Naturopathic Medicine for Allergies

In the United States alone, more than 50 million people suffer from some sort of debilitating allergy. The American Academy of Allergy Asthma and Immunology reports that allergies rank in sixth place of all chronic diseases. Fortunately, naturopathic medicine is a system of health care that can help alleviate allergy symptoms and improve overall health.

How Can Naturopathy Help Relieve Allergies?

From a naturopathic viewpoint, allergies are often associated with weak adrenal, immune, and digestive functions. Natural treatments are used to support and improve those functions and to alleviate hay fever symptoms.

Central principles of naturopathy include using healing approaches that derive from nature, encouraging self-responsibility for health, using therapies that promote the body’s ability to return to a state of balance and heal itself, and treatment that takes into account the whole person. A naturopathic physician typically combines several types of therapies, including diet, lifestyle changes, vitamins, minerals, and herbal medicines to prevent illness, treat disease, and promote well-being.

What Happens at a Naturopathic Treatment Session?

A first visit to a naturopathic practitioner is usually an extended appointment. The practitioner will interview the patient at length about health history, reasons for the visit, and lifestyle (such as diet, stress, alcohol and tobacco use, sleep, and exercise). The practitioner may perform examinations and, if he or she is a naturopathic physician, order diagnostic and screening tests. Toward the end of the appointment, a management plan is set up to address the patient's general health and problems with illness. Referrals to other health care providers may be made, if appropriate. Practitioners may deliver some naturopathic treatments in their offices.

Which Naturopathic Medicine Treatments Are Recommended for Allergies?

Examples of naturopathic treatments for allergies include counseling and education on lifestyle changes, mind-body therapies such as yoga and meditation, and dietary changes. Recommended dietary changes may include drinking plenty of water, and recommending some of the following foods:

  • Deep yellow and orange vegetables (high in beta-carotene, natural fighter of histamine)
  • Dark green, leafy vegetables (good source of vitamin A)
  • Cabbage (blood cleansing, can promote production of antioxidants)
  • Beet tops, beets (high in vitamins A and C, magnesium)
  • Onions (good source of vitamins A and C, help to drain mucous and loosen phlegm)
  • Garlic (powerful antioxidant)
  • Ginger (blood cleansing, helps digestive health)
  • Cayenne (high in vitamins A, C, B-Complex)
  • Horseradish (clears congested sinuses)

Any food may be an allergen, particularly if it contains pesticides and has been exposed to chemical sprays. These may affect several body systems, with the gastrointestinal, nervous, respiratory and skin areas most often affected.

Foods frequently eliminated from the diet include:

  • Alcohol (triggers migraines)
  • Caffeine (triggers migraines, promotes hay fever)
  • Dairy products (promote hay fever)
  • Bananas and citrus fruit (can trigger eczema)
  • Food colorings (can bring about childhood allergies)
  • Peanuts (promote hay fever, can trigger hives)
  • Red meat (can bring about childhood allergies)
  • Wheat (can promote gluten allergies if introduced too soon to the body; can trigger asthma, headaches, and hay fever)

Vitamins, minerals, and other dietary supplements may include:

  • Bioflavonoids (natural antihistamines and strongly anti-allergenic)
  • Probiotics (improves digestion, which can impact allergic response)
  • Vitamin A (high in betacarotene, which works to boost the immune system, helping to naturally fight off the histamine or allergy response to specific allergens)
  • Vitamin B-Complex (can help to reduce allergy symptoms by half)
  • Vitamin C (acts as a mild antihistamine)
  • Vitamin E (antioxidant that can help boost and increase the effect of the immune system.)
  • Magnesium (helps make breathing easier)

Various herbs to use may include Dong quai, eyebright, gingko, milk thistle, red clover, stinging nettles, and yarrow. Hydrotherapy in the form of castor oil packs, hot foot baths, and nasal lavage may be recommended. Other naturopathic remedies can include homeopathy, manual and body-based therapies such as manipulation and mobilization, and exercise therapy.

What are Allergies?

An allergy is an inflammatory immune response triggered by eating certain foods, touching certain substances, or inhaling an irritant such as pollen. When the body encounters a foreign substance, it can react by making antibodies or releasing certain chemicals called histamines. Food allergy symptoms can include rashes, hives, swelling, among others. Allergies to pollen, spores, mold, and dust (also called hay fever or allergic rhinitis) affect the respiratory system and are usually the most difficult to control. Symptoms of hay fever are sneezing, runny nose, stuffy nose, watery eyes, itchy eyes and nose, and headache. Hay fever is often seasonal (when pollen is in the air), but if constantly exposed to an offending substance, such as pet dander, symptoms can last year-round.

What is Naturopathy?

Naturopathy is a Latin-Greek hybrid word that can be defined as being close to or benefiting from nature. Naturopathy, or naturopathic medicine, has evolved over time in different cultures and parts of the world, though it was first developed in the late 1890’s in Europe. It differs from allopathic medicine in that the emphasis is on supporting health rather than combating disease, believing in the natural self-healing processes of the human body.

Traditional Naturopaths emphasize education in naturopathic approaches to a healthy lifestyle, strengthening and cleansing the body, and noninvasive treatments. Prescription drugs, x-rays, and surgery are several of the practices that traditional naturopaths do not use. Naturopathy can also include therapies from other traditions, such as homeopathy and massage. Some Naturopathic Medicine practitioners are licensed Naturopathic Doctors (NDs); these practitioners often integrate western diagnostic tests as part of their diagnostic tools allowing them to practice a form of integrative medicine.

Is Naturopathy Safe?

Naturopathy appears to be a generally safe health care approach, especially if used as complementary (rather than alternative) medicine. However healthcare professionals tend to agree that naturopathy is not a complete substitute for conventional medical care. Risk from naturopathic medicine, as with all systems of medicine, can be reduced by always following the direction of a trained practitioner. Some herbs can cause side effects or interact with prescription or over-the-counter medicines, so a patient should notify his or her naturopathic practitioner and allopathic physician of all treatments in which he or she is engaging.

Naturopathy offers additional support to a patient who has tried prescription drugs and is looking for complementary treatment.

Additional Resources
The Alternative Medicine Channel offers a page on Naturopathic Treatment of hay fever and allergies.

Evelyn Lim wrote an e-zine article on Vitamins And Supplements To Reduce Allergy Symptoms.

The National Center for Complimentary and Alternative Medicine offers additional information on Naturopathy.

Naturalways.com has a page on how to avoid food allergies.

Mitchell, S. (2001). A practical guide to Naturopathy. London: Vermilion.

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