Natural Allergy Remedies
By R. Morgan Griffin
Reviewed By David Kiefer, MD
If you have allergies, there are plenty of medications to choose from. But you may not want to take drugs that make you feel listless or wired. Or perhaps you’re tired of using nasal sprays for allergy treatment. Can allergy supplements offer an alternative with fewer side effects?
Maybe, experts say. “Finding a good supplement for allergies can be a challenge,” says David Rakel, MD, founder and director of the University of Wisconsin Integrative Medicine Program David C. Leopold MD, director of Integrative Medical Education at the Scripps Center for Integrative Medicine in San Diego, says some people are able to manage their allergies with natural allergy remedies alone, while others use them as a complement to drugs.
Surveys show that almost half of all people with allergies try a natural allergy remedy. But you need to be careful. Depending on the type of allergy you have, some could actually trigger an allergic reaction.
What Natural Allergy Remedies Work? Allergies are caused by the immune system’s overreaction to a harmless substance, such as animal dander or pollen. Like allergy medication, some supplements can help by blocking the chemical reactions that result in allergy symptoms.
Here’s the rundown.
· Butterbur. “Butterbur is the Singulair of the herbal world,” says Rakel. “I think of all the allergy supplements, it has the best evidence behind it.” The herb appears to work as a leukotriene inhibitor, which blocks some chemicals that trigger swelling in the nasal passages.
Some research shows that an extract of butterbur root (Ze 339) are just as effective at relieving nasal symptoms as antihistamines like Zyrtec and Allegra. Butterbur has the advantage of not causing sleepiness, a common side effect of antihistamines, even some so-called “non-sedating antihistamines.” “For someone who is driving a car or flying a plane and really needs to avoid the sedative effects of an allergy medication, butterbur is a good alternative
· Quercetin. Found in wine and many fruits and vegetables, quercetin may work as a mast cell stabilizer. It helps block the release of histamine that causes inflammation. “Quercetin is sort of the herbal equivalent to cromolyn sodium [in the over-the-counter spray NasalCrom],” Rakel tells WebMD. “The evidence is promising.”
· Stinging Nettle. Often used as an allergy treatment, this botanical contains carotene, vitamin K, and quercetin. There’s some evidence that using stinging nettle after the first sign of allergic symptoms can help a bit. Be sure to choose extracts of stinging nettle (Urtica dioica) leaf, not the root, which is used to treat prostate troubles. Despite its common use, however, there’s not much research backing up stinging nettle’s effectiveness as an allergy remedy.
· Bromelain. Some studies have found that bromelain is helpful in reducing nasal swelling and thinning mucus, making it easier for people to breathe. It may be particularly useful when added to drug treatment for sinus infections.
· Combination allergy supplements. A number of natural allergy remedies contain a blend of botanicals. Leopold singles out Sinupret, a combination of European elderflower, sorrel, cowslip, verbena, and gentian root. “It’s seems to be effective and well tolerated,” he tells WebMD, “especially for conditions like chronic sinusitis, which can result from allergies.” It’s been long used in Europe, and there’s some evidence that it helps treat the symptoms of bronchitis and acute sinusitis.
· Other allergy supplements. People use many other supplements to treat allergies, including echinacea, grape seed extract, pycnogenol (pine bark extract), vitamin C, EPA, honey, cat’s claw, albizzia (Albizzia lebbeck), baical skullcup (Scutellaria baicalensis),goldenseal, and spirulina. However, research hasn’t found good evidence that they help. “These supplements might have other benefits,” says Rakel. “But if you’re trying to treat allergies, go with something else.”
Allergic reactions. There’s another problem for people seeking allergy supplements: Many of the plants used for allergy treatment -- such as butterbur, echinacea, and several others – are distant cousins to ragweed. So if you’re suffering from a ragweed allergy, a dose of allergy supplements could theoretically make your symptoms worse.
“I’ve seen people who come into our offices because their ragweed allergies are being aggravated by their allergy supplements,” says Rakel. “Usually, the first thing we do is get them off all the stuff they’re using. The human body doesn’t generally need a handful of supplements every day to stay well.”
Whether you’re using an allergy supplement or a drug, you should plan ahead. Start taking a natural allergy remedy a few weeks before ragweed season starts or before your visit to the aunt with six cats. That way, you can potentially prevent the allergic reaction from happening at all.
“By adding on a supplement like quercetin or butterbur, you might be able to take a lower dose of the prescription drug while getting the same benefits,” says Leopold. “And by keeping the medication at a lower level, you decrease the side effects.”
Herbs and Things
Have tried most of what I write about in these articles.