Sure, April showers bring May flowers, but with the pretty botanicals in full bloom also come pollen, dust, mold, dander and all sorts of other allergens. And for many who suffer from allergies, this isn’t something that is only worrisome during the springtime. Typically allergies flare up with the changing of any season, or simply when a person who suffers from allergies is exposed to the environmental properties that they are allergic to.
An allergic reaction is caused by the immune system’s over reaction to a foreign, yet otherwise harmless substance, be it pollen or any other type of allergen that a person comes in contact with through inhalation, ingestion or touch. With environmental allergies, the most common symptoms include sneezing, congestion and itchy eyes, ears and throat. For more severe allergic reactions though, symptoms can include hives/rashes, shortness of breath, asthma attacks and low blood pressure.
There is no long-term cure for allergies. While this can be particularly troubling for the 50 million Americans who suffer from allergies — 30% of which are adults and 40% are children — there are plenty of herbal remedies and management options that go beyond the typical over-the-counter antihistamine (1). In fact, like allergy medicine, some supplements can help by blocking the chemical reactions that result in allergy symptoms, while some can strengthen the immune system to suppress reactions altogether.
Why are natural alternatives for allergy relief gaining popularity over OTC options?
This question can be answered with two simple yet loaded words: side effects. According to Hank Cheatham, vice president, marketing and sales, Daiwa Health Development Inc., Gardena CA, the benefits of natural alternatives are providing symptomatic relief from allergies without the unwanted side effects. He points to various over-the-counter (OTC) antihistamines such as Claritin and Flonase, which are popular go-to remedies, noting that these types of medications not only provide temporary relief from allergy symptoms, but can also bring on a host of unwanted side effects such as dry mouth, dizziness, grogginess, jitteriness, mental fog and nausea. “In scientific research, both clinical and case studies completed at Beth Israel Deaconess, the following side effects were also confirmed: low libido, increased appetite, alteration of taste and smell, infertility in women, anxiety and impairment of thinking,” he further points out. Side effects like these can leave allergy sufferers feeling worse from the aftermath of the supposed relief medication than from the allergy symptoms themselves.
Josée Fortin N.D., A.Vogel spokesperson and naturopath, Bioforce USA, Ghent, NY, points to additional possible side effects from medical solutions, such as digestive disturbances, thinning of the skin and nasal congestion, explaining that OTC medicines don’t permanently treat the issue, but just temporarily suppresses the symptoms as the OTC pills have the ability to “block natural responses of the body without solving the issue…so people need to keep taking them to have some relief.” Supplements, on the other hand, he says, help the immune system to stop “overreacting to substances that should be harmless for all.”
According to Fortin, a good allergy supplement should help your body in its effort to react normally to pollens, animal dandruff, dust, mold and other allergens, so that over time the person would need to take less and less of the supplement to keep allergy symptoms under control, and in some cases not need it at all.
Mike Hooper, brand manager, Xlear, American Fork, UT, meanwhile, sheds some light on a couple of side effects that most consumers don’t necessarily anticipate. “OTC drugs can also cause what is known as a rebound, where once the medicine wears off the congestion comes back worse that it was before,” he says. Hooper also points out that some OTC nasal sprays can cause dependency, while other OTC drugs have a specific dosage which cannot be exceeded. This is problematic for allergy sufferers whose symptoms haven’t subsided when using the instructed dosage.
While supplements don’t have side effects the way medicines do, some people may still be more reactive than others when introducing something new to their routine. As an example Fortin points to situations in which these types of consumers start taking supplements in an acute phase, and thus begin to experience aggravation of symptoms if they have been too “aggressive” with the dosage amount with the supplement, but if they simply reduce the dose in those situations, the symptoms start improving instead. For this he advises “they should always start any supplement gently to allow their body to adjust,” because “natural supplements help the body in its effort to heal and reestablish natural functions. They are gentle and respect the natural processes of the body; a lot less interactions to medications and safer for more people, including children, pregnant women, breastfeeding women.”
