Allergies affect many of us, with seasonal allergies being experienced by one in six Americans, and four percent of kids and adults dealing with food allergies. In addition, the World Health Organisation states that approximately 235 million people worldwide suffer from asthma.
The irritation in the eyes, nose, skin and head make allergies one of the most annoying - and sometimes debilitating - conditions people have to deal with on a mass scale.
But traditional treatments for allergies also have their drawbacks, with many of the most commonly used pharmaceutical drugs having a range of side effects.
This article will aim to provide you with some safer, more natural alternatives for your allergy symptoms.
All about allergies
Allergic conditions affect more than 20 percent of Americans, with allergic rhinitis being experienced by up to 40 percent.
Allergic reactions are usually triggered by normally harmless airborne antigens. They can be seasonal - think hay fever - or perennial, as is the case with mould, dust mites, or certain chemicals.
Speaking of hay fever, this is a commonly used misnomer; the symptom complex isn’t actually produced by hay, and is not directly associated with fever.
Seasonal allergies follow a predictable pattern based on the growing season, with the most intense period for allergies in the U.S. being the fall, when a large amount of weed pollen becomes airborne.
Part of the allergic response involves inflammation, which aims to remove pathogens and damaged cells when our bodies are exposed to irritating or harmful stimuli.
So what exactly causes the immune response to go overboard? Scientists continue to look at causal factors such as leaky gut, inflammation, and nutritional factors. Other possible influences include stress and insufficient activity levels.
These pathologies cause well-known symptoms such as sneezing, coughing, and itching. Other localised symptoms include weakness, fatigue, appetite suppression, and headaches.
While usually not considered particularly dangerous, allergic rhinitis and other seasonal conditions do cause distress and disrupt sleep and productivity.
There is also a strong link between allergic rhinitis and more serious respiratory conditions like asthma.
Allergies and their comorbid conditions (such as asthma and sinusitis) cause millions of lost work and school days in the U.S. every year.
The outlook for allergy sufferers is not great into the future, either. The World Allergy Organisation has stated that climate change will affect the onset, duration, and intensity of the pollen season and exacerbate the effects of pollutants.
The number of people with allergies, and the number of allergens, seems to be increasing.
What are histamines?
One of the main culprits in the inflammatory allergic response is histamine. This normally useful messenger molecule promotes alertness, blood flow and healing.
Histamine was identified in the early 20th century as a mediator of anaphylactic reactions.
Histamine helps to control arousal levels, increasing them during the day, and reducing arousal responses at night.
In excess amounts, however, histamine disrupts the homeostasis of the circulatory and immune systems, aggravating and causing inflammation to the gut and respiratory tract.
Histamine is found in varying levels in many different foods. In healthy individuals, histamine is rapidly detoxified by the body.
For people who have reactions to histamine, the compound can cause serious symptoms such as restricted airways, fluid leakage, or hives.
To combat these negative effects, the mainline therapy is antihistamine medications.
Antihistamines and their side effects
Antihistamines are the typical first response when people experience seasonal or unexpected allergic reactions.
Antihistamines block the histamine receptors in the body, reducing the symptoms of sneezing, runny nose, and itchy nose or eyes.
While antihistamines are very good at alleviating the above symptoms, they are not as effective for congestion or associated asthma.
Antihistamines come in many forms, including eye drops, liquids, pills, and nasal sprays. Some of the most common antihistamine brands include Benadryl, Claritin, Allegra, and Zyrtec.
While these drugs are usually effective at treating allergy symptoms, they may come with significant side effects of their own.
The first generation of antihistamines penetrated into the brain, causing drowsiness, fatigue, and impaired cognitive function. This had negative consequences on people’s ability to study, work, and drive.
Major advancements in development took place in the 1980s, with second generation antihistamines not being able to penetrate the blood-brain barrier. This meant that the sedating effects were drastically reduced.
That being said, the common medications mentioned above still have many side effects. These include headaches, earaches, vomiting, back pain, dizziness, diarrhoea, muscle aches, nausea, gastrointestinal discomfort, and insomnia - among others!
It is interesting to note that some of the typical antihistamine drugs have the potential to cause some of the same symptoms they are supposed to treat.
While there are other traditional forms of medical therapy used to treat allergy symptoms, let’s take a look at the possibility of using natural forms of antihistamine in order to relieve symptoms without experiencing so many negative side effects.
Natural antihistamines as an alternative
In recent years, research has discovered the ability of natural compounds to produce the same benefits as antihistamine medications, with few and less severe side effects.
Natural histamine blockers may not be as potent as pharmaceutical options, however they still have the ability to produce a similar outcome. In addition, adverse reactions to these natural substances are extremely rare.
Flavonoids are compounds found in plants that have many anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effects. These substances reduce the damage caused by free radicals in the body.
