When you get a sudden onslaught of sniffles, teary eyes, or a hacking cough, it’s easy to make the connection with crazy amounts of ragweed and pollen in the air—or maybe even your friend’s cute (but super-triggering) dog.
Leo Galland, MD, a New York City-based integrative medicine expert, argues in his new book, The Allergy Solution: The Surprising, Hidden Truth about Why You Are Sick and How to Get Well, that an epidemic of allergies is sweeping the world, with over a billion people suffering from some form of allergy.
“There’s this belief that allergies are genetic. But genetics cannot explain the dramatic and explosive increase in allergies in the past few decades,” Dr. Galland says. “If you go back 50 years, there were very few people with allergies. If you go back 100 years, hardly anybody had allergies.”
Why the increase? Based on years of patient care and research, Dr. Galland says environmental factors are to blame—and many conditions that most of us don’t associate with allergies at all can be traced back to reactions to the food we eat, products in our homes, and pollution outdoors.
And in terms of conditions like weight gain, depression, and fatigue, many patients are unaware that they are simply overloaded with allergens. Yes, you are unknowingly causing your own allergies—but it’s a mystery to unlock, not a burden to bear. It’s a good thing because it means you can cure yourself!
“I even saw a woman who was allergic to broccoli and it presented as vaginitis. Every body is different.”
“Most of the really good integrative practitioners see it all the time: ‘I changed my diet and I lost weight, and my brain is clearer and I have all this energy.’ But the foods are different for different people,” Dr. Galland says. “The triggers will be unique and distinctive—I even saw a woman who was allergic to broccoli and it presented as vaginitis. Every body is different.”
The good news is worth repeating: “If something is fundamentally environmental, if you get control of the environment, you can change it,” he says.
Read on for five lifestyle changes you can make right now to boost your protection from hidden allergens—and get a sense of what’s triggering you.
1. Get serious about gut health
The first line of defense against an allergic attack is a microbiome that’s in balance—and it will help protect you from outdoor allergens like pollution, which we have less control over than what’s in our home or our diet.
“An allergy is a very specific type of inflammation, and gut health is a key part of keeping inflammation under control,” Dr. Galland says. “You’ll want to eat a diet loaded with fiber to support the growth of beneficial bacteria and flavanoids [which are phytonutrients found in most fruits and vegetables].”
And if you’re wondering how to get more fiber in your diet, we’ve got a few ideas (and recipes).
2. Speaking of flavanoids: Make them your friend
“Flavonoids are the most under-celebrated nutrients. But they are anti-inflammatory and they help create an anti-allergic effect in the gut,” he says. Look for brightly colored fruits, vegetables, and spices, and you’ll find flavanoids—but Dr. Galland recommends these in particular:
• Strawberries, which have a powerful flavanoid called fisetin that improves brain function and and immune function.
• Parsley, which boosts immune function to help the body resist allergies.
• Oolong tea, which clinical trials have shown to be effective in treating flare-ups of eczema, Dr. Galland says.
3. Check your clothes
Those antibacterial leggings and sports bras that keep your funk to a minimum? Toss them. “What makes your gym clothes smell is bacteria from your skin. Bacteria changes sweat and produces odor—so if it doesn’t smell bad, it’s because there’s an antibacterial in the clothing,” Dr. Galland says.
Chances are, they contain triclosan—an antibacterial used in soaps and shampoos, as well as stink-proof workout wear—which can disrupt the balance in your gut bacteria. So yeah, your gym clothes won’t smell as great, but sticking with clothes made with natural fibers will help keep you from having a sneezing attack during yoga.
4. Clean up your act
It’s not just about the foods you eat—your home can be a major trigger for allergies. “The most insidious and dangerous environmental allergy is mold,” Dr. Galland says. “I’ve seen really severe chronic disease as a result.” Whether it’s a moldy spot from a leaky pipe or a sheet-rock-gone-wrong under your walls, mold can affect your health—and experts recommend calling in a pro to handle its removal.
5. Do a “power wash”
The Allergy Solution includes guidelines for giving your system a “power wash” to remove common food allergens like wheat, dairy, soy, corn, yeast, and eggs. But this is not just an elimination diet, Dr. Galland says.
“Elimination diets can aggravate the problems without adding nutrients,” he says. The plan he outlines includes a combination of vegetables, fruits, spices, herbs, and teas that nourish your body with immune-boosting nutrients like flavanoids (AKA your new BFF), folic acid, and plant sources of vitamin A.
Of course, these steps are just a start—a trip to your doctor and nutritionist may be in order as well to get to the root of the problem. But Dr. Galland stresses that for many people, a solution to chronic issues like depression, fatigue, weight gain, digestive issues, and anxiety can be found.
“An allergy basically is a manifestation of the away your immune system responds to foreign substances—when it occurs it’s an imbalance. And I want people to know that in many cases they don’t have to suffer with this. It’s just about finding the way back to balance.”
A little more inflammation intel: Here are six inflammatory foods no one talks about, and under the category of “inflammation gone wild,” here’s how to come back from “sugar face.”