Every spring and autumn, millions of Americans suffer from seasonal allergies. For some people these allergies manifest as occasional sneezes or watery eyes. For many, reactions to pollens and other allergens are much more severe, and can include migraines, sore throats, and constant congestion. Prescription drugs designed to treat allergy symptoms aren’t a great solution as they are costly and come with a host of side effects that are often as bad as (or worse than) the symptoms themselves. Luckily, there are a handful of things that you can do to combat seasonal allergies naturally, inexpensively, and effectively.
First, consider that allergic responses to seasonal allergens – such as sneezing and watery eyes – are your body’s way of trying to flush said allergens from your system. You can lighten your immune system’s load by flushing those irritants out yourself. One simple way to do this is to flush nasal passages with a saline solution. Using a neti-pot is a thousands-year-old practice that makes washing the sinuses easy. It feels odd the first couple of times that you do it, but it’s neither painful nor difficult, and many regular neti-pot users find that it helps them feel clean and refreshed whether or not they are suffering from allergies.
During allergy season, use the neti-pot at least twice a day (usually when you wake and after you get home from being outdoors) to flush pollen from sensitive nasal tissue. The neti-pot also removes dust, germs, and excess mucus when you’re congested. Mix ½ teaspoon non-iodized salt with 2 cups of warm water, and let the salt dissolve completely. The entire cleansing process takes less than 5 minutes, and can combat not only environmental and seasonal allergens, but sinusitis and cold symptoms as well. You can use the neti pot anytime you’re feeling stuffy, or if you’ve been exposed to someone who you know has a cold or flu, and you’ll literally be washing germs away. Even when you’re not feeling sick, and it’s not the cold, flu, or allergy season, cleansing with a neti pot helps to keep sinuses healthy and moisturized. It’s great to do a neti-wash after a flight, or when you’ve spent a lot of time indoors in air-conditioned or heated rooms.
Another important aspect of minimizing or eliminating allergy symptoms is to eat a “clean” diet. First, avoid any foods to which you already know you’re sensitive. Even foods that cause occasional stomach upset or an itchy throat should be avoided. If your immune system is working overtime to fight off the effects of foods that don’t agree with you, it will be that much less effective at dealing with pollen and other irritants. Second, avoid foods that we know to be hard on digestion and immune function. Most notable of these are wheat, soy, dairy, eggs, and meat. And stay away from sugar, which is always tough on the immune system.
Following a clean diet not only means avoiding trigger foods, it also means including plenty of healthy foods, mainly fruit and vegetables. Dark leafy greens are especially important- see recipe for Swiss Chard and Caramelized Onion Tacos for a yummy green option, and you should try to have a wide variety of color-rich (which means anti-oxidant rich, free radical combating) vegetables each day.
Another simple treatment for allergies is to eat hot, spicy foods. Spicy foods actually thin nasal secretions, minimize mucus, and increase blood flow and oxygen. If you have a low tolerance for highly spiced foods, start with a small amount and increase over time. Purely Peppers makes an amazing pepper paste that my family and I literally go through by the gallon – we add it to all sorts of savory dishes, and it’s both healthy and delicious. I enjoy it so much, I wanted to make it available to my readers. I like to take half an avocado and eat it with a couple tablespoons of the pepper paste. Peppers have a multitude of other health benefits (such as cancer fighting properties) as well, so there are even more reasons to eat hot foods.
Another important and easy way to minimize the effects of seasonal allergies is to eat a whole-food based supplement. My husband was able to get rid of his seasonal allergy medication when he started taking Juice Plus. The scientific evidence that these fruit and veggie concentrates can reduce the activity of the B-cells helps to explain why they are so useful at fighting allergies.1 It’s the B-cells that get hyperactive because they react as though exposure to “pollen” is life-threatening, and thus begin to make unnecessary antibodies. (It is a similar scenario for autoimmune diseases, when the B-cells behave as though innate body proteins are harmful, and so they begin to make unnecessary antibodies).
Finally, if you’re suffering from allergies, be sure to drink plenty of water each day. The minimum that I recommend for most adults is three liters per day, but more is good if you’re experiencing allergy symptoms, or if you feel yourself coming down with a cold or any kind of illness.
1. Integrative Medicine 1999;2:3-10; Journal of Nutrition 2006;136:2606-2610
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