Mitigating Allergies, Naturally


This article was originally published in March 2023.

by Dr. Kelley Garrison

Licensed Naturopath at Foothills Naturopathic

As the days lengthen, the sun starts to win the war over the winter gloom and temperatures climb their way back up. Trees, shrubs, and flowers are showing signs of life again! Although many of us look forward to the greening of the landscape and the colorful blooms of spring, those blooms wreak havoc on individuals with allergies. Natural remedies often can help reduce the sniffles, sneezes, congestion, and itchy eyes that are all too familiar for those suffering from seasonal allergies.

For the most effective reduction in symptoms, it is best to start natural allergy treatments at least one month before your symptoms tend to show up. This gives your body time to build up the nutrients, vitamins, minerals, and plant constituents that mitigate excessive allergic responses. However, our allergies may show up prematurely, taking us by surprise. If you find yourself in this situation and are looking for natural alternatives, consider the following:

Hydrate Mucus Membranes

AKA the “solution to pollution is dilution” approach. Although limiting exposure to allergens is  most helpful, limiting the allergen load in the body is an important next step. By hydrating your mucus membranes, you can help prevent buildup of allergens in your eyes, nasal passages, and throat, limiting the amount of inflammation they can cause.  

Hydration strategies include: 

  • Drinking plenty of fluids throughout the day: Just drinking water regularly can help soothe irritated and dry mucus membranes and help move allergens along so they can be excreted from the body. As a bonus, drinking herbal teas or infusions that help limit allergen responses, such as a cold nettle leaf infusion or hawthorn berry tea, can potentially mitigate symptoms further. 
  • Nasal rinses: Neti pot rinses and saline sprays can help lubricate the sinuses and rinse out excess pollen and allergens as well as help prevent and/or alleviate sinus congestion. Make sure to use saline water that has been boiled and then brought down to body temperature to ensure safety. 
  • Showering often: Showering or bathing helps to get rid of any pollen that has hitched a ride on clothing or hair and reduces the allergen burden inside the house if you shower immediately after you return home. 

Stabilize Mast Cells

Mast cells are a type of immune cell that produces histamine. When mast cells encounter an invader, they initiate the release of histamine in the bloodstream in a process called “mast cell degranulation.” Histamine, in turn, activates a physiological chain of events to attempt to physically expel the invader by triggering sneezing, coughing, runny nose, and/or watery eyes.   

This is an essential immune system function that helps us get rid of problematic pathogens before they can take up residence in our bodies. However, in the case of seasonal allergens, mast cells often mistake benign substances — such as pollen — as an invader, causing the hay fever symptoms we know all too well.  

One way to help interrupt this process is to stabilize mast cells, making them less likely to break apart, so that histamine is not released unnecessarily. The following are natural mast cell stabilizers: 

  • Quercetin: Quercetin helps prevent mast cell degranulation, and some studies suggest it also can inhibit the production of histamine from its precursor histidine. Foods with high levels of quercetin include apples, onions, grapes, citrus fruits, and parsley.

When allergies hit hard, a quercetin supplement may be needed to ensure a higher dosage. Quercetin is best taken with other polyphenols — such as turmeric, resveratrol (e.g. grapes), and bromelain — which help increase its absorption. It is also more effective when taken multiple times throughout the day as opposed to one big dose. 

  • Luteolin: Another anti-allergenic flavonoid, luteolin also is a potent antioxidant. It helps to regulate mast cells as well as other overactive immune responses. Luteolin is found in many foods, such as tea, olives, celery, parsley, onions, and more. When higher dosing is needed, it often can be found by itself or in combination with antioxidant and flavonoid supplements. 

Mucus Busters

A persistent runny nose and inflammation in the nasal passages often can lead to sinus congestion and the uncomfortable symptoms that accompany it. To help prevent or to relieve congestion, consider the following: 

  • N-acetyl cysteine (NAC): NAC is a compound in the body that serves a variety of beneficial functions, one of which is breaking up mucus. When taken regularly, it may help thin the mucus in the sinuses, ears, throats, and lungs, helping to alleviate congestion. 
  • Horseradish: As anyone who has consumed horseradish knows, it can be very efficient at clearing the sinuses. Eating small amounts throughout the day during allergy season can help prevent congestion. If eating horseradish is not your thing, even just shaving off a slice of fresh horseradish and breathing in its fumes can be helpful. 

Break Down Histamine

Supporting the pathways that breakdown histamine into inactive forms is essential in controlling symptoms. 

  • B vitamins: B1, B6, and B12 all play a role in supporting the enzymes that help break down histamine. Eating foods rich in B vitamins (for example, nutritional yeast) and supplementing with a good B complex can ensure that your body has the cofactors it needs for getting rid of histamine. 
  • Vitamin C: Vitamin C also plays a role in histamine breakdown by supporting the non-enzymatic processes that inactivate histamine. Vitamin C has a short half-life in the body (i.e. it gets excreted quickly) so often it can be more effective if taken multiple times throughout the day. 

General Anti-inflammatory Support

  • Probiotics: Certain probiotic strains have been shown to suppress inflammatory responses to allergens, thus potentially mitigating allergy symptoms. These strains include: Lactobacillus rhamnosus, Lactobacillus casei, Lactobacillus plantarum, and Lactobacillus acidophilus L-92.   
  • Vitamin D: Ensuring that your vitamin D levels are in an optimal range can be beneficial as vitamin D is important for immune system modulation. 
  • Omega 3s EPA and DHA: The omegas EPA and DHA have strong anti-inflammatory effects that help inhibit the arachidonic acid pathway, which is pro-inflammatory. Other beneficial fatty acids include flax oil, borage oil, and evening primrose oil. 

Remember to consult your healthcare provider before starting new supplements as there can be potential contraindications with certain medications and medical conditions.