seasonal allergies digestive problems

Digestion Connection: Seasonal Allergies and Digestive Problems

I write about this topic every spring because I personally know that spring allergies are so annoying and debilitating. It’s finally warm and light past 7 pm. You go for a walk after work and it’s lovely. But then you start sneezing. Your nose is running and you have no tissues.  Farmer’s blow? Your sleeve? Use a leaf?  Yup, I’ve tried them all. Finally you get home and settle down but then wake up in the middle of the night sneezing.  Ugh.  The next morning your eyes are blood shot and puffy.  A great look for work, right?  I’ve been there.  Allergies are a bummer!

Luckily, it’s not just the trees and grasses attacking you, it’s your immune system acting crazy from some other cause. Many times that other cause lives in your gut, where 70% of your immune system resides.

Seasonal Allergies and Digestive Problems

If you are experiencing digestive symptoms such as gas, bloating, diarrhea, constipation, nausea or heartburn, this is a sign that your imbalanced digestive system is causing your allergies.

Along with your immune system, your gut is home to your microbiome – the trillions of organisms, or good bugs. These little guys protect your intestinal lining, which is the barrier controlling what goes into your blood stream. This barrier is responsible for keeping foreign invaders out. If the good bugs are not there doing their job more substances can get in and trigger your immune system to react with inflammation. This is one of the ways we get “leaky gut,” lack of good bugs (think antibiotics killing them off).

Without the important barrier, “invaders” such as toxins and artificial ingredients in processed food, undigested bits of food, common inflammatory foods (gluten, dairy, soy, sugar, and corn) trigger your immune system again and again. Your immune system starts to thinks everything is an invader.  It then mistakes more harmless substances (pollen and other foods) for dangerous invaders.  With pollen the response releases histamine causing the common allergy symptoms (sneezing, runny nose, itchy eyes).

Plus the good bugs (microbiome) work closely with your immune system to help decide between friends (no inflammatory response) from invaders (Attack! Attack! Big time inflammation).  If your microbiome is out of balance your immune system loses its ability to correctly make the friend or foe decision.  It ends up attacking too many things.  Food sensitivities are created this way.

Other things that damage the intestinal barrier are stress (the hormone cortisol rips up the gut), alcohol, and gut infections such as parasites and bad bugs (more common than you think), NSAIDs, even having food poisoning years ago.  Damaged intestinal barrier = more immune responses = more inflammation. Gas, bloat, constipation, diarrhea, heartburn, nausea are signs that something is amiss in your gut. If you’re experiencing these symptoms healing your gut is the key to unlock your allergy relief.

So what to do:

Tip 1: 

Check out my 5 favorite supplements for allergies.

Tip 2:

Maximize Digestion. Chewing your food thoroughly and slowly helps to secrete digestive enzymes and stomach acid to break down potentially immune triggering proteins.  Practice Mindful Eating.

Tip 3:

Protect Your Gut Barrier. Reduce inflammation by keeping undigested, large food particles, toxins and bad bugs away from your immune system and out of your blood stream. Avoid gut irritating foods such as wheat/ gluten, alcohol, GMOs (any non-organic corn and soy) and takes steps to be at peace with your stress.

Cruciferous vegetables (broccoli, cauliflower, Brussel sprouts, cabbage, kale, boy choy) help protect your intestinal lining. As does vitamin A (cod liver oil is a great source, and fish oil very anti-inflammatory), quercetin (included in my 5 favorite supplements for allergies), resveratrol and the probiotic Lactobacillus reuteri.

Tip 4:

Foster a healthy microbiome ecosystem.  Avoid processed foods (the gums and additives in processed foods wreak havoc on your good bugs). Avoid GMOs (genetically modified organisms) which are commonly in non-organic corn, soy, canola oil, papaya, sugar beets (used as a sweetener), zucchini and yellow squash. Look for the Non-GMO Verified label to confirm that your food is safe. Eat organic as much as possible.

Eat plenty of fiber and prebiotic foods containing resistant starch which feeds your good bugs.  These bug building foods include plantains, jicama, lentils, asparagus, dandelion greens, sunchokes, onions, leeks, garlic , radishes and cooked and cooled potatoes (like potato salad).  Eat plenty of colorful fruits (especially dark berries) and vegetables for polyphenols.  The spices thyme and turmeric are also beneficial.

It’s true that fermented foods (yogurt, Kombucha, sauerkraut, kimchi) are good for your bugs. But they also contain histamine. Allergy sufferers should avoid those foods during allergy season. They can make you feel worse right now.

We hope you find relief and enjoy your spring!

For past editions of the Digestion Connection visit:

Weight Loss is influenced by Your Gut

How Your Gut Affects Your Hormones

How Stress Affects Your Gut


Disclaimer: Nutrition therapy is not intended as a diagnosis, treatment, prescription, or cure for any disease, or as a substitute for medical care. Jen Marshall and Stacy St Germain are not licensed medical providers. Nutrition plans are not intended as a substitution for traditional medical care, nor should be interpreted as medical advice, but instead is an adjunctive and supportive therapy.