Possible TMI alert: You know that sleepless feeling when you’re curled up on your sleeping side and one nostril is so stuffed you can’t breathe so you switch to the other side to give it a break then that one stuffs too? Tired of this cycle, I met with Jason Erdan, the head herbalist at Alchemist Kitchen in NYC, “a botanical dispensary dedicated to connecting you with the power of plants.” to find out the best supplements to fight fall allergies.
“The benefit of herbalism is that often one can find a plant based equivalent for many—even most—allopathic (or Western) remedies with fewer side effects,” says Erdan. When it comes to finding relief for allergies, Erdan explains that the first step is to know exactly what you’re up against. Seasonal allergies are the body’s immune responses to common allergens entering your system. This results in your body releasing T-cells (parts of the immune system that attack foreign particles) to clean up and remove the invader. This stimulates the inflammatory response and releases histamine, causing allergic symptoms. To find the internal balance to both relieve and prevent these symptoms, Erdan says one has to understand the symptoms, the system, and the individual. “Allergies aren’t coming to me for a consultation, the person that has them is,” says Erdan. “And they want a personalized plan based on everything from their current habits, exercise routine, supplement regimen, sleep schedule, and diet.”
While both over-the-counter and prescribed antihistamines are helpful to combating allergens, they can often come with side effects like drowsiness. Erdan’s main recommendation for the majority of individuals struggling with seasonal allergies is to consult with one’s physician first, and then incorporate adaptogens like ashwagandha, and mushrooms, like reishi, into one’s diet.
Why? Ashwagandha is an adaptogen that helps manage stress and inflammation in the body by controlling our cortisol (or stress hormone) and blood sugar levels. This means if the immune system is depressed, this anti-inflammatory, immune-boosting adaptogen enhances the immune response. If the immune system is overactive—like with allergies—it helps to regulate and promote homeostasis (the balance of bodily functions).
Reishi mushrooms (Ganoderma lucidum), known as “lingzhi” in Chinese, are also high in antioxidants and can act as nature’s natural antihistamine. They are stimulants that help regulate the Th1 levels, which are responsible for battling intracellular parasites within the body and inhibiting inflammatory compounds.
Erdan always recommends discussing any large changes with your physician, but he stresses that along with all of the more clinical remedies that we often turn to, the foods that you do and don’t eat are a huge contributing factor to combating inflammation of all kinds, especially seasonal allergies. After taking Erdan’s advice, my ever-present allergy attacks have become more and more sporadic and much less aggressive, and I couldn’t be more grateful. So the next time you feel those pesky—or in my case, debilitating—allergies coming along, make sure to talk to your doc, but also take a peek at your diet and try to squeeze some adaptogens and healthy mushrooms into your routine.