As the days get longer and warmer, the pollen counts begin to rise across the country. Runny noses, itchy eyes, sneezing, postnasal drip and coughs are the most common allergy symptoms and, boy, can they make life miserable! With my patients and my family, I like to work on balancing the immune system all year, not just during allergy season. Decreasing inflammation through diet and gut health is a great way to address immune balance throughout the year.
While it’s always the best bet to work on immune balance year-round, there are plenty of natural things that can help beat those allergy symptoms when they hit:
- Nettles has been used for allergies for centuries. In a study of 69 allergy sufferers, 57% of patients rated nettles as effective in relieving allergic runny nose, and 48% said that nettles was more effective than allergy medications they had used previously after one week of use. (1) Researchers think that may be due to nettle’s ability to reduce the amount of histamine the body produces in response to an allergen. (2)
“A nettle (Urtica dioica) extract shows in vitro inhibition of several key inflammatory events that cause the symptoms of seasonal allergies. These include the antagonist and negative agonist activity against the Histamine-1 (H(1)) receptor and the inhibition of mast cell tryptase preventing degranulation and release of a host of pro-inflammatory mediators that cause the symptoms of hay fevers. The nettle extract also inhibits prostaglandin formation through inhibition of Cyclooxygenase-1 (COX-1), Cyclooxygenase-2 (COX-2), and Hematopoietic Prostaglandin D(2) synthase (HPGDS), central enzymes in pro-inflammatory pathways.”
- Vitamin C acts as a natural antihistamine as it inhibits the release of histamine from white blood cells. Vitamin C acts as a natural anti-histamine. (3) In a study from 2004, intranasal vitamin C solution was compared to placebo for allergic rhinitis (runny nose from allergies). After two weeks, 74 percent of the intranasal vitamin C users experienced a decrease in nasal secretions, blockage and swelling compared to the 24 percent improvement in the placebo group. (4) A more recent study from 2013 showed that children aged 6-12 years old experienced less allergic symptoms with increased vitamin C consumption. (5)
- Quercetin is a flavonoid that is abundant in plants and has several anti-inflammatory actions. Quercetin inhibits cyclooxygenase and lipoxygenase which decreases the leukotrienes and prostaglandins associated with allergic symptoms. Quercetin also promotes mast cell stabilization which inhibits the release of histamine. (6-8) In a study from Japan, quercetin significantly inhibited histamine release in individuals with seasonal allergic rhinitis. Researchers found that quercetin’s effect was almost twice that of sodium cromoglicate at the same concentration. (9) Quercetin is highest in capers, onions and elderberry. “Quercetin is known for its antioxidant activity in radical scavenging and anti-allergic properties characterized by stimulation of immune system, antiviral activity, inhibition of histamine release, decrease in pro-inflammatory cytokines, leukotrienes creation, and suppresses interleukin IL-4 production. It can improve the Th1/Th2 balance, and restrain antigen-specific IgE antibody formation. It is also effective in the inhibition of enzymes such as lipoxygenase, eosinophil and peroxidase and the suppression of inflammatory mediators.”
- I often recommend local honey for short and long term seasonal allergy control. A recent study from 2013 showed that honey ingestion resulted in an improvement in an irritated, congested, itchy, or runny nose from seasonal allergies. (10) In a study published in 2011 in theInternational Archives of Allergy and Immunology researchers found that allergy suffers using pre-seasonal birch pollen honey reported a 60 percent lower total symptom score, twice as many asymptomatic days, and 70 percent fewer days with severe symptoms. Pre-seasonal honey users also used 50 percent less antihistamines compared to the control group that took conventional meds. (11)
- Creating a lifestyle that decreases inflammation by optimizing diet, sleep and exercise is also critical to short and long-term allergy prevention. A diet rich in fresh vegetables, fruits and spices help steer the immune system away from allergies. (12) Getting enough omega-3 fatty acids from fish, walnuts, chia or flax seeds also helps tip the immune balance away from allergies. (13) Making sure your diet is rich in probiotics, whether from food or supplements or both, is also a great way to reduce allergy symptoms. (14) Keeping bedding and hair clean as well as using air filters for inside air can also help reduce allergy symptoms.
There are things that can be done to minimize symptoms
Seasonal allergies can be miserable, especially for children, but there are things that can be done to minimize the symptoms of allergies. Talk to your healthcare provider today about whether these ideas might help your child during allergy season.
