The lowdown on allergies and seeking relief
As spring approaches, you may be tempted to stop and smell the flowers, or perhaps even take in a deep breath of fresh air. However, if you are one of the 50 million Americans affected by allergies, this might be the last thing you want to do (1). The number of people living in the United States with seasonal allergies is steadily increasing, with about 30% of adults and 40% of children complaining of allergy symptoms (1). For some, allergies pose a year-round war, with spring being the ultimate battle for sufferers. As allergy season approaches, equipping your customers with natural relief options and prevention tips can make all the difference between enjoying the season or spending it sneezing.
What Are Allergies?
To combat the effects of allergies, it is important to understand how they work and why these attacks occur in the first place. An allergic reaction happens when the body detects foreign particles, or allergens, as a threat and overreacts to their presence. This overreaction causes the mast cells that exist in various tissues in the body like bronchial and nasal passages to produce histamines, which are the main culprits behind most allergic conditions.
Allergies are often referred to as inflammatory conditions. When your immune system detects foreign particles in the bloodstream, your immune system responds with an “attack” to fight off the invader. The trouble occurs when the foreign invader goes through a response called molecular mimicry (2). This means that the foreign invader mimics another structure in your body such as your thyroid, knee or any other region of the body in an attempt to go unnoticed by your immune system and avoid being attacked. However, your immune system recognizes the process and still launches an attack against the foreign invader.
Unfortunately, due to the foreign invader mimicking another region in your body, your immune system cannot distinguish the difference between the foreign invader and the structure that is mimicking so it also launches an attack against whatever region is being mimicked. This results in systemic inflammation and is believed to be a major contributor to allergies, as well as autoimmune diseases (2).
What Are Your Options?
Seeking relief from occasional seasonal coughing, congestion and overall discomfort that occur during allergy season is natural, so why not use holistic approaches to fighting off allergies? Conventional drugs can cause life-interrupting side effects such as drowsiness and mental fog, so looking to more natural alternatives may be just what the doctor ordered. Speaking of doctors, be sure to urge your customers to consult a healthcare professional before implementing any kind of supplemental routine.
As with all supplementation, make sure to always source the highest quality supplements possible to receive the full benefits. For example, when sourcing spirulina, a raw, freeze-dried powder will be more bioavailable and have more benefits. When it comes to all things honey (including bee pollen and royal jelly), try to get local, raw and high-quality sources to achieve greater results and more nutrients.
Butterbur. Butterbur has been found in studies to have the same effect as cetirizine, an anti-histaminic ingredient found in the drug Zyrtec, minus the drowsiness (3). However, if you are allergic to ragweed, butterbur might actually cause an allergic reaction due to their relation to one another (4). It is important to know your allergen status with both ragweed and butterbur.
Probiotics. According to research, probiotics show significant promise in supporting those with seasonal allergies. While further studies must be done to determine which exact strands of bacteria are beneficial for treating allergies, certain strands have already shown promise. The L. casei strand, for example, was shown in one study to reduce the number of allergic episodes in 64 preschool children who had allergies (5). In another study, probiotic supplementation resulted in a significant reduction of the allergy/immune response biomarkers TNF-a, IFN-g, IL-12 and IL-13 (5). With all of the other well-known health benefits that probiotics offer, it is worthwhile to add them one’s supplement regimen even though clinical data on their benefit for allergy support is ongoing.
Stinging nettle. Stinging nettle functions as a natural anti-histamine and reduces the functioning of allergy-aggravating histamines. Research indicates that several pro-inflammatory allergy-related reactions are reduced upon supplementation with stinging nettle. The University of Maryland Medical Center says some evidence suggests stinging nettle supports and increases the benefits of nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, or NSAIDs, which are used to reduce inflammatory responses (6).
Seeing as allergies are directly related to inflammation, easing inflammation is a key factor in supporting those with allergy symptoms. One small human trial found nettle helped reduce sneezing and itching in those with hay fever, and in another trial, 57% of individuals said nettle was effective in relieving their allergies, with 48% saying that nettles were more effective than their allergy medications (6). Stinging nettle can be most frequently found in the forms of freeze dried powder, tea leaves, and capsules.
Quercetin. In one study, quercetin demonstrated anti-inflammatory and anti-histamine effects, even to cells that were anti-histamine resistant (7). Furthermore, the study found that quercetin is more beneficial at inhibiting pro-inflammatory cytokines than Cromolyn (an anti-inflammatory medication commonly used for allergy relief). It is recommended that quercetin be taken in an enteric-coated form to be most effective (7).
Spirulina. This blue green algae has recently gained popularity for its many health benefits. One of these health benefits comes in the form of allergy relief. In a randomized double-blind crossover study, spirulina was shown to modulate cytokine production (8). Cytokines are a group of small proteins that modulate immune responses in our bodies. The study showed that spirulina had the most beneficial cytokine modulation at a dose of 2,000 mg/day and had a 34% decrease in a key biomarker responsible for allergy/immune responses. Meanwhile, the placebo group had no improvement in their biomarkers (8). Spirulina can be found in the form of a raw freeze-dried powder, tablets, capsules and even in some nutrition bars and snacks.