How do natural alternatives support symptoms and build resistance to seasonal/environmental allergies?
Blocking the very activators of allergy symptoms is the way, according to Cheryl Myers, chief of scientific affairs and education, EuroPharma, Inc., Green Bay, WI, who also suggests using a natural alternative to conventional nasal sprays, to prevent possible dependency, among other things. She recommends FastBlock Allergy Relief, a fine-powder nasal spray that blocks the allergen receptors in nasal passages. “Unlike liquid nasal sprays, it is not a steroid medicine, it doesn’t cause side effects, and it is not habit-forming. It just stops the allergies where they start. And you can use it for stopping the effects of dust, pet dander, pollen, or any other airborne allergens,” she says. Myers compares using FastBlock, which is clinically proven to reduce sneezing, itchy and running nose and congestion, to wearing a surgical mask — inside your nose. Myers also notes that it is recognized by the FDA as a medical device and is approved for children as young as 18 months old.
For nasal congestion, Hooper also recommends Xlear’s patented xylitol saline solution that is “safely hypertonic” as it has 11% particulate rather than .9% (which he says is what most saline solutions have). “The high tonicity allows the solution to draw extra moisture out of swollen nasal tissues. With this added moisture coming from the cell surface, the mucus more readily thins out and can more easily carry the allergens out of the body.” Robinson explains.
The combination of a natural anti-inflammatory, a natural antihistamine and additional herbal oils that support the respiratory system — with no side effects — is the key.
For respiratory support, Myers recommends an extract of boswellia (Boswellia serrata) that has naturally-enhanced levels of acetyl-11-keto-B-boswellic acid (AKBA), which according to Myers, is one of its most powerful components, for 5-LOX reduction, “which is something that even other strong botanicals can’t match” and histamine-inhibiting action. EuroPharma’s formulation (BosMed Respiratory Support) also contains other botanical oils, including; ravintsara, thyme, and myrtle. “It may surprise people who think that over-the-counter drugs are the only answer that boswellia is a powerful anti-inflammatory that can also inhibit the action of mast cells and reduce histamine levels, making it a perfect botanical for reducing sinus pressure, swelling, and the reactions that typify seasonal allergic reactions,” she says. The combination of a natural anti-inflammatory, a natural antihistamine and additional herbal oils that support the respiratory system — with no side effects — is the key, according to Myers, and because of this, she also predicts that boswellia will become increasingly popular in years to come for allergy relief.
Larry Robinson, Ph.D., VP of scientific affairs, Embria Health, Ankeny, IA, suggests taking a supplement that strengthens the body’s overall immune and digestive symptoms, such as EpiCor, a whole food fermentate rich in metabolites. Robinson points to a human clinical trial conducted in the spring, with subjects susceptible to pollen, and says “EpiCor was shown to be a safe and natural way to help reduce nasal discomfort, especially when pollen counts are high” (3).
According to Cheatham, the best allergy relief is prevention, and for this he recommends rice bran, krill oil and allergy fighting foods. That’s right, a daily dietary supplement might be all that shoppers need for allergy support while eliminating all the added baggage that comes along with OTC pills.
Rice bran Arabinoxylan Compound (RBAC), the proprietary active ingredient in PeakImmune4, for example, is derived from rice bran modified by the enzyme of shiitake mushroom. According to Cheatham, RBAC has been shown in scientific research to “enhance the immune response and contains anti-inflammatory properties to suppress allergic reactions…[it] is also a natural immune modulator and will not over stimulate the immune system but guide it to the optimal level.” This is because RBAC has the ability to minimize the symptoms of allergies. It does so, Cheatham explains, because of its anti-inflammatory properties and by “suppressing the degranulation of mast cells, the storehouse of histamine,” which produces allergy symptoms.
