How Do Licensed Naturopathic Doctors Address Seasonal Allergies?

Seasonal allergies can impact everything from energy level to sinus congestion and for many patients, allergy season is a dreaded annual ritual. Licensed naturopathic doctors address seasonal allergies by treating the underlying causes of allergic reaction and by supporting the body’s inherent healing capacity. Main approaches used include therapeutic nutrition, botanical medicine, and lifestyle modification. In many areas spring seasonal allergies can begin in February and last until the early summer.

Definition of an allergy

An allergy occurs when the immune system reacts to an allergen as if it were a dangerous bacteria or virus. An “allergen” is typically defined as a “usually harmless substance capable of triggering a response that starts in the immune system and results in an allergic reaction.”

During an allergic response, the body immediately begins producing “immunoglobulin E” antibodies, or IgE. These specific antibodies release chemicals like histamine that are designed to protect the body from allergens like pollen, mold, and dust. This histamine production is what ultimately leads to the annoying symptoms that plague us during pollen season: itchy eyes, runny nose, coughing, and more.

An allergy occurs when the immune system reacts to an allergen as if it were a dangerous bacteria or virus.

Seasonal allergies are typically plant-based. In the United States, spring allergies are usually associated with tree pollen, which can be combined with mold in a rainy season. Tropical climates often have grass pollen that can cause symptoms, while fall allergies have a strong association with ragweed blooms.

Three-quarters of people who are allergic to pollen are also allergic to ragweed, a plant that grows in the United States, especially in Eastern and Midwestern regions. Symptoms of a ragweed allergy are similar to pollen allergies with sneezing, stuffy or runny nose, itchy eyes, trouble sleeping.

What is oral allergy syndrome?

Those with allergies to ragweed may also be sensitive to some foods like cantaloupe, bananas, chamomile tea, sunflower seeds, zucchini, and cucumbers can also cause symptoms in a phenomenon called oral allergy syndrome. There is a similar connection between birch allergies and stone fruit like apricots, cherries, peaches, plums – anything with a hard seed or pit. These symptoms can also be affected by seasonal pollen in the air and plants.

What are some ways that naturopathic medicine can help during allergy season?

A naturopathic doctor will ask you in-depth questions about your diet and digestive system. Understanding the role of the microbiome in helping balance immune function is essential. The research underscores the idea that a basic probiotic supplement along with the addition of fermented and cultured food helps create a more robust and diverse microbiome, which in turn helps to calm immune system response and reduce allergy symptoms. Supporting gut function is vital and increasing beneficial bacteria is key.

Several herbs act as natural antihistamines and can help reduce allergy symptoms without attendant side effects often associated with OTC and prescription medication. A few of the most studied herbs recommended by naturopathic doctors include:

There are a number of nutritional supplements that offer springtime allergy relief.

  • Quercetin, found in onions, shallots, and citrus fruits, is a natural antioxidant with several anti-allergy properties including inhibition of histamine release and decrease of pro-inflammatory messengers. 
  • NAC (N-acetyl cysteine) is an antioxidant that supports the breaking up of mucus, making it an effective tool to help clear congestion. These both work well with antihistamine agents.

Acupuncture has also been shown to be an effective tool for helping those with seasonal allergies. A neti pot or other nasal sprays are good options to flush the nasal passage, where dirt and pollen are easily trapped. Flushing the nasal passages can reduce symptoms (i.e. coughing, sneezing, watery eyes), though it is important not to flush in excess, as this can wash away the healthy flora in the nasal cavity. With a neti pot, make sure you always use distilled water, not tap water.

Natural allergy remedies can take time to reach full efficacy. Some patients experience success taking over-the-counter medication for a short time while natural approaches take full effect.

Should allergy season be a reason to avoid outdoor activity?

Naturopathic doctors will want you to continue to enjoy the outdoors. Limit your pollen exposure by first checking the weather. There will be local information provided on pollen levels; if the pollen count is particularly high on a certain day or time, save that long walk for later. A pollen count is usually higher at noon and afternoon. Pollution can also affect outdoor activity, as chemical pollutants can interact with pollen grains.  

