Allergies can be miserable. With allergy season upon us, it’s important to start supporting the immune system before the first pollen surge hits.
What you may not know is that the root cause of your allergies may not be environmental.
According to Ayurveda, allergies are caused by chronic digestive imbalances that compromise immunity by congesting digestive-related lymph.
Most digestive issues can be traced back to the impact of stress on the intestinal wall, causing the first signs of inflammation and lymph congestion. The lymphatic system carries the bulk of the body’s immunity and is easily congested as a result of digestive stress.
It is now a well documented fact that we process our stress through the intestinal wall. We manufacture and store 95 percent of the body’s serotonin in the gut, leaving only five percent of it in the brain at any given time (1,2). This validates the relationship between chronic stress, digestive strength and compromised immunity that makes up Ayurveda’s philosophy with regard to the cause of allergies.
Let’s learn more about the allergy response and how to support the body’s fight against it.
The Allergic Response
Chronic psychological stress is directly linked to a compromised immune system (3, 4). Such immune compromising stress will set the stage for intestinal inflammation, lymph congestion and allergies.
According to Ayurveda, stress irritates the intestinal wall, which may be linked to constipation or loose stools. The aggravated intestinal villi are where the lymph system and immunity begin. Once the lymph around the gut—called Gut Associated Lymph (GALT)— becomes sluggish, the body’s immune response is literally stuck in traffic. This in turn creates systemic lymph congestion that can create hypersensitivity and/or allergies all over the body.
Lymph vessels carrying white blood cells lie adjacent to the mucosa of the gut and respiratory tract, right on the other side of the intestinal and respiratory walls. If the lymph response becomes compromised, the immune system cannot respond to irritants in time, and cellular reactivity and inflammation ensues. This triggers a histamine or allergic response at the site of the irritation.
Reversing the Process
Logically, to reverse this cascade of allergy-inducing events, we would need to do the following:
- Help the body process stress without impacting the digestive process.
- Support a healthy environment around the villi in the intestinal tract.
- De-congest the lymphatic system.
- De-sensitize hypersensitive mucus membranes in the gut, respiratory tract and lymph.
- Moderate the histamine and inflammatory response to allergens and irritants that can cause unpleasant immunological reactions.
- Turn off an overzealous immune (allergic) response.
To accomplish this, I have listed some important nutrients below that can support a healthy immune response to stress and allergies, that you may want to consider as part of your allergy-fighting plan.
Vitamin C (ascorbic acid) is essential to humans—meaning that it is not synthesized endogenously by the human body and must be obtained through food. While most mammals are able to synthesize ascorbic acid, humans lack one of the enzymes required for this process and can quickly become deficient if dietary or supplemental intake is inadequate. After a long winter without citrus fruits, vitamin C deficiency is a common spring concern.
Stress, smoking, pollution, and temperature changes all increase our requirement for vitamin C. Well known functions of vitamin C include antioxidant support from damaging free radicals and the synthesis of collagen, which may help heal the gut wall from the ravages of stress.
Vitamin C also supports the synthesis of carnitine, a compound which helps the body cope with stress by supporting neurotransmitters to support a stable mood and healthy stress response.
Vitamin C also plays a lesser-known role in the deactivation of histamine (5, 6).
Bioflavonoids are the antioxidant and anti-inflammatory constituents found mostly in fruits, veggies, soy, teas and legumes. They work synergistically with other antioxidants to protect tissues from the negative effects of the stress, oxidation and inflammation often observed during overzealous immune reactions (7). These immune-calming effects support a healthy immune response and prevention of histamine release (8, 9, 10).
Quercetin is a natural flavonoid found in most fruits and vegetables. It supports the activities of other antioxidants, protects white blood cells and capillaries, supports bronchial function, and assists in the chelation of metals which cause toxicity (11). Quercetin was also found to moderate inflammation pathways and support antioxidant protection within the cell (11, 12).
Rutin is a flavonoid that supports lymphatic function. It’s found in high amounts in buckwheat, apples and asparagus. Rutin reduces capillary permeability and lymph congestion, which can reduce mucus fluid buildup or “runny nose” (17). Rutin may protect against oxidation. This function of rutin is supported by ascorbic acid, or vitamin C (7).
N-Acetyl-Cysteine, or NAC, is a precursor to the “master antioxidant” glutathione. NAC plays a significant role in detoxification and antioxidant protection. It also functions as a natural mucolytic, reducing the viscosity of mucus commonly produced during a hyper-immune response (13, 14).
Stinging Nettle Extract
Stinging Nettle Leaf (Urtica dioica) has been found to regulate a variety of inflammatory activities associated with an overzealous immune response, including supporting a healthy inflammatory response and histamine action (15, 16, 17).
Brahmi (Centella asciatica) is a small plant in India that has been used in Ayurveda to support the nervous system, stress, mental clarity and memory. Recently, this herb has been shown to support the healing of the stomach and intestinal wall by encouraging the synthesis of collagen, a protein that provides elasticity and function to the inner and outer skin of the body (18,20). Brahmi was also shown to support the health and circulation of the periodontal tissue of the mouth (19). Since stress has a direct impact on the health of the intestinal villi which is responsible for immunity, Brahmi has a place in your arsenal for allergies.
Manjistha (Rubia cordifolia) is the classic blood purifier and lymph mover in Ayurveda. Studies have shown it to support antioxidant and liver protectant activity (21, 22). Since the liver and the lymph are two of the body’s most prolific detox systems, Manjistha may play an important role in the drainage of lymph and support for the liver in allergies.
Your Allergy Plan
Consider adding significant amounts of the foods that contain the above nutrients to your daily diet a month or so before allergy season, practice stress-coping mechanisms like one-minute meditation, and consider LifeSpa’s Aller-Rest formula for herbal and nutritional support in preparation for and during allergy season
Read more from this author: “An Ayurvedic Look at Living with the Cycles.”
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Ed: Brianna Bemel