Supplements to help fight seasonal allergy symptoms.

Ah, spring. A time when the sun shines, the flowers grow and the pollen attacks, turning every allergy sufferer into a big, messy sneeze-ball. It’s hard to appreciate the picture perfect picnic weather with itchy, watery eyes and an overwhelming desire to nap the day away. Fortunately, nature also has a plethora of plants and herbs that can help fight the debilitating effects of allergies, including inflammation and a runny nose, without delivering the side effects prescription allergy medications may cause, like drowsiness. Offer your customers these natural supplements and they’ll be skipping off to the park in no time.

Science behind the Sneeze
Allergies, or allergic rhinitis, are caused by a mistaken immune system. Lymphocytes (a type of white blood cell) are responsible for counterattacking foreign cells that threaten the health of the body. Once a foreign cell is found, the lymphocytes send out specific antibodies, or immunoglobulins (Ig), to fight the threatening particles; IgE is responsible for attacking allergens (1). In a fully functioning immune system, the lymphocytes can discern between innocent and threatening proteins; for people with allergies, their lymphocytes cannot, and thus IgE attacks non-threatening foreign cells such as ragweed, pet dander, mold or pollen (1).

To fight foreign objects, IgE attaches itself to mast cells, a type of white blood cell that contains histamine, which fights infection (1). Unfortunately, when the histamine is released to attack allergens, it causes a number of irritating symptoms such as itching, hives, sneezing, fatigue, coughing and a runny nose (2). So while the immune system thinks it has done a good job of protecting its host, the body is really suffering in vain!

Supplemental Allergy Relief
In an ideal world, all allergens, and any ensuing reaction, could be avoided. This may be an option for sufferers of pet or food allergies, but for those with seasonal allergies, it would be next to impossible to avoid ragweed or pollen unless they lived in a bubble! Instead, they can turn to supplements for seasonal allergy care.

Butterbur, a plant in the daisy family, can be used for a variety of ailments, including migraines and allergy symptoms (3). It contains the phytochemicals petasin and isopetasin, which relax the nasal passages and lead to a reduction in nasal symptoms of allergies (3). In one study, Swiss researchers administered either four 8-mg butterbur tablets or one 10-mg tablet of cetirizine (an OTC anti-histamine) to 125 participants each day for two weeks. The participants had all been positively screened for seasonal allergic rhinitis, specifically due to grass pollen. After the two weeks, all participants’ symptoms improved. Most significantly, butterbur worked just as well as cetirizine in all categories; in fact, while drowsiness and fatigue comprised two-thirds of the adverse effects in the cetirizine group, it was not reported at all from those taking butterbur (3). If your customers want to try butterbur, just be sure to remind them never to eat it raw; though the supplement form is perfectly safe, raw butterbur contains toxins that can cause liver damage and tumor formation.

Quercetin, a bioflavonoid found in fruits such as grapes, cherries, prunes and citrus fruits, may be very useful to allergy sufferers. It blocks the release of histamine from mast cells; anti-histamines, commonly present in many OTC or prescription allergy medications, interfere with histamine after its release, so quercetin is one step ahead (4)! It is also an antioxidant and inhibits the formation of inflammatory compounds in the body. By combining quercetin with bromelain, an anti-inflammatory enzyme found in pineapple, more of it will be absorbed into the body (bromelain itself may also thin mucus and reduce swelling of the nasal passages, making it easier to breathe) (4, 5). Tell your shoppers to begin supplementing with quercetin at least two weeks before allergy season begins for optimal efficacy.

Recently featured in WholeFoods’ Vitamin Connection column by Richard A. Passwater, Ph.D., a branded extract of French maritime pine bark (Pycnogenol) may be beneficial to allergy sufferers. In a 2010 randomized, double-blind study published in Phytotherapy Research, 60 subjects who tested positive for birch pollen allergies were separated into two groups (6). One group was given 50 mg of the extract twice daily, and the other took a placebo three to eight weeks prior to pollen season. IgE levels were analyzed and increased 31.9% in the placebo group and only 19.4% in the supplement group. Severity of symptoms, including itchy, watery eyes, redness, sneezing and a stuffy nose were tracked throughout the study; those taking the extract rated their symptoms at a lower severity than those taking placebo. The researchers found that Pycnogenol’s efficacy increased when taken at least five weeks earlier than the onset of the allergy season (6).

