Healing with Nature: Herbs to Reduce Hay Fever Symptoms

Healing with Nature: Herbs to Reduce Hay Fever Symptoms

Sniff, sniff. It's that time of year again -- when my sinuses are either filled with cotton batting or flowing like Niagara Falls! Hay fever affects approximately 10 percent of the population. Its symptoms can be mild to completely debilitating. The symptoms are characterized by profuse mucus, often thin and watery, accompanied with violent sneezing, excessive tearing and itching of the nose, eyes, roof of mouth and throat. Some people also display photophobia, frontal headaches, reduced appetite, insomnia and exhaustion. We can't cure it, but we can significantly reduce its symptoms.

The causes of hay fever are well known. Some people either are born with or develop a hypersensitivity to a foreign substance such as pollen, mold, cat fur, dust or other air-bound substance. Spring hay fever is usually caused by tree pollens such as oak, maple, cottonwoods and others. Summer hay fever is mostly caused by grass pollen, whereas fall allergies are often the result of exposure to daisy-like plants such as ragweed, sages and the like.

These foreign substances are called allergens. The body considers these allergens a threat and therefore tries to eliminate them by producing an overactive immune response. This response includes antibodies, exaggerated amounts of histamines and, of course, the all too familiar excessive quantity of mucus. The process includes the degranulation of a group of cells called mast cells. When this happens, we get the release of histamine and other inflammatory substances that gives the well-known symptoms.

Often other substances can lead to an immune threshold. Let's say that the immune threshold is 100 points of contact with an allergen to create a histamine response. If we already have 50 points of immune response to another substance, we will need much less interaction with the allergen to cause a reaction. The most common cofactors for hay fever are foods that produce mucus such as dairy or flour products. Of course, other air bound substances such as smoke and perfumes can also contribute to this process. I have seen many people produce fewer hay fever symptoms by just avoiding these (or their personal) cofactors during hay fever season. If there is a lot of sticky mucous in the respiratory tract, the allergen has a better chance of remaining in the system to stimulate activity. One of the most productive things to do is a 12-day herbal detox just before the hay fever season, thus reducing the immune load.

Although surrounded by controversy, by far the best herb to use for hay fever type allergies is Ma Huang (Ephedra sinica). This herb has been one of the most important herbs of Chinese medicine-for over 5,000 years. Its major chemical, ephedrine, used extensively in Western medicine since 1923, works on the autonomic nervous system to cause dilation of the bronchial tubes and alveoli. It has also been shown to be a great cleanser of the respiratory mucous membranes. Another less known chemical called pseudoephedrine is specific for working on the sinuses. Most of the controversy over this herb has come from its abuse being used in high quantities for weight loss. I have used Ma Huang in my clinic for over 20 years and have encountered no problems with it from my own patients. I have had several people who have used large quantities of mass market ephedra products and ended up with side effects.

The most common side effects of using excessive amounts of Ma Huang are insomnia and jittery nerves. The best antidote for these symptoms also happens to be the second best herb we use for many types of allergies, Reishi (Ganoderma lucidum). It both strengthens and calms down the immune system. By using Reishi, it is like moving the goal post from 100 points to 200 points of exposure to the allergen before a person gets a histamine response. The hay fever sufferer can now come into contact with more allergens without getting a reaction. For chronic bronchitis related to allergies, Reishi has a 60 percent recovery rate and a 97 percent improvement rate. Chinese studies show 87 percent improvement and 48 percent recovery from bronchial asthmatics. For sinus problems, the cure rate is over 50 percent and the effectiveness is 80 percent. Japanese researchers consider the reduction of asthma in guinea pigs and contact dermatitis in mice remarkable. Reishi inhibits the release of histamine significantly. The mushroom works against Img-E related allergies as well.

Other herbs I often use in formulas to improve both the general condition of the mucus membranes and to reduce hay fever symptoms are: Mullein leaf (Verbascum thapsus), goldenseal (Hydrastis canadensis), coltsfoot (Tussilago farfara), marshmallow (Althaea officinalis) and cayenne (Capsicum minimum). Mullein leaves (demulcent, expectorant and diuretic), and coltsfoot leaves (expectorant, demulcent and diuretic) are both specific for the respiratory system. Goldenseal, the "king of the mucous membranes," improves membrane quality while regulating the quantity of mucus in the respiratory system. Cayenne stimulates blood circulation, aiding in the supply of nutrients and reducing action of the mast cells.

There are several other nutrients that we like to use to reduce the symptoms of hay fever. These major ingredients are: beta-carotene, bioflavonoids, vitamin C, and selenium. Beta-carotene reduces the level of and regulates quality of mucus already in the sinus area, thus reducing allergen activity. Bioflavonoids, especially catechins (found in green tea), and quercetin stabilize mast cells and thus inhibit histamine release. High levels of vitamin C are known to reduce histamine release. Selenium reduces immunoglobulin action on mast cells and therefore also reduces histamine release.

A common suggested program I use is: the above herbal formula containing 150 mg. of Ma Huang (2-3capsules, 2-3 times daily); Reishi extract (15:1) 180 mg. (2-3capsules; 2-3 times daily) depending on symptoms; beta-carotene (60,000 IU-twice daily); bioflavonoid (1,000 mg.-twice daily); vitamin C (1,000 mg.-four times daily); and selenium (200 mcg. daily). It also helps to drink a couple of cups of green tea daily during hay fever season.

By doing the above program, preceded by a 12-day herbal detox, and reducing dairy and flour consumption, you can reduce symptoms greatly. The earlier in the season you reduce the dairy and flour products, the better the results are. I often get a person to start the Ma Huang and other herbs in the formula one to two months before the start of the hay fever season. Wouldn't it be nice to smell the roses without any worries?

Measurements & Data Corporation.


By Terry Willard

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