Oh, the dilemma of the allergy sufferer: Take medication to treat symptoms and get relief, but spend the day in a fog? Or forgo treatment and continue to suffer? Luckily, there's a third option: natural remedies including some foods, herbs and other supplements, and acupuncture.
The supplement complement
Dr. Lissa McNiel, naturopathic physician at Arbora Natural Medicine Solutions in Medford, says herbs and vitamins are especially effective in mild to moderate cases and rarely have side effects if used correctly.
"You have to take them more regularly because they don't work the same way as drugs," McNiel says. "They're more like food. They don't build up in the body. They work on the inflammatory response rather than directly on histamine receptors."
McNiel made the following recommendations:
- Vitamins B3, B6, B12, K and D3.
- Butterbur, a member of the daisy family that can block chemicals that trigger swelling in the nasal passages.
- Quercetin, which helps block the release of histamines that cause inflammation.
- Stinging nettle, which contains carotene, vitamin K and quercetin, and can reduce distress if taken at the first indication of symptoms.
- Bromelain, which can reduce nasal swelling and thin mucus.
- Always consult a health care practitioner before taking supplements.
Even though herbs and supplements are natural, McNiel advises to use them with caution. (It's dangerous to eat raw, unprocessed butterbur root, for example.) Seeing a naturopathic physician is your best bet, she advises. Natural supplements are usually available in capsule, tablet or liquid form, and it takes guidance to know which is best for you.
From nettle to needles
Another solution is acupuncture. For short-term relief of symptoms, needles and herbs can be used to quickly clear out sinuses, according to Owen Jurling, a licensed acupuncturist at Healing Point Acupuncture in Jacksonville. Addressing the causes of allergies takes a bit longer. The practitioner asks a series of questions to pinpoint which organs and systems in the body are overactive, weak or otherwise out of balance.
"Once we understand that, we use acupuncture, herbs and other techniques — stress relief, yoga, tai chi, nutrition — to strengthen those systems that are weak, calm down ones that are overactive," he explains. "When allergy season comes back, the immune system is better able to withstand attacks from allergies."
Acupuncture is becoming more widely accepted, Jurling says, and is often easier to get patients to try than herbs. Many people, he said, don't understand how potent herbs can be or how relaxation techniques and proper nutrition can help with allergies.
"Acupuncture can be very helpful and has very few side effects," he says, adding that it can include the possibility of some discomfort and bruising. "But the patient is going to have to take responsibility for looking at their diet and following the treatment plan. If they do, things can be greatly improved."
Healing through nutrition
While there isn't a lot of conclusive evidence that certain foods can calm allergy symptoms, there are a few that show at least some degree of effectiveness in both relieving them and warding off allergies altogether. Among them are fish and nuts for omega 3 fatty acids, which reduce inflammation; apples for vitamin C and quercetin, which helps block the release of histamines that cause inflammation; red grapes for antioxidants; and warm liquids like hot tea or broth to clear sinuses.
Regularly eating raw, local honey can help build immunity to allergens specific to the area where you live. It acts as a vaccination, slowly exposing the body to the local allergens that result as bees traipse from flower to flower and produce honey from the nectar they collect.