When exercising outdoors, consider wearing a mask so you don’t breathe in excess pollen.

Upon returning indoors, take a shower and wash all outdoor clothes to reduce continued exposure. Pollen sticks to clothes and hair, even when not visible.

Long-term use of OTC medication may cause complications

Americans spend billions of dollars every year on over-the-counter (OTC) medications including common products for allergy relief. For those who are elderly or have chronic health conditions, OTC medication may cause serious reactions or issues with other medication taken.

In a 2015 article published in JAMA Internal Medicine, researchers describe a link between dementia and long-term use of anticholinergic drugs including antihistamines like Diphenhydramine and Loratadine. In this large study, researchers saw participants who used anticholinergic drugs were more likely to develop dementia, and dementia risk increased with the cumulative dose.

As part of pharmacology training in naturopathic medical school, naturopathic doctors learn primary therapeutic uses, mechanisms of action, potential adverse effects, and drug interactions, including over-the-counter allergy medication. There are numerous effective agents to help prevent and treat seasonal allergies. A licensed naturopathic doctor can help you create a whole-person individualized plan to help reduce both reliance on both over-the-counter and prescription medication as well as the troubling symptoms of seasonal allergy.

The AANP and the INM would like to acknowledge Chrysanthi Kazantzis, ND, MS (Dr. Kaz), for her contributions to the content of this FAQ.

INM's team is made up of naturopathic doctors and health journalists.

Founded in 1985, the American Association of Naturopathic Physicians (AANP) is the national professional society representing licensed or licensable naturopathic physicians who are graduates of four-year, residential graduates programs.

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Deb Hubers

Debra Hubers is a serial entrepreneur and has started seven businesses; ranging from an advanced genomics to an employer health care purchasing cooperative. Deb has over 35 years of experience in healthcare finance, education, technology, and pharmacogenomics.

Ms. Hubers has dedicated her career to measuring and improving healthcare outcomes. Her expertise is leveraging technology to deliver personalized, preventative medicine. Ms. Hubers co-founded La Vita Compounding Pharmacy in 2007. Collaborating with her business partner, physicians and strategic partners, Deb has grown La Vita to be one of the most respected and sought-after personalized medicine providers on the west coast. She is also Co-Founder of EpigeneticsRx, a leading provider of precise, personalized, prevention which positively impacts genetic expression.

Alex Keller, ND

Dr. Alex Keller, ND, AFMCP is a graduate of the University of Ottawa with an Honours Bachelor in Health Sciences and Psychology. Although originally intending to attend conventional medical school, following a three-month volunteer internship at a rural Kenyan hospital where he observed how doctors used local food to treat patients, he shifted his career goals and pursued a degree in naturopathic medicine at the Canadian College of Naturopathic Medicine in Toronto.

After one year of practicing with the esteemed Dr. Chris Pickrell, ND, RH in a community acupuncture setting, in 2015 he and his wife Dr. Jenn Keller, ND moved to rural Ottawa, Canada where they started an organic farm and retreat center. In the same year, Alex and his athletic therapist sister Jess Keller combined their practices to form Keller Active Health, an integrative physical therapy clinic.

Ever curious and passionate about the education of evidence-based natural medicine, in 2017, Dr. Keller joined a fledgling Ottawa-based health tech startup named Fullscript. He serves as its Medical Director and oversees the development of medical education content for practitioners across North America.

Prior to medicine, Alex worked in the renewable energy sector, where he developed a deep passion for sustainable agriculture and environmental stewardship. This connection between medicine and agriculture now drives Alex to focus much of his energy on bringing awareness to the quality and sourcing standards in the supplement and organic agriculture supply chains.

Today, he splits his professional time practicing as a clinician, working for Fullscript, and expanding the farming operation while chasing his kids with Jenn and occasionally running ultra-marathon trail races. He is also currently completing an Executive MBA through the Quantic School of Business & Technology with a focus on supply chain innovation.

