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Spring, Hay Fever and COVID-19, OH, MY!

While the world focused on Coronavirus, spring arrived in the northern hemisphere, and with it came pollen-causing hay fever or allergic rhinitis. Suffering from allergies can really compromise your ability to embrace spring!

Pollen first emerges in March and early April. This is due to various trees. Next are the grasses lasting until around June 21. Then there is a relatively quiet time when nothing is blooming, and the primary allergens are mold if it is a wet summer. In early August ragweed and other weeds make their appearance lasting until the first frost in October. Then dust and mold predominate until the next spring.

Conventional medicine tests for allergies with skin tests and/or blood work, and then prescribes nasal steroids, antihistamines, allergy shots and many other drugs which are sold by prescription or over the counter to control symptoms. This article discusses reducing exposure and using botanical supplements, nutrients, homeopathic sublingual drops, and foods to minimize symptoms.

The key is to decrease the amount of histamine in the tissues that are inflamed. And to calm down an over-reactive immune system.

Finally, we’ll discuss some of the many reasons why more children and adults are developing allergies. The short answer is that we live in a different world than we inherited. And we are more fragile than previous generations.

So, how do you reduce your exposure to pollen?

Stay Inside. Staying inside helps a lot if you have good, clean air filters. Change them every month during pollen season and use a MERV 3-4 rated filter. Use an efficient vacuum cleaner and dust regularly with a microfiber cloth that you can then throw into the wash.

Wash your hair and face; better yet, take a full-body shower when you come inside at the end of the day to get rid of any pollen that you have been exposed to while outside. If you forget to wash your hair and face or shower, shower and change the bed linens the next morning.

Nightly, irrigate your nose with a buffered saline solution. The reason to do this is to wash the pollen out. It will also get rid of any coronavirus that you have inhaled and is multiplying in your nose. NVC offers ready-made xylitol sinus care solutions and solution packets by Xlear, Inc. Pure xylitol is a white, crystalline substance found in many fruits and vegetables. The Xlear solution not only cleanses, but also hydrates dry, irritated tissues, and helps to break down mucus in your nose. The individual packets can easily be mixed in your neti pot with warm distilled or filtered water.

You can also make your own solution. My favorite recipe is 1 teaspoon of salt and 1 teaspoon of baking soda in one quart of filtered or distilled water. This buffered saline solution can be stored at room temperature. Do not use unfiltered tap water; it has too many chemicals and drugs in it that are not filtered out by the water filtration plant in your area. An even better option to the homemade solution is to add 1 tablespoon of pharmaceutical-grade xylitol, per quart. NVC offers NOW brand xylitol in bulk so you can make your own rinse solution. Keep this solution in the refrigerator to avoid bacterial overgrowth and allow it to warm up to room temperature or heat it gently in the microwave for 15 to 30 seconds in a porcelain or glass container. Then use your Neti pot. Both solutions should be comfortably warm or close to body temperature before using them. Do not heat it in a plastic bottle. That will increase the number of toxins that diffuse from the plastic into the solution.

What if you do all those things, and still have really bad allergies?

Add botanicals and/or nutrients if symptoms are not well-controlled with these measures. An excellent combination supplement is Natural D-Hist by one of our most trusted brands, Ortho Molecular Products.

Natural D-Hist is a targeted blend of flavonoids, antioxidants, proteolytic enzymes and botanicals designed to provide comprehensive support for seasonal challenges caused by common environmental allergens.

Note: This is NOT the over-the-counter drug combo of D-Hist D Tablet or the Extended Release 12-hour pill that contains dexchlorpheniramine, pseudoephedrine and scopolamine.

Natural D-Hist includes quercetin, a powerful flavonoid, to support healthy histamine levels by reducing the release of histamine from mast cells. Also included are bromelain, which enhances the absorption of quercetin and supports mucosal tissue health, stinging nettles leaf, which balances the hyper-immune response and N-acetyl cysteine, which clears the airways by promoting normal viscosity of mucus. It also contains vitamin C, which, among its numerous health-promoting properties, is an essential vitamin that supports the immune system and is also a potent antioxidant. This powerful combination actively promotes healthy nasal and sinus passages for individuals with elevated histamine levels and respiratory irritation.

