Glimpses of spring are poking through winter’s heavy cloak, in the form of brave wildflowers, buds on deciduous trees awaiting their glorious crowns of alchemic leaves, and a collective feeling of awakening excitement for a new start. But, while we hope you’re enjoying the songs of birds and lengthening hours of daylight, we also know it is very well possible that you’re an individual who suffers with seasonal allergies.
Before you address your immune system’s imbalances with over-the-counter-medications and prescriptions that mask the issues at root, we’re here to tell you that there are other, more natural and supportive options with actual long-term benefits, allowing you to thrive in a more wholly vibrant state of health. It’s possible that this news perplexes you, because you’ve learned that seasonal allergies are some genetic curse, but like all other health issues, genetics just lay the groundwork, while lifestyle choices set things in motion.
The central cause of seasonal allergies is an overactive immune and histamine response. Histamine’s function in the body is one of benefit when production is in balance – its mission is to help trap and kill harmful pathogens that are detrimental to our health. This protective measure leads to symptoms we associate with colds, like inflammation, thick mucus and watery eyes. But when our adaptive immune system begins recognizing otherwise harmless substances (like pollen and dander) as invaders, too, these substances are marked with antibodies to be attacked by immune cells and thereby increase inflammatory histamine production. In other words, seasonal allergies mean that your immune system is fundamentally overreacting, and there are holistically supportive ways to re-center this imbalance.
Below, we’ve suggested a combination of lifestyle choices and healing, balancing herbs that can bolster your immune system while reducing the severity and frequency of your histamine response. With these shifts, your springtime allergies should be come less severe or perhaps disappear altogether, for good.
1. Eat a healthy, anti-inflammatory diet.
This diet will look mostly plant-based, be full of dark leafy greens and provide a significant source of anti-inflammatory omega-3 fatty acids found in nuts, seeds and cold-water, wild-caught fish. Be generous with culinary herbs and spices to substantially amp up anti-inflammatory healing foods. Another key point is to avoid foods you're allergic or sensitive to. Sugar, milk and gluten-containing foods are generally the most pro-inflammatory foods for our physiology, so do your best to eliminate them from your diet. Additionally, foods such as eggs, peanuts, soy, shellfish and plants in the nightshade family (including potatoes, tomatoes, eggplant, peppers and goji berries) tend to produce allergic reactions in individuals. Experiment with eliminating one food variety at a time and reintroducing it in a few weeks to see if you feel a difference.
2. Avoid respiratory irritants and toxins.
In the grand scheme of our 200,000-year-old human history, industrial buildings and devices are relatively new. We used to live in an entirely natural world of changing ecological terrain, with complex essential oils and antimicrobial properties that constantly bathed our skin and our respiratory tracts; today, we’re more regularly exposed to car exhaust, paint, plastic, cleaners, fragranced personal products, and more. Although relocating ourselves in the wild and avoiding all modern, man-made items might be unreasonable, we can certainly invest in spaces and products that are minimally processed and arise from the substances of our natural world. A wonderful online source of information on this subject is the Environmental Working Group (EWG), a non-profit organization that aims to drive consumer choice with breakthrough environmental research and education dedicated to protecting the environment and human health.
3. Get a little dirty.
Have you heard of the “hygiene hypothesis?” Basically, it's the idea that a lack of early childhood exposure to infectious or symbiotic living organisms leads to an increased risk for allergies, due to the suppression of the natural development of a person’s immune system. As it turns out, bacteria and viruses are in fact necessary to our health, which shouldn’t come as a huge surprise, because we did co-evolve together. Additionally, it’s actually important to let our bodies fend off imbalances of opportunistic “bad guys” in order to strengthen immune function. You can work with this understanding by opting for less harsh cleaning products or making your own.
Another way to beneficially diversify your exposure to microbial organisms is to dig your hands into the dirt by tending to a garden bed. A species of bacteria called Mycobacterium vaccae, commonly found in soil, has even recently been proven to raise our mood-boosting serotonin levels and act as an antidepressant! Regardless, the recognition that we holistically benefit from spending time among nutrient-rich dirt, as our ancestors did for hundreds of thousands of years, should be plainly understood. So get digging!
4. Try stress-reduction techniques like meditation and walks in nature.
It’s well known that daily meditation reduces stress levels and inflammatory markers. Yoga and tai chi, too, are ancient active meditative therapies that have been passed along with a purpose for thousands of years now. And do we really need to stress the importance of time spent reconnecting with nature, even in a way as simple as a walk in a green space to let those essential oils bathe your spirit, skin and respiratory tract? Consider incorporating one of these simple but profound self-care practices into your daily life, and your body will function more efficiently on all levels.
5. Get sufficient sleep.
Everyone runs differently, but good sleep is a human necessity. Aim for 7 hours at the very least, because your body needs this to repair itself and function regularly.
6. Use a neti pot.
For many individuals, a neti pot (which you can purchase at your local pharmacy) can cprovide immense relief for sinus problems. Consider using one to regularly flush your sinuses with warm salt water – 1/4 teaspoon of noniodized sea salt per cup of water. Boil the water that you use in advance to avoid introducing microbes from your water supply, and gently blow your nose after its usage to rid any remaining salt water and mucus.
7. Introduce herbal remedies.
Nature makes a vast variety of herbs and plants that can be used as powerful tonics to lessen allergy symptoms. You might look into astragalus, nettle and medicinal mushrooms like reishi and chaga – but stay tuned for an article full of specifics soon.
p.s. Curious to learn explore other natural modes of medicine and recovery? Consider this herbal regimen for emotional healing.