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Your Health

In search of natural remedies for allergy relief

Photo By: Courtesy of Ted Ray
Photo Courtesy Of Ted Ray

Quercetin, a plant compound, may offer natural relief for allergy sufferers.

An estimated 40 million Americans suffer with allergy symptoms. According to the Asthma & Allergy Foundation’s 2013 Spring Allergy Capitals report, San Jose ranks 88th among the 100 most challenging places to live in the U.S. for allergy sufferers, just behind San Francisco at 84th. The region’s ranking on the list indicates that the Los Altos area can expect high pollen counts.

Allergies occur when the immune system reacts to a foreign substance such as pollen, bee venom or pet dander. The immune system, designed to protect the body from foreign invaders, makes antibodies to combat such substances. Antibodies then trigger an immune response that can result in a skin rash or mucous production in the sinuses and airways.

The allergy medications on the market fall into three main categories: corticosteroids, antihistamines and decongestants. Steroids shrink the mucous membranes involved with secretions, antihistamines seek to calm the immune response and decongestants work to dry things up.

As with most conditions, there are both short- and long-term approaches to treating allergies. Medications may provide significant relief in the short term, but they do little to address the underlying improper immune response. An ideal approach strengthens the immune system while controlling symptoms. I chose the latter path to address my allergy symptoms.

Studying agribusiness at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, I experienced firsthand the dangers of the campus’ fields and orchards. Not only was I a fish out of water – I was raised in Sherman Oaks, the son of a life-insurance salesman – but I was also suffering miserably with allergies. Perhaps this was natural selection at work!

To control my symptoms, a doctor prescribed an oral antihistamine, a nasal steroid, a decongestant and an inhaler for exercise-induced asthma. This combination of medications just barely kept my symptoms at bay. I was grateful to have any help at all, as I’m not sure I could have endured spring quarter without the relief the medications provided.

A decade later, studying Chinese medicine in San Francisco, I used Chinese herbs to supplement my allergy medications and eventually discontinued medications. I took anti-allergy herbs for two more years before eliminating my allergies altogether. Today, if I do get allergies, I can control them quickly with natural options.

According to Chinese medicine theory, certain foods can increase seasonal allergies. Coffee in particular – perhaps because of its effect on the adrenal glands – can magnify allergy symptoms. Refined sugars can weaken the immune system, and dairy is well known for its ability to increase mucous production.

In my office, I often use a combination of herbs, tailored to the individual, to address allergy symptoms. A number of herbs may be worth exploring as alternatives to antihistamine medications. I commonly prescribe Stinging Nettles, Chinese Skullcap root, Magnolia flower, Feverfew leaf (except in pregnancy) and Echinacea root.

One of my favorite products for allergies is Quercetin, a plant compound known as a bioflavonoid that works to stabilize the cell membrane of histamine cells, preventing them from breaking open so easily. When histamine cells break open, they release their contents and trigger the common allergy symptoms of sneezing, itchy eyes and runny nose. Quercetin, often combined with bromelain and vitamin C, can be found at local health-food stores.

Ted Ray is a licensed acupuncturist and herbalist in private practice in Mountain View. For more information, call 564-9002 or visit www.peninsulaacupuncture.com.

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