Sneezing, nasal congestion, runny nose, itchiness... Sound familiar? The irritating symptoms of environmental allergies are not only common during the pollen-filled spring and summer months, but can also be seen year-round from exposure to dust and animal dander. An allergic reaction is essentially an inflammatory response from the immune system; the presence of allergens triggers our immune system to overreact, producing Immunoglobulin E (IgE) antibodies to protect the body from the allergens. Besides minimizing or avoiding exposure to allergens, what can we do to treat or prevent environmental allergies? Conventional medical treatments including antihistamines, decongestants, and corticosteroids typically reduce the symptoms of allergies. Here are some alternative options for treating allergies by strengthening immunity and reducing overall inflammation in the body.
Gut health – an increasing amount of scientific research has shown that our gut microbiome has a large influence over regulating health, specifically the immune system and inflammatory diseases. Studies suggest that antibiotic use and modern dietary changes in the last few decades have led to an increase in allergic respiratory disease. To support healthy gut flora, eat a wide variety of fruits and vegetables, high-fiber foods, fermented foods, and foods that are rich in prebiotics and probiotics.
Homeopathy – homeopathic treatments use extremely small doses of substances in order to strengthen the body’s immune response and prevent allergy symptoms. Treatments may use dilutions of substances or constitutional medicines that cause similar symptoms to the allergic reaction, or dilutions of the allergens themselves.
Acupuncture and herbal medicine – acupuncture has been shown to improve allergic symptoms, possibly by modulating the immune system and decreasing IgE. Herbal therapies including licorice root, stinging nettle, skullcap, Nigella sativa, Cordyceps sinensis, and Perilla frutescens are used for their anti-inflammatory properties.
Emotional health – reducing stress is important for managing inflammation in the body as a whole and encouraging the flow of qi. When qi is stagnant in the liver, emotional frustration and irritability are common. From a psychological perspective, allergies may also be associated with feelings of isolation, over-sensitivity, or being “attacked” by others.
Foods and supplements – to support liver function and reduce inflammation, eat a simple and light diet and minimize inflammatory foods (e.g. sugar, gluten, dairy, and alcohol). Spring dietary principles are also beneficial. Chlorophyll-rich foods like spirulina, chlorella and blue-green algae help to modulate immune function, while other green foods like parsley, kale and watercress help to rejuvenate the liver. Raw local honey which contains bee pollen is also a natural remedy for hay fever and allergies.
McDonald, J.L., Smith, P.K., et al., 2016. Effect of acupuncture on house dust mite specific IgE, substance P, and symptoms in persistent allergic rhinitis. Annals of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology, 116(6): 497-505.
Noverr, M.C. and Huffnagle, G.B., 2005. The ‘microflora hypothesis’ of allergic diseases. Clinical & Experimental Allergy, 35(12): 1511-1520.
Pitchford, P. 2002. Healing With Whole Foods: Asian Traditions and Modern Nutrition. 3rd ed. Berkeley: North Atlantic Books.
Ullman, D. and Frass, M., 2010. A review of homeopathic research in the treatment of respiratory allergies. Alternative Medicine Review, 15(1): 48-58.
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