Is it just me or is it feeling like more and more people have an allergy these days.
We’re a sensitive bunch aren’t we!?
It’s expected that by 2050 the number of people affected by allergic disease in Australia will increase to 70%.
So maybe it’s not just me…
Asthma, hayfever and dermatitis can be so frustrating, debilitating and even life threatening. So it’s important to understand a few factors that can feed into the occurrence & severity of them.
An allergic disease is basically when a person’s immune system reacts to substances that are normally harmless. Our immune system becomes imbalanced and responds to stimuli by increased inflammation and a hyper-responsive state.
We come into contact with allergens from our environment and our diet. The allergen comes into contact with IgE antibodies via the skin, respiratory tract and gut. These antibodies then bind to mast cells and basophils (white blood cell) which triggers the release of histamine and other inflammatory mediators.
These factors cause the classic signs of an allergic reaction such as the runny nose, watery eyes, itchy throat and skin and sneezing.
So, what can you do to help you this allergy season?
Identify and remove potential allergens
A very important therapeutic action when managing allergies is to identify and remove the offending allergen wherever possible. If you have a sensitivity to something you can remove for a bit and do the ground work and then re-introduce later. However if you have a “true allergy” or IgE mediated allergy, you’ll need to steer clear forever.
It can be hard to identify individual allergens amongst the myriad of different kinds.
You can be allergic to multiple things due to the beauty of cross-reactivity (where the proteins of certain particular foods or plants are very similar to others, so you react to both).
There is a range of tests you can look at with your health practitioner and allergy specialists. This includes food allergy testing (IgE & IgG), ALCAT test, elimination diets, skin prick test/patch tests, eosinophil counts etc.
Please always discuss with your health practitioner to assess which tests are most suitable for you!
Quercetin, Vitamin C & Bromelain
Quercetin aka natures’ natural antihistamine, is a polyphenol found in onions, broccoli, fruits apples, buckwheat, berries, grapes, tea and red wine.
Quercetin & Vitamin C are besties and work really well together to stabilise mast cells, reduce histamine release and downgrade inflammation which helps to reduce the severity of an allergic reaction.
Vitamin C is best found in raw, un-processed fruits & vegetables. Cooking or heating products can reduce the amount of Vitamin C available due to its heat sensitivity and water-soluble nature. Dark leafy greens and citrus fruits are important sources of this Vitamin so incorporate these into your diet as much as possible!
Bromelain is an enzyme mixture that can be found in high amounts of the stem of pineapples. It has a number of application and is anti-inflammatory, can help as a proteolytic enzyme (protein digestion) and importantly in the case of allergies, is highly effective at breaking down mucous to help you get rid of it.
So always chuck your pineapple stem into your smoothies
There are some really great therapeutic products that incorporate these nutrients, but don’t go buying off Iherb just yet. A nutritionist or naturopath will be able to recommend a guaranteed quality product, in the form you need and the amount you should be getting.
Our intestinal wall is the interface between our internal environment and our external environment. Our gut comes into contact with a LOT of stuff and so it can bear the brunt of our modern lifestyle.
When the intestinal barrier loses integrity or becomes ‘leaky’ this can increase the flux of allergens and toxins that come into contact with our immune system.
This can ramp up the inflammation and immune response in the gut (which we know can create inflammation and immune over-activity in other parts of the body including the skin & respiratory system).
There are layers of protection for our intestinal barrier which includes our microbiome, antibodies (sIgA – kinda like a guard that patrols the gut lining) as well as the physical barrier of our gut wall. Dysbiosis, intestinal permeability (or “Leaky gut”), parasites, food intolerances/allergies & stress among other things can all contribute to an overactive immune response. Hayfever, asthma or dermatitis can be a sign of greater dysfunction in your gut.
As we mentioned before, mast cells are found in our skin, mucosa and respiratory tract and other parts of the body.
It’s been shown that there is bidirectional link between mast cells and neurons. Certain mediators released during the stress response may activate mast cells and cause the release of histamine, which contributes to those classic allergic symptoms.
Psychological stress or the fight or flight response is something that is chronically activated in our modern day to day lives, and affects our health in a myriad of ways including our immune system.
What we need to do is switch off your fight or flight mode and start to activate your rest and digest state.
One way to do this is to practice mindfulness. I know what you’re thinking.
I can’t meditate.
It’s so hard.
I’m so bad at it.
I hear ya!
But a really good way to start is to start small and work your way up.
Set a timer on your phone for two minutes. And just focus on your breath.
Try it on your lunch break, or if you get to work a little early do it then.
Think of it as a “comma” in your day, a little pause where you let go of those unrelenting thoughts and create space for yourself.
If you’re finding it difficult I find it helps to just breathe a little louder and more exaggerated. If a thought creeps in, acknowledge it and let it go and just come back to your breath.
Investigate nutrient deficiencies
We require key nutrients to keep our immune system in check.
Vitamin D & zinc are key immune modulating nutrients and help to balance our immune response. They also play key roles in gut health and supporting the integrity of our gut lining.
Coming off the back of winter obviously Vitamin D from the sun is in low supply, so a deficiency (which is quite common, particularly in these Victorian winter months) could impact the occurrence and severity of allergic reactions in spring.
15-20 minutes in the sun outside of the peak UV time (10am-3pm) can help you hit your RDI of Vitamin D for the day. For those with an already established deficiency, it may be warranted to look at supplementation.
An interesting way of increasing your vitamin D through food is exposing your mushrooms to sunlight for an hour, which increases our intake of Vitamin D2 (the form of Vitamin D found in plants, which is metabolised in our kidneys and liver to its active form Vitamin D3).
Zinc deficiencies can occur due to a variety of reasons, but big ones are poor vegan and vegetarian diets, low stomach acid levels caused by antacids & proton pump inhibitors (PPIs), or increased requirements (due to surgery, wounds, chronic immune dysfunction etc.).
Top food sources of zinc include:
- Seafood (oysters, fish, shellfish), meat & poultry
- Nuts & Seeds (particularly pumpkin seeds & almonds)
- Legumes & lentils
As always before any type of supplementation, PLEASE speak to a health practitioner!! There is a whole lot of crap out there that you can’t guarantee the quality of the product, you might not even get the amount they say you are meant to. Also it’s important to know what form of the nutrient as well as how much you should be taking for you!!
Some things in this blog might not apply to you, like any health condition everyone has their own individual contributing factors.
So please reach out if you have any questions!
Until next time.
Rom & Al