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Ah, the sunny days, chirping birds, blooming flowers, and budding trees of spring: it’s magical to many of us. But for the 26 million Americans who suffer from seasonal allergies, the stirrings of spring and summer signal weeks of sneezing, wheezing, itchy eyes, and runny nose. You could stay inside and just skip the whole thing. But if you’re susceptible to airborne allergies, indoor irritants such as pet dander, mold, dust mites, and even cleaning products can trigger some nasty symptoms.
What happens when your body is exposed to pollen, grass, or other seasonal allergies? The bronchial and nasal passageways in the body are lined with mucous membranes; these are rich in mast cells, a type of immune cell that contains histamine, a chemical that’s responsible for most allergy symptoms. Mast cells are lined with receptors-if a receptor encounters an airborne allergen, such as pollen, it alerts the mast cell to release histamine, which causes a chain reaction of events designed to expel the foreign invader from the body, including sneezing, coughing, runny nose, and watery eyes.
All in all, it’s pretty miserable. But if you suffer from seasonal allergies, you don’t have to sit out spring. Many natural supplements have been shown to reduce or even eliminate allergy symptoms and improve overall well-being. Arm yourself with these seven natural supplements, and start taking them before allergy season begins. You may even be able to stop and smell the roses.
The top 7 Supplements for seasonal allergies
Known as an adaptogen-an herb that protects the body from physical and emotional stress-astragalus is traditionally used in Chinese medicine to treat allergies by supporting the immune system. In one study, an astragalus supplement significantly decreased the intensity of allergy symptoms, especially in weed pollen allergy. Other studies have found that astragalus appears to work by modulating the immune response to allergens, and by reducing airway inflammation.
Made from a shrub native to Europe and parts of Asia and North America, butterbur is traditionally used for a variety of health issues, including migraines, general pain, cough, colds, and fever. It’s also very effective in treating allergies. In one study, butterbur was just as effective as an over-the-counter antihistamine for reducing allergy symptoms. Butterbur is especially helpful in improving airflow through the nose by inhibiting the activity of leukotriene, which causes constriction of the airways. Choose “PA-free” butterbur supplements. They’re free of compounds called pyrrolizidine alkaloids, which can damage the liver.
Beneficial bacteria are a safe, effective way to ward off hay fever and other airborne allergies. They work by fighting harmful pathogens in the gut and supporting the immune system, lessening the chance of an adverse response to pollen or other allergens. Studies show probiotics improve nasal symptoms and overall quality of life in people with allergies, and some research suggests that women should take probiotics during pregnancy and breastfeeding if the child is at high risk of developing allergies (based on hereditary factors).
The roots and leaves of the perennial flowering plant stinging nettle have been traditionally used for thousands of years to treat symptoms of allergies and other ailments. Modern studies show that extracts of stinging nettle can reduce sneezing, itching, and watery eyes in people with hay fever, and can be more effective than over-the-counter allergy medications. Nettles work in much the same way as over-the-counter antihistamines, by blocking the body’s natural ability to produce histamine.
5. Vitamin C
This potent, immune-boosting antioxidant also has antihistamine properties, and can reduce symptoms of seasonal allergies. In one study,
children with increased vitamin C consumption had fewer symptoms of allergic rhinitis. Other studies suggest that vitamin C supplements work by blocking the body’s production of histamine, the compound that triggers allergic reactions.
An antioxidant found in apples, tea, onions, red wine, and grapefruit, quercetin helps prevent mast cells from releasing histamines, and reduces the body’s inflammatory response. In one study, people who took a quercetin combination supplement showed a 70 percent reduction in sneezing, stuffy nose, itchy eyes, and other allergy symptoms. Other studies have noted significant anti-inflammatory effects of quercetin.
This blue-green alga is well known for its immune-supportive actions, and recent studies show that it’s highly effective in lessening allergy symptoms. In one study of people with airborne allergies, spirulina significantly reduced runny nose, sneezing, nasal congestion, and itching. Additionally, spirulina seems to reduce levels of histamines and cytokines, small proteins involved in the immune response.
Eating For Allergies
In the grips of hay fever and other airborne allergies? Changing your diet can help. Some tips:
Start your day with yogurt
The probiotics in yogurt can support your immune system to minimize allergic flare-ups; if you’re sensitive to dairy, try other fermented foods, such as sauerkraut or tempeh.
Snack on pineapple
It contains bromelain, which studies show can help nasal swelling and may modulate the immune system as a whole.
Feast on fish
Salmon, sardines, herring, and mackerel are loaded with omega-3 fatty acids that reduce inflammation and support immunity. In one study, people who ate diets high in omega-3 fats had fewer symptoms of itching, sneezing, and runny nose. In another study, children who ate fish regularly had lower incidence of allergies by age four; additionally, children born to mothers who took omega-3 supplements during pregnancy had fewer allergies in infancy.
Steer clear of triggers
Avoid any foods you’re sensitive to, to avoid taxing your immune system. Even if you don’t suffer from food allergies, certain foods may trigger a reaction. The most common food triggers include wheat, dairy, corn, soy, peanuts, tomatoes, shellfish, eggs, and caffeine.
It’s high in turmeric, an antioxidant with measurable anti-inflammatory actions. Add onions and ginger for their immune-enhancing effects.
Make it hot
Chili peppers, hot mustard and horseradish help keep airways open during hay fever season; they also thin mucous secretions to make breathing easier.
Drink green tea
Rich in the antioxidant epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG), green tea can help relieve allergy symptoms by reducing inflammation and blocking production of histamines and IgE, which are linked to allergy symptoms. Studies have found that green tea can significantly reduce mucus production, throat pain, nose-blowing, and watery eyes in people who suffer from allergies.