With spring on the horizon, many of us have already started experiencing the dreaded symptoms accompanying seasonal allergies. If you have found yourself going to the pharmacy to purchase decongestants or antihistamines, you might want to consider some natural alternatives instead. And, you just might be surprised by how many of them already reside in your kitchen cabinets!
Antioxidant Fruits and Vegetables: Grape seed extract, which can be found in vitamin or health food stores, has been shown effective. But in your own refrigerator, apples, bananas and onions have anti-inflammatory properties and help to build up your immune system.
Omega-3 Fatty Acids: A German study found that people who ate foods high in Omega-3 fatty acid — like salmon, tuna and walnuts — had the fewest allergies. Omega-3s help fight inflammation and can be found in cold-water fish, walnuts and flaxseed oil, as well as grass-fed meat and eggs. You can also get Omega-3 Fatty Acids in the form of supplements from health food stores or online.
To help keep airways clear when pollen counts are high, add a dash of horseradish, chili peppers or hot mustard to your food — all act as natural, temporary decongestants. It’s also a good idea to avoid foods that you’re slightly allergic to until the air clears. Fighting off allergies can render the body hypersensitive to those foods, causing more severe reactions than usual.
Also, in some people certain foods cross-react with tree pollen and will cause allergy symptoms. Some foods that have been known to cross react with pollen include pears, kiwi, cherries, peaches, nectarines, celery, carrots, parsley, peppers and nuts like hazelnuts, walnuts, and almonds. So, it might be a good idea to lay off these foods during times when pollen is at its peak.
Powerful Herbs & Supplements
Stinging Nettle Leaf
If you decide you need an antihistamine but want a natural option, stinging nettle behaves in much the same way as many of the drugs sold to treat allergies, but without the unwanted side effects of dry mouth and drowsiness. Nettle actually inhibits the body’s ability to produce histamine. It’s a common weed in many parts of the United States, but the most practical medicinal form is a freeze-dried extract of the leaves sold in capsules. Studies have shown that taking about 300 milligrams daily will offer relief for most people, although the effects may last only a few hours. You also can make your own tinctures or teas with stinging nettle.
This substance, which is found in the skin of onions and apples, is a natural antihistamine, says Lynne David, ND, a naturopathic doctor and Chinese medicine practitioner at the Center for Integrative Medicine at the George Washington University Medical Center in Washington, DC. You can take it by itself (300 mg 3 times a day during peak allergy season without food), or in a combination product that includes bromelain (from pineapple; also beneficial for allergies).
Derived from a common weed in Europe, butterbur is another alternative to antihistamines, though it may be hard to find in the United States. In the days before refrigeration, its broad, floppy leaves were used to wrap butter during warm spells, hence the name butterbur. A Swiss study, published in British Journal of Medicine, found that butterbur was as effective as the drug cetirizine, the active ingredient in Zyrtec. Even though cetirizine is supposed to be a nonsedative antihistamine, researchers reported that it did cause drowsiness, though butterbur did not. Participants in the study took 32 milligrams of butterbur a day, divided into four doses. A word of caution though — butterbur is in the same family as ragweed, so it could worsen allergy symptoms in some cases.
You probably associate probiotics—a.k.a. “good” bacteria, like that found in plain yogurt—with digestion, but they also play a role in keeping your immune system well balanced. Since not all strains of probiotics are beneficial for the same thing, try to choose brands that contain Lactobacillus rhamnosus GG, Bifidobacterium lactis and Acidophilus.
All these supplements are relatively safe, but check with your doctor first to make sure they don’t interact with other medications you’re taking (antidepressants and thyroid meds in particular may present a problem).
Homeopathic Techniques and Remedies
Inhaling the steam of essential oils (available at health food stores or online) is a very effective, soothing way to ease the discomfort caused by congestion. Dale Bellisfeld, RN, AHG suggests this approach: fill a saucepan with water and bring to a boil. Turn off the heat, take the pan off the stovetop and add 3 drops eucalyptus essential oil, 3 drops rosemary essential oil, 2 drops myrtle essential oil and 2 drops tea tree essential oil. Tent a bath towel over the saucepan (keep your face just far enough away from the steam to avoid burns) and inhale deeply for 5 to 10 minutes. Repeat 1 to 3 times a day.
Homeopathy uses very diluted amounts of herb and flower essences. The two most effective homeopathic remedies for allergies are: Euphrasia, which is especially good for burning, itchy eyes; and Allium cepa, which is good for a drippy nose. Homeopathic practitioners suggest trying one at a time, rather than together, to see which one works best for you.
Although it’s not exactly clear why, acupuncture may help alleviate allergy symptoms—especially if you start treatment about a month before peak season. Alternative health experts believe that stimulating some of the meridians (channels through which energy flows) helps to temper an overactive immune system that can lead to bad allergy symptoms.
As you can see, most of these alternative natural techniques and methods are easily accessible and non time consuming. What’s more, they tend to have a more powerful, lasting impact on combating allergy symptoms, as they address the root of the issue. So, before you stop off at your local pharmacy, stop by a health food store or go online and try out some stinging nettle, butterbur, probiotics or an Omega-3 Fatty Acid supplement.