Seasonal Allergies + Your Gut

With spring just around the corner, many are finding themselves bracing for the worst; sneezing, sniffling and runny eyes are just a few of the symptoms that those suffering from what is typically referred to as seasonal allergies may experience.

An estimated 50 million Americans report seasonal allergies each year (1) and allergies are the 6th leading cause of illness in the US (2).

The most common indoor/outdoor allergy triggers are: tree, grass and weed pollen, mold spores, dust mites, cockroaches, and cat, dog and rodent dander.

Uncomfortable, to say the least.

So it’s no surprise that heading to the doctor for relief is the first step, and a prescription to treat the symptoms is often the first course of action.

Minor allergy symptoms are frequently treated by giving prescription antihistamines, corticosteroids, or decongestants (3).

And while popping a pill to stop one’s eyes from watering might seem like a great idea at the time, doing so is not without consequence.

Common side effects of Zyrtec, a popular choice amongst Americans, include: drowsiness, fatigue, tired feeling, dizziness, dry mouth, sore throat, cough, nausea, constipation, or headache (4).

And that’s just in the short term; long term use of this class of drugs is associated with psychological side effects such as irritability and anxiety, hallucinations, aggressive behavior, depression and suicidal ideation or behavior, and insomnia (5).

And it’s not just adults who may put themselves at risk; children who are given medication to treat seasonal allergies
can experience drowsiness, dizziness, constipation, stomach upset, blurred vision, or dry mouth/nose/throat (6).

But here’s the good news: it’s not a choice between experiencing short or long term side effects and trying to tough it out; what we eat and specifically, how that affects our gut health, can play a huge role in how, or if we experience any allergic reactions in the first place!

Let’s start with the basics: what exactly is happening when we have an allergic reaction?

An allergic reaction happens when your immune system misidentifies something completely harmless as a threat. Then it starts bringing out the big guns to attack dust or pollen or ragweed as if the allergen were a pathogen trying to make you sick.  Allergic reactions are inflammatory (7).

You’ve heard about inflammation, and chances are, if you’ve been reading this blog for a while, you may already be familiar with how certain foods can cause or worsen inflammation.

We can start with the not-so-surprising culprits: alcohol, peanuts, sugar, processed foods and wheat are known culprits that act as hay fever catalysts (8).

But did you know that other foods that are often position as being good-for-you can actually be just the opposite and create inflammation?

Foods that cause inflammation include refined carbohydrates, wheat and other cereal grains, soda and other sugar-sweetened beverages, margarine, shortening and lard, and processed meats. [1,2,6] These types of food can alter our gut health, as well as cause insulin to spike which is what contributes the inflammation.

The standard American diet is full of these unhealthy foods, and is also often low in fruits and vegetables, which in turn increases the risk of cancer, cardiovascular disease and other diseases (9).

The best way to prevent or treat inflammation without pharmaceuticals is by consuming a Paleo diet. You’ll naturally get lots of anti-inflammatory fruits, veggies and fish while cutting down on pro-inflammatory foods like grains, dairy, sugar, and highly processed foods.

(Just one more great reason to go Paleo!)

Bottom line:  nix the processed, packaged junk, add in copious amounts of plants (mostly in season, locally grown, organic veggies), ample natural fats, some properly sourced protein  (and of course, bone broth!) and see if you don’t notice big gains in how comfortable you and your kids begin to feel outside in the spring without a sneeze or sniffle in sight.