Dr. Kimberly M. Sanders, ND
For many people, the spring season is a bittersweet time of year. The blossoming flowers and trees are beautiful to look at, but they may bring along seasonal allergies. The symptoms of seasonal allergies include itchy, watering eyes, runny nose, coughing, sneezing, and sore throat. Allergies are caused by a dysfunctional immune response to pollen, mold, dust, and other environmental allergens. The release of histamine and leukotrienes creates the symptoms associated.
A patient with an autoimmune disease already has a dysfunctional immune system all year long. However, in the case of autoimmunity, the immune system is “attacking” the patient’s own tissues, rather than some environmental allergen. For someone with rheumatoid arthritis, the immune system is attacking the joint rather than pollen, for example. A certain percentage of patients with autoimmune disorders also suffer from seasonal allergies. From the perspective of a naturopathic physician, this is an indication that the immune response is excessively dysfunctional. Not only is the person’s body undergoing an autoimmune attack against itself, but it is also creating an immune response against innocuous antigens, like pollen and dander.
What to do?
An autoimmune patient with seasonal allergies should make immunomodulation a priority under the guidance of a qualified naturopathic physician. The first focus for patients in this case should be on proper digestive health. The quantity and diversity of probiotic flora in these patients is very often reduced, leading to subclinical gastrointestinal inflammation. This creates an environment for increased intestinal permeability (aka, “leaky gut”) and allows the immune system to act without suppression. Next, other burdens on the immune system need to be identified and removed. The person should eliminate any foods that he/she is allergic or sensitive to, as this only adds an additional burden onto an already dysregulated immune system. Next, the patient should strive to reduce inflammation that contributes to increased baseline histamine and leukotriene levels. Supplementation with omega-3 fatty acids is often a wise choice in these patients. Consuming an anti-inflammatory diet may also reduce systemic inflammation in certain patients. Other supplementation to consider include the wide variety of immunomodulators. Examples include vitamin D, vitamin A, Astragalus, Glycyrrhiza, Rehmannia, Humulus, and probiotics. Evaluating histamine metabolism in these patients can also be considered, as certain patients lack the ability to metabolize histamine properly.
Kimberly M. Sanders, ND, is a licensed naturopathic physician in Connecticut. She graduated from the University of Bridgeport and completed her CNME-accredited residency training there, as well. She was named 3-time MVP of the ZRT Cup Competition as a medical student. Dr Sanders currently owns ArthroWell Naturopathic, a specialty practice in rheumatology. She has undergone extensive pediatric and rheumatology training, and has lectured on the topic of autoimmunity and autism at the annual CNPA and NHAND conferences. Her passion in practice is finding the underlying cause of immune dysfunction and restoring balance to the immune system with functional medicine.