Spring’s flowering forth is miraculous. But for some, it comes with a cost: sneezing, sniffles, and other symptoms of allergic rhinitis, also known as seasonal allergies or hay fever. Averting these woes altogether may not be possible, but preventive measures can moderate the body’s overactive inflammatory response. Effective natural strategies include rinsing nasal passages with a xylitol-based spray or neti pot, using a HEPA air filter, enjoying local honey (which contains tiny amounts of local pollen that act as a vaccine), eating an anti-inflammatory diet (garlic, salmon, oranges, apples), and sipping allergy-relief teas with soothing ingredients such as licorice, rosehips, or nettle. A handful of supplements, listed here in order of likely benefit, also can lessen suffering. Start taking them several weeks early for the greatest impact.
Bromelain. A pineapple derivative, this anti-inflammatory enzyme soothes mucous membranes, the respiratory system’s front line of defense. In a German study, children with acute sinusitis who took the enzyme plus standard treatment recovered significantly faster than those getting standard treatment only. Bromelain also relieves allergic rhinitis–induced aches, according to herbalist Earl Mindell, PhD. Because the enzyme interferes with some medications, such as blood thinners, check with your doctor before taking. Look for a supplement with a gelatin digesting unit (GDU) rating of 2,500 or higher. It’s most effective when taken on an empty stomach along with quercetin and a buffered form of vitamin C. Dose: 600–1,000 mg daily.
Quercetin. This bioflavonoid is a powerful natural antihistamine that inhibits mast cells from releasing the pro-inflammatory compounds (histamines) that cause allergy symptoms. Quercetin is found naturally in fruits and vegetables such as apples, citrus, and onions; supplements are safe to take year-round, says Stephanie Becker, ND, founder of the Washington Center for Complementary Medicine in D.C. Dose: 1,000–3,000 mg daily
Vitamin C. Familiar yet powerful, C is a potent antioxidant that supports the immune system and protects cells from free radicals, which increase in production during allergic reactions. Studies suggest taking vitamin C in high doses can relieve airway constriction by accelerating histamine breakdown. Choose a food-based C supplement, such as one made from rosehips, recommends Lise Alschuler, ND, author of Five to Thrive (Active Interest, 2011) and a Delicious Living advisory board member. Reduce the supplement dose if loose stools result. Dose: 2,000–3,000 mg daily, divided
Stinging nettle. This mineral- and vitamin C–rich green (Urtica dioica) has been used since medieval times as a tonic and diuretic. Although painful to the skin, in supplements nettles’ irritating chemicals can actually inhibit pro-inflammatory COX-1 and COX-2 enzymes and cytokines, which transmit pain signals in the body. In a study of 69 people with allergic rhinitis, more than half reported relief of most symptoms after taking freeze-dried nettle for one week. Nettle may have a diuretic effect and occasionally causes mild stomach upset; do not use during pregnancy. Dose: 400–600 mg freeze-dried leaf in capsules, twice daily
Probiotics. Eating probiotic-rich fermented foods like yogurt or sauerkraut, or taking supplements of live probiotic microorganisms, helps maintain a healthy balance of gut bacteria, supporting the immune system. Researchers believe probiotics may dampen inflammation (which allergic rhinitis can cause) by balancing the generation of pro- and anti-inflammatory cytokines. In two clinical studies, people with allergic rhinitis who took strains of lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium longum for eight weeks or longer reduced nasal symptoms. Dose: 5–20 billion CFU (colony forming units) daily