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Breathe Easy

Allergies and sinus problems are nothing to sneeze at. These natural solutions offer relief (Part one of a two-part series).

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Whether it’s a pesky tickle in the back of your throat or full-blown congestion that makes your sinuses feel heavy, sinus problems are nothing to sneeze at. Thirty-six million Americans have chronic sinus troubles. Millions more suffer from rhinitis (a fancy name for stuffy nose). As a result, Americans spend more than $5 billion on sinus products annually. And yet, these products offer no more than temporary relief. More than 73 million days of work and school are missed each year due to sinus problems.

As many as one in five Americans suffer from allergies that affect the sinuses. Many of them have what’s known as “hay fever,” an allergic response to pollen and other environmental substances. Sinusitis often occurs after a viral infection in the upper respiratory tract, but allergens or pollutants can also trigger it. Viral infections damage the cells of the sinus lining, leading to inflammation. The lining thickens, obstructing the nasal passage. This blockage disrupts the natural process that removes bacteria normally present in the nasal passages.

When this happens, the bacteria begin to multiply and invade the lining of the sinus. Too often, doctors treat sinusitis with decongestants and antibiotics. However, this does nothing to support the body’s natural healing systems or fortify the immune response against future sinusitis flare-ups.

A Sweet Solution

Suggesting that sugar can relieve your sinus problems may seem like a stretch, but studies show that one specific type of sugar—xylitol—can do just that. Xylitol is a white crystalline sugar alcohol found naturally in many fruits and vegetables like berries, plums, lettuce, and mushrooms. Xylitol has 40 percent fewer calories than refined sugar. What really makes this natural sweetener so remarkable, however, is its unique bacteria-busting properties.

The secret to xylitol’s health benefits lies in its chemical structure. Most dietary carbohydrates (sugars and polyols) are based on a 6-carbon monosaccharide unit like fructose and glucose. Saccharide units can be linked together into disaccharides such as sucrose (common table sugar that is glucose and fructose bonded together) or polysaccharides that can have hundreds of saccharides connected (starch is comprised of long strings of 6-carbon glucose units). Instead of the six carbon atoms found in other sweeteners, xylitol contains only five. This unique 5-carbon sugar alcohol structure is very stable and does not link to other sugars. This means that bacteria and yeast can eat xylitol, but they can’t digest it—and if it’s not digested, these harmful substances can’t reproduce.

Researchers at the University of Iowa began to look at xylitol’s impact on airways. It turns out that this sugar alcohol works via osmosis to pull fluid into the airway. It also helps moisturize and thin the mucus so that the cilia in the nasal passageway move more freely. The study also confirmed earlier findings that xylitol reduces the number of bacteria that adhere to the nasal passage. Compared to saline, the reduction in a specific bacteria known as nasal coagulase-negative Staphylococcus was six times greater in those sprayed with xylitol than those who used saline.

A high-potency xylitol nasal spray sold under the brand name Xlear was found to reduce bacteria, and used regularly, hydrated nasal passages and helped flush out airborne pollutants that could trigger asthma and allergies. In addition, Xlear shrunk swollen membranes to allow easy nasal breathing.

Natural Anti-inflammatories and Antihistamines

Bromelain, an extract derived from pineapple stems, can also relieve sinuses. In one head-to-head comparison of bromelain and conventional treatments, German researchers from the University of Leipzig divided 116 patients with acute sinusitis into three groups: The first group was given bromelain; the second was treated with a combination of bromelain, a decongestant, and an antibiotic; and the third group received conventional drugs. After reviewing all of the data, the researchers found that the bromelain not only relieved symptoms faster, it cut the duration of sinus infections by almost two days.

And none of the bromelain-only patients experienced adverse side effects. Bromelain has also been credited with breaking down fibrin and supporting proper draining of tissues. Research indicates that an effective dose of bromelain is 250 to 750 mg, taken two or three times a day, between or before meals.

Another effective supplement is quercetin, a bioflavonoid found in many fruits and vegetables. Quercetin is an excellent antioxidant that enhances the effectiveness of vitamin C and helps strengthen the walls of the intricate blood vessels in the nasal passages. Its antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties are similar to those of an antihistamine in relieving pain and halting allergies. A dose of 500 mg twice a day is effective.

