If you’re an airborne allergy sufferer, then headache, nonstop sneezing, stuffy nose, and fatigue are your steady companions for several months every year. And for those with year-round allergies, each day brings a cycle of misery, which might be temporarily abated by powerful antihistamines and decongestants that often have side effects more uncomfortable than the original symptoms.
Hay fever sounds like it must be an allergy to hay, but the name is colloquial for allergic rhinitis, a disorder that involves sneezing, itchy throat and eyes, sinus headaches, and sometimes coughing. Triggered by different kinds of pollen, it can vary with the seasons: tree pollens in spring, grass and weed pollens in summer, and ragweed pollen in the fall. Pets, molds, mildew/fungus, dust, and cigarette smoke are common household allergens.
Holistically oriented practitioners use dietary and supplement therapies to strengthen the body’s defenses against hay fever and allergies. A diet designed to lessen inflammation, for example, is thought to ease allergies. Eliminating commonly allergenic foods (e.g., dairy and wheat and/or gluten) can help tame airborne allergies by reducing your body’s overall stress. Supplements can help as well. Here are our top three favorites.
Remedy 1: Nettle—a Natural Antihistamine
Nearly 500 species of nettles can be found around the world. They’re mainly tropical, though several occur widely in temperate climates. A consensus that nettle leaf is effective for allergy symptoms has been forming among clinical herbalists over the past decade. Although investigations remain preliminary, scientific research seems to point to the anti-inflammatory and antiallergy properties of nettle.
Some researchers think one of the active components is a bioflavonoid, others think polysaccharides are responsible, still others say lectins deserve the credit. But whatever the final determination of the active ingredients, nettle loses its antiallergy power if not harvested and processed correctly. Look for a high-quality powdered product that has been freeze-dried or specially processed to retain the active ingredients. This special processing costs more, so don’t be seduced by cheap imitations.
Use nettle when you would otherwise use an antihistamine drug to stop your misery. Many people take up to 3,000 mg per day of nettle leaf powder in capsules to relieve the temporary symptoms of hay fever and other allergic reactions, including animal allergies. Symptoms often begin to improve within 15 minutes, and the effect typically lasts for about four hours. The studied dosage is 300 mg twice a day of freeze-dried nettle leaf.
Remedy 2: Hay Fever Help with Butterbur
Butterbur boasts a three-foot diameter leaf, probably the largest leaf of all European plants. Its Latin name, Petasites hybridus, comes from the Greek petasos—a hat worn by shepherds. Folklore has it that field workers used the giant fresh leaves as impromptu hats.
Butterbur leaves and root are used particularly in cases of acute pain of smooth muscle, such as in the urinary tract, especially when stones are present. This quality also makes it useful for respiratory disorders involving cough and asthma.
A Swiss study indicates that seasonal allergy sufferers who received an extract of butterbur experienced symptom relief equivalent to patients treated with the antihistamine cetirizine (Zyrtec). The scientists compared the effectiveness and tolerability of the herb to that of the drug in patients with seasonal allergic rhinitis. In a randomized, double-blind, parallel-group comparison, the 125 patients participating in the study were treated with either butterbur (61 patients) or cetirizine (64 patients) for two weeks. The butterbur dose (standardized to 8 mg of total petasin per tablet) was one tablet, four times daily, for a total of only 32 mg per day. Patients described similar symptom relief with both treatments. This particular preparation of butterbur removes pyrrolizine alkaloids. These alkaloids can be toxic to the liver.
Usually, butterbur supplements are standardized to contain a minimum of 7.5 mg of petasin and isopetasin per tablet. Try 50 to 100 mg twice daily with meals.
Remedy 3: Savory Relief with Quercetin
Onions and garlic are excellent antiallergy herbs, especially for asthma. These plants contain the flavonoid quercetin, which was discovered in a 2008 study to significantly inhibit all asthmatic reactions. A recent Korean paper found that the flavonoid has antiasthmatic activity similar to certain asthma drugs. Onions and garlic also inhibit lipoxygenase, an enzyme that generates an inflammatory chemical.
Quercetin is available as a supplement. A typical dosage is 200 to 400 mg three times daily.
Product Examples (below, left to right)
NaturalCare SINUFIX features a proprietary blend of nettle leaf, quercetin, butterbur, and a host of other nutrients known to help with allergy, sinus, and respiratory symptoms.
Planetary Herbals Freeze-dried stinging nettles has 420 mg of organically cultivated and freeze-dried nettles per capsule.
Natural Factors QUERCETIN BIOFLAVONOID COMPLEX contains 235 mg of quercetin per capsule, plus an impressive roster of bioflavonoids for optimal results.