(1) Mittman P. Randomized, double-blind study of freeze-dried Urtica dioica in the treatment of allergic rhinitis. Planta Med. 1990 Feb;56(1):44-7.
(2) Roschek B Jr, Fink RC, McMichael M, Alberte RS. Nettle extract (Urtica dioica) affects key receptors and enzymes associated with allergic rhinitis. Phytother Res. 2009 Jul;23(7):920-6. doi: 10.1002/ptr.2763.
(3) Hagel AF et al. Intravenous infusion of ascorbic acid decreases serum histamine concentrations in patients with allergic and non-allergic diseases. Naunyn Schmiedebergs Arch Pharmacol. 2013 Sep;386(9):789-793.
(4) Podoshin L, Gertner R, Fradis M.Treatment of perennial allergic rhinitis with ascorbic acid
solution. Ear Nose Throat J 1991;70:54-55.
(5) Seo JH et al. Association of antioxidants with allergic rhinitis in children from Seoul. Allergy Asthma Immunol Res. 2013 Mar;5(2):81-87.
(6) Middleton E, Jr. Effect of plant flavonoids on immune and inflammatory cell function. Adv Exp Med Biol. 1998;439:175-182.
(7) Min YD et al. Quercetin inhibits expression of inflammatory cytokines through attenuation of NF-κB and p38 MAPK in HMC-1 human mast cell line. Inflam Res. 2007;56(5):210-215.
(8) Sakai-Kashiwabara M, Asano K. Inhibitory action of quercetin on eosinophil activation in vitro. Evid Based Complement Alternat Med. 2013;2013:127105.
(9) Mlcek J, Jurikova T, Skrovankova S, Sochor J. Quercetin and Its Anti-Allergic Immune Response. Molecules. 2016 May 12;21(5). pii: E623. doi: 10.3390/molecules21050623.
(10) Asha’ari ZA, Ahmad MZ, Jihan WS, Che CM, Leman I. Ingestion of honey improves the symptoms of allergic rhinitis: evidence from a randomized placebo-controlled trial in the East coast of Peninsular Malaysia. Ann Saudi Med. 2013 Sep-Oct;33(5):469-75. doi: 10.5144/0256-4947.2013.469.
(11) Saarinen K, Jantunen J, Haahtela T. Birch pollen honey for birch pollen allergy–a randomized controlled pilot study. Int Arch Allergy Immunol. 2011;155(2):160-6. doi: 10.1159/000319821. Epub 2010 Dec 23.
(12) Nurmatov U, Devereux G, Sheikh A. Nutrients and foods for the primary prevention of asthma and allergy: systematic review and meta-analysis. J Allergy Clin Immunol. 2011 Mar;127(3):724-33.e1-30. doi: 10.1016/j.jaci.2010.11.001. Epub 2010 Dec 24.
(13) Van den Elsen LWJ, Nusse Y, Balvers M, Redegeid FA, Knol EF, Garssen J, Willemsen LEM. n-3 long-chain PUFA reduce allergy-related mediator release by human mast cells in vitro via inhibition of reactive oxygen species. Br J Nutr. 2013
(14) Park B-K, Park S, Park J-B, Park MC, Min TS, Jin M. Omega-3 fatty acids suppress Th2-associated cytokine gene expressions and GATA transcription factors in mast cells. J Nutr Bioch 2012
(15) Jun Miyata, Makoto Arita. Role of omega-3 fatty acids and their metabolites in asthma and allergic diseases. Allergology International, Volume 64, Issue 1, January 2015, Pages 27-34.
(16) Güvenç I, Muluk N, Mutlu FŞ, Eşki E, Altıntoprak N, Oktemer T, Cingi C. Do probiotics have a role in the treatment of allergic rhinitis? A comprehensive systematic review and meta-analysis. Am J Rhinol Allergy. 2016 Sep 1;30(5):157-175.
Photo by Max Goncharov on Unsplash
Catherine Clinton ND, is a board-licensed naturopathic doctor and graduate of NCNM in Portland, OR. She currently practices at her private clinic in Eugene, OR. Catherine lectures on integrative medicine and gut health and has authored several publications in these areas. During medical school, Catherine was diagnosed with a GI autoimmune disease, which stimulated an special interest in gastrointestinal and immune health. Her own journey to health has helped to inspire her patients as well as her writing. With the birth of her own children, Catherine’s passion extended to the GI and immune health of all children. Catherine’s blog can be found at www.wellfuture.com/blog, or you can follow her at Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/dr.catherineclintonnd/) and Twitter (@DrCatherineND).