When it comes to seasonal allergies, we all know that we're not alone. Allergies affect up to 70 million people in the US, and billions around the world.
Allergies to pollen, dust, and mold spores cause itching, watery eyes, and sneezing when they come in contact with the body.
While allergen immunotherapy and antihistamines can be helpful when it comes to allergies, there are natural herbal remedies for allergies that may be more effective for your long term health.
In this article we explore what causes allergies to develop, common allergies treatment including what herbs are best for allergy relief.
We discuss the connection between allergies and gut health, diet, the immune system, and the powerful health benefits of adaptogens and medicinal mushrooms.
Allergies are a reality for many people, especially during spring and summer. Hay fever, mold allergies, and respiratory allergies make life a little more complicated during the spring and summer months.
Allergy sufferers often turn to antihistamines and other medications for short term allergy relief; however, we’ll explain why you might want to avoid pharmaceuticals (intranasal corticosteroids, antihistamines etc.) for allergy relief.
How can I fix my allergies naturally?
The good news is that natural remedies for allergies are available, and they can help to ease allergy symptoms without any harmful side effects.Read on to learn more about the powerful benefits of adaptogens for allergies and what herbs are best for allergies.
Table of Contents
What are the main causes of allergies?
Allergic reactions can hit us out of nowhere and become a real pain to live normal life.
As we know, when the seasons change, it stirs up all kinds of allergens–pollens and other airborne particles–until all of a sudden, bam! Unwanted allergy symptoms arrive, and we’re forced to take pharmaceutical antihistamines and eye drops just to function.
What causes allergies?
Allergic reactions occur when we encounter a substance that the body has developed an allergy to.
The main causes of allergies may include allergens such as tree pollen, food, mold, dust mites, animal dander, snake venom, insect stings latex and certain medications.
When the body mistakes one of these substances as a threat, the immune system reacts with an immune response and we develop an allergy.
When the body is exposed to an allergen, the main allergy symptoms may include sneezing and an itchy, runny or blocked nose (allergic rhinitis), itchy, red, watering eyes (conjunctivitis), wheezing, chest tightness, shortness of breath and a cough.
Other allergy symptoms might include a raised, itchy, red rash (hives), swollen lips, tongue, eyes or face, stomach pain, vomiting or diarrhoea.
Allergic rhinitis is the formal name of what we know as hay fever. Hay fever is one of the most common types of allergies, particularly seasonal allergies.
Along with sinusitis and congestion all throughout the ear-nose-throat passage, hay fever can also influence breathing and our lungs. It’s often that people suffering hay fever may also develop asthma and eczema – formally known as the atopic triad.
Allergies and the immune system
Allergic reactions begin in the immune system. Allergies occur as a natural response and activation of the immune system.
It’s almost an over-reaction of the immune system to a piece of foreign substance such as pollen, dust or mold.
When the body is exposed to an allergen, the immune system produces antibodies to “attack” that allergen and works in overdrive to eliminate it and restore homeostasis.
Which immune cell is involved with allergies?
When an allergen is encountered by a person that is allergic to that substance – like a tiny fraction of pollen–it’s first picked up and recognised by dendritic cells (immune cells) – finger like projections that reside within the mucosal layer and line the entire ear, nose, throat and lung canal (as well as the gut).
Dendritic cells are like the body’s first line of defence.
These immune cells steal a bit of the allergen and present it to T-cells – which are part of the adaptive immune system and cell-mediated immune system.
When presented with this allergen, T-cells transform into an allergen-specific Th2 cell – or T-helper cell.
Th2 cells signal the B-cells – also part of our adaptive immune system–to produce antigen-specific immunoglobin E or IgE. The production of IgE triggers the production and release of more immune cells – the mast cells, basophils and neutrophils.
IgE also binds to the receptors on mast cells and basophils.
