Seasonal allergies explained
If you suffer from seasonal allergies you should start to think about how you can support your body’s response to the allergens and reduce the severity of your symptoms before the season starts. The symptoms of allergies can range from sneezing, watery eyes, runny noses to sore throats, swollen glands and headaches. The main culprits are the pollens from grasses, flowers and trees, and daily pollen counts can be indicative of how bad the symptoms could be on any given day. Pollution can also exacerbate symptoms.
Seasonal allergies occur when the body produces allergic antibodies to substances that should be seen as harmless to the body, such as pollen. In people sensitive to these allergens, exposure causes the release of chemicals including histamine from cells in the nasal passages, eyes or airways. This then results in inflammation and irritation to the lining of the eyes, nose and throat.
There is not one specific herb or supplement that can reliably work for each person. People respond to different herbs and supplements. Having an understanding of an overall treatment strategy is useful and can ensure more success in treating the allergic reaction. Some things to consider would be to try and reduce overall inflammation in the body, support general immunity and use anti-histamine herbs and supplements.
Reducing your overall systemic inflammation is an effective way to lessen seasonal allergy symptoms. One way to do this would be to increase the amount of flavonoid-rich foods into the diet. Colourful berries and vegetables, rich in anti-inflammatory compounds, can be eaten daily.
Avoiding pro-inflammatory foods, including processed foods and common food allergens such as dairy, sugar and gluten (particularly in wheat), could help. Increase your consumption of omega-3 fatty acids. High quality omega-3 fatty acids can help to reduce the production of pro-inflammatory chemicals in your body. Foods high in omega 3s include edamame beans, wild rice, walnuts, lots of types of beans, flaxseeds, eggs and cold water fish, such as wild salmon, trout and sardines. As a supplement, fish oil is the richest source of omegas 3s, but you can also take hemp seed and flaxseed oil.
There are some natural histamine compounds that can help reduce the severity of symptoms. Quercetin, a type of flavonoid, has been shown to stabilize mast cells. Mast cells are specialized immune cells that produce histamine and other inflammatory compounds in response to an allergen. Quercetin is found in high concentrations in red onions, capers, kale, dock, watercress, fennel seeds and buckwheat. You can also buy it as a supplement. It is often combined with bromelain, a natural anti-inflammatory derived from pineapples. Quercetin and bromelain enhance each other’s anti-inflammatory actions. In addition, bromelain seems to increase the absorption of quercetin into the bloodstream. Vitamin C is believed to be a natural antihistamine if used at high doses, around 3,000mg to 5,000mg a day. A natural rich source of vitamin C is rosehips, the dark red or purple fruit of the rose plant. You can harvest these in the autumn and dry for tea in the hayfever season, or you can find them as a supplement.
Supporting your immune system
Seasonal allergies often have a root in an imbalanced immune system. There are immune modulators which can be used to lessen the immune system’s overzealous response to allergens which include astragalus and the medicinal mushrooms including reishi and shitake mushrooms. You can take these as powders, tablets or as tinctures.
There are several herbs that are known as anti-allergy herbs which help reduce symptoms, predominantly by acting as natural anti-histamines and reducing the inflammation produced by the body during an allergic reaction. These include nettle leaf, elderflower, eyebright and thyme, chamomile, yarrow and plantain.
Some herbs help with the excess mucous produced and are known as anti-catarrhals and include herbs like elderflower, plantain and eyebright. Other herbs are known as mucous membrane tonics and help with chronically inflamed mucous membranes; these include plantain, eyebright and golden rod.
These herbs can be combined or you can try just one. They can be taken as teas or tinctures, drinking at least 2 cups a day as a tea or as a tincture start with 5 ml (1 teaspoon) 2 times a day. To make an herb tea, add 1-2 tsp of dried herb to a cup of boiling water. Leave to stand for at least 10-15 minutes and drink. The real benefit of using Herbal Medicine is that there are so few side effects. Many conventional medicines prescribed for seasonal allergies, on the other hand, tend to make you drowsy and tired.
Sometimes it can be as simple as drinking a nettle and elderflower tea to reduce symptoms, and at other times, people need to try all of the above before they see their allergies improve.
[This article was originally published by Wild Oats Natural Foods, where I advise on herbs, supplements and nutrition]