The Allergies / Autoimmunity Relationship: 11 Solutions for Relief

This post was originally published in April of 2015 and then updated in May 2017, April 2020, and April 2024.

Allergy season. It’s in full force for many. And if you have an autoimmune condition, you’re likely going to experience more pronounced allergy symptoms.

In fact, according to many experts, allergies ARE a mild autoimmune reaction. It’s your body’s way of telling you that autoimmunity is probably lurking and that if immune-related imbalances aren’t dealt with, things could spell ongoing trouble.

As many of you know all too well, spring can bring a veritable sea of tree, grass, and flower pollen. Pollen and ragweed/mugwort (ragweed usually peaks in the fall) levels vary depending on location, season, and weather conditions. Check your local levels here.

As snow melts (depending on where you live), rains come on, and spring arrives, two things can happen:

1. The ground becomes muddy and if the earth is holding on to more water, then so too shall we, contributing to congestion and allergies. (As of this update, here in Minnesota, we’ve had the warmest season on record…85 percent of our winter days were above normal temps. But that doesn’t exclude us from spring allergies!)

2. Snow mold starts wafting. This is a phenomenon that many are unaware of—and it’s why many people say, “Wait a minute, there aren’t even buds on the trees yet and my allergies are raging.” Snow mold.

Common, but not normal

As allergies bloom in full force, unpleasant symptoms can result, ranging from mildly annoying to life-disrupting. Either way, it can dampen mood and energy and hang a veil of disappointment over the long-awaited season that many of us can’t fully enjoy, especially if our sinuses are raging (the H1 response) and we’re feeling stiff, achy, and moody (the H2 response).

Our bodies are designed to handle contact with pollen, grasses, and weeds because we’re part of the natural world, not separate from it. And God gave us a brilliantly orchestrated immune system that, when working as designed, is capable of distinguishing things that don’t possess any threat (like our own tissue) from those that are truly harmful—the difference between “self” and “non-self.”

For those with autoimmunity, the body has temporarily lost its ability to differentiate “non-self.” I say “temporarily” because autoimmune conditions can be reversed.

[Coming soon: my new program MAStery: Mastering Multiple Autoimmune Syndrome.]

A wise teacher shared this powerful analogy: “Disruptive seasonal allergies to things like pollen and grasses can be compared to blowing out the candles on a birthday cake with a fire extinguisher.”

Translation: Your immune response is overreacting. Because in the face of autoimmunity, it’s already overreacting. 

Cue: “My allergies are getting worse every season.”

H1 and H2

As we inhale allergens, they accumulate in our bodies, are seen as the foreign substances that they are, are thus attacked by immune cells, and an immune reaction is triggered. Antibodies are produced, which generate histamines (the chemical your immune system releases in response to allergens) and other compounds to fight the battle.

Again, with autoimmunity, the immune system is already in overdrive. Add some environmental irritants, and the volume gets turned up on both: the allergy/histamine response and autoimmune antibodies.

An overabundance of histamines causes the blood vessels and tissues in your nasal passages and sinuses to swell, become inflamed, and produce excess mucus. These symptoms are generally associated with the H1 response.

While many experience this assault from the chest up (itchy/watery eyes, sneezing, post-nasal drip), others have a whole-body reaction, including rash, itching, joint pain, heart palpitations, migraines, anxiety/panic, bloating, stiffness, extreme fatigue, moodiness, and overwhelming malaise. These symptoms are generally associated with the H2 response.

Add to this list…hair loss. Many with alopecia experience the “shock and shed” of exposure to springtime irritants, especially birch pollen, which can be a major trigger for shedding.

Some people have one response, others have both H1 and H2. As the body huffs and puffs to exterminate these unwelcome visitors, it can be miserable. But it doesn’t have to be this way.

Natural allergy relief

Allergies don’t show up because of a deficiency in Allegra. There’s another way to get near-immediate relief and some of the suggestions below have been shown to work better than Allegra and Zyrtec—and again, nearly as quickly.

Meds won’t get to the root of your allergies, even if they’re making you less symptomatic. Additionally, many of them cross the blood-brain barrier.

Add to this the fact that most pharmaceutical H1 and H2 blockers inhibit the production of the enzymes needed to break down histamines. Talk about a negative feedback loop!

The real culprits to tackle are: digestive function and systemic inflammation, which are kissing cousins, as inflammation is often triggered by intestinal permeability and intestinal permeability incites an inflammatory response.

Before we get into more highly effective natural solutions, keep in mind that histamines are protective, like bouncers at a club. Yes, overproduction/histamine overload can be problematic, but they’ve been dubbed “the molecular double agent” because we need them for neurotransmitter production, modulating the immune response, cognitive function, regulating the sleep/wake cycle, and for making stomach acid. (For the article in that link, it’s largely about alopecia, but it’s an important read for anyone related to the importance of hydrochloric acid and its critical relationship with iron/ferritin and possible H. pylori. There’s a very easy at-home test for HCl levels in that article.)

