The original indigenous name for the Willamette valley has been said to mean “the valley of sickness.” Urban myth notwithstanding, we could suppose that hay fever has been around for a very long time. Nearly-perfect growing conditions in the valley foster production of a wide variety of pollens from trees, weeds, grasses and flowers: both wild and cultivated. Hay fever is characterized by a recurrence of certain allergy symptoms at the same time(s) each year, due to exposure to those seasonal pollens. Many hay fever suffers also have asthma, but for the most part, symptoms are limited to itchy, runny, and swollen mucus membranes, red eyes, and sneezing and coughing. Fatigue, mood swings, and mental cloudiness are often part of the symptomology of hay fever, as are headaches and joint pain. The adrenal glands and the immune system can become stressed when hay fever strikes, paving the way for viral invasions such as colds or flu.

The onset of hay fever symptoms is brought about by the over-release of histamines from the immune system (and other chemicals such as inflammatory prostaglandins from the adrenals) in response to the presence of allergens such as pollen. This is the same sort of reaction that occurs in mold, dust and animal dander allergies. The stronger your immune system and adrenals are, the greater your threshold of resistance is likely to be to these allergens.

Once the allergic response causes hay fever symptoms, many turn to over-the-counter antihistamines and decongestants. This solution has a downside, however. Antihistamines can cause drowsiness and excessive dryness of the eyes, nose and throat. Nasal decongestants can cause dependence and may ultimately contribute to an increase in nasal congestion. These side effects can be avoided by utilizing natural plant-based remedies, in the form of foods, herbs and nutritional supplements.

A comprehensive, multiple-nutrient formula, high in antioxidants, can cover a lot of ground in supporting all your body’s (and mind’s) needs when coping with the stress of allergies. This should be the foundation of your anti-allergy nutritional supplement regimen. Remember that what you eat (and avoid eating) is particularly important. Plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables, a variety of whole grains, legumes, nuts and seeds and a decrease in animal foods are helpful.

Vitamin C supports normal histamine response, and is especially important for proper function of the immune system and adrenal glands, so try to take a supplement each day during peak season. It is important to take it in consistent, divided doses, preferably in a non-acidic form. Eating a variety of foods high in vitamin C will also provide beneficial bioflavonoids. To get the best results, use certified organically grown citrus fruits, mangoes, papayas, melons, guavas, tomatoes, cabbages, kale, peppers, broccoli, cauliflower, spinach, collards, parsley…you get the idea. Fresh and raw is best; cooking and other forms of processing deplete nutrients.  Even fresh cantaloupe, sliced and uncovered in the fridge, loses 1/3 of its vitamin C in 24 hours.

Quercetin is a bioflavonoid found largely in onions, as well as apples and tea (green and black). Published research is limited, but many Hay Fever sufferers find relief for runny noses, itchy membranes, and aching joints. Bromelain, an enzyme from pineapples, works well in combination with quercetin. Try some miso-onion soup with plenty of garlic and parsley, grated carrot and a little ginger. Fresh apple, pineapple and papaya may help as well.

Essential fatty acids (EFAs) provide building blocks for prostaglandins, hormone-like substances which perform a variety of complex functions, including regulating mucus secretions, tissue swelling and hormonal balances. One class of prostaglandins made from the EFAs found primarily in meat, eggs and dairy, stimulates allergic response, promotes inflammation and suppresses immune function. The other two classes of prostaglandins block allergic response, prevent inflammation and enhance immune function. These are made from EFAs in fish, seeds, nuts and grains, legumes and vegetables. Unfortunately, the EFAs in fresh foods are usually ruined through processing and cooking. Fresh raw oils, such as flax, evening primrose and borage are the best sources, followed by whole, raw pumpkin, sesame, and sunflower seeds.

Several herbs may be helpful in alleviating symptoms. Lobelia, mullein, horseradish, fenugreek and thyme are commonly used to help clear respiratory passages. Stinging nettles, especially freeze-dried, have shown antihistamine effects. Ginger, feverfew and butcher’s broom all have anti-inflammatory properties. Siberian ginseng and astragalus help support proper adrenal function, which in turn assists immune response. Licorice root is in the adrenal support group, and along with slippery elm bark, soothes the mucus membranes. The usual arsenal of immune-boosting herbs may also be helpful, but go easy on yourself; you cannot do everything at once.

Recently published research (2002-2004) on the herb Butterbur (Petasites hybridus) has shown it to be as effective, or better than, two leading drugs for hay fever; and with less side effects.  Butterbur has already been studied for incontinence, migraines and asthma.  If you try this herb, use an extract with verified petasin content, and free of pyrrolizidine alkaloids (PA). Like the herbs Comfrey root and Coltsfoot, Butterbur naturally contains PA, potentially a problem for the liver.  A properly made extract of these herbs should be free of PA, while preserving the herb’s beneficial constituents.

Homeopathic remedies have demonstrated effectiveness in numerous studies. They are free of side effects and can be used by anyone. Several single remedies are used to relieve specific allergy symptoms: Allium cepa, Euphrasia, Histaminum, Kali Bichromicum, Drosera rotundifolia, Arsenicum album and Urtica dioica. Most people obtain the broadest spectrum of symptom relief with special combination formulas.

Local bee pollen has been successfully used to de-sensitize pollen allergies. Be cautious with this approach – use only one granule of pollen initially, and increase the quantity gradually, one granule per day, stopping if any allergy symptoms appear. By starting this process months before the pollen season begins, you may be able to reduce or even eliminate allergic reactions to local pollen.

If hay fever keeps you from enjoying the splendors of spring and summer, give natural remedies a try.  Visit us at LifeSource if you want help with a personalized approach.