What are Allergies?
Allergies are exaggerated immune responses to substances that are generally not considered harmful. There are many different types of allergies, such as food allergies and skin allergies. Allergic rhinitis is a type of allergy that occurs when your immune system overreacts to airborne particles such as dust, dander, or pollen, causing symptoms such as a runny or itchy nose and sneezing.
Allergy to plant pollen is commonly called hay fever and affects approximately 40 million people each year in the United States.
Symptoms of Allergy
- Runny nose, nasal congestion
- Watery eyes
- Itchy, watery eyes, nose or throat
- Postnasal drip
- Facial pressure or pain
Natural Allergy Remedies
1) ButterburThe herb butterbur (Petasites hybridus) is a shrub-like plant that grows in northern Asia, Europe, and parts of North America. Extracts made from the herb have been used in folk medicine for migraines, stomach cramps, coughs, allergies and asthma.
Butterbur is being studied as a natural allergy remedy. Although how butterbur works is still not known, it is thought to work in a similar way to allergy medications by blocking the action of histamine and leukotrienes, inflammatory chemicals involved in allergic reactions.
In a study involving 186 people with hay fever, participants took a higher dose of butterbur (one tablet three times a day), a lower dose (one tablet two times a day) or a placebo. After two weeks, both the higher and lower dose relieved allergy symptoms compared to the placebo, but there were significantly greater benefits seen with the higher dose.
In another study, 330 people with hay fever were given a butterbur extract (one tablet three times a day), the antihistamine drug fexofenadine (Allegra), or a placebo. Butterbur was as effective as fexofenadine at relieving sneezing, nasal congestion, itchy eyes, and other hay fever symptoms, and both treatments were more effective than the placebo.
Side effects of butterbur may include indigestion, headache, fatigue, nausea, vomiting, diarrha, or constipation. Pregnant or nursing women, children, or people with kidney or liver disease should not take butterbur.
Butterbur is in the ragweed plant family, so people who are allergic to ragweed, marigold, daisy, or chrysanthemum should avoid butterbur.
The raw herb as well as teas, extracts, and capsules made from the raw herb should not be used because they contain substances called pyrrolizidine alkaloids that can be toxic to the liver and kidneys and may cause cancer.
It is possible to remove the pyrrolizidine alkaloids from butterbur products. For example, in Germany, there is a safety limit to the level of pyrrolizidine alkaloids allowed in butterbur products. The daily recommended dose cannot exceed 1 microgram per day.
Quercetin is a type of antioxidant called a flavonoid. Although there is still isn't enough research to conclude that quercetin is an effective allergy remedy, it is thought to prevent the release of the inflammatory chemical histamine, which is involved in allergy symptoms such as sneezing and itching.
Quercetin is found naturally in certain foods, such as apples (with the skin on), berries, red grapes, red onions, capers, and black tea. It is also available in supplement form. A typical dose for allergies and hay fever is between 200 and 400 milligrams three times a day. To find out more about quercetin, read the quercetin fact sheet.
Carotenoids are a family of plant pigments, the most popular being beta-carotene. Although no randomized controlled trials show that carotenoids are effective remedies for allergies, a lack of carotenoids in the diet is thought to promote inflammation in your airways.
There are no guidelines or research that suggests a certain target intake for hay fever. Many people don't even get one serving of carotenoid-rich foods a day. If this is you, consider striving for one to two servings a day to up your intake.
Good sources of carotenoids include apricots, carrots, pumpkin, sweet potato, spinach, kale, butternut squash, and collard greens.
4) Omega-3 Fatty Acids
Omega-3 fatty acids are a type of essential fatty acid that we must obtain through our diet. Research suggests that they may reduce the production of inflammatory chemicals in the body (prostaglandin E2 and inflammatory cytokines).
Although there are no randomized controlled trials showing that omega-3 fatty acids are effective allergy remedies, a German study involving 568 people found that a high content of omega-3 fatty acids in red blood cells or in the diet was associated with a decreased risk of hay fever.
Good sources of omega-3 fatty acids are:
- Fish oil capsules: providing 1 to 1.2 grams of EPA and DHA per day. Side effects of fish oil may include indigestion and a fishy aftertaste. Fish oil has a mild "blood-thinning" effect. If taking warfarin (Coumadin) or heparin or are at risk of bleeding complications, do not take fish oil without consulting a doctor. Fish oil should not be taken two weeks before or after surgery.
- Flaxseed oil: 1 tablespoon two to three times a day.
- Walnuts, 1 ounce (14 halves) a day
At the same time, reducing foods rich in arachidonic acid might be wise. One study found an association between arachidonic acid and hay fever. Although arachidonic acid is essential for health, too much has been found to worsen inflammation. This means reducing intake of egg yolks, red meat, and shellfish.Next page: food, nettles, nasal irrigation, and acupuncture for allergies...