Spring allergies and histamine meditated disease

Dr. Laura Roxann Alexander
11 min readMar 7, 2024

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The most powerful way to beat disease is to prevent it in the first place. What a powerful statement. Prevention is worth a pound of cure. That’s another good one. So you might be thinking what does prevention have to do with allergies? Allergic reactions are a loss of tolerance. So prevention is really about calming the immune response to tolerate the environment.

We cannot prevent the change in seasons or the coming of spring, but we can keep our immune system balanced by prioritizing twelve lifestyle habits that will preserve immune tolerance to compounds that don’t actually harm us like pollen and other spring and fall allergens. We can also prevent or decrease the symptoms runny nose, watery eyes and congestion by lowering the total body burden of histamine. Histamine is not the villain and we need it to survive. There are many options that can help you manage spring allergies without reaching for an antihistamine in the pharmacy.

Histamine Overload

I like to think about overall histamine load in the body with an overflowing bucket analogy. The bucket can only hold so much water before it spills over the sides. The body can only deal with a certain amount of histamine before it eventually leads to intolerance. Essentially, high histamine states in the body are because of excess histamine production, excess intake (from food), impaired detoxification (requires enough nutrients and open pathways of excretion) and/or high reactivity (hyperactive immune system or dysregulated immune system). The body makes histamine because it is necessary for normal human function.

Medications commonly used for control of allergy symptoms will block specific histamine receptors in the body, of which there are 4. Long term use of histamine blockers can cause the body to increase the number of receptors in an effort to use any available histamine. Histamine is a neurotransmitter and helps maintain the blood brain barrier. So if we block histamine long term, we affect the barrier function of the brain. What about blocking histamine in muscle tissue? What about our ability to dilate blood vessels? All of these biological process are affected by histamine and over time, antihistamines will impact these processes.

Symptoms of histamine overload are headache, migraine, itchiness, diarrhea, flushing, sweating, puffy eyes, respiratory congestion, excess sweating, dizziness, and nausea. If you have these symptoms year round- it’s food or indoor/outdoor environment toxins! If it gets worse in the spring then the pollen was the last drop of water causing the bucket to overflow!

There are powerful compounds in food that actually suppress histamine release from mast cells and calm the immune system. Apples, berries, cruciferous veggies and even onions. One flavanol that has been isolated and has many studies backing up it’s validity is Quercetin. Other compounds include Bromelain, Boswellia, and Stinging Nettle Leaf- all of which can be used to calm the immune response and degrade histamine.

What we really want to do is figure out the root cause of the runny nose or watery eyes. So we have to be a detective. Now there are many amazing articles out there written about histamine intolerance and if you suffer from allergies at all or even post nasal drip, I encourage you to check those out. If you take an antihistamine everyday I highly encourage you to learn about the side effects and understand that your symptoms will only get worse over time without eliminating the cause of allergies. The body will always find a way around a medication. Always. If the cause of the disease is not stopped, it will continue in the background while symptoms are treated rather than the root cause.

Histamine is made from an amino acid called histidine. So the body makes it and we ingest it. High histamine foods are wine/beer, cheese, bananas, kiwi, chocolate, pork, cashews, processed meats and even leftovers. Histamine can also be produced by our gut bacteria and even an overgrowth of yeast that resides in the gut. Some microbes degrade it. The point here is to determine if your allergies are actually due to the food you might eat everyday.

Histamine mediates important functions in the body. Histamine is a part of our immune system. It is not bad. The body just might not be able to handle the load. A key piece of handling histamine is being able to get rid of it. We must have nutrients to do that. That includes B vitamins. A diet rich in whole foods and plenty of vegetables and sufficient protein intake will provide the building blocks for those enzymes.

Understanding the immune system

Generally, you want your immune system to survey and not react. You want to tolerate food, your microbiome, your environment and of course your own cells and tissues. There are many cells involved, from the front line of defense to long term strategists. Our innate immune system is non-specific and responds rapidly. They are the detectives. Cells that are involved in the front line defense can also release histamine. Cells of the innate immune system hang out at the barriers of the body like the mucosal layers of the lung, skin, and nose. Our adaptive immune system is specific and produces antibodies so we can have a quicker reponse to a threat next time. It can take up to 4 days to ramp up.

