Seasonal Support: SOS for Sneezes & Sniffles

Allergies can drop a day right down the drain. Here’s how you can help your customers feel their best.

Ringing in the spring with watery eyes and an itchy nose is the cue for most people to pop an allergy-soothing pill or supplement—and for those who are allergic to dust and dander, that cue comes year-round. It’s therefore vital to stock pure, potent supplements, and those supplements should be easy to take, because they’re competing with one-a-day chewables. Of course, your customers should consult a healthcare provider before starting an anti-allergy regimen, but they may prefer to be educated regarding their options first, and if they decide that a supplement is the best choice, you’ll want to be their go-to source for all things allergies.

First, let’s clear up what allergies actually are. Jason DuBois, PharmD, Founder and COO of Hybrid Remedies, sums it up neatly: “At the heart of seasonal allergies, the root cause is an overreaction of your immune response.” He notes that histamines, rather than being the source of the problem, are the byproducts: “The real secret to solving seasonal allergies is found in your immune system.” HybridAR Rapid Nasal & Sinus Support, he says, is designed to promote healthy histamine levels, support mast cell stability, promote balanced Th1 and Th2 cells, and support a healthy inflammatory response.

More specifically, “Allergies are type I hypersensitivity reactions by the immune system,” says David Winston, RH (AHG), Founder and President of Herbalist & Alchemist. “These are also known as immediate or anaphylactic hypersensitivity. Common allergic conditions include hives, allergic rhinitis, allergic asthma, atopic eczema, allergic conjunctivitis, and food allergies. These conditions are caused by the production of Immunoglobulin E (IgE) antibodies in response to antigens. The tendency of people (or families) to produce high levels of IgE is known as atopy. These people produce more Th2 cells that secrete IL-4, IL-5, and IL-ß, all of which promote IgE production, as well as histamine, degranulation of mast cells, and an increase of eosinophils.” David Winston’s Immune Balance Compound features reishi, turmeric, ashwagandha root, huang qin root, licorice root, and unprocessed rehmannia root.

Zooming in even closer, Robert Scott Bell, D.A. Hom., an expert in clinical applications of silver hydrosol technology with Sovereign Silver, notes that respiratory symptoms are due to inflammation: “Respiratory symptoms—sinus and lungs—from allergies are due to histaminic—inflammatory—responses to environmental triggers. The use of the bioactive form of silver ions provides an immediate reduction of cellular inflammation when delivered right to the tissue affected. There are often microbial triggers that may exacerbate current allergy symptoms.”

Immune Assists
Winston notes that most immune assists fall into two categories: immune amphoterics and immunoregulators. “Immune amphoterics are used to normalize immune activity. They enhance what I call the immune reservoir—the body’s ability to mount an appropriate immune response—and help promote immune homeostasis. They are essential for treating all allergies, due to their ability to help re-regulate the immune system. Immune amphoterics include American and Asian ginseng, ashwagandha, astragalus, cat’s claw, cordyceps, holy basil, licorice, maitake, reishi, and Schisandra berry. Immunoregulators stabilize mast cells, reduce histamine release, and inhibit allergic response, so they are useful for allergies and IgE-mediated conditions—atopic eczema, allergies, asthma. They also reduce inflammation caused by inflammatory prostaglandins, interleukins, reactive oxygen species, reactive nitrogen species, and inhibit the formation and deposition of immune complexes. Immunoregulatory herbs include amla, Boswellia, cinnamon, Dan Shen (Salvia miltiorrhiza), gotu kola, Baikal skullcap, sarsaparilla, turmeric, and unprocessed rehmannia.” A well-designed tincture formula, he says, should combine immune amphoterics and immunoregulatory herbs.

Top on many lists of allergy season must-haves is quercetin, which is among the most abundant natural flavonoids, according to Stacey Gillespie, Gaia Herbs Brand Director. “It is found in high concentrations in plants such as onions, apples, berries, red wine, broccoli, capers, pomegranate, and Ginkgo biloba. This herb has been studied for its support of the body’s occasional, normal histamine response.” The quercetin used in Gaia Herbs’ formulas comes from the Dimorphandra mollis tree, which is native to the tropical savannah ecoregion of Brazil.

