Seasonal allergies are a pain in the ear, nose, throat, and more for some 50 million Americans. Find out how you can defend against and prevent the itchiness, the sneezing, and the general awfulness with the 6Rs of integrative medicine.
For allergy sufferers, each season may bring with it more than just pretty flowers, colorful trees, or a respite from the cold. Instead, each season, depending on the allergy, can mean persistent sneezing, a raw and sore throat, red eyes, and sleepless nights. Over-thecounter allergy medications may help alleviate some symptoms, but for a myriad of reasons more and more people are turning to integrative medicine and natural resources to defend, prevent, and even eliminate seasonal allergies.
I have found in my practice the best solution to dealing with seasonal allergies is following the 6R protocol: Reduce, remove, re-inoculate, repair, replace, and rebalance. I will give a broad overview of each of these and some specific things you can do to help alleviate some symptoms. For amore in-depth and personalized approach to your specific allergy, see a naturopathic physician or allergist who uses an integrative approach.
If someone is full of histamine, they feel lousy. We want to provide some symptom relief as quickly as possible (ie, reduce symptoms). Some naturopathic tools we use include quercetin, nettles, butterbur, vitamin C, and Boswellia. I also use sodium bicarbonate on occasion for acute flareups. I recommended it recently to a patient I treat who has eosinophilic esophagitis (an inflammation of the esophagus caused by food and seasonal allergies). Her chief complaint is difficulty swallowing. A fourth to a half teaspoon of bicarbonate can increase pH just enough to quickly and temporarily reduce histamine release giving her relief from symptoms. For some, we want to be careful about excess sodium exposure. There is a potassium bicarbonate available too. Allergy medications (including prescription asthma medication) are fair game during acute flares. As you recover and underlying imbalances are addressed with the rest of the 6Rs, your reliance on these medications should drop (but work with your doctor rather than stopping them yourself).
One of the most powerful leverage points I have as a functional medicine clinician is diet. I try to identify and remove the problem foods such as gluten, excess processed sugar, and dairy.
Sugar and processed foods have a potential for causing inflammation and flare-ups in allergy-prone patients.
I conduct inhalant and food testing on my allergy patients. Inhalant/food crossreactions are common. For instance, birch potentially cross-reacts with a number of different foods including fruits, celery, carrots, nuts, and soy. Cross-reactions most commonly result in oral allergy symptoms such as an itchy mouth or rash around the mouth.
Sugar and processed foods have a potential for causing inflammation and flare-ups in allergy-prone patients. Sugar can also drive inflammation and heighten an allergic response. Some allergic responses (and the medications used to treat them, such as steroids) can also create an environment for persistent infections to occur.
It’s not uncommon in those people who consume a lot of sugar, or who’ve been prescribed repeated steroids, to have an overgrowth of Candida. For allergy patients with Candida overgrowth, research has shown an increased risk for developing an allergy to the yeast itself. On laboratory testing, you will see higher levels of IgE Candida antibody complexes. I have seen the ingestion of sugar in individuals with yeast allergy cause very severe symptom flares. For these allergy patients, a low sugar diet is essential to their recovery.
It is also extremely important to remove or eliminate your exposure to breathing in the things you are allergic to such as different pollens from trees, weeds, and grasses, as well as pet dander, mold spores, and dust mites. That can mean using a HEPA filter in your home and office, using allergy-free bedding, staying indoors during certain pollen seasons, or making sure you’re using a fine screen in all windows and cleaning your home and office regularly. Consider planting an allergy-free garden, too! “Allergy Free Gardening” by Thomas Ogren also is a great resource.
The term re-inoculate doesn’t mean get a booster shot, it means to rebuild the gut. Probiotics are a good way to do that. You want to restore the body’s microbiome with D- and L-lactate producing bacteria such as Lactobacillus and Bifidobacteria. Of course, using fermented foods is an option too. Kimchee (spicy Korean fermented cabbage), sauerkraut, tempeh (fermented soy), pickles (watch the sodium content on these), yogurt, and kefir for those without a dairy allergy or sensitivity, are great fermented foods that can help re-inoculate your gut.
Nothing breaks down the body’s natural barriers to antigens more than histamine overload. You can help reduce your body’s overproduction of histamine by taking a good B complex daily during high allergy seasons. Also consider trying diamine oxidase (DAO), which will help you break down histamine in the gut. Rebuild barriers using zinc carnosine, glutamine, vitamin D, and immunoglobulin-based products.
There is research that has demonstrated that insufficient stomach acid will increase the possibility of food allergy. Help your tummy break down your food by chewing your food thoroughly. It seems like a simple solution, but watch yourself while you eat. Many of us eat too fast. Natural digestive enzymes such as bromelain, amylase, cellulose, protease, and papain, as well as, betaine hydrochloric acid (HCI) can help too. And remember to rest and digest after eating. Don’t do strenuous exercise after you eat. Let your tummy digest and absorb the nutrients from your food.
Anxiety is a major issue for many allergy sufferers. Adrenalin, which floods your body when you are stressed, can influence your allergic response negatively. Additionally, cortisol, a hormone your adrenal gland produces as a response to anxiety increases blood sugar and suppresses the immune system, can be a potentially damaging hormone when it is being released chronically. Try meditation, exercise, and getting enough sleep to help reduce your stress.
Many patients I see in my practice find using the 6Rs integrative medicine method of addressing allergies indispensable. Here’s wishing you good health during your allergy season and all year long.