The landscape across most of the country is turning from a blah blend of browns and greys into a world of color as flowers and trees begin to bloom, and grass awakens, turning green. Birds, too, are vocally active, filling the air with song. And …"ah choo!"
…allergies for millions begin to emerge as well.
So, are probiotics good for allergies? Yes and no. Huh?
Yes, because probiotics are long-term health balancing solutions for immune support. And no, they do not immediately alleviate symptoms like over-the-counter products and prescriptions. (And if you encounter a company trying to sell a probiotic to “treat” allergy symptoms, steer clear.)
First, we’ll define what occurs in the body when allergies emerge and then discuss ways you can help your body better manage its resistance to potential spring allergies.
What is an allergy?
Overall, an allergen is a substance that causes an intense immune system reaction in some people, which results in annoying symptoms like itchy, watery eyes, continual sneezing, stuffy nose, hives and rash. According to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America, allergies of all kinds affect as much as 30% of the population.
When the allergen is encountered by the body (typically inhaled or absorbed) in a susceptible individual, his or her immune system tags it as a potentially dangerous invader. The immune system then produces a type of antibody called immunoglobulin E (IgE), which is designed to deal with allergens. They remain within the body, and when the next encounter with the allergen occurs, the allergen attaches to the IgE. At this point, the immune system’s mast cells release inflammatory compounds, notably histamine, that travel to fight off the offensive allergen and creates inflammation as it attempts to vanquish it. The aforementioned symptoms emerge from histamine’s activity. The IgE created by the body is specific to the allergen, which is why no two allergy-sensitive people are susceptible to the same compounds. For example, you may develop an allergy to ragweed but not to oak pollen.
When spring season begins, we feel the desire to come out of hibernation and enjoy the warmer air, without being encased like a sausage in winter outer-gear. However, for those who are sensitive, the vigorously awakening terrain can be fraught with allergy fits.
Approximately 50 million Americans will be diving into a love-hate relationship with spring as allergies ramp up. The common cause is the flourishing canopies that are, quite frankly, trees having sex. Spring tends to be all about the trees, while summer and early autumn encourage grasses to release their pollens.
According to the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology (AAAAI), the following common trees let loose in the spring, triggering allergies: oak, Western red cedar, maple, elm, birch, sycamore, ash, poplar, walnut, hickory, and cypress. When the trees are releasing their pollen, those who are susceptible will be more prone on windy days.
Other people have reactions to mold, which although is year-round, is especially active in spring when the weather tends to be rainy and damp, followed by warmer temperatures. Mold (yeasts and mildew) release spores that are, like pollen, carried in breezes. Common outdoor molds that tend to release springtime spores are Alternaria and Cladosporium/hormodendrun.
4 Steps to Building Spring Allergy Resistance
1. Ensure a clean indoor environment: Keep doors and windows closed and ensure your air conditioning filters are specific to capturing allergens. In addition, if you’ve been outside exposed to pollen, wash your clothes. Wash bed linens and vacuum frequently as well. Believe it or not, pollen can get trapped in hair and you wouldn’t feel it until the sneezing and other symptoms start, so take a quick shower or rinse after being outdoors on windier days.
2. Nasal Irrigation: According to WebMD, “Nasal irrigation uses a combination of warm water, about a quarter-teaspoon of salt, and a quarter-teaspoon of baking soda to clear out mucus and open sinus passages. You can use a squeeze bottle or a neti pot, which looks like a small teapot. Use distilled, sterile, or previously boiled water to make up the solution. It’s also important to rinse the irrigation device after each use and leave open to air dry.” When allergic rhinitis symptoms attack, this is a good tool to clear out the junk in the nasal passages, providing some relief.
3. Enjoy local honey: Honey is delicious and full of nutrients, and can often make a suitable substitute for sugar to add some sweetness. But eating local honey can also help your body adapt to local pollens (what the bees use). One study assessed the effects of pre-allergy season consumption birch pollen honey (BPH; birch pollen added to honey) or regular honey (RH) on symptoms and medication during birch pollen season in 44 individuals with physician-diagnosed birch pollen allergy. The results showed that those in the BPH group had a 60% lower total allergy symptom score, twice as many asymptomatic days and 70% fewer days of severe symptoms during the birch pollen season compared to controls.
4. Take probiotics daily: Numerous studies show that regular consumption of a host of strains in both the Lactobacillus and Bifidobacteria genera provide overall and targeted support and enhancement of immune system function. Although spring allergies are common in healthy people, concentrating on effectuating optimal immune support is helpful in increasing resistance to symptom development.
How do Probiotics Help Support During Allergy Season?
In one meta-analysis that reviewed numerous trials and in vitro studies that assessed usefulness of probiotics for support in allergic rhinitis, the authors found that several strains appeared to boost healthy immune responses, lessening symptoms. They concluded that probiotics are “useful and therapeutic.”
L. acidophilus strain L-92 was shown to alleviate symptoms of perennial allergic rhinitis in an eight-week study when added to milk; compared to the placebo-milk group, they had “clear decreases of the scores of swelling and color of the nasal mucosa.”
Another probiotic strain, L. paracasei STII was added to milk and consumed daily for eight weeks alongside placebo milk; the researchers found that the probiotic reduced expression of pro-inflammatory compounds interleukin-5, interleukin-8 and interleukin-10 in a test with grass pollen. A close relative strain, L. paracasei K3310 was similarly studied in people with Japanese cedar pollinosis (allergy) and the researchers found that, taking the probiotic one month prior to the season showed significant reduction of nasal symptoms and levels of an allergenic inflammation marker, thereby reducing allergic inflammation but only during when the pollen was low.
Supplemental L. casei Shirota was shown to exert changes in antigen-induced production of cytokines were observed in volunteers with seasonal allergic rhinitis. According to the researchers, the probiotic supplementation “modulates immune responses in allergic rhinitis and may have the potential to alleviate the severity of symptoms.”
Another strain also showed promising mechanism of action results in one study. Fifteen individuals with high levels of IgE and perennial allergic rhinitis consumed 2000 ml daily of Lactobacillus gasseri TMC0356 for 4 weeks. The researchers found that their total IgE concentration was significantly. T helper 1 (Th1) cells also significantly increased after 14 days and after 28 days, suggesting a bolstered immune response to a pollen.
Allergies can not be prevented but only managed through good habits and mindfulness, such as taking extra time to clean, keeping windows closed, etc. If you or someone you know never had spring allergies and start to develop symptoms, consulting with a physician is recommended to do tests and to obtain either a prescription or over-the-counter recommendation. Probiotics can work to support your immune system’s ability to react more appropriately when pollens drift and cavort in springtime.