As seen in Home Herbalist Magazine.
Spring is a time for renewal! As the snows we endured in winter give way to muddy patches of grass and the emergence of flowers such as crocus and snow drops, it is a time for hope and happiness as the restorative change of the seasons come upon us. There is a resilience of nature that can be seen and not ignored as everything begins to bloom and change, the flowers are opening, the trees are giving life to new leaves, and the birds are eagerly singing in the early morning.
In many places, this is also a time when the emergence of pollen from those beautiful blooming things give rise to seasonal allergies. I know that during this time of year I can look outside and see a soft green/gold sheen of tree pollen covering the cars. This is also the time of season when stuffy nosed clients are calling to ask if there is anything they can do naturally to relieve their discomfort. As with so many things, nature seems to have a plant (or many) for every malady.
In this article, we will explore the physiology behind allergies as well as an herbal/natural approach. I think it is so important to know not only what herbs are available to us, but also to know what an allergy is, how the body responds to it systemically, and what we can do to better treat ourselves. I have also discussed allergies beyond seasonal discomfort and have, instead, tried to give a broader understanding to this very large topic.
Before we begin:
I am not a Medical Doctor (MD), nor are any of the suggestions or recommendations I am about to make meant to be a substitute for advice from your MD, or as a substitute for any prescriptions you may be taking.
A Brief Summary on Allergies:
In medical texts, an allergy is described as an immune response to a foreign antigen that results in inflammation and/or organ dysfunction. Allergies can range from life threatening to annoying and include systemic anaphylaxis (life threatening), laryngeal edema (swelling of the throat), transfusion reactions, bronchospasm (cough or swelling/spasms of the respiratory tract), vasculitis (swelling of the blood vessels when the body’s immune system attacks the blood vessels by mistake), angioedema (swelling of the lower layer of skin and tissue just under the skin – often occurs in the face, tongue, larynx, abdomen, or arms and legs), urticaria (hives), eczematous dermatitis (type of eczema), hay fever (generally an itchy/runny nose), rhinitis (stuffed nose), and conjunctivitis (itchy/watery eyes, can also be an infection).
Allergies can be trigged by many things and include inhalation (pollen, dust mites etc.), direct contact (think of poison ivy), ingestion (eating or drinking), or injection (bee sting, drugs).
Most commonly, allergic responses may be caused and sustained by occupational exposures to allergens, and by foods, animals, fungal spores, metals, rubber products, and other allergy causing agents. The most severe types of allergic reactions are often associated with bee stings, penicillin products, radiological contrast media (the contrast ingested or injected for radiological imaging) and latex.
Since everyone is different, it is always wise to find out what your allergy triggers are. This can be done with help from your Medical Doctor and Allergist.
What Causes Allergies?
The general cause of allergies is not entirely known, however the incidence of allergic diseases is increasing. This trend, though not fully understood, is partially explained by one widely held theory called the “Hygiene Hypothesis.” This theory proposes that infections in early life are critically important in maturation of the immune response and bias the immune system against the development of allergies. It is suggested that the high prevalence of allergic disease is the penalty for the decreased exposure to infection that has resulted from improvements in sanitation and health care.
In my own opinion, I feel that the common western lifestyle is another contributor to allergies. Generally, it is very common to have a diet rich in processed foods that have been exposed to chemicals from mechanical processing and other chemicals such as the presence of xeno-estrogens caused by the storage of foods in plastic. I feel that the majority of these chemicals build up in the liver (our body’s main detoxification organ) and cause liver sluggishness as well as the buildup of toxins which contribute to an over-active immune system.
Normally, the immune system does not make detectable responses to the many environmental substances to which it is exposed to daily. Many of us do not have to concern ourselves when we come into contact with a dog or cat, or if we are stung by a bee. However, in an allergic reaction, initial exposure to an otherwise harmless substance triggers a rapid immune reaction.
