Autumn is one of the most glorious times of the year. The trees bursting with color, the crunch of falling leaves underfoot, the still-warm days and cooler nights. If, however, you’re saddled with seasonal allergies and all the respiratory misery that goes along with them, the arrival of fall may be anything but a cause for celebration.

While some sufferers may rush to the pharmacy to stock up on allergy meds that can make them feel lousy in other ways (drowsiness, brain fog, etc.), I always recommend first trying a drug-free, holistic approach, to ensure that the only side effects you’re likely to get are positive and healthy ones! Here are my favorite tips and techniques to help fight autumnal allergies so you can enjoy the season with a lot less wheezing and sneezing:

1) Mind your microbiome.

A well-fed, balanced microbiome – those billions of bacteria that mostly live in your gut – is the cornerstone of your immunity. When all is in balance and defenses are high, your body is better able to blunt the effects of seasonal allergies. But if your microbiome has been knocked out of whack by classic health underminers – like antibiotics, poor diet, and lack of sleep – defenses come down, leaving you with an increased susceptibility to irritants and allergens. How to fight back? I recommend filling up on fiber, cutting sugar to the bone and taking a daily, high-quality, broad-spectrum probiotic to help re-balance your gut bacteria and keep your microbiome fortified for the season ahead. Pick a probiotic with a variety of lactobacilli and bifido-bacteria strains, and begin with a daily dose of roughly 20 to 100 billion CFU (colony forming units) to stay on an even keel.

2) Banish allergens from your plate.

Though you may be more concerned with the allergens being blown into your nostrils by autumnal breezes, you should pay closer attention to the allergens on your plate. A poor diet of irritating and allergenic foods will make any allergy situation worse, so now, before the season gets fully underway, is the perfect time to clean up your dietary act. Among the essential adjustments for dining defensively during allergy season:

  • Dump sugar and processed or genetically-modified foods, and cut way back on gluten, wheat and dairy, all of which undermine gut health and can exacerbate allergies.
  • Minimize alcohol use, particularly wine and beer which contain the histamines (and sulfites) that set off those unpleasant allergic responses.
  • Give chocolate a rest too, as it can also trigger histamine release.
  • Take a time-out from teas containing chamomile, echinacea, goldenseal, dandelion and hibiscus, which, for some people, can worsen allergy symptoms – and switch to stinging nettle, rooibos, or green tea which can help relieve allergy symptoms.

3) Pile on a rainbow of allergy-taming plants.

Just as the wrong foods can increase allergy-driven inflammation, the right ones can help it, by strengthening your immunity and slowing the release of the histamines that make eyes water and noses run. Which ones are the right ones? Not surprisingly, it’s all about plants, so hit the farmer’s market and let the right stuff – plants that are rich in vitamin A, C and quercetin – take the edge off inflammation and allergy symptoms. Among the allergy sufferers’ most potent nutritional allies:

  • Greens – think broccoli, collard greens, kale, celery, parsley, dill, cilantro, green peppers and Brussels sprouts
  • Orange – like turmeric, carrots and pumpkin
  • White – like garlic, onions, horseradish
  • Red & Purple – apples, raspberries, blackberries, blueberries, purple onions, red peppers
  • Browns – think flaxseed or flaxseed oil, walnuts and chia seeds

Another plant-based, allergy-taming superstar? Just about any fermented veggie you can think of. A small side of fermented veggies on your plate will gift your microbiome with a supportive dose of the helpful bacteria it thrives on, so don’t skimp on the kimchi and sauerkraut!

In addition to eating your veggies, try drinking greens to help fill in any nutritional gaps. A daily, supplemental glass or two of powdered greens dissolved into a glass of spring water will help keep immunity strong and provide extra head-clearing effects with the help of the natural antihistamine quercetin.

4) Put yourself on a DIY anti-allergy plan.

In addition to paying attention to your diet and the care and proper feeding of your microbiome, consider trying any number of the following allergy-taming habits that should help make this season a more comfortable one:

Wash your nose daily: Rinse allergens out of your nasal passages with the help of a neti pot, or saline solution spray one or two times a day. In my practice I often use Xlear, natural saline spray containing xylitol, with good results.

Hit the steamroom weekly: One or two weekly sessions spent relaxing in the sauna – be it steam or infrared – helps relieve sinus congestion and support immunity.

Meditate more: High levels of stress boosts histamine (and cortisol) levels, which can exacerbate allergic response, so chill out frequently to keep levels low.

Have a good soak: The simplest stress reducer that can help tame allergic response.

Make an acupuncture appointment: Get drug-free allergy relief treatment with this ancient practice whose efficacy compares favorably to several traditional drug-based therapies.

Step into a ‘salt room’: A short session in a salt room can help relieve autumnal respiratory symptoms.

Try natural allergy relievers: Freeze-dried stinging nettle and quercetin capsules have anti-inflammatory effects and tamp down the body’s reactivity to seasonal as well as some food allergens. Look for products like Natural D-Hist, from OrthoMolecular, that contain quercetin, stinging nettles and bromelain, which tame allergy symptoms without pharmaceutical side-effects.

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