Choose Natural Medicine Treatment for Allergies - dummies

Choose Natural Medicine Treatment for Allergies

By Wendy Warner, Kellyann Petrucci

If you have to treat your allergy symptoms, you can choose one of the typical over-the-counter medications or even stronger prescription drugs, but a better solution might be one of several natural substances that have similar medicinal qualities. Another option is to avoid the allergen all together.

Sometimes avoiding allergens simply isn’t possible. So one way to physically remove allergens from the system without using medication is to do nasal irrigation, best done via a neti pot.

This ancient practice consists of using a small vessel the shape of a watering can (without the handle) to instill a mild salt solution — using filtered water only, not tap water — into one nostril, letting it flow back through the nasal passage and through the sinuses and then drain out the other nostril.

Although this process can feel pretty strange the first time you do it, it’s very effective. It’s more effective than some of the more recent squeeze syringe devices that require you to blow all the fluid back out — which is much less efficient and can leave fluid trapped in pockets of your sinus cavity, increasing the chance of infection.

Many natural substances have the same activity as some of the pharmaceutical agents used to treat allergies. They include the following:

  • Antihistamines: Butterbur (Petasites hybridus) has been shown to both stop histamine production and modulate leukotriene production. Butterbur contains chemicals called pyrrolizidine alkaloids that can be toxic to the liver and kidneys; these chemicals are removed from the extract and should be marked as free of pyrrolizidine alkaloids on the bottle. If it doesn’t have this phrase, don’t use that particular product.

    [Credit: © Bodmann 2009]
    Credit: © Bodmann 2009

    Interestingly, butterbur is from the ragweed family, so if you know you’re allergic to ragweed, don’t use this remedy. Stinging Nettle also has antihistamine activity and can be taken as an herb or harvested and eaten as a green, like spinach.

  • Leukotriene modulators: Quercitin, a flavonoid found in brightly colored produce as well as onions and garlic, has been shown to slow leukotriene production as well as prevent production of histamine. It’s fairly short acting, and some products require use several times a day.

  • Anti-inflammatories: Omega-3 fatty acids are essential fatty acids, meaning you must get them in your food; among other activities, they stop inflammation by halting prostaglandin and leukotriene production.

    The active forms of omega-3s are EPA and DHA, which are found only in animals (best source is cold-water fish). Plant sources of omega-3s include flax, walnuts, and others. Unfortunately, humans don’t do a very good job of converting plant omega-3s to the active form, so consider taking fish oil even if you eat a lot of flax and walnuts.

    Carotenoids, the pigments that turn foods bright colors, are also anti-inflammatory, so if you’re prone to allergic rhinitis, the brighter your diet, the better.