As spring approaches, seasonal allergy sufferers may be dreading the change of season but don’t often think about digestion. Seasonal allergy symptoms can greatly impact quality of life and commonly include:
- Runny nose
- Itchy and/or watering eyes
People with seasonal allergies may reach for over-the-counter and/or prescription allergy medications to help manage the severity of their symptoms. However, these medications don’t address any underlying causes that are contributing to their allergies in the first place.
Allergy medications can also have potential side effects, such as leaving you feeling dizzy or drowsy. Plus, they can be costly when taken regularly. If you forget to take your allergy medication for even a single day, you’ll likely feel miserable as your symptoms come back.
How can you manage seasonal allergy symptoms with a more natural approach? It may be possible to improve your seasonal allergies from the inside out.
What are Seasonal Allergies?
Seasonal allergies are an immune system response to an outside substance, like pollen, your body perceives as a threat. Antibodies are produced to “attack” the substance and a substance called histamine is released. The histamine is responsible for the inflammation and uncomfortable symptoms you experience.
But is your body really sensitive to pollen and ragweed? Or is your immune system stressed, weakened, or hypersensitive and, as a result, overreacting to these otherwise natural substances in the environment?
It turns out the underlying cause may be an interaction between your digestive system, immune response, and environmental triggers.
Digestive System and Seasonal Allergies
The primary job of your digestive system is breaking down the food you eat and then absorbing it for use in the body and eliminating waste. The digestive system also serves as a physical barrier between everything you consume and the rest of your body, has a built in detoxification system, and is home to 70-80% of your immune system. If your gut isn’t in tip top shape, chances are your immune system isn’t either.
Some lifestyle factors, like diet, medication, alcohol use, and stress may contribute to chronic inflammation in the digestive system. This inflammation can throw the immune system out of balance, disrupt the microbiome (aka the bacteria that resides in your digestive system), and weaken the physical structure of the intestines.
Chronic digestive inflammation can result in leaky gut, a condition where the small intestine literally “leaks.” The intestinal wall becomes structurally impaired which allows large particles of food and other toxins to cross into the bloodstream, where they then trigger even more inflammation and overstimulate the immune system.
All this inflammation can result in digestive problems and manifest as other immune-related health issues, including skin problems, arthritis, autoimmune disorders, and yes, even seasonal allergies.
Symptoms of Inflammation in the Gut
How do you know if your digestive system is chronically inflamed? If you experience any of the following digestive problems on a regular basis, there’s a good chance you’re dealing with excess inflammation. Digestive problems can include:
- Intestinal cramping
- Irritable bowel
The good news is you can make food and lifestyle choices that can help reduce inflammation to improve digestion. Improving digestive problems will help promote a strong intestinal wall barrier and balance the bacteria in your microbiome to support normal immune function.
How to Improve Seasonal Allergies with Better Digestive Health
Here are some tips to support digestion and immune function and help you feel better this allergy season.
1. Eat more high-fiber foods.
Fiber helps food move through the digestive tract, contributes to regular bowel movements, and “feeds” the good bacteria in your gut. High fiber foods include most fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, beans, and legumes.
2. Reduce or eliminate common inflammatory foods.
To help calm inflammation in the digestive tract, you have to remove the foods that are contributing to inflammation in the first place. Common inflammatory foods include:
- Processed meats – bacon, hot dogs, lunch meats
- Gluten – found in wheat, barley, and rye
- Refined Carbohydrates – white pasta, white bread, crackers, pretzels
- Sugar – includes candy, cakes, sweetened drinks
3. Eat more anti-inflammatory foods (grab a three day meal plan here), including:
- Fresh fruit and vegetables
- Beans and legumes
- Gluten-free whole grains, like oats, brown rice, and quinoa
- Wild-caught seafood
- Grass-fed and pastured meat and poultry
- Nuts and seeds
- Healthy fats, like avocado, olive oil, and coconut oil
- Fresh herbs and spices
4. To combat very severe seasonal allergies, try an elimination diet.
Some people have food sensitivities, which are not as easy to distinguish as a true food allergy. You may not even realize you’re sensitive to something you’re eating.
If you are sensitive to a particular food, eating it causes inflammation in the digestive system and triggers an immune response. Avoiding these foods is crucial to supporting digestion and immune function so your immune system doesn’t keep mistaking benign substances, like pollen, as threatening invaders.
An elimination diet can help you identify food sensitivities. Common reactive foods, like gluten, dairy, eggs, and soy are removed from your diet for a few weeks and then added back in, one at a time, to identify any reactive symptoms. It’s best to work with a nutrition professional if you’re interested in completing an elimination diet.
5. Take your supplements.
- A daily probiotic can help establish more beneficial bacteria in your gut that supports digestion and immune function.
- Fish oil is rich in omega-3 fats, which help combat inflammation and support a healthy gut lining.
- Turmeric has powerful anti-inflammatory properties. Research has found curcumin, the active compound in turmeric, inhibits the release of histamine. Try cooking with turmeric and taking it as a supplement in pill or powder form.
6. Chew your food.
This might sound like a no-brainer, but many people rush through meals and snacks without thoroughly chewing their food. Improperly chewed food and eating in a hurry can leave you feeling bloated and contribute to many other digestive problems.
Digestion begins in the mouth when well-chewed food mixes with saliva. Saliva contains digestive enzymes that go to work breaking down the food for further digestion in the stomach and small intestine. The more you chew, the better these enzymes work and the more nutrients can be extracted from your food.
Try making food your single focus at mealtimes. That means turning off the TV, putting down your cell phone, and paying attention to what and how you’re eating. To help support optimal digestion, each bite of food should be chewed 20-40 times depending on texture.
7. Manage stress.
Chronic stress wreaks havoc on digestion and is a leading cause of body-wide inflammation. The body simply can not heal itself or function optimally when it is bombarded with high levels of stress hormones, like cortisol.
To help manage stress levels, make sure you’re getting 7-8 hours of sleep a night, try doing more relaxing physical activities, like yoga or walking, and mindfulness practices, like meditation or journaling.
Be Proactive, Not Reactive
These tips can help support proper digestion and immune system function. When inflammation is decreased in the digestive system, you may find you experience fewer digestive problems and your immune system may become less reactive to seasonal allergies.
Don’t wait until allergy season hits you to start taking preventive measures. Making diet and lifestyle changes a few weeks to months ahead of peak allergy season can help you sail through the season with fewer symptoms.