Sinus problem, allergies and asthma are the bane of many peoples’ existence. Too often, this results in the knee-jerk antibiotic prescription and steroids.
These conditions can be incredibly challenging to deal with from a functional medicine standpoint because, all too often, the problem stems back to immune development in the first 2 years of life. Short of commandeering Mr. Peabody’s way-back machine, you just can’t alter that. And the longer the immune system is stuck in a pattern, the harder it is to re-direct that pattern to one that doesn’t involved allergies and asthma.
I have been a fan of drops for allergies (aka sublingual immunotherapy) for many years because I believe that this is one of the few ways to slowly train the immune system back to the path of balance. But that does not mean it’s the only way, as this particular research study demonstrates.
But first, some background.
Our sinus and airways secrete compounds that help us fight off infections called antimicrobial peptides. It has been determined from previous research that the release of these antimicrobial compounds is controlled by bitter taste receptors embedded in the sinus cavities and upper airway. Activation of these same receptors also speed up the cilia lining your respiratory tract to help sweep away debris and infection. If you’re already amazed, like I was, just by hearing this, then grab something solid before you read further.
When bacteria are present in the airway, they will use up the sugar in the lining of the upper respiratory tract and, in turn, secrete byproducts that register as bitter tasting to our bitter taste receptors in our airway. Bitter, in general, is bad and is a near-universal sign that something is harmful and we should stay away because it may be rotten and not good to eat. (This theory, however, did not work on my recent pit bull addition to the household; she ate the sectional and coffee table despite bitter apple spray…).
When these bitter taste receptors in our airways detect the bitter compounds released by the bacteria, they kick into gear and release the antimicrobial peptides. Kind of cool.
On the flip side, when the sweet taste receptors are activated, the bitter receptors are turned off, stopping antimicrobial peptide production. While this system allows for antibacterial action to be present when needed and shut off when it’s not, I’m sure you can see where this article is going to go.
It has further been shown that, in those people with chronic rhinosinusitis as well as people with hyperglycemia (pretty much everyone living his or her life on the diabetic spectrum), there are higher sugar levels in the mucosa lining the sinuses. In other words, they are constantly shutting off their body’s ability to mount an effective defense against invaders.
While this probably does not come as a complete shock, it does mean that you should fire your allergist or pulmonologist if he or she has never recommended healthy dietary changes along the lines of a low-glycemic index diet.
Regardless of whether or not we had the details of the information in this study, it would seem logical that dietary changes can have a strong role in allergies and sinus infections beyond their role as a potential allergen. Natural practitioners have, seemingly forever, been advocating that sugar suppressing the immune system and increasing the risk of infection.
After the release of this study, we just now have a mechanism by which sugary diets can increase sinus and upper respiratory tract infections can occur, but it does not mean that this has not always been great advice. So, the next time you whine about how bad your allergies are while downing your Allegra or Zyrtec with a Coke, it may be time to re-evaluate your health priorities.