Drug-Less Approaches to Seasonal Allergies
The first day of Spring!
Oh gosh, how I love the springtime in the Pacific Northwest. Bulbs are peeking out and some already in full bloom. The sun appearing, reminding me that hope does spring eternal!
I have a couple of clients who are really struggle in the spring with seasonal allergies. Symptoms like headache, constant congestion, and runny nose really put a damper on their enthusiasm for this time of year.
Over-the-counter antihistamine drugs have a lot of side effects – drowsiness and listless. Some people feel drugged, sleepy and foggy brained. They also have other potent (but not often publicized) side effects such as dizziness, blurred vision, nausea or making an enlarged prostate or yeast infection worse!
Are there natural solutions that really work? You’ll read a lot of advice on the internet but much is ineffective!
There are solutions that help with major improvement and not only with seasonal allergy symptoms but also asthma and ongoing, chronic allergy.
First of all, keep in mind the simple physiology of allergy.
Our immune system can react with alarm to the protein in a particular type of pollen and develop antibodies to these “foreign invaders”. Think of antibodies as your body’s “Most Wanted” criminal list. Exposure to them then causes our mast cells to release histamine, triggering swelling of mucus membranes and the flow of mucus. Despite the discomfort, our immune system really does have our best interests at heart!
Mucus can flush unwanted substances out of the body and protects delicate tissue. The problem is that our immune systems can get overwhelmed, especially if you are (1) chronically stressed, (2) consume lots of sugar/sweeteners/chemicals, and/or (3) are not well-rested (three factors which influence our immune system greatly).
In terms of solutions, I recommend quercetin (pronounced kwehr’-suh-tin). A natural extract from plant foods like onions, apples, berries, buckwheat, and citrus fruit, quercetin is technically a flavonol.
Quercetin is a natural anti-histamine without the side effects of many medications! Quercetin actually calms the immune system to reduce or prevent histamine release. Several clients of mine with chronic seasonal allergies or asthma have found great relief. As an aside, quercetin is also being researched for circulation and cardiovascular health too, as it’s been shown to increase blood flow via artery dilation, promoting the release of nitric oxide. This action creates greater tissue oxygenation, nutrient flow, and waste removal. For this reason, it may also improve symptoms of fatigue and malaise due to poor circulation or in those with anemia or mild hypertension. Be cautious using quercetin, however, for those already taking blood thinners (e.g. Coumadin, Plavix, or daily aspirin).
For seasonal allergies, I recommend clients start using quercetin right away to build up levels in their body and continue throughout the full allergy season.
And there is a BONUS: Quercetin has also been heavily studied in recent years because of its ability to heal intestinal permeability. This is especially helpful for those who may be prone to allergies/sensitivities in part because of the ongoing immune insults that having a leaky gut allows. This makes Quercetin a perfect two-solutions-in-one remedy!
Stinging nettle leaf (very important: leaf, not root) has been shown to have effective ‘antihistamine’ action because it makes histamine receptors less sensitive. Because of this mode of action, I tend to use stinging nettle as a synergistic, additive pairing with an antihistamine like quercetin (vs. an agent on its own). This can be a powerful combination for more entrenched cases which don’t find sufficient relief via quercetin alone.
Another excellent choice is the herb Butterbur. Butterbur has actually been formally studied and found to be just as effective as Zyrtec at treating seasonal allergy symptoms. Unlike quercetin, butterbur is helpful because it is an anti-spasmodic remedy. Phytochemicals in butterbur relax swollen nasal membranes and alleviate muscle spasms in the respiratory system. When our immune system reacts to a perceived “foreign invader” (like an allergen), our cells produce inflammatory signaling molecules called leukotrienes (which usually happens in concert with the production of histamine, as mentioned above). Leukotrienes trigger spasms in the trachea which can help us to cough – to expel undesirable substances. Overproduction of leukotrienes, however, causes major inflammation in the respiratory system in the case of asthma and allergy. Butterbur simply interferes with the production of leukotrienes.
Note: Short-term use (3-4 mos) is generally regarded as quite safe; long-term use has not been studied. Note that butterbur is not suitable for pregnant or breastfeeding women (or for very young children less than six years of age). A typical therapeutic dose of butterbur extract is about 200mg/day (divided into an AM and PM dose for greater absorption). Mild headache or stomach ache may be side effects of butterbur and can be best avoided by taking it on a full stomach. Before you ask: yes, in very tough cases, it would be quite synergistic to pair these three agents together.
Dairy! It’s SNOT producing . . .
Keep in mind too that dairy foods are mucus-producing in many people. You might and to embark on a trial, full elimination of all dairy foods (e.g. milk, cream, cheese) to see how it affects you, at least until the worst of the allergy season has passed.
And remember the Neti Pot! The saline rinse will help remove trapped pollen from your nasal cavity. Many rave about their neti pot although admittedly, it does take some practice and persistence.
Many essential oils including lavender, peppermint, and lemon provide much support for the body during this time of the year. This is a combination that is diffused in our home as well as taken internally in capsules. Not every brand of essential oils will work as store brands are often diluted and not distilled to the highest grade. (Essential oils can be trick so let me know if I can help!)