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Are Natural Antihistamines the Best Treatments for Allergies?

Did you know that natural antihistamines can work as well as over-the-counter antihistamines if you struggle with seasonal allergies? 

The bonus is that they often have much fewer side effects than your typical allergy medications on the market today.

Natural antihistamine remedies can go a long way to helping you manage your allergic symptoms. It’s a win-win because these healthy plants and natural supplements can enhance other aspects of your health too. 

In this post, you will learn what natural histamines do so that you can be informed about how various products work. 

This post contains affiliate links.  Visit the disclosure page for more information. 

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Natural antihistamines-the basics

It is important to know that you have options for helping treat allergy symptoms naturally. 

Natural antihistamines can even be combined for additive and synergistic benefits. 

Another perk of natural alternatives for allergies is that they may actually work better for your symptoms than conventional antihistamines, so they are definitely worth a try.

Just remember, it can take longer for them to kick in than standard antihistamine drugs, so you may have to be patient.

As part of healing from allergies, you also need to have a high-quality diet because the root cause of allergies is often a leaky gut. 

Make sure that you get enough nutrition and heal the gut using a functional nutrition approach. 

In addition to a healthy diet, there are many natural antihistamines that you can try.  In the next section, I will describe these for you and explain the research behind each of them. 

However, if you are having severe allergic reactions, make sure to seek the advice of your doctor before making any changes.

Related: 7 Best L-Glutamine Powders

Butterbur

Butterbur, also known as Petasites hybridus, is a shrub that is used in traditional medicine. The many uses for butterbur include easing migraines, wounds, cough, allergies, stomach ailments, headaches, infections, and is even used to fight the plague.

So far, there are rigorous clinical trials that compare the use of butterbur to over-the-counter antihistamine drugs.  

Here are the research results:

  1. Butterbur supplements were as effective as fexofenadine (Allegra) in reducing allergy symptoms in a large clinical study of 330 people with allergies
  2. As effective as cetirizine (aka Zyrtec) with much fewer side effects in 131 people with allergic rhinitis
  3. Effective for allergies, as good as cetirizine, and had much fewer side effects in 121 people
  4. Reduced hay fever as much as cetirizine without the side effects in 125 people

Butterbur also helps to reduce spasms and inflammation, even in conditions like asthma. The benefits of butterbur are additive to medication effects in this case.

Stinging nettle

Stinging nettle may sound scary, but it’s actually a very nutritious and healthy herbal antihistamine. When it is dried or steeped, the stinging is completely deactivated.  In some cultures, nettles is even eaten as a vegetable.

Nettles work in 3 ways to help reduce the allergic response in the body:

  • Reduces inflammation
  • Blocks H1 production
  • Stabilizes mast cells that release histamine.

Fascinatingly, supplements of 600 mg nettles per day reduce allergy symptoms better than standard antihistamines according to a randomized, double-blinded clinical trial of 90 patients.

No known side effects of taking supplements of nettles have been seen in research. In fact, nettles supplements may also reduce symptoms of:

By reducing the release of histamine, you may love how you feel taking stinging nettles. As with anything, check with your doctor before drinking nettles tea or taking nettles supplements. Nettles have a high safety profile for use as a natural antihistamine remedy.

Bonus: no drowsiness or weird side effects. 

Related: Should You Try Colostrum For Allergies? (thehealthyrd.com)

Quercetin

Quercetin is an antioxidant that is found in foods like onions, apples, grapes, and broccoli. It also happens to be one of the best natural antihistamines. 

By improving immune balance (TH1/TH2 ratio) and reducing antigen-specific antibody IgE formation, quercetin helps prevent our body from overreacting to allergens in the air.

Quercetin also stabilizes mast cells, which release histamine, by reducing their release of inflammatory compounds.

This results in less:

  • Rashes
  • Contact dermatitis
  • Sun sensitivity
  • Allergy symptoms

Quercetin has more anti-inflammatory properties too.  It reduces inflammation compounds in the body, including lipoxygenase, IL-8, IL-6, eosinophils, and peroxidase.

