Nicole Spear, MS, CNS
Conquering Fall Allergies
As the cooler weather blows in, it is not uncommon to throw open the windows to air out the home, while simultaneously enjoying crisp cool nights. Unfortunately, for many, coexisting with nature and the fresh air only spawns misery in the form of sneezing, congestion, itchy and watery eyes.
The overarching feeling of being sick interrupt life and act as bombs threatening to spoil good times while television commercials for the next generation of successful allergy medications promise relief. Unfortunately, the undesirable side effects of these same medications - the dreaded drowsiness and dried out mucous membranes – zap our energy and dampen our ability to make seasonal memories with loved ones.
Perhaps we have forgotten how centuries ago, before our modern antihistamines and decongestants were produced, relief from seasonal allergies was found in many herbs containing natural antihistamine properties.
Ragweed pollen is the most common culprit for triggering fall allergies. Releasing pollen from August to November, Ragweed is native to a vast majority of American soil, making it virtually impossible to escape.
As the fall season progresses, piles of damp leaves and morning dew provide a perfect breeding ground for mold to flourish and release allergenic spores. Mold not only assaults us outdoors, but indoors, too, as we turn on the furnace and release a mass of mold spores that have been hiding among the dirty crevices of the furnace ducts.
Quercetin to the Rescue
Quercetin is one of my favorite allergy saviors since its history as an effective anti-allergy, anti-histamine, and anti-inflammatory agent is well documented.
Quercetin is known as a bioflavonoid and is prevalent within apples, onions, grapefruit, red wine, black and green tea. It protects our mucus membranes during exposure to various fall allergens. Mucous membranes protect the delicate cells of the respiratory tract from allergens such as pollen and mold spores. If these invaders enter the respiratory tract, the mucus membranes communicate with the immune system to mount a battle and neutralize the threat. This response creates the runny, itchy nose, sneezing, watery eyes and the nasal congestion that classify allergies.
Quercetin acts as a mediator between the mucous membranes and the immune system. It interacts with the white blood cells of the immune system, and assures them that it is not necessary to release large doses of histamine – a chemical used to attack allergens. Histamine is responsible for the plethora of annoying signs that follow allergen exposure. Quercetin is an anti-histamine, meaning it reduces the amount of histamine released and therefore, reduces the allergic symptoms associated with histamine. Studies have shown quercetin can reduce runny and itchy noses and help keep the respiratory tract clear. So, as the weather turns cooler, quercetin may be something to look forward to just as much as pumpkins and scarecrows.
Stinging Nettle Calms the “Sting” of Allergies
Stinging Nettle (Urtica dioica) has been used for generations in the relief of seasonal allergies and is especially helpful for managing the runny nose. It blocks histamine similar to quercetin, but it also reduces inflammation in the mucous membranes and respiratory tract.
As the immune system attacks allergens, one type of immune cell (the mast cell) starts to leak chemicals known as histamine, prostaglandins, cytokines, and leukotrienes. These chemicals create inflammation which causes the array of allergenic symptoms we experience. Many over-the-counter allergy medications work by blocking the production and release of these inflammatory chemicals. However, since many of these medications can cross the blood brain barrier, they tend to cause drowsiness. Stinging nettle is unique in its ability to stay away from the brain and therefore will not entice you to curl up and sleep.
Vitamin C Cleans the Respiratory Tract
Vitamin C is another critical nutrient for allergy season. It blocks histamine and acts as an anti-inflammatory just like quercetin and stinging nettle. However, this vitamin also functions as a potent antioxidant, scavenging the free radicals that are dangerous to our cells.
Antioxidants are important during allergy season, since an abundance of free radicals are generated by the immune system in response to invading pollen. Therefore, vitamin C can indirectly support the immune system and body by acting as a street sweeper, cleaning up all the excess free radicals generated in response to the body acting against the invading pollen. In this way, vitamin C gives the immune system a cleaner environment with which to conduct its job and protects neighboring cells from damage while the immune system functions.
Vitamin C is a water-soluble vitamin, meaning it is very safe in high doses. If you take too much, it simply exits the body through your urine. During allergy season, it is not uncommon to take an extra 2,000 – 5,000mg, if needed.
Vitamin C is found in copious quantities in fresh fruits and vegetables such as colored peppers, strawberries, grapefruit, and dark greens. Therefore, eating lots of fresh fruits and vegetables will ensure a healthier body during allergy season. Vitamin C is very delicate and can be destroyed by heat and pressure, so canned fruits and vegetables are poor sources of this vitamin. Fruit juice is also a poor choice since the pasteurization and processing destroys the natural vitamin and requires manufacturers to enrich the beverage with synthetic vitamin C. Unfortunately, the quantity added back during processing is not nearly as large as the naturally existing dose. Therefore, fresh produce is a winner, again.
Vitamin D for Mold Allergies
Mold allergies are particularly complicated. In apparently healthy individuals, seasonal mold spores may not be any more bothersome than weed pollen, but in other individuals, mold exposure can create chaos in the respiratory tract.
Aspergillus fumigatus is the most frequently encountered fungus both in the home and outdoors. The immune cells of the respiratory tract act as the first line of defense, explaining why a healthy immune system is so important during mold exposure. Researchers have discovered that mold spores can identify and claim possession of vitamin D receptors in the airway. Therefore, maintaining adequate vitamin D levels are important so that empty vitamin D receptors aren’t available for mold spores to possess. Unfortunately, vitamin D deficiencies are notorious among individuals and replenishing a less-than-optimal vitamin D level can take time. Therefore, it is advantageous to attain optimal vitamin D levels prior to the fall season to offer the body full support against allergens. If you haven’t had your vitamin D levels checked at the doctor’s office recently (a test known as a 25-hydroxy vitamin D blood test), ask for it! Your levels should be no less than 50ng/mL and ideally, they should be close to 80ng/mL.
The best protection for fall allergies includes a combination of quercetin, stinging nettles, and vitamins C and D. Let’s enjoy the cool season and popping color by choosing natural anti-histamines that won’t leave us drowsy and miserable this season.