Spring has arrived and for the 10/15% of the UK population that will mean itchy eyes, runny nose, frequent sneezing, achy throat and occasional fatigue. These symptoms occur to individuals who have developed a hypersensitivity to pollens that are released by the plants flowering between April and July (1). Among hay fever sufferers, a large portion will have an hypersensitivity to grass (or in botanical terms, all the herbs belonging to the Poaceae family) pollen (95%) (2) and in a minor degree to pollens from birch, alder, hazel and horse chestnut (3).
But why do trees and grasses cause us to experience such annoying symptoms during mellow Spring days?
This answer can be given by describing the main biological factor involved in allergies: histamine. Histamine is a biologically active compound that causes capillaries to dilate, allowing more fluid and white blood cells to leak into the tissues (4); when the eyes, nose and mouth of an individual with pollen hypersensitivity get in contact with pollen, a cascade of reactions gets triggered leading to an excessive release of histamine in our bloodstream (5). The result is swelling of the eyes and throat, leaky nose and all the other common symptoms.
So, what causes an individual to be develop a hypersensitivity to pollen? The answer is not that clear, although it seems that people who suffer from asthma and eczema are more prone to develop symptoms (6). In other words, we cannot say for sure what lies beneath the occurrence of hay fever; what we know though is that the immune system is over reacting to harmless molecules, therefore the answer to why hay fever (and other allergies) hits some individuals rather than others may hide behind the factors that modulate our immunity.
In this article I will discuss herbs and supplements that have a role in regulating our immune system and impact histamine release.
URTICA DIOICA (Nettle leaves)
Nettles are herbs that I tend to mention rather often in my articles and cannot stress enough how wonderful medicine they are. Nettles thrive strong and present along the shady edges of our local parks throughout Spring. And that is not a coincidence. The 17th century herbalist Culpeper wrote: ‘Nettles tops eaten in spring consume the phlegmatic superfluities in the body of man’ (7). In other words, nettle clean the blood from excessive toxins and drain the body from superfluous fluids. A 2009 study showed that nettle extract in vitro was active on several factors involved in the development of rhinitis, resulting in the almost total inhibition of histamine release (8). Additionally, a study from 1990 revealed that nettles have been deemed as effective as the standard antihistamine medications in 57% of the participants (9). Spring and early Summer are therefore the best times to collect and consume nettles in soups, stews or teas if you desire to drastically decrease your symptoms of hay fever.
GANODERMA LUCIDUM (Reishi mushroom)
The Chinese mushroom of Immortality could not miss its presence when the topic is the immune system. Reishi mushroom has been studied extensively for its remarkable benefits on the health of liver, brain, immune system, cardiovascular system, digestive system and has given excellent results in the management of allergic rhinitis (10). Such statement is backed up by some animal studies that showed how Reishi mushroom extract directly inhibits the release of histamine from mast cells (cells specifically involved in allergies) (11). It is thought that compounds present in the spores and fruiting body of Reishi have a an immunomodulating properties, meaning that they can potentially re-calibrate the immune system (10); Reishi can be consumed as a tincture, capsules or powder and can be found in most health food shops.
SAMBUCUS NIGRA FLOS (Elder flowers)
Blossoming in mid-May and carrying on until mid-June, the elder trees provide us with a scented remedy for hay fever that can be consumed in a sweet cordial or as a delightful infusion. Elderflowers are rich in flavonoids which might be responsible for their anti-histamine properties (12)
PLANTAGO SPP. (Plantain leaves)
Plantain grows everywhere in most gardens and meadows of UK. It is a small herb with either long or round leaves and it is not to be confused with cooking plantains, which are part of the banana family (Musaceae). Plantain has been used traditionally to soothe inflamed tissues and decongest the upper respiratory tract from excessive phlegm (12). Its benefits for hay fever lie in its property to soothe inflammation and astringe over-relaxed capillary beds. Plantain can be taken internally as a hot infusion; in addition, a cold infusion of plantain can be used over the eyes to reduce swelling and itchiness.
MATRICARIA RECUTITA FLOS (Chamomile flowers)
Gentle and soothing, chamomile is well known to be a sweet companion to helping you falling asleep. Traditionally, chamomile is one of the greatest peacemakers in the plant world; indeed, it has been generally used to reduce irritation in all its aspects: irritated stomachs, irritated nervous systems, irritated skins, irritated moods. Packed with anti-inflammatory compounds, this herb is also a powerful remedy to calm inflamed skin, eyes, gums and most of mucous membranes (12). Its anti-histamine properties have been confirmed from a study on animals from 2011 which shows chamomile extract to directly inhibiting histamine release from mast cells (13). Having a jar of dried chamomile flowers at home is a strategic preventative move to tackle hay fever symptoms and ameliorate unnecessary peeve.
Gut bacteria are responsible to build our immune system and often the health of the bacterial colonies living in our intestine is reflected in how well we respond to illness (14). Gut microbes also play a key role in modulating histamine synthesis; it is well known that young children which have received frequent doses of antibiotics (and therefore are more likely to suffer from dysbiosis) are more likely to show symptoms of excessive histamine-mediated symptoms such as asthma, eczema and food allergies (15). Making sure that in your guts the good bacteria thrive happily is the first step towards the resolution of most hypersensitivities and probiotics (foods/supplements rich in alive bacteria) are the quickest way to achieve it.
Flavonoids are a large family of compounds found in most fruits and vegetables. Most of them give the red/ blue/ purple colour to fruits and berries. Flavonoids play an important antioxidant activity in our bodies by scavenging free radicals and thus safeguarding the life of our cells. Some flavonoids have also been praised for their antihistaminic properties; Quercetin, found in onions and broccoli, has received many attentions as large evidence has been obtained on its remarkable antihistaminic effects on human mast cells (16). Other flavonoids which inhibits histamine release are cathechins (green tea), naringenin and hesperidin (lemons) and rutin (asparagus) (17)
Bromelain is an enzymatic compound found in the core of pineapples. Apart being very useful for digestive disorders, studies showed that it promotes the absorption of quercetin and aids the de-congestion of the upper respiratory tract (18). Most good quality supplements already combine bromelain with quercetin for optimal absorption.
There are many ways to manage naturally the course of hay fever symptoms during Spring months. I am concluding this article by sharing my protocol to recalibrate the immune system and tame histamine release.
· Probiotics (2-10 billions, 6+ strains once a day)
· Reishi mushroom capsules/powder/tincture (1g/5ml twice a day)
· Nettle tea (at least 2 cups a day with 1tbsp of dry herbs per cup)
· Quercetin (400mg once a day)
· Bromelain (usually found in complex with quercetin)
Supplement brands: Terranova quercetin/nettle/bromelain complex, Biokult Advanced multi strain formulation, Indigo herbs organic reishi mushroom powder (you can also purchase a tincture/powder/dried herb from your local herbalist)
FOR SYMPTOMATIC RELIEF
· Nettle/chamomile/elderflower/plantain tea (1tbsp per cup; drink at least 2 cups for better results).
You can forage most of these herbs during spring months or get in touch with your local herbalist.
To read more about herbal medicine and natural healing, visit my blog on www.blueginkgotherapies.com/blog
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© GIACOMO SANDRI MAY 2020