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‘Tis the season for allergies

Itchy, watery eyes. Scratchy throat. Sneezing. Runny nose. Sinus pain. Headache. Breathing problems. If you’ve got seasonal allergies, you know the symptoms well.

But did you know that there are lots of things you can do to reduce your suffering?

What’s happening?

Allergies happen when your immune system runs amuck. Your immune system is designed to keep intruders at bay, including bacteria, cancerous cells, parasites and viruses. As your health defender, your immune system uses strategies like inflammation which often causes pain or discomfort and mucous production to expel threats.

On the other hand, an allergy means that instead of protecting you from potential threats, your immune system over-reacts to a harmless substance it encounters – like pollen in your nasal passages. And while the substance is harmless, your immune system reacts as if it’s dealing with a potentially life-threatening situation.

Hay fever, also known as seasonal allergies or – technically – allergic rhinitis is an over-reaction response to a trigger or allergen that you have inhaled or eaten. Your immune system produces immunoglobulin E (IgE) antibodies that travel to mast cells and trigger the release of histamine. Histamine is a primary facilitator of allergic rhinitis symptoms including runny nose and watery eyes. In lower airways, histamine contributes to the constriction of airways, which leads to wheezing, coughing and asthma.

If you have seasonal allergies, you’re likely quite familiar with over-the-counter anti-histamine medications. But there’s plenty you can do to support your body and potentially dial down the allergic response and potentially reduce your reliance on meds that make you drowsy.

Alternative strategies for seasonal allergies

Try nasal irrigation. This process works by essential rinsing out your nasal passages of irritants that trigger an allergic reaction. Research shows that both liquids and large molecule sprays significantly reduce histamine levels, allergy symptom severity and use of medications. Use a solution of 2% saline in sterile water with a neti pot or spray for best results.[1]

Other simple strategies:

  • Shower and change your clothing after being outside
  • Install high efficiency filters on your furnace, air conditioner and vacuum cleaner
  • Use a high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filter in your bedroom
  • Use a dehumidifier to keep indoor air dry

Relief starts in your gut

You might find it difficult to connect gut health with a stuffy nose, but the research has drawn a pretty strong line between the two. It makes sense when you consider that about 70% of your immune system is located in your intestinal tract as gut-associated lymphoid tissue (GALT). GALT protects you from pathogens that might make you sick at the same time it allows helpful bacteria to survive.[2]

Approximately 100 trillion micro-organisms (most of them bacteria) live in your gastrointestinal tract,[3] which is the largest barrier between you and the environment.[4] There’s rather extensive cross-talk between the gut microbiota and your immune system.

The quantity and quality of those bacteria impact how well your immune system is able to protect you from potential problems. And research shows that adults with allergic rhinitis typically have less diversity and abundance of certain microbes compared to adults without seasonal allergies.[5] [6]

Amplify your immune system’s abilities to work effectively by supporting a healthy gut microbiome. A varied diet high in fruits, vegetables and fungi provides polysaccharides (fibre) that support a robust microbiome. Bacteria then ferment fibre to produce short-chain fatty acids (SCFA) that provide important health benefits, including helping to temper inflammation. Research also suggests that SCFA are important for that cross-talk with your immune system.[7] 

Find your way with fungi

Functional fungi are a powerful fuel for SCFA production. Because each mushroom leads to the creation of different SCFA with their own health benefits, consider adding a variety to your daily health regimen for all-round support. Reishi has specifically been shown to promote the growth of anti-inflammatory SCFA-producing bacteria. Importantly, lion’s mane not only helps to support a healthy digestive tract, but it also helps to increase the diversity and richness of the microbiome.[8]

And that’s not all.

Key mushrooms provide a variety of allergy-taming potential that you can’t get anywhere else. For example, ganoderic acid is a natural compound found only in the Ganoderma family of mushrooms, including reishi. Animal studies have shown that ganoderic acids inhibit histamine release, and taking oral reishi helped to alleviate nasal blockages caused by pollen.[9] Human research shows a role of ganoderic acids in controlling asthma and other hypersensitivity issues.[10] Oral reishi beta-glucans were also found to suppress allergic hypersensitivities by modulating immune cells.[11]

Likewise, chaga mushroom is the only source of a therapeutic compound called inotodiol that has been found in studies to reduce histamine release.[12] [13] Chaga also reduces microvascular inflammation triggered by histamine.[14] Animal research showed that chaga reduced IgE production and inhibited anaphylactic shock.[15]

Although seasonal allergies change with the seasons, keeping your immune system healthy and balanced is a year-long activity.

