I remember when I first moved to Jackson Hole, WY so clearly: the April showers had brought May flowers and it was a beautiful, warm spring day. And then the wind picked up. Huge orange clouds of pollen from the surrounding pine trees filled the air and settled all over the cars. When I came out from my hospital rounds, I didn’t think much about it. But when I got home, I started sneezing, my eyes suddenly started watering, my nose was congested, and my skin broke out in a mild case of itchy hives. This was my first severe allergic reaction.
Anyone who has suffered from significant seasonal allergies will tell you that this is a pretty common story. We see cases like this in our clinic not only with seasonal allergies, but from people who suffer year-round with allergies. I read that there is actually more absenteeism from work due to allergies than from any other medical condition! What I do know, from my own experience and that of my patients, is that even going to work, while suffering from allergies, can also be problematic. Employees can be so miserable that they don’t perform to their fullest potential, or even close.
So, what is it that happens when trees release pollen, or when ragweed is in full bloom, or you go to visit your friend who has three cats? The pollen or cat dander floating through the air gets on your skin or into your nostrils and airways. Once the small particles gain residence in your body they move around until they find a certain immune cell called the mast cell. The mast cells reside in your nasal membranes, your airways and under your skin. Mast cells are specialized carriers of histamine, which are like little bags of dynamite that explode when pollens hit them. This is a hardwired chemical reaction that cannot be stopped once it starts. We have found that the reaction you experience can be reduced or dampened with the use of medicines or drugs; however, drugs can’t prevent the reaction from happening in the first place!
Let’s be clear: antihistamines and other allergy drugs are not always the safest or cleanest medications. So instead of taking an antihistamine drug, why don’t we try to prevent the mast cell’s ‘bag of dynamite’ from exploding the first place?
What we try to do as functional medicine specialists is reduce the inflammatory environment that surrounds those bags of histamine. By optimizing food choices, removing food allergens or food sensitivities, and improving sleep quality, you can significantly lower the amount of inflammation you carry in your body daily. In my experience, by addressing all these issues (particularly the food sensitivities), you can markedly reduce the explosive force of these bags of histamine dynamite. In other words, you can dramatically reduce how your body reacts to seasonal allergies!
We have also found that when the gut is inflamed due to food sensitivities, the inflammation and reactive qualities can actually cross over to how your body handles airborne allergies. True food allergies are from a specific food that causes an immediate histamine or allergic reaction within several minutes. The most common of these allergens are lactose, gluten, nuts, eggs, and berries. These reactions typically are obvious and most people know if they have them. What most people don't know is whether they have food sensitivities or intolerances. By simply avoiding the most common food allergens which include gluten or wheat, whey, casein and other milk proteins, corn, soy and alcohol, many patients discover that their overall levels of inflammation go way down. They probably had a food sensitivity to one of those food items and never realized it, because they had never had a major allergic reaction to it.
By cutting out sensitive foods, eating a diet rich in whole foods, and increasing your intake of vital nutrients in vegetables and fruits, you can markedly alter the inflammatory balance in your body. And by altering this inflammatory balance, you will reduce the burden of allergies from the air and their effect throughout your whole body. It’s amazing how treating the whole person can solve a problem as specific as seasonal allergies!
Dr. Mark Menolascino is the Chief Medical Officer for Genexa and the Medical Director of the Meno Clinic – Center for Functional Medicine, located in Wilson, Wyoming with over 35 years of healthcare experience. He is board-certified as an internal medicine specialist, board-certified in integrative holistic medicine, as well as board-certificated in advanced hormone management and anti-aging medicine with a dual master’s degree in pharmacology and immunology. His medical knowledge is complemented by advanced training and clinical experience in nutrition, naturopathy, Chinese medicine/acupuncture, Ayurvedic medicine and homeopathy.