A Seasonal Allergy Primer
Are you ready for this year’s allergy season? There are some very effective natural remedies that can help you tackle allergy symptoms but the trick is to get out in front of it. Waiting until your symptoms have started can end up with an emergency run to the drugstore, with your best intentions to go natural thwarted.
Herbs and supplements for seasonal allergies work best when you start using them regularly 4-6 weeks before your typical onset of symptoms and throughout the allergy season.
Why We Get Seasonal Allergies
Before we cover the most effective allergy remedies, let’s look at why you might be suffering from seasonal allergies in the first place and how you can begin to address it at the root cause. While there is a predisposing genetic component to allergic diseases, it cannot fully explain the dramatic rise in allergies occurring in developed countries over the last few decades. It is now well accepted that environmental and lifestyle factors play an important role in the prevalence of allergic conditions.
Seasonal Allergy Root Causes
There are three fundamental ways to holistically address seasonal allergies at the root cause level – supporting a healthy gut microbiome, enhancing liver function and reducing irritating environmental exposures. A large part of the reason allergies are on the rise is because our world is becoming increasingly more polluted. Both children and adults are at increased risk of developing allergies when they are exposed regularly to cigarette smoke and pollution. Man-made chemical toxics are also on the rise in the environment and put a constant burden on the liver. We can ease the toxic load our body has to deal with by switching to chemical-free foods, consumer products and filtered water.
The liver which is now considered an immunological organ, plays an important role in the management of allergies. One of the main functions of the liver is to filter the blood and detoxify potentially harmful metabolites, chemicals, pathogens and antigens (allergens). Both allergens and the inflammatory histamines they provoke are deactivated and removed from the body via the liver. If liver function is sluggish or impaired, our ability to tolerate allergens in the environment can be compromised.
Various studies have shown that impaired bile flow and lipid metabolism can result in high histamine levels in the liver. Lifestyle interventions which improve insulin response and fat metabolism can reduce allergic reactions. One of the simplest and most effective interventions in this regard is intermittent fasting. We can also enhance fat metabolism and liver detoxification with liver-loving herbs like Milk Thistle and Dandelion root.
Our early life exposure to bacteria primes the immune system for life. Factors which get in the way of healthy microbial exposure predispose a person to developing allergic conditions later on in life. Caesarian births, formula feeding, infant and childhood antibiotic use and overly sterile environments are all risk factors for the development of allergies.
The gut microbiome plays an important role in modulating the immune system, and it is now coming to light that the lung and gut mucosa may work together as a single organ - sharing immunological functions and similar bacterial compositions. Recent research has shown that gut dysbiosis can increase a person’s risk of developing respiratory allergies, and our diet not only influences the flora in the gut but in our lungs as well. The type of food we eat can encourage healthy bacteria and inhibit unhealthy bacteria. Fibre-rich foods are key modifiers of the gut microbiome, and produce metabolites which bolster the immune system and protect the body from allergens.
My favorite natural remedy for seasonal allergies is Quercetin, a plant-based bioflavonoid and antioxidant. Quercetin is richly supplied in the diet by common plant foods like onions, turmeric, broccoli, asparagus, bell peppers, tomatoes, apples, citrus fruit, berries, grapes, green tea and wine.
However, in order to experience relief from seasonal allergies you would need to take quercetin in supplemental form at an adult dose of 400-500mg 2x daily, starting 4-6 weeks before the onset of allergy symptoms and throughout the allergy season.
Quercetin is a natural antihistamine and anti-inflammatory which stabilizes the body’s reaction to allergens and significantly reduces symptoms of runny nose, watery eyes, itching and swelling. Many clients have found welcome relief from seasonal allergies by using quercetin and have reported a decreasing allergic response with each consecutive year of consistent use.
Note: People with kidney disease and women who are pregnant or breastfeeding should avoid using quercetin.
Herbal Allergy Relief
There are two herbal supplements that are very effective for seasonal allergies and backed by scientific research – Stinging Nettle (Urtica dioica) and Butterbur (Petasites officinalis). Similar to quercetin, both plants are rich in antihistamine and anti-inflammatory phytochemicals that have proven to perform better than placebo, or equal to over-the-counter allergy medications in clinical trials.
The most effective way to use nettles for allergies is by taking freeze-dried herb capsules which preserve the antihistamine compounds found in the fresh form of the nettle plant. The standard dose for freeze-dried Stinging Nettle is 250-300mg 2-3x daily. There are no known safety issues with this herbal supplement.
For Butterbur, you will want to look for a standardized herbal extract at a dosage of 50-75mg taken 2x daily. In Canada, this herbal extract is typically sold with the pyrrolizidine alkaloids (PA) removed but be sure to check the full label information as these natural substances can build up in the liver and cause harm over time and are best avoided.
Both herbal supplement should be taken daily 4-6 weeks before the onset of symptoms and throughout the allergy season.