Want more information? Read on!

  • Quercetin is a biologically active flavonoid antioxidant that is widely distributed in plants including onions, apple skin, and green tea. Quercetin has strong antioxidant activity and has been shown to support immune health by mediating the release of anti-inflammatory compounds. Quercetin is known for its ability to stabilize mast cells, diminishing the release of histamine, the compound known to cause hypersensitivity reactions during allergy season. 
  • Stinging Nettles Leaf (Utica dioica) is a plant that has been shown to balance immune response, specifically in the airways and nasal passages. Studies have shown that the extract of stinging nettles leaf balances a variety of inflammatory activities that affect respiratory health. Stinging nettles leaf controls mast-cell degranulation, prostaglandin formation, and histamine action all contributing to a balanced inflammatory response.
  • Bromelain is a plant enzyme naturally found on the stem and fruit of the pineapple plant. Bromelain is a proteolytic enzyme that aids in in the breakdown of large protein complexes, including antigenic compounds, and has been shown to enhance the absorption of quercetin. Bromelain has been shown to reduce circulating allergenic protein complexes associated with hyper-immune sensitivity and seasonal discomfort. 
  • N-Acetyl Cysteine (NAC) is an amino acid precursor to one of the most important antioxidants and detoxifying agents in the body, glutathione. Both glutathione and NAC help reduce the viscosity of the mucus allowing for clearing of the airways and improved respiratory health.
  • Vitamin C cannot be synthesized by humans and is therefore an essential nutrient that must be consumed in the diet. When the body is under a significant amount of stress, both emotional and environmental, vitamin C is excreted rapidly. Vitamin C has many immune boosting properties but is distinctively beneficial for individuals with seasonal discomfort because of its ability to deactivate histamine and stabilize mucous membranes.

Not surprisingly, Quercetin, NAC, and vitamin C are also important in limiting the over-reaction of our immune system which can be triggered by SARs-CoV-2 causing the cytokine storm pneumonia in COVID-19. So, taking these may reduce your chances of this complication of the viral infection.

Other nutrients that help to balance the immune system's tendency to overreact to allergens:

Vitamin A is critically important for mucosal surfaces and skin health. It is especially important for asthma and it stabilizes nasal membranes. Doses from 5-10,000 daily during allergy season are safe. Some people require much higher doses, and this must be under the care of an integrative practitioner.

Vitamin D also dials down the body’s tendency to over-react to allergens. Optimal blood levels range from 50-80 ng/ml. It is safe to take 5,000 IU daily without blood work. Higher doses need to be monitored by an integrative practitioner. (Coincidentally, an interesting retrospective cohort study out of Indonesia preliminarily shows that even moderately low blood levels of vitamin D is strongly associated with surviving COVID-19, so take your vitamin D!)

Homeopathic drops such as Allercyl Airborne (soon to be available at NVC) made by Dr. Theresa Dale calm down allergic reactions with a tiny dose of various botanicals and traces of various allergy-causing plants that in combination act like an under-the-tongue dose of an allergy shot. Recommended dosing is five drops two to three times daily until symptoms resolve. It can be used up to five days a week.

Probiotics may be very helpful. Not uncommonly, allergic rhinitis, eczema, irritable bowel symptoms and allergy-type migraines, may be due to an imbalance in the microbiome in one’s gut and/or due to food sensitivities. Either of these may cause symptoms that are far removed from the gut.

My favorite probiotics are Equilibrium by General Biotics and MegaSporeBiotic by Microbiome Labs, both of which are available through NVC. 

  • Equilibrium: Modern food is missing the microbes we evolved eating. They’ve been sterilized away. Our fruits, vegetables, meats, nuts, grains – almost all our food – would be microbially unrecognizable to our ancestors. Our stomachs didn’t evolve in this environment. This product is a direct offshoot the NIH’s Human Microbiome Project, a $115 million dollar census of humanity’s gut flora. The data tells a clear story: as a society our digestive flora is dying off, and this lack of diversity has causal links to western stomach issues (and consequently, other issues like modern allergies). The makers of Equilibrium have identified the strain groups commonly missing from western microbiomes, and then worked backwards from this data to locate missing dietary microbes which provide the needed function. Equilibrium restores the dietary microbes lost as a by-product of widespread food sterilization. Generally recommended dose is 1 capsule daily.
  • MegaSporeBiotic is a 100% spore-based, broad-spectrum probiotic clinically shown to maintain healthy gut barrier function. This unique all-spore formula effectively RECONDITIONS the gut by promoting microbial diversity and maintaining key health-promoting, commensal gut bacteria. MegaSporeBioti boasts a 5-year shelf-life, does not require refrigeration, and maintains efficacy during antibiotic therapy. Generally recommended dosage is 2 capsules daily after working up to this dose over a one- to two-week period. Taking too much, too early, will cause diarrhea.

