Does the thought of pollen make you stressed? Do the spring and fall months bring more than flowers and color-changing leaves for you? Following winter, we are met with the warm embrace of spring and longer days. For some, springtime is a season of itchy eyes, congestion, and fatigue. Allergies come in all shapes and sizes.
If you’re one of the millions of people who suffer from allergies, functional medicine may be the answer for you. Read more below!
What Are Allergies, and What Causes Them?
Allergies are a type of immune system response that occurs when the body is exposed to a foreign substance or allergen. A foreign substance or allergen can be anything. Sometimes these allergens are naturally occurring and out of our control. Other times, they are more manageable. Your cells release histamine, also known as a histamine reaction. This immune system response within the body often results in inflammation, which is what we recognize as symptoms.
The body’s immune system identifies the allergen as harmful and produces antibodies to fight it. This can lead to a variety of allergic reactions and symptoms, such as sneezing, coughing, itchy eyes, and a runny nose. In more severe cases, it can cause difficulty breathing, swelling, hives, and asthma attacks.
There are many types of allergies, but they can broadly be classified into two categories: seasonal allergies and year-round allergies.
Seasonal allergies (also called hay fever or allergic rhinitis) are caused by pollen from trees, grasses, and weeds. These allergens are most commonly inhaled, but they can also be ingested or come into contact with the skin.
Year-round allergies are caused by pet dander, dust mites, cockroaches, mold, and other allergy triggers. These allergens are present all year long, although they may be more noticeable during certain times of the year.
Your Diet Can Affect Your Allergies
Many are familiar with the concept that you can be allergic to different foods, like peanuts or shellfish. But did you know that what you eat is also a big factor in seasonal allergies, too? Diet is important since it has a direct effect on the immune system’s function. It is most commonly seen in diets that are high in dairy or gluten. Foods that are high in sugar, have been processed, or have food additives in them, are recognized as leading to inflammation in the body. These all can result in an increase in histamine reactions in the body.
Common High-Histamine Foods
- Alcoholic beverages (wine, beer, liquors, etc.)
- Cured or processed meats (ham, bacon, sausage, salami, etc.)
- Dairy Products (Milk, cheese, sour cream, etc.)
- Shellfish (clams, shrimp, lobster, crawfish, etc.)
- Dried fruits
- Fermented foods or dairy (sauerkraut, yogurt, kefir, etc.)
- Peanuts and Tree Nuts (walnuts, cashews, almonds, etc.)
- Black and green teas
Although some foods on this list may be considered healthy, they can still result in a histamine reaction in the body. It is best to consult with a Functional Medicine Professional about what is best for you. Anti-inflammatory foods are a great place to start, especially when repairing gut health and treating chronic illness. In some cases, an elimination diet works well to identify specific triggers, strengthen the immune system, and reduce symptoms in the future.
Food Allergy VS Food Sensitivity VS Food Intolerance
When speaking about “allergies” in the context of food, it is important to clarify the difference between being allergic to specific food and having allergy symptoms enhanced by the presence of a specific food being in your diet. The primary way to differentiate is by taking a look at the body’s reaction.
A food allergy is when your body responds through the immune system. If the mast cells of your body release histamine, it can lead to symptoms like bloating, hives, swelling, and even anaphylaxis. Food allergies can be very serious and if you suspect your body is responding to food through the immune system, talk to a medical professional.
On the other hand, food sensitivity or intolerance is when your body reacts with the digestive system. In this case, your body’s digestive system cannot properly break down the food, therefore causing a reaction. Food sensitivities and intolerances are significantly more common than food allergies. For example, lactose intolerance is one of the most common intolerances, and it is a result of the body not being able to process lactose — a sugar found in dairy products. With seasonal allergies, eating foods your body is sensitive to or intolerant of, may increase the severity of symptoms.
What Are Some of the Most Common Allergy Symptoms that People Experience?
The most common allergy symptoms include sneezing, coughing, itchy eyes, and a runny nose. Other less common symptoms can include fatigue, headaches, difficulty breathing, and hives.
Allergy symptoms come in all shapes and sizes. Meaning, one person could be allergic to the exact same thing as another person, yet have different allergic responses and/or varying levels of severity of the symptoms.
What Are Ways to Prevent or Reduce Allergy Symptoms Naturally?
There are a few things you can do to help prevent or minimize allergy symptoms naturally. These include:
–Avoiding triggers: If you know what triggers your allergies, try to avoid them as much as possible. For example, closing any doors and windows during allergy season to avoid excess pollen or pet dander.
–Reducing stress: Stress can make allergies worse, so try to find ways to relax and de-stress.
–Wearing sunglasses: Sunglasses can help protect your eyes from pollen and other allergens.
–Rinsing your sinuses: Rinsing your sinuses with saline solution can help clear out any allergens that may be causing your symptoms.
–Taking supplements: Certain supplements, such as quercetin and butterbur, can help reduce allergy symptoms. Speak with a medical professional to learn more about what supplements may be best for you.
–Lifestyle Changes: Small adjustments can make a world of a difference. Getting more rest or removing inflammatory foods from your diet (i.e elimination diet) can reduce the symptoms and improve your overall quality of life.
Are There Any Natural Treatments for Allergies That Really Work?
There are a few natural treatments for allergies that have been shown to be effective. These include:
–Local Honey: Especially if your seasonal allergies are pollen-driven, getting honey from a local source and taking a teaspoon a day can help to acclimate your body to the pollen and reduce symptoms. (This is contraindicated for children under 2)
–Butterbur: Butterbur is a plant that has been shown to be effective in reducing allergy symptoms, such as sneezing and runny nose.
–Bromelain: Bromelain is a compound found in pineapples that have been shown to reduce inflammation and swelling.
–Vitamin C: Vitamin C is an antioxidant that can help reduce the severity of allergy symptoms and improve immune function.
–Quercetin: Quercetin is a plant pigment that has been shown to have anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties.
While there is no cure for allergies, there are a number of effective treatments available. If you’re looking for an alternative to traditional allergy treatments, functional medicine may be the right choice for you. Functional medicine doctors can help identify the root cause of your allergies and develop a treatment plan specifically tailored to your needs.
How Can a Functional Medicine Doctor Help Treat Allergies Effectively?
Functional medicine is a more holistic approach to healthcare that looks at the whole person, rather than just treating symptoms. A functional medicine doctor will work with you to identify the root cause of your allergies and develop a treatment plan that addresses them. This may include dietary changes, supplements, and lifestyle modifications. The functional medicine approach involves addressing the body’s immune response and digestive responses to an allergen.
Functional medicine can be extremely effective in treating allergies. In many cases, it can help to reduce or eliminate symptoms completely. If you’re looking for an alternative to traditional allergy treatments, functional medicine may be the right choice for you.
At Thrive! Wellness Center, our team is here to answer any questions you have. Working with a professional functional medicine doctor can help treat the problem, rather than just the symptoms. Contact Thrive! Wellness Center today to learn more.