Do you get itchy eyes, a runny nose or scratchy throat as soon as the snow starts melting? Seasonal allergies are uncomfortable and frustrating. They’re caused by an imbalance of the immune system. The immune system is reacting and creating inflammation to harmless molecules of pollen, dust, grass, mould or whatever your allergy trigger is. Allergy medication can provide temporary relief by suppressing the immune response and decreasing symptoms of congestion. You can, however, stop seasonal allergies before they start by balancing your immune system.
There are two divisions of the immune system that can become dominant in various disease states. The two sides of the immune system are defined by the type of immune T-helper cells (Th1 or Th2) that are dominant. These cells assist the immune system in recognizing and defeating bacteria and viruses and when functioning well, are beneficial to the body. What exactly causes the balance between these two types of cells to shift has not been conclusively determined, though there are some theories about early germ exposure during childhood. The Th2 side of the immune system can become more dominant in allergic conditions and the Th1 is more dominant in autoimmune diseases (when the body attacks itself). Patients with immune systems primed for allergy tend to have more symptoms of asthma, eczema, hives and/or seasonal allergies. Finding a balance between Th1 and Th2 is crucial to preventing seasonal allergies.
What can you do to balance your immune system before the pollen flies? Here are 3 easy tips.
- Feed the good guys! Healthy bacteria that live in your guts are key to balancing the immune response. Good bacteria thrive on fibre from vegetables and fruits. Ensure you’re consuming a diet high in leafy greens, cabbages, apples, flaxseeds and other high fibre foods to feed the good guys living in your guts.
2) Supplement the good guys! If you have a history of a high sugar diet (too much Valentines day chocolate?) you may need to add some extra healthy bacteria into your gut. The specific strains of good bacteria that decrease the reactivity of the Th2 response are probiotics like bifidobacterium animalis subsp. lactis. To get specific strains of probiotics, you usually need a supplement. For general health, fermented foods can be an adequate source of good bacteria.
3) Stabilize. If the root cause of your seasonal allergies is related to an immune imbalance, then balancing the immune system is the way to go. This approach can take time, which is why it’s important to start balancing your immune system BEFORE symptoms start! If you're out of time and your allergy symptoms have already started, there are some natural “rescue” remedies you can consider using. Quercitin and nettle tea have both been used to stabilize allergy symptoms.
There are many reasons for seasonal allergies to occur, especially if you haven’t had symptoms all your life. If you experience allergies that aren’t improving or trouble you year after year, visit your local Naturopathic Doctor to find the root cause of your symptoms. Natural antihistamines can work to an extent, but if you don’t treat the cause of the immune dis-regulation, you'll be dependent on supplements in the same way that you can become dependent on a medication. Finding the root cause of the immune imbalance will lead to lasting health, free of symptoms.
Dr. Briana Botsford