Do beautiful spring days have you cooped up inside, sneezing and sniffing miserably? Before reaching for the antihistamines, consider the role your gut health plays in allergy symptoms. Allergies actually begin long before the hallmark symptoms of sniffling, sneezing, and itchy eyes manifest.
An estimated 80 percent of the immune system resides in the gut, and when digestive problems set in, immune problems are sure to follow. A chronically inflamed gut—which causes indigestion, heartburn, bloating, pain, diarrhea, constipation, irritable bowel disorders, and more—can send the immune system into overdrive.
As a result, the body can become hypersensitive and overreact to things it shouldn’t, including pollen, grass, and other triggers associated with spring.
Because allergy symptoms frequently start with digestive tract stress, the gut is a great place to start if you are looking for more than just symptom relief.
What causes allergy symptoms?
Several factors contribute to the digestive problems that give rise to allergy symptoms, including:
This is a very common scenario in which bad bacteria in the gut overwhelm the beneficial bacteria. Processed foods, a diet lacking in cultured and fermented foods, and antibiotic use contribute to dysbiosis.
Gluten and other food intolerances
Gluten has been shown to damage the lining of the intestines. Also, many people have an immune reaction to gluten and other foods, such as dairy or soy. Eating these foods constantly provokes the immune system and damages the lining of the intestines.
Low stomach acid
This may seem counter-intuitive as so many people complain of an acidic stomach, but, in fact, low stomach acid often underlies heartburn and acid reflux. When stomach acid is low, undigested food back-washes into the esophagus, which can cause heartburn. In many people, opportunistic bacteria will soon begin to overgrow in the stomach (because stomach acid is supposed to normally kill them off and improperly digested food degrades the intestinal lining. Eventually, bacteria and other pathogens are able enter into the intestines, causing a host of additional problems and symptoms. Sufficient stomach acid is even necessary to trigger the gallbladder to release bile and the pancreas to release digestive enzymes, two additional, important processes for digestion.
Poor liver detoxification
Gut damage causes chronic inflammation, which keeps the immune system on red alert and can overburden a liver that's already hard at work dealing with the myriad of other chemicals and toxins in our environment. As a result, the liver can’t adequately detoxify the garbage pathogens that passed through the damaged intestinal lining and into the bloodstream are creating. This is another factor that triggers more immune system responses and may lead to allergies.
Fix the gut to fix allergies
Repairing gut health involves addressing the various factors above. The exact protocol may vary from person to person depending on his or her individual needs.
However, a great place to start is with an anti-inflammatory diet that removes food intolerances and calms inflammation, helping to restore balance to an overactive immune system. We can also use in office exams and highly specialized lab tests to gain insight into the specific nature of your intestinal problems.
Probiotics, and nutritional compounds to improve digestion, support detoxification, and tame an overstimulated immune system can also help repair the gut and hence the immune system.
If you suffer from seasonal allergies, check with me to see if these ideas and approaches can help you get to the root of your seasonal allergy symptoms this year.