It’s that time of year! The flowers are blooming, the weather is warming up, and the days are getting longer. Unfortunately, seasonal allergies can make this time of year miserable for some. I know many of you spend your spring days sniffling, sneezing, and rubbing your eyes as pollen and other seasonal allergens waft through the air.
This weekend I became friendly with a bathroom attendant from Senegal who kept sneezing. He was feeling miserable from his allergies. Unfortunately, he didn’t know the secret to healing spring allergies.
If you have allergies, you know that it can cause discomfort at all hours of the day and night, and that it’s a lot more than a nuisance. What you might not know is that there is a direct connection between seasonal allergies and the health of the gut.
As America’s Gut Doctor, now is the perfect time to dive into the cutting edge research on seasonal allergies and gut health, and the best way to treat seasonal allergies — starting with the gut.
The Reality of Seasonal Allergies
If you struggle with seasonal allergies, you’re not alone. Not even close! In fact, you’re in company with more than 50 million other Americans who also struggle with allergies. Allergies occur when your body detects and overreacts to substances in the environment, such as pollen or mold, that it thinks are harmful. It does this by launching an immune response, which causes symptoms that can range from pesky and annoying to severe, cold-like symptoms such are:
- Itchy, watery or red eyes
- Itchy mouth, nose or throat
- Runny or stuffy nose
- Post-nasal drop
- Changes to sense of smell
- Dry cough
This leaves many people with symptoms so bad — like constant sneezing, headaches, and itchy eyes — that they don’t want to leave the house all spring.
There has to be a better way, right? In my practice, we address the root cause of health issues, and seasonal allergies are the perfect example of a condition that can benefit from this approach.
So what is the root cause of seasonal allergies? Well, it has a lot to do with the gut.
The Gut Health-Seasonal Allergies Connection
It might come as a shock to you that your gut and allergies might be connected. But the truth is 70 percent of your immune system resides within your gut. Yep — that’s right? The gut acts as a sort of control center that either ramps up immune activity or calms it down. In spring, pollen release happens in phases, which can mean weeks of flaring allergy symptoms that get bad, better, and bad again — all season long.
This mechanism is mostly mediated by the gut microbiome, or the massive population of microscopic bacteria living in your gut. Research shows that these bacteria play a big role in regulating immune homeostasis, which essentially means they keep the immune system in balance. Other cells in the lining of the gut work to produce antibodies, which are what protect us from infectious diseases but also what can contribute to allergies and autoimmune disease.
This strong connection between the gut and the immune system means that when something is awry with the gut — such as bacterial dysbiosis or leaky gut — it often shows itself in the form of immune system imbalances, like seasonal allergies. For example:
1. Bacterial dysbiosis
A study by the National Institutes of Health on more than 1500 people showed that adults with seasonal allergies have differences in their gut microbiome than those without allergies.
Research also shows that supplementing with certain bacteria, such as Lactobacillus, were helpful in reducing the overactive immune response that contributes to allergic rhinitis.
2. Leaky gut
Research shows what I’ve found to be true for my patients in my own practice: A damaged intestinal lining triggers systemic inflammation and allergic reactions. When your intestinal barrier loses its integrity, it allows undigested food particles, bacteria, and other small particles to slip through into the bloodstream, causing systemic inflammation.
That overactive inflammatory response can also create over-reactivity to the environment in the form of allergies.
3. Food sensitivities
Much like leaky gut, food sensitivities — such as to dairy or gluten — can result from chronic gut inflammation. You might not even be aware of these sensitivities because they can manifest without gut symptoms, instead showing up as seasonal allergies, postnasal drip, chronic airway congestion, and recurrent sinusitis, to name a few conditions.
When you remove foods you are sensitive to, like dairy and gluten, you calm down inflammation, and as a result also calm down any allergic reactions.
How to Heal Allergies by Healing the Gut
The good news is that if you heal your gut, more often than not your allergy symptoms start to go away like magic! I’ve seen this happen with dozens and dozens of patients. And it happened for me as well. I used to suffer from severe seasonal spring allergies, but once I healed my gut and learned to avoid my top sensitivity foods, I stopped noticing when spring came around. Patients and friends would complain to me that allergy season “was horrible this year,” but I wouldn’t even know that it had kicked in. And I want the same for you.
When I say it all starts with the gut, this is what I mean. Restoring gut health is best done through a physician-designed program, such as my HAPPY GUT® REBOOT 28-Day Cleanse. This program promotes microbiome balance, heals the gut lining, and helps tackle chronic inflammation that is the underlying cause of allergies.
The first step to healing allergies is correcting underlying gut health issues, like food sensitivities, leaky gut, and bacterial imbalances. Beyond that, there are certain foods that are famous for healing the gut, fighting inflammation and the allergic response, and bringing balance back to the immune system. Incorporating these foods in your daily routine in the spring can help make a world of difference in your allergies.
Ginger is one of the best anti-inflammatory foods you can buy, and you can get fresh ginger root for less than a dollar! Studies have shown that ginger may be able to ease seasonal allergies, especially sneezing.
2. Citrus Fruits
Citrus contains a compound called quercetin that is known for preventing immune cells from releasing chemicals that cause allergic reactions. Studies have also shown that quercetin can help reduce runny nose, watery eyes, and hives.
3. Bee Pollen
You’ve probably seen bee pollen on the menu at a juice bar or healthy cafe. Well, it’s not just for show! Bee pollen can also prevent the release of inflammatory chemicals; in fact, one study showed that it can reduce the release of antibodies that cause allergies by 62 percent.
4. Nettle tea
Pineapple contains a specific enzyme called bromelain, which has been shown to inhibit allergic reactions by modulating one specific type of immune cell, called a dendritic cell. Your dendritic cells are the ones that are surveying everything that is coming into our bodies from the outside world — identifying friend vs. foe.