As we head into allergy season, you might feel the need to stock up on tissue, Vitamin C, and your preferred over-the-counter medication. However, there may be a natural option to consider before you head to the nearest drugstore: probiotics.
New research shows probiotics, that healthy or ‘friendly’ bacteria found in the gut, may be the next best weapon against seasonal allergies.
Probiotics for Allergies?
There is no definitive answer at the moment, but scientific studies and reviews show encouraging results and are trying to better understand the probiotics and allergies relationship and connection.
A 2015 medical review of seventeen studies, including two randomized controlled ones, found that subjects who had been exposed to, or consumed probiotics for allergies and/or to alleviate their symptoms experienced improvements in “at least one facet of a patient’s health.”
Probiotics reduced nose-related allergy symptoms in 50% of patients with “seasonal allergies.”
This particular study, published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, had 173 subjects divided into two groups, one under a placebo drug and one under probiotics. Participants in the probiotic group reported better “quality of life” and fewer nasal symptoms, on patients with moderate allergic reactions to seasonal agents.
While six of the studies in the 2015 review showed no correlation, researchers believe there is enough evidence to pursue the ‘probiotics for allergies’ line of study in order to find a more precise connection.
In addition to this review, other studies show that probiotics “are a useful therapeutic remedy in the treatment of allergic rhinitis” also known as “hay fever.” However, the underlying mechanisms explaining the probiotics and allergy connection must be further investigated to be fully understood.
Additional analysis shows this alternative medicine approach may also have positive results for children, particularly under the age of five.
Allergies in the US: why we’re considering probiotics for allergies
Approximately 10 to 30% of the US population suffers from allergies and feel triggered by seasonal allergies. Pollen release, warmer seasons, and unseasonable weather changes can make allergens more present and triggering.
The most common symptoms of allergies and seasonal allergies include:
- Itchy nose
- Blocked nostrils
- Runny nose
- Chest tightness, coughing or wheezing
- Skin rash (or hives)
- Swelling (lips, tongue, fingers, etc.)
- Stomach pain, vomiting, diarrhea
According to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America, statistics show that there is a staggering 50 million+ Americans experience various types of allergies each year and allergies are the 6th leading cause of chronic illness in the U.S. It’s not a minor issue, so if you’re experiencing allergic reactions - you’re not alone.
Both the medical community and pharmaceuticals are looking into probiotics for allergies, as an optional or supplemental therapeutic strategy to boost the population’s immune system and reduce the uncomfortable -and at times painful- effects of allergic reactions.
People are researching both what causes allergies and how the body responds to them, and the alternative and natural medicine options that may function as either preventative or therapeutic remedies.
How Probiotics and Allergies Interact
Probiotics are live bacteria, types of yeast, and microorganism that restore gut flora. The body is full of bacteria that help it function properly. Multiple types of bacteria can be categorized as probiotics but in general, there are two kinds used to replenish gut flora, support health, and potentially be the best probiotics for allergies:
- Lactobacillus acidophilus
- Bifidobacterium bifidum
These particular strains of "good" bacteria are often found in dairy as "live and active cultures” used to make yogurt, kefir, and other dairy products. When ingested probiotics are beneficial for our health:
- Replenish flora when antibiotics are applied
- Support digestive health
- May help with symptoms of depression
- May help alleviate symptoms of IBS
- Prevent or treat dermatitis or eczema
- Keep the gut microbiome stable and healthy
- Improve immune response
The ways in which probiotics and allergies interact with each other are still being studied, but so far the research points to positive results and we may be on the verge of effectively using of probiotics for allergies, either to treat or prevent moderate to mild seasonal symptoms.
The role of the Gut and Probiotics in the Immune System
The “gut” is composed of a single cell layer, called the “intestinal epithelium” this hosts the healthy gut bacteria we find in probiotics. The intestinal epithelium forms a barrier against antigens and microbes and behaves as a microbial sensor, secreting substances that respond to bacterial exposure.
