Allergies are triggered by an immune response to what your body (mistakenly) perceives to be a “foreign invader,” what we call an allergen. Some of the most common allergens are pollen, pet dander, mold, dust mites, and certain foods. Exposure to an allergen can trigger symptoms that allergy sufferers are all too familiar with: itchy eyes, nose, and throat; sneezing; cough; skin rashes and hives; digestive upset; and more. Strengthening and supporting the body’s immune system is the best way to minimize these allergy symptoms—and it may surprise you to learn that it all starts in the gut.
A healthy gut flora is where it’s at
Maintaining a healthy, balanced microbiome in the gut is the best way to manage allergies. As Dr. Z explains, “What you eat determines what nutrients you absorb, and that’s what creates your own unique microbiome, which affects many aspects of your health—including allergies.”
Dr. Z recommends eating lots of fruits and vegetables, as well as probiotics or “good bacteria,” as an essential way to improve and maintain healthy gut flora. (Flora are the microorganisms that make up your microbiome or digestive tract.)
What are probiotics?
Probiotics are live cultures, such as bacteria and yeasts like Lactobacillus, Bifidobacterium, and Escherichia. A healthy gut naturally contains a balance of these “good bacteria” and the bad bacteria, but there are times when get out of kilter. Upping your intake of probiotics is one of the ways you can help restore equilibrium to the microbiome and the body as a whole.
Probiotics have been shown to help reduce allergy symptoms, as well as symptoms of asthma. Some strains of bacteria, like Bifidobacterium longum, for example, have been shown to regulate T-cells in the body, which can help to produce a stronger immune response to common allergens. Other strains, like Lactobacillus casei Shirota, appear to alter the balance of antibodies, which can be especially beneficial for people whose symptoms are triggered by pollen.
Good food sources of probiotics
There’s a wide range of probiotic supplements that come in the form of drinks, powders, capsules, and gummies. You can also add more foods to your diet that are rich in probiotics including plain yogurt; naturally fermented foods such as sauerkraut, kimchi, pickles, tempeh, and miso; and soft cheeses with a rind such as brie. Kombucha (fermented tea), kefir (fermented milk), and water kefir are beverages that are also high in probiotics, and apple cider vinegar (with the “mother”) is another excellent source.
Probiotics and prebiotics: what’s the difference?
All living organisms need to be fed, and bacteria are no exception. Prebiotics are essentially food for probiotics. They are types of fiber that feed the beneficial bacteria in your gut. Probiotics and prebiotics work together and eating balanced amounts of both can help ensure optimum gut health. Food sources of prebiotics include legumes, oats, bananas, berries, asparagus, garlic, and onions.
Find out how functional medicine can help
“In functional medicine, when you want to heal a patient, you start with the diet,” explains Dr. Z. Schedule a consultation to learn more about how Dr. Z and our team of functional medicine practitioners can help you improve your gut health, boost your immune system, and get at the root cause of your allergies.