April 2020

Natural Allergy Remedies: What’s Popular

Allergy season is here, and around 15-30% of people in the US will experience related symptoms. While there are a lot of conventional treatments out there, many people also try natural remedies. What’s getting attention this year?

Quercetin is increasingly promoted as a mast cell stabilizer. Mast cell stabilizers prevent allergies by stopping the release of histamine from mast cells. Quercetin is also promoted for its anti-inflammatory effects. While there’s some early evidence supporting this theory, it’s unclear if quercetin is actually absorbed from the gut in high enough amounts to have a beneficial effect. Tell patients to save their money and skip quercetin supplements for allergies. If they want to increase their intake of quercetin, explain that they can do this by eating more fruits and vegetables. The highest amounts are found in berries, red wine, apples, broccoli, onions, green beans, and asparagus. Remind them that there's no good evidence these foods will reduce allergies, but they're still beneficial for overall health.

Stinging nettle is widely promoted on the internet as a natural antihistamine and anti-inflammatory agent. Most claims promote its vitamin C and quercetin content for reducing allergy symptoms. But clinical data is unclear. Some early research suggests that using stinging nettle at the first signs of allergy symptoms may help provide relief. But it doesn’t seem to help patients who are already on an allergy medication. Until more conclusive data emerges, don’t recommend it.

Butterbur is a very popular natural medicine for allergies. And there’s a fair amount of research that supports using it. Most studies have used a specific extract called ZE 339 (Tesalin), which unfortunately isn’t available in North America. Taking one tablet of this extract three to four times daily seems to reduce allergy symptoms – some research shows that it’s as effective as cetirizine 10 mg daily or fexofenadine 180 mg daily. If patients want to try butterbur, tell them to look for products that are standardized to contain at least 7.5 mg petasin and isopetasin. This is similar to the product that has been studied. But caution patients to avoid using butterbur products that aren’t certified as pyrrolizidine alkaloid (PA)-free. Preparations containing PAs may be hepatotoxic.

For more details on these and other popular natural medicines used for allergic rhinitis, check out our updated CE course.

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