Essential fatty acids, specifically omega-3s, are vital to sinus health because they enhance immunity and reduce the swelling and pain associated with an allergic response. Studies show that essential fatty acids aid in the production of prostaglandins. This not only counters inflammation; it might also discourage the formation of nasal polyps. Two types of omega-3 fatty acids can be found in fatty fish like anchovies, herring, mackerel, salmon, sardines, and tuna. These are eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). Another type of omega-3 fatty acid, alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), can be found in plant foods like flaxseed and walnuts. However, most of us don’t include these healthy fats in our daily diets. An excellent way to ensure that you are getting all the omega-3s you need is with a purified high-potency fish-oil supplement. A daily dose of at least 1,000 mg of fish oil can be quite helpful in reducing symptoms. Vegetarians can get their omega-3s by taking 1,000 mg of supplemental flaxseed oil daily. Be aware that it can take several months to see results.

Vitamin C supports the production of glutathione, a potent antioxidant that promotes sinus, immune, and respiratory health. It’s a natural antihistamine that lessens inflammation in the nasal passages and sinuses. It is also a potent immunity booster and can play a significant role in both preventing infection and helping to fight it off when it does occur. Take up to 1,000 mg.

Vitamin E is a powerful antioxidant that stimulates the body’s immune response, and helps it to fight off a wide array of infections, including those that target the sinuses. One of the vitamin’s important benefits for the sinuses is improved circulation to sinus tissue. Take up to 400 IU daily.

Herbal Remedies

For sinus congestion, try a whiff of eucalyptus oil. Not only does it affect receptors in the nasal mucous membranes and lead to less stuffiness, a recent issue of Alternative Medicine Review reported that eucalyptus helps kill bacteria that can cause a sinus infection. What’s more, cineole—an active ingredient in eucalyptus oil—can stimulate the immune system and decrease inflammation to help relieve sinus symptoms. You can simply apply a few drops of the essential oil to a tissue or add it to a humidifier to help clear nasal and sinus congestion.

For sneezing and itchy, watery eyes, stinging nettle or butterbur are helpful. Both of these herbal antihistamines have proven effective in numerous studies. Stinging nettle is good for acute symptoms like itchy, watery eyes; sneezing; and respiratory symptoms. This prickly plant offers fast relief—often within 15 minutes. The key is the herb’s anti-inflammatory effect. In one open trial of 69 patients with seasonal allergies, 58 percent reported that taking 600 mg of freeze-dried nettle leaf daily relieved their symptoms. Almost half of the participants said it was more effective than over-the-counter allergy drugs. And, unlike over-the-counter allergy medicines, stinging nettle won’t cause drowsiness.

A Swiss study found that butterbur is as effective as Zyrtec for long-term sufferers. But butterbur might also help those who only suffer occasional allergies, according to one clinical trial of 186 allergy sufferers who reported that butterbur worked well on people with intermittent allergies. For best results, most herbalists recommend taking 50 to 100 mg twice a day with meals.

An Ancient Technique for the Modern Nose

The Neti pot is an Ayurvedic remedy that has been practiced for thousands of years throughout India. In fact, neti is one of the six purification techniques performed prior to practicing yoga. Here’s how it works: Fill the Neti pot, insert it into one nostril, turn your head to the side, and pour salt water into your nose, allowing it to flow out of the other nostril. A gentle stream of a lukewarm saline solution gently cleanses the nasal passages, washing away pollens, mucus, viruses, and bacteria. The technique is not as uncomfortable or difficult as it might sound, and it can make a world of difference. Doctors find that using a Neti pot reduces allergies and sinus infections. It can also lower the incidence of the common cold. According to researchers at Pennsylvania State University, nasal-irrigation treatment is effective in reducing the incidence of colds. During their study, 294 college students were assigned to one of three groups: one group performed daily nasal irrigation with saline, one took a daily placebo pill, and the third group was left untreated. The doctors found that the group who irrigated with saline using a Neti pot experienced a significant reduction in colds compared with the placebo or untreated groups.


xlear nasal wash cleanses nasal passages, and washes away pollutants, pollens, and other irritants while fighting bacteria.

enzymatic therapy quercezyme-plus combines anti-inflammatory quercetin and bromelain, vitamin C and citrus bioflavonoids, plus magnesium to relax airways.

The vitamin shoppe quercetin with bromelain eases sinuses with non-citrus quercetin bioflavonoids derived from blue-green algae, plus bromelain from pineapple.

homeolab kids allergy relief relieves nasal congestion along with teary eyes, sneezing and throat tickles, with a safe, great tasting combination of homeopathic medicines.

Natrol Quercetin This product provides 500 mg of quercetin plus vitamin C and a citrus bioflavonoid complex to not only act as an antihistamine but boost immunity.