The immune system is more complex than what I just described but I think you really only need a good image in your mind to understand what is gong on behind the scenes. The non-specific immune system is like the Navy in international waters and the specific immune system is like sending the Navy Seals after Bin Laden. Together these arms of the immune system deal with a threat. If it becomes uncontrolled then not only do you get a symptom like redness, watery eyes, runny nose or reactions to things that you typically shouldn’t, but you also get a more aggressive response the next time. Picture a battlefield. Now what happens when the communication lines go down? Let’s say the Navy Seals weren’t able to get word to the ships that the job is done. What would happen? More troops, more damage, and enlarged and dangerous battlefield (which is inside your body!)

The body evolved to be able to gear up quickly and at the same time, put on the brakes. Otherwise we would have out of control inflammation and probably wouldn’t have survived. In fact, there is a specific type of cell called a T-regulatory cell that is driving the calm signal that tells the body that the threat is over and we need to clean up the battlefield. This system can become dysregulation by many mechanisms and it is really importnat when talking about allergies because that is a loss of tolerance to a compound that really doesn’t cause harm.

Factors that influence T-reg cells and their ability to calm

Stress

Insufficient Zinc

Insufficient Vitamin D

Antibiotics use

High Cortisol levels

Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs

Genetics

Toxicity

Lack of exposure to microbes and nature as a child

Twelve Factors to Restore immune Balance

There are 12 critical lifestyle factors that can help you restore balance to your immune system. These factors aren’t expensive. They are pretty basic, but they are powerful.

Hydration

Drink at least 1/2 your body weight in ounces each day. Maintain adequate sodium and potassium balance which directly influences cellular hydration.

Poop Daily

If you aren’t having one bowel movement per day you are constipated. The body works incredibly hard to detoxify and eliminate waste products so we must ensure we are moving those out of the colon and out of the body.

Strong Stomach Acid

Strong stomach acid is first line of defense against invaders. If you have acid reflux and take an acid reducer, not only are you at risk for developing nutrient insufficiencies of key vitamins like B12, but a more basic pH in the stomach means you have lost a first line of defense against pathogens.

Eating Hygiene

Chew food so molecules are broken down into smaller pieces. Eat slowly to aid digestion. Do not eat when stressed. The body will not digest food if it is geared up to run or fight danger. We must be in a calm, relaxed state for the digestive processes to happen.

Glucose management

High blood sugar can damage cells and membranes creating an opportunity for an immune response and unchecked inflammation. High blood sugar can create a whole host of issues and entire books have been written on this subject. Bottom line: high blood sugar impacts all bodily systems and creates inflammation. Cut out the juice, soda, packaged foods and boxed junk. Your immune system and your waistline will thank you.

Eat Nutrient Dense Foods

The immune system needs nutrients! T reg cells require zinc, iron, and Omega 3s. The current Standard American Diet is often times high in Omega 6 and low in Omega 3 fatty acids which puts the body in a pro-inflammatory state. Seed oils are high in Omega 6 fatty acids. Instead choose ancient oils like coconut, olive, avocado, and nut oils. Reduce the amount of foods that contain color additives as well as preservatives, which can create an immune response leading to allergic symptoms like headaches, runny nose, and watery eyes. Many of the dyes like red, yellow, and blue are also linked to ADD and behavior disorders in children which may have some immune component like inflammation at it’s core.

The Microbiome

Protect the microbiome. A healthy microbiome actually educates our immune system on what is stranger or danger. When we take antibiotics, we essentially wipe out the bacteria that do this and then that allow more pathogenic bacteria to take up residency within our small intestine. This dysbiosis can often be at the root of not only gastrointestinal disorders, but even inflammation throughout the body like eczema, itchiness, pain syndromes, brain fog, and allergic symptoms.

