Spring and summer are a joy—unless you’re one of the millions who suffer with seasonal allergies. Then these seasons can be miserable thanks to sniffling, scratchy throats, coughing, itchy eyes—or the alternative: taking allergy medications that make us sleepy and groggy.
I suffered from horrible seasonal allergies well into my midteens, so I am no stranger to the symptoms. My summers were spent retreating to an air-conditioned room with an antihistamine on those high pollen count days. I loved being outdoors as much as possible, so it made me miserable on every level. It’s even worse if allergies trigger asthma—which is the case for many adults and increasing numbers of children.
Breaking the Cycle
One year, everything changed for me. I became a vegetarian (although you do not have to become a vegetarian to get rid of your allergies); stopped consuming sugar, soda, preservatives, additives, dyes and other nonfood junk; and drastically decreased my dairy intake (yes, if you want your allergies to go away forever, you will have to do this—sorry).
I went as organic as I could afford to. I did this for political, not health, reasons. I was part of the early movement to “take back our food” and be free of dependence on Big Agra. In the days before Google and Whole Foods, it took a lot of effort to find local co-ops and small farms from which to get my foods, but I felt good about my choices. The unexpected bonus was that health issues, which I had just assumed were a normal part of life for me, simply vanished—including my allergies.
That spring and summer came and went without a tickle, sniffle, cough or medication. Then the next. And the next. At some point, I realized what had happened: I had become allergy-free. I didn’t even use herbs or supplements at the time because I wasn’t intentionally trying to get rid of them. It was all about the dietary changes.
Even more interestingly, when I had kids—despite rampant colds, allergies and asthma on both sides of our families—they didn’t get sick, need antibiotics, or have any allergy or asthma symptoms. An original organic foodie, I breastfed each child for well over a year, introducing healthy, organic, homemade foods slowly into their diets around 10 months to 1 year of age. They never had juice or sugar, and dairy was at a minimum—with occasional organic, live-culture yogurt. I was amazed. It was all about their diet, too.
I knew I was onto something.
The Gut and Allergy Connection
All of the symptoms associated with allergies are signs of inflammation: redness, swelling and itching, for example. To get rid of allergies, we have to get rid of inflammation and hyper-reactivity. The place to start is in the gut.
One of the major jobs of our digestive systems is to provide an interface between the external world (foods, allergens, bacteria, etc.) and the bloodstream. In the stomach, natural digestive acids break down potentially allergenic proteins. In the intestines, a layer of barrier cells prevents these proteins from getting into the bloodstream. We also have a whole host of special bacteria in our guts, as well as immune cells, whose job it is to break down and eliminate proteins and other molecules that can cause us to become sensitized, leading to gut—and systemic—inflammation.
If you are taking medications for reflux (such as Prilosec), this takes out the first line of defense—stomach acid. When the gut barrier gets weakened from chronic exposure to foods that irritate the gut, or when the good bacteria get out of balance from antibiotics, it’s possible to develop a leaky gut. This enables foreign proteins to get into the bloodstream, placing our bodies on red alert to react to many triggers in the environment. This is why the first step to quieting the body’s over-reactivity is to heal the gut. This will reduce both seasonal allergies and common food sensitivities.
The 4R Program for Gut Healing
To simplify the process of gut healing, I use the 4R program. It takes four to six weeks and breaks down like this:
REMOVE: An elimination diet is a two-week simple diet void of the most common food triggers: gluten, sugar, dairy, eggs, soy, coffee, soda and artificial ingredients—as well as anything you typically crave (i.e. sugar, carbs, salty snacks). Ideally, you would also stop many of your medications, especially reflux medications, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) and antibiotics—but talk with your doctor first. If you suffer from reflux, deglycyrrhizinated (DGL) licorice is an effective natural alternative to PPIs and H2 blockers (acid reducers). It heals the stomach without the potentially serious adverse effects of the medications.
The elimination diet takes a bit of planning and coordination, especially if you have kids, but it’s simple and makes a huge difference. (For guidance, you can use The Ultra Simple Diet by Mark Hyman, a family physician, best-selling author and director of the Cleveland Clinic Center for Functional Medicine. Download it online.)
If you have constipation, you’ll want to deal with this now. Eat plenty of fiber and drink ample water. Supplements such as flax seed, psyllium and magnesium citrate are safe for most people to take daily. For kids, slippery elm, which tastes like maple syrup, may be used: 1 to 2 teaspoons daily in oatmeal or a smoothie. Aim for one healthy bowel movement every day.
REPLACE: After two weeks on the elimination diet, start taking a high-quality digestive enzyme product. This is safe for pregnant and breastfeeding women, and you can also give it to kids older than age 4.
REINOCULATE: After another week, add in a high-quality probiotic. This is safe for pregnant and breastfeeding women, and for kids.
REPAIR: The following supplements can now be taken for about a month (up to six months) to help heal the intestinal lining:
Turmeric, aloe vera, marshmallow root and DGL licorice: These are some of the most effective herbs for healing the gut lining. They can be taken as capsules or extracts; turmeric can also be added to foods. DGL licorice is available as chewable lozenges and thus may be the simplest one to give to kids. Note: Aloe and licorice are not for internal use during pregnancy, but are fine for children.
L-Glutamine Powder: 5 to 10 mg of powder twice daily for one month. Dosage is much lower for kids; talk with your child’s doctor before using and don’t supplement in pregnancy.
Zinc: 5 to 10 mg a day for kids 4 to 7; 10 to 20 mg a day for kids 8 to 12; 25 to 40 mg a day for teens and adults.
Antioxidant supplement: Try an antioxidant supplement containing vitamin A and carotenoids, C, E and selenium (often found in a multivitamin). Pregnant women should get these from a prenatal vitamin only.
Fish oil: I prefer Nordic Naturals Pro-DHA Jr. for kids, which you can put into smoothies. For adults, choose any high-quality fish oil. Fish oil is important for general health in pregnancy and breastfeeding, too.
During this time—and indefinitely—continue to eat as healthily as possible. You can reintroduce some of the typical allergens you’ve removed, but do it one by one, each a few days apart, noting any symptoms that might arise. If any allergy symptoms pop up after eating a certain food, that is a good indication that the food is not optimal to include in your diet. Eliminate it, and if you wish to try it again, do so after you’ve used the gut-healing supplements for three to six months. As for sugar, additives and junk food—you’re going to want to leave those out pretty much forever. They’re not good for you—or anyone.
3 Steps to Freedom from Allergies
I love helping my patients become allergy-free. Spring and summer are once again enjoyable. Travel to exotic places doesn’t cause them problems. They no longer have to take medications. Some also no longer have asthma attacks. One patient, who had been unable to spend much time at her in-laws’ house because of severe cat allergies, was able to enjoy an entire winter holiday with her husband’s family at his parents’ home for the first time ever—and didn’t require a single dose of medication. It’s really not that hard to do. It just takes three steps:
1. A commitment to a healthy diet
2. Healing your gut with the 4R program
3. A few simple supplements
Depending on your allergy severity, it can take anywhere from a few weeks to six months to see results. (If you’ve got allergy symptoms now, visit Aviva Romm’s website to find tips for immediate relief.)
Note: This does not apply to severe Immunoglobulin E (IgE) allergies such as those to peanuts, bees, medications or other allergens, which can cause immediate, severe or anaphylactic reactions. Those tend to be permanent.
This article was reprinted with permission from Aviva Romm, the website of M.D., midwife and herbalist Aviva Romm.