Indeed, quercetin is so beneficial that Flavia Miracle, Brand Manager at Source Naturals, calls it “the single-most important ingredient to look for in a springtime support product.” Miracle explains: “Quercetin has demonstrated the ability to inhibit the release of histamines, according to human cell culture studies.” Source Naturals sells Activated Quercetin and Aller-Response, both of which feature quercetin.

Both Source Naturals and Natural Factors use EMIQ. This is “an activated quercetin that is 40 times greater absorbed than just straight quercetin, and reaches peak levels in the bloodstream in just 15 minutes,” says Marita Schauch, N.D., Health Educator on behalf of Natural Factors. Miracle explains that this is “thanks to additional glucose molecules for increased solubility and bioavailability. EMIQ has also been clinically demonstrated to maintain eye health during periods of seasonal discomfort.”

That isn’t to say that quercetin is the only useful ingredient. In fact, it may be best used as part of a triad, which includes vitamin C and bromelain. Stacey Littlefield, Redd Remedies’ Product Formulator/Master Herbalist, says that these tried-and-true ingredients “work to help calm the annoying sinus issues people struggle with during allergy season. All three of these ingredients have anti-inflammatory activity, particularly in the sinuses. Vitamin C offers potent antioxidant activity to protect the fragile epithelial layer of the airways, while quercetin inhibits mast cell secretion.”

Miracle seconds that: “Source Naturals Activated Quercetin includes bromelain, a pineapple enzyme that may assist the body in times of stress, and vitamin C, which helps support the immune system.”

Whole foods can be useful, thanks to precisely these compounds: “When taking an OTC allergy medicine, you can supplement doses with non-drug treatments such as allergy-fighting foods like pineapple, which contains the enzyme bromelaine,” according to materials provided by Genexa.

Linking Immunity and Gut Health

“The gut microbiome is very important to health and immunity,” says Dr. Marita Schauch. “How healthy our gut is really determines how strong and optimal our immune system will perform especially when it comes to allergies, skin conditions, mood disorders, chronic inflammation, digestion disorders—and the list goes on.” To this end, Dr. Schauch suggests that probiotics may be useful.

Redd Remedies’ Stacey Littlefield agrees: “We feel that one of the most important aspects of an allergy supplement is whether or not it’s providing support for the digestive system. The digestive system plays an integral role as part of a balanced, healthy immune system, and should most definitely be supported in those with allergies. Using berberine-containing botanicals, such as barberry root, can provide an extra layer of support for a healthy gut microbiome—which is key to supporting overall immune system function.”

Dr. Robert Scott Bell adds that “Many doctors now recognize that ‘leaky’ gut is where the immune dysregulation manifesting as allergies really begins. Silver is a powerful ally in the reduction of inflammation of epithelial tissue within the gastrointestinal tract, while also accelerating regenerative responses to heal tissue there and restore tight junctions, thus breaking the cycle of an immune system stuck in over-reaction mode—otherwise known as allergies.”

Another useful compound, Dr. DuBois suggests the bioflavonoid apigenin: “Apigenin is a potent ingredient that few people know about. Its role in restoring a proper balance between Th1 and Th2 immune cells is key to long-term control.”

Combining flavonoids, North American Herb & Spice (NAHS) offers OregaRESP P73 Oil—it contains oregano oil, which has quercetin, and sage, which, among other flavonoids, contains apigenin. NAHS’s website notes that it is intended to support immune and respiratory health.

