealthy, our immune system is weakened, and therefore our body will be more reactive to external pathogens, even environmental irritants. If we digest our food properly, limit foods that are inherently damaging to the digestive system, and nourish our bodies with nutrient-dense foods containing pre- and probiotics, enzymes, and vitamins and minerals, this should significantly reduce the extent to which we experience not only seasonal allergies, but food sensitivities as well.
Foods that can lead to allergy symptoms…
We already discussed some of the big ones above. Grains, dairy, high-carb foods are all inherently inflammatory, even if you’re not necessarily “reactive” to them. Many people don’t do well with foods from the nightshade family either (eggplant, potatoes, tomatoes, peppers etc.), so avoiding those in the months leading up to allergy season might be worthwhile. Many nuts and seeds can also throw off our natural inflammatory response due their high levels of omega-6, hence why we gave almonds a try with by husband’s case. However, it’s important to figure out which foods you personally are reactive to through an elimination diet, and avoid those as well, not just pre-allergy season, but year round.
A note about sugar…
Although sugar may not register on standard allergy tests, too much sugar (or carbohydrates with a high glycemic value) does invoke an inflammatory response similar to what the immune system mounts to an allergen. Too much sugar in any capacity (refined or otherwise) is also related to a number of other serious concerns such as weight imbalances, cognitive dysfunction, mood disorders and heart disease…SO many reasons to get this toxin out of your life once and for all!
Speaking of toxins…
Pesticides, preservatives, chemical additives all cause an inflammatory response in the body and put the body on “high alert.” These foreign invaders create a constant state of attack whereby the body is more reactive to any and all pathogens, including environmental irritants like dust and pollen.
What to eat to improve diminish inflammation and seasonal allergies
DHA and EPA: Two types of healthy omega-3 fatty acids found in fatty fish and other sources, have been known to ease allergy symptoms. Mackerel, salmon, sardines, trout, tuna, bluefish and herring are all great sources of omega-3s. Walnuts also contain omega-3 fatty acids.
Turmeric: A powerhouse spice found in curry and other dishes, is known to have a powerful anti-inflammatory response.
Foods containing quercetin: A flavonoid found in some foods, it is believed to help reduce the inflammation associated with allergies. The thought is that it prevents immune cells from releasing histamines, or an allergic response. Apples, onions, berries, cabbage, cauliflower and green tea all contain quercetin, as well as Vitamin C.
Foods containing anthocyanins: These flavonoids give dark purple and red foods their characteristic hue. Not only do they act as natural antihistamines, they also have anti-inflammatory properties. This means that anthocyanin-rich foods help reduce swelling in sinuses and nasal passages. Good sources include black beans, blackberries, black currants, blood oranges, blueberries, elderberries, red cabbage, and red leaf lettuce.
Foods high in carotenoids: Among the most widespread groups of naturally occurring pigments, carotenoids are largely responsible for the red, orange and yellow colour of various vegetables and fruits, though they also are found in many dark green vegetables and in other foods as well. A study from the Institute of Epidemiology in Germany found that people with high blood levels of carotenoids, reflecting a diet rich in these flavonoids, were at lower risk for allergic rhinitis. To get more carotenoids into your diet you can try eating apricots, carrots, collard greens, eggs (the yolks contain carotenoids), kale, salmon, spinach, squash, and sweet potatoes.
Garlic: Garlic extract has been found by numerous rigorous studies to help decrease an allergic reaction and can help prevent allergy by blocking the production of the chemicals that cause allergic reactions.
Foods rich in magnesium: This includes cashews, pumpkin seeds, dark leafy greens, avocado and mackerel. When we are stressed in any way, our body burns through magnesium. An allergic-type reaction is inherently stressful, as is eating inflammatory foods, so it’s safe to say that anyone already experiencing seasonal allergies is deficient in magnesium. In fact, most people in modern society are, especially considering all the heavy processing foods normally rich in magnesium like grains go through, leaving them nutrient deficient in all respects.
Green tea: The particular flavonoids in green tea tend to stabilize cells in the body responsible for the release of histamine. In addition, green tea contains theanine, an amino acid that has been shown to block histamine release. Green tea is better at fighting allergies than black or oolong tea because it is often less processed and thus retains more of its healthful properties.
What to eat to improve digestion
Foods high in probiotics like yoghurt, kefir, kombucha, sauerkraut, and kimchi are a good place to start. Probiotics help decrease the body's immune response to allergens, reducing inflammation in the body, and those pesky symptoms associated with said inflammation.
Also, foods high in enzymes like sprouts, and lettuce will help you digest other foods, therefore lessoning the burden to the digestive system and making nutrients more readily available to strengthen your body’s immune system and maintain homeostasis.
Other foods that aid in digestion include ginger, bitters, apple cider vinegar, lemon juice, and peppermint tea. Some of these foods help increase stomach acidity, while others signal your body to produce and secrete more digestive enzymes to better break down food.
Last but not least, foods that help heal the gut lining. Grass-fed butter, coconut oil, bone broth, aloe juice, all have been shown to heal the gut lining and decrease a condition called leaky gut, whereby food particles escape into the blood stream, where they are attacked by your immune system causing systemic inflammation and an overactive histamine response. In more severe cases, leaky gut can also lead to auto-immune conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis and Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis.
So what should you do?
If you want to see major improvements in your seasonal allergy situation, for three months leading up to allergy season, avoid grains, dairy, and refined sugar. Supplement with some of the allergy-beneficial foods mentioned above, and work hard on healing your gut through proper digestive practices.
If you’re reading this and already experiencing allergy symptoms, still go through the process of implementing the above-mentioned tips. Even jumping on the train a little late is better than nothing. You can also experiment with natural antihistamines such as Biotics Research Histoplex. Steaming with eucalyptus oil and using a netty-pot should help relieve some of the sinus irritation.
Above all, remember that allergies are simply your body telling you it’s out of balance. Believe it or not, but practicing de-stressing mindful activities such as yoga, meditation and acupuncture can do wonders for diminishing inflammation, boosting immunity, improving digestive health and finding that whole happy, no matter what season it is.