Mast cells and basophils are two of the key players in the presence of hay fever, atopic states (asthma and eczema) and allergies, with their activation releasing pro-inflammatory and immune mediators like prostaglandins, leukotrienes, proteoglycans and cytokines – all of whom initiate and continue an inflammatory response.
Studies have shown that hay fever or AR (allergic rhinitis) are experienced in two distinct patterns (1-4).
The first, initial, early reaction – called the immediate type hypersensitivity reaction - the nasal passage starts to become itchy and we may begin sneezing.
This is stimulated by mast cells to try and expel the antigen. At this stage, histamine, prostaglandins and leukotrienes are secreted, trying to mediate and expel the invading allergen.
The second, late phase reaction can last up to six hours after the allergen exposure.
Why do we get a blocked nose?
During this second reaction, we may experience nasal obstruction due the migration of additional immune cells – eosinophils, mast cells and T-cells to the nasal passage.
These immune cells help break up the congested nasal passage, which in turn, blocks it while they’re working to “un-congest it.”
What does histamine do in the body?
Histamine is a chemical found in some of the body's cells. It’s a type of amine created from the amino acid – histidine (more on this when we discuss diet) and is released from mast cells when IgE binds to the receptors on the outside of the cell (and also basophils).
Histamine causes many allergy symptoms such as itching, sneezing, flushing, runny nose, watery eyes, bronchial muscle constriction (difficulty breathing/wheezing), oedema (fluid retention), increased vascular permeability (swelling) and increased nerve sensitivity reactions (pain).
Pharmaceutical made antihistamines work to inhibit histamine release by binding to opposing receptors on mast cells. They work in either a sedating sense, or non-sedating form, as they influence the central nervous system to do so.
The negative side effects of antihistamine use are sleepiness/sedation, slowed motor function, dizziness, dry mouth, blurry vision, constipation and difficulty urinating.
In saying that, I am not here to tell you “don’t ever use antihistamines,” because they can provide some immediate relief and bring peace and normalcy to hay fever symptoms and allergic reactions.
However, antihistamines are a band aid solution and not a long-term fix. They will not address the underlying issues that may be causing the reactions.
Furthermore, a 2008 study highlighted some negative side effects of long-term antihistamine use.
The study identified a potential alteration of protective immune factors, in response to the study showed a 3.5x increase in the presence of glioma – a tumour that occurs in the central nervous system – the brain and spinal cord (7).
Intranasal corticosteroids are an additional tool used to help alleviate the symptoms of hay fever.
And although proven safe, they do have the side effects of headaches, nasal dryness, burning and stinging– and with our mucosal membrane being our second line of defence (after our skin), disrupting it via intranasal corticosteroids seem counterproductive (16).
Fortunately, there are natural antihistamine alternatives and herbal remedies for allergies which provide a healthier long-term solution.
What are prostaglandins?
Alongside histamine as a key player in hay fever and atopic allergies are prostaglandins.
The prostaglandins are a group of lipids (fats) that are created at the sites of tissue damage or infection that are involved in dealing with injury and illness.
Prostaglandins are inflammatory mediators that control blood flow, blood vessel dilation and constriction, muscle contraction and blood clot formation/removal.
What is the function of leukotriene?
The leukotrienes are a family of biologically active molecules, formed by leukocytes, mastocytoma cells, macrophages, and other tissues and cells.
Like prostaglandins, leukotrienes are also inflammatory mediators in response to an immune response.
Leukotrienes influence muscle contraction within the lungs/bronchial muscle, increase permeability of blood vessels and call upon the activation and arrival of leukocytes – strengthen the immune response.
How can I strengthen my immune system against allergies?
As we discussed, allergic reactions begin in the immune system. When the immune system is healthy, it has the strength to fight against allergens that invade the body and hopefully take care of them before they cause any allergy symptoms.
It’s important to note that the immune response and inflammatory response in the body cannot be separated. These systems go hand in hand and are influencing each other all the time. Each response forms a large part of the body’s natural healing process.
