Antihistamines are substances that block the activity of histamine in the body. Histamine is a protein that triggers allergy symptoms such as sneezing, itchy eyes, sore throat, and rhinitis.
Over-the-counter (OTC) medications and prescription antihistamines are effective in relieving symptoms but may cause side effects like drowsiness and nausea. Consequently, some individuals seek natural alternatives that are effective.
In this article, we’ll describe the top five natural antihistamines for allergies and delve into the science behind them.
- Vitamin C
Vitamin C boosts the immune system and acts as a natural antihistamine. According to a 2018 study on vitamin C in allergy treatment, oxidative stress plays a key role in allergic diseases. As vitamin C is a potent antioxidant and anti-inflammatory agent, it can serve as a treatment for allergies.
Researchers observed that high doses of intravenous vitamin C reduce allergy symptoms. They also reported that a deficiency in vitamin C might lead to allergy-related illnesses. Another 2000 study suggests taking 2 grams of vitamin C daily to act as an antihistamine.
This vitamin is present in many fruits and vegetables, including:
- Cantaloupe melon
- Citrus fruits
- Tomatoes and tomato juice
- Winter squash
Vitamin C supplements, with or without bioflavonoids, are available in specialty stores, pharmacies, and online.
Butterbur (Petasites hybridus or coltsfoot) is a plant extract from a shrub that grows in Asia, Europe, and some parts of North America. Butterbur is often used to treat migraines and hay fever, also known as allergic rhinitis.
According to the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH), butterbur may have antihistamine effects. A 2007 review of 16 randomized controlled trials testing 10 herbal products suggests that butterbur could be an effective herbal treatment for hay fever. The review suggested that butterbur was better than a placebo or as effective as antihistamine medications in relieving allergy symptoms.
However, the authors of the review emphasize that some large studies received funding from industry producers, so further independent research is needed.
Most people tolerate butterbur well, according to the NCCIH, but it can cause side effects such as:
- Difficulty breathing
- Itchy eyes
Crude butterbur extracts contain some compounds called alkaloids that can cause liver damage and cancer. Extracts of butterbur without these substances are available. However, no studies have examined the long-term effects of using these products. Plant extracts can also cause allergic reactions in individuals sensitive to ragweed, marigolds, calendula, and daisies.
Bromelain is an enzyme found in the core and juice of pineapples and is also available as a supplement.
Bromelain is a popular natural remedy for swelling or inflammation, particularly for sinus issues after an injury or surgery. Mouse research suggests that bromelain can reduce allergic sensitization and allergic airway diseases due to its anti-inflammatory and anti-allergic properties.
In some individuals, oral supplementation of bromelain can cause adverse reactions such as:
- Changes in menstruation
- Digestive disturbances
- Increased heart rate
Individuals allergic to pineapple should avoid bromelain. Bromelain supplements are available in health stores and online.
Probiotics are microorganisms that may offer health benefits by helping the body maintain a healthy balance of gut bacteria.
Probiotics can enhance a person’s immune system, which may aid the body in fighting allergies.
Evidence for probiotics is mixed, and while some probiotics may help, others may not.
Quercetin is an antioxidant flavonoid found in many plants and foods. Research suggests that adding quercetin to the diet may help alleviate allergy symptoms.
Research reports that quercetin may possess anti-allergic and antihistamine properties. In an animal study, researchers found that quercetin could reduce respiratory effects of allergies in mice by reducing airway inflammation. However, evidence of its effectiveness is mixed, and there’s insufficient evidence to suggest that quercetin can alleviate allergic rhinitis.
Quercetin is naturally present in many foods and herbs, including:
- Black tea
- Buckwheat tea
- Ginkgo biloba
- Green tea
- Red onions
- Red wine
However, taking quercetin supplements may work better in treating allergies compared to consuming foods containing it. This is because foods contain significantly lower levels of flavonoids.
Quercetin is generally safe for most people. It can cause headaches and tingling in the arms and legs in some individuals. Very high doses, especially if taken long-term, can cause kidney damage.
Quercetin supplements can be purchased in health stores or online.
Other Natural Remedies
There isn’t sufficient evidence to suggest that the following natural products can help with allergic rhinitis symptoms:
- Grape seed extract
- Omega-3 fatty acids
Alternative Allergy Treatments
If natural antihistamines don’t reduce a person’s allergic symptoms, they might need to explore alternatives.
Other methods to treat and prevent allergy symptoms include:
Avoiding the Allergen
Avoiding the allergen is generally the first line of defense against symptoms. Try to identify the allergen, whether it’s pollen, pet dander, or mold spores, and reduce exposure as much as possible.
Allergy medications can prompt the immune system’s response to calm down in reaction to the allergen. Antihistamine drugs work by suppressing histamine in the body. Allergy medications are available over the counter or by prescription and include oral medications, liquids, nasal sprays, and eye drops.
Medications and immunotherapy may be helpful for individuals with severe allergies.
Individuals with severe allergies may benefit from immunotherapy. This treatment is suitable even when allergy medications don’t alleviate symptoms. During immunotherapy, a healthcare provider administers a series of injections containing small amounts of allergens. This treatment may take place over several years and aims to desensitize the body to the allergen.
For individuals allergic to pollen, doctors might recommend sublingual immunotherapy. This involves placing a tablet under the tongue until it dissolves.
Everyone with severe allergies may need to carry an emergency epinephrine shot (Auvi-Q, EpiPen) at all times. Administering this treatment at the onset of an allergic reaction can reduce symptoms and potentially save a person’s life.
Living with allergies can be challenging, especially when symptoms are at their worst. Seek help and advice from a doctor when dealing with allergy symptoms. Some natural substances may possess antihistamine properties in the sense that they can suppress the chemicals causing allergy symptoms. Further evidence is required to ascertain the effectiveness of these natural remedies.
For the best chance of relief, try to limit or avoid exposure to the allergen. Practice good self-care techniques and consider using natural antihistamines. Since supplements and natural remedies can interfere with certain medications, it’s essential to consult a doctor before starting any new supplement or herbal remedy.