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A Look at Allergies
Allergies are an immune system response to a foreign substance called allergens. The immune system’s job is to keep the body healthy by fighting harmful pathogens.
It achieves this by attacking anything it thinks could put the body in danger.
In the case of allergies, the immune system perceives allergens as pathogens and reacts accordingly even though the allergens are harmless.
The symptoms vary depending on the allergen and the severity of the allergy. If allergies are very severe, this can cause anaphylaxis, which is life-threatening and is associated with breathing difficulties, light-headedness and loss of consciousness.
Types of Allergies
There are a number of different types of allergies, both food, and non-food ones.
Food allergies can trigger swelling, hives, nausea and fatigue, and more. It often takes a while for a person to realize they have a food allergy because people typically eat a range of foods each day and there can be a delay between eating the food and having a reaction.
Allergies can also be seasonal, such as in the case of hay fever, which is an allergy to pollen. The symptoms include congestion, runny nose, and swollen eyes.
Causes of Allergies
Allergies have become a worldwide public health concern because of their increased prevalence (1). Despite considerable research in the area, the causes of them are largely unknown.
Various explanations have been put forward, such as increased awareness, improved diagnostics, genetic susceptibility, psycho-social influences, allergen exposure, decreased immune-system stimulation, underlying disease, anti-allergic therapy and pollution (2).
It is likely that allergies develop via a complex interaction of genetic and environmental factors.
Role of Supplementation
There are a number of supplements that have been proposed to help with allergies. These interact with the immune system, usually via improving immune function and resilience. Here’s a quick visual of the ones we’re going to cover in greater detail below.
10 Supplements That Are Natural Antihistamines
Now, let’s look at each one more closely and find out how it can help with allergies. You’ll notice that many of the supplements used are antioxidants, which work by reducing the inflammatory response associated with allergies.
Vitamin E is a group of eight different compounds which support antioxidative activity in the body. The eight molecules can be divided into two categories: alpha, beta, delta and gamma vitaminers.
The vitamer α-tocopherol is considered to be the primary vitamer and is almost always found in supplements. Food sources of α-tocopherol include green vegetables and seed oils, such as olive and sunflower oil. Vitamin E is a fat-soluble vitamin, which means that it is stored in the body.
How does vitamin E help allergies?
A double-blind, placebo-controlled, randomized study found that 800mg of vitamin E during the pollen season was able to significantly reduce nasal symptoms compared to placebo (3).
Vitamin E can also boost immunity, which can help to prevent allergies. Supplementation of 800mg of alpha-tocopherol daily for 30 days has been shown was shown to increase indices of T-cell mediated immunity (4).
Research has also found that vitamin E can improve the responsiveness of the immune system. Daily supplementation of 50mg and 100mg of vitamin E (as alpha-tocopherol) for six months significantly increased immunosupportive levels of IL-2 while decreasing IFN-gamma concentrations (5).
How do I take vitamin E?
The majority of the benefits of vitamin E are associated with doses slightly above the Recommended Daily Allowance (RDA) of 15mg. To help with reducing symptoms of seasonal allergies, it is recommended to take 800mg of vitamin E per day during the season in which allergies occur.
It is possible that there are negative effects of taking doses this high over the long term so if taking vitamin E on an ongoing basis, it is recommended to stick with a lower dose of between 50 and 200mg per day.
Vitamin E seems to be more effective when taken alongside a source unsaturated dietary fat, such as nuts and seeds.
Vitamin A refers to a group of compounds that play an important role in maintaining skin health, vision, gene transcription, and immune system functioning.
The compounds include retinol, retinaldehyde, retinoic acid, and provitamin A caretenoids (beta-carotene, alpha-carotene, gamma-carotene, and cryptoxanthin). The most common forms in food and supplements are retinol and beta-carotene.
Vitamin A is fat-soluble, which means that it is stored in the body. Excess consumption, although rare, can lead to toxic levels.
How does vitamin A help allergies?
Vitamins A is able to modulate innate and adaptive immune responses so it can influence the development and the symptoms of allergies.
Deficiencies of vitamin A have been found to increase susceptibility to allergies and worsen allergy symptoms (6). Significantly reduced serum vitamin A levels are commonly observed in those with allergies compared to healthy controls.
A study also found that taking vitamin A in pregnancy decreased the risk of the child getting allergies in their first seven years of life (7). It was beta-carotene in particular that was most effective.
How do I take vitamin A?
Further research is needed to determine the optimal dose for allergies. However, based on existing research it is recommended to take the recommended daily amount, which is 900 mcg and women 700 mcg per day.
Spirulina is a blue-green alga that is a non-toxic species of Arthrospira bacteria. It is comprised of 55-70% protein and has several active components.