Other helpful herbs, Gillespie says, are nettle and thyme leaf. “Nettle, commonly referred to as Stinging Nettle, has several stinging hairs on its leaves and stems called trichomes. These trichomes inject histamine, formic acid, and other chemicals that create a stinging sensation that can be felt after touching or brushing against the plant. Nettle has long been used to maintain upper respiratory health, and for sinus support. It’s an especially popular herb during the change of seasons or when plants are in bloom, as it can help keep the sinuses healthy.” With regard to thyme, Gillespie notes that it “has a long history of use that dates back as far as 2750 BC, with Sumerian cuneiform tablets suggesting that thyme be dried and pulverized with pears, figs, and water for use as a poultice. It has long been used to support the immune system and support surrounding mucous membranes. A component of thyme, thymol, has been well studied for its microbial benefits, specifically in mouthwashes, gargles, cough drops, and vapor rubs.”

The perks of nettle and thyme: “They all help to address the root of the problem, which with most allergy symptoms is typically inflammation,” Gillespie explains. “Nettle leaves are a nutritive herb, containing compounds known to help maintain a healthy inflammatory response and already normal histamine levels in the upper respiratory system. Thyme leaf is rich in antioxidant compounds and has long been used to support the immune system and health of respiratory tissues.” Both of these herbs can be found in tinctures and teas, and in products from Gaia, including Nettle Leaf Liquid Phyto-Caps, Turmeric Supreme Sinus Support, and Sinus Comfort Tea.

Dr. DuBois adds to this list butterbur. “It’s perhaps the most underrated herb for controlling seasonal allergies in all of my research. There have been several well-designed clinical trials conducted with butterbur in the treatment of both seasonal and perennial allergic rhinitis from Germany: Not only was the butterbur shown to be superior to placebo in a controlled trial, the ingredient was also as effective as popular OTC allergy medications. Butterbur is thought to have beneficial effects on mast cell stability and the formation and release of leukotrienes, both of which are closely linked to asthma and allergies.”

An important note from Gillespie with regard to herbs: “Not all herbs work in the body in the same ways. Some herbs may work quickly to address acute concerns, while other herbs need time to restore balance in the body before you are able to really feel a change. Knowing which herbs offer support in the moment, and which herbs require additional time, can offset disappointment and misunderstanding. Gaia Herbs provides an Herb Reference Guide on our website. This guide has been carefully compiled by our formulators and product education team to provide a comprehensive profile of each plant along with expert references and resources. This is all a part of our company mission to Connect Plants, People, and Planet to Create Healing.”

Moving on from herbs, Jerry Angelini, Head of Education at Host Defense, suggests a variety of mushrooms—specifically, reishi, chaga, and cordyceps, which, he says, have all been recognized for seasonal support of a balanced immune response in the body. “Reishi is perhaps the most recognized mushroom in the world with regards to modulating our immune system. Reishi can help our immune system respond strongly, while at the same time making sure it doesn’t overreact to substances or triggers. Further, reishi bolsters adrenal functioning to help combat fatigue. Reishi also supports cardiovascular and liver health, making it a multi-system support for immune strength and whole-body wellness.”

Angelini isn’t the only one out there singing reishi’s praises—Mark Kaylor, Consultant with Mushroom Wisdom and Founder of the non-profit Radiant Health Project, previously told WholeFoods: “Reishi offers such an array of possible benefits that I have coined the phrase ‘tonic for the 21st century’ to describe it. Reishi demonstrates benefits for virtually all the leading health concerns, from heart and cardiovascular support to immune balancing to stress and emotional assistance.” It may be a good idea to suggest reishi to those looking for seasonal support—they may find it a useful year-round purchase.

Moving on to chaga, Angelini says that its point of interest is that it “supports epithelial tissues in the body. Our epithelial cells line our upper respiratory system and lungs, our digestive tract, our skin, and our arteries. The balancing impact chaga can have on these organs makes it a wonderful addition to the seasonal support category.”

And depending on the customer, they may already know about cordyceps: “It’s a well-known mushroom in the sports world,” Angelini asserts. “It’s recognized as being energizing and supporting athletic performance—and it also supports modulation of the immune system. Similar to reishi, cordyceps can help our upper respiratory system and lungs function strongly without overreacting to environmental triggers that can challenge our breathing. Our CordyChi formula combines cordyceps and reishi, and our Breathe formula combines cordyceps, reishi, and chaga.” (For more on mushrooms, go here.)

