I love living in the rural South. I really do… except for the pollen. Every year, it’s the same song and dance. The weather starts to warm, daffodils bloom, followed soon thereafter by dogwoods and redbuds. Soon, everywhere you turn there are trees and shrubs covered in stunning displays of flowers. You (and by ‘you’, I mean ‘I’) get caught up in the beauty and excitement of a brand new year. The feeling of new life in the air. ‘You’ open the windows, reveling in the refreshing cool breezes of Spring… and suddenly the world is awash in yellow. Every surface in your home – yellow. Your normally black car – yellow. The brick steps – also yellow. Your head throbs, your sinuses protest and your nose drips.
For much of the population, the automatic response is to reach for their allergy medication of choice. It’s a part of life down here. But there are better options. Healthier options. Today, we’ll look at some of them.
An allergic response occurs when the body’s immune system overreacts to a trigger or allergen such as pollen – a substance released by every tree, flower and weed. When you come into contact with something you are allergic to, the immune system then releases a chemical called histamine, which triggers the allergic reaction and all of the annoying symptoms. – Dr. Josh Axe, DNM, DC, CNS (Source)
My personal opinion is that immune reactions always tie back to gut health in some form or fashion. So my first step is to incorporate as many fermented foods into my diet as I can. We consume water kefir soda daily, but home cultured yogurt is quickly added to the daily rotation, as is sauerkraut. Both of those things are budget friendly, and very easy to make and incorporate. Every one of my 4 kids loves these things.
After doing what I can to support gut health, my next step is to ease symptoms and try to balance my out of whack body responses to the change in season. The neti pot is a life saver. If you suffer from seasonal allergies and you don’t have one of these things, you need to remedy that. Basically, you wash out your sinus cavity… sounds like a party, right? You use boiled and cooled water (for safety), and mix it with a clean salt, so that it’s gentle to your sinuses. I’m not going to sugar coat it, you basically feel like you’re drowning for a few seconds… and then nasty crud I don’t want to describe (but you totally know what I’m talking about) comes rushing out of your nose and down the drain, which makes you gag. It’s incredibly sexy, and your spouse should definitely be watching you while you do this. But seriously, you have near instant relief from the congestion and sinus pressure, and it generally lasts for several hours.
After this, we’re on to attempting to support and balance immune response. The easiest way to do this quickly is with food. Many of the foods and spices you probably have in your kitchen also have components that are helpful in managing seasonal allergies. Garlic is anti-inflammatory, and also contains quercetin – a component which combats histamine levels. Other foods that contain quercetin are broccoli, cauliflower, onions, green tea and citrus fruits. Rosemary is also a very potent anti-inflammatory, and also suppresses mast cell response and allergic antibodies (ginger and green tea have been shown to do this, too). Cayenne – if you’re into spicy food – is also a powerful anti-inflammatory and also helps with congestion. Additionally, raw local honey (1 Tablespoon per day) can help immensely with helping your body slowly build up a tolerance to your local pollen.
Finally, I use teas and tinctures. Chamomile tea is a given. It supports the immune system, eases coughing, combats congestion and reduces inflammation. I often add lemon balm (one of my very favorite herbs) to my tea, as it also intensifies the relaxing qualities that chamomile also possesses. Other good choices to incorporate into teas for these situations would be cinnamon, elderflower, peppermint, goldenrod, nettles and ginger. Chai tea is also a fantastic choice. Great tinctures to have on hand are nettle, elderberry, goldenrod, sage, thyme and echinacea.
Lastly are supplements. I tend to use these as a last resort, as I prefer to use things in as close to a natural and whole foods way as possible, before using things in processed and super potent quantities. Plus, I have to buy them. Like I mentioned previously, I’m pretty frugal. If you choose to go this route, quercetin (touched on above), turmeric (preferrably with black pepper) and garlic are great ones to use.
So that’s it! That’s how I use a holistic approach to combat seasonal allergies. Now, if I could just get rid of the yellow…