Take a quality probiotic that has many strains in it during and for 3 to 6 months after a course of antibiotics. Some people feel better taking a probiotic daily for life and that can be an option if you suffer from allergic disorders. Eat fermented foods like yogurt and sauerkraut which is a great source of beneficial bacteria. Decrease sugar intake which can promote yeast overgrowth in the gut. Yeast can also be a source of histamine production and lead to histamine intolerance.

Eat plenty of vegetables which feed our beneficial bacteria. Those key species use vegetable fibers as a fuel source and can also create a compound called butyrate which is used as an energy source and a signaling molecule throughout the body.

Regular Challenging Movement

The lymph system is a part of our immune system and the only way to move lymph fluid around is through movement! Yoga is the perfect way to get this type of movement in at least 4 times a week. Even a short 10 minute routine will stimulate lymph flow.

Toxin Avoidance

Our immune cells still operate on a recognition system from the caveman days. Since the 1940s, hundreds of thousands of new chemicals have been dumped into our soil, air and water. These chemicals are not natural and our immune system doesn’t recognize them as friends. Avoiding toxins can reduce the immune systems burden and reduce allergic symptoms, especially to indoor pollution. Things like dryer sheets, candles, and Febreeze are supertoxins. They contain volatile compounds, which when inhaled through our lungs gets shuttled directly to the blood stream. These compounds may also be one reason why rates of asthma has been steadily increasing over the years.

Throw out the old plastic Tupperware and do not heat food in plastic containers. The heat will cause the plastic to break down and that gets into your food. Use glass and stainless steel instead. For cooking use cast iron skillets or stainless steel.

Buy organic whenever possible. You can use the Environmental Working Group’s website for information on organic fruits and vegetables and which ones should always be purchased as organic. The clean 15 or the dirty dozen lists can help you make smart choices in the grocery store and reduce your exposure to pesticides and herbicides which impact immune cell regulation but also can kill beneficial bacteria.

Sleep

Deep restful sleep is essential for the immune system to repair and clean up waste. Poor sleep can be at the root of immune chronic activation. The bedroom can be a source of allergens as well. How old is your mattress? Is there mold in the bathroom? Do you let pets sleep in the bedroom or in the bed with you?

Shirin-yoku

Forest bathing. I wrote an entire article on the benefits of forest bathing. There are multiple studies that correlate time spent in nature to overall health and wellness. Plants also give off volatile compounds but these compounds work magic on our immune system. In fact, some of these compounds specifically module natural killer cells and T-reg cells, leading to a stronger, more balanced immune response.

Check out my article below for more information.

The vagus nerve and parasympathetic nervous system

Last but not least, the vagus nerve and the parasympathetic arm of the nervous system. The vagus nerve sends signals from the brain to major organs in the body like the heart, lungs, and gastrointestinal tract. The largest percentage of immune cells by volume is within the lining of the intestinal tract. This makes total sense since so much of what could potentailly be dangerous, comes in on our food. The immune system must be there ready and waiting to deal with a threat. The main signals on the vagus nerve are actually signaling to and from immune cells. When the vagus nerve is overburdened with other stressors and challenges, it becomes less able to send important signals to the immune system. This dynamic can be a major source of immune dysregulation and not only cause be a gateway for food sensitivities and allergies but total body immune dysregulation and activation.

Root Cause

Spring is coming, seasons change, and our environment is getting just a little more toxic by the day. There is no one solution to dealing with allergies, I wish there were. It’s usually never just the one thing, but a cumulation of factors that cause the bucket to overflow. I encourage you to think beyond the symptoms and find out why you might be suffering from allergic challenges. Is it your food? Is it your house or the products you bring into your home? Could it be the lack of nature that your body desperately needs? Could it be all of those? Perhaps it’s crap food, stress and toxins. The good news is you do have the power to begin looking for the source of immune dysregulation and you absolutely can create an environment that allows the immune system to stand down, to tolerate, and to be strong enough to keep you well!

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Dr. Laura Roxann Alexander

Pharmacist.Personal Trainer.Lift heavy, skip the run.Let food by thy medicine and medicine be thy food.