Probiotics for Spring (and Other) Allergies
A recent article called The Surprising Way to Beat Spring Allergies by Michelle Schoffro Cook, PhD, DNM, ROHP, one of my favorite writers on probiotics and the gut microbiome, caught my eye and I want to share its information with those of you who suffer from allergies, seasonal or otherwise. Her article starts out this way: “Before you grab that decongestant to subdue your sinus congestion or antihistamine to stop the sneezing linked to spring allergies, you might want to give your gut some attention. More and more research shows that probiotics can reduce allergy symptoms and may even prevent allergic conditions altogether if they are started early in life. But not just any probiotic will do; with thousands of probiotic strains available, it’s important to choose the ones that have an anti-allergy effect. The right probiotic strains can heal the intestinal walls and reduce low-grade inflammation in the gut, but also prevent or reduce allergies.” (Cook, 3/17/2016)
The most common symptoms of allergic rhinoconjunctivitis are inflammation in the nose, sinuses, and eyes. You inhale some pollen or other allergen and your nose and sinuses become congested or blocked. Maybe your eyes itch, burn, tear up or become red. Maybe your eyes become hypersensitive to light. Your nose may itch and discharge watery mucus. Your ear canals may get irritated. You sneeze a lot, feel physically depressed, and generally miserable.
ALLERGIES & ME In my case, decades of year-round chronic allergies resulted in the growth of nasal polyps in my sinuses that dropped down into my nose every time I inhaled, causing me to have to breathe only through my mouth. I was exhausted all the time, had frequent sinus infections, a tenderness in the bridge of my nose that made wearing glasses painful, and such swollen nasal and sinus tissue that I could never blow my nose. And I had to wear tinted glasses even indoors to deal with light sensitivity. The chronic inflammation and difficulty breathing made me physically depressed and, as a result, I also believed I was emotionally depressed. Basically, I was and felt like an inflamed mess – and the number of things I was allergic to kept growing: cat dander, dust, cigarette smoke, foods, scents. I went to allergy doctors who prescribed decongestants (they made my heart race) and antihistamines (most of them severely sapped the little energy I had). I remember lying on our living room couch once after taking a prescription pill containing both a decongestant and antihistamine, my sinuses so dried up I could hardly breathe and my heart beating so rapidly I thought I was going to die, unable to lift my head or get up to call for help … long before cell phones. I told my ENT doc, after the second surgery to remove nasal polyps (the chronic inflammation caused them to grow back), that I was going to find a non-pharmaceutical/ non-surgical way to fix both my allergies and sinuses. He was a good guy and asked me to please let him know when I’d found the information I was seeking.
Thankfully, I’ve been tenacious over several decades in seeking that information and choosing helpful health care providers to work with, never grew another nasal polyp, and am no longer done in by upper respiratory allergies. This website, Allergies And your Gut, is a by product of that determined quest to feel well. BACK TO MICHELLE SCHOFFRO COOK’S ARTICLE “The ideal time to be introduced to beneficial allergy-preventing strains of bacteria is actually before birth. Research in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology shows that when a pregnant woman consumes probiotic-rich milk or yogurt during pregnancy, an infant or child is less likely to suffer from allergic conditions such as eczema or rhinoconjunctivitis.” (Cook, 3/17/2016) Of course, we’re not able to go back and make sure we got sufficient beneficial microbes during our fetal development but we can provide ourselves now with pertinent probiotics to prevent or reverse our allergy symptoms and conditions. The milk and yogurt products used in this study contained three types of probiotic bacteria:
Cook reports on work done by scientists at the Osaka University School of Medicine that found ingestion of another probiotic, Lactobacillus casei (L. casei), delayed the occurrence of allergy symptoms and reduced allergic nasal and sinus congestion. The double-blind, placebo-controlled study results were published in the International Archives of Allergy and Immunology. BREWER’S YEAST (DRIED, FERMENTED SACCHAROMYCES CEREVISIAE) And finally, Cook cites 2009 research results from a 12-week, randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled clinical trial published in the medical journal Advanced Therapeutics demonstrating the benefits of consuming a dried, fermented probiotic yeast called Saccharomyces cerevisiae. Study participants consisted of 96 healthy people with a recent, clinically documented history of seasonal allergies. The researchers were testing the efficacy of 500 mg of a fermented, dried Saccharomyces cerevisiae product during the highest recorded concentrations of total pollen counts for the Midwest area where the study was conducted and found it reduced allergy symptoms, especially nasal congestion. Saccharomyces cerevisiae is also known as ‘brewer’s yeast’. Dried, fermented Saccharomyces cerevisiae (brewer’s yeast)
Dried yeast fermentate helps balance your immune system by:
boosting the strength of your skin and mucus membranes
stimulating immune cells
supporting the production of T-cell and B-cell immune factors
In case you want to read more on dried, fermented Saccharomyces cerevisiae, here’s a useful article about it. (Day, 2014) If you’re inclined to want your information from a strictly Western Medicine source, here’s information on Brewer’s Yeast from WebMD. (WebMD, 2016). Note added on 4/4/2016: See Sorting Out Yeast: Nutritional and Brewer’s for a comparison of nutritional yeast vs brewer’s yeast. (Mercola, 4/4/2016) 4/15/2016 Following up on Scott Moshen’s helpful COMMENT below, I found Bragg Nutritional Yeast Seasoning for a reasonable price at my local health food store. It’s also available from Amazon.com. Bragg is also the long-time maker of other raw, organic products that many health-conscious people swear by, including an Organic Raw Apple Cider Vinegar that’s unfiltered and contains the ‘mother’.
