Growing up, I only remember there being one kid in my elementary school with an allergy. I remember because he was allergic to peanuts and he had to eat his lunch in a separate area of the cafeteria. If you were to ask your parents, they would probably agree that there were few, if any, children that they grew up with that had allergies. Today, we see a very different scenario, where recent research has found that not only are allergies among children on the rise, but what is even more surprising is that the number of adults developing allergies is also increasing.
With spring just about in full swing (fingers crossed!), I know that if you are someone with seasonal allergies, this time of year can actually be really uncomfortable. So with that being said, I want to discuss the connection between seasonal allergies and your gut health. Based on the latest research, a holistic approach to addressing and reducing symptoms of allergies should include support for a healthy microbiome - the community of bacteria that reside in your gut.
An allergy is an immune system response to a substance, like fur, pollen or food, to which the immune system has become hypersensitive. The symptoms you experience (i.e. runny nose, swollen throat, asthma, eczema) are the consequence of an imbalanced immune system making an unsuitable response to this substance (source). I say unsuitable, because fur, pollen and food, are not actually harmful, but your immune system thinks they are and mounts an attack against them.
In order to understand allergies, you have to understand that over 70% of your immune system is in your gut. When you are born, your colon begins to be colonized by bacteria that help shape a healthy immune system (source). Antibiotics, widespread sanitization, c-section births and bottle feeding seem to be factors in the prevalence of allergies in North America because they can disrupt this colonization.
A healthy microbiome generally consists of high levels of beneficial bacteria, low levels of pathogenic bacteria, and a wide diversity of strains (this is different for everyone). However, studies have found that in general, both children and adults with allergies have dysbiosis, which is lower levels of certain beneficial bacteria, lower diversity of strains and in many cases an overgrowth of the more pathogenic strains. Even if you don’t currently have allergies, these factors may also put you at risk of developing allergies.
One of the ways this can happen is that an overgrowth of pathogenic bacteria can damage your gut lining, leading to leaky gut. Leaky gut is a condition where the tight junctions in your gut lining separate, which then enables toxins and undigested foods to pass into the bloodstream. These substances don’t belong outside of your GI tract, so this activates your immune system, which releases inflammatory chemicals, leading to symptoms of allergies and food sensitivities like runny nose, sore throat and itchy eyes.
We have discussed this in depth before, but here are some things that can contribute to dysbiosis:
With that in mind, a probiotic can be a good insurance policy for anyone looking to support their microbiome. Knowing what we know about allergies - that people with allergies don’t have enough numbers or variety of beneficial bacteria and that the right probiotics can have positive effects on gut health - a strategy to reduce seasonal allergies should focus on a healthy microbiome.
One of the probiotic supplements I love and use myself is Genuine Health’s advanced gut health probiotic. It contains 15 strains of bacteria that are a mix of resident and transient strains, that were specially selected to mimic a healthy human gut flora and in order to allow your own flora to grow and flourish. Fermented foods like kimchi, sauerkraut or kefir (if you tolerate dairy) also contain beneficial probiotic bacteria that can help support your gut health.*
A diet that supports your microbiome emphasizes whole, real foods versus highly processed foods which tend to feed the bad bacteria. Incorporating a variety of plant-based foods, especially veggies and legumes, provides the nutrients and prebiotic fiber your bacteria need to grow and thrive. Prebiotics are specialized plant-fibers that feed your good bacteria. Jerusalem artichokes, dandelion greens, garlic, onions and slightly unripe bananas are some examples of prebiotic foods that promote healthy levels of gut bacteria and drive out bad bacteria.** If you have allergies or simply want to support your microbiome, supplementing with a prebiotic like Genuine Health’s fermented organic gut superfoods+, can help encourage the growth of your gut microbes and nourish your gut.
*People with a histamine intolerance should not consume fermented foods and should work with their practitioner to find the appropriate probiotic strains for them.
**If you have SIBO or IBS, prebiotics can make your symptoms worse. Please work with your Nutritionist or Naturopath to determine if prebiotics are appropriate for you.