If you’re experiencing annoying and frustrating allergy symptoms (immune reactions), such as hay fever, work on boosting the immune system, reducing inflammation in the body, and improving gut health by avoiding certain foods and taking adaptogens (more below).
How Does Gut Health Affect Allergies?
There is a definite link between gut microbiota and allergies. While there is no gut allergy, instead, the gut can help mediate the body’s reaction to an allergen.
It’s reported that 70 to 80 percent of your immune tissue is situated in your digestive tract. That means, if your gut is healthy, the immune system will be strong and robust, and be better equipped to deal with any invading allergens swiftly.
The body has four types of histamine receptors. It’s known that three of the four histamine receptors are located in the gut, signaling and strengthening the relationship between gut inflammation and allergies.
In individuals with IBD – inflammatory bowel disease and Crohn’s disease – an autoimmune disease that stems from an overactive immune system, there is an increase in histamine levels and activity.
Additionally, it’s shown that mast cells of Crohn’s disease individuals release more histamine (4).
Since histamine is part of the inflammatory response – any inflammation, which tends to start and arise from the gut – will see an increase in histamine release.
There is also a correlation between leaky gut and gut dysbiosis and it relates to hay fever and atopic states.
Within our large intestine and gut lining, we have a one cell thick barrier between the “outside world” and us –our internal world.
Unless molecules and compounds diffuse across our gut membrane – they’re not “in” us. Further, this one cell thick gut lining is the most surveillanced place in the body. And guess who lives next door to this surveillance wall? Our immune system!
As we mentioned, 70 to 80 percent of the immune system is located in the gut. Therefore, this area is the first to respond and send out inflammatory and immune responses.
Over time, as we are exposed to numerous and over whelming amounts of inflammatory triggers, be it stress and/or un-natural processed foods, this begins to wear down our wall, and gaps begin to form within the “bricks”.
These gaps allow for invaders to cross through, mounting a continuous low-grade inflammatory and immune response.
As we know, with an inflammatory and immune response comes the presence of mast cells, histamine, basophils as well as an over-stimulated immune system, on 24/7 over drive trying to detect and protect us from invading allergens and pathogens.
This is the pathology and driver of allergies – an over reactive immune system.
This link between gut health and atopic states has been determined for some time. In order to truly overcome hay fever, fix allergies and atopic states, we have to heal the gut (8).
By working to reduce gut and systemic inflammation, balancing the immune system, reducing stress in our lives and decreasing the intake of high histamine foods and limiting caffeine – caffeine triggers histamine release from mast cells – in our diet, we can get allergies to go away.
Foods that Cause Allergies
There are many foods that can cause allergies, even healthy foods! These are known as high histamine foods.
We recommend adopting an anti-inflammatory diet for at least six weeks or more to really see a shift in your gut health and allergies.
We’re all individuals, with varying times of healing, so be patient and also be open to the fact that it may be a longer journey for you.
A six-week minimum is what we recommend to really be able to see changes and a reduction of the inflammation in your body.
An anti-inflammatory diet includes the reduction and removal of grains, legumes, beans, and all processed carbohydrates and sugars (think of it like following a Paleo or Pegan diet essentially).
Additionally, avoid these high histamine foods (which sadly, include some healthy delicious foods), particularly if you’re’ experiencing allergy symptoms:
- Cacao (chocolate)
- Cheese and dairy
- Citric fruits – e.g kiwi, lemon, lime, pineapple
- Fermented foods including tamari, tempeh, sauerkraut etc.
- Smoked, processed and cured meats
- Food additives such as benzoate in skin products, sulfites in dried fruits, wine etc., nitrites in processed meats and bacon, glutamate in MSG and processed/slow cooked foods, and food dyes.
Also, reduce your consumption of diamine oxidase (DAO) blockers. Diamine oxidase in the body helps break down histamine-rich foods and may reduce symptoms of histamine intolerance.
