5 min|Dr. Jam Caleda
Bless you: An Integrative Guide to Sneezing Less During Allergy SeasonWellness
As I walk down 7th avenue under the tunnel of cherry blossom blooms, I’m amazed at my first hint of spring in Vancouver. People are finally emerging from their huddled hearths and basking in the unripened sunny weather. As someone from a tropical climate, I find it odd, but ‘Canadianly’ audacious to wear a bathing suit in 17-degree sunny weather. I admire the statements to welcome the sun. However, I have also noticed that with the spring comes the sound of “achoos” and I suspect it isn’t because of the sun. Allergy season is upon us as well and while the flowers in bloom court each other in the winds, our noses pass their own gusts of nasal tempests.
Why Do We sSneeze?
For most of us pollen in the air are tolerated by our bodies, and even if we breathe it in, it doesn’t cause much of a response. However, for many, pollen can be that ever-evil instigator of the perpetual sneeze and allergic conjunctivitis. Sneezing is a reflex and like all reflexes, it involves a reflex arc consisting of a receptor, a sensory nerve, an integration centre, a motor nerve, and an effector (1).
Receptors, which are nerve endings located at the base of hair follicles in the nasal passages detect an irritant. These irritants can range from unusual smells, dust, dander, pepper, pollen, and viruses. These nerves carry electrical signals to the brain stem, which sends instructions along the facial nerves and the nerves that lead to your lungs and diaphragm.
As you may have noticed, your eyes may begin to water and the nasal passages begin to secrete fluid. The impulse to your lungs causes your diaphragm to spasm, causing a deep breath and then the muscles of your chest contract, which forcefully push air out of the nose and mouth at initial speeds of up to 100 miles per hour, according to some researchers (2).
Th1 vs Th2 response
Allergies are mainly a dysregulation of the immune system. For simplicity and the purposes of our discussion, I will present the immune system as subdivided into two parts. One part of our immune system deals with infections, which include bacteria, and viruses, the other deals with parasites, autoimmunity, and allergies.
Researchers have determined that there is an inverse relationship between these components of the immune system and when one portion is up-regulated the other is down-regulated and vice versa. The bacterial and viral portion, we will call a Th1 response, and the allergic portion, we will call a Th2 response (Th1 and Th2 stand for T-helper cell 1 and 2 respectively).
How Do These Responses Get Activated?
During childhood development, if we are exposed to many infectious things like bacteria and viruses (not necessarily the ones that cause us to get sick), we develop an immune system that is Th1 dominant - if we don’t, we are likely to develop an immune system that is Th2 dominant.
There is a hypothesis known as the hygiene hypothesis that describes these phenomena where a lack of exposure to infectious agents, or symbiotic gut flora and probiotics, and parasites, increases a person’s susceptibility to allergic and autoimmune diseases (3). So maybe having dirty fingernails isn’t such a bad idea as a child.
How Do We Better Regulate Our Immune System?
Much of how we do this is to reduce inflammation in our bodies. Most people who suffer from severe allergic reactions have to take medications, which can be very helpful and life-saving, like anti-histamines and corticosteroids to reduce their inflammation.
But for many of us, we can make daily lifestyle changes and supplement with doses of natural anti-inflammatories that have a better sustainable and lasting effect. Not only does this reduce side effects of many of these medications but can actually have collateral benefit in other parts of our lives.
Eating a diet low in an inflammatory index is important. This mainly involves avoiding main inflammatory foods such as gluten, eggs, dairy, soy, citrus, bacon, and coffee. If you have any other food sensitivities, it would be wise to avoid them as well. Processed foods also have a high inflammatory index. Naturally, a plant-based whole foods diet is rich in vitamin A, E, and various B vitamins that are helpful in reducing inflammation.
Natural Anti-inflammatories & Anti-oxidants
- Green tea: Normally green tea is used to improve cognitive performance and mental alertness, but research has shown it has significant benefit in many other disorders. Catechins derived from green tea have anti-inflammatory and anti-oxidant properties. Drinking 2-3 cups a day have shown benefit in reducing allergic responses (4).
- PUFAS: fish oils are a great way to supplement with polyunsaturated fatty acids that are mainly omega 3s. These are potent natural anti-inflammatories. 2-5 grams daily of organic certified fish oil high in EPA: DHA ratio of 2:3 is an appropriate dose (5).
- Curcumin: This is a molecule derived from turmeric and research shows it to be a potent anti-inflammatory agent. It has many benefits that address arthritis to cancer but is very helpful in allergies as well. Turmeric tinctures that extract curcumin are good ways to ingest the herb, at 30 drops daily (6).
- Quercetin: This is a dietary flavonoid that occurs abundantly in red wine, tea, onions, kale tomatoes, broccoli, green beans, asparagus, apples, and berries. It has anti-oxidant, anti-inflammatory, and cancer-protective effects but importantly it influences the immune system and drives a T cell regulatory response which modulates any excessive Th1 or Th2 responses. An appropriate dose for allergic response is 500mg twice daily (7).
Herbs that have been shown to help with allergies also include eyebright, elderflower, nettle leaf, bayberry, goldenseal, albizia, goldenrod and Echinacea. I have found that these herbs extracted in tincture form are the best way to ingest them. Taking ½-1 teaspoon twice a day can help alleviate allergic symptoms.