Can You Alleviate Hayfever Naturally?
So along with the glorious weather, up goes the pollen count. For the approximately 20 million hayfever sufferers in the UK, that hardly feels fair does it? But do you have to dose yourself up with steroid sprays, drops and antihistamines or is there a more natural solution that doesn’t leave you with side effects?
Pharmaceutical vs Natural Treatments for Hayfever Symptoms
“I don’t have any side effects and the antihistamines work just fine”, I hear you say. Well all pharmaceuticals have substances in them that are not found in nature and therefore the body can respond in unpleasant ways such as getting drowsiness and headaches.
Side effects of steroid sprays and drops can include fatigue and even mood swings. Steroid treatments for hayfever can also play havoc with the natural production of cortisol, which helps us wake up alert in the morning, deal with stressors throughout the day and lowers to help us sleep at night.
There are natural alternatives that work in the same way as pharmaceutical products, as I’ll discuss below, which can help alleviate the symptoms of allergies. But as I will go on to explain, you still need to treat the cause when it comes to allergies, as histamine is an important and useful chemical in the body that regulates where the blood flows to, so ideally we only want to use these substances to deal with the symptoms whilst we treat the cause.
- Notably the bioflavonoid quercetin has been found in a number of studies to have a natural anti-histamine effect. This natural substance is found in foods such as buckwheat (particularly buckwheat tea), onions, green tea, apples and berries but is even more beneficial in supplement form.
- Vitamin C containing bioflavonoids can have a powerful effect in treating hayfever symptoms, as the bioflavonoids increase the absorption and therefore the antioxidant and anti-histamine action of the vitamin C.
- Methionine helps break histamine down and binds it to get it out of the body, as some people can’t break down histamine in the body effectively due to certain variations in their genes.
- Substance such as Beta Glucans and Lactobacillus L92 help to modulate immune function.
- Substances such as Boswellia, Luteolin and Curcumin are all natural anti-inflammatories.
Natural Alternatives to Steroid Sprays and Drops
- Netti potting can have a similar effect as steroid sprays and eye drops without the side effects and urine therapy can increase its effectiveness even further.
- Haymax is a natural and non-toxic preparation which can be put in the nostrils and under the eyelashes to catch any pollen and reduce aggravation to the eyes and nasal passage.
Immunotherapy is about introducing a tiny bit of the substance you are allergic to into the body with the aim of getting the immune system to become effective at dealing with it. However, most forms of immunotherapy are through injection.
Injections go straight through the first line of defence of the immune system into the blood stream – as you’ll see below, that’s how we get allergies in the first place, by compromising that first line of defence, which is extremely stressful and dehydrating to the body, further worsening the conditions under which the allergy manifested in the first place.
Bee pollen can be a useful oral form of immunotherapy, starting with 1 grain under the tongue and increasing by a grain a day as long as no reaction is felt.
Causes of Hayfever
So as I’ve stressed above, treating the symptoms can provide initial relief but we must also treat the cause. So how do allergies exist in the first place. Pollen is not a dangerous substance is it? We have an external skin, but did you know that we also have an internal skin, our mucous membranes, where our skin turns inwards in our urinary tract, respiratory tract, gastrointestinal tract and also the reproductive tract for us females. This internal skin is meant to keep things that we breathe in or ingest out of the blood stream. We cannot have an allergy unless something has somehow got through that internal skin. So how can that happen?
The membranes of our internal skin can become “leaky” for a number of reasons. The main reason is when we suppress an appropriate inflammatory response. We can have inflammation as the result of an external injury, such as a cut or a bite or an injury to tissue, but also as the result of excessive toxicity within the body.
Toxicity can build up not just through what we ingest, breathe in, or think, but also through what we suppress. So the body might have the need to release toxins through diarrhoea, vomiting, increased perspiration or even, for us ladies, heavier menstruation. However, we often thwart the body’s attempt to release the build up of toxins by using medications and products such as anti-perspirants, which stop symptoms but lead the body to throw an inflammatory response to try and deal with the toxins.
In addition, if the bodies routes of elimination (bowel, liver, lymph, etc) are not working effectively then this can also prevent the toxins from getting out. So then what happens (which also happens in injury) is that the white blood cells will move towards and stick to the side of the blood vessels, histamine is released into the area and the blood vessel becomes more permeable, so that the white blood cells which are part of our immune system can start cleaning up that area for us.
Pain, swelling, redness and loss of function occur as a result of our body trying to rid itself of the toxicity. It is an intelligent response. If this is allowed to run its course, the white blood cells can get through into the tissue, clean up the situation, and then the blood vessels will cease to be permeable. However, if this response is suppressed by medications, for example anti-inflammatories, then the process cannot take place, the toxicity goes deeper and the blood vessels remain permeable, or “leaky” as the body recognises that there is still toxicity that needs to get out and keeps that membrane permeable.
Repairing Leaky Membranes
Where the membranes in the gut, or indeed anywhere else, are leaky, allowing the allergen into the blood, there are a number of useful supplements. These include:
- Colostrum (for those who are not allergic to dairy)
- Vitamins A and D (which should be taken together as they compete for cell receptor sites)
Again, advice should be sought as to what to use when and for how long, depending on the particular issues presenting. This is why I never give dosages for supplements in my blogs, as without guidance people can continue taking inappropriate supplements for inappropriate lengths of time and throw off their vitamin and mineral balance.
Even if a substance permeates our internal skin and gets into the blood, our immune cells should still be able to deal with it, as long as our routes of elimination are working well. But when the amount of toxicity coming into our body is greater than the immune cells can deal with or our routes of elimination aren’t operating well enough to get the toxins out effectively, of which dehydration is a huge part (read my blog about water to find out more), then the immune system’s next intelligent reaction will be to batten down the hatches to try and keep the allergen out.
