As you bundle up in your parka and head out to warm up the car I know the last thing you are thinking about is spring allergies, but I want to talk about why maybe you should be. More than 1 out of every 6 Canadians suffer from seasonal allergies[i]. Symptoms such as a runny nose, itchy eyes, fatigue and trouble breathing are just some of the more common symptoms. The majority of the treatment strategies that conventional medicine offers are focused on symptom management (e.g. antihistamines). What if we could address the root cause of seasonal allergies?
Your immune system is made of many different types of cells that work like a small army protecting you from viruses and bacteria. This “army” uses our lymph nodes as the army bases and your lymphatics like secret tunnels that allow these little soldiers to move around swiftly. So when this army starts attacking the wrong things like mold and pollen it results in allergy symptoms. Perhaps we can call this collateral damage?
Army analogies aside, it is important to understand that the majority of this immunological tissue is found in our gut, approximately 80%[ii]. This is why digestion and gastrointestinal health is pivotal in the discussion around allergies. The types of beneficial bacteria living in your gut are crucial as they have a close relationship with all that lymph node tissue in your gut lining. These helpful bacteria will “teach” our immune system what to attack (e.g. influenza virus) and what to leave alone (e.g. birch pollen). If our gut is low on these healthy bacteria, then we essentially don’t have enough teachers and our immune system will make mistakes.
Research has shown that after administering antibiotics (which can wipe out some of the good bacteria living in your gut) to rats, they are more prone to having mold and pollen allergies[iii]. Your diet also plays a big role. Studies have shown that a diet low in fibre and high in sugar reduces the amount of helpful bacteria, which in turn could worsen allergies[iv]. We need a healthy blend of bacteria living in our guts to help keep our immune system in check. When our gut “ecosystem” starts to shift our immune system army starts to attack the wrong guys- things like pollen, mold and certain foods.
The good news is that there is a lot we can do. Taking a well chosen and high quality probiotic, eating fermented foods, and focusing on a plant-based, high fiber diet are just some of the strategies shown to mitigate allergic reactions. For some people, additional guidance from a Naturopathic Doctor can be helpful for more comprehensive gut healing. A comprehensive stool analysis or organic acid testing can tell patients what is living in their guts and give a clear direction to how to make that “ecosystem” healthier. These treatment approaches do take time, so being proactive before spring season is essential. Start building a healthy gut now and feel the differences when those spring flowers finally bloom.
[ii] Vighi, G et al. “Allergy and the Gastrointestinal System.” Clinical and Experimental Immunology 153.Suppl 1 (2008): 3–6. PMC. Web. 19 Feb. 2018.
[iii] News release, American Society for Microbiology annual meeting, New Orleans, May 23-27, 2004.