Florentina Sgarz, BA
Gut & Allergies
It is finally getting warmer, the sun is shining for longer each day, the grass is getting greener and everything is in full bloom. Unfortunately, for allergy sufferers, this time of year marks the beginning of another nightmare. The sneezing, sniffling, coughing and watery eyes intensify as the various types of grass and shrubs come into bloom. Many people suffer so badly that it is impossible for them to leave the house. Our intestines play an important role in combating allergy symptoms – but what is the function of the intestines in allergies?
How does an allergy develop?
An allergy is an immune reaction to substances foreign to the body, such as pollen, but also animal hair or insect venom. A supposedly harmless substance is wrongly classified as dangerous and an increased production of antibodies occurs. This increased antibody production causes the body to become sensitised to the substance. Upon contact with the allergen, this allergen antibody mediates the release of histamine, which is responsible for the typical allergy symptoms. If the allergy reaction takes place with the symptoms, then the allergen has already crossed the intestinal mucosa. This happens when our mucous membranes in the body are damaged. Through a so-called leaky gut, substances that we take in through food get directly into the bloodstream. This leads to an overload of certain substances, which in turn causes an overreaction of the immune system. The consequence is an allergy or food intolerance.
Your gut and allergies
The colonisation of the intestine begins with birth. Above all, the way the birth happens has a significant influence on the intestinal flora. If the child is born vaginally, i.e. naturally, the child’s microbiome is colonised with the vaginal bacteria, the so-called vaginal flora of the mother. If the child is born by caesarean section, the initial colonisation is mainly by the mother’s skin bacteria and by germs from the environment, which can have a negative effect on the diversity (=composition and variety) of the newborn’s intestinal flora. Studies show that increased microbial diversity in the intestinal flora is associated with a lower risk of allergic diseases. The first months after birth are crucial for the development of the child’s intestinal flora. Especially during this period, the prevention of allergic diseases is important: the importance of breast milk comes to the fore. A woman’s breast milk contains more than 200 different sugar molecules, making it the most complex breast milk of all mammals. Its task is to specifically promote healthy bacterial colonisation in the first period after birth with the sugar molecules found in breast milk. The immunoglobulin A contained in breast milk serves to protect against infections and is thus also an important protein for the child’s immune defence.
Causes of allergies
The cause of an allergy can be manifold. There are various theories, but no completely proven findings. An allergic reaction basically only happens when the immune system has already had contact with a foreign material. The first time there is contact, there is usually no reaction – only when there is contact again do symptoms appear. However, researchers agree on one factor: genetics plays a major role in the development of an allergy. Children whose parents are already allergic have a higher risk of developing an allergy. Likewise, the more and longer someone is exposed to a possible allergen, the more likely they are to develop an allergy. Excessive hygiene in childhood can have a particularly negative effect on the risk of allergies. Studies also show that children who grew up on a farm are less likely to develop allergies and asthma than city children.
There are fewer and fewer natural habitats. The majority of people nowadays are exposed to constant stresses that overstrain the immune system and can cause allergies.
Examples can be:
- Air pollution, e.g. car and industrial exhaust fumes.
- Nutrition, e.g. processed foods.
- Pollution of the living space, e.g. tobacco smoke, chemical substances in the household, mould
- Job-related causes.
Job-related allergies are among the most common occupational diseases. The body begins to respond to certain substances in the workplace environment with allergic reactions. Such an allergy can theoretically develop in anyone in any occupational group. Examples are an allergy to flour dust as a baker or when a hairdresser reacts to certain dyes or hair shampoos.
What can I do about an allergy?
Protecting and strengthening the mucous membranes is the concept of allergy defence, because any allergy-triggering substance is warded off via this barrier. One way to treat allergies is the symptom-oriented therapy approach, in which the effects of the allergy are treated. Drops, sprays and tablets are used to reduce swelling and histamine release. However, this approach does not treat the cause of the allergy; it only serves to treat and relieve the symptoms in the short term. Another approach is desensitisation. This involves gradually getting the body used to a particular allergy-causing substance and, over time, creating a tolerance. In the long term, this method takes a long time to implement, there is no guarantee of getting rid of the allergy and it does not offer any protection against new allergies.
A tried and tested method is to strengthen the mucous membranes. These are no longer intact in allergy sufferers and are involved in the development of the allergy. This form of therapy treats the origin of an allergy and is especially beneficial for people who are allergic or intolerant to several substances. A well-functioning intestinal flora also plays a decisive role here. Probiotics support the maintenance of a healthy intestinal microbiome, which in turn has a positive effect on strengthening the intestinal mucosa.
According to intestinal expert Anita Frauwallner, the following points are also very helpful:
- Try to relieve stress and repair the intestinal mucosa, which is inflamed because of this. This works by taking the right, anti-inflammatory intestinal bacteria, which can be found in probiotics.
- Boost your defences! During the pollen season, try to reduce strenuous exercise and instead focus on building up a strong intestinal mucosa. The good intestinal bacteria, which can be taken in the form of probiotics with a combination of six strong leading germ strains and which colonise the entire intestine from top to bottom, help here.
- Stop histamine formation in the intestine: Zinc is an excellent help here! In general: B vitamins, amino acids and various trace elements are necessary for the development of an intact intestinal mucosa.