Although I have yet to stow away my winter coat, I remain optimistic that Spring is, indeed, here to stay. For allergy-sufferers, that means that the season of tissues and decongestants is almost upon us!
There are many ways to prevent and alleviate allergy symptoms. First, it’s important to understand a bit about the process that happens in the body when allergies hit. At a basic level, allergy symptoms reflect the immune system on over-drive. Certain air-borne allergens (like pollen, for example) can cause a tickle in the nose resulting in a sneeze for anyone. It shouldn’t result in continuous sneezing, running nose, weepy eyes, coughing, etc. From an elimination perspective, that’s a bit of overkill!
So what can we do to calm the immune system and promote a more “normal” response?In an allergic body, certain immune cells (called Mast Cells) are in a highly stressed state and on high-alert to release Histamine. Histamine is that pesky little chemical that causes many of the allergic symptoms (think itchy, puffy, irritated tissue.) In a healthy, balanced state, these mast cells float around and release appropriate amounts of histamine when needed. Once the histamine has been released and has done it’s job, it get neutralized by another immune cell called a leukocyte. Sounds pretty simple, right? Unfortunately, not so in an allergic body. When the immune system is stressed, Mast Cells send out too much histamine, which makes it difficult for leukocytes to neutralize. The result: an assault on the nose, eyes, sinuses and skin!Moderating an allergic response is all about balancing the immune system. While we don’t want the immune system to become too passive, we don’t want to out-of-proportion, over-the-top response either. Certain organs play a big role in modifying the immune response. The top ones are the Liver, the Kidneys and the Adrenal Glands. In short, the liver neutralizes histamine, the kidneys drain the “garbage” and your adrenal glands produce hormones that help to keep these organs (and many others) in high functioning order.Some of the most useful ways of supporting these three organs include:Identifying and removing food sensitivities. If your immune system is reacting to a food that you are regularly consuming, this will result in a highly agitated immune system. Remember: we’re trying to calm the immune system, not irritate it. So removing foods that are not well tolerated can have a huge impact. Common allergens include dairy, wheat, corn, and eggs. Sometimes it is a food that is least suspected. Food allergy testing, performed in a Naturopathic office, can help to identify specific food sensitivities and set a guide for elimination.
Keep sugar to a minimum. Sugar does many things in the body…not many of which are positive. With regards to allergies, sugar increases inflammation, which heightens the effects of those irritated mucous membranes. It also subdues cortisol function (cortisol is a natural anti-inflammatory and anti-histamine hormone), which allows histamine to float around the body un-checked. For a sweet treat, stick to fresh fruit or small amounts of local, raw honey.
Eat a whole foods, un-processed diet. You can get a lot of information about the effects of processed foods from some of my previous posts, but the short story is that processed foods add a massive burden on the body (liver, kidneys, adrenals, colon…) as it has to break down and get rid of a lot of excess “junk” that it cannot use. Whole foods (a food in it’s original state…ie an apple vs apple pie!) provide high levels of important nutrients to support healthy organ function.
Be kind to your liver. Remember; your liver has to process and detoxify everything that comes into the body. Limiting your intake of junk will reduce the amount of work you liver needs to do…so it can focus on producing much needed compounds to neutralize histamine. Eating bitter greens such as dandelion, kale, collards, chard, and endives help keep the liver in good working order.
Support your kidneys. The most important nutrient for the kidneys by a long shot is water. Keep a bottle of water handy and sip frequently throughout the day. Teas can help to hydrate while supporting the immune system. Nettles, dandelion leaf, eyebright, ginger, red clover and licorice roots are all great choices for allergy relief.
Keep your lymphatics moving. The lymphatic system plays an important role in draining all those immune complexes floating around in your body. Contrast showers, dry skin brushing, rebounding and lymphatic massage all help to keep the lymphatic system moving.
Consider supplements. Certain supplements are very useful during the allergy season. Ideally, these would be started before allergy symptoms appear, but using them once symptoms are present can still provide relief. Among my favorites are PascAllerg (a complex homeopathic product,) Vitamin C, Quercetin, and Butterbur.