Allergy season strikes again! The shift into springtime has brought clear skies, beautiful blooms, and unfortunately, sniffles and sneezes for many. The visual and olfactory pleasures associated with the reproductive activity of plants come with a slew of symptoms for those who suffer from seasonal allergies to tree pollen, ragweed, and grasses. Unbeknown to most, these allergies are largely preventable and treatable by working with diet and lifestyle.
Do you suffer from seasonal allergies? Respiratory allergies affect 1 in 5 Canadians. April is allergy awareness month at Nectar and for the next few weeks we want to equip you with everything you need to know. This includes: what allergies are and why they are on the rise, what the contributing factors are, which foods are best to eat, and how to naturally prevent and treat symptoms. First, let’s start with the basics.
What are Allergies?
An allergy is the result of the body’s immune system overreacting to a foreign substance that has been wrongly classified as a harmful invader. The immune system is designed to provide protection from things like bacteria and viruses that may cause sickness. It’s the confusion between actual threats to the body and perceived threats (allergens) that causes an issue, leading to the need for a tissue.
Allergy symptoms present when the immune system is triggered by an allergen, such as pollen or animal dander, which sets off a cascade of reactions. The body creates anti-bodies and certain chemicals, including inflammation-provoking histamines, which flood into the system to affect various tissues and organ systems. Allergy symptoms differ for each person but most are most commonly congestion, coughing, itchiness, shortness of breath, headaches, and hives. These symptoms are the body’s way of attempting to clear out the source of irritation. It is interesting to note that one of the many functions histamines have in an allergic response is to keep the body awake and alert, which is why antihistamine allergy medications may cause drowsiness.
Three Reasons Why Allergies are on the Rise
Why are more and more people suffering from allergies each year?
1. Climate Change
Hay fever for allergy sufferers now lasts a month longer than in the past. Warming global temperatures due to increased levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere have changed the botanic landscape, lengthening and intensifying plant pollination cycles. Not only are growing seasons longer but also, areas that were once too cold for allergenic plants are now active.
2. Botanical Sexism
Botanical Sexism is a theory that connects the increase in seasonal allergies with the sexist selection of trees planted in cities. A large majority of the trees planted in Canada are male. Male trees are favourited because unlike female trees, they don’t produce seeds and fruits that require maintenance. However, male trees produce allergy-inducing pollen. This has disturbed the natural ecological balance and subsequently, increased allergies.
3. Over Sterilization: The Hygiene Hypothesis
The Hygiene Hypothesis is the idea that a lack of exposure to parasites, microbes, and viruses during childhood limits immune system development and increases susceptibility to allergies. Our current sterilized society does not allow for the interaction with disease-causing pathogens and so the body begins to target substances are not actually harmful, such as pollen. Studies have shown that people raised on farms very rarely develop allergies and asthma as they are exposed to a wide range of bacteria that exercise the immune system and prevent future overreaction.
Check back next week to learn about the "barrel effect" and gain tools for optimizing health and increasing resilience against springtime allergies.
With Love and Nectar,
Photography by Alexa Mazzarello.
Balch, Phyllis A. Prescription for Nutritional Healing. New York: Avery, 2010. Print.
Haas, Elson M., and Buck Levin. Staying Healthy with Nutrition: The Complete Guide to Diet and Nutritional Medicine. Berkeley: Celestial Arts, 2006. Print.