True allergies are mediated by exposure to foreign proteins in the environment, triggering immunoglobulin-e (IgE) antibodies. According to the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology, 1 up to 40 percent of the global population are sensitized to some type of foreign protein.
According to Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America, 2 more than 50 million Americans experience some type of allergic reaction each year, and it is the sixth leading cause of chronic illness in the U.S. Allergic conditions, seasonal allergies and food allergies are the most common health issues affecting children in the U.S.
Emergency rooms in the U.S. record nearly 200,000 visits each year from people suffering from food allergies alone. The most common triggers for a life-threatening reaction, called anaphylaxis, are medications, food and insect stings. 3 Seasonal allergies trigger allergic rhinitis, also called hay fever. Allergic reactions can also present with skin symptoms, including eczema, hives and contact dermatitis.
The total cost for seasonal allergies exceeds $18 billion each year and the total cost for food allergies exceeds $25 billion. 4 Reducing the number who suffer and severity of their symptoms helps reduce the cost to families and the community, and improves the quality of life of sufferers. There are several strategies demonstrating real potential to reduce symptoms.
What Triggers Allergies?
An allergy is an overreaction by your body's immune system to a foreign protein, as explained in this short video. Common allergens include pollen, mites, chemicals, animal dander and a variety of foods. The first time your body encounters an allergen, plasma cells release IgE specific to the protein.
These molecules attach to the surface of mast cells found on surface tissues, such as your skin and nasal mucous membranes. Mast cells mediate an inflammatory response by releasing a number of chemical chemicals, one of which is histamine.
The second time your body encounters this allergen, mast cells become activated within a few minutes and release a powerful combination of histamine, leukotrienes and prostaglandins. This release triggers a cascade of symptoms associated with allergies, such as sneezing, runny nose , sore throat and itchy eyes.
Histamine can cause airways to constrict, such as with asthma, or cause blood vessels to become more permeable, leaking fluid and triggering hives. Leukotrienes cause a hypersecretion of mucus experienced as a running nose. The American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology explains: 5
"One of the marvels of the human body is that it can defend itself against harmful invaders such as viruses or bacteria. In some people, the body reacts to harmless substances such as dust, mold or pollen by producing an antibody called immunoglobulin E (IgE).
In the process, some unpleasant and, in extreme cases, life-threatening symptoms may be experienced … An allergic reaction may occur anywhere in the body, but usually appears in the skin, eyes, lining of the stomach, nose, sinuses, throat and lungs — places where special immune system cells are stationed to fight off invaders that are inhaled, swallowed or come in contact with the skin."
Pet Ownership Lowers Your Child's Risk of Allergies
A recent study found children who live with cats and dogs as infants are less likely to develop allergies later in childhood. 6 The study, performed in Sweden with over 1,200 children, either interviewed parents of children when they were 6 to 12 months old, or parents completed questionnaires on pet ownership and the incidence of asthma, eczema and allergic rhinoconjunctivitis.
The researchers found the number of allergies declined with the number of pets owned by the families. One-third of the children in families who had no pets developed allergies while none of the children who lived in the household with five or more cats and dogs developed allergies. 7
The researchers controlled for many factors, yet the link between pet ownership and decreasing risk for allergy development persisted. Lead author Dr. Bill Hesselmar, associate professor at the University of Gothenburg, pointed out that owning pets is just one factor in reducing the risk of allergies. 8
Children who lived in a home with more siblings or who were born vaginally also had a reduced risk. Researchers found exposure during the newborn period was key to reducing symptoms of atopic dermatitis, wheezing and other allergic symptoms.
In fact, children who had a dog in their home after birth did not appear to have the same health benefits as those who were born into a home where the dog already lived. 9
Eating Locally Produced Honey Reduces Symptoms of Seasonal Allergies
A second natural countermeasure to reduce your symptoms of seasonal allergies is the use of local honey . In a study published in the International Archives of Allergy and Immunology, 10 researchers discovered those who consumed local honey experienced fewer allergies than those eating regular honey or using only medication.
The researchers enlisted 44 participants with a mean age of 33 years who had a physician-diagnosed birch pollen allergy. Half of them were given either birch pollen honey or regular honey every day in increasing amounts from November to March. Seventeen more patients served as a control group and took their usual allergy medication.
Through April and May the participants recorded their rhinoconjunctival and other allergy symptoms daily, as well as their use of medications. During birch pollen season, those taking birch pollen honey reported 60 percent fewer total symptoms and twice as many symptom-free days.
They also reported 70 percent fewer days with severe symptoms, 11 and took 50 percent fewer antihistamines compared to the control group. While the differences between those taking regular honey and those taking birch pollen honey were not significant on the whole, the data did demonstrate those taking the birch pollen honey used fewer antihistamines than the regular honey group.
