Natural ways to address seasonal allergies.
As the cold weather fades away, we can look forward to longer, warmer days, blooming landscapes and lots of sneezing. Spring is right around the corner, which means seasonal allergies are not too far behind. When customers start coming in with allergy symptoms, such as watery eyes and runny noses, guide them to the supplement aisle for some relief.
When Allergies Attack
The early signs of spring allergies can begin with the very first pollination from trees and flowers. All it takes is a small amount of pollen particles entering the nose to send the immune system into overdrive. The body sees pollen as a foreign invader, and it sends antibodies to attack the particles. This releases histamine into the blood, causing sneezing, itchy eyes and other allergy symptoms.
The words histamine and antihistamine get thrown around often during allergy season. It may get confusing when trying to alleviate some of the symptoms. Histamine is a chemical that is released when the body comes in contact with allergens such as pollen or rag weed. It is the body’s natural defense, acts as an immune system mediator and helps direct the body’s response to the foreign invader (1). Allergy symptoms are the result of this attempt to protect the body.
To help stop miserable allergy symptoms from developing, the body needs an antihistamine to stop histamine’s release and, in turn, the telltale watery eyes, scratchy throat, runny nose and sneezing.
Synthetic antihistamines can cause drowsiness and medicine head, and are found in allergy relief drugs, but there are better ways to tackle allergies. Natural remedies (some that stop histamines without side effects) can provide assistance for allergy sufferers. Suggest one of these supplements the next time a shopper is in need of some allergy comfort.
Vitamins C and E
Found in many fruits and vegetables, vitamin C can work wonders for the body. When taken in supplement form, it can boost the immune system and help fight off possible invaders. Vitamin C has been shown to stimulate both the production and function of leukocytes (white blood cells), especially neutrophils, lymphocytes and phagocytes, which can guard against invaders, such as pollen (2). Up to 10 grams per day (or less, depending on a person’s tolerance levels) may act as a natural antihistamine (3).
Just like vitamin C, vitamin E can also support the immune system. E protects the body from free radicals and alleviates respiratory problems. A study published in The Lancet found that vitamin E inhibits the immunoglobulin e, or IgE, response to allergens. IgE are antibodies found in the skin, lung and mucous membranes. They cause the body to react against foreign substances, such as pollen, fungus and animal dander. IgE antibody levels are often higher in people with allergies (4). In a random sample of 2,633 adults, the study saw that higher concentrations of vitamin E intake were associated with lower serum IgE concentrations and a lower frequency of allergen sensitization.
These findings may explain the beneficial effect of dietary vitamin E on asthma (5). Vitamin E can provide a less severe reaction to allergen-induced wheezing, thus offering benefits for those with asthma and allergies.
Bromelain, a mixture of enzymes that comes from pineapple stems, is said to help with allergy symptoms. According to the University of Maryland, when taking 80–320 mg per day, “bromelain can help reduce cough and nasal mucus associated with sinusitis, and relieve the swelling and inflammation caused by hay fever.” It has also been used to help reduce inflammation after ear, nose and throat surgeries. Depending on the specific condition, a different dosage may be recommended (6).
Quercetin acts like an antihistamine and an anti-inflammatory, and may help protect against heart disease and other conditions. Quercetin can also help stabilize the cells that release histamine in the body and thereby has an anti-inflammatory effect. In lab tests, quercetin prevented immune cells from releasing histamines, leading researchers to believe quercetin may help reduce allergy symptoms. However, additional data is needed (7).
What happens if bromelain and quercetin are taken together? One supplement manufacturer suggests, “quercetin and bromelain are synergistic in suppressing the inflammation of environmental sensitivity reactions, as well as the excessive inflammation that results from bruising and tissue damage from sports injuries, accidents, surgery, etc…Bromelain also enhances the absorption of quercetin” (8).
The connection is also true for the combination of vitamin C and quercetin, as they may have a mutual sparing effect on each other. C inhibits the oxidative degradation of quercetin. Meanwhile, quercetin was also shown to enhance the reduction of dehydroascorbic acid, the oxidized form of ascorbic acid, by glutathione, a detoxifier and the leader of the immune system. “Thus, ascorbate (ASC) and quercetin are mutually supporting factors in dealing with environmental sensitivities” (8).
Magnesium is an anti-stress mineral that may help relax the muscles around the bronchial tubes (providing relief for asthma patients) and is said to be a natural antihistamine. Magnesium promotes healthy lung function by acting as a bronchodilator, helping the bronchial muscles to relax and not spasm. Magnesium deficiency may raise vulnerability to allergies by increasing the release of histamine into the bloodstream, thus ramping up allergic reactivity (9).
