One of the best theories about why allergies (seasonal or perennial) and autoimmune conditions are at an all-time high is that our current obsession with trying to stay as germ free as possible has kept our immune systems from developing normally. When you finally do get exposed to a potential allergen (and you always will), your immune system is hyperresponsive. This is known as the hygiene hypothesis.
Think of it like a soldier who attends some wimpy, nonrigorous boot camp and then gets sent to do hand-to-hand combat in the jungle. He’s not prepared, and neither is your wimpy “germ-free” immune system! If you’re worried about acquiring new allergies, just hang around other people and pets, allow yourself to get dirty, and spend time outside as much as possible.
Immune cells that are not experienced enough to know what’s really an enemy will overact and try to take out everything. So getting sick is good for you, and it should be celebrated every once in a while!
What are Allergies and Allergic Rhinitis?
Seasonal allergies simply result from an exposure to airborne particles, like pollens, which can appear at certain times of the year. These pollens or allergens trigger the release of histamine and other compounds (such as leukotrienes) that can cause all those classic allergy symptoms, such as a runny nose, itchy eyes, sneezing, and a scratchy throat. Basically what you’re experiencing is an exaggerated immune response. Seasonal allergies generally occur anywhere from early spring to late fall, but in reality, depending on where you live, they can happen all year long (also known as perennial allergies).
Cold, flu, sinusitis, and even bronchitis symptoms can overlap with seasonal allergies, so it’s important to get a proper diagnosis before you take anything (how many times have you said, “I don’t know if this is a cold or allergies?”). Preventing allergy symptoms is critical because, for many people, they can be draining and exhausting, and dealing with them on a day-to-day basis takes a toll on physical and mental health.
There are numerous good conventional prescription and over-the-counter drugs available as well as some simple lifestyle changes and dietary supplements that can make a difference too. Allergic rhinitis is a form of allergy that primarily has nasal symptoms. Current OTC antihistamines don’t do a very good job of treating nasal congestion, which is why there’s room for dietary supplements.
However, I’m a far bigger fan of conventional medicines for most allergy sufferers because of the availability of inexpensive and effective once-a-day drugs for kids and adults. The supplements ranked here made it for several reasons, including their ability to compete with conventional medicines and in some cases reduce nasal symptoms.
Home Remedies For Allergies and Allergic Rhinitis
1. Butterbur (Petasites hybridus) leaf extract two to four tablets (containing 7.5 to 8 milligrams of total petasins per tablet) a day
Preliminary clinical research suggests butterbur may work as well as some of the conventional antihistamine medications, and the biggest side effect with butterbur has been gastrointestinal problems, such as stomachache. The root and leaf extracts contain petasins (also known as sesquiterpenes), which have been used to treat migraines, asthma, and smooth muscle spasms. Laboratory research suggests petasins may block leukotriene and histamine production and may even prevent mast cells from making allergies worse.
One of the most tested extracts was Ze339, which was approved more than a decade ago in Switzerland for the treatment of seasonal allergic rhinitis. In randomized studies, Ze339 significantly improved overall symptom scores, and the results were comparable with conventional OTC antihistamines and allergy products (cetirizine and fexofenadine). Other trials haven’t been as impressive, though, so I still think the convenience, cost, and safety of conventional OTC medicines make them a better choice if you can tolerate them.
Since it’s not always easy to find the Ze339 extract, look for a butterbur product that has at least 7.5 to 8 milligrams of the active compounds isopetasin and petasin (or total petasins). In clinical trials, the average dose of Ze339 was standardized to 8 milligrams of total petasin per tablet and participants used two to four tablets daily (however, you know my rule: start low and go slow; one tablet may be sufficient).
One note: Extracts of raw butterbur contain unsaturated pyrrolizidine alkaloids—UPAs or PAs—that can be toxic to the liver and carcinogenic, but these are removed during processing. Regardless, always check the label to make sure it says “UPA or PA free,” even though it’s rare today for a company to sell this product without cleaning it up first.
2. Spirulina 1,000 to 2,000 milligrams a day
Spirulina is a dried blue-green algae that is mainly made up of proteins (70 percent of its dry weight) in addition to vitamins, minerals, and essential fatty acids. Laboratory research suggests it may inhibit histamine release from mast cells in the body and may reduce a compound known as interleukin 4 (or IL-4), which is also involved in allergy symptoms.
