Spring and summer are a joy. Unless you’re one of millions who suffer with seasonal allergies. Then it can be a really miserable couple of seasons of sniffling, scratchy throat, coughing, itchy eyes – or the alternative – taking medications that make you sleepy, or that you just don’t want to take because you prefer to be au natural.
I suffered from horrible seasonal allergies well into my mid-teens, so I am no stranger to the symptoms. My summers were spent retreating to an air-conditioned room with an antihistamine on those high pollen count days just to be able to breathe easily (you know what I’m talking about…). I loved being outdoors as much as possible so it made me miserable on every level.
It’s even worse if your allergies trigger your asthma – which is the case for many adults and increasing numbers of children.
Breaking the Cycle: No More Allergies for Me!
One year everything changed for me. I became a vegetarian (no, you do not have to become a vegetarian to get rid of your allergies!), cleaned up my diet of all sugar, soda, preservatives, additives, dyes and other non-food junk, and drastically decreased my dairy intake (yes, if you want your allergies to go away forever, you will have to do this – sorry).
I went as organic as I could afford to. I did this for political, not health, reasons. I was part of the early movement to “take back our food” and be free of dependence on Big Agra — It took a lot of effort to find local coops and small farms from which to get my foods (No, Virginia, there were no cells phones or Whole Foods back then) – but I felt good about my choices. The unexpected bonus was that health issues, which I just assumed were a normal part of life for me, simply vanished – including my allergies.
That spring and summer came and went without a tickle, sniffle, cough, or medication. Then the next. And the next. At some point I realized what had happened… I had become allergy free. I didn’t even use herbs or supplements at the time because I wasn’t intentionally trying to get rid of them. It was all about the dietary changes.
Even more interestingly, by the time I had kids – in spite of rampant colds, allergies, and asthma on both sides of our families – they weren’t getting sick, needing antibiotics, or having any allergy or asthma symptoms. An original organic foodie, I breastfed each child for a well over a year (or three), introducing healthy, organic, homemade foods slowly into their diets around 10 months to a year of age. They never had juice or sugar, and dairy was at a minimum – occasionally just some organic, live culture yogurt. I was amazed. It was all about their diet, too.
I knew I was onto something.
Now It’s Your Turn: The 3 Steps to Freedom from Allergies
I love helping my patients become allergy free. Spring and summer are once again enjoyable. Travel to exotic places doesn’t cause them problems. They no longer have to take medications. Some also no longer have asthma attacks. One patient, who had been unable to spend much time at her in-laws’ house because of severe cat allergies, was able to enjoy an entire winter holiday with her husband’s family at his parents’ home for the first time ever – and didn’t requite a single dose of medication.
It’s really not that hard to do. It just takes 3 steps:
- A commitment to a healthy diet
- Healing your gut with the 4R program
- A few simple supplements
Depending on your allergy severity, this can take anywhere from a few weeks to 6 months.
If you’ve got allergy symptoms right now, there is help before you dig in deeper to the next steps. Feel free to jump to the end of this piece and start with But I’ve Got Allergies NOW and work your way backwards. Everyone in this for the long haul, read on…
Just as a caveat, I am not talking about getting rid of severe IgE allergies such as peanuts, bees, medications, or other allergens which can cause you to have an immediate, severe, or anaphylactic reaction. Those tend to be permanent. I am talking about common seasonal allergies such as pollens, dander, and common foods that trigger IgG reactions – the ones that make you miserable but aren’t going to kill you! So please don’t try this treatment and go eat nuts if you’re severely allergic! But if you have the other kind of allergies, over weeks and months, you might be pleasantly surprised to find that old triggers just don’t bother you anymore!
The Gut and Allergy Connection
All of the symptoms associated with allergies are signs of inflammation: redness, swelling, and itching, for example. To get rid of allergies, you have to get rid of inflammation and hyper-reactivity. The place to start is in your gut.
One of the major jobs of your digestive system is to provide an interface between the external world (foods, allergens, bacteria, etc.) and your bloodstream. It does this in the stomach by using natural digestive acids to break down potentially allergenic proteins and in the intestines via a layer of barrier cells that prevents these proteins from getting into your blood stream. You also have a whole host of special bacteria in your gut, as well as immune cells, whose job it is to break down and get rid of proteins and other molecules that can cause you to get sensitized to them, leading to gut – and systemic – inflammation.
When you are taking medications for reflux (like a PPI such as Prilosec) this takes out the first line of defense – your stomach acid. When your gut barrier gets weakened from chronic exposure to foods that irritate your gut, or when the good bacteria get out of balance from antibiotics, you can develop a leaky gut. Foreign proteins get into your system and place your body on red alert to react to many triggers in your environment.
So the first step to quieting down your body’s over reactivity is to heal your gut. This will reduce both seasonal allergies and common food sensitivities.
The 4R Program for Gut Healing
To simplify the process of healing the gut, I teach my patients the 4R program. It takes about 4-6 weeks and it looks like this:
Let me break this down for you:
Remove: This is done with an Elimination Diet. An elimination diet is 2 weeks of eating a simple diet from which you have removed the most common food triggers including gluten, sugar, dairy, eggs, soy, coffee, soda, and artificial ingredients – as well as anything you typically crave (i.e., sugar, carbs, salty snacks). Ideally, you would also stop many of your medications, especially reflux medications, NSAIDS, and antibiotics – but talk with your doctor first! If you have reflux, DGL licorice is a great alternative to PPIs and H2blockers. It safely heals the stomach without the potentially serious adverse effects of the above medications.
