Did you see my article on the 4 main root causes of seasonal allergies, and now you’re wondering how to figure out which one(s) are plaguing you?
That’s what we’re going to talk about here.
Quick review if you’re just jumping into this 5-part series midstream:
- Part 1: What is Hayfever and What Are the Symptoms?
- Part 2: Top 7 Triggers of Seasonal Allergies
- Part 3: The Root Causes of Seasonal Allergies
- And next up after this one, Part 5: Natural Remedies for the symptoms and the root causes.
And, the 4 main root causes of seasonal allergies are:
- Allergy-aggravating diet
- Leaky gut (aka intestinal permeability)
- Infections (pathogens)
So, what’s the best way to start to figure out, quickly and easily – without spending a boatload of bucks – which of these issues are the roots in your case? Because – as you know if you know me – one of my main goals is to help make holistic healing not only really effective, but accessible and do-able.
And the best place to start is with some basic, inexpensive, easy-to-get bloodwork.
First, what do I mean by “basic bloodwork”?
These are the tests that will usually be run any time you get bloodwork done:
- Complete Blood Count (CBC) with Differential
- NOTE: it’s very important to get the differential, as these #s provide a lot more useful information than without, at little to no extra cost!
- Complete Metabolic Panel (CMP)
- Lipid Panel (Cholesterol)
These are usually covered by insurance when ordered by your MD, or, if you’re ordering them yourself – which you can do now, online, without an MD appointment or referral – they are quick, easy and inexpensive to have done.
For instance, follow these links to see what your out-of-pocket, direct-order, discounted cost would be at Ulta Wellness*:
With Ulta, you simply order your tests using those links, schedule your appointment for your blood draw at the Quest Labs location of your choice (using the link provided by Ulta when you place your order), get your blood draw done while at least 12 hours water-only fasted, and then, typically in 1-2 business days, you’ll have your results via email!
Markers To Look At
Ok, so now you’ve got your basic bloodwork results in hand. What should you look for?
Side note: Because I’m not your doctor, and because I’m not an M.D., western/allopathic medical diagnosis isn’t my role, so don’t read the following information as anything to do with diagnosis. Rather, use the following as information to help you figure out what might be going on in your body. Once you have an idea of your potential underlying/root cause issues, then you can start to address them! For an official “diagnosis” – if you want one – you’ll need to be a patient of and consult with a holistic-minded or functional medicine practitioner.
If your diet is causing irritation to your system, then you’ll tend to see one or more of the following indicators of possible inflammation in the digestion:
- Anion Gap >12
- Basophils >1% [Note: this is an example of why it’s really helpful to have the differential on the CBC, as you won’t get your Basophil % without it!]
- BUN >16 mg/dL or >5.71 mmol/L
- ESR >10 mm/hr for women, >5 mm/hr for men
- Fasting Glucose >86
- Globulin >2.8 g/dL or >28 g/L (if irritation is acute)
- LDL >100
- MCH >31.9
- MCV >90
- Total Cholesterol >200
- Triglycerides >100
- Albumin <4.0 g/dL or <40 g/L
- Alk Phos <70
- Calcium <9.5 or 2.38 mmol/L
- Chloride <100
- Globulin <2.4 g/dL or <24 g/L (if irritation is chronic)
- HDL <55
- Iron <85 or <15.22 mmol/dL
- Phosphorus <3.0 mg/dL or <0.97 mmol/L
- Protein <6.9 g/dL or <69 g/L
[See below, in the Markers of Toxicity section, for a more detailed discussion of the lipid (cholesterol) numbers.]
Intestinal Hyper-Permeability (aka Leaky Gut)
This one is harder to determine from basic bloodwork, but you can look at signs and symptoms to get an idea if you might have this (though these symptoms can all be indicative of other issues, as well, so they’re not definitive):
- Brain fog
- Carb cravings
- Fat in stool
- Joint pain
- Nutrient deficiencies (esp. protein, iron, B12/folate)
What is definitive is – as I mentioned in my previous article, on the main root causes of allergies – if you have allergies, then you very likely have leaky gut.
You can also look for the following indications in your basic bloodwork (though these can also come from a variety of other issues as well):
- BUN: <10 or 3.57 mmol/L
- Protein: <6.9
- Secondary iron deficiency due to impaired digestion:
- Iron, serum: <85 or 15.22 mmol/dL
- MCH: <28
- MCV: <82
- MCHC: <32
- Ferritin: <33 in men, <10 in women
- % Transferrin Saturation:
- HBG: <13.5 or 135 g/L in women; <14 or 140 in men
- HCT: <37 or 0.37 in women, <40 or 0.4 in men
- RDW: >13
- Secondary B12 deficiency due to impaired digestion:
- MCV: >90
- MCH: >31.9
- RDW: >13
- MCHC: >35
- LDH: >200
- Uric Acid: >5.5
If you have some of these indicators and want more clarity (from tests) on whether you have leaky gut or not, the gold standard – and most popular – test for intestinal hyperpermeability is the Lactulose/Mannitol urine test (1), available from True Health Labs.