It appears to work better than a placebo for improving nasal discharge, congestion, sneezing, and itching. One fairly well-done study had participants taking up to 2,000 milligrams once per day for 21 weeks. It may take a few weeks to notice a difference, although spirulina seems to work better as a preventive for allergic rhinitis and seasonal allergy symptoms than a treatment.
3. EpiCor yeast extract (dried Saccharomyces cerevisiae fermentation product) 500 milligrams a day
EpiCor, or fermented yeast extract, has a history of reducing cold and flu symptoms (including nasal issues) in clinical trials, and this is why it earned a spot in my top three (see the Common Cold and Flu section). In one study, people who took 500 milligrams per day for 12 weeks had fewer cold and flu symptoms and a shorter duration of symptoms than with a placebo. It has also reduced nasal congestion from seasonal allergies in trials.
Research on this supplement began when workers who were handling this yeast extract had lower rates of sick days (which resulted in lower insurance rates for the company). As a result, the company decided to test it as an immune- modulating supplement. It appears to improve immune surveillance without excessively activating the immune system, which is the desired response. During times of high pollen counts over a 12-week period, it significantly lowered the severity of congestion, runny nose, and watery eyes. (I’ve done a lot of research on EpiCor, and I have experience using it with patients as well.)
Eliminating or reducing nasal issues, especially nasal congestion, is the Holy Grail of allergy treatment because not many drugs or supplements can prevent or treat this, apart from nasal steroid sprays. (These are usually safe, but they make many people nervous because of really rare and still unproven side effects, such as immune suppression and bone loss.) So, if a pill could favorably impact nasal symptoms, that would be great news. Another advantage of the EpiCor supplement is that in all of its clinical trials, the side effects have been similar to a placebo. It would be nice to see one more clinical trial replicate these results in individuals with seasonal or perennial allergies.
Vitamin C at moderate dosages (approximately 500 milligrams per day) may work as a preventive, reducing mild histamine concentrations and the amount of steroids or other conventional medications needed by both kids and adults. However, the evidence is preliminary and nothing new has been published in a long time.
What Supplements Are Useless For Allergies and Allergic Rhinitis?
In laboratory studies, using quercetin to reduce histamine release and seasonal allergy symptoms appears promising, but this supplement just doesn’t have the clinical research behind it yet. Capsaicin, fish oil, and stinging nettle are often touted for allergy relief, but scientists don’t have the research to back these claims up, either.
What Lifestyle Changes Can Help With Allergies and Allergic Rhinitis?
Heart healthy = immune healthy
Okay, I’m not saying that if you reduce your risk of heart disease, you’ll definitely reduce your risk of allergies, but I am saying that it can keep general body inflammation moderate to low, which could have a positive impact on allergies.
Alcohol can activate histamine receptors, and in some cases, it contains histamine-like compounds that can make a mild seasonal allergy much worse. The next time you think your allergies are due to the latest high pollen counts, please ask yourself how much you’re drinking and what type of alcohol (beer and wine can trigger allergies). Reducing, eliminating, or changing your beverage of choice could make the difference between having a good day and a stay-the-heck-away-from-me-I’m-miserable day.
Kill tiny triggers
To remove dander and pollens and kill dust mites, wash
your laundry in water that is at least 130° to 140°F.
- Remove carpeting from the bedroom.
- Encase mattresses, box springs, and pillows in covers that are allergen-proof. 3. Wash throw rugs and curtains on a regular basis.
- Vacuum frequently with a model that scored well in independent testing, such as the Kenmore Progressive. Try to wear a dust mask or have someone else vacuum if you’re sensitive to allergens.
- Use a dehumidifier in order to keep humidity under 50 percent, and use the air conditioner.
- Keep in mind: An air cleaner or filter is not always a good idea because most models do not trap allergens—such as pollen, pet dander, or smoke particles — very well and some can produce high concentrations of ozone, which can actually make allergies and asthma worse. Dust mites and their allergenic droppings don’t circulate in the air but stay closer to the surface, so an air cleaner or filter would not work well in this situation either. Check on the latest models and their research to trap these allergens.