May 13, 2011

Natural Allergy Relief

Spring has sprung and if you're like 35 million other Americans you're feeling the sting of seasonal allergies – runny nose, itchy and watery eyes, sneezing, and wheezing. Before heading off to the drugstore, consider some natural remedies that cost less and have fewer side effects than over-the-counter drugs. You may find an all natural way to alleviate mild allergies or compliment a more traditional treatment of severe allergies.

First, take some steps to lessen your exposure to allergens. Avoid using window fans or air conditioning units because they can pull pollen indoors. Keep your car windows closed while driving and limit your time outside when allergy counts are high. Check out weather.com's Allergy and Pollen Count forecast when making plans. Take a shower and wash your hair at the end of the day to wash allergens out of your eyes and pollen out of your hair. A saline nasal spray can help rinse pollen from your nose and thin mucous. A neti pot goes even further and helps rinse your sinuses as well. You simply use this little genie lamp-shaped contraption to rinse saltwater through your nasal passages and pollen grains and the sinus congestion they cause are flushed away.

Next, cut out any foods that cause even the slightest irritation (e.g., eczema, hives, stomach ache, bloating, etc.). There appears to be a strong connection between food intolerance and seasonal allergies. By cutting out any foods you have trouble digesting you lighten the burden on your immune system, leaving it better able to process environmental allergens. It's suggested that anyone suffering from ragweed or other weed pollen allergies avoid eating melon, banana, cucumber, sunflower seeds, chamomile, and any herbal supplements containing echinacea.

While some foods can exacerbate allergies, other foods can provide relief from allergy symptoms. Spicy food can thin nasal mucous, which in turn clears your sinuses. The foods and spices most frequently recommended for clearing sinuses are cayenne pepper, chili peppers, hot ginger, horseradish, hot mustard, onions, and fenugreek. Also, studies show people who eat an anti-inflammatory diet rich in omega-3 fatty acids are less likely to suffer from allergy symptoms. Cold-water fish, walnuts and flaxseed are all high in omega-3s.

There is also a theory that a spoonful of honey can keep keep allergies at bay. The premise is that by consuming local honey produced by bees in your area you gradually introduce tiny doses of pollen (which gets into the honey thanks to those bees) to your system, reducing our sensitivity. It's a very simple form of homeopathic immunotherapy. In order to build your immunity, you would need to start consuming a daily dose of local honey (it's important that it be produced from bees living near you) several weeks or months before allergy season.

If despite these preventative measures you still suffer from seasonal allergies, there are specific nutrients that can be effective in treating your symptoms. The most commonly recommended all natural remedy is a combination of vitamin C and quercetin. Vitamin C is an antioxidant shown to be effective at reducing allergy symptoms. Quercetin, also an antioxidant, is a natural plant-derived compound called a bioflavonoid that may control the release of histamine (the chemical that starts your body's allergic reaction). Each boosts the other's effectiveness, so together vitamin C and quercetin have a synergistic effect that's proven quite effective at quelling seasonal allergies. Try 1500 mg of vitamin C with 500 mg of quercetin once or twice a day starting up to six weeks before allergy season.

Some studies show the herb butterbur to be an effective allergy medicine. A Swiss study demonstrated how 32 mg of butterbur four times a day was as effective as the drug cetirizine (the active ingredient in Zyrtec) in controlling the symptoms of hay fever. Plus, no drowsiness, a common side effect of antihistamines, was noted. Stinging nettle is another natural antihistamine alternative. Studies show that 300 mg a day will offer relief for most people, but the effects typically last only a few hours.

Finally, many people have found significant relief from their allergy symptoms with the use of acupuncture. It can be especially helpful for those suffering from multiple allergies.

While natural remedies can be extremely helpful, it's important to use them with the same caution you would use with over-the-counter medicines. It's best to consult with your doctor before starting any type of treatment, but it's especially important if you are mixing alternative treatments with traditional drugs.

Best wishes for a happy and healthy spring!

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