Because krill oil is high in omega-3s, a krill oil supplement can also support allergy symptom relief, as omega-3’s essential fatty acids produce anti-inflammatory properties. For this same reason Cheatham also recommends allergy fighting foods rich in omega-3s such as cold-water fish, walnuts, grass-fed meat and eggs. He points to a German study, published in the journal Allergy, “which found that participants who ate foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids were less likely to suffer allergy symptoms than those who didn’t regularly eat these foods.”
Sky Garmon, marketing associate, Jarrow Formulas Inc., Los Angeles, CA, recommends probiotics as an aid to build the immune system and in turn fight off allergens. According to Garmon, Jarrow Formulas selection of products feature two with potential allergy application, Bromelain and N-A-C Sustain, both supporting the response to inflammation of the sinus cavities associated with allergies. In addition to treating allergy symptoms, Garmon advises that Jarrow Formulas aims to reduce exposure to allergens within the products themselves. “Jarro-Dophilus Allergen Free, is a probiotic supplement composed of six well-characterized, allergen-free probiotic strains that help support intestinal health and immune response. Allergen-Free Jarro-Dophilus AF is manufactured (fermented and processed) without the use of any of the known major food allergens, such as dairy and soy, and is especially appropriate for individuals with hypersensitivities to common food allergens.”
“One thing that most people don’t realize is that the digestive system may be a key player in reducing seasonal and environmental health challenges,” says Robinson. He explains this is because the immune system determines how seasonal or environment challenges affect you. The link between the immune and digestive system is one that is continuously explored, but he points to secretory IgA, the key immune antibody of our mucosa —which lines the surfaces of tissues from our nasal cavity through our entire digestive system. “It’s easy to make the connection that when we support our gut we’re supporting our immune system as well.” According to Robinson, various human clinical studies support EpiCor’s proven immune strengthening benefits including “increasing sIgA antibodies, white killer cell activity (NK Cell) and antioxidant power while also boosting beneficial bacterial levels in the gut,”(3).
According to Fortin, another functional alternative is a homeopathic remedy specifically to aid with sneezing, itchy nose and burning eyes by A. Vogel called Allergy Relief. Fortin says that what sets this homeopathic option apart from the others is its very concept, “instead of targeting only allergic symptoms, it actually eliminates the toxins that overload the immune system during allergies.” Therefore, not only will it helps relieve those symptoms, it also helps to normalize the immune systems response and can also aid with a broader range of allergies. According to Fortin, studies have shown that “88.5% of those using the product observe a net improvement in their allergy symptoms.” Fortin recommends a consumer to begin taking Allergy Relief at least one month before the usual onset of symptoms and adjust the dosage according to the intensity of symptoms. For example, if starting the supplement during full allergy symptoms, then one should start with a maximum of three times a day — to minimize any possibility of adverse reaction — for a few days. After this, one can increase the frequency as needed.
Many of us have been conditioned to think that allergies and OTC medicines have a give and take relationship of sorts. They can give us temporary alleviation from symptoms, but we have to take the side effects in exchange. The takeaway for your consumers should really be that natural supplements are able to provide allergy support without having to still deal with any form of discomfort.
Natural Relief Beyond Supplements
For allergy sufferers, it may take some time for the effects of supplements to kick in and alleviate symptoms. Because of this many look for complimentary treatments to provide additional (and faster) support. The neti pot has been a popular go-to for years as it is an effective was to irrigate congestion from the sinuses. The same is the case for natural nasal sprays, which essentially serve the same function. A neti pot, which Cheatham describes as “an ancient remedy like Aladdin’s lamp” is usually filled with a salt or saline rinse. The spout is placed in one nostril, slowly pouring the solution through the nose, so that it flushes the nose, and the solution comes out of the other nostril. Hooper calls this a good way to alleviate allergy symptoms, while “washing away” allergens from the nose. “Using such practices and products give relief without side effects, dependency, or other problems.” he explains.
