For many folks the changing of the seasons from winter to spring means the beginning of a debilitating season of sneezing, wheezing, runny nose, and itchy, watery and red eyes. More than 40 million North Americans face this major problem every year as the pollen from trees, grass, flowers, and plants makes it way into the air.
For many, relief is just a drugstore counter away -- with a wide array of traditional medications available to help. However, for many allergy sufferers relief can be achieved with a variety of all-natural treatments that can help -- often without many of the troubling side effects ascribed to traditional care.
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.
Quercetin is a natural plant-derived compound called a bioflavonoid, that helps stabilize mast cells and prevents them from releasing histamine. Quercetin also is a natural antioxidant that helps mop up free radicals that cause cell damage, which can lead to cancer. Citrus fruits, onions, apples, parsley, tea, tomatoes, broccoli, lettuce and wine are naturally high in quercetin, but allergy sufferers will most likely need to use supplements to build up enough of this compound to prevent attacks. The recommended dosage is about 1,000 milligrams a day, taken between meals. It’s best to start treatment six weeks before allergy season. Those with liver disease shouldn’t use quercetin, so please consult your doctor before using this or any other supplement — especially if you are pregnant or nursing.
Natural Factors EMIQ is a highly bioavailable form of quercetin. EMIQ is manufactured through a natural enzymatic process that attaches glucose chains (glycosides) to the quercetin molecule. The result of this modification is that the quercetin is provided in a water-soluble form thereby greatly enhancing its bioavailability. In the digestive process the glycoside portion is cleaved, liberating the quercetin, and as a result EMIQ greatly increases quercetin levels in the blood compared to the ingestion of quercetin or its related compound rutin. Blood levels of quercetin are more than 40 times greater with EMIQ compared to an equal amount of quercetin.
Butterbur; derived from a common weed in Europe, is another alternative to antihistamines. In the days before refrigeration, its broad, floppy leaves were used to wrap butter during warm spells, hence the name butterbur. A Swiss study, published in British Journal of Medicine, found that butterbur is as effective as the drug cetirizine, the active ingredient in Zyrtec. Even though cetirizine is supposed to be a non-sedative antihistamine, researchers reported that it did cause drowsiness, though butterbur did not. Participants in the study took 32 milligrams of butterbur a day, divided into four doses. A word of caution though — butterbur is in the same family as ragweed, so it could worsen allergy symptoms in rare cases.
Quality Butterbur products are made free of pyrrolizidine alkaloids, and are often called Petadolex.
A German study, published in the journal Allergy, found that participants who ate foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids were less likely to suffer allergy symptoms than those who didn’t regularly eat these foods. Omega-3s help fight inflammation and can be found in cold-water fish, walnuts and flaxseed oil, as well as grass-fed meat and eggs.
To help keep airways clear when pollen counts are high, add a dash of horseradish, chili peppers or hot mustard to your food — all act as natural, temporary decongestants. It’s also a good idea to avoid foods that you’re slightly allergic to until the air clears. Fighting off allergies can render the body hypersensitive to those foods, causing more severe reactions than usual.
You might want to try cooking up some allergy relief in the form of hot, spicy foods. Experts say the spicier the dish, the more likely it is to thin mucous secretions, which in turn can clear nasal passages. Recommended spices for this purpose include cayenne pepper, hot ginger, and fenugreek, as well as onion and garlic.
Interestingly, what you don't eat may be even more important than what you do eat. Food intolerance can be intimately entwined with seasonal allergies. You have to cut out any foods that seem to provoke even a mild sensitivity, such as occasional hives or even stomach upset. This practice can lighten the burden on your immune system, which in turn may help reduce the impact of seasonal allergic reactions.
I recently discovered Dr Brent Barlow, a Naturopathic Doctor based in Kelowna, BC that can do this food allergy testing to identify problem foods. Click here to learn more.
Stinging Nettle. If you decide you need an antihistamine but want a natural option, stinging nettle (Urtica dioica) behaves in much the same way as many of the drugs sold to treat allergies, but without the unwanted side effects of dry mouth and drowsiness. Nettle actually inhibits the body’s ability to produce histamine. It’s a common weed in many parts of Canada and the US (not Hawaii!)
It can be used medicinally in the form of a tea, or juice, or as a freeze-dried extract of the leaves sold in capsules. Studies have shown that taking about 300 milligrams daily will offer relief for most people, although the effects may last only a few hours. You also can make your own tinctures or teas with stinging nettle.
Neti Pots. What could be simpler than rinsing away allergens with saltwater? Neti pots are small vessels shaped like Aladdin’s lamp that have been used in India for thousands of years to flush the sinuses and keep them clear. It’s an idea that takes some getting used to for most Westerners, but it’s a bit like using nasal spray. A little douse of saltwater can rinse away those prickly pollen grains and help treat allergies and other forms of sinus congestion.
Just last year, an Italian study published in the International Archives of Allergy and Immunology found that nasal flushing was a mild and effective way to treat seasonal allergies in children, and markedly reduced their use of antihistamines.
Combination Formulas: In addition to the single ingredients mentioned here, there are also combination formulas which include many beneficial ingredients all together in one product. One of our favourite formulas which gets the most positive feedback is Bell Allergy Relief.
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