Get access to everything we publish when you sign up for Outside+.
With the changing of the seasons comes the ever evolving shift in foliage bloom, and with it comes pesky pollination. While this flowering mating ritual is an enjoyable spectacle for some, it seeks vengeance on others—provoking puffy eyes, an itchy throat, and a nose that cries a river of long-lost broken dreams of living a life free from the struggles of—ALLERGIES!
Not only are these symptoms frustrating and uncomfortable, but they can totally impact your day AND your climbing experience. Luckily for you, there are some wonderful herbs and nutrients that can support the body’s immune system during these brutal attacks. So, whether you are brambling through ragweed or four-winged saltbush on the way to your favorite fall crag, armour-up and fight back with these easy tips!
Allergies. What the heck are they?
So basically, allergy is a broad topic that can be described as a hypersensitivity—or an exaggerated immune response—to something that is typically considered as harmless, like peanuts, eggs, bees, and pollen. During an immune reaction, mast cells release a chemical called histamine, which contributes to all of the not-so-lovely symptoms associated with allergies: sneezing, wheezing, runny eyes and nose, fatigue, head pressure, and more.
Other than trying to avoid the allergen altogether (which for many plants and grasses is near impossible, especially for outdoor athletes!), certain histamine-blocking medications are commonly used. However, these are not exactly long-term solutions, as many of these medications come with a slough of spooky side-effects.
So, what can we do? There are some incredible herbs and nutrients that support healthy histamine levels in the body, and can help you beat those gosh-darn finicky allergies, especially while you are out chasing those beautiful fall colors!
A classic neti-pot rinse and cold towel over the eyes can often be the temporary “fix” of choice. Acupuncture—a traditional Chinese practice where thin needles are placed into the skin to stimulate certain parts of the body—has also been shown to support healthy immune reactions in response to a present allergen.
A study published in 2016 showed that people with allergic rhinitis (also known as hay fever) who were administered acupuncture twice a week for eight consecutive weeks had fewer symptoms than those who were given a placebo.
Yoga, aromatherapy, and homeopathy have also been shown to make people with allergies feel better and reduce symptoms involved with seasonal allergies.
Nutrition and dietary supplements
Luckily, there are several nutrients and herbs that can support the immune system and healthy histamine production, which can provide aid to an allergy-sufferer.
(Quick disclaimer: certain herbs and nutrients can interact with some pharmaceutical medications. If you are currently taking any prescription medications, please double check with your primary care physician before incorporating any of these recommendations.)
Quercetin is a flavonoid compound that is well known for its “antioxidant-like” properties, in that it supports free-radical scavenging. It is also a key player in promoting allergy-specific immune health, because of its unique ability to inhibit histamine release and restrain IgE antibody formation (IgE antibodies are crucial in the development of allergies).
In the instance of seasonal allergies, quercetin blocks histamine release from basophils and mast cells. Remember, histamine is the mischievous immune “player” that causes those unruly itchy eye and runny nose symptoms. Quercetin also acts in the body to support healthy levels of inflammation. This is why quercetin has been considered as a suitable incorporation for individuals struggling with allergies, such as sinusitis, asthma, and allergic rhinitis.
Quercetin can be found in a variety of foods, but is highly concentrated in onions, garlic, shallots, and other members of the allium family (…think, vampires!). Quercetin can also be found in broccoli, grapes, apples, berries, tea, and wine–all of which can make excellent snacks while you are out craggin’ and soaking up all the crispness that fall has to offer!
Bromelain is a protein-digesting enzyme that is found in the fruit and stem of pineapples. This unique enzyme plays an important role in modulating swelling and inflammation related to injury, surgery, and allergic reactions. A recent study also shows bromelain to decrease allergic sensitization and allergic airway diseases—such as asthma.
The enzymatic bromelain composition between pineapple fruit and stem does differ slightly. Typically, “bromelain” refers to the enzymes found in the stem. So while munching on some delicious, mouth-watering pineapple chunks while you are out and about is a great thing to incorporate and can promote dietary intake of bromelain, supplementation with bromelain is recommended for more therapeutic effects.
When in doubt, think pineapple snacks while you’re out.
**Important note: if you have a pineapple allergy or sensitivity, supplementing with bromelain should be avoided, unless otherwise directed by your healthcare practitioner**
Nettle is a plant that has been used medicinally for years. It is used therapeutically as a diuretic to manage water weight, joint pain, arthritis, prostate health, and allergic rhinitis.
In one randomized double-blind study with the application of freeze-dried nettle used in the treatment of allergic rhinitis, 57% of the patients stated that the nettle was effective in relieving their allergy symptoms, and 48% rated nettles as being more effective than allergy medications they have used in the past.
Researchers speculate that nettle has the ability to reduce histamine release in the body in response to an allergic reaction. More studies need to be done to confirm this.
Butterbur is a type of marsh plant that has received its fame for the use in treating headaches, especially migraines. Research is also suggesting its use in reducing allergy symptoms. One human study showed that after five days of receiving butterbur supplementation, cellular release of histamines and other allergy producing components were reduced.
During an allergic reaction when your body comes in contact with an allergen, leukotriene is produced. Leukotriene is one component that is often responsible for the cascade effect involved in allergies. Leukotriene inhibitors block leukotriene, which for some can prevent or reduce an allergic reaction. Research shows that Butterbur acts as a leukotriene inhibitor.
One randomized double-blind study shows that butterbur is as effective in treatment for allergic rhinits—hay fever—as the commonly prescribed antihistamine, Zyrtec (cetirizine).
Butterbur can be found in some teas, but it is recommended to take supplementally for more therapeutic applications.
Don’t let those seasonal allergens bog you down!
With the addition of a few specific snacks, foods, and herbal supplementation, those of you who struggle with seasonal allergies while romping around the crag—as many of us adventurers do—you can combat those “little rascal” pollen molecules and feel better, fast!
On your next adventure, stock up on broccoli and hummus, berries, dried pineapple chunks, nettle & butterbur tea, and maybe some red wine to cap off an incredible day outside!
For more information and individualized nutritional guidance, contact email@example.com with any questions or inquiries.
This article is free. Sign up with a Climbing membership, now just $2 a month for a limited time, and you get unlimited access to thousands of stories and articles by world-class authors on climbing.com plus a print subscription to Climbing and our annual coffee-table edition of Ascent. Please join the Climbing team today.