Allergies – causing sneezing, wheezing and sinus trouble can really put a dampener on your day! And with around 14% of people currently experiencing recurring episodes of hayfever (a figure that is increasing each year), allergies certainly are not uncommon.
Unfortunately for those of us in the Toowoomba region, our area is well-known to be one of the top spots in the country for experiencing allergies – particularly at this time of year when our famous flowers and gardens are out in bloom!
Whilst there can be obvious triggers for seasonal allergies like hayfever (including various pollens, grasses or even mould spores), chronic allergies may also be triggered by animal dander, dust mites, chemicals or pollution. It goes without saying that if you are unlucky enough to experience allergies, achieving complete avoidance of the triggers can be virtually impossible!
Therefore, we must look to addressing the underlying cause of allergies, as well as managing the symptoms. If you experience allergies on a regular basis, it is a clear sign that your immune system, for some reason, has become unbalanced. Your immune system is designed to defend your body against attack from potentially damaging invaders that may make you unwell, however in the case of allergic reactions, it has really ‘gone overboard’ in a big way! Your body over-reacts to what should be (in most cases) a harmless molecule, and sends out the signal to rapidly increase inflammation and start getting the invader out – by sneezing, coughing, and flushing out with copious amounts of mucus through the nose. The trouble is, while all this is going on it also happens to make you feel pretty horrible!
The modern-day approach to managing allergies is to take simply take an anti-histamine medication when an allergy strikes. These medications bring the inflammatory cascade of events to a screeching halt, which makes you feel better (until the medication wears off, or the allergic trigger passes). The trouble is (as with most medications) this is only addressing the symptoms, and not the cause of the issue – which is the abnormal over-reaction of the immune system. And as with most medications, these drugs aren’t without their side-effects – they can cause drowsiness, tummy upsets and dizziness, just to name a few.
The Natural Approach
Naturopathic support for allergies goes beyond suppressing the symptoms, and looks for the underlying cause of why the immune system is over-reacting in the first place. There may be more than one reason why allergies are occurring, as well as some safe and effective remedies:
• With our increasing understanding of how our gut health is influencing our whole body, the first place I look to support when working with a client who is suffering from allergies is the gut. Remember, around 70% of our immune system is located in our digestive tract, and this is often involved in the development of allergies. Supporting optimal gut health is crucial and there are some great options available.
• There are specific nutrients that may help to balance the immune system and reduce the symptoms of allergies:
• There is a theory that Vitamin D deficiency at the end of winter (due to our reduced sun exposure during the colder months) is one reason for the allergy peak season occurring in Spring. Vitamin D is an incredibly important nutrient for the health of our immune system. It can be a good idea to have your levels tested regularly if you suffer from allergies that are impacting your quality of life, and supplement (under the guidance of a practitioner) if your levels are less than optimal.
• Vitamin C has a natural anti-histamine and anti-inflammatory effect, which makes it a simple addition to help relieve symptoms.
• A compound called N-Acetyl-Cysteine (NAC) which is a protein building-block, helps to break down mucus. This can help relieve the blocked nose and congestion that is produced during allergy attacks.
• Natural enzymes such as bromelain (found in pineapple) can help to reduce the inflammatory response of the overactive immune system. Conveniently, pineapple also contains vitamin C (see above) so you get a double-whammy effect.
• Herbal medicines with anti-inflammatory, anti-allergy and expectorant (helping the body to get rid of excess mucus) are often used by naturopaths to help reduce symptoms of allergies, as well as supporting a healthy immune system balance. Some of the herbs that I have found to be most effective include Albizia (Albizia lebbeck), Nettle (Urtica dioica) and Perilla (Perilla frutescens).