Allergies (seasonal or otherwise) are really just an over-reaction by the immune system.
It is the immune system’s job to protect the body from all manner of “invaders” from the outside world. Allergic triggers are one type of invader. From the first exposure, the body creates immunoglobulins specific for each trigger. When that trigger is introduced into the body again, the body is already geared to fight it.
In the case of allergies, the immunoglobulins activate mast cells – which are in high concentrations around the mouth, eyes, nose and throat – which, in turn, release histamine and other inflammatory chemicals.
Histamine, and the other chemicals, causes certain physiological changes. These alterations in normal physiologic function are designed to allow the body to fight off the invader and then repair and rebuild, if necessary. These changes include the dilation and increased permeability of blood vessels in the local area and the potential constriction of smooth muscle, like that in bronchial tissue. This is the root of typical allergy symptoms like an increase in mucus, runny nose, sneezing, watery eyes and coughing.
Antihistamines seem to work for allergies by blocking the effect that histamine has on blood vessels, thus cutting down on those symptoms. What isn’t often discussed is that histamine is a very important neurotransmitter that plays a role in sleep regulation, appropriate response to stress, acid production in the stomach, how memory and learning work, and even erectile function in men. As is often the case in medicine, concentrating on only one function of a chemical in the body is shortsighted and ultimately leads to unwanted effects.
From a holistic approach, the key to preventing and treating allergies lies in the understanding of the over-reaction of our immune system. This happens primarily because our bodies are too geared towards inflammation – even from minor, harmless triggers. For example, exposure to pollen is not a life-threatening event – but our bodies may react like it is.
There may be many reasons for the over-reaction phenomena. Genetics may be a concideration, but, the biggest factor is clearly the imbalance of fats in our diets. Our diets consist of too many pro-inflammatory fats, which come from vegetable oils, and not enough of the anti-inflammatory fats, which come from fish and other animals.
One last comment – about our societal need to live in a sterile environment. Exposure to the world, and the various little critters that live here with us, is one of the ways that our immune systems get exercise and learn to differentiate between a minor nuisance and a major assault. Using anti-bacterial soaps (and everything else) and keeping our kids from playing in the dirt is contributing to the drastic increase in allergies and auto-immune diseases today!
With regard to diet, there are two major areas of concern, and then a host of minor ones that may be helpful if altered.
The first major one has to do with the imbalance of fats that was mentioned in the summary. To balance the inflammatory response, the body needs to get the ratio of pro- to anti-inflammatory fats back to what it was 100 years ago; anywhere from 1:1 to 2:1 (it is typically 20:1 with the Standard American Diet). So, step one is to drastically cut down on the vegetable fats in the diet – safflower, sunflower, canola oils (also known as Omega-6 fats) all lead to inflammation in the body. Step two is to increase the amount of fish oils (Omega-3 fats) in the diet. I believe that eating too much fish can be detrimental from the exposure to mercury, lead and other toxins – so the safest way to increase these fats is through supplementation (more on this in the supplement section).
The other major dietary concern has to do with milk from animals other then us. The milk from a human mother supplies whey and a specific form of casein, and our bodies are equipped to digest and process those proteins specifically. Milk from cows and goats and sheep may contain a different form of casein. The human body does not have the ability to digest this other form of casein. The result of ingesting milk from another animal is the creation of upper respiratory congestion from increased mucus production, in response to a foreign protein that the body wants to get rid of. Consuming dairy products creates the perfect conditions for allergy problems to occur. Try eliminating all dairy from the diet (including milk, butter, yogurt, ice cream, cheese) for 6 weeks and see how much allergies improve.
There are those that believe that consuming local honey will help protect against local pollen allergies. The theory is that the bee’s exposure to the pollen creates protective chemicals in their honey. The honey must be local and must not be pasteurized for this to work, in theory.
Lastly, hidden foods sensitivities can also play a role in the hypersensitive immune response. Exploration into this arena is warranted for chronic allergy sufferers.
There are a few lifestyle issues that may help alleviate allergies and/or change the internal environment that is contributing to suffering.
Of course, in any issue that involves the proper functioning of the immune system, sleep and stress need to be evaluated and modified if need be. Please read what I’ve written about stress and sleep for further information.
Swimming in chlorinated pools and spas has been shown to increase respiratory and allergy problems in some people.
Exercise can be an important factor – a study showed that sedentary children had twice the rates of hay fever as active children. This may be due to the fact that exercise is a normalizing activity in regards to immune function.
Using a neti-pot to irrigate the sinuses on a regular basis if often helpful. Adding some grapefruit seed extract will be useful in killing any underlying fungal issues that is often a contributing factor to chronic sinus and allergy issues.
Pollen counts are usually highest earlier in the day… so keeping house and car windows closed until 10am can be helpful. Lastly, go here to get a daily pollen count for your local area.
There are supplements to change the internal environment that leads to allergy tendencies and there are supplements that treat allergies and allergy symptoms.
To change the underlying environment:
To treat allergies and allergy symptoms:
Quercetin – a bioflavonoid that is known to “stabilize” mast cells; making it a natural anti-histamine. Best used in combination with Vitamin C and Bromelain.
Stinging Nettle – An herb with a long historical use for seasonal allergies, it is thought to be another natural anti-histamine without causing any side effects.
There are various combination products using these ingredients, and others, that I get excellent feedback about, including…