Natural Remedies for Allergies

If you don't trust conventional treatments or have already had them fail your, try these natural remedies for allergies.


| August/September 1998



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Using natural remedies for allergies could enable hay fever sufferers to enjoy a family bike ride on a summer day.


PHOTO: JOHN TERENCE TURNER/FPG

While most of us enjoy the green grass and flora of the summer months, about 20% of the population will struggle to some degree with watery eyes and bouts of sneezing. Hay fever, or allergic rhinitis, is caused by an allergic reaction to tree and/or grass pollens, and the accompanying symptoms are usually experienced with the change of seasons. If you begin to experience symptoms in early spring, chances are you're reacting to tree pollens. If you acquire a sneezing habit during the summer months, you're probably allergic to grass and weed pollens. If hay fever attacks begin in mid-March and last through late November, you're probably allergic to airborne fungus particles.

An allergic response is driven by excessive amounts of inflammatory agents (referred to as "mediators") being released from tissue mast cells. When an allergen is introduced, its offending particles bind to antibodies produced within the mast cells which promote a defensive response. The mast cells then produce and release inflammatory chemicals, such as histamine, which cause bronchial constriction, mucus discharge, and other familiar symptoms, in an attempt to rid the body of the allergen. One might be tempted to think that a person suffering from hay fever has a faulty immune system, but actually it's a sign that the person's immune system is working overtime. In fact, according to Andrew Weil, M.D., an allergy is really an example of "misplaced immunity." Dr. Weil also believes that an allergic reaction to airborne particles is a learned response of the immune system, and that natural remedies for allergies would be more effective. In his book, Natural Health, Natural Medicine (Houghton Mifflin, 1998), Dr. Weil contends that, "The goal of treatment should be to convince the immune system that it can coexist peacefully with these substances. Conventional medicine does not achieve this goal."

Antihistamines (and sometimes steroids) are the conventional course of treatment for seasonal allergies. However, antihistamines merely suppress physical symptoms and fail to address the underlying cause. Allergy, and asthma for that matter, can often be attributed to common food allergies, a malfunction in fatty acid metabolism, or even low stomach acid. Many people are under the impression that antihistamines inhibit the production of histamine, as the generic name suggests. But according to Michael Murray, N.D., "Antihistamines do not block the release of histamine. Instead, they block the action of histamine at receptor sites." They also perpetuate a cycle of immune over-responsiveness, allergic reaction, and a need for more medicine to alleviate symptoms. Furthermore, these powerful synthetics invade the brain and nervous systems to produce unpleasant side effects ranging from drowsiness to depression. For some people (as is the case with this writer), antihistamines can cause even more alarming and potentially dangerous symptoms, such as extreme excitability and heart palpitations.

Are there natural treatment alternatives? There are indeed. Adhering to a healthful diet, making any necessary lifestyle changes, and implementing the following herbs can help bring the relief you seek in a safe and effective manner. As with any medication, botanical or otherwise, before pursuing a course of self-treatment, always consult your physician if you are pregnant, nursing a baby, or being treated for any serious condition.

Nettle (Urtica dioica): Many people swear by nettle for hay fever relief, including Dr. Weil, who uses the herb himself. In 1990, the National College of Naturopathic Medicine in Portland, Oregon, conducted a double-blind study of the efficacy of a freeze-dried preparation of stinging nettle on allergic rhinitis. The group treated with the nettle preparation fared moderately better than their placebo-treated counterparts. A decoction made of the leaves or roots is said to ease bronchial constriction.

Oddly enough, another species of nettle (U. urens) is quite the allergen in itself. The plant and stinging hairs of this species contain high levels of both leukotrienes and histamine.





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