Lisa Petty, PhD is Education Manager at Optimi. Learn more about her interests and background here.


[1] Rabago, D., M.D., & Zgierska, Aleksandra,M.D., PhD. (2009). Saline nasal irrigation for upper respiratory conditions. American Family Physician, 80(10), 1117-9.

[2] Ruth, M.R., Field, C.J. The immune modifying effects of amino acids on gut-associated lymphoid tissue. J Animal Sci Biotechnol 4, 27 (2013).

[3] British Medical Journal (2018);361:k2179

[4] Rohr, M., Narasimhulu, C., Rudeski-Rohr, T., & Parthasarathy, S. (2020). Negative Effects of a High-Fat Diet on Intestinal Permeability: A Review, Advances in Nutrition, Volume 11, Issue 1, January 2020, Pages 77–91,

[5] Watts, A. M., West, N. P., Zhang, P., Smith, P. K., Cripps, A. W., & Cox, A. J. (2021). The Gut Microbiome of Adults with Allergic Rhinitis Is Characterised by Reduced Diversity and an Altered Abundance of Key Microbial Taxa Compared to Controls. International Archives of Allergy and Immunology, 182(2), 94–105.

[6] Zhou, M., Zhang, B., Gao, Z., Zheng, R., Marcellin, D. F. H. M., Saro, A., … Huang, J. (2021). Altered diversity and composition of gut microbiota in patients with allergic rhinitis. Microbial Pathogenesis, 161(Pt A), 105272–105272.

[7] Silva, Y. P., Bernardi, A., & Frozza, R. L. (2020). The Role of Short-Chain Fatty Acids From Gut Microbiota in Gut-Brain Communication. Frontiers in Endocrinology (Lausanne), 11, 25–25.

[8] Li, M., Yu, L., Zhao, J., Zhang, H., Chen, W., Zhai, Q., & Tian, F. (2021). Role of dietary edible mushrooms in the modulation of gut microbiota. Journal of Functional Foods, 83, 104538–.

[9] Mizutani, N., Nabe, T., Shimazu, M., Yoshino, S., & Kohno, S. (2012). Effect of Ganoderma lucidum on Pollen-induced Biphasic Nasal Blockage in a Guinea Pig Model of Allergic Rhinitis. Phytotherapy Research, 26(3), 325–332.

[10] Gill, B. S., Sharma, P., Kumar, R., & Kumar, S. (2015). Misconstrued versatility of Ganoderma lucidum: a key player in multi-targeted cellular signaling. Tumor Biology, 37(3), 2789–2804.

[11] Wu, Y.-S., Chen, S., Wang, W., Lu, C.-L., Liu, C.-F., & Chen, S.-N. (2014). Oral Administration of MBG to Modulate Immune Responses and Suppress OVA-Sensitized Allergy in a Murine Model. Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine, 2014, 567427–567429.   

[12]Nguyen, T. M. N., Le, H. S., Le, B. V., Kim, Y. H., & Hwang, I. (2020). Anti-allergic effect of inotodiol, a lanostane triterpenoid from Chaga mushroom, via selective inhibition of mast cell function. International Immunopharmacology, 81, 106244–106244.

[13] Nguyet, T. M. N., Lomunova, M., Le, B. V., Lee, J. S., Park, S. K., Kang, J. S., … Hwang, I. (2018). The mast cell stabilizing activity of Chaga mushroom critical for its therapeutic effect on food allergy is derived from inotodiol. International Immunopharmacology, 54, 286–295.

[14] Javed, S., Mitchell, K., Sidsworth, D., Sellers, S. L., Reutens-Hernandez, J., Massicotte, H. B., … Payne, G. W. (2019). Inonotus obliquus attenuates histamine-induced microvascular inflammation. PloS One, 14(8), e0220776–e0220776.

[15] Yoon. (2013). Inhibitory effect of chaga mushroom extract on compound 48/80-induced anaphylactic shock and IgE production in mice. International Immunopharmacology., 15(4), 666–670.