Now that it is well into spring, you may have had a bout of hay fever already, or are in the middle of sneezing your way through it. When this is something you experience year after year, you may have accepted it as your fate to have sneezing, fatigue and/or itchy eyes throughout the next few months. However, there are ways to change this, naturally. If you are open to thinking that perhaps you can overcome your seasonal ‘dripping faucet,’ headaches, and sinus pressure, here are a few suggestions that might be game-changers:
Your first line of defense should really be to lower your exposure to allergens. Do some spring cleaning, taking care to clear away dust and carefully clean up any mildew or mold that may have grown over the winter. Think of your bedroom as an allergy and toxin-free sanctuary. Try and use natural cleaning products whenever possible, and reduce your exposure to harmful chemicals. Did you know that if you get your clothing dry-cleaned, it is best to store it somewhere other than in the bedroom? Check out this article to learn why.
When coming home, especially when you may have been exposed to more pollen or allergens, remove your shoes, shower, and change into clean clothing. Make sure to keep your dirty laundry and your shoes in a different room from where you sleep and/or spend a lot of time.
Air purifiers in the home or bedroom may be helpful as well, but can’t overcome the burden of a heavy load of dust, mold, and environmental toxins. That being said, an air purifier with a HEPA filter may be helpful in further reducing your overall exposure.
Food as Medicine
You may have heard of anti-inflammatory diets being helpful for allergy symptoms, but I like to focus on building myself up rather than “fighting off” allergies. Of course, you should avoid anything that you are allergic to, and it is also wise to reduce or avoid sugar and processed foods. Aside from that, I’d focus on eating the widest variety of organic fruits and vegetables possible. This helps lower the allergic response in two ways:
- Fruits and vegetables each tend to have different beneficial bacteria that strengthen the gut. This diversity of bacteria helps build a robust microbiota, which is essential in maintaining good health. In fact, we all have “good” bacteria that can become inflammatory if they colonize too freely and are left unchecked by other diverse colonies of good bacteria. It’s all about checks and balances here; consuming a wide variety of fruits and vegetables is key to healthy bacterial diversity.
- A second way that a colorful, fruit- and vegetable-rich diet can mitigate or even prevent seasonal allergy symptoms is by providing nutrients called bioflavonoids and polyphenols, which help to lower inflammation. Quercetin, resveratrol and curcumin are well-researched nutrients, and are among my favorite natural anti-inflammatories. As an added bonus, these compounds can also protect the brain from harmful environmental chemicals.
- Quercetin helps block histamine from being released from mast cells, thereby reducing the typical allergy symptoms. Sources of quercetin include lettuce, olives, capers, leeks, onions, citrus, berries, and cherries.
- Resveratrol and curcumin both help suppress activation of a protein that is linked to chronic inflammation and even autoimmunity (it’s called NF-ϰB). Good sources of resveratrol include grapes and hibiscus. Curcumin is the main known active ingredient in turmeric. Turmeric is commonly used in Indian food – I like to look up various recipes for curry or masala and add turmeric, cumin and coriander to these meals. For a sweet treat at night, instead of indulging in something sugary, I make a dairy-free “golden milk”, lightly sweetened with honey. As a side note, consuming raw, local honey can also help reduce pollen allergies. Often, I’ll make extra golden milk and use this to flavor my hot cereal in the morning (I’ll usually have meat or nuts and some fruit or veggies with breakfast as well, because eating just carbs for breakfast is inflammatory!).
Nettles are also wonderful to combat seasonal allergies, and can be harvested easily during the spring, when the plants are still small. After identifying them properly, pick them carefully using gloves. Before eating them, you will want flash-boil them for 1-2 minutes in order to remove the sting. There are many fun recipes for nettles online.
If a healthy diet and a clean home are not quite keeping your allergies at bay, consider lab testing. If you do not already know what it is you are allergic to, a skin prick test may be helpful in identifying possible culprits. You can also get tested for mold exposure and your body’s response to different molds and mold toxins, or you may want to opt for a comprehensive stool analysis that will give you a detailed account of your microbiome and help you identify pathogens that may be compromising your overall health and mucosal immunity.
There is also a technique that involves guided visualization and gentle touch called Neuro Linguistic Programming, or NLP, that once helped turn my Hawaii vacation from miserable to wonderful, using no other treatments. I have used it throughout the years, and love it, since it is quick, easy, and requires no medicine, thus making it very low-risk. The idea is to retrain the overactive, mal-adaptive immune response through the nervous system, as these are intricately connected. For some people, it only takes a few minutes of this treatment before lasting results are achieved.
Finally, there are natural medicines that can be very helpful, if you would prefer to avoid steroids and antihistamines. My favorite supplements for hay fever are high amounts of Vitamin C and quercetin. Many people do well with freeze-dried nettles. I like to drink a tea daily of hibiscus, rose hips, ginger and chamomile, as this tastes delicious and provides anti-inflammatory nutrients in addition to being high in Vitamin C.
Please discuss the most appropriate testing and/or medication/supplement regimen with your physician. Contrary to popular belief, allergies don’t necessarily need to be an affliction for life.
Kharrazian, D. (2013). Toxicant loss of immune tolerance, neurologic disease, and nutritional strategies. Functional Neurology, Rehabilitation, and Ergonomics, 3(2/3), 203.
Magalingam, K. B., Radhakrishnan, A. K., & Haleagrahara, N. (2015). Protective mechanisms of flavonoids in Parkinson’s disease. Oxidative medicine and cellular longevity, 2015.