Other tests for leaky gut tend to be expensive, difficult to get, and/or are currently not well-validated, so stick with the Lactulose/Mannitol urine test for determining the presence of intestinal hyperpermeability.
If your system is struggling with acute or chronic infections from various kinds of pathogens (viruses, bacteria, fungi/mold, parasites/worms, protists), then you will often see some or all of the following in your basic bloodwork:
- All types of infections:
- Albumin: <4.0
- ALT: >26 (~5-14 days after onset of infection)
- AST: >26 (~5-14 days after onset of infection); this tends to rise faster and more sharply than ALT in response to disease
- Bilirubin: >0.9
- eGFR: <90 (more so with chronic infections)
- LDL: >100 (esp with chronic infections)
- Monocyte %: >7 (3+ days after onset)
- Total Cholesterol: >200 (esp with chronic infections)
- WBC: >7.5 if acute, <5.5 if chronic
- Bacterial infections:
- Lymphocyte %: <24
- Neutrophil %: >60
- Neutrophil:Lymphocyte ratio: >2.2
- Viral infections:
- Alk Phos: >100 (~5-14 days after onset)
- Lymphocyte %: >44 (may see <20 in very chronic viral infections)
- Neutrophil %: <40
- Neutrophil:Lymphocyte ratio: <1.8
If you have indications of some kind of infection, then that needs to be addressed directly with a holistic-minded or functional medicine practitioner, in order to remove that strain on your immune system. Doing this usually helps alleviate the over-reactivity of the immune system that leads to and exacerbates allergies.
A Special Note About H.Pylori
A common infection of the stomach, h.pylori may cause or exacerbate allergies in some individuals. (2) The presence of an h.pylori infection can only be determined for sure with a stool test (which you diy at home), breath test, or a tissue biopsy via endoscopy, but the likelihood of h.pylori infection can often be indicated by:
- BUN: >16 or <10
- Gastrin: >90
- Globulin: >2.8 or <2.4
- Lymphocytes %: <24
- Monocytes %: >7
- Neutrophils %: >60
- Phosphorus: <3.0
- Protein: >7.4 or <6.9
- WBC: >7.5
Note: this is another example of why it’s really helpful to have the differential on the CBC, as you need the differential to get your Lymphocyte, Monocyte or Neutrophil %’s!
Ah, toxins… Last but not least, and in fact, possibly the main and worst culprits in most health issues these days, including seasonal allergies.
We are all being bombarded with toxins from our air, water and food, day in and day out. That is a fact, and impossible to completely avoid in our modern world, though there are many actions we can take to lessen our intake, and to help clear our bodies of toxins… (more on that in a minute!)
According to Dr. Joe Pizzorno, a pioneer in environmental medicine, with many decades of experience in the field, toxicity is now the primary cause of most chronic disease in industrialized countries.
Toxicity can come from a combination of toxins:
- exogenous (from outside our bodies)
- ex. pesticides and herbicides from non-organic foods
- endogenous (from inside our bodies)
- ex. waste products of pathogens, such as bacteria, viruses and fungi/mold
- toxins of choice (ingested on purpose)
- alcohol, cigarettes, prescription medications
[For more on the many sources of toxins in our modern world, check out my infographic, Sources of Toxicity.]
So, in the context of today’s topic, what we want to try to determine is whether toxins are playing a significant role in causing or aggravating your seasonal allergies.
And because of the prevalence and problematic nature of toxins, chances are, if you have seasonal allergies, then toxins are playing a role.
So then the next useful question to explore is, how good a job is your body doing at getting rid of toxins?
To begin to answer that very important question, you can look at certain blood test markers, and see if they are out of the optimal range.
Keep in mind that many blood test values that are indicative of problems are often well within the “normal” lab reference ranges, because those ranges are based on what is most common in the population, and our general health as a population has declined, so what is commonplace (normal) these days is not optimal!
If certain markers are not in the optimal range, then that is an indication that toxins are causing a strain on your system.(3) And if that’s the case (which is very common, btw), then this is the first thing you want to focus on. And, this is an indication that your health and wellbeing will likely benefit greatly from giving your body more detoxification support (for instance, by following the recommendations in my e-course, Dr. Emily’s 10 Day Detox).
Markers of Toxicity
Research indicates that several liver enzymes increase in proportion to toxin load. (3) This makes sense considering that many liver enzymes play an important role in detoxification and are induced as needed for that purpose. The following are all commonly-tested liver enzymes to watch, to determine the possibility and severity of toxin load:
- ALT (alanine aminotransferase) – a good measure of liver cell injury, ALT increases in a dose-dependent manner with body load of blood cadmium, lead, mercury, and PCBs within and above the normal range. (3) A value of >25 indicates increased and problematic toxin load.
