Asthma & Allergies:
Is your Digestive Health responsible for your suffering?
Dr. Summer Swanick, N.M.D.
Often times symptoms such as wheezing, coughing, tightness of the chest, runny nose, sneezing, and itchy eyes are caused by environmental factors including dust, pets, foods, flowers, and grasses. These symptoms indicate that the mucosal membranes of your respiratory tract, intestinal tract and nasal passages are irritated and inflamed. This process is an overreaction by your immune system to certain environmental triggers, and is known as a hyper-sensitivity reaction.
So what do asthma and allergies have to do with your digestive health?
Approximately 80% of your immune system is found in your intestinal tract.
When your body is functioning optimally, your intestines support your health in three key ways:
- Beneficial bacteria live in your intestines and protect you from an overgrowth of detrimental bacteria, which can cause infection. They also help absorb nutrients and make certain vitamins, supporting the health of your entire body.
- The inner lining of your small intestine acts as a barrier to separate beneficial nutrients from waste products. Vitamins, minerals, proteins, carbohydrates, and fats are absorbed into your body through this inner lining and everything else passes through as waste products.
- Within the lining of your small intestine your body produces immune cells, which are constantly being made to protect you from foreign material traveling from your mouth through your digestive tract.
Proper breakdown and absorption of nutritional factors is dependent on the synergistic functioning of the protective barrier, good bacteria, and the immune cell function of your small intestine. Disruption can be caused by antibiotics, over the counter pain killers, and fried foods, which kill good bacteria, cause inflammation and ulceration, and disrupt digestive functioning, respectively. Infection, asthma, allergies and chronic disease are all symptoms of this disturbance.
When you have an immune reaction, your intestines become inflamed with immune cells. This results in increased intestinal permeability, which inhibits your intestines’ ability to separate nutrients from waste and some particles that shouldn’t be absorbed, get absorbed. Your immune cells respond by attacking those particles (hypersensitivity reaction). This increased intestinal permeability has been linked not only to bronchial asthma and allergies, but also to other conditions such as Crohn’s disease, Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, Diabetes, Inflammatory Bowel Disease, and nonalcoholic fatty liver disease.
So, why do you only experience allergy and asthma symptoms some of the time? It’s all about your body’s threshold. As long as your body can process daily exposures to toxins and allergens, you don’t notice symptoms. However, once that threshold is reached, intestinal permeability breaks down, hypersensitivity reactions occur and you start to experience itching, wheezing, sneezing or other symptoms.
Here are some actions you can take to avoid this reaction long term:
- Limit the use of pain killers and anti-inflammatories to when you really need them. If you find that you are using them on a regular basis, see your doctor.
- Take probiotics during and 2 weeks after antibiotic use.
- Use a neti pot or other device for nasal passage irrigation before bed, especially during allergy season.
- Drink 1 tablespoon of organic unfiltered apple cider vinegar with meals to support digestion.
- Drink plenty of water. The number of ounces of water you should drink daily is equal to the number of pounds you weigh divided by 2!
There is no substitute for medical advice from a licensed doctor. See your Naturopathic Medical Doctor or other medical practitioner about your health care concerns so they can develop a plan that is right for you.