How to Ease Your Seasonal Allergies Naturally
Did you know that about 50% of the population has at least one type of allergy? The most common one of these allergies is “seasonal allergies”. Yes, that’s the one with runny nose, itchy eyes, feeling tired and ‘cruddy’ all day long. It is also the time when everything is blooming, the weather is getting warmer, and if you have seasonal allergies, then you are hiding inside! Having itchy, inflamed eyes is not just an annoyance, but some research has suggested that people with allergies are more likely to have vision problems later in life. I suspect this is due to increased inflammation in the eyes, which if you read last month’s article, you know is now considered the cause of macular degeneration and possibly other vision disorders. So what are you to do to reduce your allergy symptoms?
The symptoms of allergy are due to a release of histamine and other molecules from an immune cell called mast cells. Most people recognize the word histamine, because they have been taking anti-histamine medication that is if they can tolerate the anti-histamines. A lot of people get extremely tired from this medication in addition to being tired from the allergy itself. The good news is that many medications are now “non-drowsy” formulas which allows you to function through the season, but why is it that you the mast cells are reacting to the “blooming and the spring season”. Well, it turns out that your body can react to a harmless particle that is in the air and create a reaction as if it is “going to war” against this particle. This is due to a couple of things. The particle, called allergen when it induces allergies, activates a release of immunoglobulin E (aka – IgE) which triggers the release of histamine from the mast cells. There are additional immune signals involving T cells, immune complexes, prostaglandin release and more, however for most of you, it’s a matter of figuring out what to do with the allergies and not learning bio-chemistry of it. In my opinion, there are two major components to preventing allergies:
- Reduce the exposure to the allergens
- Increase the body’s ability to handle the allergens by stabilizing the immune reaction
So here’s what to do to decrease your allergy reactions:
Keep your house clean!
Decrease the exposure to allergens by using hypoallergenic, fragrance-free cleaners. During the blooming season, make sure to clean the house even more. Keep your air filters clean in both your air conditioner and your air purifier and change monthly while things are in bloom. HEPA filter on the vacuum is also a good idea. Also, kick off your shoes. Your treads can track in pollen, grass, mold and other allergens, so check them at your door when you come home. You’ll also have much less dirt in the house! If you have a pet such as a cat or a dog, make sure to clean them off when they come in. They can be increasing the pollen count in your house also, because the pollen gets stuck in their fur.
Know when the pollen level is high.
You can keep track on the pollen count in your area by watching the news or go to pollen.com. Turn on your air purifier, I like the iQAir filters, but there are other brands out there that filter for pollen. Keep your windows closed and make sure to run the air purifier at night in your bedroom. Most people don’t realize that their indoor air quality is creating some of their symptoms. Avoid outdoor activities during windy days since this is when most pollen is in the air. If you do work out outside, then do it at dusk instead of dawn. The pollen count is usually lower later in the day.
Foods and Nutritional supplements that can help:
People with high levels of folic acid experience fewer allergies, according to the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology. Folic acid may help regulate the immune system’s response to allergens. You can find folic acid in foods such as tomatoes, green vegetables, black-eyed peas, lentils and beans. Daily dose of 400-800 mg during allergy season is a good thing however, make sure to use the right type of folic acid. Lately, several reports about folic acid supplementation and cancer incidents have emerged. The folic acid should be the methylated version which is identical to what is found naturally, and not the synthetic version that seems to play a role in cancer production. Designs for Health is a company that makes nutritional supplements and they have an article about folic acid available on their website. www.designsforhealth.com
Quercetin is a plant derived flavenoid found in many fruits and vegetables that helps regulate the immune reaction that causes allergies. It is anti-inflammatory and interestingly The American Cancer Society says that quercetin “has been promoted as being effective against a wide variety of diseases, including cancer” which gives you another reason for making sure you eat foods that contain this flavenoid. Foods rich in quercetin include capers, apples, green tea (Camellia sinensis), onions, especially red onion, red grapes, citrus fruit, tomato, broccoli and other leafy green vegetables, and a number of berries including cherry, raspberry, lingonberry, cranberry and the fruit of the prickly pear cactus. Also, research has shown that organically grown food, such as tomatoes, had 79% more quercetin than “conventionally grown”.
Stinging nettle is an herb that stabilizes mast cells and reduces the release of histamine from these cells. Many people start drinking stinging nettles tea (Urtica tea) during allergy season. It is mildly diuretic so I recommend you drink it earlier in the day to avoid having to use the bathroom at night time. However, the tea may not be strong enough unless you drink 8-10 cups a day. I therefore often recommend products that have Stinging Nettles in high concentrations to get a better effect. As a side note, this herb has a gentle way of releasing bound sex hormones such as testosterone and estrogens into the blood stream, so it can have a mild modulating effect on your hormones that your body is making. It will not increase the amount your body makes, but rather the efficacy of the hormones you are producing.
Vitamin C is one of my favorite vitamins because it does so many things. It is an anti-oxidant so it supports the immune system, it helps with stress reactions through the adrenaline pathway, it increases the binding of insulin to its receptor so it can help with blood sugar regulation, it supports glutathione production (liver detoxification molecule), collagen production (strengthens your skin), and it can stabilize your mast cells. I recommend that everyone take at least 1000 mg a day, but if you have allergies you probably need more. If you get loose bowel, then you are taking too much.
Spice things up
Wasabi and cayenne pepper can cause your nose to run, which, while annoying, serves to flush out allergens. Turmeric acts as a natural inflammatory, which then reduces allergy symptoms. Have an extra smidge of the green stuff with your sushi to say “bye-bye” to sinus aggravation this year or start adding turmeric to your food. You can also buy turmeric in a supplemental form and take a couple of these a day. I also like a curcuma product called Meriva from Thorne due to its added efficacy and that it is well tolerated even in high doses. Adding a pinch of cayenne pepper to your tea or your food on a regular basis is also beneficial not just for your allergies, but also for your blood pressure.
Omega 3 fatty acids
I hope by now that you have heard about the benefit of fish oil on the brain and the whole cardiovascular system, but you may not know that it also decreases allergy symptoms. A colleague of mine actually goes so far to say that allergies are just a symptom of omega-3 fatty acid deficiency. In any case, it is important to get these fatty acids in your body every day. Omega-3 fatty acids are found in salmon (choose wild caught to avoid toxins!), sardines, herring, cod and mackerel. Since omega-3, especially the EPA part of this fatty acid, also have anti-inflammatory powers you should eat up, and breathe easier, too.
Pick up a neti pot
Allergists say the small gadget, which resembles Aladdin’s lamp, is a great way to clear out pollen particles. To use it, fill it with lukewarm, lightly salted water. Tilt your head to one side and slowly pour the water into the higher nostril; breathe through your mouth as the water travels back out the opposite nostril. It may not be pretty, but neither are watery eyes and red noses! Find one at your local health food store or pharmacy, and use it over the kitchen sink or tub to prevent a mess.
A study in the Journal of Psychosomatic Research showed that kissing for half an hour may provide relief from hay fever. Whatever the reason, grab your sweetie and give those allergies the kiss-off!