If you find that your mood gets worse in the summer, you may be able to blame it on the trees. A study out of the department of psychiatry of the University of Maryland School of Medicine showed that people with mood disorders like depression or bi-polar disorder, and who are also allergic to tree pollens or rag weed, experience worse depression in the presence of those allergens.
The researchers followed 100 people who had been diagnosed with depression or bipolar disorder. Of these, 53 percent also were allergic to tree pollen and ragweed. And among that 53 percent, their scores on tests for depression were significantly worse in high-pollen season than in low-pollen season. In fact, the worse the allergy symptoms, the greater the change in scores from low season to high. In an article for WebMD, Partam Manalai, a researcher involved in the study, said, “The worse the allergy symptoms, the worse [patients’] depression scores [on a standardized test used to assess depression and mania]…In patients with allergy and depression, prophylactic treatment of these conditions may prevent worsening of mood during peak allergen season.”
Earlier studies support the connection between allergies and depression, and not just in those with mood disorders. A 2002 study focused on patients who were allergic to ragweed and followed them from high-pollen season to low-pollen season and back to the next year’s high-pollen season. According to study co-author, Paul Marshall, a clinical neuropsychologist in the department of psychiatry at Hennepin County Medical Center in Minneapolis, “We saw … that behaviors associated with positive mood — enthusiasm, attentiveness, alertness — went down during ragweed season, then up during winter, then back down during the following ragweed season.”
Of course, it’s no wonder. If you’re stuffed up, sneezing, watery eyed, and headachey, it seems natural that you’d also be irritable, lethargic, and plain old down. Feeling miserable makes you feel…well, miserable, like a lion that’s grumpy because it has a thorn in its paw. But the connection between allergies and depression may be deeper than the obvious. For one thing, it may have to do with the fact that your body releases proteins called proinflammatory cytokines in an effort to protect you from allergens that enter your system. Dr. Marshall says, “It’s thought that those cytokines directly affect the central nervous system, causing the release of a chemical in the brain called IL-1 beta that induces sickness behavior, such as weakness, lethargy, low mood and the inability to concentrate.”
Bruce Bender, head of the division of pediatric behavioral health at the National Jewish Medical and Research Center in Denver, adds another interesting wrinkle. He says that research shows that people suffering allergy symptoms don’t sleep well. “Poor concentration and mood in seasonal allergy patients may be a secondary effect of a very poor night’s sleep.” Over-the-counter antihistamines may actually contribute to a poor night’s sleep because they’ll make you sleepy shortly after you take them, but they wear off halfway through the night, causing you to wake up.
Finally, for those interested in pushing to the very edges of scientific research, some energy psychology approaches contend that allergies begin with trauma that occurs in the presence of a particular substance. For instance, if your mother yells at you while you’re eating wheat, you might not be able to digest the wheat and your body gets the message that wheat is bad, and treats it as an allergen in the future. If this is true, pollens that trigger allergic reactions may stir up unconscious memories connected to the onset of the allergy. And if it isn’t true, it still makes for nice dinner conversation.
So what can allergy sufferers do to sensibly treat their symptoms and stave off depression? Dr. Bender recommends a combination of nasal steroids (by prescription) and saline nasal rinses. According to WebMD, nasal steroids are far different from the anabolic steroids abused by athletes. They are delivered only to the lungs and nasal passages if used properly and don’t have adverse side effects, unless you consider nasal irritation and the possibility for nasal bleeding adverse. But dig a little deeper and you’ll find plenty of reason to avoid nasal steroids. For instance, a 1997 study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association describes a study finding that regular use of inhaled steroids over a period of three months or longer increased the risk of glaucoma by 44 percent, and of cataracts by 300 percent! Plus, inhaled steroids may delay healing of wounds, exacerbate diabetes symptoms, cause headache, sore throat, vomiting, suppress the immune system, and quicken osteoporosis.
A more sensible course might be to combine nasal saline rinses with proteolytic enzymes if you’re suffering from allergy symptoms. As I’ve written before, proteolytic enzymes regulate every metabolic function of the body. When taken as a dietary supplement, they reduce inflammation and maximize the immune system — just what the doctor ordered for allergy sufferers, without the nasty side effects. By the way, if you’re using nasal irrigation, the recommendation is to do it three to four times a week, as opposed to twice a day since there are indications that if done too often, they can actually promote sinus infections.
Better yet, ward off symptoms in the first place by getting to the root of whatever is causing your allergies. If you follow the Baseline of Health approach to allergies, emphasizing detoxing, proper diet, and supplementation, you can not only minimize, but possibly even eliminate seasonal allergies. I’ve described an effective allergy reduction protocol in previous blogs and newsletters. Not only will this approach improve your allergies without subjecting you to potentially dangerous drugs, but it will also enhance your overall health while keeping you from developing tree-rage.
In the meantime, stay away from grumpy lions with thorns in their paws.