With spring come so many new beginnings: Flowers and trees begin to bloom, seeds are sown and life's constant growth is evident all around us. Spring also means many of us head outdoors to soak in the sunshine and move our bodies after long, cold months spent cooped up in our homes. This season of growth and rebirth is also known as the season of pollen. And while the word pollen is often spoken with disdain during times when it is in abundance, this fine powdery dust plays a crucial role in the circle of life in the plant kingdom - and in our lives, too.
Our bodies are naturally resilient, but they're not fans of change, preferring instead to remain in a constant state of balanced health and wellness. This equilibrium shifts with the seasons, as temperature, barometric pressure, precipitation, plant life and more are in flux.
Our body is innately equipped to respond to pollen and other environmental irritants we occasionally encounter. These may include a new environment - say, traveling from the Midwest to Hawaii for vacation - or winter's stuffy, stale indoor air. These built-in responses are part of the immune system. These irritants are an unavoidable part of life, and they naturally vary among people. Sometimes they are determined by genetics, while others are due to exposure or lack thereof. They include pollen, of course, but also food, insect stings, dust mites, pet dander and mold spores.
You can think of your favorite spring sport when you think of the immune system and its functions. Our bodies are faced with stressors now and again, and they may be seasonal or environmental. In such cases, the immune system runs "interference," playing "offense" with functions that naturally support the body. You can play "defense" with your immune system by creating healthy habits and maintaining them throughout the year. (Learn more about the offense and defense of the immune system.)
When faced with one of those occasional invaders, your body is like the robot on the old TV show Lost in Space. Remember how it yelled, "Danger, Will Robinson!"? Your immune system's innate response is also to sound an alarm, by producing cytokines (chemical communicators), which then travel to your mast cells (in your skin, lungs, gut and other mucous membranes) and release chemicals to naturally deal with these invaders. These chemicals are called histamines, and you can think of them as the linebackers of your immune system. Part of a specialized department of the immune system, they are there to keep those interlopers away so your body can keep on doing what it wants to do (be balanced). They promote blood flow in those areas, and they trigger the body's natural inflammatory response. (Remember from this blog that the body's normal defense is to kick off these inflammatory responses, so your body can get back to a state of homeostasis. The inflammatory response naturally continues until you are in balance.)
Now that we've explained what's happening to your body during pollen season, let's get back to that spring sports comparison. Think of yourself as a member of the track team. If you spend the three other seasons lounging on the couch, staying up late, eating doughnuts and avoiding the gym, you're likely not going to break your personal record for the mile when you get back out there. You might not even make the team in that case! But, if you put in the work during the off-season, maintaining healthy habits and doing your cross-training and strength training, you are going to be ready when the starting gun goes off at that that first track meet.
The same goes for your body. Here are some ways that you can support your body's healthy inflammatory and immune functions all year round (not just during pollen season).*
Here's what to do ...
...during the "off season" (aka before pollen season)
If you were a track athlete, this is time you'd hit the weights, cross-train a few times a week, work on your form and rest up to make sure your mind and body were ready for the season to start.
Support your microbiome
Irritants love the motto "where there's a will, there's a way." Beyond the air, they find a way into the body via our food. Support the immune system in your gut (which plays a crucial role in regulating immune homeostasis) by consuming probiotic-rich foods regularly, managing your sugar intake and eating plenty of fruits and vegetables.
Keep your adrenals happy
The adrenals are the glands in charge of regulating your stress response. And, because your body only has a finite amount of energy, when you have to divert attention to keeping your stress response in balance, there's less for the immune system and the healthy inflammatory response.
Know your opponents
You're uniquely you, though your parents certainly helped make you into the individual you are today. That said, what makes your robot sound the alarm will be different than what sets off someone else's. Get to know the occasional irritants in your life, and learn how you can avoid, minimize or mitigate your exposure to them.
Be prepared during immune season
Just as nature has her seasons, so does your body. Before pollen season comes immune season. In addition to considering immunosupportive herbs, there are a couple of nutrients that come into play during this time.* Your adrenals need vitamin C to do their job, and when they are more active, they need more of it. Vitamin C also plays a crucial role in the creation of healthy tissue and support healthy immune function. The mineral magnesium - whose diverse roles include supporting nerve and muscle function, a healthy mood, healthy bones and energy production - also contributes to immune health.
... during pollen season
As an athlete, you would know that this is the time to focus on the goal at hand. You'd put in the work on the track, eat a balanced diet and give your body the time it needed to rest.
One product to consider is Turmeric Supreme Allergy, which is a synergistic formula designed to support a healthy response to occasional environmental irritants.* Here's a rundown of the what's in it:
Turmeric is a popular golden herb supports a healthy inflammatory response in the body.* Our Curcumin Synergy formulations in our Turmeric Supreme line use two types of Turmeric extract to capture the plant's whole profile. We include a guaranteed level of curcumins, the active constituents that give the plant its bright color and promote a healthy inflammatory response, as well as whole-plant extract to capture another group of active constituents, tumerones.* Those volatile oils provide antioxidant support.* (We also include Black Pepper to support absorption.*)
Quercetin is a flavonoid found in onions, apples, berries, red wine, broccoli, capers, pomegranate and Ginkgo biloba. The Quercetin we use comes from the Dimorphandra mollis tree (Fava d'Anta), indigenous to the tropical savannahs of Brazil. Quercetin has been studied for its support of the body's occasional, normal histamine response.* If you think of mast cells like an envelope, Quercetin supports their structural integrity by maintaining the natural strength and surface tension of the cell membrane. Think of it like this: If the contents of a mast cell (histamine) are a fragile item you're shipping, Quercetin is the padded mailer you buy to get it there in one piece.* (Like Black Pepper, Quercetin promotes the bioavailability of Turmeric.*)
Nettle, that stinging yet nutritious early spring green, plays a similar role as Quercetin when it comes to supporting the cell membranes of mast cells.* Nettle Leaf has a long history of use for modulating the body's inflammatory pathways and supporting upper respiratory health, and this herb provides antioxidant support as well.*
This member of the daisy family focuses on the communication systems within the body that are connected to the body's immune responses.* The body's inflammatory response triggers pain as a way to draw attention to what's happening.* Feverfew supports that entire pathway, much in the way that you might turn off the water main to your house before working on a pipe.*
This yellow root native to eastern North America - including Western North Carolina, where the Gaia Herbs is located - tonifies the tissues of mucosal membranes, including the respiratory and GI tracts.* Goldenseal supports the body's healthy response to occasional stressors in the environment as well as normal secretion of the mucosal tissues, including the eyes and nose.*
Note: This herb is considered to be threatened due to overharvesting, so it is important to only source products that are ecologically harvested from approved areas. Groups such as United Plant Savers, which runs a Goldenseal botanical sanctuary in southeastern Ohio, are working to educate on this valued herb as well as preserve it. Gaia Herbs products only contain ecologically harvested Goldenseal.
Ginger is a potent cousin of Turmeric that supports a healthy immune response in the respiratory system, normalizing secretions.* It also promotes a healthy inflammatory response, too.*
(Read this blog for more ways to power through the pollen.)
... after pollen season
This is the time you might reflect on the season: What went well, and what would you like to work on for next season? This is also time for some much-deserved R&R!
Focus on balance
After the season's over, you scale back on the intensity of your workouts, right? Do the same for your body after pollen season. Chill out, listen to your body and enjoy the bright, beautiful days of summer!