Spring is a season when flowers are in bloom, trees are budding and the sun is shining but for some unfortunate people, spring time also means a season filled with sneezing, runny noses, itchy and watery eyes. Allergic rhinitis affects over 20% of the population and seems to have a strong genetic component. Statistics show that allergic parents are more likely to have allergic children.
There are two types of allergies: seasonal allergic rhinitis or hay fever and perennial allergic rhinitis, which can occur year-round. Symptoms include sneezing, rhinorrhea, post-nasal drip, nasal congestion, itchy eyes, ears, nose or throat, and generalized fatigue. Symptoms can also include wheezing, eye tearing, sore throat, and impaired smell. A chronic cough may also accompany postnasal drip. Sinus headaches and plugged ears are also common symptoms.
The body’s immune system is designed to fight harmful substances like bacteria and viruses. However, in allergic rhinitis, the immune system over responds to substances that are harmless to most people – like pollen, mold, and pet dander – and initiates an attack by creating a particular type of antibody known as IgE. These antibodies circulate in the blood and attach to other immune cells called mast cells and basophils. They in turn, release histamine along with other inflammatory chemical mediators which include cytokines, interleukins, leukotrienes and prostaglandins and these mediators are the cause of the symptoms mentioned above.
Naturopathically speaking, supplements can be used to calm the immune system and make one less reactive to allergens. Bromelain, a digestive enzyme, can suppress cough, reduce nasal mucus associated with sinusitis, and relieve the swelling and inflammation caused by hay fever. Quercetin, a flavonoid found in plants and responsible for the colors found in fruits and vegetables has been shown to inhibit the production and release of histamine. Combining both quercetin and bromelain together seem to have synergistic effects.
Essential Fatty Acids, or EFAs, cannot be manufactured by the body and must be obtained through diet. People who are prone to allergies may require more EFAs and often have difficulty converting linoleic acid (an inflammation-provoking type of omega-6 fatty acid) to gamma-linolenic acid, or GLA, an anti-inflammatory omega-6 fatty acid. GLA can be found in spirulina, a protein-rich algae, and seed oils such as evening primrose, black currant and borage oils.
To get more EFAs in one’s diet, try eating foods rich an omega-3 fatty acids like cold-water fish, flaxseeds, and walnuts. Eating foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids and limiting foods with omega-6 fatty acids like egg yolks, meats, and corn or safflower cooking oils, may help in reducing allergy symptoms in general. This is due to omega-3 fatty acids decreasing inflammation versus omega-6 fatty acids (other than GLA) tendency to increase inflammation. Some studies suggest that Lactobacillus Acidophilus, a friendly, endogenous bacteria found in the intestines can help enhance the immune system. N-acetylcysteine, a modified form of the essential amino acid cysteine, may help to reduce nasal congestion.
Herbs such as Butterbur or Petasites hybridus, can decrease leukotriene and histamine production and help decrease symptoms associated with allergic rhinitis. Goldenseal or Hydrastis Canadensis, Stinging nettle or Urtica dioica and Goldenrod or Solidago virgaurea are herbs that have also shown benefits to the immune systems. Chinese skullcap or Scuterllaria baicalensis has been studied and has shown anti-inflammatory and antihistamine properties.
Remember, herbs, like other medications, may produce side effects or interact with other medications. Therefore, they should be used with caution and only under the guidance of a professionally trained health care provider. Please note that if you are immunocompromised, pregnant or breast feeding, please consult with your healthcare provider before initiating any treatment protocols.
If you have any food allergies, try eliminating those items from your diet. Even if you have not identified any food allergies, reducing the intake of foods that may stimulate inflammation, such as meats, full fat dairy products, sugar, and highly processed foods, may improve your symptoms. Various methods, such as blood-spot testing for IgA amounts in the body is another way of testing for food allergies. These tests are available through Acutoronto and can be performed in the clinic.
It is important to work with your healthcare provider to determine if the therapies mentioned above are appropriate for you and your conditions. Book an appointment with Vivien Fong, ND if you are interested in learning more about allergy testing or need help in preventing and treating allergies.