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.
It’s even worse if your allergies trigger your asthma – which is the case for many adults and increasing numbers of children. Evidence shows seasonal allergy rates are rising throughout the world, and especially in urban areas. But here's what I've learned: with the right approach, you can kick your seasonal allergies to the curb for good
No Stranger to Seasonal Allergies
I'm no stranger to the yearly discomfort of seasonal allergies. 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.But 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.
The dry itchy eyes and sore throat that come with seasonal allergies are often blamed on high pollen counts. But all of the symptoms associated with seasonal allergies are signs of inflammation: redness, swelling, and itching, for example. In other words, to get rid of allergies, you have to get rid of inflammation and hyper-reactivity. The place to start is in your gut.
The Gut and Allergy Connection
While the connection between your gut and seasonal allergy symptoms might not be instantly obvious, healing your gut is the first step to waving your seasonal allergies goodbye. Let's take a closer look.
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.
What Causes Gut Inflammation?
Many lifestyle habits and food choices can weaken your gut lining over time, making you more prone to inflammation and allergies. When you have “leaky gut syndrome,” foreign proteins get into your system and place your body on red alert to react to many harmless triggers in your environment, such as tree pollen. What contributes to leaky gut?
Here are a few sources:
- Acid reflux medication, such as proton-pump inhibitors. When you are taking medications for reflux (like a PPI such as Prilosec) this takes out the first line of defense – your stomach acid.
- Food sensitivities. When your gut barrier gets weakened from chronic exposure to foods that irritate your gut, you're more likely to experience inflammation.
- SAD. The Standard American Diet is a source of chronic inflammation – including intestinal inflammation.
- Antiobiotics. When the good gut bacteria get out of balance from antibiotics, you can develop a
- Stress. It's a cause of so many symptoms – and gut inflammation is one of them.
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. To be clear, 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!
Heal Your Gut
Let me break this down for you:
This step is all about removing the food triggers in your diet that might be responsible more inflammation in your gut.
Try 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 on how to do one.
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.
You're ready for the second step once you've been on the elimination diet for about 2 weeks. This step is all about enzymes, which support digestion and the breakdown of food. Add in more fiber by getting 6 to 8 servings of fruits and veggies daily, and add in good quality fats including olive oil and avocados. These are important foods for a healthy gut that our ancestors had as a natural part of their diets, and that we need to replace in ours.
After another week, add in a good quality probiotic. This step enables you to reinoculate your gut with beneficial bacteria and enhance digestion. Also safe for pregnant and breastfeeding women, and for kids.
Once you've removed food triggers from your diet, replaced important digestive enzymes, and reinoculated your gut with beneficial bacteria, it's time to repair your gut lining. The following supplements can now be taken for about a month (up to 6 months) to help to heal the intestinal lining:
- Turmeric, 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 turmeric 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).
Voila! You've completed the 4R program for gut healing. But don't stop there. 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! Click here to learn which of my favorite herbal medicine and nutritional supplements for allergies work wonders for more immediate relief. Many of my patients who switch to them do not have to use OTC or prescription allergy meds anymore. 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 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.