Hayfever (also known as allergic rhinitis) is a condition of the upper respiratory tract. This allergy is common with up to 30% of adults affected and up to 40% of children.
In allergic rhinitis, your immune system over reacts in response to certain foreign substances. These are called allergens. The allergens trigger a response that causes symptoms similar to the common cold. Symptoms can range from mild to severe. Severe symptoms can result in disturbed sleep and impaired ability to work.
Symptoms of allergic rhinitis
Allergic rhinitis symptoms include:
- runny or stuffy nose
- itching of the nose or eyes
- sneezing fits
- swelling around nose or eyes
Symptoms can occur at certain times of year or all year round. People that have seasonal symptoms tend to react to pollen. The pollen comes from flowering trees, grasses or weeds. If symptoms are present all year the allergen is likely produced by dust mites, pets or mould.
An allergen can trigger an inflammatory process within seconds. Antibodies identify the allergen and trigger a chain of reactions. Affected cells release inflammatory chemicals, such as histamine, that cause the symptoms of allergic rhinitis.
The best way to control symptoms is by avoiding the allergen but this is not always possible. Over the counter antihistamines are available. And these may help to dry up secretions but do little to reduce congestion. Your doctor might prescribe other medication such as corticosteroids. But often these medicines have adverse effects.
Allergic rhinitis sufferers increasingly use complementary medicine. And several research studies report benefits from certain alternative treatments for allergic rhinitis. One such natural remedy is turmeric.
Turmeric is the bright orange-yellow spice obtained from the root of Curcuma longa. This plant is a member of the ginger family and originates in Asia. Its bright yellow colour means it is also known as Indian saffron, or poor man’s saffron.
Turmeric provides a golden colour and flavour to food. It is also useful as a dye. Take care as it can stain skin and clothes. It is also an important part of religious ceremonies. And has a tradition of medicinal use in India and China for thousands of years.
Traditional healers use turmeric for a wide range of diseases. It soothes digestive problems, fights infections, improves blood flow and speeds wound healing. It has also traditionally been used as a decongestant.
In the past few decades there have been several thousand research studies on turmeric. Clinical trials show it to be effective for many chronic diseases. These include cancer, diabetes, lupus nephritis, osteoarthritis, irritable bowel syndrome, and acne. It can also lower cholesterol levels and may be helpful in dementia cases.
There are several chemical constituents of turmeric. The most researched component is curcumin. Which constitutes up to 5% of turmeric. Until recently researchers thought curcumin was responsible for the medicinal actions of turmeric. Curcumin has strong anti-inflammatory effects. For example, products containing curcumin showed similar activity to non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs in osteoarthritis. Curcumin is also antibacterial, antiviral, antifungal and anticancer.
Curcumin is a fat soluble, golden yellow pigmented compound. It has low bioavailability and is poorly absorbed into the body. The addition of 10% black pepper and some fat greatly improves absorption. Possibly by as much as 20-fold. Some researchers suggest that the oil in turmeric itself may improve curcumin’s absorption.
However, studies have recently identified many other medicinal compounds in turmeric. It is also possible that there are synergistic effects between the herbal compounds. An interaction that creates benefits beyond the expected cumulative effects of the individual constituents.
In any case, curcumin-free turmeric also has anti-inflammatory, anti-cancer and anti-diabetic properties. Suggesting that curcumin is not the sole medicinal constituent. Indeed, in China the compound elemene from turmeric is approved for cancer treatment.
Curcumin – a natural remedy for allergic rhinitis
Clinical trials suggest that curcumin reduces the allergic response. Trials on guinea pigs sensitised to an allergen, showed curcumin treatment meant less symptoms. The animals given curcumin had less sneezing and rubbing. Suggesting relief of runny nose and eyes, and reduced congestion.
A follow up trial on people, showed similar results. Curcumin alleviated allergic rhinitis symptoms by 70%. With less sneezing, itching and runny nose and reduced nasal congestion. And, the improvements persisted for 80% of participants after stopping the treatment. And researchers suggested a potential role for curcumin for allergic rhinitis management in people.
Given the tradition of use of turmeric as a decongestant it may also reduce allergic rhinitis symptoms. Both turmeric and its constituent curcumin are considered safe at normal recommended doses. Though high doses may increase the risk of bleeding, by increasing the effects of anticoagulant drugs.