By Sejal Shah | Posted: March 14, 2019
Spring brings many gifts: longer daylight, colorful flowers, and increased energy, enthusiasm, and inspiration. It’s time for renewing ourselves. However, despite the upcoming sun and fun, for many, this is a dreaded time of year. Spring allergies arise with the proliferation of trees, grass, and wildflower pollens, bringing with them congestion, runny noses, and itchy eyes.
What causes allergies?
In my other article on allergies and sinusitis, I have explained in detail about what an allergy is and what the types and symptoms of allergies are.
It’s important to understand that it’s not just the trees and grasses attacking you. Every spring, if your seasonal allergies drive you crazy, consider looking into the relationship between what you eat, your gut health, and your allergy symptoms. It may sound unintuitive for you to turn to your belly for a solution to your allergies, but with the fact that 70-80% of your immune system resides within your gut, you can understand how gut problems can trigger or worsen immune-related conditions like seasonal allergies.
The father of medicine, Hippocrates, said that "All diseases begin in the gut.” He was right! A growing amount of research is discovering that underlying gut problems play a significant role in a wide range of diseases, from depression to lupus to diabetes. Allergies are no exception.
There are two contributing factors:
1) Unbalanced gut microbiome
Your gut microbiome is a diverse ecosystem living inside you comprising trillions of symbiotic bacteria that help maintain a healthy digestive system. According to Medical News Today, the average person carries up to 2 kilograms of microbes in their gut, including more than 1,000 different species of bacteria. These help digest food, regulate hormones, excrete toxins, and produce vitamins and other healing compounds that keep your gut and your body healthy. This ecosystem of friendly bacteria must be in balance for you to be healthy. Too many of the wrong bacteria, like parasites and yeasts, or not enough of the good ones, like Lactobacillus or Bifidobacterium, can seriously damage your health.
When your microbiome becomes unbalanced, all sorts of havoc ensues, including seasonal allergies.The microbiome works closely with your immune system to help decide between friends (no inflammatory response) and foes (big time inflammation). If your microbiome is out of balance, your immune system loses its ability to make a distinction between friend or foe, and ends up attacking supposedly non-harmful things too, causing food sensitivities and allergic reactions.
2) Leaky gut
In order to understand allergies, we need to understand the process of digestion.
Your digestion begins in your mouth. Food is broken down and mixed with saliva, and then passed into the stomach. In the stomach, hydrochloric acid breaks proteins down to amino acids. The food mix then moves to the small intestine, where bile from the gallbladder and enzymes from the pancreas mix with the food to complete the breakdown portion of digestion. As the food mix moves further, a healthy digestive tract acts like a strong barrier allowing nutrients to be absorbed into the bloodstream, and waste products are pushed through the tract until they are passed out as a bowel movement.
If someone does not chew properly, or if their stomach, gallbladder, or pancreas are not working efficiently, then the food will not be completely broken down, resulting in larger food molecules moving lower into the digestive tract. These are too big to be absorbed, so they sit in the intestines and rot. Proteins putrify, fats turn rancid, and carbohydrates ferment. This process causes pH imbalances that cause yeast to overgrow in the intestines. As yeast multiplies in the bowel, it anchors itself to the intestinal lining, and literally punch holes through the digestive tract. These “holes” in the gut lining causes the gut to leak.
Leakiness or "hyperpermeability" of the gut essentially means partially digested protein molecules from food slip through your gut wall and create chaos. Research shows that intestinal permeability creates a vicious cycle of inflammation and allergic reactions and keeps your immune system revved up which results in food sensitivities. These sensitivities can manifest without gut symptoms, showing up as seasonal allergies, postnasal drip, chronic airway congestion, and recurrent sinusitis, to name a few conditions.
Other factors that play a role in intestinal health
Other things that damage the intestinal barrier are stress, alcohol, and gut infections, NSAIDs, or even having food poisoning years ago. It is a simple equation: a damaged intestinal barrier = more immune responses = more inflammation. Gas, bloat, constipation, diarrhea, heartburn, and nausea are signs that something is wrong in your gut. If you’re experiencing these symptoms, healing your gut is the key to bring allergy relief.
How to take care of your gut and related allergies
Put simply, we experience allergies because of a combination of three things happening in our immune system:
- excessive intake of toxins
- inadequate nutrient intake
- improper removal of toxins
This compromises and confuses our immune system, and an allergic reaction often crops up as a result.
Here are 7 tips for improving your gut health and natural allergy relief
1) Practice mindful chewing.
Mastication is the first part of digestion, and helps regulate the stomach’s gastric juice production. Chewing food slowly and thoroughly helps to break down potentially immune-triggering proteins. When you eat, eat. Don’t try and do multiple tasks while eating, as this will distract the process of chewing and you will end up swallowing unbroken food. This will negatively impact the process of digestion in the whole system. Chewing well has many benefits, including weight loss. In fact, it is advisable to chew every bite of the food for an average of 32 times. How many times do you actually chew your food? Start counting!
2) Take care of your gut linings - the protective barrier.
Your gut-immune system is protected from the toxic environment in your gut by a lining that is only a one-cell-thick layer. This mucosal barrier separates our gut lining from the billions of microbes in our gut and protects it from pathogens and harmful proteins. When the mucosa breaks down, it invites gut inflammation, infection, and immune activation, so it’s very important to protect your gut lining and strengthen the barrier.
