Looking back, there are quite a few things that I miss from my childhood:
- Catching lightning bugs and marveling at them… how can an insect have a built-in lamp?
- Staying out ‘til sundown with neighborhood friends, playing tag, football, climbing trees and exercising our imaginations. Living wild in the last era that was still free from attention-robbing personal computers, smartphones and the internet that kids are usually glued to nowadays.
- The comforting smell of warm, fresh, home-made potato bread coming out of the oven. My mother often greeted me with it as I returned after playing outside all night.
I have many cherished memories but there is one thing that I certainly do not miss.
I had terrible seasonal allergies
By the time I reached my early-to-mid teens I began to experience a pretty lousy tradition:
Each and every year, as the seasons changed I would be struck by the heinous symptoms of seasonal allergies – itchy and red, watery eyes, runny nose, coughing and a sore throat. Sometimes my eyes would be so sensitive that I couldn’t open them the in bright daylight.
This continued through my late teens and early twenties. Aside from seasonal allergies, I also seemed to catch colds pretty often.
To be honest, it eventually became common enough that my mind regarded it as “normal.” Hit the store, grab some antihistamines, decongestants, and NyQuil, and that’s all we can do, right?
There’s a lot of poor health in our country right now. It is very common.
But what has become “common” is actually far-from-normal!
Learning from your mistakes
Seasonal allergies were one of several experiences that taught me untold lessons about health.
Just as with my run-in with cancer! Had I not had to face that challenge, I would have continued trotting along like many others. A happy, unsuspecting upholder of the status quo.
Never suspecting that things could (or needed to) be radically improved in the way we live, think, eat and express ourselves.
Adverse events in life are a dynamic learning experience. Just like with school, the sooner we study, learn and successfully pass our course, we can move on to other lessons.
What I’d like to share with you today are some of the changes I made in my life that allowed me to say goodbye – forever – to seasonal allergies. I came across these concepts through my personal investigative-repair process, seeking to upgrade my health to “optimum” rather than remain at “common.”
These personal thoughts may relate to you, and what worked for me may also work for you; or it may not. This information is not all-inclusive, but meant to empower you with a starting point for your own investigation.
Above all, I want you to know that seasonal allergies are not always a permanent issue that can’t be fixed. The pharmaceutical interests may well prefer that we regard every adverse health condition as a “disease,” with one patentable drug created and matched to each specific disease.
Well, that sure is a golden-goose business model for them. Unfortunately, it hardly does justice to the actual nature of our body. If your seasonal allergies are being created by poor dietary and lifestyle choices, no pharmaceutical drug can resolve that. The body would be continuously pumped full of synthetic medications, but without change to the underlying causes, the real problem would never go away.
The US market for allergy medications are estimated to swell to over $14 billion in 2015! This market has continued to grow annually – but how many people were actually able to eliminate their seasonal allergies with these drugs?
My wish is that these words at least inspire you to investigate what can be done naturally to eliminate your seasonal allergies. We are often not told that our food and lifestyle choices are driving certain conditions – when they explicitly are – and that is a great disservice to us all.
What triggers seasonal allergies
It’s estimated that over 24 million Americans are pestered by seasonal allergies. Worse yet, the American Board of Allergy and Immunology (ABAI) predicts the allergy season to be increasingly potent based on various climate changes.
Seasonal allergies are usually caused by airborne pollen, and the ABAI proposes that early springs, long falls and late winters are combining for record-breaking pollen levels and longer “allergy seasons” than ever before.
In my experience, allergies are the result of an immune system going into berserker mode against allergens –particles that the body identifies as foreign. Ironically, the foreign particle that triggers the immune response is usually benign in nature. Like pollen.
Upon initial contact with an allergen, immunoglobulin E (IgE) is released by plasma cells. IgE is an antibody, seeker and destroyer of foreign invaders and allergens. It fastens itself to our mast cells. When the allergen returns and comes into contact with the IgE, it triggers activation of the connecting mast cell.
Mast cells are concentrated in the surface tissues and mucous membranes, such as our skin and inside our nose. They are responsible for releasing potent endogenous chemicals such as histamine – involved in the body’s immune and inflammatory response.
Histamines raise the permeability of the capillaries to white blood cells and specific proteins, allowing them to move more effectively throughout the body and battle pathogens. This can bring the effect of swelling.
Histamines also increase mucus production and, as with the case of seasonal allergies, induce a runny nose, watery eyes, coughing, wheezing, and potentially even airway restriction.
This reaction may also lead to asthma in some, because of how histamine and other chemicals released in allergen-defense can cause smooth-muscle contraction. Muscle contraction may constrict the airways, leading to shortness of breath or worse.
In asthmatic or other allergic reactions, always consult your healthcare professional as appropriate and dial 9-1-1 if you’re experiencing a true emergency.
Seasonal allergies are heinous, but severe allergic reactions known as anaphylaxis, or anaphylactic shock, can be life threatening.
Connecting the dots with an embarrassing short story
Seasonal allergies exemplify a natural process gone awry.
The immune system goes into a heated frenzy over a relatively benign substance. This type of reaction signifies disorder, and may even be related to autoimmune disorders.