Camu camu. Residing in the Amazon rainforest, this powerful superfruit has the most vitamin C of any known substance (9). Being a known immune system supporter, supplementing with camu camu is sure to leave shoppers well prepared for allergy season on the vitamin C front. In fact, studies show that camu has about 30–50 times more vitamin C than oranges (9).
Pycnogenol. Pycnogenol (extracted from French maritime pine bark) was also studied for its allergy-support properties. A double-blind placebo-controlled study showed that Pycnogenol supplementation can improve allergy symptoms when started at least five weeks before allergy season (10). Subjects who received Pycnogenol five to eight weeks before allergy season exhibited 35% less eye allergy symptoms and 20% less nasal allergy symptoms. Those who showed the greatest reduction in allergy symptoms were individuals that began Pycnogenol supplementation seven to eight weeks prior to the allergy season (10).
Omega-3s. Fish oil is well known for its anti-inflammatory effects. Due to our modern diets being much higher in omega-6 (pro inflammatory) than omega- 3 (anti-inflammatory), we are becoming more susceptible to inflammatory-related conditions, including allergies. A healthy ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 in our diets is 3:1 respectively. Research shows that modern Western diets provide a ratio of about 17:1. Taking omega-3 supplements in the form of fish oil can help balance out the ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 and prevent the onset of inflammatory conditions. One study showed that a ratio of 10 omega-6s to 1 omega-3 had negative effects on asthma, whereas a ratio of 5 omega-6s to 1 omega-3 showed in asthma symptoms (11).
Neti pot. A popular way to relieve allergy symptoms is through the use of a neti pot. It works by flushing out the allergens responsible for irritating the sinuses like pollen (12). Some companies sell solutions with xylitol in them to support respiratory health and prevent bacterial adhesion.
Honey. Research shows that local honey may be a good additional treatment for allergies. A randomized placebo-controlled study done back in 2011 found that honey provides long lasting allergy relief. This could be a result of the anti-histamines naturally found in bee pollen (13).
Hot pepper. Lovers of spice are in luck! Acting as natural decongestants, hot peppers and other foods like horseradish can provide natural nasal allergy relief due to the presence of capsaicin (12). WF
Published in WholeFoods Magazine March 2016
1. Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America, “Allergy Research.” http://www.aaaai.org/about-the-aaaai/newsroom/allergy-statistics.aspx, accessed January 26, 2016.
2. Aster, R. “Molecular mimicry and immune thrombocytopenia.” http://www.bloodjournal.org/content/113/17/3887?sso-checked=true, accessed January 29, 2016.
3. L. Keiley, “6 Natural Allergy Remedies.” http://www.motherearthnews.com/natural-health/natural-allergy-remedies-zmaz06aszraw.aspx, accessed January 26, 2016.
4. R. Morgan Griffin, WebMD, “Natural Allergy Remedies.” http://www.webmd.com/vitamins-and-supplements/lifestyle-guide-11/allergies-allergy, accessed January 26, 2016.
5. G. Yang, Z. Liu, and P.Yang, “Treatment of Allergic Rhinitis with Probiotics: An Alternative Approach,” http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3784923/, accessed January 29, 2016.
6. S.D. Ehrlich, NMD, “Stinging nettle,” https://umm.edu/health/medical/altmed/herb/stinging-nettle, accessed January 29, 2016.
7. Z. Weng, B. Zhang, S. Asadi, et al, “Quercetin Is More Effective than Cromolyn in Blocking Human Mast Cell Cytokine Release and Inhibits Contact Dermatitis and Photosensitivity in Humans,” 2012 Mar 28. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0033805, http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3314669/ accessed January 28, 2016.
8. T.K. Mao, J. Van de Water, M.E. Gershwin, “Effects of a Spirulina-based dietary supplement on cytokine production from allergic rhinitis patients.” J Med Food. 2005 Spring;8(1):27-30, http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15857205, accessed January 29, 2016.
9. E. Renter, “Camu Camu Benefits: The Fruit with 30x More Vitamin C than an Orange.” http://naturalsociety.com/camu-camu-berry-benefits-vitamin-c-health-gem, accessed January 29, 2016.
10. D. Wilson, M. Evans, et al, “A randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled exploratory study to evaluate the potential of pycnogenol for improving allergic rhinitis symptoms.” http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20549654, accessed January 28, 2016.
11. Wall R., Ross R.P. et al, “Fatty acids from fish: the anti-inflammatory potential of long-chain omega-3 fatty acids.” http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20500789, accessed January 29, 2016.
12. Mercola, “Tips for Surviving Spring Allergy Season.” http://articles.mercola.com/sites/articles/archive/2015/04/20/surviving-spring-allergies.aspx, accessed January 26,
13. Asha'ari ZA, Ahmad MZ, et al, “Ingestion of honey improves the symptoms of allergic rhinitis: evidence from a randomized placebo-controlled trial in the East coast of Peninsular Malaysia.” http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24188941, accessed January 29, 2016.