Pamela Snider, ND

Pamela Snider, ND, is Executive and Senior Editor for the Foundations of Naturopathic Medicine Project, producing a first of its kind international textbook of Naturopathic medicine through a series of international retreats and symposia. A nationally recognized integrative health and policy leader, she is active in both national and regional integrative health initiatives. Dr. Snider serves on the Board of Directors, was founding Executive Director and co-founder of the Academic Consortium for Integrative Health (ACIH/ACCAHCa consortium of the councils of schools, accrediting agencies and certifying bodies of the licensed, traditional and emerging integrative health professions, and is currently Vice Chair and co-founder of the Integrative Health Policy Consortium (IHPC).  Dr. Snider served as a founding Board Member of the Academy of Integrative Health & Medicine from 2014-2016. Her public policy work includes completing a two year appointment to the DHHS Center For Medicaid and Medicare Services (CMS) Medicare Coverage Advisory Committee (MCAC); serving as a Steering Committee Member for  the HRSA funded American College of Preventive Medicine NCCIM Integrative Medicine in Preventive Medicine Residency program, co-directing in USPHS Region X the Building Bridges Between Provider Communities Group, an exploration of interdisciplinary collaboration and common ground between public health and CAM; serving for 22 years on Washington State’s Health Professional Loan Repayment and Scholarship Program Advisory Committee (HPLRSP); providing technical assistance to and developing key language for the enabling legislation for NIH Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCIH/NCCAM); and staffing Joseph Pizzorno ND during his appointment as Commissioner on the White House Commission on CAM Policy.

From 1994-2003, Dr. Snider served as Associate Dean for Public and Professional Affairs and Naturopathic Medicine at Bastyr University, dividing her work between academic and public affairs activities, including chairing the Naturopathic Medicine Program Curriculum Review Committee.  Dr. Snider has been teaching, publishing and lecturing widely on Naturopathic philosophy, theory integrative health, public policy, and other topics for over 30 years. Currently, an Associate Professor at National University of Natural Medicine (NUNM) in Portland, OR, Dr. Snider also continues at Bastyr University in her 22nd year as a faculty member teaching naturopathic medicine history, clinical theory, and global context. Among her Naturopathic medicine professional roles she serves on the Institute for Natural Medicine’s Leadership Council.  In 1989, she co-led the naturopathic profession with Dr. Jared Zeff, in developing a unifying definition of naturopathic medicine and its principles of practice adopted unanimously by the American Association of Naturopathic Physicians (AANP) House of Delegates. She was a co-investigator in the 2004 NIH NCCAM research study, the North American Naturopathic Medical Research Agenda and CAM Advisor in NIHCCAM’s Financing Integrative Health Care (University of Washington).  Her areas of experience include healthcare education; naturopathic and interdisciplinary clinical theory, curriculum development; clinical practice; government and legislative affairs, public policy, interdisciplinary collaboration, and community organizing.  Dr. Snider has received the Ontario Naturopathic Physician of the Year Award, the Physician of the Year Award from the AANP, the President’s Outstanding Vision Award and Distinguished Alumnus Award at Bastyr University, AANP’s President’s Award, an honorary Doctorate of Naturopathic Philosophy from the Canadian College of Naturopathic Medicine (CCNM), the William A Mitchell Vis Award from the AANP and The Gathering – NMSA’s Beacon Award. She received her ND degree in 1982 from Bastyr University of Natural Health Sciences and is a licensed naturopathic physician in the State of Washington. She lives with her husband and children at their homestead in North Bend Washington, in the beautiful mountain to sea landscape and home of The Revival – Restore the Vis, an annual student-led community gathering.

Susan Haeger

Susan Haeger is Founder/Principal of Transformative Health Solutions Inc. She has applied her twenty plus years in executive leadership to help shape and drive adoption of progressive health policy for whole person healthcare. She was a section contributor to the 2021 INM/AANP published professional white paper, Naturopathic Physicians as Whole Health Specialists: The Future is Whole Person Health Care that provides supporting evidence for the profession’s significant and unique contributions to preventive, whole person care and models of integrative clinical practice.

