Environmental Allergies and Supplements
An allergy is an abnormal immune system response to an allergen. Allergens are substances such as pollen, grass, pet dander, mold, dust, and certain foods. Bee venom and roaches can also cause allergic reactions. During the immune response, your body produces substances like histamines and prostaglandins which cause the symptoms that we associate with allergies. The most common symptoms to environmental allergens such as pollen and grass are the runny or stuffy nose, itchy eyes, and a cough. In Oregon, allergy season due to pollen has a gradual onset and impact on susceptible people from early Spring to late Fall, since different plants pollinate at different times.
In April, trees that are currently pollinating are Birch, Juniper, Alder, and Ash. The next pollinators are grasses, which peak from the end of May to the Fourth of July. The Willamette Valley has very high grass pollen due to nearly 500,000 acres of commercial grass seed. The last group of pollinators is weeds, which pollinate toward the end of summer and into fall, until the first frost. Testing for airborne/seasonal allergies and potential use of immunotherapy is important in all allergy susceptible individuals. This is especially important for those who have moderate to severe symptoms that are poorly controlled, cause bronchospasm (asthma symptoms), or have symptoms that include most days of the year and interfere with the quality of life.
Some herbs, antioxidants, and anti-inflammatory supplements can help modulate your immune response for mild to moderate allergy symptoms. Here are a few common supplements.
Bioflavonoids are antioxidants that help stabilize mast cells (immune system cells) and balance histamine levels. Quercetins a bioflavonoid found in foods such as onions, broccoli, apples, and grapes. Bioflavonoid capsules are also available at health food stores, for those who need higher dosages to be effective.
Nettles leaf can help modulate and decrease the eosinophil response (another immune system cell) associated with allergens. Nettles leaf supports histamine balance and is synergetic with Quercetin.
Omega 3 fatty acids can help support the inflammatory response and modulates prostaglandins during allergic immune reactions. Foods that are high in Omega 3 fatty acids include Avocados, fatty fish such as salmon and sardines, and nuts and seeds such as almonds and hemp seeds.
Vitamin C is essential in balancing histamine levels as well.
B Vitamins and minerals are essential to the metabolism and breakdown of histamine.
Most over the counter products formulated for allergy symptoms are a combination of some or all of these nutrients, especially the combination of Nettles and Bioflavonoids. For the maximum effectiveness and best support of the immune response, these supplements should be started before the seasonal allergy symptoms start since they might be less effective after symptoms start.
If over the counter supplements do not relieve your symptoms or if you have severe or moderate allergy symptoms, please make an appointment for allergy testing. You might be a candidate for immunotherapy to relieve symptoms long term without medications.
Always, consult with your doctor before starting supplements to confirm that they will not interact with other medications and to confirm that your symptoms are due to allergies and not a more serious condition. Your safety and health are our first concern.
Laika Rodriguez, ND