As they say, April showers bring May flowers, but Spring has come early this year! The air around us is warming, and filled with billions of pollen grains and mold spores. But as the flowers frolic, bloom, and reproduce, many of us, myself included, suffer allergic reactions. Amidst our suffering and sneezing we wonder: Why does this happen?
Our beautifully complex immune system views pollen and mold spores as dangerous invaders, and in response releases enormous amounts of the protein histamine. We call this allergic rhinitis. The histamine courses through our body, causing swelling of the blood vessels in our nose and sinuses, excess mucus, stuffy nose, congestion, and itchy watery eyes. Type and intensity of the reaction varies, depending on the amount of histamine released, and on individual body chemistry.
Who gets allergies? Genetics play a large part in the likelihood of the allergic response, as does birth order. Firstborn children are more likely to develop allergies than their siblings, as multiple births build up the immune system in the mother’s womb. Men are more prone to allergies than women, and 80% of allergy sufferers develop the histamine response before age 20.
So, what are we to do? Commercial medicine offers a myriad of antihistamine medications. These do reduce the amount of histamine, minimizing the symptoms and misery. However, the quick fix comes at a cost - side effects. Drowsiness and brain-fog are the two chief complaints I hear from my clients who are looking for healthier alternatives. But more seriously, antihistamine drugs dry out sinus cavities, creating the perfect environment for invasive bacteria. Hello infections! And you thought you had problems with just allergies! So, how can we get healthy relief?
Interestingly, we turn to plants and bees. Here are a few examples of potent, natural, non-drowsy relief from chronic and acute allergies. Nettles (Urtica dioica) are my personal favourite. They are rich with natural antihistamine and anti inflammatory compounds. Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis) eases airway constriction so you can breathe. Yarrow (Achillea millefolium), a favourite of the Native Americans, is an anti inflammatory and helps reduce pain - very welcome when you’re feeling miserable. Eucalyptus (Eucalyptus globulus) loosens up congestion in your sinuses and lungs, and can help relieve coughing and a stuffy nose. Quercetin is effective in reducing histamine. It is found in certain foods, specifically garlic and onions. And lastly, unfiltered local honey brings sweet relief. Like an inoculation, the small amount of pollen spores in the honey allows the development of antibodies, increasing your resistance to the airborne invaders.
So this allergy season, instead of filling your body with expensive chemicals, drizzle a spoonful of honey onto your toast or pick up an herbal tea or tincture. Face the pollinated world with your head held high and your sinuses clear.
These facts and opinions are those of a certified Master Herbalist and Dipl. Natural Health Consultant, and are for educational purposes only, and not intended to replace consult with your qualified healthcare practitioner.