How to Relieve Allergies Naturally
By Venus Ramos, MD
In this article:
The change of seasons can sometimes bring more than just a shift in the weather or a transition of colors. For the hundreds of millions of people worldwide who suffer from seasonal allergies, it brings aggravating symptoms like sneezing, stuffy nose, sinus pressure, and watery eyes.
While there are many pharmaceutical remedies lining the aisles of drugstores, natural methods of relieving allergy symptoms do exist. It’s a good idea, however, to first understand the mechanisms of an allergic response. Then, you can create an effective and comprehensive plan to tackle not only the symptoms but also the cause of your allergic reaction.
Allergies occur when the immune system overreacts to a substance that is usually otherwise harmless. The immune system normally protects your body by making antibodies that recognize proteins (called antigens) on viruses, bacteria, and other harmful pathogens. Under ordinary circumstances, many benign substances can enter your body without any problems. When you have allergies, some of these same substances are identified as antigens, signaling your body to produce antibodies. In turn, these antibodies cause certain cells to release histamine and leukotrienes, chemicals that can cause irritating allergy symptoms.
Natural Allergy Symptom Relievers
The following supplements can be effective for relieving allergy symptoms naturally.
EPA and DHA are specific types of omega-3s that are strongly anti-inflammatory. Food sources include grass-fed meat and eggs, as well as krill oil. Given that the standard Western diet has an overabundance of omega-6 fatty acids, supplementing with omega-3s can moderate the immune response and potentially decrease your sensitivity to allergens. Typical dose: 1 to 1.2 grams of EPA and DHA per day.
The antioxidant Quercetin is classified as a flavonoid and is believed to prevent the release of histamine. It is found naturally in plant foods such as berries, black tea, apples (with skin), red onions, and cruciferous vegetables (like broccoli or cauliflower). Quercetin also comes in supplement form. If you are prone to seasonal allergies, supplementation should start a few weeks before spring arrives and plants start to bloom as it takes some time to be effective. Typical dose: 200 to 500 mg, three times daily.
The herb butterbur (Petasites hybridus) has shown good potential for providing relief to seasonal allergy sufferers. Researchers have identified compounds in butterbur that block leukotrienes and histamine from activating allergic reactions. Typical dose: 100 mg daily.
Do not use raw butterbur because it contains pyrrolizidine alkaloids that can be toxic to the liver and kidneys, and perhaps even cause cancer. Commercially available butterbur products have had many of these alkaloids removed.
Avoid this herb if you are allergic to ragweed, daisy, marigold, or chrysanthemum because butterbur belongs to the ragweed family.
Bromelain is a protein-digesting enzyme found in pineapple and is also available as a supplement. It has anti-allergic and anti-inflammatory properties that can help break down mucus and reduce swelling of airway tissues. Typical dose: 500 mg, three times daily.
Commonly known for its ability to boost the immune system, vitamin C is also a natural antihistamine. It appears to inhibit the release of histamine, thereby decreasing nasal swelling and secretions. Typical dose: 2 grams total per day.
The phenols in apple cider vinegar give it antioxidant properties that can support the immune system. Proponents suggest drinking a glass of water with a tablespoon of apple cider vinegar and some fresh lemon juice daily, then rinsing the mouth with water to avoid damage to tooth enamel.
While symptom relief can certainly help you get through allergy season with greater ease and comfort, it’s important to address the root cause of your allergy if you want any kind of long-lasting solution.
Digestive dysfunction can significantly influence the immune system. It’s estimated that 80% of the immune system is located in the gut. If there is some sort of gut imbalance, allergies may arise due to the effect on the body’s immune function. One such imbalance may be that of the microbiome—the collection of microorganisms in the gut.
The microbiome includes “bad” bacteria that can make you sick as well as “good” bacteria that secrete substances that can keep the “bad” bacteria in check. The balance of these bacteria can become disrupted, leading to an overgrowth of “bad” bacteria and potential problems for the immune system.
Taking in more “good” bacteria, also known as probiotics, can help restore the microbiome balance. Probiotics can be added to your diet through foods (like kimchi, yogurt, kombucha, and sauerkraut) or by using a supplement form. Research has demonstrated that people who supplement with probiotics during allergy season have lower levels of the antibodies that trigger symptoms.
Stress has a strong connection to the immune response. When the body is stressed, it releases hormones like cortisol and adrenaline. These same hormones play a role in counteracting allergic responses. When chronically stressed, the body can be overexposed to these hormones, leaving it less able to appropriately combat allergies.
In addition to lifestyle choices like exercise, meditation, and deep breathing, supplementation with adaptogens may help with stress management to optimize immune function. Adaptogen options include ashwagandha, Schisandra, and Arctic root.
Malnutrition can certainly alter immune function. Any time there is immune dysfunction, the body is at greater risk for infections and has increased susceptibility to allergies. Vitamin D is one notable example of a nutrient important to immune function. Vitamin D is a potent immune modulator, bringing various immune cells back into balance so that the immune system functions correctly.
The most natural source of vitamin D is sunlight. But if you’re not getting adequate sunlight exposure, supplementation may be a good solution. The Vitamin D Council advises 5000 IU of vitamin D3 daily for oral supplements. Meanwhile, the Institute of Medicine recommends up to 4000 IU as the dose safe for most adults. What is truly important is to maintain healthy blood levels of vitamin D, which can be checked with a 25-hydroxy vitamin D test. Maintaining a measurement between 50 and 70 ng/ml should provide optimal immune function.