Spring has officially sprung on us and this means allergy season is here too – likely a dreaded time of year for those that suffer from hay fever, itchy, watery eyes, and runny noses – which makes this is a great time to discuss now naturopathic medicine can help lessen allergies so that you can enjoy being outside.
Seasonal allergies can be present for most of the year except in the winter. Typically, the Spring presents predominantly with allergies to tree pollen, the Summer presents with allergies to grasses, and the Fall is where allergies to weeds, especially ragweed can be seen most commonly.
The key with minimizing allergic responses to food or to the environmental allergens mentioned above is to establish a balanced immune system. A common reason people develop allergies to food or the environment is because of an immune system that is skewed towards one pathway. This phenomenon, known as the ‘hygiene hypothesis’ is a reason why we are seeing more young children presenting with allergies and also why allergies are not quite as prominent in developing countries where sanitation and disinfectants are not widely used or available.
Hygiene Hypothesis & Allergies
Our immune system consists of innate and adaptive immunity. The innate immune system is the one that kicks in immediately following challenge by a pathogen (bad virus or bacteria or toxin). If our innate immune system cannot fight off the offending pathogen, then our adaptive immunity kicks in 7-10 days later if help is needed (1). Our adaptive immunity consists of B cells and T cells. A balance between a subtype of T cells, TH1 (cell-mediated immunity) and TH2 (humoral immunity), is important for minimizing allergy responses (and autoimmune diseases).
At birth, babies have an immune system that skews toward TH2 which creates an environment for producing antibodies, including IgE antibodies (the key player in allergies). As we are exposed to bacteria in our environment, particularly gram negative bacteria (bad bacteria), our immune system moves away from developing a predominant TH2 response to a TH1 response to combat the virus or bacteria. This helps lessen the occurrence of childhood allergies. Over recent years, with the obsession on cleanliness and making sure everything is disinfected, the exposure to these infectious bad bacteria are reduced. This creates an immune system predisposed to TH2 immunity promoting IgE antibody development (1).
Often when someone is exposed to an allergen for the first time, it takes time for the body to develop the IgE antibodies and this is why the allergic response is not as severe or big. On the second exposure, since the IgE antibodies are already present and attached to mast cells (a type of white blood cell), the allergen (antigen) binds to the IgE and activates the mast cell to release histamine. It is this histamine that is responsible for causing the nasal congestion, red eyes, watery eyes, itchy eyes, itchy skin, constriction of the airways, and any signs of hives (urticaria). Symptomatically, the key is to prevent the release of histamine from these mast cells or prevent histamine from acting on its receptors to generate symptoms (why antihistamines like Benadryl and Claritin work well). From a naturopathic approach, however, the goal is to balance the immune system through managing stress, restoring gut health or working on removing whatever other factors that have caused the immune system to go off balance.
Immune Balance & Reducing The Allergic Response
There are a number of natural approaches that can be used to help modulate the immune system to steer away from TH2 dominance and create an optimal TH1/TH2 balance for minimizing allergic responses and also autoimmune diseases. It all begins in the gut! There are specific probiotic (good bacteria) strains that have also been shown to help through down-regulating the inflammatory markers that trigger TH2 responses (2). Probiotic bacteria can also help reduce white blood cells often involved in allergic responses like eosinophils (2). These little good bacteria are not the only thing that is needed to optimize gut health and help balance the immune system. One needs to also ensure he or she has minimized/eliminated any inflammation in the gut as this will affect the ratio of good to bad bacteria. See my post on how the poor digestive health can negatively impact your immune system here.
Natural Antihistamine Options for Minimizing Symptoms
There are lots of other herbs and supplements that can be used to minimize the histamine-mediated allergy response should the immune system be activated – things like quercetin and flavonoids are commonplace but working with a naturopathic doctor will help find the RIGHT supplement or herb for you.
If you suffer from chronic allergies, it is always good to engage in a safe and effective liver detoxification protocol. It is important to note that not doing a detoxification protocol that is right for you can leave you feeling sicker and more unwell (increased skin breakouts, more fatigue, diarrhea, constipation are some symptoms) so it is important to seek a healthcare practitioner to guide you on which type of detox is best for you and your current state of health.
While it is optimal to start allergy prophylaxis three (3) months before allergy season, beginning now or at any point can help lessen the symptoms, help you manage your allergies and let you enjoy the outdoors a little more this year. If you are interested in optimizing your immune system, allergy management or prevention, or a general liver detoxification, book your appointment or even just a FREE meet and greet consult. This is the best time for a detox!
- Vighi G, Marcucci F, Sensi L, Di Cara G, Frati F. Allergy and the gastrointestinal system. Clin Exp Immunol. 2008 Sept; 153(Suppl 1):3-6.
- Yang G, Liu Z, Yang P. Treatment of allergic rhinitis with probiotics: an alternative approach. N Am J Med Sci. 2013 Aug; 5(8): 465-468.