Addressing allergenic forces — pollution, chemical exposure, a low-nutrient diet, and a weakened microbiome — may seem daunting. These straightforward, lifestyle-based strategies can help reduce your allergy susceptibility.
Because some 70 percent of your immune system is located in your gut, increasing your consumption of whole foods, especially plant-based foods, is one of the most direct ways to support immune defenses.
Make whole foods the mainstay of your meals, preferably ones that “look as close to the way they looked when they came out of the ground,” says Leo Galland, MD, a New York City-based functional-medicine practitioner and coauthor of The Allergy Solution. This will ensure your consumption of processed foods is minimal. Opt for organic to protect yourself from pesticides and herbicides. Support your T-cells with foods high in folates, vitamin A, and plant compounds called flavonoids.
Galland suggests you emphasize these potent allergy-defense foods:
- Strawberries are high in the flavonoid fisetin, which helps protect T-regs from damage.
- Sweet potatoes contain high amounts of vitamin A.
- Lentils are chock-full of folates. (For more on folate, see “Follow the Folate“.)
- Parsley is rich in the flavonoid apigenin, which has anti-allergic and anti-inflammatory effects.
- Green and oolong teas are both bursting with protective flavonoids.
Favor cooked over raw.
Many raw foods are high in allergens, but cooking can help: Heat renders some allergenic proteins inert, says Gregory Plotnikoff, MD, MTS, FACP, a functional-medicine practitioner in Minneapolis. Someone who reacts to fresh apples may do just fine with sautéed apples, for example. (Anyone with an anaphylactic allergy should try this only with the support of his or her doctor, for obvious reasons.)
Keep it fresh.
Leftovers can cause problems for allergy sufferers. Histamines, an immune chemical released during allergic reactions, grow on foods the longer they sit. So while a meal straight off the stove might not cause a reaction, eating that same food two days later for lunch could trigger one.
Support your digestive enzymes.
“A lot of allergens are fragile, and the digestive enzymes in the stomach or pancreas will render them inert,” says Plotnikoff. But if you aren’t producing enough digestive enzymes, you won’t break down those allergens. Signs of weak digestion include burping, belching, gas, feeling full quickly, and acid reflux or gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). “Supplementation with digestive enzymes can make up for what isn’t there,” he adds. (For more on this, go to “Digestive Enzymes“.)
Skip the antacids.
Regularly taking antacids may suppress stomach acid, which is required for activating enzymes that help break down potential allergens.
“Antacids increase the development and triggering of food allergies by blocking the normal digestion of proteins to their smallest molecules,” explains P. Michael Stone, MD, MS, an Ashland, Ore.-based functional-medicine physician. “The longer someone is on acid blockers, such as proton pump inhibitors (PPIs), the greater the incidence of them developing food allergies and hypersensitivity.”
People on acid blockers also have trouble with complete digestion, he says, and aren’t able to absorb as many of the healing nutrients in the food they eat. While we often assume digestive problems are due to excess stomach acid, the problem more often is that we don’t have enough. (For more on dealing with acid reflux, go to “Natural Ways to Fight Heartburn“.)
Heal your gut.
“Gut health is the foundation for all health,” says Plotnikoff. “And proper digestion, absorption, and elimination are the signs of a healthy gut.”
Up your fiber intake by eating whole, green leafy vegetables and other plants; promote good gut bacteria by incorporating fermented foods, like sauerkraut, kvass, and kimchi; take a high-quality probiotic; and consider drinking bone broth or eating grassfed gelatin to help seal up a leaky gut lining — a common condition in allergy sufferers. (For more on this, see “How to Heal a Leaky Gut“.)
Reduce plastic in your life.
Plastic is everywhere, from computer keyboards to steering wheels. Finding ways to reduce exposure to it where you can — especially in contact with food — can make a big difference.
Most plastics contain the potentially hormone-disrupting chemical -bisphenol A, or BPA. Trade plastic food containers for glass or stainless steel. Never heat food in plastic, since heat leaches chemicals directly into the food. And if you do use plastic water bottles or food-storage containers on occasion, make sure they’re BPA-free, which some experts believe is less dangerous.
Improve indoor air quality.
Research suggests that 86 percent of air fresheners contain hazardous phthalates — even ones that are marked “all natural.” Dryer sheets are equally dangerous because the chemicals in them are heated and vented into the air.
New furniture (especially particleboard) and carpet can both release chemicals that end up in household dust. Opt for vintage or secondhand items when you can. You can also let new furniture breathe in an outdoor area for as long as weather permits.
Clean up body-care and household-cleaning products.
Steer clear of any products with synthetic fragrances, which often contain endocrine disrupters. Propylene glycol is a common additive in body-care products and an increasingly common allergic trigger for many people. Consult the Environmental Working Group’s Skin Deep database for a comprehensive guide to safe personal-care products. (For more on fragrances, go to “The Problem With Perfume“.)
Embrace a few germs.
A little exposure to dirt and germs helps keep the immune system in good working order, so stick to soap and water and stay away from the big guns, such as antibacterials and antimicrobials, as much as possible, says Galland. Be aware that antibacterial and antimicrobial chemicals can turn up in places beyond hand soap and household cleaners — like toothpaste and mattresses. Read labels.
Get your vitamin D.
“Ensuring a good vitamin D level year round supports balance and immune function,” says Plotnikoff. The Endocrine Society, which is considered by many to be the top authority on optimal vitamin D levels, recommends a blood serum level greater than 30 ng/ml, but Plotnikoff believes optimal levels are slightly higher, between 40 and 60 ng/ml.
To achieve a good baseline, he recommends getting your vitamin D levels tested and then adjusting your supplement accordingly. Just about everyone needs to supplement, he says, especially those who live north of the Mason-Dixon line or work long hours indoors and get less sunlight.
Opt for natural antihistamines.
When allergies do strike, Plotnikoff suggests, reach for a natural antihistamine combination like quercetin, stinging nettle, and vitamin C.
Reactions that affect the lungs, including asthma, might also be helped by increasing your body’s glutathione production. Glutathione is a powerful antioxidant produced by the body — and it plays a key role in tissue repair.
“For those with rhinitis manifestations, glutathione production is super important,” he adds. Sulphur-rich foods like garlic, onion, and broccoli boost glutathione in the body, or you can take a glutathione-supporting supplement, such as N-acetyl cysteine. (For more on glutathione, go to “Glutathione: The Great Protector“.)
This originally appeared in “Taking on the Allergy Epidemic” in the April 2017 issue of Experience Life.