As you may know, that’s when the immune system attacks healthy cells that would normally be left alone. An example of this is rheumatoid arthritis, where the immune system attacks the membrane that lines the joints.
I experienced seasonal allergies throughout my youth but I also briefly experienced a condition called alopecia areata. This is, without question, the most embarrassing experience of my life.
Alopecia areata is an autoimmune disorder where the immune system decides to attack the hair follicles, causing patches of hair loss. How did it affect me?
My left eyebrow fell out!
You can imagine my fright.
15 years old, struggling through an ugly duckling stage, still deathly afraid of girls… and now my eyebrow started falling out!
I can laugh now, but it was absolutely World Ending to me then. My left eyebrow literally began receding and then disappeared!
I could see it getting worse, daily, and I felt helpless. At first I thought it was something I was doing unconsciously, like rubbing my eyebrow while sleeping. I began sleeping with a bandana or towel wrapped around my forehead. It didn’t help.
Teens have enough angst and insecurity already and this did not do me any favors!
I became a recluse and shut the world out. It took a long time before I could look anyone in the face. That was an experience in itself. But it taught me courage.
Treated with corticosteroid creams – which suppress the immune system – the hair eventually grew back. But the emotional scarring remained, and I continued to wonder what truly caused it.
A poor diet can cause seasonal allergies
It’s silly to suppose that humans have some sort of steroid cream deficiency. Deep down I knew that it was caused by something I was doing wrong.
And perhaps you feel the same – if something’s wrong, you can identify it and then fix it. If it can happen a first time, it can happen again and I didn’t want that.
I began to question if what I had been eating for those few decades of my life was contributing to – or directly causing – the seasonal allergies and frequent colds I suffered. The more I researched the issue, the dots began to connect.
Here are a few sage words from the very knowledgeable Dr. Mercola, speaking of allergies and the potential connection to Leaky Gut Syndrome:
Allergies May Also Be Due to Leaky Gut Syndrome
Leaky gut is a condition that occurs due to the development of gaps between the cells (enterocytes) that make up the membrane lining your intestinal wall. These tiny gaps allow substances such as undigested food, bacteria and metabolic wastes that should be confined to your digestive tract to escape into your bloodstream — hence the term leaky gut syndrome.
Once the integrity of your intestinal lining is compromised, and there is a flow of toxic substances “leaking out” into your bloodstream, your body experiences significant increases in inflammation.
Besides being associated with inflammatory bowel diseases like Crohn’s and ulcerative colitis, or celiac disease, leaky gut can also be a contributing factor to allergies.
According to a growing number of experts, including Dr. Loren Cordain, a professor at Colorado State University and an expert on Paleolithic lifestyles, humans are NOT designed to eat grains, and doing so may actually be damaging to your gut.
The problem isn’t only that there are superior sources of nutrients; grains actually contain anti-nutrients that may damage your gut. Cracks in your intestinal wall can then allow undigested proteins to enter your blood stream.
These large complex substances are antigenic and allergenic, meaning they stimulate your immune system to produce antibodies against them. This is what sets the stage for the occurrence of allergies and other autoimmune disorders.
“Healing and sealing” your gut has been shown to help alleviate allergy symptoms. The key lies in altering your diet to eliminate the offending foods, such as grains and processed foods, and introduce healthier ones that will support a proper balance of bacteria in your gut. To restore gut health, and prevent leaky gut from occurring, eating traditionally fermented foods is essential.
(For fermented food, I highly recommend making your own sauerkraut – I wish I had been eating it back then!)
And on the importance of “eating right,” Dr. Mercola elaborates:
Here, the allergists claimed the findings were inconclusive, but I think there’s a lot of wiggle-room when you ask conventionally trained doctors and researchers to define what the “right” diet is. Most are simply clueless about using nutrition for optimal health.
For example, genetically engineered (GE) foods, which are pervasive in the American diet, have been shown to cause food allergies. Ditto for various food additives. Recent research has also found that junk food increases a child’s risk of asthma and allergies, so certainly, avoiding such foods can, at the very least, reduce your risk.
To me, addressing your diet if you have allergies is a no-brainer.
An estimated 80 percent of your immune system is located in your gut, so supporting your digestive health is essential to also supporting your immune system, which is your primary defense system against ALL disease. Processed food, GE ingredients and synthetic additives all decimate the beneficial bacteria in your gut, thereby having a negative effect on your immune system.
Ideally, you’ll want to avoid processed foods, focusing on organic, locally-grown foods instead (both to optimize your nutrition and avoid pesticides), and include fermented foods in your diet to optimize your gut flora, or use a high-quality probiotics supplement.
Additionally, as it pertains to your diet: about one-third of seasonal allergy sufferers have something called “oral allergy syndrome,” in which your immune system is triggered by proteins in some foods that are molecularly similar to pollen.
Your immune system looks at the protein molecule and says, “Close enough!” and attacks it. If you are allergic to ragweed, for example, you may have cross-sensitivity to melons, bananas, tomatoes, zucchini, sunflower seeds, dandelions, chamomile, and Echinacea. If you have a grass allergy, you may also react to peaches, celery, tomatoes, melons and oranges. If this applies to you, you’ll want to avoid such foods.
