Allergies suggest an imbalance in immune function - with the immune system hyper-sensitized to foreign invaders (that is an over-abundant Th2 or humoral immune response).
Allergies can have various triggers - you may not even be aware of what is triggering your symptoms. Your body's immune response to food and/or environmental triggers cause mast cells in your body to initiate a whole cascade of inflammatory responses which includes the release of histamine, a neurotransmitter that helps to regulate the immune response. An over-production of histamine causes many of the typical "allergy" symptoms we think of - including constricted airway, sneezing, runny nose, nasal congestion/sinus pain, watery eyes, itchy eyes/throat/ears/sinuses, postnasal drip/sore throat and cough. Read below for natural solutions you can find at home!
Mast cells are mostly stimulated by IgE mediated immune responses, but also by IgG and IgA responses. The IgE responses are immediate and the mast cell binds to these 100x stronger than the others - meaning your body will remember longer and react even quicker the next time you encounter a similar allergen. This means more severe allergies at your next exposure. Stabilizing your mast cells is an important part of reducing hyper-responsive reactions.
If eczema/dermatitis occurred prior to allergy onset, it is worthwhile to investigate for a dietary sensitivity or allergy. If conventional IgE allergy skin prick tests are negative, you may need to investigate food sensitivities related to the less severe IgG and IgA immune responses.
If your symptoms occur throughout the year and are not only linked to seasonal allergies, it's time to investigate for other causes (especially if you're becoming more sensitive with time) - from gastrointestinal infections to heavy metal toxicity.
Prevention is the Best Remedy
Once the cascade of histamine release is started, it can't be stopped. We can mop up the mess. However, ideally we can work to stabilize mast cells starting 2 months prior to seasonal allergies to prevent future histamine release (this still works to stabilize mast cells that have already released histamine). See below for a list of Mast cell stabilizers and anti-histamine support to prevent the activation of mast cells and release of histamine.
If the histamine is already out, review the list below for ways to raise the enzyme diamine oxidase (DAO) to lower histamine. I also like homeopathic remedies when symptoms are present, like histaminum, to support acute allergy symptoms. A benefit of homeopathic medicine is very small doses are required.
Did you know? Gut health is a key part of allergy management. Mast cell responses and histamine release are part of the normal (and abnormal) function of the digestive system! Histamine impacts motility, promotes stomach acid (needed to digest your food), and production of stomach acid (important to help you break down and absorb nutrients from food) and mast cells in the mucosal layer of your digestive tract can be protective or overly sensitized by inflammation and a leaky gut lining. Histamine may even be a cause of some IBS symptoms.
Also consider investigating digestive issues (food sensitivities) if you have migraines, rheumatoid arthritis, ADHD, cardiovascular disease (atherosclerosis) or difficulty losing weight.
READY FOR A NATURAL APPROACH TO ALLERGIES?
Review these lists below, see what dietary support you can add on a daily basis right now. Then, if you decided you need more support, I'd recommend professional help with choosing a supplement and dosing. Some combination products are also helpful. But not all products are well tolerated by everyone.
