Are your seasonal allergies worse this year? Have those prescription and OTC allergy meds you've been taking stopped working? Are you sick of relying on a pill? Are you concerned about the impact these pills may be having on your health in the long term? Have your allergies worsened in recent years? If you find yourself asking any of these questions, you might benefit from looking into a different approach to tackle your allergies. Here are 9 effective alternatives for approaching hay fever this season:
1. Make sure your gut is in check.
The gut (or the microbiome) is the primary driver in modulating the immune response in the human body. With seasonal allergies, your immune system is responding to something that it thinks is harmful and an allergic reaction ensues. Why do some people have allergies and others don’t? Why did you just develop allergies as an adult? There are numerous factors, but one of them is the status of this person's microbiome. This is a broad topic and one that needs quite a bit more research, but each persons gut is extremely unique and the gut can change over time. Prescription Antibiotics, anti-microbial supplements, alcohol, gut irritating foods and stress of any kind can and will change your gut. When your gut changes, your immune system will change and it will often become hyper-active, possibly resulting in an allergic reaction.
2. Invest in a HEPA air filter.
The air in your home is often more contaminated than the air outdoors. Many people don’t have any issues until allergy season but that doesn’t mean you are breathing clean air the rest of the year. Invest in a high quality HEPA air filter to get rid of those small particles that you are breathing in all night and to remove any residual pollen from the air that you may have brought into your apartment on clothing, shoes, etc. I can almost guarantee you will sleep better with an air filter in your bedroom and it will probably help with your seasonal allergies.
3. Avoid high histamine foods.
You may have taken an anti-histamine to help with allergies or an allergic reaction. Yes, histamines are released as part of the immune system response and anti-histamines can help quiet that reaction. Histamines are also present in many foods. So if your body is overloaded with histamines from the pollen you have been exposed to and you go eat a bunch of high histamine food, you can exacerbate the reaction. I often recommend limiting or avoiding high histamine foods during this time of year. You can research for a more comprehensive list but below are the foods that can be most problematic.
- Proteins: seafood (especially canned seafood), cured meats, fermented dairy (i.e. yogurt and kefir)
- Fruit: bananas, citrus fruits, pineapple
- Vegetables: spinach, fermented and/or pickled vegetables (i.e. kimchi, sauerkraut)
- Other: fermented drinks such as kombucha, most alcoholic beverages (especially wine), aged cheeses.
I would also make sure to eat food as fresh as possible, as leftover foods are often higher in histamines. Food for thought: Do you really want to quiet the reaction or target the root cause?
4. Limit alcohol .
Alcohol is quite irritating to the human gut and plays a major role in what is often referred to as “leaky gut,” but it's really more of an intestinal permeability issue. Again, this is a bigger topic, but when the lining of your gut becomes more permeable, undigested food particles can slide into your blood stream triggering an immune system response. This often manifests as a variety of imbalances, many of which create auto-immune-like symptoms: skin issues, joint pain, hair loss, etc. We already know that with seasonal allergies we have a hyper-active immune system, so this will overburden it even more. Avoid alcohol during allergy season, but if you really need to have a cocktail, make sure to do so with food in your stomach and avoid high histamine drinks such as wine.
5. Immune boosting supplements.
We already talked about the role that the gut plays in modulating the immune system, but there are certain supplements which can help do this. I guess you could say that they "boost" the immune system. You may know about taking Vitamin C when you are sick and this can certainly be helpful, but there are two other lesser known supplements which can be helpful: Bromelain and Quercetin. I list this category last because I would view this as a patch of sorts. For lasting relief, I would recommend targeting the deeper layers that may be driving your allergic response.
6. Learn to breathe properly.
Yes, breathing is form of detoxification, and when you breathe properly you expel carbon dioxide and other toxins which you may have inhaled outdoors. This occurs mainly due to stress but also because most adults have forgotten how to breathe properly. Watch a child breathe when they sleep; they usually perform deep breaths where you can see their belly rise as they inhale and fall as they exhale. That is what you are looking for. Bring some awareness to your breathing whenever you remember. Boring meetings are a great time for this or when driving your car. You can also take 10-15 deep breaths before bed.
When you have allergies, your body is in a stressed and inflamed state. When you overdo it with the stress, you will increase inflammation and prevent healing from occurring. It can be a challenge to slow down with the warmer weather and longer days, but pace yourself. A nap in place of a workout, a movie instead of a night drinking, a home-cooked meal instead of eating out are all things that will nourish your body and allow your immune system to relax and for any inflammation to subside.
8. Take the right kind of probiotic.
There are numerous facets to supporting optimal gut health. Once of them is ensuring the right balance of bacteria in the gut. One way to do this is by taking a probiotic. All probiotics are not created equal and some can even worsen allergies (based on my experience). The right kind of probiotic can support an optimal histamine response in the body. Experiment with a few brands and find what works best for you. In addition, many people consume probiotic foods and drinks such as kimchi, sauerkraut and kombucha. While there may be benefits for some people, these are all extremely high histamine foods and are best consumed sparingly by those who have seasonal allergies.
9. Avoid aggressive diets/cleanses.
Aggressive and calorie restrictive diets are stressors to the human body. They may cause weight loss, but a stressed body is one that will not work properly and this can lead to an increased allergic response. In addition, many cleanses include supplements to help the cleanse "work better." Anecdotally, a friend did a 10-day cleanse where she drank shakes and took some anti-microbial supplements to “cleanse” the gut. She lost a few pounds and felt good, but for the first time in her life she had seasonal allergies. An awareness of what we're putting into our bodies, and watching for reactions is important, even with "healthy" practices.
Steven Macari is a New York-based nutritionist, health coach and wellness educator.