- AST (aspartate aminotransferase) – another indicator of liver cell injury, AST often increases more and faster than ALT in the presence of toxins (4), so an ALT >25 often serves as an even earlier-warning sign of toxicity than ALT.
- GGT (gamma-glutamyltransferase) – not generally tested with basic bloodwork, but a very useful and relatively inexpensive marker to measure, GGT increases quickly in response to increased toxin load, and can indicate elevated toxin load even when in the normal lab reference ranges. GGT is a particularly useful marker to watch because it is a key enzyme in the recycling of glutathione, the primary detoxification compound in the body. GGT production is stimulated to provide more glutathione, as well as to help handle oxidative stress. (5) Even mild GGT elevations (>20) are strongly associated with several chronic diseases, and with exposure to various toxins, including heavy metals and persistent organic pollutants (POPs). (6,7,8) The optimal level of GGT is 15-20.
- The combination of these 3 liver enzyme measures all being elevated is more indicative than each of them alone (9), so if you see elevations of all 3 at once, then it’s definitely time to start helping your body do some more detoxing!
Lipids (aka Cholesterol)
Ok, bear with me for a minute here, while I take what might feel like a little sidetrack, but it’s relevant, I promise!
And I’m probably about to turn your ideas about cholesterol on their head. You see, cholesterol is actually your friend, and elevated total cholesterol (TC) and LDL (the so-called “bad” cholesterol) can actually be helpful. Emerging science indicates that one of cholesterol’s important functions – besides making hormones, without which we could not live – is as an immune system helper, clearing out unwanted and harmful substances such as toxins and pathogens.(10)
In fact, higher levels of total cholesterol have been found to actually be protective, with an inverse relationship between elevated total cholesterol and all-cause mortality, particularly for people over 35. This means that higher total cholesterol (210-280mg/dL) is associated with a lower risk of death from all causes, and vice versa (<200 TC is really not good for you)(11), with higher total cholesterol being more protective with age.(12)
(Wha?? I know! Take a minute to absorb this mind-blowingly-different understanding of cholesterol…)
Ok, come back to me now.
So, when total cholesterol or LDL is elevated, it is NOT that these guys are troublemakers and have to be gotten rid of.
That’s like saying that because there are firemen at a burning building, they must have started the fire, and they should be chased away. And that’s just silly! But that’s what we’re doing when we label cholesterol and LDL as bad guys, and try to get rid of them.
Instead, look at it this way – there is an underlying problem that cholesterol and LDL are working on fixing, and thus they have an important reason for being present in elevated numbers. So what we need to do is figure out why they’re elevated, and fix that underlying problem.
And one of the main underlying reasons that total cholesterol and LDL become elevated, especially more and more over the years and decades, is because of the accumulation of stored toxins in our bodies. In fact, a strong positive association has been found between elevated total cholesterol and blood levels of a group of manmade chemicals called PFAS, which includes toxic PFOS (ex. water- and stain-resistant fabrics and food packaging), PFOA (ex. non-stick cookware) and PFNA (non-stick coatings and stain repellants). (13,14)
So, back to the root causes of your seasonal allergies…
If your total cholesterol is >200 and/or your LDL >100, suspect a possibly elevated immune system and/or toxicity burden, and start cleaning house, as this will very likely help reduce and maybe even eliminate your seasonal allergies (and a whole host of other health issues!)
Other Blood Markers
- Platelets – chronic low-level exposure to toxins such as solvents decreases platelet count. (3) And this can be a tricky one, as the measurement can still be well within the normal lab reference range. But, if you see a drop of >10% from your previous platelet counts, then suspect increased toxin load as a potential culprit.
- Uric Acid – greater blood levels of the prevalent class of toxins known as per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) are associated with a higher blood level of uric acid, which is itself associated with a number of chronic diseases (possibly due to increased toxin exposure!) A uric acid level >5.5 is concerning, and could indicate increased toxin load.
- WBCs (white blood cells) – the level of these immune system cells decreases in proportion to toxin accumulation in the body, particularly polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) and organochlorine pesticides (OCPs). (8,15) WBC levels of <6.5 can indicate an increased toxin load, particularly if the level is decreasing steadily over time.
Another relatively inexpensive method for checking your likely overall and specific toxicity burden is, once you have your basic bloodwork results, is to run them through Bloodsmart.ai, which then gives you a cutting-edge science-based assessment of your likelihood of toxicity for a whole host of common toxins.
To Sum It All Up
If you have seasonal allergies, chances are good that, at their root, they are caused by diet, leaky gut, infections and/or toxins. And some basic bloodwork can help you begin to illuminate which one(s) of these root causes are the ones you probably need to address. Armed with that knowledge, let’s proceed to the next article in this series, on natural remedies for both the symptoms and the root causes of seasonal allergies.
See you there! 😊
Disclosure: I receive a small commission for qualifying purchases made using some of the links provided in this article.