Bruce Barlean

Bruce Barlean is an owner and founder of Barlean’s, a global dietary supplement manufacturer located in the Pacific Northwest in Ferndale, WA. Bruce has been actively involved in the Natural Products industry since 1989 and is passionate about making a difference in the world and positively impacting the lives of others.

Bruce believes that people can make a difference in the world through ordinary purchases. He is committed to improving the quality of life for every person on the planet by making the best products and by using the profits to support outreach programs. Bruce summarizes it simply, “We make good stuff to do good stuff”.

In the late 1980’s Bruce became passionate about how health could be dramatically improved with Flax Oil Supplementation. Bruce along with his entrepreneurial parents saw the potential to improve the lives of many people and in 1989 they began selling Flax Oil under the Barlean’s name. From 1989 – 2000 the business grew an average of 40% year over year. While most companies saw a decline in business in the 2001 recession, Barlean’s continued to grow and soon became America’s #1 selling flaxseed oil and continues to be to the present. The brand has since expanded to include additional oils, green food concentrates and other premium supplements. Bruce continues to drive innovation and over the years his products and company have won countless awards including: Eight consecutive Vity Awards for #1 EFA, Six consecutive Vity Awards for #1 Greens Food Supplement, Natural Choice Award for Best Specialty Supplement, Best Product of the Year, Best New Product, Gold Medal Taster’s Choice Award, Gold Medal American Masters of Taste Award, #1 Health Food Store Brand for Consumer Satisfaction by Consumer Lab, and Manufacturer of the Year.

In 2013 as the company was on the eve of celebrating the 25th year in business Bruce and his parents decided to take their desire to help people to a new level that they call Pathway to a Better Life – which is now seen in the Barlean’s logo. Bruce and his parents had always been generous in their giving and support of charities, but as part of the Pathway to a Better Life they decided to increased partnership with charitable organizations such as: Vitamin Angels, Compassion International, KidsTown International, Autism Hope Alliance, Engedi Refuge, Project 92, and others. And because so many people are unable to meet basic nutritional needs, Bruce created a comprehensive Omega-3 and multivitamin formula that he distributes free-of-charge to local food banks. In addition, Bruce decided the company would supply food banks with organic coconut oil to provide people with a health alternative to standard cooking oils.

Always generous with his time Bruce has served as a youth leader for his local church for several years and continues to mentor youth. He has been on several not for profit boards including; Whatcom County Pregnancy Center (2003-2006), Natural Products Association (dates?), and the Institute for Natural Medicine Leadership Council (presently).

The Barlean family have been avid supporters of Bastyr University since the 1990’s and in 2013 were given Bastyr’s most prestigious honor, the Mission Award, which recognizes their leadership over time in improving the health and well-being of the human community.

Bruce currently resides in Ferndale, WA with his wife Lisa and their two dogs: Heinz & Shadow. When he’s not helping others he can be found fishing (catch & release).

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Michelle Simon, PHD, ND

President & CEO

As president and CEO of INM, Dr. Simon brings her passion for working with organizations dedicated to improving the quality and delivery of healthcare. This desire stems from her years of practice as a licensed naturopathic physician. In addition to holding a Naturopathic Doctorate from Bastyr University she also holds a PhD in Biomedical Engineering from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

She has served on boards for the American Association of Naturopathic Physicians (AANP), the Naturopathic Physicians Research Institute (NPRI), and several advisory boards. Dr. Simon served nine years on the Washington State Health Technology Clinical Committee, as Ambassador to the Academy of Integrative Health and Medicine (AIHM) and was recognized as 2018 AANP Physician of the Year. Dr. Simon shares with her husband a passion for adventure travel, preferably by boat or motorcycle. She also enjoys teaching a women’s off-road motorcycling class.