Well, it’s that time of year again when flowers bloom and leaves pop, sending mold, pollen, and other respiratory irritants airborne.
From sneezing and coughing to runny nose, head congestion, fatigue, and swollen itchy eyes, the symptoms of allergies debilitate millions of people each year, usually in the spring and fall.
If you are like millions of others, you rush to the drugstore for the latest and greatest allergy medication to stifle the symptoms. However, you also dread the side-effects of drug-based anti-histamines and decongestants just as much as you dread the allergy symptoms themselves.
What are allergies?
An allergy is an immune reaction to a substance (antigen) in the environment. The antigen could be a certain protein in a food source, e.g., peanuts, gluten, casein (from dairy), or found in the air, like pollen. For many, these antigens can cause anything from a mild immune reaction to the debilitating and miserable symptoms associated with seasonal allergies.
The reason for your suffering is an imbalance in certain white blood cells, which are programmed to search and destroy the presenting antigen. Once the white blood cell comes in contact with the antigen, the white blood cell signals other cells to release histamine and prostaglandins, chemicals that make you sneeze, itch, and feel miserable.
What you didn’t know about allergies
The immune system is a complex world of white blood cells that protect us from disease and disease-causing organisms like parasites, bacteria, viruses, and cancer. A type of white blood cell called a T-Lymphocyte turns on and regulates the immune system by making chemical messengers, called cytokines, which tell other cells in the immune system what to do.
There are two types of T-Lymphocytes that make cytokines: TH1 cells and TH2 cells. TH1 cells are active killers of viruses and bacteria, while TH2 cells produce cytokines which trigger different effects in the body, one being the allergic response.
A normally functioning immune system will turn on the TH1 response or the TH2 response when needed, switching back and forth depending on the internal threat.
Immune problems arise when TH1 or TH2 responses get stuck. Typically in allergies, the TH2 response becomes dominant.
The cytokines from TH2 cells cause inflammation and the production of histamines, prostaglandins—the chemicals that make you miserable during allergy season—and IgE antibodies. This can lead to allergies, asthma, skin eruptions, itchiness, and anaphylactic reactions.
Why so many allergies now?
According to Current Opinion in Allergy and Clinical Immunology, the increase in seasonal allergies may have some connection to improved hygiene and better infection control in industrialized countries.
It would appear that being overly clean and reducing the burden of microbes during childhood modifies the immune system, thus elevating the stuck TH2 response.
Inflammatory foods and westernized diets—processed foods—is other reason behind the increased incidence of seasonal allergies. So, it appears that environmental and genetic influence early in life dictate your current immune response.
What can you do to rebuild your immune system?
A major part of your immune system is attached to your gut. The greatest control you have over regulating your immune system and its response to the environment is to eliminate inflammatory foods that wreak havoc on the immune system.
These include processed/refined grains (breads, crackers, pretzels, and other refined flour-based foods), and dairy—ALL dairy. Dairy includes all animal milks (cow and goat), cheese, yogurt made from animal dairy, and the milk protein casein found in protein bars and powders.
Refined vegetable oils are another hazard. These oils include: vegetable oil, palm oil, cottonseed oil, and all partially-hydrogenated oils.
If foods can contribute to allergies and an abnormal immune response, then logically, there are foods that improve the immune response.
Foods that help fight allergies:
- Cruciferous vegetables (cauliflower, kale, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, collard greens, etc.)
- Fatty fish, which provide omega-3 fatty acids and the anti-inflammatory compounds DHA and EPA. These include salmon, mackerel, herring, and tuna
- Walnuts and flax seed—also supply anti-inflammatory omega-3 fatty acids
- Fruits high in antioxidants including: blueberries, dark grapes, plums, blackberries, raspberries, and strawberries
- Foods high in bioflavonoids that help fight inflammation: apples, tea, onions, garlic
- Foods high in magnesium: almonds, cashews
- Spices: turmeric (curcumin), anise, mustard, and horseradish
Many over-the-counter drugs aim to block these inflammatory cytokines, but chemical interventions always have lists of side-effects. A common antihistamine, called Zyrtec, has a long list of potential side effects, including: fast, pounding or uneven heartbeat; weakness; tremors (uncontrolled shaking); sleep problems (insomnia); severe restless feeling; hyperactivity; confusion; problems with vision; urinating less than usual or not at all; dizziness; drowsiness; tired feeling; dry mouth; sore throat; cough; nausea; constipation; and, last, headaches.
Sounds like relief to me. My sneezing stopped, but now I’m constipated and can’t pee. My mouth is dry, and I have a sore throat. I have a splitting headache, and I can’t sleep . . . great!
For this reason, I recommend OPC-3, a natural supplement containing two very powerful antioxidants, anti-inflammatories, and anti-histamines: grape-seed extract and Pycnogenol®, a natural plant compound found in the French maritime pine.
Proven through research, Pycnogenol® eliminates free radicals to prevent oxidative damage to cells; improves immune function; strengthens blood vessels; and is an incredible antihistamine. According to Phytotherapy Research, Pycnogenol® dramatically reduced allergy symptoms in test subjects, when taken prior to full-blown allergy season.
Grape-seed extract is derived from grape seeds, which contain polyphenols and OPCs (oligomeric proanthocyanidins). These plant-based compounds are also a natural antioxidant and anti-inflammatory, which helps with the allergic response.
A second product I recommend for supporting TH1 immunity to combat the allergic response is Mycotaki. Mycotaki is a combination of different mushroom extracts that have been shown to support the immune response. Mushrooms have a carbohydrate called beta-glucan that cause the production of anti-inflammatory mediators that will inhibit the TH2 response seen with allergies.
Before you run to your favorite drugstore, consider nutraMetrix OPC-3 and Mycotaki. Dosing and amounts vary depending on your individual needs. Order your bottle of OPC-3 here, and your bottle of Mycotaki here. For more information, give me a call. 203-655-4494
Note: It’s important to start improving the immune system before you have full-blown allergy symptoms.
Ngoc Ly, Gold D, Tzianabos A, et. al., Cytokines, allergy, and asthma. Current Opinion in Allergy and Clinical Immunology 2005, 5:161–166
Wilson D, Evans M, Guthrie N, et al., A Randomized, Double-Blind, Placebo-Controlled Exploratory Study to evaluate the potential of Pycnogenol® for Improving Allergic Rhinitis Symptoms, Phytotherapy Research, 2010