With the warmer Spring weather, many people are noticing a familiar set of symptoms: itchy eyes, scratchy throat, and runny nose. We are well into allergy seasons, which actually starts in mid-February in our region. Tree pollen peaks in March, followed by grass pollens in April, and weed pollen peaking in May. Of course, this year something is else is on our minds: novel coronavirus. Allergy symptoms can resemble respiratory infection, and may include cough from post-nasal drip, shortness of breath, and headache, along with common symptoms like like dry eyes, a sore throat, and nasal congestion. Fortunately, we can tell the 2 apart in a few ways. If symptoms are coming on, grab a thermometer to check for fever. Fever can also show up at night as night sweats. If you do have a temp above 99 degrees F, along with shortness of breath, fatigue, and a cough, an infectious cause is more likely. A sudden onset of shortness of breath is a key coronavirus symptom, as well as loss of taste, which typically would not happen with allergies. Because coronavirus runs a mild course in most people, it’s best to self-isolate for a few days to make sure you’re not fighting an infection with any new respiratory symptoms. For seasonal allergy sufferers, check out the info below for holistic treatment:
With allergies, lowering overall inflammation reduces symptoms. With inflammation, free radicals flood our body tissues causing damage. Free radicals run around the body hunting for electrons too complete their outer ring. They steal electrons from cells, tissues, and even DNA. The inflammation caused by free radicals is an underlying cause of many diseases, and definitely worsens allergies. We build up free radicals with poor diet, sleep disturbance, heightened stress, chronic infections, and toxin exposure. Improving the diet by avoiding refined and processed foods, excess sugar, and fried foods lowers inflammation overall.
To calm inflammation, add antioxidants to the diet. As electron donors, antioxidants give the hungry free radicals the electrons they crave. Vitamin C — which is found in citrus and leafy greens — is an incredibly safe and effective antioxidant. Vitamin C also helps break down histamine. For best results, supplement with 1,000 mg up to three times per day during allergy season. Flavonoids are another class of plant antioxidants that calm free radicals. Turmeric and berries, like raspberries, blueberries, and blackberries, are packed with flavonoids. Adding these foods to your diet will calm inflammation and improve allergies.
Calming histamine with quercetin
One flavonoid that targets histamine is quercetin. Quercetin is an ancient compound. As plants developed 700 million years ago, they made flavonoids like quercetin to combat oxidative stress. The flavonoids scavenge free radicals in the plant tissue as well. As humans evolved, we became reliant on plant flavonoids like quercetin to heal and protect ourselves. For allergies in particular, quercetin blocks histamine release from the immune cells.
Allergies involve a lot of histamine release, triggered by white blood cells called eosinophils. Usually, eosinophils help the body fight off viruses, parasites, and other infections by causing mast cells to release histamine. Histamine opens up blood vessels to allow other types of white cells to pass through to fight an infection. However, when eosinophils over-react to inhaled allergens, they trigger mast cells to dump histamine. This histamine driven inflammation is the main causes of allergy symptoms, like runny nose, watery eyes, and scratchy throat. When quercetin bumps into mast cells, it blocks the release of histamine. Researchers found decreased allergy symptoms with 500 mg taken 2 x per day. In foods, quercetin is abundant in grapefruit, yellow onions, and nettle leaves. Freeze-dried nettle leaf is a popular herbal supplement for allergy support.
A healthy environment
Beyond supplements and nutrition, taking steps to control allergen exposure is key. Environmental strategies include regular vacuuming, using a HEPA air filter, and washing sheets and pillowcases once per week. Taking a shower at the end of the day helps rinse off pollen and dust before sleep. By combining a few nutraceuticals, anti-inflammatory nutrition, and environmental steps, it is possible to improve seasonal allergies and get back to enjoying the season.