Spring is in the air and with it comes pollen. This can mean a significant reduction in quality of life for allergy sufferers. According to the CDC, allergies are the 6th leading cause of chronic disease in the U.S. with an annual healthcare cost of more than $18 billion (1). It’s estimated that 30% of adults and 40% of children suffer from allergies.
What is an allergy anyway? It’s when the immune system has a reaction to a substance (pollen, pet dander, mold, etc. ) that is not harmful to the body. Mast cells are the immune system cells that are responsible for releasing cytokines (cell signals to other cells), the most notable being histamine. The signals from these cells attract other immune system cells that release more cytokine, and the result is allergy symptoms.
There are many nutrition, lifestyle and herbal remedies to decrease and even in some cases eliminate allergies. But before we get started, I want to encourage you to be patient. Some natural allergy formulas have an immediate effect, but many of the recommendations I’ll give you are most effective when implemented over the long-term (at least a few months) – so stick with it!
Eat local raw honey: raw honey contains bee pollen and propolis. The propolis has immune boosting effects, and the pollen exposes your immune system to small amounts of the allergen which is thought to educate or sensitize your immune system to be less reactive. This study found that local honey decreased the need for antihistamines by 50% (2).
Increase probiotic rich food: If you haven’t figured it out already, I’m a firm believer in the importance of a healthy gut and microbiome (the organisms that live in, on and around us). The benefits of having a probiotic rich diet are enormous. This meta-analysis found that probiotics significantly lowered allergic rhinitis symptoms (3). My favorite sources of probiotic rich foods are fermented foods. These include sauerkraut, kimchi, etc. You need to buy these in the refrigerated section of the grocery store (not the shelf-stable kind), and they should say ‘raw fermented’ on the label. You can also make it yourself. Have at least three forkfuls per day. Other probiotic foods include kombucha and cultured dairy (e.g. yogurt, kefir, etc.).
Prebiotic foods: remember these? Prebiotics are essentially fibers that feed our probiotics and keep them healthy. These include starchy root vegetables (sweet potatoes, turnips, parsnips, beets), winter squash (kabocha, butternut, acorn, etc.) and plantains. I talk more about prebiotics in this post.
Load up on antioxidants: Antioxidants reduce inflammation and stabilize the immune system. A simple way to think about it is that antioxidants are what make fruits and vegetables vibrantly colored. Some of my favorites are turmeric (link) and green tea.
Try to cut out dairy: it increases mucus production which can exacerbate allergies.
Food sensitivities: if you have bad seasonal allergies consider getting tested for food sensitivities or do an elimination diet. You could be eating something that is creating chronic low-grade inflammation in your digestive tract and keeping your immune system on high alarm.
Neti pot: most people who suffer from allergies experience a lot of sinus/nasal symptoms. These include a runny nose, sneezing, itching and post nasal drip. This is because the allergen (pollen, pet dander, mold, etc.) is breathed in and then is logged in the sinus passages where it comes into contact with mast cells. The neti pot can be really effective for allergies because you are essentially washing away allergens. The saline solution also helps reduce inflammation. It’s best to use the neti pot at the end of the day. For severe allergies, try using it morning and night.
Nettle leaf (not nettle root): this can be taken in tea, tincture or capsules. I like Traditional Medicinals brand teas and you can find it at most grocery stores. If you’re going to drink the tea, have at least 3 cups per day to achieve a therapeutic dose.
Quercetin: This is a plant-derived antioxidant called a flavonoid. It stabilizes mast cells so that they don’t release histamine. 500-800mg 2-3 x per day.
Bromelain: This is an enzyme found in pineapple. It is anti-inflammatory and can therefore help relieve allergy symptoms. Quercetin and bromelain work synergistically and are often founds together in formulas. This one is effective and affordable.
Vitamin C: has antihistamine properties. Most people can tolerate 1-5 grams of vitamin C per day. Doses above this can cause digestive upset. I like this one because it’s derived from a whole food source and has additional antioxidants.
NAC (N-Acetyl-Cysteine): This is an amino acid (protein building block) that reduces the viscosity of mucus. It also increases the antioxidant glutathione. 600-900 mg 1-2 x per day is a common dose.
If you’re doing everything right and nothing is helping, here are some things to consider asking your naturopathic / functional medicine practitioner to test for:
Gut dysbiosis or SIBO
HPA axis dysfunction (adrenal fatigue)
Do you have tips for combating allergies naturally? Share below!