Are you sabotaging your health?
Unfortunately, in my case the answer turned out to be a resounding yes.
Looking back, the first 20-something years of my life involved a great deal of food choices which are now being associated with leaky gut syndrome and a dysfunctional immune response. This includes:
- Loads of gluten-rich, starchy carbohydrates such as breads, grains, and pastas.
- Too many sweets and sugary drinks; Kool-Aid as a child, Gatorade as an adult, lots of desserts and even a few sodas in between.
- A health-crippling dependence upon processed foods, such as cereals and frozen pizza, adding MORE sugars and refined carbohydrates to an already nutrient-deprived diet.
- Lots of milk; very mucus forming and relatively sugary, I consumed at least 1-2 glasses of milk at nearly every dinner for years.
In fact, here is something very interesting. The National Institutes of Health has a webpage dedicated to autoimmune diseases. On this page they have a section for “Nutrition” related to these conditions, which forwards you to a special PDF file for an anti-inflammatory diet.
Inflammation is a component of Sjögren’s syndrome and essentially all autoimmune disease. From a naturopathic perspective of treating the cause of disease, one of the first ways to address this is through an Anti-Inflammatory Diet.
This upstream approach to treatment focuses on avoiding pro-inflammatory foods and eating a diet rich in anti-inflammatory foods. Additionally, since medical research is converging on inflammation as the common link in most diseases (i.e., heart disease, Alzheimer’s, asthma, diabetes, cancer, etc.), eating an anti-inflammatory diet is a great model of dietary health for everyone.
They go on to list foods we should eat more of, and those we should eliminate. Most importantly, they briefly explain why!
I wish I’d had found this in my teens!
As it turns out, I was consuming everything they say to avoid, and not eating nearly enough of the foods recommended.
We spent a lot of time talking about allergies. But inflammation-inducing foods aren’t only harmful to those with allergies or autoimmune conditions. Inflammation (as oxidative stress) is the root of most diseases we face today! Knowing this, can you imagine how many people would benefit from adopting some of these principles?
We’re talking BILLIONS!
In my case, seasonal allergies – and the onset of the autoimmune disorder, alopecia areata – were caused by the foods that I put into my body. This was confirmed by the complete reversal of these conditions after resolving to improve my diet and gut health.
I used to battle seasonal allergies multiple times a year, and now I can proudly say that it has been years since my last experience. Getting close to a decade now.
Likewise for the common cold. My bolstered immune system has seen fit to make it quite UN-common!
Suggestions for beating seasonal allergies
Wouldn’t you like to never get sick?
Or to not suffer seasonal allergies?
How about get an autoimmune condition under control?
This isn’t medical advice and should not replace the counsel of your doctor. Just suggestions of things you can look into, based on my experience.
Eating or drinking 100 grams (8 tbsp.) of sugar, the equivalent of two- and-a-half 12-ounce cans of soda, can reduce the ability of white blood cells to kill germs by 40 percent. The immune-suppressing effect of sugar starts less than thirty minutes after ingestion and may last for five hours. In contrast, the ingestion of complex carbohydrates, or starches, has no effect on the immune system. – Dr. Sears
If we combine this with all of the refined sugar consumed throughout the day in other foods and drinks, it becomes logical to expect disorder within the immune system. And worse.
Check out the Anti-Inflammatory Diet and incorporate it into your lifestyle.
If you have any sort of immune system woes, consider what can be done to improve the health of the intestinal tract. Our gut flora composes the vast majority of our immune system and is also involved in a myriad of other biological processes – therefore if they are in a sorry state, we can expect all sorts of dysfunction as a result.
For boosting gut health, probiotics have also received lots of fanfare in recent years.
In the infamously handy book, “Prescription for Nutritional Healing,” the authors list probiotics as a very important supplement when dealing with allergies. And once again, homemade raw sauerkraut is a great way to go.
As a general note, it may also be wise to avoid or restrict alcohol and other histamine containing foods, until the problem is resolved.
Some, including Dr. Mercola also recommend consuming raw, LOCAL honey as a way to build up the immune system’s tolerance to pollen. He elaborates on that in this article. Know that for best results, it should be initiated 6-8 weeks BEFORE the onset of allergy season. Also, always test the honey or pollen against a small area of the forearm to properly judge any potential allergic reaction. Those who are allergic to pollen, ragweed or other plant-stuffs may suffer serious reaction to raw honey; including the potentially fatal anaphylactic shock.
When it’s great to say goodbye
I hope that by sharing my own experience with you, it shows how you can radically improve your quality of health by taking control of your diet and lifestyle. Especially towards conditions like seasonal allergies. You don’t have to suffer indefinitely.
Say so-long to sugars, give up the grains, feed that flora, and utilize these other suggestions. What have you got to lose?
Along the way to saying goodbye to seasonal allergies, you may even experience other benefits: such as shedding unwanted weight and having more vibrant energy. Best of luck!
Have seasonal allergies? Or better yet, have you just beaten them? Leave a comment!