While it’s tempting to retrieve the quick fix from your local drug store, I implore you to investigate treating your seasonal allergies with whole foods and natural remedies.

Imagine what it would be like if next year you find yourself playing in your garden, going for walks with friends, and sitting out on the patio without thinking twice about the fact that it’s “allergy season.”

With the right nutrients, natural antihistamines, and antioxidant-rich foods, you can show these seasonal invaders who’s the boss.

1. Do an Elimination/Provocation experiment. Find out what foods you’re intolerant of. This does NOT mean that you’ll never eat these potential and short-term troublemakers again. We’re talking the IgG response (sensitivities), not the IgE response (true allergies). Since 70-80 percent of your immune system is in your gut, your immune system will overreact if you’re eating foods that are antagonistic. This is a short experiment with life-changing benefits and it’s one of the SINGLE strongest levers you can pull in taming autoimmunity. (Go here for my eGuide, Taming Autoimmunity.)

You can also find instructions on page 116 of our #1 bestselling Essential Thyroid Cookbook: Over 100 Nourishing Recipes for Thriving with Hypothyroidism and Hashimoto’s.

2. Be mindful of histamine-producing foods. Notice that I say “be mindful.” This isn’t about total eradication of these foods—it’s no way to live. Again, they’re foods to be mindful of. If you look at various lists of “high histamine foods,” it’s pretty mind-boggling (and difficult to manage while also doing an Elimination/Provocation experiment—I never recommend doing both at the same time). As Dr. Greg Plotnikoff told me years ago, extreme diets are NOT the way to go and we never want to be a prisoner of perceived risk.

Some of the histamine “biggies” are: avocado, tomatoes, aged cheeses and fermented milk products (yogurt, kefir), wheat, fermented and smoked meats, strawberries, citrus, spinach, fermented and pickled vegetables (sauerkraut, relish, kimchi) soy sauce, alcohol, chocolate (don’t shoot the messenger), and leftovers. Remember…this isn’t about total eradication.

3. Reduce systemic inflammation. An allergic reaction is largely an inflammatory response; therefore, it’s best to eliminate or greatly reduce inflammatory foods such as highly processed, denatured, and sugar-laden foods, gluten, dairy, corn, soy, processed grains (flours), pesticide-laden fruits and vegetables, trans fats, alcohol, and caffeine. Here are some other suggestions for taming systemic inflammation.

4. Give dairy the boot for a bit. Dairy is a big one for H1 sufferers, especially if it’s pasteurized. It’s one of the foods you’ll eliminate in the above-mentioned experiment and to generally reduce inflammation, but it’s important to know that dairy is notorious for increasing mucus production, creating a sticky mess that collects pollen and other irritants and keeps them trapped in our sinuses. Help those nasal passages stay clear by ditching dairy for a spell. (Many have avoided sinus surgery—yes, surgery—by going dairy-free.)

5. Take black seed oil. Seriously, this stuff is incredible. It’s a powerful antihistamine, mast cell stabilizer (unstable mast cells are one of the reasons that people have histamine issues to begin with), anti-inflammatory, and immune modulator and it’s been shown to support thyroid function. It’s been used for centuries for a wide variety of illnesses and it’s been called “the cure for everything but death.”

It’s important to take the right dose. My favorite brand is Heritage—take as directed. See the bottom of this post for how to order.

6. Boost your defenses by consuming immune-enhancing foods containing quercetin, Vitamin C, magnesium, and ginger. Quercetin-rich foods are bioflavonoid-rich foods (meaning high in antioxidants), have an antihistamine effect, and significantly decrease inflammation. Foods rich in quercetin: red onions, garlic, spinach (high histamine), kale, cabbage, broccoli, grapefruit (high histamine), apples, cranberries, grapes, pears, and buckwheat.

Vitamin C is also a natural antihistamine and prevents an inflammatory response. Foods rich in Vitamin C: spring greens, cabbage, potatoes, citrus fruits (high histamine), kiwi, radishes, asparagus, strawberries (high histamine), Brussels sprouts, kale, and bell peppers.

Magnesium-rich foods have been shown to reduce constricted nasal passages by relaxing the muscles surrounding bronchial tubes. They also mitigate the acidity that accompanies an allergic reaction. Foods rich in magnesium: nuts, seeds, legumes (peas and beans), spinach (high histamine, though), oysters, brown rice, buckwheat, and millet.

Additionally, ginger acts as a decongestant and antihistamine and may provide relief by expanding constricted bronchial tubes. Garlic (also known as “Russian penicillin” because of its ability to treat respiratory disorders) is another robust immune booster.

For relief-in-a-day, take stinging nettles and quercetin. Together. This is your anti-inflammatory, sinus-calming, feel-better-quick dream team. My favorite product is HistaminX by Seeking Health. See below for ordering information.