Fascinatingly, quercetin helps with asthma symptoms as well as nasal symptoms of allergies.

It also may reduce gene expression of the H1 type of histamine according to early research. 

Many natural allergy supplements include quercetin, which is great because it does not cause drowsiness like typical antihistamines.

Studies have used doses of 500 mg of quercetin twice daily.  Supplements of quercetin are safe, but make sure you check with your doctor before taking quercetin because it could interact with other medications.

Histamine blockers

A cause of allergy symptoms can be histamine intolerance, which is thought to be due to some people’s inability to break down histamine in the gut.  

This is because they lack a crucial enzyme called diamine oxidase (DAO).  Histamine foods should be limited for people with histamine intolerance. Histamine is found in foods such as asparagus, avocado, and swiss chard. 

Typically, people like this respond to a low histamine diet and get symptom relief DAO enzymes, which help to break down histamine in the gut. 

The challenge is that these natural enzymes must be taken with histamine foods to help with symptoms.

Probiotics

Probiotics are getting a lot of research attention for whole body health, so it is no surprise that probiotics may help reduce allergy symptoms as well. 

For example, probiotic use in pregnant women may reduce the chances of eczema in infants based on a review of current research. Eczema is an allergic type of skin response. Learn more about eczema here.

The use of probiotics also improves digestive tolerance of antibiotics, so may prove to be beneficial for allergies in the future.

Research is preliminary for the treatment of allergies with probiotics at this time. In my experience, fermented foods can help a lot because they are rich in probiotics.

Bovine Colostrum

Infants that are breastfed tend to have less allergies throughout their life. Experts speculate that the reason is that these babies get colostrum, which has antibodies and immunoglobulins that help balance out the immune system [R].

Bovine colostrum is a supplement that many people find beneficial for their allergy symptoms, myself included. In fact, if there is one supplement I won’t live without now for my allergies, it’s colostrum. This is saying something because I’ve had allergies my whole life.

Many people also find that bovine colostrum supplements work to help treat their dog’s allergies when all other allergy treatments fail.

Peppermint

Peppermint extract reduces the release of histamine from mast cells, so it can relieve symptoms of allergies too.

In addition, Peppermint essential oil works better than placebo to reduce itching symptoms in pregnant women in a double-blinded study.

The effects of peppermint aren’t fully understood, but it is thought that by cooling the skin, menthol reduces the itching caused by histamine.

Peppermint reduces smooth muscle contractile response to histamine in the digestive tract as well. The muscle contraction is part of why people feel discomfort with allergies.

Because peppermint has many components, it has many actions at play.  Here are a few.

Menthol activates TRPM8: a voltage-gated ion-channel protein: this allows entry of calcium ions on sensing the change in temperature.

Whenever there is a drop in temperature, the voltage on TRPM8 changes so that it allows calcium ions to flow into the nerve cell. This triggers the current to flow from the membrane of the nerve cell and you then sense coolness.

By bringing down the perceived temperature, peppermint helps to bring down inflammation.

Peppermint oil can provide immediate symptom relief for allergy symptoms when used topically and when using Certified Pure Therapeutic Grade orally.  Dosing information can be found on my peppermint blog.

Caveat: some people are allergic to peppermint, so be aware of possible sensitivities. 

Vitamin C

Vitamin C reduces histamine release from cells, so this is how it can help ease your allergy symptoms. 

A small  clinical trial found that giving a high dose of intravenous vitamin C resulted in allergy symptom relief. The authors noted that vitamin C was able to reduce excessive inflammation without reducing immune function.

By helping to bust stress, Vitamin C, may also indirectly reduce the feelings of allergies in the body. 

Many people combine vitamin C with nettles to have a more potent allergy-relieving effect.

Bromelain

Bromelain is an enzyme that is primarily found in pineapple.  It is an appealing option because it is very safe and may reduce excessive clotting, improve sinusitis, and help bronchitis symptoms as well as improve the absorption of food and medications.

The actions of bromelain are numerous and include reducing inflammation in the body.