Vitamin C is a staple for immune health, so, conveniently, your customers may already be taking this allergy-support supplement. Like quercetin, it may prevent the secretion of histamine (4). An Arizona State University study found that when participants with hay fever took 2,000 mg of vitamin C daily, their body’s histamine production dropped by 38% (4). Though vitamin C is available in a large variety of foods (e.g., oranges, lemons, pineapple, broccoli and kale), it is water-soluble, so much of it is destroyed in the cooking of those foods. To ensure your shoppers are getting enough allergy-fighting vitamin C, tell them to take at least 1,000 mg a day, starting seven to 14 days before the onset of allergy season (7). For those that experience gastric discomfort from larger amounts of vitamin C, another option is buffered, esterified vitamin C because it is non-acidic and gentle on the stomach.

Do you have customers who often forget to take their supplements and would rather eat their medicine? Point them to the reishi mushroom, which may boost the immune system, reduce histamine release and relax the respiratory tract, making it easier to breathe (4). In a 2012 study, guinea pigs were exposed to Japanese cedar pollen once a week. Reishi mushroom was given to the guinea pigs once daily for eight weeks. The results showed that reishi suppressed nasal blockage and hyperresponsiveness in guinea pigs and may be useful in humans as well (8).

Other herbs that may be beneficial for a variety of allergy symptoms are rosemary, sage and ginger (decongestants), eucalyptus, fenugreek and ginkgo biloba (eliminate mucus) and garlic, which lowers the body’s IgE antibody count (4). Meanwhile, oregano oil supports respiratory health and healthy histamine levels.

The Nose Knows
Though oral supplements are a great option, allergy sufferers can also go straight to a main source of the problem: the nose. Natural nasal sprays can provide fast relief and long-term effects as well. Research published in ISRN Pharmaceutics studied the effects of lemon pulp extract and aloe juice as a nasal spray. A group of 100 participants with allergic rhinopathy were either given the lemon-based spray or a saline solution. In 30 days, those who took the lemon nasal spray had a complete reduction in their mast cells (which are responsible for allergy symptoms). In addition, those participants experienced an immediate anti-inflammatory response upon taking the spray, including decongestion and easier breathing (9).

In addition to nasal sprays, neti pots can help flush away any allergens in the sinuses and thin mucus (10). Neti pots look like short teapots with an elongated spout, and they are used to flow a saline solution or salt and water mixture through one nostril and out the other. Some prepared neti pot solutions also incorporate xylitol, which is said to prevent bacteria from adhering to nasal tissue and clear sinus passages.

If your customers are interested in using a neti pot, tell them to mix one pint of lukewarm, preferably distilled or pre-boiled water with one teaspoon of salt (or to follow the instructions on a premixed solution). They should fill the pot, then tilt their head over a sink and flow the solution through one nostril and out the other. When the pot is empty, they should blow their nose and repeat the process on the other side. The neti pot is inexpensive and safe to use once or twice daily for allergy symptom relief (10). WF

1. S. Beach, “How Allergies Work,”,, accessed Dec. 16, 2013.
2. University of Maryland Medical Center, “Allergic rhinitis,” condition/allergic-rhinitis, accessed Dec. 16, 2013.
3. R. Martin, “Effective, Drug-Free Allergy Relief,” LifeExtension Magazine, May 2006,, accessed Dec. 17, 2013.
4. S. Goldfarb, Ph.D., Allergy Relief (New York, NY, Penguin Putnam Inc., 2000).
5. WebMD, “Natural Allergy Remedies,”, accessed Dec. 17, 2013.
6. Medical News Today, “Research Shows Pycnogenol Decreases Nasal and Ocular Symptoms in Allergic Rhinitis Patients,”, accessed Dec. 18, 2013.
7. How Stuff Works, “Supplements for Seasonal Allergies,”, accessed Dec. 19, 2013.
8. S. Kohno, et al., “Effect of Ganoderma lucidum on pollen-induced biphasic nasal blockage in a guinea pig model of allergic rhinitis,”, accessed Dec. 20, 2013.
9. A. Caruso, et al., “Cytological Aspects on the Effects of a Nasal Spray Consisting of Standardized Extract of Citrus Lemon and Essential Oils in Allergic Rhinopathy,” ISRN Pharm,, accessed Dec. 24, 2013.
10. L. Keiley, “6 Natural Allergy Remedies,”, accessed Dec. 26, 2013.

Published in WholeFoods Magazine, March 2014