It is almost the end of summer, which means yet another allergy season for some of us. If you find yourself scrambling to find a remedy, it may be time to look within, deep within, as in your gut.
I just returned from a two-week trip to Asia and avoided Montezuma’s revenge, aka Bali belly, by taking good care of my digestion. Anytime I travel, I know I will introduce a new set of microbes that could interrupt my microbiome. This is why next to my passport, my other travel essential is a bottle of probiotics. During this trip, even after consuming copious amounts of local water, I was fine and I credit it mostly to the millions of good bacteria in my stomach that created a strong line of defense. Many of us already know about the benefits of probiotics for digestion. But what you may not already know is that maintaining a healthy stomach environment of good bacteria can also be good for allergy sufferers.
A recent study earlier this year at Vanderbilt University, which examined 23 other studies (including a total of 1,919 participants), found that probiotics may be a helpful supplement to combat seasonal allergies. Even though we may not know the causes of allergies, good gut flora is believed to strengthen the overall immune system, which in turn reduces inflammation related to allergies. Other studies also suggest that pregnant mothers who maintain a healthy balance of good bacteria are likely to pass on a healthy immune system, which may prevent their children from developing certain allergies.
Here are 10 things to incorporate into a healthy lifestyle to keep your good bacteria in check:
1. Reduce stress – Good bacteria is already present in our systems, but increased stress may impact this balance. According to Functional Medicine practitioner Chris Chresser, stress can impact the gut function, including increased permeability, allowing unwanted particles to enter the bloodstream. A study also found that stress alters the microbial environment in the gut, by changing the composition of bacteria that is essential to maintain healthy gut function. Other research done on mice actually showed an overgrowth of bad bacteria due to stress. One of the best things we can do to maintain healthy bacteria, then, is to keep stress at bay. Do some breathing exercises when you find yourself getting tense.
2. Reduce sugary, processed foods – Aside to zapping your energy, these do twice the damage by feeding the unhealthy bugs in the gut. The more you consume, the more you will increase the amount of bad bacteria that lead to inflammation, upset stomach and compromised immune system.
3. Reduce alcohol – Similar to sugar, alcohol can feed bad bacteria with excess sugar. Worse, it can also wreak havoc on the system due to severe inflammation.
4. Avoid antibiotics or anti-inflammatory drugs when possible – Antibiotics are designed to kill bacteria – both good and bad. Aspirin and ibuprofen cause inflammation and can damage the stomach lining.
5. Eat fiber-rich foods – Nuts, seeds, fruits and vegetables provide food to the healthy bacteria in the system.
6. Eat fermented foods – Fermented foods are a staple in almost every culture – kimchi, sauerkraut, fermented fish, soy sauce – all these are naturally high in probiotics and round out a healthy diet.
7. Start the morning with a digestive elixir – Try mixing 1 Tbsp of apple cider vinegar with a cup of room temperature water for a probiotic-friendly (it nourishes probiotics in your body) concoction to jumpstart your day.
8. Sip on probiotic beverages – Kombucha is a fermented tea that contains a high amount of probiotics. Watch out for excessive sugar, especially for those who tend to suffer from Candida or yeast overgrowth.
9. Kefir or yogurt – For those able to consume dairy, kefir and yogurt are also good sources of probiotics. Similar to kombucha, these may contain high amounts of sugar, so be sure to read the labels.
10. Supplements – One of the easiest ways to get probiotics is to take supplements regularly. Make sure to do your research and go with a quality brand you trust.