Naturopathic Approaches to Allergies
The warm weather does not only signal that summer is here, but that the pollen is too! Allergy sufferers worldwide understand this love-hate relationship with summer. Natural allergy relief was one thing that attracted me to the naturopathic profession, as I myself, found a vast improvement after changing my approach to allergies.
Before we get into what we can do about allergies let’s have a closer look at what is actually going on in the body. Pollen is recognized by your body as a foreign antigen (invader), causing the immune system to recruit mast cells (defenders) that gobble up the antigen and release histamine. Histamine leads to even more blood flow attracted to that area where the pollen is (ex. nose, eyes, throat), creating congestion, itchiness and an ongoing allergy cycle. Pharmaceutical antihistamines are targeted at preventing this cycle from getting out of control. Research shows that there are naturally occurring plant compounds that have anti-histamine effects.
Like medical doctors, Naturopathic doctors like to first do no harm. This means to start with the basics such as: closing windows to avoid pollen buildup, using HEPA/air purifier filters and frequent washing of bedding just to name a few (1). Other basic "anti-allergy strategies" begin with a healthy diet high in antioxidant-rich and anti-inflammatory foods. This isn't anything elaborate, but goes back to eating large servings of fruits and vegetables, choosing more lean proteins/fish over processed meats, healthy fats (avocado, coconut oil, olive oil, fish oil), and spices like turmeric and ginger that target inflammation. Packaged foods with high fat and sugar promote more congestion and inflammation, leading to more allergy symptoms - so try reducing processed foods and sugars when possible. Stress reduction helps the body better tolerate excess antigens (the pollen "invaders"), allowing your body to have less of an immune response. So try some yoga, meditation or going for walks to help promote healthy breathing and aid in relaxation.
On top of these basic lifestyle strategies, there quite a few herbs and supplements used in a Naturopath's tool box. Quercetin, Vitamin C and Nettle are used quite commonly during allergy season. In addition to using these (and other) natural allergy treatments, targeting the body's adrenal glands, which an herb such as Astragalus, can help both boost immune health and reduce the body's cortisol (stress response).
NATUROPATHIC ALLERGY TREATMENTS
This compound is a flavonoid (plant antioxidant) that has been shown to have anti-allergy effects in studies (2). Foods that are high in quercetin are: capers, onions, apples and dark red or blue berries .
2. Vitamin C
Absorbic acid, the active constituent in Vitamin C, was found to reduce histamine concentrations in the blood of patients with allergic diseases (3) . Vitamin C is found in a plethora of foods like: bell peppers, dark leafy greens, broccoli, and citrus fruits.
This plant called “stinging needle” due to its small spikes, has many uses, and has shown promise in allergy reduction. A study found that Nettle was an antagonist of Histamine receptors (basically inhibiting the receptor stimulation), and inhibited pro-inflammatory pathways (4). Nettle tea can be purchased at most grocery stores. Just don’t go and pick them out in the wild unless you know how to handle them because they will sting you!
Astragalus is a Chinese herb, that is often used in herbal formulas. This herb targets the immune, respiratory system and adrenal glands. In Traditional Chinese medicine, it is used to tonify “Lung Qi”, in combination with acupuncture points that control the respiratory system. Longterm stress, which may cause adrenal fatigue, can also worsen allergy symptoms.
Often times, immune responses can originate in the gut - so looking into how to support this through diet and probiotics can also help reduce symptoms.
Do you suffer from allergies or know someone that does? I’d love to tell you more about how naturopathic medicine can help with allergy relief. Acupuncture, other herbal remedies and eliminating food sensitivities can also help manage and reduce allergy symptoms.
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2. The role of quercetin, flavonols and flavones in modulating inflammatory cell function.
3. Intravenous infusion of ascorbic acid decreases serum histamine concentrations in patients with allergic and non-allergic diseases.
4. Nettle extract (Urtica dioica) affects key receptors and enzymes associated with allergic rhinitis.