Seasonal allergies aren’t fun for anyone, but unfortunately many of my clients suffer from the horrid symptoms of allergies. From time to time, if I’m not looking after myself and employing stress reduction techniques, I too can suffer from mild seasonal allergies. The good news is, there’s a lot we can do naturally to reduce or even eradicate the symptoms of seasonal allergies.
Allergic rhinitis, (another name for “seasonal allergies”) is characterised by IgE-mediated allergic inflammation. Once exposed to the allergen we see a release of histamine and other inflammatory molecules into the body, which produce symptoms including itchy/watery eyes, sneezing, running nose, sore throat due to post nasal drip, sinus inflammation, puffy eyes, and general congestion. These allergies are generally due to an allergic reaction to the pollen in the air during the spring and summer months and these allergies are on the rise . Why? Genes can play a role in whether or not you suffer from seasonal allergies but genes – we are fast learning – aren’t to be blamed 100% for anything much anymore. For example, exposure to air pollutants has been repeatedly shown to negatively influence the immune system’s response to allergens . Studies have shown that diesel and ragweed pollen together produce a stronger allergic reaction than ragweed alone – so our ever-increasingly polluted environment isn’t helping those who suffer seasonal allergies, (read more about what you can do to enhance your detoxification efforts here). Then there’s poor food choices, stress, lack of exercise and the overuse of antibiotics which are all contributing to a condition called leaky gut, which plays a large role in the way our immune system reacts to potential allergens such as pollen, (over 70% of our immune system is located in our gut, and this is why our gut health is priority #1 when it comes to allergies of all kinds).
Spending your entire spring, summer and fall medicated with anti-histamines isn’t the ideal or healthy solution, so in this post I break down for you some of the best studied natural therapies that can seriously squash those nasty seasonal allergies and stop them in their tracks.
1. Oolong Tea
Simply sipping on some oolong tea could be your ticket to seasonal allergy relief. Many studies have shown the benefits of this tea for reducing seasonal allergy symptoms thanks in large part to the catechins, (powerful flavanoids and antioxidants) this tea boasts. [34,35] Do not take if you have the COMT genetic variant until you have spoken to your health practitioner.
How to take: You must drink this tea daily in order to see relief. Try 10 grams of tea leaves, which is equivalent to about 3 teaspoons of dried leaves or four tea bags, brewed in boiling water for five minutes.
2. Local Honey
Raw local honey has been shown to potentially be beneficial in reducing seasonal allergy symptoms.  Raw honey contains both beneficial bacteria and trace amounts of pollen from local plants. Consuming raw local honey may help to “educate” your immune system to tolerate these local pollens better. A randomised controlled pilot trial published in 2011 showed that allergic patients who consumed birch pollen honey saw a 60% reduction in their allergy symptoms and twice as many asymptomatic days during birch pollen season. 
How to take: Simply take on a teaspoon once or twice a day or add to some oolong tea for a double-whammy anti-allergy punch.
3. Vitamin D
Vitamin D is an all-round superhero that acts more like a hormone in the body than a vitamin. Unfortunately, the majority of clients I see are deficient. In fact, vitamin D is the #1 vitamin deficiency in the developed world. What’s more, vitamin D has been shown to be deficient in children who suffer from asthma, allergic rhinitis, atopic dermatitis, acute urticaria, and food allergies.  Additionally, a randomised, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial showed that vitamin D, taken with a probiotic, reduced allergy symptoms in children with allergic rhinitis who were sensitive to grass pollen.  Another study showed the prevalence of severe vitamin D deficiency was significantly higher in patients with allergic rhinitis. 
Dose: It’s best to get your vitamin D level tested by your doctor in order to dose correctly. It can be dangerous to dose too highly but conversely, taking the standard recommended dose of 1,000 or 2,000 IUD/day is usually not therapeutic and may not be nearly enough to help ease your symptoms.
4. Nigella Sativa Seeds
Nigella sativa seeds are used as a spice in Indian and Middle Eastern cuisines but they’re so much more powerful than just adding flavour to your food. In an animal study, the main constituent of nigella sativa seeds was shown to be more effective at alleviating lung inflammation than a commonly prescribed corticosteroid nasal spray . These little black seeds have also been shown to block the release of histamine in stomach cells, and histamine is the compound responsible for all those horrid allergic reaction symptoms . Nigella sativa also possesses antioxidant, anti-parastitic, antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory effects as well as having the ability to treat coughs and slowing some forms of cancer growth . And a 2010 study published in the American Journal of Otolaryngology found nigella sativa to be effective in alleviating nasal congestion, nasal itching, runny nose and sneezing attacks. It was concluded that it should be considered for treating allergic rhinitis “when the effects of other antiallergic drugs need to be avoided.”  And finally, a placebo controlled study published in the journal Phytotherapy Research noted significant improvements in how patients graded their allergic symptoms when treated with nigella sativa oil versus the placebo group. Symptoms included allergist rhinitis, atopic eczema and bronchial asthma. .
Dose: 2 – 3 grams daily if in tablet form or about 1 tsp three times daily of nigella sativa oil. Of course, you can also use the seeds in your cooking.
5. MSM (methylsulfonylmethane)
MSM has been shown to reduce symptoms associated with pollen-induced seasonal allergic rhinitis, with efficacy within one week.  Another study showed improvements in allergic rhinitis symptoms within 30 days of taking 2,600mg of MSM daily.  What I love about MSM is that it also aids in repairing a leaky gut and in improving liver function thanks in part to its sulfur content. And remember, gut health is hugely important when aiming to alleviate allergy symptoms.
