Gesundheit! Seasonal Allergies and Asthma: Histamine Part 2
Dr. Eric Viegas, ND
With spring (hopefully) around the corner, warmer weather is a cause for celebration. However, for the 20–25% of Canadians suffering from seasonal allergic rhinoconjunctivitis (aka seasonal allergies) the thought of going outside in the spring, summer, and fall months causes significant stress. Sniffling, sneezing, itchy watery eyes, and rashes are all common symptoms of seasonal allergies. In order to feel better, allergy sufferers typically reach for diphenhydramine (aka Benadryl) and other over the counter antihistamines like Claritin, Aerius, Allegra, etc. Benadryl acts on H1 (histamine) receptors and can reduce sneezing, itchy eyes, and itchy runny nose(1). While antihistamines directly blunt the effects of histamine in the body, they do not stop mast cells from releasing histamine (1). Thus, both Benadryl and the newer class of antihistamines have little effect on nasal congestion, and cause significant drowsiness(1). Antihistamines can be effective in the short term, but it is possible to build a tolerance to them, which is why many doctors recommend that patients cycle between different brands. Another option for allergy sufferers is to get “allergy shots”; subcutaneous injections of allergens in increasing amounts over a period of months to years. These shots are given to discourage the immune system from activating mast cells, and an ensuing allergic response, by producing different antibodies.
So, what can be done if you either do not want to take antihistamine medications and “allergy shots”, or find that these therapies do little to quell your sniffles? To understand what your body needs to deter an allergic response, first you need to take a look at the cascade of reactions that cause it. When an allergen is inhaled, your body relies on IgE antibodies to capture them and signal mast cells or basophils to release histamine and other inflammatory intermediates. These other inflammatory intermediates include free radicals and are therefore susceptible to being quenched by antioxidants. A “mediterranean” diet rich in fruits, vegetables, lean meats (fish, chicken), nuts, seeds, and low in refined carbohydrates, has been associated with lower rates of childhood asthma and allergy (2,4). In a 2005 study, Mao et al. demonstrated that daily consumption of a spirulina supplement reduced inflammatory intermediates in allergic rhinitis patients by as much as 32% (3). Quercetin is an antioxidant found in onions, broccoli, asparagus, green peppers, tomatoes, red leaf lettuce, black & oolong teas, grapes, apples, berries, and wine (5). Known for scavenging free radicals during an allergic reaction, quercetin also: promotes a healthy immune response, has antiviral activity, and stops histamine release from mast cells (5). In 2004, a 21 day study conducted by Takano et al. established that the use of rosemary extract in patients with mild seasonal allergies improved symptoms of itchy nose, and itchy watery eyes(6).
In my last blog post about Histamine Intolerance (HIT), I discussed some of the health consequences and what you can do to help your body with an increased histamine burden. Histamine release is increased by your body when you are dehydrated, hypoglycemic, and stressed. So to properly manage your response to seasonal allergens this spring, make sure to stay hydrated. If you rely on sugary snacks and coffee to get you through your day, then you may notice blood sugar crashes make you groggy. Blood sugar crashes can worsen your response to histamine release, so pair your snacks and meals with a handful of nuts, some avocado, or a serving of protein to promote stable blood sugar. Finally, if you are having trouble managing the stressful factors in your life, consider seeing a Naturopathic Doctor. NDs have an excellent knack for stress management and can get you back on the right track. Gesundheit!
- Guilliams TG. “Allergies: the natural approach.” The Standard. May 1998; 1(2): 1–8.
- Ulugbek Nurmatov, Graham Devereux, Aziz Sheikh. “Nutrients and foods for the primary prevention of asthma and allergy: systematic review and meta-analysis”. Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology. March 2011; 127(3): 724–733.
- T.K. Mao, J. Van de Water, and M.E. Gershwin. “Effects of a spirulina based dietary supplement on cytokine production from allergic rhinitis patients.” Journal of Medicinal Food. April 2005; 8(1): 27–30.
- Chatzi L, Apostolaki G, Bibakis I, et al. “Protective effect of fruits, vegetables and the Mediterranean diet on asthma and allergies among children in Crete.” Thorax 2007; 62:677–683.
- Mlcek J, Jurikova T, Skrovankova S, Sochor J. “Quercetin and its anti-allergic immune response.” Molecules 2016; 21(5): 623–638.
- Takano H, Osakabe N, Sanbongi C, Yanagisawa R, Inoue K, Yasuda A, Natsume M, Baba S, Ichiishi E, Yoshikawa T. “Extract of perilla frutescens enriched for rosmarinic acid, a polyphenolic phytochemical, inhibits seasonal allergic rhinoconjunctivitis in humans.” Society for experimental biology and medicine. March 2004; 229(3).