This, in turn, ignites a chain reaction of immune response system cells such as neutrophils, eosinophils, monocytes, phagocytic macrophages and T cells (the seek and destroy cells of the immune system), which ultimately supports immunity.
Although most of these cells are present in a healthy intestine, this barrier is susceptible to changes in the environment, diet, physiological condition, and even emotional status, that may deplete the healthy bacteria that live in the intestinal barrier. Probiotics replenish that flora and keep the barrier -and its ability to respond correctly to foreign substances- in optimal levels, which is how probiotics for allergies work.
Natural vs Over-The-Counter Allergy Remedies
If you’re having a severe allergic reaction, natural remedies may not work fast enough to provide aid. If you require prescription medicine or are at risk of anaphylactic shock, always consult with a licensed physician and follow directions as instructed.
If you suffer from mild to moderate allergic reactions heightened by seasonal changes, there may be alternative and natural medicine remedies that you can try before you hit the OTC side of the drugstore.
However, it’s important to understand what an allergic reaction is and how these remedies and/or medication help soothe the symptoms associated with those reactions.
- Allergic reaction: a natural response that occurs when the immune system mistakenly labels a substance that most people are not allergic to (or harmed by) as “harmful” thereby enabling a chain reaction that tries to flush out of the body the triggering substance.
The immune system activates mast cells in white blood cells to release histamine and use any defense mechanism available to eliminate the allergen: mucus, skin, bowels (vomit, diarrhea,) etc.
- Antihistamines: most prescription medication and OTC remedies are made of antihistamines, chemicals that reduce or stop the secretion of histamine and helping the body restore its natural balance.
Since allergies are erroneous immune responses, natural remedies focus on either strengthening the immune system or helping the body flush out allergens.
- Vitamin C: Boosts the immune system and also may act as a natural antihistamine through its powerful antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, since oxidative stress has been linked to allergic reactions.
- Apple Cider Vinegar: may aid reduce mucus secretion by slightly boosting the metabolic rate and “heating” up the body, forcing mucus out and potentially cleansing the lymphatic system. There are many other apple cider vinegar benefits.
- Probiotics: introduces beneficial “good” bacteria into the digestive tract, strengthening the immune system. No strain of probiotics for allergies have been found to be more effective than the other at the moment, as both of the main groups have been studied and found to be as effective.
Nasal Irrigation: using a Neti Pot or a saline nasal irrigator of some sort, may help flush out allergens locked or trapped in the nasal cavity.
- Bromelain: an enzyme found in pineapples and papaya fruits, usually available as an extract or supplement has been found to reduce inflammation by the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health.
Over the Counter Medication:
Before we started to look into the relationship between probiotics and allergies, there were many OTC options available in the market. The most common side-effect to antihistamines is drowsiness, which makes them somewhat incompatible with the work-day, this explains the rise in the interest for alternative medicine options.
These are the most common antihistamines (sometimes combined with decongestants):
- Fexofenadine (Allegra Allergy)
- Loratadine (Alavert, Claritin)
- Cetirizine (Zyrtec Allergy)
- Desloratadine (Clarinex)
- Levocetirizine (Xyzal)
- Diphenhydramine (may cause drowsiness)
- Chlorpheniramine (may cause drowsiness)
Probiotics for Allergies the Bottom-line:
There is no conclusive evidence yet to explain how probiotics for allergies work or explain the probiotics and allergies connection, but medical research is growing and so far has positive results. If you’re wondering what to choose this year to fight seasonal allergies, bear in mind that severe allergic reactions may still need a prescription or OTC medication, so don’t eliminate a prescribed antihistamine without the approval of your doctor.
However, if you’re interested in preventative medicine: probiotics for allergies may be your easiest and most effective choice; they’re affordable, good for your gut health and immune system and you can take them daily! This healthy supplement is an effective practice to support overall health while you find the probiotics for allergies that work for you.
Give it a shot and let us know if you experienced positive results, we’re interested in your story.