Seasonal allergies are triggered by airborne allergens, such as tree, grass, and weed pollens, or mold or yeast spores. But only about 20-30% of us react. What separates those that do and those that don’t? Read more to find out.
Seasonal Allergies and Pollen Reactions
Reactivity is multifactorial and includes your heredity, pre-conception and early life, and environmental exposures. But usually, we start with your unique immune system as it is today. Does it perceive harmless pollen protein as a foreign invader and produce antibodies unnecessarily? If so, those antibody cells will attach themselves to smooth muscle and mast cells where they’ll react when they next encounter that pollen. When mast cells react, they release histamine “to protect you.”
The Role of Histamine
What isn’t a secret is that some people have or release more histamine. Histamine provokes the immune system to respond with classic symptoms like sneezing, coughing, itchy, watery eyes, and runny mucus to clear the foreign bodies from your tissues. But this response is meant for invaders, so unless it is used against a virus or bacteria, you’re miserable for no reason. Histamine also has some anti-inflammatory effects. That’s why Dr. Ben Lynch calls histamine “our problematic ally.” In addition to protecting your body from invading microbes, histamine does important things like aid the stomach in secreting acid to digest protein or regulate your heart and lungs. But that means too much can cause heartburn, heart palpitations, or breathing issues. (For phlegm or respiratory support, try Flora’s Respir-Essence liquid formula, which has helpful herbs such as nettles.) Sure enough, asthma has doubled alongside allergies every year since 1950.
Histamine and Strange Symptoms
That leads us to all these seemingly disparate symptoms. Having enough or the right balance of histamine determines whether it's an "ally" or not. It can foster mental alertness and keep your digestion running. If we have too little histamine, we can become constipated, lack saliva, or feel exhausted! We want its anti-inflammatory benefits, too. But when “good intentions” histamine arrives to calm an inflammatory response in bodies with high inflammation, that results in excess circulating histamine and can lead to strange, seemingly unrelated symptoms, like joint pain, itchy skin, or rashes, stomach or uterine cramps, brain fog, panic, or headaches, often migraines. (Butterbur extract is great for folks with migraines and histamine issues). Histamine also interacts with other natural body chemicals, like estrogen, with interesting results.
Histamine and Hormones
The first secret reason allergic reactions vary is that sex hormones impact allergies. Because hormone balance will fluctuate with age/life stage, lifestyle, and medications, histamine reactions may as well. Progesterone and testosterone tend to stabilize histamines, while estrogen encourages histamine release and hinders one of the main enzymes (DAO) that breaks it down. Starting at puberty, hormones will interact with histamine, and symptoms in any histamine-sensitive tissues, from the brain to the uterus, are amplified when estrogen is high. Histamine, in turn, can increase estrogen levels. This can create a cycle, especially when testosterone and progesterone are relatively low while estrogen is comparatively high. High body fat often equates to high estrogen, so maintaining body fat in the healthy range can help, and in midlife especially, so does building muscle (to raise flagging testosterone). Regardless of sex, these strategies to improve metabolic health may help lessen allergy reactions.
Using a Clean Diet and Lifestyle to Minimize Allergies
Another secret reason why some folks are at greater risk of allergies - has to do with allostatic load. When the overall environmental burden, from physical, emotional, and chemical stresses, is too high, you can reach a state of allostatic overload where the body cannot cope. You may feel less allergic when you remove scented products, do a cleanse or “eat clean,” for a few reasons related to lowering this load. First, scent or perfume is a toxin that bodies react to like an invader. Second, if you avoid alcohol, preserved or processed meats, and aged cheeses, you avoid very high-histamine foods. Third, if you avoid canola oil, corn oil, and sugar, you avoid very inflammatory foods. Fourth, reducing meat intake reduces the body’s need to make stomach acid and therefore reduces the need for it to make histamine. And finally, if you support the body with organic food and herbs, you limit exposure to chemical pesticides and herbicide toxins (which are often acidic too). This lowers the allostatic or allergenic load and helps your body cope. In addition to cleaning up your home, help your body by avoiding highly processed foods and consider cleansing with FlorEssence or FlorEssence with Turkey Tail and Turmeric.
Gut Health and Nutrients for Allergies
The third secret to being less allergic is good gut health and strong digestive function. Digestion is your first line of defence against invaders, and strengthening it may reduce immune reactivity. Support digestive juices with bitters and supplement with digestive enzymes. This could also strengthen your metabolism and nutrient assimilation. Histamine is created and broken down in your gut. To optimize that process, take a probiotic free from histamine-producing strains (Flora’s probiotics are all guaranteed to be). A meta-analysis found that some probiotics significantly support immune health and modulate the seasonal allergy response for less congestion, sneezing, and itchy eyes. Flora’s Super 8 is good for those bothered by yeast or who have been on antibiotics (which can affect your ability to break down histamine). Super Bifido is another great pick. Both are high-potency formulas. Greens can contribute fibre to feed those good bacteria and improve waste removal, and helpful calcium, which along with copper, plays a regulatory role. Although some seaweed is rich in iodine, a potential histamine liberator, I would include its cousin, one of the most nutritionally dense foods, a type of blue-green algae called spirulina. In studies, it inhibited the release of histamine from mast cells, lowering one aspect of the immune overreaction by 32%. To further support a healthy immune reaction, increase omega-3 fatty acids, and get adequate vitamin C (try acerola instead of citrus, which is high in histamine).
Of course, once you apply these secrets and reduce your susceptibility to seasonal allergies, you will probably enjoy spending more time naturally getting sun and vitamin D outside, which will support your immune system and spirit for the long term.
Looking for a deeper understanding of histamine’s role in the body? Read Managing Histamines: A Natural Approach.
For more about other factors influencing allergies, read Managing Histamines: A Follow-Up.