Also supported by science: EpiCor, a yeast-based fermentation product. A study published in Advances in Therapy found that EpiCor may help support a healthy immune system and can help improve symptoms such as occasional nasal congestion during times of seasonal elevated pollen counts (1). The study was randomized, double-blind, and placebo-controlled, conducted over 12 weeks on 78 subjects. The subjects taking EpiCor saw statistically significant reductions in the incidence of nasal congestion, runny nose, and duration of nasal congestion. Those taking EpiCor also had less need for rescue medication for allergies during the high pollen count period. Examination of biomarkers found that EpiCor lowered the inflammatory response, although it didn’t lower IgE levels.

Dr. Schauch also suggests Grape Seed Extract, which “exerts numerous anti-inflammatory and antioxidant benefits,” she says, “and may help allergy sufferers as it inhibits histamine release, thereby suppressing allergy symptoms.” It has additional benefits, too, she notes—it may help protect blood vessels, improve circulation, and slow age-related
cognitive decline.

One option that natural products retailers may be well positioned to capitalized on is local honey. “Honey is rich in bee pollen and other compounds, literally created from the plants that grow in the region where you live,” says Gillespie. “When a person eats local honey, they are thought to be ingesting local pollens. Over time, this exposure to local pollens may help a person become less sensitive to this pollen and they may experience fewer seasonal sinus symptoms and have less reactions to allergens in the environment.”

Retailers in California may want to consider buying from California Bee Pollen—their local bee pollen, packed with nutrients, may appeal to customers.

This concept of eating that which harms dovetails nicely with an idea espoused by Dr. Frank King, Founder of King Bio: The Homeopathic Law of Similars, he says, uses natural ingredients to negate the symptoms those ingredients may cause. Some examples: “Ragweed awakens and activates our immune system, to negate the allergic response to Ragweed and other similar pollens; Homeopathic histamine awakens and activates our immune system to negate the excessive production of histamine and stop the allergic symptoms excessive histamine creates; and onion (Allium cepa), which causes runny nose and tearing and irritated eyes, will correct the same symptoms it causes when homeopathically potentized. Homeopathic allergy remedies address more directly the causes behind allergies, create quick relief of allergy symptoms, and offer a more corrective response to allergies over time that can eliminate the allergy.”

And, just as local honey is useful for dealing with regional allergens, Dr. King has formulated a line of regional products. “Now we can help with allergy symptoms related to the pollens from the weeds, trees, grasses, and even molds specific to various regions across the USA, including Northeast, Southeast, Great Lakes, Plains, Southwest, Rockies, Desert, and Pacific Regions. Pollens have increased by over 200% over the past 50 years due to increased CO2 in our atmosphere, according to the USDA, and are increasing every year. Anyone with allergies can benefit from these products simply by spraying orally to better treat the causes from the inside out.” He adds that all of the King Bio formulas are in a pure water base and stabilized in a plant-based, all-natural preservative system that is “essentially taste free.”

When it comes to stuffy noses, there’s a direct approach that may be useful: “Nasal saline sprays can be very helpful during allergy season,” according to the experts at Genexa. “Saline solution can help restore moisture in dry nasal passages, and also help cleanse the nasal passages of irritants or bacteria.”

Another option in the nasal spray arena was found nigh accidentally. “Xlear was originally invented to prevent ear infections,” says Nathan Jones, Founder of Xlear. “Within the first year, the physician who invented it realized that it worked for allergies, too—people that have chronic ear infections, sinus infections, and so on usually also have allergies. The children that first started using Xlear for ear infections cleaned up their allergies also.” Xlear works, Jones says, by “facilitating the body’s own natural cleansing mechanisms, so that rather than letting the allergens build up in your airway, the allergens and pollutants just get washed away. Most antihistamines, decongestants, et cetera, block your body’s immune system by shutting down the production of snot/mucus. All that does is prevent the air you are breathing from getting cleaned, warmed, and moisturized before it gets to your lungs, so you are just breathing all the pollutants into your lungs. Xlear keeps the mucous moist; moist mucous traps more dirt, pollen, dander, et cetera, and it also means that the mucociliary clearance cycle gets sped up, so it gets cleaned out more.” He notes, though, that this isn’t just a fast fix: “It works best if used daily before you get the allergies. Xlear is a hygiene tool, and just like other hygiene tools, it should be used daily.”