PROBIOTICS VS DRUGS FOR ALLERGIES If you’re like me, you prefer consuming foods and natural substances to taking pharmaceutical drugs whenever possible to prevent inflammatory, autoimmune problems – or to treat them if they have already developed. The authors of the 2009 Advanced Therapeutics article described above noted: “Allergic rhinitis (AR) impacts around 25% of the worldwide population. However, cost, safety, and a high dissatisfaction rate with numerous conventional medications continues to be an issue in the largest patient surveys, due primarily to a lack of efficacy on nasal congestion.” (Moyad et al, 2009) And Cook has this to say on the subject: “Unlike drug products, antihistamines and decongestants you take when symptoms are severe, the probiotic-based approach works differently. Probiotics are best taken on a daily basis (follow package instructions of the specific product(s) you select) before and during allergy season. Select products that contain the specific probiotic strains mentioned in this article, as others have not been tested for effectiveness against seasonal allergies.” (Cook, 3/17/2016) For more information on the benefits of consuming fermented foods and how to do it, check out Cook’s article, 25 Ways to Get More Fermented Foods in Your Diet. (Cook, 3/10/2016)
I also recommend Dr Dr. Michelle Schoffro Cook‘s book The Probiotic Promise: Simple Steps to Heal Your Body from the Inside Out to you. Here’s a list of its chapters:
Chapter 1: The Health Secret We’ve All Been Waiting For
Chapter 2: The Surprising Worlds Within Your Body
Chapter 3: From the Common Cold to Superbugs: Probiotics to the Rescue
Chapter 4: New Hope for Serious Illnesses
Chapter 5: How to Select Probiotic Supplements
Chapter 6: Fall in Love with Fermented Foods
Chapter 7: Easy, Delicious, Probiotic-Rich Recipes
MICRO-ORGANISMS FOR PEOPLE AND PLANTS
I want to add to all the above what Professor of Geomorphology David R. Montgomery and Biologist and Environmental Planner Anne Biklé have to say about why allergies have become so prevalent. They are husband and wife – and the authors of an engaging and timely new book called The Hidden Half of Nature: The Microbial Roots of Life and Health. Their book began with a desire to create a garden in the yard of their house in Seattle. They soon discovered the soil had become barren, depleted of nutrients, dead – so they started feeding it a steady diet of organic matter (coffee grounds, wood chips, leaves, home-brewed compost – lots and lots of it). Soon the soil was teeming with microbial life and supporting a lush garden supplying them with nutrient-rich organic plants. As scientists, they were fascinated by this experiment. Then Anne was diagnosed with cancer and they turned their attention to the question of what supports health in the body. They began to move away from the view of microbes as mostly pathogenic and toward understanding that the vast arrays of invisible micro-organisms (pounds of them) that live in and on us are actually what maintain our health – or make us ill if they’re not well nurtured. They’d seen this interaction at work in the relationship between the soil in their miraculous garden and the plants that grew in it. Now they were able to start understanding that the same relationship exists between the health of the micro-organisms in the various human microbiomes and the health of the host’s body. Here’s part of what they have to say about gut micro-organisms and allergies: “Growing up in the 1960s and 1970s, neither of us can recall classmates or friends with severe enough allergies and asthma that it required hypervigilant parents and teachers to help them avoid near-death experiences. We also don’t recall today’s prevalence of common gut dysfunctions like Crohn’s disease and irritable bowel syndrome. “In the past fifty years researchers have seen not just an uptick in the incidence of gut dysfunctions, but a fortyfold increase…. While our genes may make us more or less susceptible to such ailments, changes in our gut microbiome are increasingly implicated as well. “Gut dysfunctions and autoimmune diseases like asthma and allergies are turning out to be, at least in part, consequences of an immune system gone alarmingly awry. The hallmark symptom of all these diseases is an over-the-top immune response that damages our own cells and tissues. “How does our own immune system turn against us? Increasingly, it seems that a major contributing factor is a severe case of atrophy for our efficient and evolutionarily honed immune system. Without a challenging workout and the help of beneficial microbes, our specialized immune cells and tissue grow lazy, or one might say, hazy. It is the day-in, day out saturation of the inside and outside of our bodies with microbes that tones and sharpens the various feedback loops that drive our immune system to learn and recognize microbial friends from foes. A too-clean environment, ultra sanitized food and water, repeated doses of antibiotics, and minimal contact with soil and nature all work against us. These factors interfere with communication between microbes and our immune system. And this throws off the balancing act of meting out inflammation that our immune system evolved to do.” (Montgomery & Biklé, 2016, 189-190) I highly recommend this book to you. Some comments from reviewers: “I love this book! It’s genial, erudite, and wise. Using their personal story, historical fact, and cutting-edge science, Montgomery and Biklé have given us a great gift – a deep understanding and appreciation of our relationship with the microbial world.” “The Hidden Half of Nature reads like a fast-paced novel but tells the true story of the workings of soils, and even our own