Dealing with allergy symptoms throughout the year can have a considerable impact on your life, making it hard to function at work and at play.
Allergy relief medications can help, but some have side effects such as drowsiness that may make it even harder to function. An alternative approach to allergies is to try natural therapies, including herbs, nasal rinses, and certain foods.
Keep the side effects thing in mind.
Natural remedies that help keep your allergies in check can empower you to take charge of your health, says Moshe Lewis, MD, chief of the division of physical medicine and rehabilitation at the California Pacific Medical Center, St. Luke's Campus in San Francisco.
Zyrtec: not empowering. Herbs: empowering. No particular reason, it just is.
However, some natural therapies, such as herbs, come with their own list of side effects, and they can be toxic if you take too much. “People can be deceived into believing that if it’s natural, it’s safe,” Dr. Lewis says. The goal is to take small amounts of herbs to get the effects you’re looking for.
Lewis recommends consulting with a naturopath or a homeopathic physician if you plan to try herbs for allergy relief. It’s also vital to tell all of your doctors about the herbs you’re taking, because natural remedies could interfere with any drugs you’ve been prescribed, both for allergies and other conditions.
Butterbur. Extracts of butterbur are going head-to-head with antihistamine products on the market, Lewis says. In a study of 330 people who were given either butterbur extract, the antihistamine fexofenadine (Allegra), or a placebo, extracts of the herb worked as well as Allegra at relieving allergy symptoms. Another study found butterbur extract to have similar effects to the antihistamine cetirizine (Zyrtec).
The herb helps get rid of mucus and has been used to treat asthma and bronchitis. There’s some concern that if butterbur is from the same family of ragweed it could trigger allergies, but that’s only in theory, Lewis says. Butterbur does have side effects, including the possibility of drowsiness, headache, and an upset stomach. Lewis recommends taking butterbur in extract form.
Stinging nettle. The jury is still out on whether stinging nettle provides allergy relief. A small study found that it might help relieve symptoms, but more research needs to be done. If you try stinging nettle, be sure to consult your doctor before taking it. As with butterbur, Lewis recommends taking nettle leaf in extract form.
You shouldn’t take stinging nettle if you’re pregnant or give it to young children. And if you take a blood pressure medication, a blood thinner, or a diuretic, or you have diabetes, be sure to talk to your doctor before you take stinging nettle.
Quercetin. The flavanoid quercetin, which is the phytochemical that gives fruits and vegetables their color, has been found to block the release of histamine in test tube studies. Research hasn’t found definitively that quercetin can help with allergy symptoms in people. However, getting plenty of quercetin in your diet from apples, berries, grapes, squash, greens, and sweet potatoes certainly doesn’t hurt, Lewis says.
Spicy foods. Turning up the heat of your food with horseradish and chili peppers can act as a decongestant and clear away the mucus that’s been building from allergies. If you like spicy food, this may be the most enjoyable approach to allergy relief.