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Herbal Approaches to Allergies

 

Alternative medicine can be more effective than conventional treatments for some chronic illnesses and allergies are no exception. Treatment can require more patience than using pharmaceuticals, but can also result in improved overall health.

It is estimated that 40 to 50 million Americans have seasonal allergies. The overall numbers of allergies have been rising steadily over the past 40 years, with increasing springtime and autumn allergies, food allergies and allergic asthma.  

Many people take over-the-counter anti-histamines and, while they certainly work, many of them cause a rebound effect or adverse effects, so many people find them less than satisfactory. There is a huge demand for products and protocols that work better and address the underlying cause rather than just treating symptoms.  The orthodox approach to treatment is primarily avoidance of allergens if possible and when not, the use of antihistamines to dry up excessive sinus secretions, or allergy shots (immunotherapy). 

From an herbal and nutritional perspective we have a significantly broader approach. There are several options to consider.

First is the use of a type of herb known as immune amphoterics. Immune amphoterics are herbs that help to normalize immune response. If the immune system is hyperactive, as in the case of allergies, they help to down-regulate excessive immune response. If the immune system is under active, as with someone with cancer or other immunosuppressive diseases, they help enhance immune function. They do this by strengthening and nourishing the immune system so that it can regain its normal self- regulatory functions. Immune amphoteric herbs include Ashwaghanda, Schisandra, American or Asian Ginseng, Eleuthero, Holy Basil, Maitake mushroom, Reishi mushroom, and Licorice. 

Several products I have developed, such as Seven Precious Mushrooms, which combines Reishi  (red, black & mycelllium form of the fungus), Shiitake, Maitake, Chaga and Cordyceps mycelium, act as powerful immune amphoterics and can help to reduce excessive immune response. 

Another formula known as Immune Adapt is based on a traditional Chinese practice known as Fu Zheng therapy.  It combines Astragalus, Eleuthero, Reishi, Bai-Zhu Atractylodes, Licorice, Schisandra berry and Maitake. It helps to nourish and strengthen the immune system, allowing it to regain normal regulatory control, thus inhibiting allergic response.  I use immune amphoterics with another class of herbs that I call immuno-regulators. These herbs are antiinflammatory and they  help to down-regulate excessive immune response, without suppressing normal immune function.  Herbs in this category include Sarsaparilla, Gotu Kola, Dan Shen, Baikal Scullcap, Unprocessed Rehmannia, Bupleurum and Turmeric.  A formula I designed that includes these herbs with immune amphoterics is known as Immune Balance Compound.

The third part of my protocols, is the use herbs that down regulate excessive histamine production and help stabilize the mast cells which produce histamine. Herbs and dietary supplements rich in flavonoids, especially a type of flavonoid known as PCOs (proanthocyanidin oligomers) are highly effective for achieving this effect. They include Blueberry, Lycium Fruit (Goji Berry), Pomegranate and Cranberry which I use in a solid extract form.  For the best results a person would start using immune amphoterics, immuno-regulators and flavonoid-rich herbs four to six weeks before allergy season begins to allow time for them to help to strengthen and nourish the immune system. 

Even when a protocol like this is followed there is still the possibility that in an especially bad allergy season a person may still have some congestion, itchy, runny eyes and the other common symptoms of allergic rhinitis. Anti-histamine herbs including Osha root, Eyebright, Yerba Mansa, Horseradish and Bayberry root bark can be taken if allergy symptoms do occur.  I use a specific formula combining these herbs, which is very useful for helping to dry up excessive mucus secretions, postnasal drip and helping to control allergic rhinitis. It combines Echinacea purpurea root, which has antihistamine effects, as well as helping to prevent sinus infections, Osha root, which has strong antihistamine activity, Eyebright, which helps dry up excessive sinus secretions and soothe the itchy eyes associated with allergic rhinitis, Horseradish root, which is also an antihistamine, and Bayberry root bark, which is used to dry up excessive secretions. It is very effective for treating acute seasonal allergy symptoms.

The occasional use of neti pots can also be helpful, but overuse has been linked in some cases to an increased risk of sinus infections. Those who have allergies should limit their exposure to pollens as much as they can. A good HEPA air filter in the bedroom at night helps reduce exposure pollens as well as to other allergens (animal dander, cockroach feces or volatile organic compounds) which raise the inflammatory threshold and make us more susceptible to allergy symptoms. Many people find that this simple step makes a significant difference.

In addressing seasonal allergies, we have a many options for dealing with the symptoms and the whole person. Preventing seasonal allergies, which to me is the most important objective, is much easier than trying to deal with symptoms once they are in “full bloom”. If a person gets seasonal allergies on a yearly basis then you can anticipate getting them next spring or next autumn. By starting 6 weeks before the usual onset of allergy season you can help to prevent many of these symptoms and at the same time enhance overall health and vitality.

An internationally known clinical herbalist, teacher and author, David Winston has more than 40 years of training in Cherokee, Chinese and Western herbal traditions.  David Winston’s Center for Herbal has been educating herbalists, physicians, nurses, naturopathic physicians, veterinarians, and nutritionists in the art and science of clinical herbal medicine since 1980.  He is a founding member of the American Herbalists Guild (AHG), and also founded Herbalist & Alchemist 30 years ago to provide herbal products that meet clinical standards.  For more information, visit herbalstudies.net or herbalist-alchemist.com.

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