Bromelain reduces allergic airway disease in an animal model. 

Research as a natural antihistamine for bromelain is considered preliminary, but since it is beneficial for health in other ways, it could benefit you.

Natural antihistamines infographic by The Healthy RD

Vitamin D

Vitamin D plays a role in regulating the development and function of mast cells where histamine is produced. Because vitamin D deficiency results in mast cell activation, lack of vitamin D can cause an increased histamine release in the body.

As an anti-inflammatory nutrient, Vitamin D may reduce allergy symptoms.  For example, vitamin D is able to reduce IgE activation of mast cells, which triggers the release of histamine.

Itching is often a symptom of allergic diseases and patients with long-term itching, or chronic spontaneous urticaria, have very high rates of vitamin D deficiency as well.

Research shows that supplements of vitamin D may reduce itching, which is impressive.  For example, vitamin D supplementation reduced itching symptoms when people were given high-dose vitamin D2 daily for 6 weeks. 

Vitamin D also improved the quality of life in these patients with chronic itching symptoms.

The vitamin D was given as an add-on to usual itching therapies and had additive benefits to these therapies.

Honey

Using honey for allergies could be a benefit as a natural antihistamine, especially if it is from your own region.  A study of honey users of birch pollen honey had fewer allergy symptoms and used fewer allergy medicines than those who did not in a clinical study.

Regular honey also was beneficial for allergies in this study.

While results are considered preliminary for allergies, honey is very safe to incorporate into your allergy routine and many people swear by honey as a helpful way to manage their seasonal allergies.  

Do not give honey to infants younger than 1 year of age.

Related: Wildflower Honey Benefits +How to Use

Astragalus

Astragalus is also known as bei qi, huang qi, and milk vetch.  It is a type of legume that has over 2000 species in nature.

As a safe supplement, Astragalus may help with allergies by reducing inflammation in the body. Topical astragalus for allergic rash reduced skin irritation and improved skin healing in mice.

It even reduces IgE immune blood levels.

The use of astragalus reduces nasal dripping according to research in a small group of people with allergies and improved feelings of well-being. 

Astragalus works by decreasing histamine release from mast cells.

Homeopathic Natural Antihistamines

Homeopathic remedies are a safe option to try for seasonal allergies. Pharmacy times has a nice review of the effectiveness of these options.

I personally have found Bioallers Allergy Spray helpful in the past. 

While research is scant at best, there is little to no risk of trying homeopathic remedies for allergies. 

Black Seed Oil

Last, but not least, black seed oil, also known as black cumin, is clinically shown in research to be beneficial in reducing allergy symptoms. 

This antioxidant-rich spice has the ability to help open airways and has a preventive effect on people who have lung exposure to toxins. 

By reducing mast cells in the intestines, black seed oil also may help with allergy symptoms in the digestive tract.

This spice oil also is rich in omega-3 fats to help balance inflammation in the body.

Be aware that black seed oil may interact with some medications, so make sure to check with your healthcare provider before using black seed oil.

Finding natural antihistamines

Not sure where to find the best natural antihistamines?  

Here are some good choices:

All about histamine

Did you know that histamine is a neurotransmitter? 

Histamine is an essential compound in your body that is released from your mast cells.  

Another interesting fact about histamine is that it helps the body to remove allergens and other triggers out of your body.  

It even helps you remove pollen from your body!

This is important to know because when you take medications for allergies, they can disrupt these normal processes.

Brain histamine function is important for keeping us motivated and helps us be goal-directed. Histamine helps to control appetite and helps our body’s responses to foods.

Histamine also plays a role in the sleep-wake cycle in the body and also is a major regulator of the part of the brain called the hypothalamus.

Sadly, histamine is also responsible for the allergic response in our body, and can make you feel quite uncomfortable!

What causes high histamine levels?

Sometimes the body overreacts to a substance and makes too much histamine. This creates the discomfort of allergies; sneezing, runny nose, itchy eyes, fatigue, altered breathing, and more.

Even though we need histamine to be healthy, the discomfort can be too much to bear and even dangerous in severe cases like anaphylaxis.  

