Do you dread—achoo! achoo! achoo!—spring?
If so, you’re not alone!
We should all love spring. It means the end of cold and snow (for the most part!), and it can be a beautiful season, with budding trees and flowers and a greening landscape.
Unfortunately, the reality for some 50 million Americans who are allergy sufferers1—including myself—is that spring can be sheer misery.
Allergy symptoms often compromise your quality of life. As a child, I spent summer and fall, miserably sneezing my way through countless boxes of tissues. During football season in college, I spent August through October in a zombie-like Benadryl-inducedl stupor, so desperate was I for symptom relief. After moving to New York City, I also developed spring allergies, which manifested as intense headaches, sneezing, congestion, brain fog, debilitating fatigue, lethargy and modest weight gain because my body was perpetually inflamed. It took everything I had to get through the day.
Hay Fever: Misery Has Plenty of Company
Allergic rhinitis, also known as hay fever, causes sneezing, stuffy nose, congestion, runny nose, watery eyes, sleeplessness, headaches, fatigue and itchiness (nose, eyes or roof of the mouth). Spring can also trigger—or exacerbate—other common allergic diseases, such as asthma, conjunctivitis, hives, eczema, dermatitis and sinusitis.2
Though seasonal allergies seem harmless—just a temporary inconvenience that we need to soldier through—allergies are the 6th leading cause of chronic illness in the U.S., with an annual cost exceeding $18 billion.3 Allergies are also on the rise, affecting 30% of adults and 40% of children, with significant increases in food allergies and skin allergies among children under age 18.4
What I didn’t know then that I do now? How important it is to love your liver! Supporting your liver and optimizing your gut health is KEY to reducing the severity of allergy symptoms.
Spring Allergies and Liver Health
The liver is an important organ to support in the spring—especially if you are an allergy sufferer. In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), the liver is the organ that rules spring—and spring allergies. Specific symptoms, such as itchiness and redness in the eyes, are indicative of poor or deficient liver function, according to TCM.
The ultimate multi-tasking organ in the body, the liver performs over 500 vital functions. Among its many important functions, the liver cleanses the blood; processes nutrients from food; produces bile (essential for healthy digestion); builds proteins; resists infections by removing bacteria from the bloodstream; and removes toxins from the body. When it works overtime, trying to process medications, alcohol, sugar, processed foods, and environmental toxins, it can become backlogged. A sluggish or congested liver results in (or worsens) allergies.
Allergies can be indicative of a liver overwhelmed by toxins. In other words, if substances enter your bloodstream too quickly—or in too large amounts—the liver is unable to “catch them” to process efficiently (think of the classic I Love Lucy candy factory episode where Lucy and her best friend fall desperately behind on their job of wrapping the chocolates whizzing by them on a conveyor belt!). As a result, the immune system tags these molecules as an allergen and produces antibodies against them. Because the liver filters out harmful substances, it plays a significant role in reducing the effect (e.g., allergy symptoms) that an existing or potential allergen will have on your body.
10 Ways to Love Your Liver
1. Minimize fructose intake: 15 to 25 grams maximum daily.
Fructose, a.k.a. fruit sugar, is what gives fruit its natural sweetness. High fructose corn syrup, on the other hand, is a highly refined form of fructose, extracted from corn, beets and sugarcane in a process that also removes all fiber and nutrients. Unlike glucose, which every cell in your body can break down for energy, fructose can only be metabolized in the liver—nowhere else!5
Around 1900, the average American ate 15 grams of fructose daily, mostly from fruits and vegetables. Today, Americans consume 60-70 grams of fructose daily, mostly as added, refined sugars (e.g., high fructose corn syrup).
High fructose consumption is associated with insulin resistance, high blood pressure, metabolic syndrome and fat build-up in the liver that leads to non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD).6 A new study published in Nature Communications found that excess fructose in the liver inflames the immune system (exactly what you don’t want during allergy season!), creating a cascade effect, where the body produces reactive molecules that create more inflammation that damages cells and tissues.7, 8
What does “excess fructose” look like? Let’s compare. Whereas one large banana contains apx. 7 grams of natural fruit fructose and 1 cup of dried figs contain 23 grams of fructose, sodas, like Mountain Dew, Mug Root Beer, Pepsi, Sprite and Coca Cola, contain 62 to 72 grams of fructose per liter (in the form of high fructose corn syrup).9
2. Avoid overeating fruit.
Yes, fruit is a whole, unprocessed food, containing antioxidants, fiber, vitamins and minerals. But…fruit also contains fructose in varying amounts, from 3 grams of fructose in 1 cup of raspberries, to 12 grams of fructose in 1cup of grapes. Too much fructose—even as fresh fruit—overwhelms your liver. I had a client who, under duress, was eating 10-12 servings of fruit daily. Ten servings of raspberries contain 30 grams of fructose, too much for the liver to process efficiently. Also, depending on how sensitive someone is, fruit is a form of sugar that can cause blood sugar spikes that contribute to hormone imbalance.