So our immune system hasn’t “gone wrong” – it’s actually trying to protect us. The symptoms of hayfever, created by the release of histamine, which is a natural substance that is part of our immune system, are there to keep things out of our blood stream by sneezing out the pollen, creating mucous or creating itching which makes our eyes and nose water.
How to Decrease Our Toxic Load to Improve Immunity
It is good to take out both inflammatory foods and foods that we react to. But we also need to look at the amount of toxins we breathe in or absorb through our skin in our cleaning products and put on our skin in terms of our personal care products.
Is the water we are drinking clean? Is the air that we are breathing in in our homes clean? What about electromagnetic frequencies in our homes such as our wi-fi, bluetooth, smartphones, wireless devices? Do we switch them off at night? Can we hardwire our computers and switch the wi-fi off altogether? Is our food organic or covered in pesticides (or, in the case of meat, antibiotics)? Are we eating processed food that the body cannot recognise or are we eating whole unprocessed foods? Do we smoke, or take recreational drugs, or prescription drugs? Toxicity can come from a whole host of places, but the aim of a good naturopathic healing programme is to look at ways to reduce exposure as much as possible.
How to Increase our Ability to Eliminate Toxins
Sleeping between 10:00pm-12:00am actually gives us the most restorative sleep of the whole night. Our body uses sleep to repair itself, so ensuring we turn off our electrical devices at least an hour before bed can help us get into deeper sleep when we do hit the pillow. Studies show increased imbalances in those people who sleep less than 7 hours a night and 7-9 hours is what we should all be aiming for.
We can use diet not only to nourish, but also to cleanse. But we need to make sure before we start doing things like green smoothies, juicing, fasting, superfoods, etc that our routes of elimination are open and working well, as when we start releasing toxicity from our cells by using food in this way, we need to ensure the body can see it out and allow it to exit efficiently.
Improving Bowel Function
Psyllium husk, prokinetics such as Iberogast, enemas or soaked flaxseeds (the latter is contraindicated in those with diverticulitis) are all excellent ways to ensure the bowels are open. And we cannot have our bowels working effectively unless we are hydrating with 4 pints of clean plain water a day (see my blog on water).
Improving Liver Function
We can open up liver with castor oil packing, coffee enemas (contraindicated in those with adrenal stress). Milk thistle, glutathione, n-acetyl cysteine and alpha lipoic acid can all help the liver to detoxify more effectively.
Improving lymph flow
Exercise, massage and lymph brushing can all help to move lymph, but we want to ensure bowels and liver are working well before we start to move lymph otherwise the toxins that we release will have no exit route.
Stress can also play a part in the onset of allergies as when we are under stress we produce the stress hormone cortisol which has the effect of directing energy away from the immune system. We cannot be in a state of “fight, flight or freeze” at the same time as “rest and repair”.
Stress reduction techniques
- Gratitude journaling
- Doing something every day that you enjoy
- Taking a daily walk in nature for 20 minutes
- Linseed tea – see my recipe for linseed tea
- Adrenal packs – foundations of health blog
- B vitamins, particularly B5, are gobbled up under stress so supplementing with a well balanced vitamin B formula, high in B5, can be useful.
The other major factor that can play a part in lowered immunity is the disruption of our microbiome, the community of microbes that live in and on us, in our guts, our mouths, our skin, etc, through antibiotics, poor diet and “hygiene” – i.e. the use of antibacterial handwashes, etc. Healing any gut issues is paramount when dealing with allergies, given that 80% of our immune system is in the gut.
Healing the Gut
How we do this depends on what is going on with the gut, which lab testing can show us. For example, we can have pathogenic organisms living in the gut that can impair our digestion and make our gut “leaky” so that we develop food intolerances and testing will show us what is residing there.
We can also increase the beneficial bacteria such as Lactobacillus GG. Sacharomyces Boulardii can also be very useful in helping to maintain a healthy balance of bowel flora.
But throwing probiotics at the situation will not repopulate our bowel flora. In order to really get the balance back we need to provide our bowel flora with the foods they need to thrive. This includes prebiotic foods and fermented foods are key. However, depending on an individual’s particular gut issues, probiotics and prebiotics may not be something we initially jump into. This is because in some issues, such as histamine intolerance or SIBO, it can make symptoms worse. This is why testing is so useful.
Digestive support in the form of digestive enzymes and Betaine HCl can also be useful in helping to restore the gut. However, a caveat is that some people should not take Betaine HCl. Also, there are people that do produce too much stomach acid (although many others do not produce enough, despite having symptoms such as acid reflux). Therefore, a skilled practitioner can help decide whether Betaine HCl is appropriate for you.
Another important factor in healing the gut can be to remove inflammatory foods. This includes dairy, gluten and sugar and anything else that a person may be reacting to, which can be deduced via an elimination diet.
An inability to make our own anti-inflammatory messengers
Tissue hormones called prostaglandins modulate inflammation in the body. If we have not got the raw ingredients to make our prostaglandins, this may affect our ability to naturally switch off an inflammatory response.
How to make our prostaglandins
To make sure we are able to make our own anti-inflammatory messengers, we need to give our body what it needs to make them, namely a good quality multivitamin and mineral containing zinc, selenium, vitamin C, vitamin E, magnesium, omega-3 and omega-6, vitamin B3 and vitamin B6. We need to make sure the liver is able to deal with omega-3s before we introduce them. Therefore, it’s a good idea to prepare the body by taking 2 teaspoons of good quality lecithin a day. Sources of omega-3 include flaxseed oil, with which you need to take lecithin to emulsify it, and krill oil, which contains its own emulsifier.
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