With lighter evenings, the promise of warmer weather ahead and the explosion of life and colour in nature, spring is my favourite time of year. However, for those that suffer with seasonal allergies spring can mean checking the cupboard for anti-histamines and eye drops to combat the runny noses, sneezing and streaming eyes that the increasing pollen count brings.
What many people don’t know is that seasonal and food allergies can be lessened by optimising gut health. It may seem odd at first; how would improving gut health reduce allergies? The answer lies in how intricately linked our respiratory and digestive systems are; both have high levels of immune cells as these systems are where the outside environment enters our body.
The issue in allergies is that the immune system misidentifies harmless things like pollen or animal dander as dangerous molecules. One of the ways the immune system reacts is by releasing histamine. However, an overzealous response results in those all-too-common hay fever symptoms. It’s like putting out a match with a bucket of water.
The gut has a huge influence on the immune system as around 70% of our immune cells are found in our digestive tract. Therefore, cultivating a healthy gut and an optimal balance of gut bacteria – our microbiome – can help mediate allergic symptoms. All guts are ‘leaky’ to some degree, if they weren’t we wouldn’t be able to absorb any nutrients from our food, but problems can occur when our gut lining becomes hyper-permeable. This allows undigested particles, proteins, bacteria etc directly into the bloodstream before they can be sufficiently broken down. The immune cells in our blood sense these undigested particles and initiate an immune response, which can differ between individuals but can range from joint pain, rashes, brain fog, itchiness, and congestion issues all the way to anaphylaxis in nut exposure. By improving the health of our gut lining we’re taking steps to retrain the immune system to carry out a more appropriate response.
Healing the gut
The first step is to encourage a healthy microbiome. Our community of gut bacteria play major roles not just in gut health, but in our mental health, immunity and even how our genes are expressed. We can give our gut bugs a helping hand by feeding them a natural, colourful mix of vegetables and fruit. Fermentable foods like sauerkraut, kimchi, kefir, miso are fantastic prebiotics, i.e. the foods that feed our gut bacteria. A good quality probiotic can also help.
If you have food allergies a hyper-permeable gut lining may be to blame. The more inflamed the gut is the more permeable it will be, therefore an anti-inflammatory diet could help. This would include reducing:
- sugar, processed foods, refined carbohydrates, dairy, and gluten containing grains.
A well-constructed elimination diet can give clear indications what the offending foods are. Keeping a food diary can also be helpful for this. However, bear in mind reactions won’t necessarily be immediate and can take a few days to materialise.
L-glutamine has been shown to support the health of the gut lining.
The release of cortisol and our nervous system being in a sympathetic state (fight, flight, freeze mode) interferes with the proper functioning of our immune system. Taking steps to check in with yourself and manage your stressors not only supports a proper immune response to allergens but overall health too. A mindfulness practice is something that has helped give me perspective and reduce stress.
Getting enough sleep is another important factor in reducing the stress response.
Quercetin has been shown to reduce histamine release and is naturally found in onions, apples, broccoli, citrus fruits, grapes.
By now everyone’s heard of turmeric and its active compound curcumin. As natural anti-inflammatory agent it can be a useful addition to an anti-inflammatory diet.
For personalised support on dealing with allergies and healing your gut issues so you can get back to a life you love, contact [email protected] to book your free Discovery call.