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Ask the Naturopathic Doctor

Antihistamine Alternatives

When used long-term, antihistamines dry out not only your mucous membranes, but also your brain.

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Q: I’ve had horrible allergies most of my life. My doctor has me on antihistamines, prescription and over-the-counter. I’ve been taking them for years, but I want to try a more natural approach, and I’m scared about the long-term risks of antihistamine use. Thoughts?-Jack B., Philadelphia

A: Histamine is a naturally occurring chemical that is secreted by the body when mucous membranes are confronted with some kind of irritant. Histamine causes a rush of white blood cells and fluid to the affected area, and this natural reaction causes short-term swelling and congestion as it attempts to flush out the irritant.

If exposure persists-as in the case of allergies or dusty/moldy environments-this histamine response becomes prolonged, making the “cure” seem worse than the cause. This is why antihistamines are a $30 million-a-year industry in the U.S. These medications block histamine, thus preventing immune responses from engaging, and delaying the body’s ability to heal from an acute exposure to irritants.

Brain Drain

Despite label warnings, many people take antihistamines quite liberally. And that’s a problem, because when used long-term (one study cites more than 180 days), antihistamines can dry out not only your mucous membranes, but also your brain. The brain is happiest when fed with high-quality fats such as avocado, coconut oil, and wild salmon, along with a low-glycemic diet; plenty of water, sleep, and exercise; and minimal amounts of “screen time,” especially late at night.

In other words, keeping your brain happy is not so different from keeping the rest of your body happy. But there is a special feature of the brain: namely, that it is made mostly of moist fat. One reason our brains start to degrade as we age is that nerve/brain healing factors like the steroid hormones (estrogen, testosterone, progesterone, and the pre-hormones vitamins A, D, E, and K) decline. And drying the brain out with antihistamines only makes matters worse. Long-term exposure to antihistamines is thought to lower the primary neurotransmitter in the brain, called acetylcholine, and has been linked to elevated risk of Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia-and the longer the exposure, the greater the risk.

Anti-Allergy Foods & Nutrients

If you’re a chronic antihistamine user, know that there are healthier options that can be just as effective. Bioflavonoids are my favorite mast-cell wall stabilizers, and will delay the “histamine-dumping” effect of irritating exposure.

Quercetin (usually derived from pigments in apple skins and the inner skins of red onions) is also extremely helpful. The ideal way to take quercetin is with a coconut drink-the good fat in coconut makes quercetin more bioavailable. Turmeric is another excellent remedy for reducing inflammation associated with allergies, and it is synergistic with quercetin.

Apple a Day!

Keep the doctor away and allergies at bay with quercetin, a nutrient derived from apple skins.

Incorporating yellow and orange foods such as squashes and carrots into your diet can also help reduce your allergic response, as can eating apples and red onions regularly.

Other good food choices (those rich in bioflavonoids and/or quercetin) include strawberries and other berries, cherries, red bell peppers, spinach, broccoli, mango, pineapple, and oranges. These foods are also good sources of vitamin C, important for allergy relief.

Reducing or eliminating white flour and sugar from your diet will also improve your “tolerance” to irritants that are inevitably part of the daily environment. Sugar and bleached flour massively depress the immune system. And if your immune system is depressed, you will have even less capacity to manage mucous membrane irritants.