Spring is finally here.And with it comes the sniffles for over 35 million Americans who suffer from seasonal allergies.Personally, it’s the pollen that gets my eyes itching and nose running.  For others it may be the flowers, grass, trees and plants, or even dust and dust mites inside the house, along with mold, or pet dander as spring stirs things up. Regardless of what causes allergies, it certainly affects a bunch of us.Allergies come from a misplaced and often exaggerated response by our immune system. Instead of ignoring common substances in the environment—call them allergens—immune cells view them as threats and try to fight them off by creating an inflammatory response. This results in a flood of histamine and other inflammatory compounds that produce the watery eyes, sneezing, runny or itchy nose and a scratchy throat. Every time a person encounters a reactive substance, they will have some kind of an allergic response.

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The typical conventional treatments for allergies include antihistamines, decongestants and steroids, many of which are available over the counter and act by blocking the effect of histamine on the body or counteracting the inflammatory response. Even though these conventional therapies are generally effective, they often act to suppress or block the allergic reaction and can cause rebound symptoms that are worse when stopping the drug. They can also cause side effects that aren’t particularly pleasant, from rapid heart rate and increased blood pressure, anxiety and sleeplessness to mental fog and over-sedation. Steroids can lead to a whole host of issues if given chronically: suppression of immunity, weight gain, stomach problems, mood disturbances, insomnia, even changes in blood pressure and blood sugar.This is why I recommend natural remedies for hay fever that may be just as effective without the side effect profile or symptomatic rebound. One of my favorite natural remedies for allergic rhinitis is Stinging nettle leaf (Urtica dioica). It’s most effective when taken in freeze-dried form, where the dosage is one to two capsules every two to four hours as needed. I like it because it’s nontoxic and doesn’t cause drowsiness like antihistamines or speed you up like decongestants. I take this regularly during pollen season. I also like the fact that I can take it multiple times throughout the day as opposed to only once like some of the newer allergy medications. If I take a Zyrtec and still have symptoms, I run out of options or have to resort to taking Benadryl, which wipes me out.

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I also use quercitin, a compound found naturally in buckwheat and citrus fruits. This acts as an antioxidant and helps to stabilize mast cells—one of the main components of the allergic response. Quercitin works better as a preventative rather than treating acute symptoms, so you want to use it before your allergies are in full-blown mode. You can use this along with Stinging nettles. I often will recommend a “loading dose” of more quercitin taken for the first 10 days, then lowering it to a maintenance dose. My typical recommendations are 200-400 mg up to three times daily for the loading dose—taken before your bad time of the year—followed by 200-600 mg once daily for maintenance.Remember, allergies also seem to worsen during times of high stress and consequently are sensitive to relaxation techniques and other mind/body therapies like hypnosis and biofeedback. I also recommend a diet low in cow’s milk protein, which seems to irritate the immune system in susceptible individuals, making allergies worse and thickening mucous production.Enjoy springtime!

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