Is it just me, or does everyone seem to have allergies these days? Approximately 30% of adults and 40% of children in the United States are currently affected by allergies. In fact, allergies are now the most common health issue affecting children and are the 6th leading cause of chronic illness in adults in the US . How did this happen?
The Culprit: Us!
Two widely accepted mainstream theories regarding why allergies are on the rise include the “hygiene hypothesis” and climate change [2,3]. The “hygiene hypothesis” refers to the belief that the rise in allergies is due to a lack of exposure to infectious agents in early childhood . As a result, our immune systems have adapted to mistaken unharmful food proteins and environmental substances as invaders in our bodies. This phenomenon is thought to be a direct result, at least in part, of the over-usage of antibiotics.In contrast, other researchers believe that allergies are increasing as a result of global warming . Specifically, as temperatures have risen, the growing season of plants has lengthened, resulting in an greater amount of pollen in the air.
However, an increasing number of medical professionals and researchers are now claiming that the incidence of allergies has increased because over time we have continually bombarded our immune systems with various toxins, toxicants, and allergens that we have put in our food, cosmetic products, and environments beyond a tolerable capacity. The most common food allergens include milk, soy, eggs, wheat, peanuts, tree nuts, fish, and shellfish. Additionally, many people have allergies to pollen, mold, latex, and even medications like penicillin . After a certain point, our immune systems can no longer handle these substances in our bodies, even when they have been able to tolerate them in the past. The result is allergies, which are defined as an overreaction of the immune system to substances that usually cause no reaction in most individuals .
When explaining why allergic responses occur to his patients, Dr. Todd A. Born, ND, CNS uses a simple analogy: Imagine that our immune system is a cup, and that it is usually filled halfway with water. The water represents everything our immune system is exposed to, such as pollen, dust, food additives, etc. If too much “water” is added to the cup, it will overflow. In other words, when our immune systems become flooded with allergens and toxins, they become overburdened and start to malfunction, which triggers allergic reactions that were not present before. Once your body has developed an allergy to a particular substance, every time you come in contact with that allergen, you will experience various unpleasant symptoms- red and itchy eyes, nasal congestion, skin rashes, brain fog, sinus headaches, and more .
Conventional Allergy Medications
When treating allergies, the goal is to re-establish balance in your immune system. This means restoring the balance of two immune cells, T-helper 1 (Th1) and T-helper 2 (Th2) cells. When allergies occur, Th2 cells predominate Th1 cells. Treating allergies also involves preventing excessive activation of mast cells . When activated, mast cells release histamine, which is a chemical that initiates the inflammation that characterizes an allergic reaction [1,4,5].
Currently, there are two major classes of conventional drugs used to treat allergies, differing in their mode of action.
- Anti-histamines bind to histamine receptors, which blocks released histamine from binding and prevents inflammation from occurring . Building on Dr. Born’s analogy, anti-histamines act as a lid on your figurative cup of water and prevent histamines from entering your immune system.
- Mast cell stabilizers instead prevent the release of histamine from mast cells, which prevents the initiation of an immune response by blocking the production of inflammatory mediators, including cytokines and chemokines . To further the “cup of water” analogy even more, mast cell stabilizers keep the temperature of the water nice and cool and prevent it from heating up with histamine.
While both of these medications help to decrease the histamine response, they are unable to fully restore the proper ratio of Th1:Th2 cells. As a result, taking these medications will only suppress allergy symptoms without doing anything to treat the underlying mechanism of allergies, inflammation . The solution? Nutraceuticals.
A New Solution: Supplements and Natural Remedies
Nutraceuticals are substances that are both nutritious and can be used as medicine to provide physiological benefit and protect against chronic illness and disease . They are a great option for treating allergies because they prevent mast cell activation and balance the ratio of Th1:Th2 cells [1,5].
The following is a list of recommended vitamins, minerals, and other natural remedies to use to fight allergies, all of which can be found at our office, through our online distributor Wellevate, or at some supplement stores:
- Stinging nettle (Urtica dioica): Acts as a natural anti-histamine and mast cell stabilizer. It binds to histamine receptors, preventing the binding of histamine and triggering of an immune response . Extract from the plant also blocks mast cell function, specifically releasing inflammatory mediators like cytokines and leukotrienes .
- Vitamin C: Also acts as a natural anti-histamine and mast cell stabilizer while decreasing inflammation . Vitamin C deficiency however promotes inflammation, due to increased blood levels of histamine .
- Vitamin D3: Suppresses inflammation by suppressing T cell proliferation, which restores the balance of Th1:Th2 cells .
- Fish oil: Contains omega-3 fatty acids, which are anti-inflammatory and balance Th1:Th2 cells .
Another option to help combat allergies is to consume a low histamine diet. Reducing or eliminating high histamine foods may help decrease the release of histamine from mast cells, thus decreasing inflammation. In order to decrease histamine levels in your diet, eat fresh fruits and vegetables when just ripened, but avoid spinach, tomatoes, and citrus fruit. Additionally, avoid highly processed, canned, aged, and fermented foods at this time of year, all of which tend to be high in histamines .
Here are some other helpful recommendations for removing common allergens from your home :
- Vacuum your home using an HEPA filter at least weekly
- Wash linens in hot water at least weekly
- Place pillows in hot dryer 20 minutes per week
- Wipe dusty surfaces with a damp cloth at least weekly
- Use humidifiers, keep house plants
- Opt for natural cleaning products, fragrance- and chemical-free personal care products
Consider trying out these natural allergy remedies and maybe you won’t have to sniff, scratch, or sneeze away your summer! *tissue drop*
Written by Hillary N., Bastyr University student intern
- Born, T. (2018). Allergies: An Immunologic Approach. Emerson Element Magazine, Issue 2. Retrieved from:
- Okada, H. et al. (2010). The ‘Hygiene Hypothesis’ for Autoimmune and Allergic Diseases: an Update. Clinical & Experimental Immunology, 160(1), 1-9. Retrieved from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2841828/?report=reader#__ffn_sectitle
- Schmidt, C. (2016). Pollen Overload: Seasonal Allergies in a Changing Environment. Environmental Health Perspectives, 124, 70-75. Retrieved from: https://ehp.niehs.nih.gov/124-A70/
- Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America (2018). Allergies. Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America. Retrieved from http://www.aafa.org/page/allergies.aspx.
- Nasri, H. et al. (2014). New Concepts in Nutraceuticals as Alternative for Pharmaceuticals. International Journal of Preventive Medicine, 5(12), 1487-1499. Retrieved from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4336979/
- Finn, D. and Walsh, J. (2013). Twenty-First Century Mast Cell Stabilizers. British Journal of Pharmacology, 170(1), 23-37. Retrieved from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3764846/.
- Roschek, B. et al. (2009). Nettle Extract (Urtica dioica) Affects Key Receptors and Enzymes Associated with Allergic Rhinitis. Phytotherapy Research, 23(7), 920-926. Retrieved from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19140159
- Shaik, Y. and Conti, P. (2016). Relationship Between Vitamin C, Mast Cells, and Inflammation. Journal of Nutrition & Food Sciences, 6(1), 1-3. Retrieved from: https://www.omicsonline.org/open-access/relationship-between-vitamin-c-mast-cells-and-inflammation-2155-9600-1000456.pdf
- Aranow, C. (2011). Vitamin D and the Immune System. Journal of Investigative Medicine, 59(6), 881-886. Retrieved from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3166406/
- Maintz, L. and Novak, N. (2007). Histamine and Histamine Intolerance. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 86(5), 1185-1196. Retrieved from: https://academic.oup.com/ajcn/article/85/5/1185/4633007