Spring allergy season is a time of year when even people who don't regularly suffer from allergies have to cope with allergy symptoms.
While popping a pill might seem like the easiest thing to do, many people prefer to attack their allergy problems without having to rely on
medication. This year we've explored some alternative allergy treatments, ranging from popular and effective like the neti pot, to little known and
questionable like NAET.
This month, we take a look at several forms of natural allergy treatment. As Mary Hardy, MD, director of integrative medicine at
Cedars Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles says, "Using nature-based products can be a very useful way to handle mild allergies and a useful
adjunct for more significant allergies, and there are many types of treatments you can safely try."
(Remember that even though these treatments are "natural," you should always consult with your allergist before you
self-treat, especially with supplements, because they could interfere with your other medications, symptoms, or treatments in dangerous
ways and possibly create dangerous side effects.)
Herbal Allergy Remedies
Stinging nettle and butterbur are the two most common herbs for allergy relief.
Stinging nettle is a natural antihistamine. In fact, it inhibits the body's ability to produce histamine, which is the
compound responsible for causing allergy symptoms. As stated on the website The People's Pharmacy, "A double-blind trial was conducted to
test stinging nettle's use in allergies (sneezing, sniffling, and runny nose). A majority (57 percent) of the participants found
that the herb was better than placebo in treating these symptoms."
Unlike synthetic antihistamines, stinging nettle has no drowsy side effects. Stinging nettle may be taken as an extract,
or a tea, or even eaten (with proper preparation). But we recommend taking it in capsules.
Butterbur is the other standout of herbal allergy remedies. One study found that butterbur as an allergy remedy is as
effective as cetirizine, the active ingredient in Zyrtec. And although cetirizine is supposed to be non-drowsy, it does cause
drowsiness in some cases; butterbur does not.
Butterbur must be used with caution, however. The herb comes from the same family as ragweed, so in ragweed-sensitive
individuals, it could worsen allergies rather than relieve them. In addition, raw butterbur, whether used in a tea or sold in
capsule form, can contain toxic substances that harm the liver and kidneys and may cause cancer.
Allergy Relief Through Foods
Last month, we talked about using omega 3 to treat eczema.
This nutritious fatty acid helps improve the skin's function as a barrier and also contains anti-inflammatory properties. It's
this anti-inflammatory function that makes omega 3s useful in combating not only eczema, but other allergies as well.
The best way to obtain omega 3s is through a diet that contains foods rich in the nutrient. These omega 3 rich foods include
walnuts, flax seed, omega 3 eggs, salmon and other fish, and grass-fed beef. Omega 3 oils may also be obtained through
supplementation including flax seed oil or fish oil capsules.
Spicy foods also may provide short term allergy relief by temporarily clearing nasal passages and acting as a mild
decongestant. In fact, some nasal sprays, like Sinol, are formulated with
capsaicin hot peppers. Foods like hot sauce, chili peppers,
or horseradish, as well as hot ginger and garlic, can have the same effect.
Honey, especially local honey, may provide allergy relief. In addition to soothing scratchy throats, honey can be
thought of as a mini allergy shot because it involves ingesting a form of the pollen that an allergy sufferer reacts to in a safe way.
Steamy foods or drinks, such as tea or chicken soup, may provide some relief of allergy symptoms by helping to
loosen mucus and clear airways. Be creative in combining food with allergy relieving properties. For instance, make a hot
drink with honey and cayenne pepper. Or add lots of garlic and some ginger to your chicken soup.
Treating Allergies with Supplements
In addition to herbal supplements and omega 3 supplements, quercetin supplementation may help relieve allergy
symptoms. Quercitin keeps mast cells from releasing
histamine. While quercitin may be found in citrus fruits, onions, tea, tomatoes, broccoli, lettuce, wine, apples, and parsley,
in order to ingest enough quercitin to be effective against allergy attacks, supplementation is probably necessary. Again, it's
very important to discuss any supplementation, including quercitin supplementation, with your doctor.
Probiotics are also an important component of natural
allergy relief. Probiotics can help prevent the formation of allergies in the first place when taken by pregnant women and
infants. They can also help keep allergy symptoms at bay. Probiotics are found in foods like yogurt, but for a broader
spectrum of bacterial strains, supplementation is necessary.
Knowing which herbs, foods, and supplements can help allergies is half the battle. Use this information to ask your allergist
which natural remedies, in addition to environmental control of allergens, might be best for you.