Cruciferous vegetables (broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, kale, bok choy), Vitamin A, and good bacteria like Lactobacillus help protect your intestinal lining, and so do whole, unprocessed foods. Make sure to include plenty of fiber from foods like vegetables, beans, nuts, seeds, and whole grains. Avoid gut-irritating foods such as wheat/gluten, alcohol, GMOs (any non-organic corn and soy), and NSAIDs.
3) Nurture a healthy microbiome ecosystem.
Eat the right foods. When you regularly eat a variety of healthy, non-processed foods, you foster a healthy microbiome system. You need both prebiotics, or "good" bacteria promoters, and probiotics, or "good" bacteria, as they work together synergistically to support your gut health. Remove sugar and processed foods from your diet. Foods rich in fiber, like low-sugar fruits, leafy green vegetables, and whole grains, as well as those that have prebiotics (like berries) or probiotics (like kefir or yogurt) are good for gut health. These bug-building foods include plantains, jicama, lentils, asparagus, dandelion greens, sunchokes, onions, leeks, garlic, radishes and cooked and cooled potatoes (like potato salad). The spices thyme and turmeric are also beneficial.
4) Get rid of stored toxins.
Practice Shankha Prakshalana (a saltwater cleanse with a specific set of yoga postures followed by rest and a specific diet) once every 6 months. This yoga-based technique is mentioned in the Hatha Yoga Pradipika, one of the ancient yogic texts.
As digestive strength is intricately linked to the immune response, clearing out the digestive system can be tremendously helpful in fighting allergies. Growing medical evidence supports the approach of having a clean and healthy gut for the relief of seasonal allergies. A clean, well-functioning digestive system is imperative to good health. If you cleanse the digestive system, you will likely find the relief you are looking for more quickly.
There are 5 valves in our GI tract: oesophageal, pyloric, ileocecal, colon, and anus. Our entire GI tract, if detangled and laid out flat, would be approximately 30 feet long! That’s a lot of space where toxins can build up. Poor food, sedentary lifestyles, day to day tensions and stresses, late eating hours, habitual snacking, and dehydration are all common things that restrict a smooth digestive flow. Gradually, the system starts to back up, causing inefficient assimilation and elimination (autointoxication) and resulting in various digestive ailments. Consequences can range from asthma and allergies, to arthritis and cancer, to autoimmune diseases.
A saltwater flush forces your digestive system to release stored waste in the toxins. By cleaning out the gunk in your gut and maintaining a good balance of gut flora, you are helping your immune system in a big way. Shankha Prakshalana practice reconditions the function of the valves and eliminates auto intoxicants in the system.
Shankha Prakshalana is a delicate process, and has to be done in a specific way to avoid any undesired consequences and to get its best results. Though this is by far one of the safest and most natural ways to cleanse and detox, it should be always done under a supervision of a trained yoga expert in a retreat set up like the Sri Sri Yoga Deep Dive Retreat.
5) Take Triphala tablets
Triphala is a traditional Ayurvedic formula comprised of three fruits (amalaki, haritaki, and bibhitaki) that is balancing for all three types of Ayurvedic constitutions: vata, pitta, and kapha. It is revered for its unique ability to gently cleanse and detoxify the digestive tract while replenishing, nourishing, and rejuvenating the tissues. Cultivate a habit of taking Sri Sri Tattva’s two organic Triphala tablets (or any other authentic brand) with a glass of warm water about half an hour before bed.
6) Manage your stress with regular practice of yoga and meditation.
Stress can change the balance of bacteria that naturally live in the gut, according to research published in the journal Brain, Behavior, and Immunity. "These bacteria affect immune function, and may help explain why stress dysregulates the immune response," said lead researcher Michael Bailey.
Most allergies can be linked to stress, says Harvard Medical School and WebMD. It is well known that yoga and meditation are very effective techniques to help minimize our experience of stress and also encourage the development of more constructive responses to stressful situations. Even ten to fifteen minutes of daily meditation can have a profound impact on your state of mind. When we calm the mind and body, our perceptions improve, and we are less likely to respond to foreign “invaders” aggressively. Our body increases our ability to take in nourishment from our environment, as opposed to seeing them as threats.
Like meditation, pranayama supports balance in the nervous system, begins to unwind the cycle of chronic stress that can trigger allergies, and also helps to access and reset long-standing patterns in the energetic body. In addition, pranayama offers more specific support to the respiratory passages so often impacted by allergies. Kapalbhati, Nadi Shodhan, and Ujjayi are a few breathing practices to consider.
7) Don’t compromise on your zzz’s.
Just a few bad nights can alter the gut. A recent Swedish study involving young, healthy weight adults revealed that as little as two consecutive nights of insufficient sleep resulted in detrimental changes to the microbiome reducing beneficial bacterial strains in subjects’ digestive tracts by almost 50%. And since gut microbiome is closely related to immunity and allergies, sleep deprivation can also be linked to allergies. Manage your work-life balance, and prioritize getting 7-8 hours of quality sleep every night.
I hope you find relief of your allergies soon, and get the freedom to enjoy beautiful spring!
This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health providers with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
Sejal Shah, E-YRT 500 Sri Sri Yoga Teacher, YACEP, Art of Living Teacher, NYU Post Graduate Medical School approved Yoga-CME retreat facilitator, Mind-Body Wellness Writer, Homeopath