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Natural Approaches to Allergies


The sun bathes the world in golden warmth, the flowers bloom in vibrant reds and violets, the birds sing a sweet song -- and you’re too busy sneezing and rubbing your itchy eyes to enjoy it. Sounds familiar?

These are the rites of spring for over 20 million Americans who suffer from allergic rhinitis. Nine percent of all visits to the doctor stem from these sinus, ear, nose, and throat irritations. In my practice, that ratio is even higher. Thankfully, natural remedies are remarkably helpful in banishing allergies for good. Unlike many drugs, which suppress symptoms, natural treatments bring the body into balance as they quench allergic reactions.

If you’re under 40, you’re especially prone to runny noses and scratchy throats, since the risk of allergy is even higher for this age group [20-25 percent] than for the total population [7 percent]. Women are more likely to get allergies than men. Allergies carry a strong genetic link, so your chances of developing them is even greater if your parents have them -- 30 percent, if one parent has allergies; 50 percent, if both. If you’re prone to asthma, or eczema, you probably have allergies.

Allergies can be as wide-ranging as the world itself. Perhaps, the most common form is allergic rhinitis, the technical name for the sneezing, coughing, runny nose, watery eyes, and itchiness that many of us experience yearly. The seasonal pollination of trees, grass, and weeds distributing airborne allergens vary little from year to year, causing the predictable return of symptoms at the same time and place annually.

Spring Allergies

While spring, with its freshly mown lawns and free-floating pollen, is usually associated with allergy onset, the early fall is also prime time for allergies, since hay fever season [also known as ragweed season] lasts from August to October. But, many allergies aren’t seasonal at all, and you don’t have to be in the great outdoors to fall victim. Sensitivities to cockroaches, mold, dust, pets, household chemicals, and wood mean that you could stay indoors your whole life and still develop the itchy, scratchy symptoms of allergic rhinitis.

True, there is a panoply of pills and capsules lining drugstore shelves that claim to relieve your allergies. Many of these medications, however, have irksome and often dangerous side-effects. Benadryl, for example, can lead to severe drowsiness.

Nasal decongestants and cough suppressants can also cause mental and physical impairment [hence, the warnings on the box against “engaging in the use of heavy machinery” while under the influence of these drugs]. A commonly used anti-histamine, Seldane, was pulled off the market after causing 127 cardiovascular “incidents.”

Would you rather relieve your allergies with a natural anti-histamine and anti-inflammatory agent guaranteed to help you breathe in the fresh spring-time air without sneezing -- or fall into a drugged stupor? Look no further than the strange-sounding nutraceutical called quercetin, a seemingly innocuous plant pigment proved to clear up your sinuses without clouding your head.

A natural solution: Quercetin

Quercetin belongs to a class of nutrients known as bioflavonoids, compounds better known for the blue and red color they give to plants than for the anti-oxidant benefits they provide the body. Once merely considered useless plant pigments, flavonoids were originally unearthed by Albert Szent-Gyorgyi, PhD, the Nobel Laureate who discovered vitamin C in the 1930s.

Szent-Gyorgyi found that flavonoids were able to strengthen capillary walls in a way that the common cold comfort vitamin C could not. Over 4,000 flavonoids have since been identified, and they are increasingly being recognized as a crucial key to health and longevity. One of the most frequently discussed flavonoids is a pigment known as proanthocyanidin, found in red wine, and hypothesized to retard heart disease. This substance is thought to be one reason that wine-swilling French citizens manage to eat four times as much butter and lard as we do with significantly less heart disease. Other flavonoids, such as the catechins, found in green tea, are not only heart smart but are believed to prevent cancer.

Other nutraceuticals such as garlic, bilberry, ginkgo, and silymarin, also exert their healthy powers through flavonoids.

Of the many bioflavonoids known to us, quercetin appears to be the one with the highest degree of anti-allergy activity, according to a study in “The Journal Of Allergy And Clinical Immunology.” Quercetin stops allergies in their tracks via two routes.

First, it is a powerful anti-inflammatory, keeping the lungs, nasal passages, and eyes from swelling as they normally do when allergens like pollen come into contact with the body. For this reason, quercetin may also be useful in treating inflammatory conditions such as arthritis and asthma.

Second, quercetin is a potent anti-histamine that prevents the release of itchy chemicals that make our nose run and our eyes water. Best of all, this natural one-two punch of allergy defense is achieved without the drowsiness or jitters, that medication can cause; it is extremely rare for quercetin to cause side-effects.

Safe, Quick Relief to Allergies

Not only does quercetin provide sweet allergy relief, but it also has been shown to protect the stomach from ulcer disease and gastric distress. Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs [NSAIDs] such as Advil or Motrin are commonly used to stop headaches, cramping, and fever, but they are actually the current leading cause of gastric bleeding in the United States.

A study published in “Pharmacology” showed that quercetin protected the gastric mucosa from damage after being exposed to NSAIDs. Quercetin also has been shown to inhibit cell cancer lines and oral tumors and to boost the benefits of chemotherapy treatment for ovarian cancer, as described in “The Journal Of Anti-Cancer Drugs.” Yet another study suggests that quercetin might halt the cell proliferation in bone marrow, which could be helpful in treating leukemia. Most people, however, are drawn to quercetin’s amazing ability to alleviate allergies, which is its forte, especially when combined with other natural anti-histamines and anti-inflammatories like vitamin C, vitamin B-12, bromelain [an enzyme], and nettle [a plant].

Recommended Dosage

I recommend using quercetin whenever you would reach for an antihistamine, or when you are about to enter a season that is particularly difficult for you, such as hay fever or pollen season. The initial dose is 300 mg, twice a day, although I may recommend doses as high as 1- 2 gm in some severely allergic patients. Short-term use of one to two months is recommended. I, generally, don’t suggest long-term use, unless there is a chronic allergy, such as one related to dust mites.