Tame Your Seasonal Allergies Naturally

May 24, 2022


Heather Maddox, MD

For anyone who has suffered from allergies, sometimes the beauty of spring and the new blooms and colors are not always welcomed. Even though it signals the end of winter and warmer, longer days ahead, for some of us, it can be the start of many irritating symptoms. Today, there are 30% more people suffering from allergies than 30 years ago.  

Why do allergies occur?

Our immune system is exposed to many more indoor and outdoor allergens as well as additives in foods than ever before! It is a wonderfully elaborate system designed to protect us from harm but sometimes can overreact to things we wish it didn’t. 

One of the cell types that can get carried away are mast cells. Mast cells are vital to our immune system and serve as the first line of defense against foreign proteins entering the body due to their location in the skin and mucosa or lining of our nasal passages, throat, lungs, etc. 

However, some of us have sensitive mast cells that can be triggered by pollens, pet dander, venomous bites, etc. They release multiple chemicals including histamines and cytokines which can cause hives, dermatitis, nasal congestion, scratchy throat, itchy eyes, and so on. Sometimes brain fog, headaches, and fatigue can occur when mast cells are activated. 

So what can I do?

First, it is vitally important to identify and eliminate any source of excess inflammation in your body. Inflammation can trigger our immune system to overreact or become hyperreactive which can enhance your body’s allergic sensitivity and response. Excess inflammation can be caused by food sensitivities/allergies, high sugar intake, excess stress, poor sleep, toxin exposure, and so on…At MFH, we can help you identify your triggers for inflammation and get your body back on track.

I used to suffer from horrible seasonal allergies each spring. The summer I did my elimination diet and removed all inflammatory foods, my allergies were nonexistent! Since fully eliminating Gluten from my diet (Gluten is my personal inflammatory trigger…) I have not suffered from seasonal allergies in 3 years!

What else? Can nature provide a solution?

The good news is that nature has an antidote for us to help combat this problem. There are many natural flavonoids or antioxidants found abundantly in vegetables and fruits that help balance our immune system. 

When it comes to mitigating allergies, quercetin is one of our best natural allies. It is found in apples, raspberries, red grapes, cherries, citrus fruits, green, leafy veggies, tea, and wine….the colors of the rainbow! Quercetin is found most abundantly in the outer ring of an onion. 

What makes quercetin unique in helping allergy symptoms is that it stabilizes the membranes of mast cells and reduces the release of histamine. Quercetin can interact with proteins, modulating the process of allergic sensitization and their effect on mast cells, thereby inhibiting the release of inflammatory mediators. This results in an improvement of allergy symptoms. It also helps the overall balance of our T cells and suppresses the formation of IgE antibodies which triggers the allergic response. 

What is even cooler, is that we may be able to reduce the risk of seasonal allergy development in our children! A study done in the Netherlands, Willers et al. concluded that consuming apples during pregnancy may have a protective effect against the development of childhood asthma and allergic diseases secondary to the effects of quercetin. 

Couldn’t I just take an over the counter antihistamine instead? 

Some of the most popular selling medications today are antihistamines, especially since most are now sold over the counter. This includes common brands like Zyrtec, Claritin, Allegra, and Benadryl. These medications are widely used to treat symptoms of allergic conditions like itching, nasal stuffiness, runny nose, teary eyes, and hives. They are typically separated into sedating (first generation) and nonsedating (second generation) forms, based upon their central nervous system effects, the non-sedating agents being less likely to cross the blood-brain barrier. Benadryl is a first-generation antihistamine and can cause significant drowsiness. Other adverse effects can include impaired motor function, dizziness, dry mouth and throat, blurred vision, urinary retention, and constipation. 

Short term use of antihistamines, especially one that is a “second generation”, is thought to be safe, but many take these daily. Long term use of Benadryl has been linked to memory changes. Antihistamines have also been shown to impair driving performance. Rare reports of liver injury have been reported with Zyrtec. There is also a small study showing an increased risk of a type of brain cancer called glioma with long term use of antihistamines.

Is quercetin a safe alternative?

It certainly makes sense to consume natural foods that contain quercetin on a regular basis not only because it is something our body recognizes, but it has been shown in studies to support the immune system and reduce allergy symptoms. 

Quercetin is the most abundant flavonoid in the diet. It’s estimated that the average person consumes 10–100 mg of it daily through various food sources. If you suffer from significant allergy symptoms, you can consider taking it in supplement form. It works best when used as a preventative before exposure to allergens. You can use it regularly during allergy season or even year-round if you have perennial allergies. Most studies have only looked at up to 12 weeks of use. 

A good starting point is 500 mg twice a day between meals. It is better absorbed when used in combination with vitamin C and bromelain. There is the possibility of some side effects including headaches, nausea, and tingling sensations. 

As always, you do want to consult with a medical professional before taking quercetin supplements as it can interact with certain drugs and medications. 

Looking to take a deeper dive into your allergies? Please schedule a 20-minute complimentary consultation today to talk with a functional medicine provider.