The immune system has two main functions: first, to identify germs and parasites that may cause damage to the body; and second, to repel attacks by these organisms with appropriate defense mechanisms.
Allergic reactions can occur when immune functions are turned on by any agent whether it is infection, pollen, pet dander, and so forth- that is rich with allergy causing antigens. Once the immune system has been sensitized, repeat exposures result in the binding of specific immunoglobulins (antibodies) or the activation of immunologically active cells (these can be mast cells, basophils, or killer T-cells).
The unfortunate reaction to all of this is that these can release inflammatory chemicals such as histamines, kinins, leukotrienes, and interleukins that, acting locally or systemically, create various allergic symptoms.
In addition, when we consider food allergies or other environmental sensitivities, if long term exposure to mild allergies continue, then the body’s inflammatory cycle may be triggered, and when the body is in a state of inflammation for an extended period of time, chronic inflammation may lead to systemic complications or disease.
Common symptoms of an allergic reaction include:
- Sneezing and an itchy, runny, or stuffed nose
- Itchy, red, watering eyes
- Wheezing, chest tightness, shortness of breath, and a cough
- A raised, itchy, red rash
- Swollen lips, tongue, eyes, or face
- Stomach pain, feeling sick, vomiting, or diarrhea
- Dry, red and cracked skin
*Symptoms may vary depending on what you’re allergic to and how you come into contact with the allergen.
*The above list is not meant as a diagnostic tool. If someone is having a severe allergic reaction, call 911 or your local emergency department.
What Are Some Natural Suggestions for Allergies?
Since allergic reactions come from the immune system, there are a few crucial herbal actions that one needs in any formula for acute or chronic allergies. Some of these include adaptogens, immuno-modulators, immune tonics, histamine balancers, liver tonics, bitters, astringents, and anti-inflammatories are all crucial foundational actions in any herbal formulation for allergies.
Before trying any herbal formula, keep in mind that herbs can also cause allergic reactions in some individuals. If you are wanting to work with herbal medicine, it is always wise to consult a clinical herbalist so that the formulation is specific to your needs and current situation.
Commonly Used Herbs:
- Boswellia – works at a cellular level to reduce inflammatory and allergic responses.
- Eucalyptus – as an inhaled steam, can be used to assist in nasal congestion.
- Thyme – as a steam or taken internally, can be used to assist in nasal congestion.
- Eyebright – has been noted to reduce hay fever symptoms such as runny nose and watery eyes in children.
- Nettle – reduces inflammation, helps balance histamine levels.
- Dandelion Root – best when used in conjunction with nettles. Causes the liver to pump bile, the two combined at equal amounts have a very quick reaction when it comes to hay fever.
- Wild Yam – stimulates the production of hormones that reduce inflammation caused by allergies.
- Red Reishi – balancing and restorative to the body and immune system.
Commonly Used Supplements:
- Probiotic – Powerful immune enhancer.
- Inositol hexaphosphate – Supports the immune system
- MSM – Has anti-allergic properties
- Quercetin – Increases immunity and decreases reactions to certain foods, pollens, and other allergens.
- Vitamin C with bioflavonoids – Protects the body from allergens and moderates the inflammatory response.
- A Good Multivitamin – All nutrients are needed for proper balance.
An Excellent Tea Blend for Allergies:
This is in fact Finlandia’s Allergy Tea Blend, found in the herbal dispensary
- Elder Flower
- Eyebright Herb
- Goldenrod Herb
- Licorice Root
- Nettle Leaf
- Plantain Leaf
- Wild Indigo Root
To enjoy, combine 1 teaspoon to 1 cup boiling water, steep 10 to 12 minutes covered, drink 1 cup three times daily.
I sincerely hope you’ve enjoyed reading this article, if you have any questions or would like to make an appointment to meet and discuss allergy relief, please call the Finlandia Natural Health Centre at 604-734-7760 or book online.
In health and wellness,
Petra Sovcov – Clinical Herbal Therapist