Foods that block DAO production include:
- Black tea
- Green tea
- Coffee and other caffeinated drinks
What are the benefits of adaptogens?
Need a natural cure for allergies? Adaptogens may be the answer.
If you’re new to the concept of adaptogens, essentially, they are a family of herbal medicines sourced from plants and fungi that do exactly as their name suggests – they help the body better adapt to the environment it’s in.
Adaptogenic herbs are particularly beneficial for lowering stress and calming the central nervous system.
Their dual-directional action works by entering the body and restoring balance – homeostasis – to various bodily systems, simultaneously.
The intelligence of adaptogens works both ways, for example, if we need a boost for our immune system when it is suppressed (colds, flus, viruses), or when we need to calm an overactive immune system in cases such as auto-immune conditions or for a natural allergy relief.
Adaptogens have a “sparing” affect on the adrenals and nervous system and the impact that stress has on it.
As well as strengthening the immune system, adaptogenic herbs also lower inflammation, thereby helping alleviate hay fever and soothe allergy symptoms.
6 Best Adaptogens to Fight Allergies Naturally
Adaptogens can help relieve your body from the debilitating effects of seasonal allergies.
Here are the top six most powerful adaptogens for allergy relief.
Reishi mushroom (Ganoderma lucidum) is hailed as the queen of medicinal mushrooms and is probably my favourite alongside Chaga mushroom.
Reishi is one of the most widely studied herbs in the world. The health benefits of Reishi are broad and profound. Over centuries of use it shown potent immune-modulating and immune-potentiating properties.
Reishi mushroom is known as the “Ultimate Anti-Stress Herb.” It naturally calms the central nervous system, protects and supports the body from stress which aids in the reduction of leaky gut, and its high triterpenoid compounds help ease allergies (11, 12).
Reishi mushroom has also been shown to reduce nasal blockage and nasal hyperresponsiveness triggered by pollen exposure.
In a 2012 animal study, when Reishi was taken orally once daily for eight weeks, the results suggest that Reishi may be a useful therapeutic drug for treating patients with allergic rhinitis (13).
Ashwagandha root (Withania somnifera) is considered one of the holy grail of adaptogenic herbs.
Its long historical use as a powerful Ayurvedic herb in ancient India has shown an ability to effectively reduce physical and cognitive stress in the body.
Ashwagandha is a potent calmative tonic and stress relieving herb that helps reduce the inflammation response and immune response driven via stress.
Does ashwagandha help with allergies?
Since stress is a major driver of leaky gut – a disease at the core of hay fever and atopic states – consuming Ashwagandha root daily can help improve gut health, strengthen the immune system and eliminate allergy symptoms.
Chaga mushroom (Inonotus obliquus), comically known as the “King of mushrooms,” has been shown to stabilise mast cell activity, thereby, reducing the release of histamine and improving allergy symptoms.
Chaga mushroom also contains potent melano-glucan complexes, antimicrobial compounds that help to assist in the “cleaning” and eradication of unfavourable bacteria that drive gut dysbiosis (12).
Chaga and Reishi are the best medicinal mushrooms for allergies.
Astragalus root (Astragalus membranaceus) is a powerful energising and immune boosting herb.
Known in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) as the “Supreme Protector, Astragalus root works to support an over-active and exhausted immune system.
One study showed “positive signals indicating the therapeutic effectiveness” of Astragalus root in reducing symptoms and improving quality of life in patients experiencing severe SAR – seasonal allergic rhinitis (10).
Holy Basil (Tulsi)
Similar to Ashwagandha root, Holy Basil (Ocimum sanctum), also known as Tulsi, is another ancient Ayurvedic herb that has shown over centuries of use in reducing physiological stress, as well as being a potent antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and immune-modulating herb (15).
Since we know lowering inflammation and strengthening the immune system helps reduce allergy symptoms, Holy Basil is a great herbal medicine to consume daily for natural allergy relief.