A third option for nasal spray: NAHS offers SinuOrega, which contains oregano oil and sage—with the flavonoids that help balance the immune system—along with bay leaf, another immune supporter, according to their site. The oils are emulsified in a sea salt and spring water base.

Catering to Kids

Many companies sell kid-specific products, featuring kid-friendly packaging and dosage. Sovereign Silver, for instance, sells their colloidal silver in both the Mist Spray and the Dropper Top formats, with specific dosage instructions for children. Gaia Herbs sells GaiaKids Sinus Support, containing black elderberry, eyebright, and thyme leaf, all organic, with dosage instructions for kids between the ages of 0 and 13. Genexa sells Allergy-D for Children, a clean allergy product intended for children between the ages of 3 and 11. Dr. King notes that his formulas are safe and effective for all ages two and older—and that his products use a metered pump spray delivery, precluding the opening, closing, spillage, and measuring that can become a hassle when trying to give a product to children. And, of course, Xlear was created for children in the first place—parents can help their children use that sinus spray guilt-free. Still, to make the product more kid-friendly, Xlear sells a version that can be applied as either a gentle mist or in drops, for ease of use.

Going younger—Arla Foods noted in a press release in December that milk protein hydrolysates may be useful in the management of allergy and discomfort in infants. Milk protein hydrolysates are the result of an enzymatic process in which protein is cut into smaller peptide fragments. Formula containing hydrolysates may be the best choice when breastfeeding is not possible—and while, of course, parents will want to discuss that with a healthcare provider, it may take a weight off their shoulders to know that their local natural product’s retailer carries the formula they need.

Expert Tips
Stock your supplements carefully; Gillespie notes that, particularly with herbs, it’s easy to be deceptive: “Two bottles may say they contain the same herb, but one brand may use herbs grown in rich fertile soil without the use of pesticides and picked at the height of their phytochemical activity, while the other brand may use herbs from a monocrop grown in depleted soil and extracted using harsh solvents that can leave traces in the final product. The latter is the result of the agricultural practice of growing a single crop year after year on the same land or an herb doused with chemicals, and picked before or after its peak, diminishing its overall potency.”

The best way to offer your customers the highest quality products is to partner with companies that focus on transparency. One shining example: “At Gaia Herbs, we take pride in the traceability of our products,” says Gillespie. “Through our MeetYourHerbs traceability program, we provide full transparency to our customers. They can enter the ID number located on the back of any Gaia Herbs product to learn where each ingredient game from, how the herbs were grown, harvested, and extracted, and the tests the product underwent to validate its purity, integrity, and potency. We believe that everyone should know the life story of the herbs that they take.”

Other factors to consider when stocking supplements: Customers won’t stick to a regimen that’s much harder than one-a-day pills. Dr. DuBois offers these tips: “Look closely at the product label to see how many capsules you need to take to get the desired effect. The large 120 capsule bottle may look like a great deal until you see the minimum dose is 4 to 6 capsules. As a general rule of thumb, fewer capsules means higher potency. Also, look at the number of times the manufacturer suggests their product be taken to get benefit. The greater the frequency, the shorter the duration of relief. Allergy remedies that you only have to take one or two times a day will be far easier to take than a regimen that requires multiple doses per day.” WF

1. Moyad, M. A.; Robinson, L. E.; Kittelsrud, J. M.; Reeves, S. G.; Weaver, S. E.; Guzman, A. I.; Bubak, M. E., Immunogenic yeast based fermentation product reduces allergic rhinitis-induced nasal congestion: a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial. Adv Ther 2009, 26 (8), 795-804.