Natural phytochemicals such as flavonoids have existed for over a billion years, and can help protect against not only allergy symptoms, but cancer, renal diseases, cardiac conditions, and even dementia.
The following is a list of some of the most effective natural compounds known to act as antihistamines, including the best sources of these constituents.
6 of the best natural antihistamines
Quercetin is a plant pigment, and one of the most important bioflavonoids for health benefits. It is important to get enough quercetin in the diet, as it is not produced in the body.
The properties of quercetin that allow it to fight allergies include its anti-inflammatory, antihypertensive, and metabolic effects.
Specifically, quercetin inhibits the release of histamine from mast cells, helping to prevent allergic reactions and symptoms. It also suppresses cytokines and nitric oxide in their roles in the inflammation process.
Luckily, there are many dietary sources of quercetin. The list includes citrus fruits, green leafy vegetables, seeds, nuts, broccoli, olive oil, apples, onions, green tea, and berries.
With a regular consumption of these foods, it is relatively easy to maintain high plasma levels of quercetin, allowing you to reap the unmatched allergy-fighting benefits of this natural substance.
Bromelain is another plant derivative that can aid in relieving allergy symptoms. Bromelain is found in the stem of the pineapple plant.
Bromelain has the ability to block certain inflammatory pathways, as well as decreasing the thickness of any mucus in the lungs.
Bromelain also strengthens the effects of quercetin and other healthy flavonoids, increasing the absorption amount.
This powerful enzyme is most often consumed as a supplement in capsule form.
If there’s one plant you wouldn’t think would be good for allergy symptoms like itching, it would be stinging nettle!
Interestingly, though, certain breeds of nettle actually inhibit several key stages in the inflammatory cycle, including stopping the mast cells from releasing many pro-inflammatory mediators.
The dried leaves of stinging nettle have actually been used for years as antihistamine herbs to relieve allergic rhinitis symptoms. It is only in recent decades that properly controlled studies have found stinging nettle to be more effective than placebo at alleviating allergy symptoms.
Vitamin C, also known as L-ascorbate, is a natural defence mechanism against excess histamine.
Studies have found that consistently sufficient vitamin C intake can lower blood histamine levels by 40 percent in healthy individuals.
Vitamin C also helps the function of other drugs and supplements that are used to relieve symptoms in the upper respiratory tract.
In the skin, vitamin C helps our immune defence by supporting the skin in keeping out pathogens, allergens and oxidants.
For an in-depth look into vitamin C, particularly in the form of topical serums, check out this article on hyaluronic acid and vitamin C.
Butterbur is a plant that grows in several regions around the world. The active ingredient which acts as an antihistamine is called petasin.
This herb antihistamine has been found in research to be well tolerated, and improves symptoms of allergic rhinitis.
Butterbur also has the advantage over alternative drugs in that it doesn’t produce any sedative effects, which many allergy medications have as a side effect.
Zinc is a very important mineral for overall wellbeing, having many critical functions in the body. Zinc actually stores histamine, preventing plasma levels becoming too high and causing allergy symptoms.
Zinc deficiency is common, however, and so many people will have higher levels of histamine in the body.
Zinc supplementation is crucial for those who don’t receive enough through diet. Zinc is a fundamental part of not only immune health, but has other vital roles to do with our hair, skin, brain function, bone density, and more.
Other natural remedies for allergies
In addition to these natural options for helping suppress allergic reactions, there are other precautions you can take.
First, you can ensure your living and working spaces are air-conditioned and possibly de-humidified, to keep the levels of irritating allergens to a minimum.
Another option is to cut down on sugar intake. It is typical for allergy sufferers to be sensitive to sugar, which can depress the immune system, cause the formation of mucus, and contribute to congestion.
It’s no surprise that sugar consumption has increased, but you may not know the extent of it. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the average adult consumes 156 pounds of sugar a year - that’s up from just five pounds a year a century ago!
Some natural antihistamine foods to add to your diet instead of sugar include turmeric, and the phytonutrients known as anthocyanins, which give foods their purple color. Turmeric is the yellow spice found in Indian curries, and anthocyanin is abundant in foods like beets, berries, and cherries.
These substances have potent anti-inflammatory properties, so be sure to add them to your diet where possible.
Seeking professional help for allergies
Finally, a quick note to encourage you to visit an allergist or immunologist if your symptoms persist even after trying some of these natural remedies.
An immunologist may conduct blood tests or skin prick tests to determine exact causes of allergic symptoms, and can help come up with the best plan of treatment.
We hope you’ve enjoyed this article, let us know in the comments any other natural antihistamine you use to alleviate your allergy woes.
If you’re looking for more interesting information about the amazing ability of our bodies to protect themselves, take a look at this article on the immune system.