Agaricus blazei, also known as Royal Sun blazei, is an edible mushroom that has been shown to balance Th1 and Th2 activity.
Th1 is the upregulation of mast cell activation, IgE release and histamine release, and Th2 cells downregulate this activation (14).
Agaricus blazei extract may both prevent allergy development and be used as a therapeutical substance against established allergy.
I’d like to reiterate, that inflammation and our immune cells, aren’t inherently bad. Inflammation and the immune system are critical for human survival and allow us to thrive with excellent health long-term.
However, in the context of allergies, when the body is dealing with allergic reactions, the immune system is in an overactive state, working in over-drive. As a result, we experience the annoying and frustrating allergy symptoms associated with that elevated immune response.
Histamine or mast cells do not cause common allergies, even though they play a part in driving symptoms to cure allergies. However, their natural function is there to protect you.
The immune system is a highly complex and intelligent system constantly working to keep the body safe and healthy. Start to incorporate more healthy immune supportive foods and supplements in your diet and you will not suffer from any types of allergies anymore.
Over the counter antihistamines may provide some temporary allergy relief, but they are not a long-term solution.
Fortunately, there are natural antihistamines available to us that promote long term health in the form of ancient superfoods like adaptogenic herbs and medicinal mushrooms.
These natural remedies for allergies provide the extra support you need to keep allergy symptoms at bay–immune system support, reduces stress, lowers inflammation, improves gut health and promotes better sleep.
- The Pathophysiology, Diagnosis and Treatment of Allergic Rhinitis - https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2846743/
- The complex pathophysiology of allergic rhinitis: scientific rationale for the development of an alternative treatment option - https://aacijournal.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s13223-018-0314-1
- Nasal mucosal mast cells and histamine in hay fever. Effect of topical glucocorticoid treatment - https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/3653999
- Roles of histamine and its receptors in allergic and inflammatory bowel diseases - https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4305649/
- Leukotrienes - https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/6311078
- LiverTox: Clinical and Research Information on Drug-Induced Liver Injury; Antihistamines - https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK547896/
- Long-term Anti-inflammatory and Antihistamine Medication Use and Adult Glioma Risk - https://cebp.aacrjournals.org/content/cebp/17/5/1277.full.pdf
- Microbiome in the Gut-Skin Axis in Atopic Dermatitis - https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6021588/
- The mast cell stabilizing activity of Chaga mushroom critical for its therapeutic effect on food allergy is derived from inotodiol - https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1567576917304459
- Efficacy and safety of Astragalus membranaceus in the treatment of patients with seasonal allergic rhinitis - https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19504468
- Suppression of inflammatory and allergic responses by pharmacologically potent fungus Ganoderma lucidum - https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24948193
- Powell, Martin. Medicinal Mushrooms - A Clinical Guide. Mycology Press. Kindle Edition.
- Effect of Ganoderma lucidum on pollen-induced biphasic nasal blockage in a guinea pig model of allergic rhinitis -https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21698671
- Does Medicinal Mushroom Agaricus Blazei Protect Against Allergy and Asthma? - https://clinicaltrials.gov/ct2/show/NCT03198455
- A review on phytochemical and pharmacological properties of Holy basil (Ocimum sanctum) - https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0926669018302711
- Intranasal Corticosteroids for Allergic Rhinitis - https://accpjournals.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1592/phco.22.16.1458.33692
Written by Eliza Hedley
Eliza Hedley is an Australian born health, mindset and abundance enthusiast obsessed with helping millennial's experience living at a higher level.
Eliza's relaxed new age approach and understanding of nutrition and wellness sees her empowering and coaching individuals to understand that their health is the ultimate asset. Upon experiencing first hand the power and place of tonic herbalism and medicinal mushrooms in everyday life, Eliza’s become an adaptogen fangirl and feels their utilisation in today’s world is essential for abundance and wellbeing.