Spring has sprung! The glorious sunshine, crisp air, and blue skies give you every reason to get outside to enjoy the weather. However, for allergy sufferers, spring triggers a different kind of reaction. As winter says its final goodbye, the tree pollens, dust and mold say hello and bring with them a host of pesky symptoms that we call seasonal allergies or allergic rhinitis. Antihistamines are the mainstay for allergy treatment. However, for many, these over-the-counter and prescription medicines can leave you feeling even more blah. Vitamin C, however, is a natural substance that can offer immune supporting benefits without the ill effects when it is taken in therapeutic doses.
What are Seasonal Allergies?
Seasonal allergies occur when there is an overreaction of the immune system to a foreign substance called an allergen. This immune response involves the release of histamine into your bloodstream which prompts the onslaught of allergy symptoms. The classic symptoms of seasonal allergies include sneezing, itchy eyes, asthma, nasal congestion, and a runny nose (rhinorrhea). Common allergens include plant and tree pollens, molds, dust mites, and animal dander such as dog and cat. Seasonal allergies occur during specific times of the year and depending on where you reside in the country, it can begin as early as February when plants begin to pollinate and extend into November.
Vitamin C: The Natural Antihistamine
Antihistamine therapy does not work for everyone; it can leave you feeling overall, very dry. Side effects include sleepiness, difficulty with urination, drowsiness, and irritability. Vitamin C is a welcomed alternative. As a vitamin, it is essential that you obtain vitamin C from your food and supplements as your body does not make vitamin C on its own. A potent antioxidant, vitamin C protects your cells from damage, reduces the severity of allergic reactions and helps your body to fight infections. When taken during allergy season, vitamin C can slow down the overreaction of your body to environmental triggers by decreasing your body’s histamine production. Vitamin C is a natural antihistamine.
How Much Vitamin C is Required?
During the winter comfort foods are a popular go-to and due to the lack of fresh produce available during the winter season, it is common to shy away from fresh fruit and vegetables. Therefore, my first recommendation is to increase the vitamin C –rich foods in your diet. This includes: red peppers, broccoli, red cabbage, guava, papaya, kiwifruit and orange. Dust off your blender and start making your smoothies again; it is certainly one way to usher in spring. However, supplementation over and above what you take in from your diet is also recommended. Depending on the severity of your allergies, a dose between 500 to 5000 mg divided during the day, may be required. One study demonstrated that a dose of 500mg could inhibit the constriction in airways caused by histamine and for the participants in this study this effect lasted for 6 hours.
The Best Form of Vitamin C for Optimal Results
I often recommend that patients take vitamin C well before allergy season begins. This will help to prepare your body for the onslaught of symptoms before allergy season arrives. You may already be taking vitamin C on a regular basis to ward off the flu or to speed the healing of an upper respiratory infection. Just remember to choose a powdered or encapsulated supplement for quicker absorption and hopefully one that is free from chemical additives. Avoid hard tablets which can irritate your stomach lining and take longer for your body to digest.
Olivia Rose, Naturopathic Doctor
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