The elimination diet takes little bit of planning and coordination, especially with kiddos, but it is simple and makes a huge difference. I’ve got a blog coming soon on how to do one. You can also use The Ultra Simple Diet by Dr. Mark Hyman for guidance.
If you have constipation, you’ll want to deal with this now. Get plenty of fiber in your diet and drink ample water, too. Supplements such as flax seed, psyllium, and magnesium citrate are safe for most people to take daily. For kids, slippery elm, which tastes like maple syrup, may be used, 1-2 tsp daily in oatmeal or a smoothie. The goal is 1 healthy BM every day.
Replace: After 2 weeks on the Elimination Diet, start taking a good quality digestive enzyme product (you can give these to kids over 4, too). This is safe for pregnant and breastfeeding women, too.
Reinoculate: After another week, add in a good quality probiotic. Also safe for pregnant and breastfeeding women, and for kids.
Repair: The following supplements can now be taken for about a month (up to 6 months) to help to heal the intestinal lining:
- Tumeric, aloe vera, marshmallow root, and DGL licorice (aloe and licorice are not for internal use during pregnancy; these are fine for children) are some of the most effective herbs for healing the gut lining. They are best taken in capsule or extract form, though tumeric can also be added to foods. DGL licorice is available as chewable lozenges and thus may be the simplest one to give to kids.
- Zinc: 5-10 mg/day for children 4-7 years, 10-20 mg/day for children to age 12, 25-40 mg/day for older children and adults
- An antioxidant supplement containing vitamins A and carotenoids, C, E, and selenium. These are often found in a multivitamin. Pregnant women should get these from their prenatal vitamin only.
- Fish oil: I prefer Nordic Natural Pro-DHA Jr. for kids, and any good quality fish oil for adults. For kids you can put the oil into smoothies. Fish oil is important for general health in pregnancy and breastfeeding, too.
- L-Glutamine Powder: 5-10 gm of powder twice daily for one month. (Much less for kids but talk with your child’s doctor before using and don’t supplement in pregnancy).
Even after you complete all of this, you’ll want to keep your diet as healthy as possible – indefinitely. You can reintroduce some of the typical allergens you’ve removed, but do it one by one, each a few days apart, noting any symptoms that might arise when you resume eating them. If you have any allergy symptoms, that food might not be optimal to include in your diet. You can also continue on the gut healing supplements for 3-6 months, and then see how you do with a challenge of that food. As for sugar, baked goods, additives, and junk food – you’re going to want to leave those out pretty much forever. They’re not good for you – or anyone.
But I’ve Got Allergies NOW
I know … 4 weeks+ is a long time to get your gut repair on when you’ve got symptoms now. Never fear! There’s help! My favorite herbal medicine and nutritional supplements work wonders even in a pinch. Most patients who switch to them do not have to use OTC or prescription allergy meds again. If you don’t do the 4R program, symptoms may come back, so you’ll need to keep treating with these natural supplements.
If you are doing the 4R program, go ahead and add all of these in from the beginning of your Elimination Diet and continue to take all of these throughout allergy season.
These herbs and nutritional supplements are best taken on a daily basis. Taking them before allergy season even starts can prevent symptoms altogether. They can also be used on an as needed basis.
If you haven’t yet hit allergy season in your region, start now to get a jumpstart.
- Eliminate dairy, gluten, baked flour products, packaged juices, and sugar. Reduce your exposures to known food and environmental triggers as much as possible.
- Freeze Dried Stinging Nettle: Take 3-6 capsules daily (this is safe if you are pregnant). This is a safe, natural antihistamine that does not make you drowsy, and reduces seasonal allergies very effectively. The nettles have to be freeze-dried to do their job. Because they are in capsules, kids have to be able to swallow them. You can purchase these in major natural foods stores or online.
- Quercetin: 500 mg daily (half that for kids). Quercetin is a plant pigment found in many common herbs and foods, and a very reliable anti-inflammatory nutritional supplement. It helps with gut repair, boosts the immunity in your mucus membranes reducing reactivity to seasonal allergens, and also helps reduce food allergies. There is conflicting data on whether it is safe in pregnancy. Do not take it during the first trimester and limit your dose to 250 mg/day thereafter if you’d prefer to use this over a conventional pharmaceutical while pregnant.
- Zinc: Take an age appropriate dose daily, as described above. Don’t double up between this and the 4R program – it’s just one zinc dose/day.
- Buffered Ascorbic Acid: Take up to 2000 mg daily. This is an excellent anti-inflammatory and antioxidant. Do not exceed this as a total daily dose during pregnancy, including what is in your prenatal vitamin.
Whether you’re doing the 4R program or not, you will get seasonal allergy relief from this plan. If you choose to do the 4R program, you may find that like me, changing your diet not only frees you from being dependent on a food industry that is not in our best health interest, but it also frees you from seasonal allergies – 4Ever.
Let me know in the comments below how “allergy-free” goes for you!
To your health!