Summertime marks the start of barbecues and beach weather, but for many it's the beginning of another round of… airborne seasonal allergies! More than 30 percent of adults suffer through these months. If you’re one of the people running to the doctor's office, refilling prescriptions or stocking up on OTC products for temporary relief, or worse: Googling your symptoms - go ahead and just stop. Treating the symptoms is a delicate strategy - one that’s short-lived and often produces other side effects.
So, let’s consider treating the underlying cause. While it’s near impossible to remove yourself from the effects of the environment, there are a few things you can do to lessen the impact of your surroundings on your body. A great starting point is to address the one thing you do have control over: Your food. I’d always start with the recommendation to go dairy-free. Not only is it a top allergen, but by its nature, dairy products are inflammatory and mucus-producing. You might be asking: “Wait… pay attention to what I eat? Why bother? Other times of the year, I don’t really have any problems and I’m eating the same food. So how can my food affect my seasonal allergies?”
Those are excellent questions!
Most people who suffer from seasonal allergies and are breathing in spores from grass, mold, pollen and ragweed, don’t realize (and usually aren’t being told from their doctors,) that they can also be affected by eating foods that fall under that category. For example, if you know you have a grass allergy, think about the foods (or drinks!) you eat that would fall under the grass umbrella: Cane sugar, grains (all of them - gluten-free and gluten containing,) corn, Echinacea or any flowery tea. And, depending on the severity of your food allergy, you could be reacting to the meat and fish you eat that have been fed corn and soy diets!
So, let’s stick with this grass allergy example for a second. If you’re eating these foods (corn, cane sugar,) throughout the year and without any noticeable troubles from June - February (months where airborne grass allergy isn’t at its peak,) you might not think the foods are harming your immune system. However, once March rolls around - you might see an onslaught of problems.
Why? Let’s imagine a camel for a second. A camel’s back is capable of carrying close to 1,000lbs. But once the weight tips slightly over its limit - problems occur. The camel is put under an enormous amount of strain. It buckles under the heavy weight. If you can, think of your immune system as your version of a camel’s back. Going back to the grass allergy above, in the Winter months, your immune system chugs along and is capable of carrying the heavy weight of the food allergies you have, but once the airborne allergy season is in full effect - your immune system is triggered by the allergens that fall under the grass umbrella, is automatically overloaded and immediately buckles under the weight.
So how can you fix this?:
Think about reducing the load you carry throughout the year. Airborne allergies are there to stay, but what if you remove the foods that are bothersome? A simple elimination diet does the trick. It might take a bit of sleuthing around to figure out what foods work for you, but it can be fun and easy. The elimination diet method works if you suffer from any seasonal allergy: Have a mold allergy? Think about the ingredients like baker’s yeast, or brewer’s yeast which can be found in things like breads, donuts, bagels, vinegar, alcohol, beer, wine. You may want to consider eliminating foods like mushrooms, Kombucha, kimchee, yogurt or any dairy product.
Something to also consider is that it’s not unusual for a food to trigger an immune system reaction, when it’s outside of the offending season. Personally, this happened with my youngest son. Our family did a complete overhaul of our diet and removed the main problem for us: Dairy. However, I found that during the “ragweed season”(August - November,) he was suffering from an excess of postnasal drip which then turned into a number of ear infections. We had him on a regime of antihistamines and decongestants, but seeing my two-year old trying to cope with side effects of these OTC medications was disheartening. The next Spring, I signed him up for intradermal allergy testing. During the process, his postnasal drip and congestion went into overdrive and we learned that was due to oats. So, we eliminated oats from his diet during the ragweed season and the next August, he went through the entire ragweed season without any OTC medications and not even a sniffle! While the sinus issues were gone immediately, we continued with this practice of removing oats from his diet during the ragweed season, each and every year after. Another big result as of this - he grew up to never have another ear infection again!
Try this out for yourself:
I suggest starting out with a food journal. Keep track of exactly what you eat, and be as specific as you can (for example, instead of writing “bread” you might want to write: “1 whole plain bagel - enriched wheat flour, sugar, wheat gluten, yeast, oat fiber...”) If it were up to me, I’d write down each and every ingredient listed (even the scary-sounding ones, in which case you may want to re-think putting those ingredients in your body!) While it’s so important to really understand everything you’re putting in your body, start small. As you begin, take simple notes, write out the top five ingredients listed and gradually increase the information. I bet that after a few days of this exercise, you’ll be hooked and will want to know more about every ingredient you’re eating! It’s also a good idea to track how you feel, any symptoms and the severity. If you switch to eating a whole food-type diet and try to eliminate processed foods, this will really reduce the possible elements in your diet that could negatively impact your health.
I encourage you to try this out, even if it’s for a couple of weeks! It will be a challenge though once you get the hang of things, you’ll find it fun. Plus, you’ll be rewarded by feeling better than you ever have.