They concluded participants taking birch pollen honey had significantly better control of their allergy symptoms than those who only used conventional medication, and marginally better control than those taking the regular honey.
It is important to note that while local honey may reduce your symptoms of seasonal allergies, honey can also trigger a severe allergic food reaction , including anaphylactic shock. Clearly, you should not use honey if you've ever had any adverse reaction to it in the past.
Additionally, each teaspoon has nearly 4 grams of fructose. If you decide to use honey, start slowly to ensure you don't have a reaction and count those grams of fructose. For optimal health, you'll want to stay below 25 grams per day of total fructose from all sources.
From Raw Milk to Pasteurized
Dairy farmers have long enjoyed the benefits of drinking raw milk and the reduction in seasonal allergies that comes along with it. However, unless you see raw milk from a local farmer, your only option is pasteurized milk from the grocery store.
Milk was not always pasteurized. The process was developed in the late 1800s after the link between contaminated milk and deadly illnesses was identified. In the early 1890s, Dr. Henry Coit formed the Medical Milk Commission 12 to mandate the conditions under which milk was produced, two years after his son died from drinking contaminated milk.
Although safer and processed from grass fed cows raised under more sanitary conditions, the cost was four times higher than uncertified milk. At the same time, Nathan Straus, co-owner of R.H. Macy and Abraham & Straus, who had also lost a child to contaminated milk, used his considerable influence and finances to subsidize milk depots where low-cost pasteurized milk was sold. 13
Both pasteurized and unpasteurized milk were sold freely until the early 1940s, when an organized and effective campaign was launched against certified raw milk , including false information in journals and magazines that swayed the medical community, making it impossible to distribute raw milk.
Farmers are still allowed to sell their raw milk in their own state (although rules on sales varies; some states only permit raw milk to be sold for animal consumption, for example), but federal law has prohibited the sale across state lines since 1987. Today, milk is produced in large confined animal feeding operations (CAFOs) where the animals don’t receive sunlight, are fed genetically modified grains and soy products and stand in each other’s excrement.
To prevent disease, the animals are routinely given antibiotics, along with steroids to boost their milk production. As a result, drinking unpasteurized CAFO milk could be extremely dangerous, which is why CAFO milk must be pasteurized.
Unfortunately, the process of pasteurization actually kills most of the healthy enzymes and nutrients you drink milk for in the first place. Although demonized by the dairy industry, research 14 by board certified pathologist Dr. Ted Beals shows you're actually 35,000 times more likely to get sick from other foods than you are from raw milk.
Benefits of Raw Milk May Also Include Reduction in Allergic Reactions
Researchers from the University of Basel in Switzerland 15 conducted a study on European children between 6 and 12 years demonstrating allergy and asthma rates are lower in those who drink only raw milk.
Those who drank raw and regular milk had lower allergy rates, but only if they were exposed to raw milk before age 1, or if they consumed it regularly. While allergy rates were lower in these children, asthma rates were not. However, when the raw milk was boiled at home, it destroyed the benefits.
In another study 16 by researchers from the National Institutes of Health (NIH), data demonstrated the risk of allergies as an adult was reduced in those who grew up in a farming environment and drank mostly raw milk. This data also showed the same was not true for asthma.
In another systematic review and meta-analysis, researchers evaluated the results of 40 studies, finding the effect of pasteurization on some vitamins was minimal since many of them were found in relatively low levels in milk. However, the impact of heat treatment on vitamin B2 was significant. 17
Strategies to Reduce Allergy Symptoms
Since allergies affect several systems in your body, you need a multifaceted approach to address and reduce reactions. Along with the strategies discussed above, I believe it's important to begin with a healthy gut and optimized vitamin D levels. Nearly 80 percent of your immune system is located in your gut, so supporting digestive health is essential. 18
Allergic reactions begin with an abnormal response from your immune system. One common reason for experiencing an overactive immune system is leaky gut syndrome. When gaps develop between the cells lining your intestinal tract, substances can pass that should be confined to your digestive tract.
These include undigested proteins that can cause allergic reactions, and are a contributing factor to seasonal allergies. The foods you eat play a major role in the protection of your intestinal lining.
Gluten, sugar, fructose, lectins and genetically engineered food are all culprits that can contribute to or worsen leaky gut. Fiber-rich and traditionally fermented foods, meanwhile, are two important components that support your gut microbiome and provide essential nutrients for beneficial bacteria. Optimizing your vitamin D level is also crucial as it helps to support your immune system.
