Allergies arise when our immune system overreacts to what it perceives to be foreign intruders (allergens). The symptoms of allergies can range from mild to severe, and triggers include pollen, dust mites, pet and farm animal dander, insect bites and stings, mold, and even potentially medications.
Sometimes referred to as hypersensitivities, allergic reactions usually involve the skin, airways, and mucous membranes. This article will discuss some natural, evidence-based approaches to the treatment of allergies while working with a naturopathic doctor or other integrative medicine practitioner, such as a functional medicine doctor, in order to identify their underlying root causes.
The Role of Mast Cells in Allergy and Inflammation
Mast cells are a type of white blood cell rich in histamine granules famous for playing a significant role in causing the symptoms of allergy. (1) Mast cells live near blood vessels, releasing potent mediators of allergy and inflammation when activated.
When these cells degranulate, they can cause an allergic, inflammatory reaction characterized by redness, swelling, heat, and pain in the area of infection or trauma. (2)
Mast Cell Dysfunction and Histamine Intolerance
Mast cell dysfunction, and a related disorder, histamine intolerance, are implicated in many allergic and inflammatory conditions. But a discussion of these conditions in detail is best saved for another time.
Recent studies have shown how mast cells are critical to both arms of our immune system, the innate as well as the adaptive. (3)
But a root-cause approach begs the question: What is causing my symptoms of allergy?
There are many answers to this question, such as food intolerance, the epigenetics of histamine intolerance, and a dysregulated HPA axis, but while a root-cause approach is being taken, it may be necessary to help stabilize the degranulation of these mast cells and their release of histamine without having to resort to the chronic use of conventional antihistamines, such as Zyrtec.
One naturopathic way to stabilize mast cells is by combining bioflavonoids, vitamin C, and bromelain.
The Anti-Inflammatory and Anti-Allergic Effects of Bioflavonoids
Inflammation plays a key role in allergy and asthma. Increasing scientific research points to the evidence of phenolic compounds, such as flavonoids, which exert an anti-inflammatory effect. (4)
Not only can flavonoids combat the mediators of allergy, but they also possess strong antioxidant properties. Numerous studies have shown that flavonoids can inhibit the onset as well as the development of chronic inflammatory disease.
Flavonoids are rich in fruits, vegetables, and even legumes and cocoa.Bioflavonoids, on the other hand, are the most abundant type of polyphenol found in our diet. A famous polyphenol often found in natural antihistamine supplements is quercetin, a plant pigment found in red wine, berries, onions, apples, and even green tea. Also, because letting thy food be thy medicine is always a good thing, a person will benefit from incorporating diverse, polyphenol-rich foods into their diet whenever possible.
The Immune Enhances and Antioxidant Effects of Vitamin C
Our immune systems are highly complex and regulated by groups of immune cells, and as mentioned these cells can overreact when they perceive foreign substances, known as allergens.
Though its precise, multifactorial mechanisms are still poorly understood, vitamin C has been shown to be an essential component in the management of allergic diseases. Chemical mediators in immediate hypersensitivity reactions are affected by the presence of ascorbic acid, as it has been shown to chelate with calcium and may control the release of mediators such as histamine. (5)
Vitamin C is also an antioxidant and can act as a free radical scavenger. Antimicrobial and natural killer cell activities are enhanced by Vitamin C. Vitamin C deficiency has been correlated with high levels of histamine in the blood, which is dangerous because high histamine, or histaminemia, has been shown to damage endothelial-dependent vasodilation. And because vasodilation lowers blood pressure and heart rate, this could easily lead to high blood pressure. (6, 7, 8)
The Anti-Inflammatory and Anti-Allergic Effects of Bromelain
Bromelain is a natural enzyme extracted from pineapple core and juice shown to have anti-inflammatory and anti-allergy activities, and shown (in mouse studies) to reduce the progression of allergic airway disease. This suggests that allergic sensitivity can be reduced. (9, 10)
Bioflavonoids, Vitamin C, and Bromelain in The Treatment of Mast Cell Dysfunction
In summary, while teasing out the root cause of allergic sensitivity with a naturopathic doctor or another integrative medicine practitioner, research indicates that the combination of bioflavonoids, Vitamin C, and bromelain can help stabilize mast cell degranulation.
Of course, you should always consult your doctor first.
- da Silva EZ, Jamur MC, Oliver C. Mast cell function: a new vision of an old cell. J Histochem Cytochem. 2014 Oct;62(10):698-738. doi: 10.1369/0022155414545334. Epub 2014 Jul 25. PMID: 25062998; PMCID: PMC4230976.
- Bais S, Kumari R, Prashar Y, Gill NS. Review of various molecular targets on mast cells and its relation to obesity: A future perspective. Diabetes Metab Syndr. 2017 Dec;11 Suppl 2:S1001-S1007. doi: 10.1016/j.dsx.2017.07.029. Epub 2017 Jul 23. PMID: 28778429.
- Zhang T, Finn DF, Barlow JW, Walsh JJ. Mast cell stabilisers. Eur J Pharmacol. 2016 May 5;778:158-68. doi: 10.1016/j.ejphar.2015.05.071. Epub 2015 Jun 27. PMID: 26130122.
- Maleki SJ, Crespo JF, Cabanillas B. Anti-inflammatory effects of flavonoids. Food Chem. 2019 Nov 30;299:125124. doi: 10.1016/j.foodchem.2019.125124. Epub 2019 Jul 3. PMID: 31288163.
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- Sharma SC, Wilson CW. The celluar interaction of ascorbic acid with histamine, cyclic nucleotides and prostaglandins in the immediate hypersensitivity reaction. Int J Vitam Nutr Res. 1980;50(2):163-70. PMID: 6156921.
- Shaik-Dasthagirisaheb YB, Varvara G, Murmura G, Saggini A, Caraffa A, Antinolfi P, Tete’ S, Tripodi D, Conti F, Cianchetti E, Toniato E, Rosati M, Speranza L, Pantalone A, Saggini R, Tei M, Speziali A, Conti P, Theoharides TC, Pandolfi F. Role of vitamins D, E and C in immunity and inflammation. J Biol Regul Homeost Agents. 2013 Apr-Jun;27(2):291-5. PMID: 23830380.
- BD, Y. (1970, January 01). Relationship between Vitamin C, Mast Cells and Inflammation. Retrieved February 01, 2021, from https://www.mendeley.com/catalogue/115cbf0e-8fb8-3bee-a492-f2a8bbb22135/
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