Stinging nettles have a superhero-like effect on allergies, particularly hay fever. It grows naturally and can often be harvested around the city, but take heed and wear gloves, as there is a reason it’s called “stinging” nettles.

According to Wild Man Steve Brill, “Nettles usually appear in the same places year after year. Look for them in rich soil, disturbed habitats, moist woodlands, thickets, along rivers, and along partially shaded trails.” A recipe for nettles tea is at the end of this post.

7. Eat honey. Get yourself some raw, unfiltered local honey. You only need about a teaspoon or two daily. 

8. Grab a neti pot. Pouring saltwater in your nose with a neti pot feels strange at first, and then wonderful. It rinses irritants from your nasal cavities, working wonders for many allergy sufferers. If you really want to clean things out or if you have a sinus infection, put a tiny bit of probiotic powder and also 2-3 drops of oregano oil in your neti water, along with the salt. Yes, it feels like you’re shooting wasabi up your nose, but give it a few seconds, and you’ll feel amazing.

9. This one is from Dr. Frank Lipman: Sleep tight, and turn on the ACHe says, “When it’s time to turn in for the night, keep windows closed during heavy pollen season. Remember, the stuff collects on curtains and window shades, so wash them frequently. If summer heat hasn’t kicked in yet and there’s no need to cool the bedroom, just run your AC on a recirculate, fan, or filter-only setting to help keep pollen out.”

10. Eat as many leafy green vegetables as possible. Leafy green veggies scrape built-up mucus and muck off of your intestinal walls, creating a clean internal environment and reducing overall inflammation. We’re talking: kale, chard, collards, bok choy, and arugula. Pay attention to how you feel differently once you start getting these into your body regularly. I’m eating dark leafies regularly, but I’m also taking one tsp. of these amazing powdered greens daily. It’s a powerhouse combination of not only greens, but also prebiotics, probiotics, and essential fatty acids. After taking another powdered greens product for a few years, I’ve moved exclusively to this one. And yes, even though it contains wheat and barley grasses, it’s gluten-free. 

11. Be mindful of your probiotic. No doubt, a healthy balance of beneficial gut flora is one of the single most important factors in digestive and immune health. Many take a probiotic, but did you know that some probiotic/beneficial bacterial strains can fire up a histamine response? Take heart…some are neutral and some are histamine degrading. Go here for a guide.


What about DAO (diamine oxidase)? True, many with histamine issues tend to be DAO enzyme deficient, but this typically tells only part of the story.

Many people take DAO before a meal containing histamine-producing food. While supplementation often blocks a histamine response, I don’t feel this is a sustainable approach. It breaks down about 50% of ingested histamines, but does little to nothing for other histamine-producing compounds (grass, ragweed, etc.). Additionally, it’s not considered to be a stable product, although Histamine Digest by Seeking Health is stable and highly effective. See below for ordering information.

Working on gut dysbiosis can help the body produce more of its own DAO. Things that have been shown to work as well as DAO include: nettles/quercetin (see #6 and recipe below), Vitamin B6, probiotics and prebiotics, and pea seedlings.

Recipe for nettles tea

Locate patch of naturally growing stinging nettles, away from car traffic, pesticides or animal waste. Riverbanks and woodlands are great places to look.

Bring your gloves, bowl, and scissors. Carefully snip off the very tops of the nettles, called the tips. The tips will often be a lighter shade of green than the rest of the plant. You can use more of the plant, but the tea will be more bitter.

Roughly chop the nettle tips in the bowl with the scissors. Bring out a cooking pot or a cafetiere (French press coffee maker). Place the chopped nettles in the pot or the cafetiere. You need one cup of water per loose-cupped handful of chopped nettles. You don’t need exact measurements to have a good cup of tea.

Bring water to the boil in a kettle. When it boils, add it to the nettle-filled pot or cafetiere. Let the tea steep for 10 minutes. Then either strain into a cup (if using a pot), or press the plunger down and pour into a teacup (if using a cafetiere). Usually, you do not need sweetener. 

If you’re in the U.S., you can set up a Fullscript account here, where you’ll get 15% off MSRP on the highest quality supplements. Keep your account in perpetuity, to order anything you and your family need.


Thank you Gill.  You're brilliant, always providing the most useful and sensible advice.  You write about things others don't, or not in such detail.  I so much appreciate your posts.  Of all the Functional Medicine practitioners with websites that I have followed over the years, yours is one of the very few that I keep reading.  I think I first heard you speak on the one and only Sean Croxton's Thyroid summit, and since then have been subscribed to your blog.  I just love your realistic, down to earth approach, without sacrificing rigour.  In this post you focus on something I have long suspected, because I developed a sensitivity to pollen after suffering from CFS for some years, and athough I did largely recover from CFS I believe it left me vulnerable, my immune system compromised, and my adrenals have tended to "crash" under stress.  Your post validates for me what I have been thinking.

Much appreciation

I am eagerly awaiting your book of recipes.

Thank you, Gabriella!

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