(Part 2 of 3)
In yesterday’s post I gave you some background on allergies: what’s going on in your body and some common drugs used as treatment. As I said, drugs either mask symptoms or interfere with your immune system. What you really want is something that will help your immune system tell the difference between true danger and benign visitors. So here are a couple things that appear to work well for many people.
According to Chinese medicine, energy travels through your body in pathways called meridians. A disruption in energy flow can create illness, sometimes far away from the place of disruption. Acupuncture is the science of restoring energy flow. An acupuncturist most often uses needles to stimulate one or more specific points, but may also use heat or the pressure of fingers or stones.
More than 50 studies over the last couple decades have shown how effective acupuncture can be for relieving the symptoms of seasonal allergies. For example, in a 2013 trial patients were asked about their symptoms and their use of rescue medication. After 12 treatments over the course of eight weeks, patients reported a better quality of life and less use of allergy drugs. They were asked again after 16 weeks and one year about their quality of life and medication use, and the benefits had continued long after the treatments had stopped. It appears that acupuncture treatment actually corrects the immune problem rather than just interrupting the chemical pathway.
If you’re not a fan of needles, there’s no need to worry. The needles are very thin, and you can barely feel them as they go into your skin. Most acupuncturists use disposable needles, so there’s no concern about infection. And the treatment itself is relaxing; some patients even report sleeping through the session. My wife and I have both had acupuncture treatments for various conditions, and we’re big fans.
You do need a professional for acupuncture. A licensed practitioner will have the designation L.Ac. Acupuncture has become much more widely available over the last 20 years, so you should be able to find a practitioner near you.
The name alone is enough to keep some people away from this therapy, but stinging nettle is a remarkably effective therapy for seasonal allergy symptoms.
Research into stinging nettle for allergies is rather thin, but herbalists and naturopathic physicians who have done their own studies with patients swear by its benefits. One study of 69 people showed that just one week’s use of stinging nettle improved people’s overall assessment of their symptoms compared to placebo. In this study, people took 300 mg of freeze-dried nettle leaf twice a day.
Research in 2009 showed that stinging nettle affects two links in the chemical pathway of allergic rhinitis. An extract of stinging nettle blocked histamine receptors, and it reduced the amount of histamine released by mast cells. As a side benefit, the extract blocked enzymes responsible for inflammation. This study wasn’t done in humans, but it does give us an idea of how stinging nettles provide their benefit.
When using stinging nettle, look for a freeze-dried extract of the leaf. You may see the product shown under its plant name, Urtica dioica.
Tomorrow I’ll let you know about a couple therapies that have lots of support in folk medicine, but little research support.