Q) I suffer from hayfever every year and nothing my doctor prescribes seems to work. Can you recommend any natural remedies to ease-or, ideally, cure-my symptoms?-S.K., via e-mail
A) Hayfever, otherwise known as 'seasonal allergic rhinitis', can make life a misery for millions. In addition to sneezing, nasal congestion, and itchy eyes and throat, sufferers also report disrupted sleep, daytime fatigue, poor concentration and an inability to perform daily activities (Ther Clin Risk Manag, 2008; 4: 1009-22).
Conventional treatment usually involves drugs such as oral antihistamines and inhaled corticosteroids. However, prolonged use can have unwanted side-effects such as drowsiness, impaired learning and memory, and heart arrhythmias (Ann Allergy Asthma Immunol, 1997; 78: 439-46). What's more, a US survey of 2500 adult allergy sufferers revealed that nearly 70 per cent were dissatisfied with their current medication because it didn't work (Ther Clin Risk Manag, 2008; 4: 1009-22).
- Supplements. Several nutrients may be helpful. Try supplementing with daily doses of the following:
- Quercetin. Found in citrus, onions, black tea, apples and lettuce, this inhibits histamine, which contributes to symptoms such as runny nose and watery eyes (Biochem Pharmacol, 1984; 33: 3333-8). It's almost twice as effective as the histamine-inhibitor cromolyn sodium, reducing histamine activity by 46-96 per cent (J Allergy Clin Immunol, 1995; 96: 528-36). The recommended dosage for hayfever is 250-600 mg, three times daily, five to 10 minutes before meals (Altern Med Rev, 2000; 5: 448-54).
- Bromelain. Derived from pineapple, this enzyme reduces levels of inflammatory prostaglandins, which contribute to swelling, redness and itching (Altern Med Rev, 1996; 1: 243-57). It also enhances the absorption of quercetin (Urology, 1999; 54: 960-3). Try 400-500 mg three times a day [potency of 1800-2000 MCU (milk-clotting units)] (Altern Med Rev, 2000; 5: 448-54). However, avoid this if you are allergic to pineapple.
- Vitamin C. In one study, 2 g/day of vitamin C lowered blood histamine levels by 38 per cent in just one week (J Am Coll Nutr, 1992; 11: 172-6). In another, vitamin C sprayed into the nose three times a day reduced allergy symptoms (runny nose, blockage, oedema) in 74 per cent of sufferers compared with only 24 per cent of those using a placebo (Ear Nose Throat J, 1991; 70: 54-5).
- Conjugated linoleic acid (CLA). Often promoted as a weight-loss supplement, CLA is promising for hayfever as it's an anti-inflammatory. In a 12-week, placebo-controlled study of 40 people allergic to birch pollen, those taking 2 g/day of CLA reported less sneezing and overall feelings of wellbeing during the pollen season (Br J Nutr, 2008; 100: 112-9).
- Herbs. Plants have a long history of use for hayfever. The following have proved effective in clinical trials.
- Butterbur (Petasites hybridus). In nearly 600 hayfever sufferers treated with butterbur leaf extract (two tablets/day of Zeller's extract; 8 mg/tablet of petasines), 90 per cent saw an improvement in symptoms after two weeks. The herb was generally well tolerated, with only around 4 per cent of users experiencing adverse effects such as stomach upset (Adv Ther, 2006; 23: 373-84). As butterbur contains alkaloids that are toxic to the liver, look for alkaloid-free formulations.
- Nettle (Urtica dioica). Test-tube studies show that nettle extract inhibits several key inflammatory events leading to symptoms of hayfever (Phytother Res, 2009 Jan 12; Epub ahead of print). In a randomized, placebo-controlled trial of 69 subjects, 58 per cent rated nettle (300 mg; freeze-dried) "effective" in relieving their symptoms, while 48 per cent found it to be the same as or better than their previous medication (Planta Med, 1990; 56: 44-7).
- Aller-7. This patented blend of seven standardized herbal extracts (Phyllanthus emblica, Terminalia chebula, T. bellerica, Albizia lebbeck, Piper nigrum, P. longum and Zingiber officinale) appears to be
safe and effective for hayfever. In a 12-week trial of 545 patients, Aller-7 significantly reduced sneez-ing, runny nose and nasal congestion (Int J Clin Pharmacol Res, 2004; 24: 79-94).
- Acupuncture. In one study, 981 allergic rhinitis patients received the usual care, but half also received 10 acupuncture sessions. After three months, the quality of life was higher in the acupuncture group (Am J Epidemiol, 2009; 169: 562-71).
- Probiotics. One recent review of the use of probiotics to treat hayfever and other allergies concluded, "Probiotics may have a beneficial effect in allergic rhinitis by reducing symptom severity and medication use" (Ann Allergy Asthma Immunol, 2008; 101: 570-9).
- Hypnosis. In a randomized controlled trial of 79 hayfever sufferers, self-hypnosis added to their standard treatment improved symptoms (Psychother Psychosom, 2005; 74: 165-72).
- Homeopathy. Homeopathic remedies are frequently used to treat hayfever and there is clinical evidence that they work (Homeopathy, 2009; 98: 11-6). For the best results, consult a qualified homeopath before your symptoms start.