Histamine can rise to high levels if you have any of the following conditions:

  • Poor digestive function
  • Leaky gut
  • Stress
  • Imbalanced diet
  • Food sensitivities
  • Environmental triggers
  • Toxins
  • Altered digestive bacteria
  • Altered immune response
  • Imbalanced immune system

The nice thing about natural antihistamines is that they don’t entirely block histamine production.  Rather, they slow the release from cells, which makes the situation a lot more comfortable. 

Histamine symptoms

High histamine can create all sorts of miserable symptoms, including:

  • Allergic rhinitis
  • Seasonal allergies
  • Hay fever
  • Sinusitis
  • Inflammation
  • Nasal congestion
  • Runny nose
  • Breathing difficulties
  • Anaphylaxis

While these symptoms range from mild to severe, histamine, while necessary, can be uncomfortable and downright dangerous if released too quickly by our cells. 

What causes allergy symptoms?

Allergies can be mild or severe, depending on your body’s immune system and tolerance.

According to the National Institute for Allergic and Infectious Diseases, allergies are a loss of immune tolerance.

Through restoring natural processes in the body using a functional medicine approach, allergies can be managed more effectively than just taking medication.

How do conventional antihistamines work?

It is important to understand how allergy medications work to help decide if you should use them.  

We have histamine receptors in our body.  We have 4 types, including H1, H2, H3, and H4.

Drugs classified in the first generation of antihistamines, sometimes called “classical” antihistamines, act non-selectively to block histamine by blocking all of these receptors.

Newer antihistamines only block H1, which has LESS crossing of the blood-brain barrier while still blocking histamine from uptake into cells.

By blocking histamine, they do reduce the body’s allergic response and allergic reaction. They can also make you very tired.

Dangers of conventional antihistamines

Sadly, first-generation antihistamines also block other receptors in the body besides histamine.  

They block muscarinic, adrenergic (adrenoreceptors), and dopaminergic receptors as well.  Blocking these receptors can cause heart, urinary,  and gastrointestinal adverse reactions.

Antihistamines also cross the blood-brain barrier, causing sometimes dangerous side effects like drowsiness, decreased focus, reduced ability to learn, and more.

Second generations drugs, by blocking the only H1, have generally fewer side effects.

Unfortunately, some OTC and prescription antihistamines could cause other serious adverse reactions, including weight gain and memory processing speed.

According to Healthline.com, other side effects of conventional antihistamines are drowsiness, excessive tiredness, dry mouth, stomach pain, diarrhea, and vomiting.

It is important to note here that natural antihistamines do not block receptors; they only reduce the speed of release of histamine from cells.  This is why they tend to have little to no side effects.

Precautions

Natural antihistamine plants can help with allergy symptoms as noted above. 

However, if you are allergic to any of the listed plants, please do not use them.  

As with any new supplement, please discuss it with your healthcare provider before using it.

Natural antihistamines summary

Natural remedies for allergies can work as well as antihistamine drugs and have less risk of side effects.  Studies are generally small but demonstrate a high safety profile.

Studies have only determined safety in relatively shorter-term duration, so do not take natural antihistamines for more than 4-6 weeks in a row.

As with any change in your regimen, make sure to check in with your healthcare provider first. The risk of side effects of any of the plants as listed above are low but could be possible if you are sensitive to any of them.

7 thoughts on “Are Natural Antihistamines the Best Treatments for Allergies?”

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  3. Hello,
    Great article! A couple of questions: Quercetin induces a deeper sleep according to several online readings. Can you say anything about that? Also, astragalus increases estrogen in the body, I have read. This is contraindicated in many. Do you know anything about this?

    1. Thank you Eileen! As for estrogen-related conditions, it’s always best to check with your doctor before taking any supplement. That said, the available research indicates that astragalus is likely protective against these type of conditions: https://bmccomplementmedtherapies.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s12906-018-2148-2
      As for sleep, I can’t find any direct research about this, although it makes sense that it could help sleep if your allergy and inflammation symptoms go down.

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