Allergies… Nothing to Sneeze at!

by Leon Neiman, M.D., F.A.A.O.A., and Bonnie Jarrett Fields

If you have allergies, you are among a group estimated at nearly 50 million Americans. Allergic rhinitis is the most common allergy form, which is further subdivided into two types: seasonal and perennial. Seasonal allergies or "hay fever" recurs annually during certain months and is triggered by weed, grass, and tree pollen, but not actually hay. Perennial allergies persist year-round and are usually associated with both indoor and outdoor allergens, as well as hidden food allergies.

What Allergies Do

When an allergen enters the body of a sensitized, susceptible person, substances called antibodies are produced to fight off the invaders. The interaction of the allergen and the antibody irritates the affected tissue. Swelling of the nasal lining during hay fever season is one example. Nasal allergies can be easily confused with a cold, flu, or recurring sinus infections since these ailments have certain common symptoms. The successful treatment of allergies is dependent on the accurate and specific identification of all allergens responsible for the allergic reaction.

Once an allergen has been identified, conventional medicine uses four accepted approaches for allergy care: avoidance, pharmacotherapy, immunotherapy, and combination therapies. The most basic treatment is to eliminate or avoid the allergen, if possible. While it may be impossible to do this completely, minimizing exposure will reduce symptoms. Since many allergy symptoms are the result of inhaled seasonal pollens, exposure may be minimized with the following guidelines:

When possible, avoid going outside at high-pollen count times (early morning, late evening, and/or on dry, hot, windy days)

Close all windows, especially when sleeping

Air conditioning decreases indoor pollen counts as long as it re-circulates indoor air and doesn't draw air from the outside

House fans, especially in the attic, may aggravate symptoms by circulating outside air into the house

Avoid yard work or wear a mask when outside

Don't plant excessive amounts of shrubs or trees near your house

Shower after outdoor activity, giving special attention to your hair, and put on fresh clothing

Avoid ragweed: dahlias, marigolds, chrysanthemums, zinnias, and sunflowers

Keep car windows closed on long trips into the country; if possible, have air conditioning in the car

Consider an electronic/electrostatic furnace filter and room air cleaner

While drug therapy has been the cornerstone of allergy treatment, employing an integrative treatment plan enhances positive results. The approach tends to include appropriate uses of antihistamines, decongestants, leukotriene (inflammatory agents far more powerful than histamines) receptor antagonists, and mucolytic (mucus dissolving) agents, along with nutritional supplement therapy. For some patients, the use of natural antihistamines and anti-inflammatory agents are effective enough to reduce or eliminate the need for prescription and over-the-counter drugs.

Vitamin C, an antihistamine, is one of the most important antioxidants and immuneenhancing nutrients to an allergy sufferer. Some people find that taking 500 to 1000 mg of vitamin C three to four times a day helps lessen inflammation and subsequent nasal drainage. Vitamin C sourced from tapioca is one of the purest forms available and is often recommended by environmental medicine physicians. Vitamin C from Tapioca, from Ecological Formulas, is available in 1000 mg capsules, pure powder, and buffered crystals. The buffered form works better for acute allergic reactions. Buffered C is a comprehensive mineral ascorbate product that includes about 2500 mg of vitamin C per teaspoon, as well as calcium, magnesium, zinc, manganese, potassium, and pantothenic acid.

Vitamin C and Quercetin

The effectiveness of vitamin C is enhanced when taken in conjunction with the bioflavonoid, quercetin. One of the most potent and widely distributed flavonoids in the plant world, quercetin is found in onions, green tea, red wine, and apples. Quercetin may be a major reason why the "apple a day" proverb is associated with good health and a daily cup of tea is more than a comforting ritual.

Quercetin is a strong antioxidant, with antiallergy, anti-viral, and gastro-protective activity. New research on the role of quercetin in preventing viral illness was presented in February 2007 at the American College of Sports Medicine conference in Charlotte, N.C. Another study conducted at Appalachian State University in N.C. demonstrated that quercetin reduces viral illnesses and helps maintain mental performance in individuals under extreme physical stress.

Quercetin is especially effective for allergy symptom overload because it stabilizes mast cell membranes and prevents the release of histamine and other inflammatory agents. Due to its antioxidant effect, quercetin can inhibit inflammatory processes mediated by leukotrienes, hyaluronidase (collagen-destroying enzymes), and lysosomal enzymes (promoters of localized inflammation).

Quercetin is often hard to assimilate and it has been reported that absorption of flavonoids, such as rutin and quercetin, can be less than 1% of an norally administered dose. To address this problem, Cardiovascular Research enhanced its Quercitin-C supplement with liposomes—highly complex, microscopic liquid spheres. When quercetin is carried within a liposome, it becomes more lipophilic (fat absorbable), enhancing the nutrient bioavailability dramatically. And, for some, taking bromelain (the anti-inflammatory enzyme from pineapple) may enhance the absorption of both vitamin C and quercetin. A typical dose would be 500 mg three times daily. (Note: Bromelain may have a slight blood-thinning action, so exercise caution when taking an anticoagulant medication.)

Quercetin's work in strengthening the cell membrane of the mast cells, however, takes time. One may need to take it for 3 to 6 weeks to notice an antihistamine effect, and it's more effective if taken preventively before the allergy season begins and continued throughout.

An integrated approach to managing allergy symptom overload is recommended and includes minimizing exposure to allergens, preventive and therapeutic use of nutritional supplements, and judicious use of pharmacotherapy and immunotherapy when recommended by your physician.