3. Eat whole foods.
The benefits of whole foods are many: fiber, vitamins, minerals and nutrient-dense calories, and they do not contain added sugars.
4. Eat enough fiber.
Fiber slows down the absorption of fructose. Ideally, when you eat fruit, combine it with high fiber foods to prevent flooding the liver with fructose. For example: a banana with almond butter or a fruit smoothie with chia or flax seeds and leafy greens. Avoid all-fruit smoothies which release a rush of fructose and stresses the liver.
5. Eat liver (beef, chicken or fish)!
My guess is that you either hate liver or love it. I happen to love it! Liver is a nutrient-dense superfood, rich in protein, B vitamins (B12, B6, biotin, folate), vitamin A and iron. Eating liver provides your liver with the necessary nutrients needed to help filter waste and toxins from the blood so they can be eliminated from the body. The B vitamins in liver also help support your body’s detoxification pathways. Bottom line: eating liver helps support liver function and detoxification.
6. Avoid ultra-processed foods.
Highly processed foods, which comprise apx. 60% of the American diet, are a source of added sugars, including high fructose corn syrup, unhealthy fats, excess sodium, artificial flavors, artificial colors, preservatives, flavor enhancers and other unpronounceable, chemical-sounding ingredients, that would be considered toxic to the liver. These foods are also common sources of fructose: soda, fruit juice, breakfast cereals, commercial breads, frozen/boxed meals, pasta sauce, (e.g., barbecue sauce, ketchup), low-fat yogurt, salad dressings, granola bars, candy, cookies, crackers, chips, canned fruit, energy drinks and ice cream.10
7. Minimize alcohol intake.
Yes, I get that cocktails and wine can take the edge off a stressful day or help you “loosen up”! However, alcohol is toxic to the liver. As alcohol is broken down in the liver, toxic byproducts, like acetaldehyde, are released, causing inflammation and the toxic effects associated with drinking alcohol.11 Endotoxins are chemicals that cause toxic side effects of bacterial infection on organ systems. Alcohol consumption can increase intestinal permeability (a.k.a., leaky gut), allowing endotoxins into the liver.12 Ultimately, alcohol can damage or destroy liver cells and scar your liver. In severe cases, liver damage from alcohol results in cirrhosis. Alcohol can also inhibit the breakdown of fats, leading to fatty liver—and that unsightly beer gut. The amount of alcohol your body can tolerate is affected by genetics, anatomy, physiology and gender (women have a lower tolerance than men).13 While general guidelines may characterize 1 drink per day as “moderate” for women, this may be excessive for someone who has a low tolerance for alcohol.
8. Be mindful about taking medications.
Any medication you take, whether prescribed medications or over-the-counter remedies, must be processed in the liver. If you are taking multiple medications, this places a heavy burden on the liver. Always consult with your healthcare practitioner to make sure that taking a medication(s) is absolutely necessary and/or if the dosage needs to be adjusted.
Back in the day, I used to pop a Tylenol (acetaminophen) every time I had a headache, especially during allergy season, not realizing that excess acetaminophen can cause liver damage. In fact, a 2016 study showed that patients with acute liver failure, whose conditions were caused by acetaminophen poisoning, were more like to die within 48 hours than those with other causes of liver failure.14
Looking back, I realize that what my body needed was more rest, more water and less sugar—not Tylenol. Many times, attention to basic self-care can reduce a dependency on medication as a “quick fix”.
9. Minimize exposure to toxins.
These include commercial household cleaners, aerosol products, garden and lawn products, pesticides, insecticides and herbicides (e.g., glyphosphate, or RoundUp) heavy metals (arsenic, lead, mercury), among others. Start by choosing organic food, using a water filter and avoiding lawn chemicals, including golf courses, a source of chlorpyrifos, an organophosphate insecticide.
10. Honor your food sensitivities.
Food sensitivities create inflammation in the body and can contribute to the liver’s toxic burden. This is why doing a whole foods cleanse, like the 7-Day Healthy Body Reset, often helps to give allergy symptom relief. Here is what you need to understand about the seasonal allergy-food connection.
Tune Up Your Liver with a Spring Cleanse!
Continue Reading About Allergies (see below):
The Seasonal Allergy-Food Connection (Part 2)
11 Tips to Ease Allergy Symptoms (Part 3)
1, 2, 3 Asthma & Allergy Foundation of America.
4 NCHS Data Brief. No. 121. May 2013.
5 Harvard Health Publishing. Sept. 2011
6, 9 Nutrition. Vol. 30, Issues 7-8, July–August 2014, Pages 928-935
7 Swansea University. Feb. 22, 2021
8 Nature Communications. Feb. 22, 2021
10 Harvard T. H. Chan. School of Public Health.
11, 12 Alcohol, Health & Research World.
13 Yale Medicine. Oct. 29, 2020
14 UT Southwestern Medical Center. March 28, 2017