As winter slowly dissolves into spring, our sometimes-barren surroundings begin to take on a fresh, greener hue. But as the snow finally melts away, instead of clearing snow, many of us just try to clear our noses. Allergy season will soon be in full bloom, and this annual rite of spring can be uncomfortable and in some cases incapacitating. Many people succumb to the media hype and ask their doctors for a particular brand of antihistamine, which often results in decreased allergy symptoms but unwanted side effects.
Is there a way to control allergy symptoms without getting the antihistamine induced “medicine head”?
There is, but as with any natural approach, it’s important to look at the causes of allergy first, before we look at simply treating symptoms…
Allergy affects from 10 to 17% of the American population. For some, it is a chronic problem, and for others, it’s seasonal. Allergies are abnormal immune system responses to substances called allergens, which trigger the immune system imbalance. The type of allergy symptom depends on the area of the body that is becoming irritated by the allergen. For example, in people with hay fever, the nose reacts with a runny nose, nasal congestion and watery eyes. In people with food allergy, the inflammation of the lining of the gastrointestinal tract can cause bloating, pain and diarrhea. And for those with hives, it is the skin that is affected. Examples of common allergens include pollen, food, dust mites, animal dander, drugs, mold spores and insect venom. These triggers set off a cascade of events that lead to an inflammatory response, which then leads to the symptoms. The goal of allergy therapy is to stop the cascade BEFORE it gets started.
In order to minimize or eliminate allergy symptoms, it is important to remove or avoid the triggers—the allergens themselves…
Although it’s difficult to avoid allergens completely, you can still focus on diminishing allergens, thus reducing our body’s response. A clean environment is critical, and the use of HEPA air filters and hypoallergenic mattress and pillow coverings can significantly help with allergy symptoms. Keeping pets out of your bedroom will also help. You may want to avoid using humidifiers, as they can harbor bacteria and mold which can cause allergic symptoms. By the way, don’t waste your money on air duct cleaning, as this has not shown to provide any real benefit, primarily because there are few allergens that ‘live’ in the dry air duct environment.
Many people suffer with food allergy, but even those that don’t should be careful of what they eat. One frequent offender is wheat. A few people will have a profound allergy to wheat gluten leading to a condition called non-tropical sprue , an inflammation of the small intestine that results in diarrhea and weight loss. Many others unknowingly have a wheat sensitivity that results in digestive problems, nasal allergy symptoms, fatigue and headache. To learn if you have a wheat allergy, start keeping a food diary (you may need to read labels closely to know if you’re getting wheat or not). If you learn that wheat is not the problem, continue to try keep your diary, then when you identify a likely suspect, eliminate it from your diet and observe your response.
The next step is to quiet your inflammatory response and stop the cascade of events. Since the major spark that causes the fire of the inflammatory response is free radicals, you need to supplement your diet with vitamins and herbs that are strong free radical fighters, or antioxidants.
- The best place to start is with a nutraceutical that contains natural mixed carotenoids at a dose of 15,000to 25,000 IU, natural Vitamin E at 400 IU, and Vitamin C at 500 to 2000mg. This is a good base. These antioxidants can help buffer the free radical response.
- Selenium is a necessary cofactor in many of the body’s immune system responses, and is therefore crucial to proper immune system function. Many people are deficient in selenium, so it’s important for them to supplement. Selenomethionine (200mcg per day) should be used, as it is the best form and avoids the possible allergic reaction to high selenium yeast. Another important mineral is zinc, which supports the proper functioning of white blood cells—20 to 50 mg should be taken daily.
- Another very important nutrient for allergy sufferers is quercetin. Quercetin is a bioflavonoid that is found in red onions and apples. It may have activity similar to the allergy remedy cromolyn. Test tube studies have shown significant anti-allergy effect, but no controlled trials have been done in humans. However, it is strongly recommended by herbalists and nutritionally aware physicians. It has no known side effects, and the dose range is 500 to 3000 mg per day. It may take two to three weeks to work, so be patient. Another bioflavonoid is proanthocyanidin, (OPC) or grape seed extract. This is a potent antioxidant, and is helpful in reducing allergy symptoms. The typical dose is 50 to 150 mg per day.
- Essential fatty acids, both omega-3 (DHA from fish oil) and omega-6 (GLA from borage oil) have anti-inflammatory effects and may be useful for allergy symptoms. They are also protective against cardiovascular disease, so they are a good supplement to incorporate into your regimen.
- Finally, try drinking green tea. The polyphenols are strong antioxidants, and the steam can be soothing to the nasal membranes. You may also want to cleanse the nasal passages with gentle saline lavage using a bulb syringe or netti pot.
- Nettle is also very effective as an antiinflammatory , and is reported to be quite helpful in people with allergy symptoms. Whereas the quercetin may be better for long term control, the nettle can be used for acute exacerbations.
Allergy symptoms CAN BE controlled naturally. It requires some patience, but this approach will result in significantly fewer side effects when compared with conventional antihistamines. Also, all the above antioxidants have beneficial effects on other potential problems, such as cardiovascular disease, so you are really getting a great benefit from this approach. Now you can take the time to stop and smell the roses, and not have to worry about sneezing all over them!
- NSI Ocupower- this nutraceutical is designed primarily to promote good vision, but contains an outstanding blend of antioxidant s which can help keep allergy symptoms in check most of the time. Dose is 3 capsules twice daily. This contains the Beta Carotene, vitamin C and selenium, as well as many other synergistic nutrients.
- Allergy Research Group Quercetin 300 mg. Take one to two capsules two to three times per day, depending on the severity of allergy symptoms.
- Twinlab Dale Alexander Twin EPA. Excellent source of omega 3 fatty acids. One capsule twice a day.
- Nature’s Way Nettle Herb. Two capsules two to three times per day. Effective for acute exacerbation of symptoms.