How to prepare for the pollen season – naturally
Cold and dreary winter seems to drag on for so long that we can't wait for spring to arrive. But many people don't look forward to spring due to the unseen, but annoying invader - pollen. Roughly 10-30% of population worldwide struggle with hay fever and allergic rhinitis. Symptoms include runny nose and congestion, watery eyes, itching, brain fog, fatigue and overall feeling miserable.
The most common way of dealing with these symptoms is over the counter antihistamine medications, such as Claritin, Zyrtec and Benadryl, as well as corticosteroid nasal sprays like Flonase. These drugs can have various side effects that range from sleepiness, dry eyes and dizziness to behavioral changes in children, and more. They do have a time and place for those who need them most.
There are natural ways of supporting your immune system and reducing environmental allergy symptoms that could help get through pollen season without misery. They can help lessen or even replace the use of medications. I will share what’s worked for our family over the years. Full disclosure – we’re still working on sailing through pollen season without an occasional Zyrtec or Claritin, but my son’s seasonal allergies have improved significantly, and I no longer feel like I need to scratch my eyes out and shut myself in the house for months – and that’s with antihistamine meds!
Here are the natural remedies that are a staple at our home during pollen season:
Spirulina – it’s a blue-green algae that grows both in salt and fresh water. Besides being a powerful antioxidant and a real superfood, it has potent anti-inflammatory properties. Spirulina supplementation can help stop the release of histamine and significantly reduce hay fever symptoms. It’s best to start supplementing before the start of pollen season in order to gain the most benefit (1).
Quercetin – a flavonoid that can be found in many plants and foods, it has strong anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties and also inhibits the release of histamine. Foods high in quercetin include onions, apples, grapes, broccoli, peppers, green tea and more. It can also be purchased as an over the counter supplement (2).
Stinging Nettle – many of us know to avoid this plant when we encounter it in the woods because it stings! However, it can be helpful when dealing with allergies and related unpleasant symptoms. Nettle can inhibit histamine production, as well as the release of tryptase, a mast cell enzyme that plays an important role in mast cell activation. It can be consumed as a tea or a freeze-dried extract. I personally really enjoy a cup of nettle tea every day, pollen season or not (3)(4).
Bromelain – an enzyme found in pineapple, it has been shown to relieve hay fever symptoms by working as a natural anti-inflammatory, antihistamine and decongestant. It can reduce nasal swelling and mucus production, making breathing easier. It can also potentially inhibit allergic sensitization and reduce allergic asthma symptoms, based on research done on mice. Bromelain is available as a supplement, both separately and in combination with other compounds mentioned in this blog. You can also enjoy eating pineapples knowing that you’re getting the benefit of allergy protection as well (5)(6).
Vitamin C – in addition to being protective against viral and bacterial illnesses, this vitamin also has antihistamine properties. Vitamin C actually helps to prevent histamine production and its breakdown in the body. Feel free to enjoy plenty of foods rich in vitamin C, such as blueberries, strawberries, oranges, peppers, kiwi and many more. You can also consider supplementing with additional vitamin C during pollen season. There are various good options out there, available as ascorbic acid, liposomal vitamin C, food derived vitamin C with bioflavonoids and more (7)(8).
Probiotics – one of the most effective ways of improving gut health, specific probiotics also have antihistamine properties. Recent studies show that multiple probiotic strains improve allergy symptoms during pollen season, such as Bifidobacteria and Lactobacilli. Keep in mind that some other probiotic strains can actually increase histamine production in the gut, which may result in worsening of allergy symptoms. See the list of low and high histamine probiotics here. One of the best ways to add probiotics to your regimen is to enjoy fermented foods. However, I’d like to caution those dealing with allergies and histamine issues because fermented foods are considered high histamine foods. I will do a separate post on high/low histamine foods soon. Otherwise, invest in a good quality histamine lowering probiotic, there are plenty of options to choose from (9)(10).
This list is by no means exhaustive. In the next blog I will write more about lifestyle and diet choices that affect histamine levels and allergy reactivity based on my experience, research and observations. I hope this helps you and your families during the upcoming pollen season. Let me know which remedies work well for you, or if you successfully utilize other ways of dealing with allergies. Wishing you a healthy and happy spring!