Cheatham recommends attacking allergens using duel pronged approach for better results. “[First] breathing the vapers from a neti pot or nasal spray and [secondly] taking an immune enhancing supplement which will provide anti-inflammatory properties and enhance the immune response, specifically from the white blood cells.”
Natural supplements help the body in its effort to heal and reestablish natural functions. They are gentle and respect the natural processes of the body.
– Josée Fortin N.D., A.Vogel spokesperson and Naturopath, Bioforce USA
Hooper meanwhile points to rinse bottles as another option that is gaining traction, specifically because of its positive pressure system which “allows the person to squeeze the bottle and push the saline through the sinuses, rather than letting gravity propel it through the sinuses. The rinse bottle gives more control to the person during sinus irrigation.” Hooper also points out that allergies can cause sinus infections and other upper respiratory problems. “Generally, patients want fast relief and expect their doctors to give a prescription for antibiotics or other medication. But the CDC has asked to slow the prescribing of antibiotics due to the threat of superbugs. In fact, in January of 2016, the CDC recommended sinus irrigation as a front-line therapy instead of antibiotics.”
Myers recommends some simple alternatives that can further help allergy sufferers get through allergy season:
Keep indoor air clean. An air purifier is a great resource to help remove dust and pollen from the home. Also, making sure to wipe off pets with a towel when they come inside, and encouraging everyone to take off their shoes upon entering the house. These three tips can help reduce the amount of allergens tracked inside the home and therefore maintain the indoor air.
Stay away from smoke. Whether that means secondhand tobacco smoke, grills or campfires, keeping a distance from lung irritants is a must for anyone dealing with allergies. Smoke is an inflammatory burden, and can be the very thing that starts a sneezing fit or encourages other reactions.
On high-pollen days, stay inside when possible. It can be tough to avoid the great weather that usually accompanies allergy season, but on high-pollen count days, it’s probably the path to take as it will reduce allergy symptoms.
Stay away from inflammation-causing foods. It might seem odd to mention foods in relation to environmental allergies, but the fact is some foods cause inflammation throughout the body. In fact, some people may already have noticed more sinus problems like a stuffy or runny nose after eating processed, fried, or sugary meals. That’s because the conditions they cause are literally affecting them where they breathe.
Overall Immune System
In addition to taking the right supplements and utilizing the appropriate complimentary treatments for allergy symptoms, it is also just as important as an allergy sufferer to think ahead and boost their immune system before symptoms begin. “When suffering from allergies, it is particularly important to eat a lot of brightly colored fruits and vegetables that are rich in vitamin C and bioflavonoids,” advises Fortin. He recommends quercitin, a type of bioflavonoid, which is particularly known for its positive impact on allergies as it inhibits the release of histamine by basophils and mast cells. As for foods, he points to capers, onions, as well as dark red, blue and dark green fruits and vegetables as they are particularly rich in quercetin. He explains, “The form found in food is much more stable as long as they are raw or slightly cooked.” Supporting the liver is equally as important he points out, as it can reduce the intensity of allergies since “it is the one that will break down the allergen-antibodies complexes and diminish the intensity of the allergic reaction by flushing out histamine.”
Myers brings up an important point. “It’s important for formulators of dietary supplements looking to develop a springtime support product to carefully review the science. In particular, you need a clinical trial with adequate numbers of subjects. Secondly, especially regarding pollen support products, it’s important that the subjects actually be tested as being sensitive to pollen (self-diagnosis is notoriously inaccurate). Third, make sure that the pollen counts are tracked during the study. This is important because symptoms of allergic response are so similar to cold symptoms.” WF
- American College of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology. Allergy Facts.http://acaai.org/news/facts-statistics/allergies, accessed Mar. 6 2017.
- Significantly Reduced Allergy Symptoms, https://www.embriahealth.com/products/epicor/research/human-clinical-trials/summary-of-human-clinical-trials/, accessed Mar. 6, 2017.
Published in WholeFoods Magazine April 2017