The birds are singing, the flowers are blooming, and ah…ah…ah… choo!
Environmental allergies are also back. When a person is having an allergic response to pollen, it means the cells of their immune system have identified pollen as a pathogen and are releasing antibodies and histamine to help deal with the invader. This makes us feel uncomfortable symptoms like runny nose, watery eyes, itchiness, sneezing, coughing, sinus pain and pressure, and post nasal drip.
Fortunately, naturopathic medicine has quite a few tools in the tool chest for treating allergy symptoms. As with many health conditions, prevention is going to be the most effective. For people with typical functioning immune systems, I recommend a threefold approach with hygienic, food/nutrient, and botanical therapies.
Our first line of protection is to reduce the amount of pollen your body must deal with and provide a place of respite from the allergen. Although we may not think of our homes as places of high pollen count, when we open windows to let in a spring breeze, or have pets and kids running in and out, a surprising amount can collect. Clean and dust your home thoroughly and use a vacuum with a HEPA filter. Check the filters on your HVAC system and change them to a high-efficiency type that screens out pollen. My favorite brand and model is FilterBuy Merv 13. They can be custom sized to fit your system. Wash your bed linens in hot water and change them regularly. Shower before bed to rinse off any pollen particles from your hair, and if pets sleep with you, wipe them down as well to remove pollen from their fur. Avoid any potential respiratory irritants such as the synthetic scents found in perfume, candles, laundry detergent, and dryer sheets.
Foods that have high histamine levels are also best avoided at this time. These include anything cured, fermented, or aged, including some meats, dairy products, alcoholic beverages, soy products, and chocolate. Vitamin C is an important nutrient for metabolizing histamine in the body and can also help the immune system with any lingering spring colds. Some vitamin C rich foods are broccoli, kale, tomatoes, and bell peppers. Magnesium is an important nutrient for keeping bronchi supple and easing breathing during asthmatic responses to allergens. Some magnesium rich foods are leafy greens, avocados, and almonds. Quercetin is a bioflavonoid that helps stabilize mast cells and keeps them from over producing histamine. Food sources of quercetin include red onions, tomatoes, and blue and black berries. Local honey is also a helpful preventative food, but it needs to be consumed consistently year-round to have benefit. It works by helping the immune system build tolerance before allergies really get going.
There are several botanical medicines that help with allergic reactions. Nettle (Urtica dioica) leaf is an effective remedy both for prevention and treatment of allergic symptoms. It works by stablizing mast cells and limiting release of histamine. Turmeric (Curcuma longa) root helps decrease lung inflammation. Green tea (Camellia sinensis) has potent antioxidants that help reduce inflammation as well. Eyebright (Euphrasia officinalis) contains quercetin, and Butterbur (Petasites hybridus) has been found to be as effective as Zyrtec for treatment of allergies. A word of caution with Butterbur: it contains hepatotoxic pyrrolizidine alkaloids and may not be safe for everyone. Check with your doc or make an appointment with me to make sure it’s safe for you before using.
I hope you have found this information helpful! When the weather turns nice most of us want to go outside in it, and allergies can feel so restrictive! In addition to foods and teas, any of these nutrients and herbs can be found in combination supplements that are extremely helpful for preventing and treating allergies. As usual, this blog is for information only, and does not constitute personal medical advice. Please make an appointment if you would like assistance with treating your allergies with nutrient and botanical medicines.
Dr. Tremblay holds degrees in horticulture, plant ecology and ethnomedicine, and a doctorate in naturopathic medicine. Her diverse background and personal experience with chronic disease gives her unique insights and experience in providing naturopathic care for patients. Read more >>