Foods can relieve or exaggerate allergic symptoms. Some of our favorite foods contain histamine, the chemical in the body that causes allergy symptoms: fermented foods like vinegar, yeast breads, beer and wine. Other foods trigger release of histamine in the body. Before going down this rabbit hole, realize there are many discrepancies between recommended histamine avoidance diets on the web. Keeping a food diary is essential. And if you have allergies year-round consult with an integrative practitioner.

Research low histamine diets so that foods that either contain histamines or release histamines are eliminated or reduced in frequency in your diet.

One resource that I like is Allison Vickery’s website. She is a holistic health coach from Australia and has a list of 21 anti-inflammatory foods that reduce histamine levels naturally. These include watercress, onions, moringa, chamomile, nettle, turmeric, apple skins and others. You are bound to find foods that you enjoy which have a natural anti-histaminic effect and will reduce allergy symptoms.

Histamine is cleared by an enzyme in the blood called diamine oxidase (aka DAO), but some people don’t make enough of it or the body is overwhelmed by the amount of histamine released from their mast cells or in their food. Supplements are available if symptoms seem to get worse with meals, one of which is HistDAO, by Xymogen.

The extreme version of maximum histamine release is called Mast Cell Activation Syndrome. This happens when an individual experiences repeated episodes of anaphylaxis and/or persistent allergy symptoms such as hives, swelling, low blood pressure, difficulty breathing and severe diarrhea. Consult with an integrative practitioner for help with this.

Oh, and one more thing:

Reduce Your Stress. Remember that if you experience allergies, stress will make them worse. If you experience significant fear and anxiety because of the coronavirus, are not sleeping well, are eating too many fast foods or highly processed foods, are drinking too much alcohol, and even spending too much time in front of your screens (cell phones and computers). All these things can make your allergies worse.

At a minimum, turn off your Wi-Fi at night and keep your phone at least six feet from your head and heart. Airplane mode is good. Turned off is even better. Give your body a break from these intense EMF effects overnight.

When you are stressed out your cortisol levels may go up or go down, with ongoing stress they’ll eventually go down and that’s when you get those dark circles beneath your eyes, more severe allergy symptoms, progressive fatigue and/or anxiety. These are signs of chronically low cortisol. That is why the nasal steroids work so well. They are much stronger than cortisol and applied locally are the number one recommendation from conventional doctors for treating hay fever. They WORK.

If you are using nasal steroids all the time, recognize that your symptoms may be just in your nose and sinuses and eyes but your entire body is actually low on cortisol and you need to treat the underlying causes of stress. Sleeping well, healthier diet, gentle exercise, naps if needed, meditation, prayer, relaxing with a good book or friends and family. Make small changes that you can stick with. Be happy with ANY progress you make. This is not the time to be self-critical.

Finally, more and more people are developing allergic-type symptoms worldwide. That is because we live in a brave new polluted world. And we are overwhelmed by toxins, low grade infections, poor food choices, and too much stress. Maybe “stay at home” will allow us to reset our bodies and minds.

Vehicular exhaust, diesel exhaust particles, mold in damp buildings, tobacco smoke, building and yard chemicals, solvents, perfluoro carbons like PFOS, which has been in the news recently, even being born by C-section and many other factors in our “evolving” world all contribute to changing our immune system from being balanced toward having more allergic symptoms or autoimmune disease.

Do your part in reducing these pollutants by first becoming aware of them, then avoiding them and making healthier choices for the planet and your family. 

By Elizabeth R. Vaughan, MD

NOTE: All the products mentioned in the article available through NVC can be found on our Featured Items page.

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