It’s easy to look forward to the longer days of spring, when everything is coming into bloom. But for some of us, as much as we love flowers and tree blossoms, spring also means seasonal allergies. In fact, it’s estimated that more than 50 million Americans suffer from allergies each year, making them the sixth-leading chronic illness in the United States, according to the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology.
Although over-the-counter remedies are available, natural remedies for allergies and lifestyle and diet solutions may actually offer more long-term relief. If you have chronic inflammation, for instance, your body is more likely to react to allergens in your environment. When treating patients for seasonal allergies, Julieanne Neal, a naturopathic doctor based in Boulder, Colo., first assesses their overall inflammatory picture to see if they react to just environmental triggers or if they also react to foods. “They may have inflammation coming from environmental triggers, but there may be things in their diet that could also be contributing to mucus formation, congestion and inflammation,” she explains.
If you are prone to allergies, Neal suggests avoiding inflammatory and mucus-producing consumables, such as alcohol, gluten, dairy, eggs, sugar, and fried or processed foods. “If you have too much inflammation, your cup is full, and the body will hyper-react to any other thing that comes in. If you can drain the cup of inflammation, the body can process things better,” says Neal. Getting better sleep and decreasing stress can also alleviate symptoms, she says. “People who are really stressed are more likely to have allergies.”
Another key to treating allergies, says Neal, is to start to take preventive measures in the early spring, before allergies kick in. “You will have less traction if you wait until you start to feel symptoms to take anything.”
What Is an Allergy?
“It is like an inappropriate immune response. Your body acts like it has a cold or flu, but it doesn’t. Your immune system is working when it’s not supposed to be,” explains Lynn Wagner, M.D., who runs an integrative-medicine practice at BayCare Clinic in Wisconsin.
What causes the body to act like that? Cells called “mast cells,” whose job it is to release histamine during an allergic reaction. “When an allergen comes in through the nasal passages or digestive tract, and your immune system doesn’t like it, your mast cells dump a bunch of histamine in your body. That is what causes the runny eyes and congestion from the histamine overload. If you can regulate the mast cells, you will be less likely to have a reaction,” says Neal.
What to Take?
You can certainly take over- the-counter medicines, but there are plenty of natural remedies for allergies that can do the trick, too. Here are a few key players.
A flavonoid found in colorful fruits and vegetables, quercetin can also be taken in supplement form. It works like a natural antihistamine, and Wagner recommends taking it throughout allergy season with bromelain or vitamin C to support absorption.
Recommended dose: A typical dose is 1,000–3,000 mg daily. Start with 500 mg twice daily; you can move up to 1,000 mg three times daily.
This herb, a natural remedy for allergies, is also used for hay fever. Like quercetin, it acts as an antihistamine. Stinging nettle and quercetin can be taken individually or, says Neal, the two are often found combined in products.
Recommended dose: Start with 300–500 mg daily; you can go up to 300 mg of freeze-dried nettle two to three times a day.
“Butterbur reduces mucus production and possibly reduces leukotriene activity,” says Wagner. Leukotrienes are one of the substances mast cells release to counter an allergen, but they cause bronchoconstriction, which restricts airways in your lungs.
Recommended dose: 50–100 mg daily. Be sure to choose a product that is “PA-free” or free of chemicals called pyrrolizidine alkaloids (PAs), which can harm the liver.
Fish Oil or Flaxseed Oil
“Most people need some sort of anti-inflammatory support year-round throughout their life. Fish oil or flaxseed oil can help reduce inflammation in the body in general and can be helpful for allergies,” says Neal.
Recommended dose: Up to 3 grams (3,000 mg) of fish oil from a brand with a higher amount of EPA and DHA. The higher the amount, the better the quality oil.
Take it for a cold; take it as a natural remedy for allergies. Vitamin C also has a natural antihistamine effect.
Recommended dose: Take up to 1,000 mg, three to five times a day. A possible side effect from a higher dose is diarrhea; simply lower the dose if this occurs.
Saline Nasal Spray
Nasal spray or a neti pot can help keep your nasal-passage lining moist and keep mucus moving out. Use as needed. Or place saline solution in the shower as a reminder to use daily.
Vitamin B12 and B9 (methylfolate)
These two B vitamins, says Neal, help your body process histamine. They can be found in leafy greens or taken in supplement form. “Often, people with allergies are more depleted in these nutrients,” she says. Recommended dose: Try 1,000–5,000 mcg of B12 and 0.5–1 mg of methylfolate daily. Neal emphasizes the need to take methylfolate, the more active and natural form of folate, as opposed to its synthetic counterpart, folic acid.
Probiotics can offer natural allergy relief by calming the immune system in your gut. “There is growing evidence to show that having gut problems, a.k.a. leaky gut, can lead to an overactivated immune system. By healing the gut, you can calm this down. This includes eating a healthy, whole-food, plant-based diet, using supplements like probiotics and possibly other gut-healing supplements,” says Wagner.
Recommended dose: Consult with a doctor, or take as directed per brand.