I've worked with many parents to help address their kids' allergies naturally, but despite all of the natural options available, many folks feel stuck suffering with allergies. The trick with lasting relief is taking a true holistic approach – addressing not only the symptoms and triggers, but also getting to the root cause. Natcha explains how in this post. ~Emily
I was told I was dealt a bad genetic hand for allergies, so there wasn’t much I could do about it. My entire family suffer from terrible allergies and eczema all the time. Without fixing the root causes, I would continue to need symptom-suppressing treatments with increasing strength over time.
Over the counter antihistamines eventually stopped working, which led me to needing steroid nasal sprays and subsequently allergy shots. When the steroid creams for my eczema no longer did the trick, I was told the alternative medication would increase my chance of developing lymphoma. In addition, I caught every virus that came my way, and the pharmacist knew me by my first name.
It wasn’t until I learned about natural approaches to deal with allergies as a holistic nutritionist that I no longer need the medications to control the symptoms. I am now symptom-free year-round.
Although the human genomes have not changed much in 20 years, the incidence of allergies is on the rise such that about 40% of the world population have some form of allergic sensitivity.
However, a study showed that populations that live more like their ancestors, such as the Amish whose children are exposed to farm animals from an early age and consume raw milk, maintain their low rates of allergies.
Suffice to say that many things we do in our modern world are wrong for our genes, and allergy or atopy are the manifestations of the problem. While conventional treatments have their time and place, especially when allergies and asthma symptoms may be life-threatening, studies say there are many things we can change as part of our allergy treatment plan.
Natural allergy treatment that really works
Presently, there is no cure for allergies in conventional medicine, as doctors only prescribe ways to manage the symptoms with medications or allergy shots.
Nonetheless, scientists are discovering the root causes of allergies. We now know that natural allergy treatment that addresses the root cause is safer and far more effective than conventional solutions.
#1 – Address gut health
Over 80% of your immune system is in the gut. Our gut bacteria exposure is a big contributor to atopic diseases, i.e. allergy, asthma and eczema (study). It is therefore important to maintain a healthy gut flora. Not only is it important to consume foods that contain good bacteria and prebiotics, but it is also important to manage stress and avoid substances that kill good bacteria.
For many people, when probiotics and eliminating food sensitivities fail to give results, they may have deeper problems that require additional workup with a qualified functional medicine practitioner.
If someone has an overgrowth of yeast, too much bad bacteria, parasite infections, or heavy metal toxicity, for example, those could very well contribute to allergies. It is therefore important to see a practitioner to screen for these problems and address them accordingly.
#2 – Lower toxic and inflammatory load in the body
When dealing with an inflammatory health issue like allergies, it is important to lower toxic and inflammatory load in the body as much as possible, because these things from multiple sources have cumulative effects. You can lower toxic and inflammatory load by doing the following:
Live a low toxin lifestyle
High toxic load can worsen allergies, especially for people who already have a genetic tendency for allergies. It is therefore important to reduce toxic exposure by eating organic foods, and using air purifiers to remove indoor airborne allergens and other toxic compounds.
Identify food sensitivities and heal the gut
I myself and many of my clients experience significant improvements in their allergic symptoms by using an elimination diet to identify food sensitivities and heal leaky gut.
Although the diet is only one piece of the puzzle, removing the culprit foods and consuming gut-healing foods can make a significant difference.
There are a time and place for medications, but they have side effects and should only be used with caution. Several common over-the-counter medications have adverse effects on the immune system.
For example, the use of medications like acetaminophen (such as Tylenol or Paracetamol) have been associated with the development of allergies and asthma either in utero (during pregnancy) and in children (study). Non-steroidal Anti-inflammatory Drugs (NSAIDs, like Advil and Aspirin) have been shown to cause intestinal permeability or leaky gut (study). Leaky gut can lead to food sensitivity and increase overall inflammation, and thus worsen allergy symptoms.
#3 – Get tested for your allergies to appropriately avoid the allergens both in your environment and foods
Being exposed to things that you are allergic to is not only unpleasant, but also results in unnecessary inflammation which is bad for overall health in the long run. Therefore, you should get tested for allergy because it will be informative for you to actively avoid exposure.
Another benefit of getting tested for allergies is that it allows you to identify potential food allergies based on what you know about your environmental allergies. Foods that contain proteins with some similarities to environmental allergens can cause an allergic reaction called Oral Allergy Syndrome.
Your immune system may detect some seemingly unrelated foods as very similar to some environmental allergens that you are allergic to. That means many people who have latex allergy are also allergic to avocados, papayas or bananas, and people who are allergic to dust mites may also be allergic to seafood.
Sometimes plants in the same families, like dandelion, sunflower, echinacea, calendula and chamomile can all cross-react and lead to allergic symptoms for people with ragweed allergies. If you have an immediate allergic reaction to one of these foods, you may very well have oral allergy syndrome.
Eating these foods may manifest in symptoms of allergies, itchy mouth or throat, swelling of the lips or throat, and sometimes skin rashes. In very rare cases, it can cause anaphylaxis.
Once you are aware of foods that may cross-react to your known environmental allergies and you have been eating these foods, try removing all of them for a few weeks before re-introducing each of them one-by-one. Since these allergies are IgE-mediated, they produce immediate reaction and any symptoms that arise will happen within under an hour.
After I discovered that I was allergic to ragweed and I was eating a lot of sunflower butter, simply stopping the sunbutter and my supplements that contained dandelion nearly cleared up my eczema in the middle of a very terrible flare up. Therefore, once you are aware of these food allergies, it is very important to avoid them.
#4 – Provide your body with nutrients that your immune system needs
The immune system uses a lot of nutrients. People who suffer from allergies have their immune system working in overdrive, so they have an increased need for certain nutrients. Also, ensuring that we have enough nutrients that our immune system needs will help re-balance the immune system. These include:
Vitamin A (retinol, not beta-carotene) and Vitamin D
These vitamins have very important roles in the regulation of the immune system. It is therefore important to maintain good blood levels of these vitamins.
Because of nutrient synergy, whole food sources of these nutrients are usually much more powerful for their healing powers. For sources of vitamin A, I take fermented cod liver oil and occasionally eat liver. To get vitamin D, I regularly consume grass-fed butter and pastured lard. However, I find that I need some extra supplementation to keep my vitamin D at a good level.
A high omega-6 to omega-3 ratio may contribute to an increase in inflammation. Initially, it might be a good idea to challenge with high doses of fish oil for a few weeks to help change this ratio in the body.
However, because a high consumption of polyunsaturated fats like omega-3 and omega-6 may raise oxidative damages, in the long run, it is better to maintain a balanced omega-3 to omega-6 ratio by limiting foods that are high in omega-6.
In general, vegetable seed oils and grain-fed animals are unhealthy to consume and should be avoided. Other foods that may be high in omega-6 include poultry and fats from poultry (including pasture-raised ones), and most nuts and seeds should be consumed occasionally in reasonable amounts.
Magnesium, selenium and zinc
These minerals are important for immune functions, and most people are deficient in them. Zinc and selenium are important to mediate histamine release from immune cells, whereas Magnesium is used many times in the immune system and up to 80% of the population are deficient in magnesium. These minerals are also important for the detoxification system.
How has your natural allergy treatment worked for you?
Natcha Maithai is a cancer researcher turned “health detective.” She helps investigate mysterious health problems for her clients and demystify relevant biomedical research for the general public. She is passionate about helping women become masters of their bodies through fitness, nutrition, hormone balancing, functional medicine and quantified-self technologies. Find her at natchamaithai.ca.