The main ingredient is phycocyanobilin, which makes up about 1% of spirulina. Phycocyanobilin mimics the body’s bilirubin compound, to inhibit an enzyme complex called Nicotinamide Adenine Dinucleotide Phosphate (NADPH) oxidase. This results in antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects in the body.
How does spirulina help allergies?
Studies have found that Spirulina exhibits anti-inflammatory properties by inhibiting the release of histamine from mast cells (8).
A double blind, placebo controlled trial found that 2g of spirulina taken daily for 6 months significantly reduced symptoms of allergic rhinitus (a nose related condition) compared to placebo (9). The symptoms reduced included nasal discharge, sneezing, nasal congestion and itching.
Another randomized, double-blind placebo-controlled trial found that taking 2g of spirulina daily for 12 weeks significantly improved levels of cytokines in the body, which play an important role in allergic reactions, compared to placebo (10). The cytokines affected were interleukin-4, interferon-γ (IFN-γ) and interleukin-2.
The dose of 2g of spirulina reduced interleukin-4 levels by 32%, showing a protective effect for allergies. Results were not as effective for a 1g dose, suggesting that the effects of spirulina are dose-dependent.
How do I take spirulina?
To obtain the benefits of spirulina for allergies, it is recommended to take 2g per day. Further research is needed to determine whether it is best to take it once a day, or in smaller doses, multiple times per day.
Stinging nettle (Urtica dioica) is a herbaceous perennial flowering plant in the Urticaceae family. It has a long history of being used for therapeutic purposes.
Ancient Egyptians used it to treat arthritis and lower back pain; Roman troops rubbed it on themselves to help stay warm.
The leaves have hair-like structures that sting and also produce itching, redness, and swelling. However, once the leaves have been processed, stinging nettle can be consumed safely.
How does stinging nettle help allergies?
A study found that after one week of supplementing with stinging nettle, allergic symptoms were reduced compared with placebo (11).
A randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled clinical trial found that 300mg of stinging nettle taken daily for 4 weeks significantly reduced nasal symptoms (12). 58% of participants found an improvement from taking stinging nettle, with 69 out of 74 participants rating it better than placebo.
How do I take stinging nettle?
Based on research, it is best to take 300mg of stinging nettle daily to reduce allergy symptoms. It is recommended to split this into two doses of 150mg each.
Guduchi, also known as amrita or tinospora cordifolia, is a herb used in Ayurveda to boost vitality. It has been researched for a variety of health purposes, including its effect on diabetes, glucose metabolism, inflammation, immune system support, and neurology.
How does guduchi help allergies?
A randomized double blind placebo controlled trial found that supplementation of 300mg of a water extract of guduchi 3 times per day for 8 weeks significantly reduced allergy symptoms compared with placebo (13).
Allergy symptoms were resolved in between 61% and 83% of participants.
The symptoms that were improved included sneezing, nasal discharge, nasal obstruction, and nasal pruritus.
How do I take guduchi?
To obtain the benefits of guduchi for allergy symptoms, it is recommended to take 300mg, three times per day. The supplement should be taken alongside a meal.
Black cumin (nigella sativa) is a medicinal spice often used to season food products. It contains a potent bioactive ingredient called thymoquinone.
How does black cumin help allergies?
A prospective, double-blind study found that supplementation of black cumin oil for 30 days was able to significantly reduce allergy symptoms compared with placebo (14). The symptoms reduced included sneezing, runny nose, itching, and congestion.
Positive results were seen after 15 days of supplementation.
Another study found that 2g of black cumin taken for 30 days was able to significantly reduce allergy symptoms compared with placebo in people with hay fever (15). The research also found an increase in macrophage killing activity and phagocytosis in participants.
One research paper describing 4 different studies found that supplementation with 40-80mg/kg black cumin daily reduced allergic symptoms in those with hay fever eczema, and asthma (16). Symptoms reduced included hay fever, conjunctivitis, bronchial asthma, and skin eczema.
How do I take black cumin?
Supplementation of black cumin is usually in the form of a basic seed extract (a crushed powder of the seeds with no further processing or concentration) or the seed oil, neither of which require much processing as the medicinal dosage is close to the raw product’s natural state.
To obtain the benefits of black cumin for reducing allergy symptoms, it is recommended to take 2g of the seed per day. Although some benefits are seen at doses of 1g per day, effects seem to be dose dependent.
The seeds are approximately one quarter to one third fatty acids, which means supplementation of any black seed oil product would be 3-4 times lower than the amount needed from the seed. This works out to between 250mg and 1,000 mg per day.
Vitamin C, or L-ascorbic acid, is a water-soluble essential vitamin. It is a popular dietary supplement due to its antioxidant properties, safety, and affordability.
It is found in particularly high amounts in fruit and vegetables, such as citrus fruits, berries, and bell peppers.