Dose: My favourite way to suggest clients take MSM is to add 1 tsp of MSM powder to their morning lemon water. Ensure you purchase good quality MSM that hasn’t been washed in hexane. I like the brand NOW or St. Francis Herb Farm.
6. Enzymatically Modified Quercetin
As we now know, allergens cause the release of histamine in the body. Histamine is a major component of the immune system and is a key mediator in allergic reactions and is what’s responsible for producing the nasty allergy symptoms, (watery eyes, itching, congestion, etc). Mast cells are the cells from which histamine is released and what quercetin dose is help to stabilize these mast cells so they don’t release as much histamine [7,8,9]. Interestingly, mast cells in the gut play a role in leaky gut. Researchers have found that these mast cells are responsible for an increase in intestinal permeability when people are under stress . So quercetin is able to help heal a leaky gut thanks to it’s ability to stabilize mast cells  and this in turn helps to alleviate allergy symptoms. But why “enzymatically modified” quercetin? Enzymatically modified quercetin is much more bioavailable than quercetin itself, which has a low bioavailability due to its insolubility in water. 
Dose: It is best to start using enzymatically modified quercetin 4 – 6 weeks before allergy season to see maximum benefits. Take100mg – 200mg daily. Do not take if you have the COMT genetic variant until you have spoken to your health practitioner.
The hygiene hypothesis states that we need exposure to infectious agents – dirt and germs – to develop our immune system. It was proposed in the 1980’s when there was a correlation between a decrease of chronic hay fever and larger family size . The bacteria in our gut help to essentially train the body’s immune system to recognize harmless food and environmental proteins as just that: harmless. This ensures our body doesn’t react with an allergic reaction to something that it shouldn’t. What we’re seeing as the research grows is that a disturbed microbiome leads to more allergic responses, and exposure to germs, such as via animals and other people, can help to enhance a healthy microbiome. In fact, one study showed exposure to 2 or more dogs or cats in the first year of life reduces the risk of allergies later in childhood [13A]. And more studies show that reducing the diversity of a child’s microbiome by way of antibiotics, c-sections and formula feeding for example, can lead to asthma amongst other health conditions [14,15,16]. The importance of gut health when it comes to allergies really cannot be overstated. Research is growing on the beneficial effects of taking probiotics for those suffering from allergies, [17,18, 43, 44, 45] and researchers are working on trying to figure out which strains are best for those suffering with allergies – including food allergies, (which also stem from poor gut health). One study showed that bifidobacterium longum BB536 may reduce pollen allergy symptoms  and bifidobacteria and Lactobacilli are found more commonly in the microbiome of non-allergenic children . Some other strains that have been studied for their beneficial effect on seasonal allergy symptoms include: Lactobacillus acidophilus, Lactobacillus paracasei, Lactobacillus casei, Lactobacillus rhamnosus, Bifidobacterium longum, Lactobacillus johnsonii EM1, Lactobacillus gasseri, Bacillus clausii and Escherichia coli Nissle (EcN) 1917. 
Dose: Take one 25 – 50 billion CFU probiotic tablet daily before a meal and consume fermented foods daily. If you are sensitive to histamine, try histamine-degrading strains of bacteria such as Bifidobacteria infantis and Lactobacillus plantarum.
8. Holy Basil or Tulsi (Ocimum sanctum)
Holy basil is one of my absolute favourite herbs. It’s a natural anti-histamine that prevents mast cell degranulation, (an important mechanism of anaphylaxis). It’s been shown to be beneficial in the treatment of asthma and related conditions thanks to its antianaphylactic, antihistaminic and mast cell stabilization activity .
How to take: I love drinking holy basil as a tea but you can also consume it as a tincture or take in capsules at the dose of about 300mg daily. Don’t take holy basil if you’re trying to get pregnant, are pregnant or are breastfeeding or if you have elevated testosterone levels.
9. Beta Glucans
Beta glucans are sugars that are found in the cell walls of bacteria, fungi, yeasts, algae, lichens, and plants such as oats and barley. These beta glucans have somewhat “magical” powers as they are what’s known as immunomodulators. This means they help to make your immune system smarter by raising its response so your body can fight a better fight against pathogens, and even cancer. However, they don’t raise the immune system to the point of overstimulation, which would be harmful when autoimmune disease is at play . Many medicinal mushrooms are able to increase host immune defence by activating complement system, enhancing macrophages and natural killer cell function . Beta glucans found in mushrooms are being used more and more to fight cancer and now, to fight off seasonal allergies too thanks to their ability to decrease T helper 2 (Th2) cells, (that play an important role in the development of seasonal allergies) and their ability to increase T helper 1 cytokines (inflammatory molecules), which are known to suppress the Th2 immune response. Other studies have also shown the power of beta glucans to reduce seasonal allergies. [46, 47]
How to take: Medicinal mushrooms of choice would be chaga, cordyceps, lions main, reishi, turkey tail and Maitake. This is one of my favourite blends. Add to warm drinks or smoothies.
10. Essential oils
I just love essential oils. The sense of smell can have such a powerful and profound affect on our wellbeing. I burn orange oil almost daily in my office as it has been show to help reduce anxiety, (and trust me – it works!). But when it comes to seasonal allergies the essential oils that have been shown to be helpful include sandalwood and geranium  as well as peppermint .
11. Acupuncture and an Anti-Histamine Diet
If all else fails you can give acupuncture a whirl. In a randomized single-blind clinical trial 80 patients found that acupuncture was effective in the symptomatic treatment of seasonal allergy symptoms . And finally, a low-histamine diet can also be beneficial in reducing the severity of allergy symptoms. Foods high in histamine include fermented foods, aged cheese, citrus fruits, fish, shellfish, avocados, spinach, cocoa, and leftover meat amongst others.
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