By Lindsay Cohn
Spring is officially here, which means warmer weather, blooming flowers…and seasonal allergies. If you experience symptoms like sneezing, runny nose, itchy eyes and sinus pressure, you’re not alone: Millions of Americans are right there with you.
What causes these symptoms? “Histamine, which is released from a white blood cell, called a mast cell. These mast cells detect things that are foreign to it, like pollen, grass and ragweed,” says Dr. Tania Dempsey, MD, founder of Armonk Integrative Medicine. During allergy season, depending on what you’re allergic to, these mast cells will detect that allergen and will try to get rid of it by exploding and releasing histamine, and other inflammatory chemicals, to fight off the allergen. If the histamine is released in the sinuses, you experience a runny or congested nose and a headache; if it’s in the bronchial tubes, you might get a cough or asthma symptoms.
The key to feeling better is to block the histamine so that it doesn’t cause these reactions, and also to stabilize the mast cells, Dr. Dempsey says. And though there are plenty of over-the-counter and prescription medications, they can cause side effects, from nuisances like dry mouth to life interrupters such as drowsiness, nausea and blurred vision.
Luckily, there’s a natural compound present in certain foods that can help combat allergies, and it doesn’t carry any side effects: quercetin. This antioxidant is abundant in certain herbs, fruit and vegetables. Along with enjoying these foods (see suggestions below), Elizabeth Trattner, AP, DOM (Doctor of Oriental Medicine), a Miami-based practitioner of Chinese and integrative medicine, recommends a supplement, such as Source Naturals.
“For almost two decades, I have been using quercetin not only for my patients but myself to relieve allergies,” Trattner tells Clean Plates. “Starting a month before allergy season through the end of the season, I have my patients take 1000mg of quercetin three times a day. This helps reduce mast cell activity, soothing symptoms like runny nose and sneezing.” Here are some delicious ways to boost your quercetin all day:
An apple a day keeps the allergist away. Quercetin-rich apples are mast cell stabilizers—and in doing so they also stop the release of histamine. Apples are also packed with antioxidants, which fight inflammation and prevent cellular damage. And if you’re pregnant, there’s another reason to load up on apples: One study found that women who ate apples while pregnant reduced the instance of their children developing asthma. (Just remember that an Apple & Pineapple Smoothie (below) a day keeps the allergist away.)
While apples are available at the grocery store year-round, their peak growing season is the fall. Can’t find local apples near you? No problem. Simply pick up a jar of applesauce. Or, our favorite option, make your own batch with fresh apples in the fall and freeze for later!
Capers are one of the best natural sources of quercetin. Plus, these briny little gems–they are the pickled buds of a Mediterranean shrub–possess powerful antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory properties. They also contain vitamin C and beta-carotene, both of which have antioxidant abilities. Vitamin C is an immune-booster as well. Pick up a jar and add them to salads, sauces and entrees.
This spicy rhizome is a histamine blocker and is also great for the immune system. “I like to shave off a small piece of ginger, put it in a mug, pour in hot water and let it steep for three to five minutes. Then drink and enjoy,” says Dr. Dempsey.
Research shows that honey (it must be a local one) works like an allergy shot, helping your body develop a tolerance to local allergens. Another study reported that a single dose of honey before bedtime effectively diminished coughs and discomfort experienced by children.
This tropical fruit is rich in bromelain, a compound that has been shown to relieve inflammation and reduce allergic sensitivity, according to Dr. Taz Bhatia, integrative health expert and founder of CentreSpring MD. Eat it alone, or turn it into a tangy salsa.
Don’t let the name fool you, this herb isn’t dangerous, unless you’re a histamine. Research suggests that stinging nettle may inhibit the release of histamine that causes the symptoms of hay fever. “Fresh nettles are available at least a month or two before allergy season, which gives you lots of time to start getting into a routine of taking freeze dried nettle in capsules, eating nettles or making your own anti-allergy tea blend with dried nettles before the season really starts,” says Sarah Farr, author of Healing Herbal Teas.
“Thyme has very high levels of vitamin C, along with a variety of other anti-inflammatory compounds, that work together to help block histamines and prevent the release of histamines from mast cells,” says Dr. Dempsey. Try it on tasty carrot chips.
Watercress is a very potent antihistamine. Enjoy it raw in salads, or saute in coconut oil with chopped garlic, which can also decrease the release of histamine from mast cells.
Bio: Lindsay Cohn is a wellness writer, yogi and essential oil enthusiast. You can follow her on Instagram at @lindsay_cohn and Twitter at @lindsay_cohn .
This recipe is from Dr. Taz Bhatia, MD, integrative health expert and founder of CentreSpring MD.
- 1 cup pineapple
- 1 small apple, peeled, cored and cut
- 1 cup purified water
- 1/2 cup ice
- 2 teaspoons watercress
- 2 teaspoons local honey
- 1 teaspoon fresh grated ginger
- Placed all ingredients in a food processor. Blend until smooth.