Effective Herbs and Supplements
Addressing your diet and optimizing your gut health should be at the top of your list if you suffer from allergies or asthma. Nature also provides a number of compounds to help to offer relief by supporting your immune system and blocking symptoms. Consider the following:
Increase intake of animal-based omega-3 fats — I can't emphasize enough the importance of getting sufficient amounts of high-quality, animal-based omega-3 fats in your diet. The fats DHA and EPA found in fish oil and krill oil are potent anti-inflammatories.
Reduce your intake of damaged omega-6 fats — In addition to adding omega-3 fats to your diet, you also want to reduce the amount of omega-6 fats you consume because the ratio between these two fats is very important. If you eat processed foods daily, the balance between omega-3 and omega-6 fats will become distorted, which can cause the type of inflammation leading to asthma.
Fermented vegetables and/or probiotics — Researchers 19 found taking probiotics during allergy season reduced symptoms and suspect this may be due to an increased percentage of regulatory T-cells, which in turn may increase your body's tolerance to hay fever symptoms.
Get regular exercise — Exercise (especially out in fresh air if you're an asthmatic) is really important, as it helps to normalize your insulin level.
Quercetin — Quercetin is a strong antioxidant with demonstrated antiviral 20 and anti-allergy 21 properties. This flavonoid, found in several plants, including onions, apples, green tea and grapes, 22 stabilizes the mast cell membrane and prevents release of inflammatory agents and histamine.
The effectiveness of quercetin is enhanced by the presence of vitamin C, which is why some supplements are sold with a combination of quercetin and vitamin C. The ability of quercetin to strengthen mast cell membranes is not immediate and it may take up to six weeks to notice an effect. It is most effective when taken preventively before allergy season, and maintained throughout the season.
Bromelain — This enzyme, found in pineapples, is also most effective when used preventively. The enzyme helps reduce nasal swelling and thins mucus, making it easier to breathe. Proven mucolytic properties 23 support normal tissue function and enhances the absorption of quercetin. 24
Supplements may be split into two doses between meals on an empty stomach to maximize absorption. Bromelain is also marketed as a natural anti-inflammatory for health conditions like arthritis, 25 and may be more easily absorbed when taken with both vitamin C and quercetin. 26
Methylsulfonylmethane (MSM) — MSM is the first oxidized metabolite of dimethyl sulfoxide (DMSO) 27 and a naturally occurring sulfur compound found in all vertebrates. When you have insufficient MSM your cells become hard and stiff, which doesn't allow for adequate flushing of foreign particles and free radicals. 28
Sulfur (sulfonyl) in MSM is one of the more prominent compounds in your body and is as safe and important as vitamin C — unlike bad sulfurs, such as sulfas, sulfates, sulfites and sulfides. 29
Commonly found in cow's milk, meat, seafood, fruits and vegetables, it is thought to work by contributing sulfonyl and work by blocking the receptivity of histamine in tissues of your nasal passages, thus reducing symptoms. As a supplement, most tolerate up to 4 grams daily with few known and mild side effects. 30
Butterbur (Petasites hybridus) — A natural antihistamine, butterbur was used to treat coughs and asthma as far back as the 17th century. Researchers have since identified compounds in butterbur that help reduce symptoms in asthma by inhibiting leukotrienes and histamines, which are responsible for symptom aggravation in asthma. 31
A word of caution: Butterbur is a member of the ragweed family, so if you are allergic to ragweed, marigold, daisy or chrysanthemum, you should not use it. Also, the raw herb contains a substance called pyrrolizidine alkaloids, which is toxic to your liver and kidneys and may cause cancer. Commercial butterbur products, however, have had a lot of these alkaloids removed.
Goldenseal (Hydrastis canadensis) — Goldenseal may be helpful for seasonal allergies. Laboratory studies suggest berberine, the active ingredient in goldenseal, has antibacterial and immune-enhancing properties. 32
Eucalyptus oil — The pure essential oil may have healing properties for your mucus membranes. Add a drop of the oil to a cotton ball and sniff it several times daily; add a few drops to water for a steam treatment or add a few drops to your bathwater.
Vitamin C — A natural antihistamine found in fruits and vegetables, it can also be found in supplemental form. 33 Many people will get loose stools with conventional oral vitamin C at high doses, but liposomal vitamin C doesn't have this side effect and provides blood levels similar to intravenous vitamin C without the expense or inconvenience.
Naturopathic doctor Doni Wilson told the Huffington Post, 34 " … [Y]ou need to take 500 to 1,000 mg, three times a day to reduce symptoms."
Green Tea — This nutrient dense tea has demonstrated the ability to strongly inhibit mast cell activation and the release of histamine, reducing symptoms of allergies to cedar pollen. 35