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An estimated 30% of people in the United States experience joint pain. Doctors’ offices are often flooded by joint pain sufferers during the spring allergy season, when symptoms seem to flare for many.1,2 

Can common allergies like seasonal pollen or food-related allergies really be the cause of such major joint inflammation, pain, and stiffness? 

Absolutely. Let’s discuss 3 different allergies than can increase joint pain, and how you can use food as medicine to help! 

Prefer to watch/listen to your information? Here is a video on the topic:

Can Allergies Cause Joint Pain Video with The Joint Pain Dietitian, Heather Hall, RDN, LD, CLT

Seasonal Allergies and Joint Pain

Seasonal allergies attribute to joint pain

What are Seasonal Allergies?

Seasonal allergies happen when your immune system sees pollen as a threat and begins targeting and attacking it. IgE antibodies form, and mast cells activate and release all sorts of inflammatory chemicals, including histamine.3 

The resulting symptoms often include a runny nose, itchy skin, watery eyes, sneezing, joint pain and muscle aches.3 

How Seasonal Allergies Cause Joint Pain

Allergies reflect an inappropriate immune response and a dysfunctional immune system.1 Many joint pain diseases are autoimmune in nature, which is also a dysfunctional immune response where your own body attacks itself, including:

  • Psoriatic arthritis
  • Rheumatoid arthritis
  • Lupus or SLE
  • Scleroderma

Having allergies could put you at higher risk for developing autoimmune arthritis such as rheumatoid arthritis. 
Allergic reactions also increase inflammation in the body,3 and every type of arthritis is associated with increased inflammation. Lowering inflammation generally lowers joint pain.

How to Improve Seasonal Allergies & Joint Pain

There are medications to suppress allergic symptoms. But the Functional Medicine approach looks at identifying root causes of the dysfunctional immune response behind allergies and improving it using food, supplements, and natural therapies instead of medication.  
Often, gut health is a root cause of both allergies AND joint pain, so improving gut health is always a good area to focus on. For many, this alone will improve symptoms. For others, you may have more going on and need to dig deeper, but gut health is a good place to start.1

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Food Allergies and Joint Pain

Food allergies contribute to joint pain

What are Food Allergies?

Food allergies happen when your immune system confuses foods with dangerous pathogens and decides to attack them. 

Similar to seasonal allergies, whichever foods your immune system flags as dangerous will begin to cause an immune response whenever you eat them, activate IgE antibodies, and stimulate mast cells to release all kinds of inflammatory chemicals like histamines and many others. 

Food allergy reactions are usually apparent within a few minutes to a few hours of eating the offending food. Symptoms include itchiness, stomach pain, skin rash, mouth sores, trouble breathing, and joint or muscle pain.

How Food Allergies Cause Joint Pain

This allergic response increases overall inflammation. Increased inflammation often means increased joint pain.3

And like seasonal allergies, this allergic response signifies an immune system that is dysfunctional to some degree. A dysfunctional immune system is also a player in the many immune diseases that result in joint pain.1 

Allergies do seem to be associated with some types of arthritis.4,5

How to Improve Food Allergies & Joint Pain

An allergist can help you pin down your food allergies using a pin prick test or blood test. Or it may be a matter of keeping a food and symptom diary for a little while to figure out which foods are a problem. Food allergies are usually easier to identify than food sensitivities (which we will talk about next.)

You will want to avoid foods you are allergic to or having any type of reaction to of course, which may improve joint pain.

But then, you also need to dig into the root cause of the immune dysfunction behind your food allergies. Why is your body acting this way in the first place?

Again, there can be many underlying problems a Functional Medicine practitioner can help you uncover, but gut health is always a great place to begin. 
For some people, healing the gut alone may be all it takes to improve symptoms. For others, you may need to look into other root causes like infections, toxins, or nutrient deficiencies that are also contributing to inappropriate allergic responses and joint inflammation.1

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Food Sensitivities and Joint Pain

What are Food Sensitivities?

Food sensitivities are often referred to as food intolerances or non-IgE allergies. They are different than food allergies in several ways: 

Food allergy vs. Food sensitivity
  • They do not involve IgE antibodies and mast cells typically, but instead activate other parts of the immune system (IgG, IgM, T cells, etc). I have a comprehensive article on food sensitivity here. 
  • Symptoms vary widely and can occur anywhere in the body (joint pain, headaches, stomach pain, fatigue, skin rashes…)
  • Symptoms might not occur for up to 3 days.
  • They can be very tricky to pin down without help.

How Food Sensitivities Cause Joint Pain

Food sensitivities are my area of specialty and a very common trigger of joint pain for my clients. Especially in autoimmune joint conditions, like psoriatic arthritis and rheumatoid arthritis. But I’ve also seen great success treating food sensitivities with fibromyalgia and other chronic conditions, like diabetes. 

Food sensitivities always go hand-in-hand with not only immune dysfunction, but compromised gut health. Sugar, alcohol, ibuprofen, environmental toxins, food additives, and stress can all ruin gut health.6

How to Improve Food Sensitivities & Joint Pain

Working with a functional dietitian and using an elimination diet or Mediator Release Test can help you nail down the food sensitivities that are triggering your joint pain, muscle pain, and inflammation. Typically a whole slew of other symptoms like fatigue, depression, and digestive issues improve as well for my clients. 

Additionally, gut health always needs to be addressed, including leaky gut, dysbiosis, and digestion issues. 

A functional dietitian can also help you find other root causes of joint pain beyond food sensitivities, and help you develop a more effective, comprehensive approach to healing joint pain from the inside out. 

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What We Know

There is a close association between seasonal allergies, food allergies, food sensitivities, and joint pain. 

I’ve covered how each allergy can impact joint and muscle pain, stiffness, and inflammation.

We also discussed how to improve the various types of allergies in order to improve joint pain.

If you suspect allergies or sensitivities are a problem for you, I’d love to work with you to improve your symptoms from the inside out. Please don’t hesitate to reach out. 

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You May Also Be Interested In:

References:

1. A Functional Medicine Approach to Allergies. The Institute for Functional Medicine. Accessed April 6, 2021. https://www.ifm.org/news-insights/a-functional-medicine-approach-to-allergies/

2. QuickStats: Percentage of Adults Reporting Joint Pain or Stiffness, — National Health Interview Survey,<SUP>§</SUP> United States, 2006. Accessed April 6, 2021. https://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/preview/mmwrhtml/mm5717a9.htm

3. Seasonal Allergies – Immune Disorders. Merck Manuals Consumer Version. Accessed April 6, 2021. https://www.merckmanuals.com/home/immune-disorders/allergic-reactions-and-other-hypersensitivity-disorders/seasonal-allergies

4. Karsh J, Chen Y, Lin M, Dales R. The association between allergy and rheumatoid arthritis in the Canadian population. Eur J Epidemiol. 2005;20(9):783-787. doi:10.1007/s10654-005-0704-9

5. Theoharides TC, Kalogeromitros D. The critical role of mast cells in allergy and inflammation. Ann N Y Acad Sci. 2006;1088:78-99. doi:10.1196/annals.1366.025

6. Best Gut Healing Supplements for Arthritis. The Joint Pain Dietitian. Published March 23, 2021. Accessed April 6, 2021. https://foodmedicine101.com/best-gut-healing-supplements/

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