A natural gluco polysaccharide derived from a proprietary strain of yeast has much data backing for immune support and allergy relief. In one recent study, a placebo or the branded beta-glucan ingredient (250 mg, Wellmune WGP from Biothera) was given to 48 study participants for a month. Their IgE levels were tested, and self-reported allergy symptoms (during ragweed season) and physical function were measured before and after the trial. Overall, the beta-glucan ingredient reduced total allergy symptoms by 28% and symptom severity by 52%, as well as improving overall physical health and emotional wellbeing compared with the placebo (10).
The Neti Pot
Another alternative to over-the-counter medications for allergy and sinus symptoms is the increasingly popular neti pot. Resembling a tea pot, this device is a nasal irrigator. The pot is filled with a simple saline solution and used to clear the nasal passages by pouring the liquid into one nostril and having it exit the other, taking any bacteria with it. Other solutions are available such as those that incorporate xylitol.
One study compared nasal irrigation to a steroid spray and found it is a good treatment for those with seasonal allergies. The 2008 study included 26 children with signs of allergic rhinitis, or seasonal allergies, who were given a saline irrigation, steroid sprays or both. Among the children who only received the saline irrigation, researchers saw improved symptoms sooner than those who used a steroid spray (11).
While space only allows for a glimpse of what’s available to combat allergy season, here are a few other natural aids that have been linked to allergy relief (12):
• Bee pollen: Full of B-complex vitamins, vitamin C, beta-carotene, calcium and more, bee pollen helps strengthen the immune system. It also functions like a desensitizer against pollen allergies.
• Selenium: An antioxidant that can help decrease sensitivity to airborne allergens.
• B vitamins: Aids the body’s energy production. B5 counteracts the inflammation caused by allergens. B6 acts as an antihistamine. B12 is said to help asthma patients breathe easier.
• Beta-carotene: One of many carotenoids, beta-carotene strengthens the mucous membrane.
• Ginkgo biloba: An antioxidant that helps expel mucous from the lungs.
There is on-going research into how natural remedies and supplements can provide relief to those suffering from seasonal allergies. Vitamins and supplements cannot be said to cure or prevent allergies; however, many feel they are a big help in keeping shoppers feeling their best. WF
1. “What Is a Histamine Reaction?” www.healthguidance.org/entry/14832/1/What-Is-a-Histamine-Reaction.html, accessed Jan. 25, 2013.
2. Linus Pauling Institute, “Vitamin C,” http://lpi.oregonstate.edu/infocenter/vitamins/vitaminC, accessed Jan. 25, 2013.
3. J. Galloway, American Association of Naturopathic Physicians, “Allergies: Natural Solutions,” www.naturopathic.org/content.asp?contentid=36, accessed Jan. 25, 2013.
4. “Immunoglobulin,” www.webmd.com/a-to-z-guides/immunoglobulins, accessed Jan. 25, 2013.
5. A. Fogarty, “Dietary Vitamin E, IgE Concentrations, and Atopy,” The Lancet 356 (9241) 1573–1574 (2000)
6. University of Maryland Medical Center, “Bromelain,” www.umm.edu/altmed/articles/bromelain-000289.htm, accessed Jan. 25, 2013.
7. University of Maryland Medical Center, “Quercetin,” www.umm.edu/altmed/articles/quercetin-000322.htm, accessed Jan. 25, 2013.
8. J. South, “Quercetin, Bromelain and Vitamin C: Environmental Sensitivity-Support and More,” www.vrp.com/inflammation/quercetin-bromelain-and-c-allergy-support-and-more, accessed Jan. 25, 2013.
9. “The Role of Calcium and Magnesium in Asthma,” www.practicalasthma.net/pages/science/calcium_magnes_asthm.htm, accessed Jan. 25, 2013.
10. S.M. Talbott, J.A. Talbott and E. Dingler, “β-Glucan Supplementation, Allergy Symptoms, and Quality of Lifei Self-Described Ragweed Allergy Sufferers,” Food Sci. Nutr. 1 (1), 90–101 (2013).
11. H. Li, et al., “Nasal Saline Irrigation Facilitates Control of Allergic Rhinitis by Topical Steroid in Children,” ORL J Otorhinolaryngol. Relat. Spec. 71 (1), 50–55 (2009).
12. S. Goldfarb, Allergy Relief (Avery, 2000).
Published in WholeFoods Magazine, March 2013