Mast cell stabilizers - in actions/foods/supplements
Prioritize sleep and stress-reducing activity: lack of sleep and stress cause mast cell destabilization - avoid blue light exposure in the evening, get enough hours in bed and use tools like breathing, meditation and exercise for natural stress-reduction
Quercetin (supplement) or foods (from highest to lowest):
Highest (~200mg/100g): capers
High (30-40mg/100g): elderberries*, cooked onion (red more than white, cook daily - can even eat steamed - raw onion may aggravate),
Moderate (15-20mg/100g): cocoa powder, cranberries, green hot peppers,
Some (<10mg/100g) also in: kale, asparagus, blueberries, apples (red delicious - skin on), garlic, romaine lettuce, pears, spinach, dark cherries, green tea, broccoli
Other foods: pomegranate, peaches
Herbs/spices: thyme, tarragon, turmeric, ginger
L-theanine (in green tea naturally, but higher doses in supplements) - a nervous system balancer which supports mast cell stability (calms anxiety)
Reishi mushroom (ganoderma lucidum) - supports immune balance/energy
Milk thistle (silibinin) - avoid if a ragweed allergy
Aloe vera juice/gel powder (not the latex) - for arthritis, asthma, bowel irritation/constipation
Feverfew (tanacetum parthenium) - especially if headaches/migraines
Baikal skullcap - antioxidant, for neurologic inflammation, insomnia, anxiety/depression
Perilla (contains luteolin - also in artichokes!) - useful for lung inflammation/asthma too
Pycnogenol - particularly useful if quercetin/luteolin not tolerated
Rhodiola - balances nervous system/depression/brain fog (membrane stabilizer - not specific to mast cells)
Chondroitin sulfate (shark cartilage) - protects bladder mucosa, supports gastrointestinal health (IBS, IBD)
Eucalyptus (essential oil) - use in a diffuser or topically on chest only - clear nasal passages
*elderberries are available in a concentrated honey-syrup for kids (look for no artificial ingredients - products like Suro are good)
Anti-histamine - in foods/supplements
Reduce high histamine foods (if dealing with acute allergies or symptoms) - fermented, aged/cured foods tend to be highest in histamine (ie. wine, vinegar, sauerkraut, kimchi, pickles, cheeses, meat/fish - prepare from very fresh or frozen and freeze leftovers)
Teas to prevent histamine release:
holy basil ("tulsi" or ocimum sanctum) **
nettles (urtica dioica, fresh tops) - can also cook and even forage locally - but wear gloves, they have a "sting" before being cooked/boiled
peppermint** - or use fresh in salads and smoothies
licorice (glycyrrhiza glabra) - especially soothing for sore throats
ginger - also stabilizes mast cells
Watercress (Nasturtium family) - inhibits 60% of histamine release
Extra virgin olive oil (use this as your primary food/cooking oil!)- supports DAO
Black cumin seed/oil (Nigella sativa) - supports gastric mucosa, anti-inflammatory
Butterbur (Petasites) - especially if brain-fog, anxiety, or migraines
Ginkgo biloba - especially for lung support (bronchitis, asthma), nervous system balance
Vitamin B6 (as Pyridoxal-5-Phosphate): aids breakdown of histamine, enhances DAO
Other B-vitamins may also help: B1, B5, folate, B12
vitamin C (rosehip or camu camu are high food sources) - also enhances DAO
**These herbs will easily grow in your home garden (please purchase organic seeds for medicinal use!) - seed in spring and transplant outdoors once danger of frost has passed. Enjoy teas with fresh herbs, and dry your extra herbs for use all year!
Acute anti-histamine relief (lowering circulaitng histamine)
Pea shoots - provide natural DAO (diamine oxidase) which helps lower histamine - also try sprouting chickpeas and lentils, which have some DAO
Cooked onions! - as well as preventive, they also lower circulating histamine (spring onions can be eaten raw)
Rosehip/Camu camu (preferred vitamin C sources) - enhance DAO
Homeopathic remedies - histaminum, and other remedies depending on symptoms
Prevent deficiencies related to allergy:
Vitamin D: essential for stability of mast cells (get your levels checked) - a deficiency will activate mast cells
Zinc: if deficient may disrupt mast cell function - good dietary sources include hemp seeds and pumpkin seeds (too much may also be a problem)
Magnesium: deficiency may be associated with inflammation/histamine release (using a bisglycinate form is less likely to cause loose bowels)
NOTE: none of these treatments should be attempted in the case of an anaphylactic allergic reaction - please use an Epi-Pen if you have one and go to the hospital immediately.
As always, this is for information only and not intended to diagnose or treat your condition. This is not an exhaustive list but is meant to provide some helpful examples. Please reach out to book a complimentary 15 minute meeting or appointment if you would like individualized support.
Histamine and IBS research: here
Vitamin D contributes to mast cell stabilization: here