How does vitamin C help allergies?
A multicenter, prospective, observational study found that intravenous vitamin C taken for between 10 and 14 weeks was able to significantly decrease allergy symptoms (17).
Improvements were also seen in fatigue, sleep disorders, depression, and lack of mental concentration during the course of the study. The researchers also suggested that a deficiency in vitamin C might lead to allergy-related diseases.
Another study found that taking 2g of vitamin C daily can act as a natural antihistamine in those with hay fever (18).
How do I take vitamin C?
To obtain the benefits of vitamin C for reducing allergy symptoms, it is recommended to take 2g per day. This can be taken in one single dose.
Butterbur is a plant extract from a shrub that grows in Asia, Europe, and some parts of North America. People often use the supplement to treat migraines and hay fever.
The National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH) has stated that butterbur may have antihistamine effects.
How does butterbur help allergies?
A randomized, double blind, parallel-group study found that 8mg taken daily (split into 4 doses) for two weeks was equally as effective at reducing allergy symptoms as an antihistamine medication called cetirizine, in those with hay fever (19). In addition, butterbur did not produce the sedative effects associated with antihistamine medication.
Similar results have been found with butterbur compared with the antihistamine medication fexofenadine and placebo (20).
Another randomized, double blind, placebo-controlled study found that taking 50 mg of butterbur twice daily during the grass pollen season significantly reduced allergy symptoms relative to placebo (21).
How do I take butterbur?
It is recommended to take 8mg of butterbur per day to reduce allergy symptoms. If no benefits are seen at this dose, this can be increased to up to 50mg per day. It is likely that higher doses may be needed for more severe symptoms. It is recommended to split supplementation into between 2 and 4 doses per day.
Selenium is an essential mineral with antioxidant properties. It forms a part of antioxidant enzymes such as glutathione, which protects cells against oxidative damage by preventing lipid peroxidation and the subsequent instability of cell membranes.
It is mainly found in seafood, meat, nuts, and wheat depending on selenium soil content.
How does selenium help allergies?
Studies have found that those with allergies have lower levels of selenium in their bodies compared to those who don’t suffer from allergies, suggesting that the mineral is significant (22).
Other research has shown that selenium deficiencies can also worsen allergies (23).
How do I take selenium?
It is recommended to supplement 200ug to 300ug per day to obtain to help prevent allergies and reduce allergic symptoms.
Probiotics are living microorganisms providing a number of health benefits by helping the body maintain a healthy balance of gut bacteria. The most commonly used probiotics are Bifidobacteria and Lactobacilli.
Probiotic bacteria can alter immune responses through a variety of mechanisms that could reduce allergic reactions to allergens without the side effects of medications.
These potential mechanisms include increasing regulatory T cells that dampen immune responses and suppressing the production of IgE antibodies.
How do probiotics help allergies?
A double-blind, placebo-controlled, parallel, randomized clinical trial found that taking 3 strains of probiotics (Lactobacillus gasseri KS-13, Bifidobacterium bifidum G9-1, and B. longum MM-2) for 6 weeks improved allergy symptoms compared with placebo during the peak of the pollen season. (24).
The strength of probiotics used was 1.5 billion colony-forming units/capsule and was divided into 2 doses, one after breakfast and one after dinner.
A recent systematic review and meta-analysis also reported that the majority of studies showed improvement in seasonal allergies in response to probiotic treatment (25). Research has also found that probiotics can improve the quality of life in those suffering from allergies.
How do I take probiotics?
It is recommended to take daily probiotics at a strength of 1.5 billion colony-forming units/capsule. The supplement should contain the strains Lactobacillus gasseri KS-13, Bifidobacterium bifidum G9-1 and B. longum MM-2. It is best to split this into two doses per day, both taken with food.
The Bottom Line
Allergies are an immune system response to allergens, which are perceived as being harmful to the body. It is not known exactly what causes them but they can range from mild to severe.
There are several different types of allergies, including both food and non-food based ones. Hay fever is one of the most common non-food based allergies.
A number of supplements are available that can help to prevent allergies as well as reduce symptoms. Some of these have been shown to be as effective as prescription medication but do not typically have the same side effects, making them a favorable alternative.
However, if taking any prescription medication, it is important to check with your healthcare provider before beginning supplementation.
Keep Reading: 10 Best Natural Supplements for Overall Health
ⓘ Any specific supplement products & brands featured on this website are not necessarily endorsed by Emma.
Stock Photos from HBRH / Good_Stock / Shutterstock
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About the Author
Emma Green has a PhD, MSc and BSc in Psychology and is a certified personal trainer. She currently works as a freelance writer, producing on content on science, health and fitness for a number of online platforms. She also coaches clients online on a one-to-one basis to help them achieve their health and fitness goals. Contact Emma.