If you’ve felt like your seasonal allergies are getting worse each year, or you’ve started reacting to pollen when you didn’t use to, you’re not imagining things and are not alone. 10-30% of people globally, including up to 50 million Americans experience seasonal allergies each year. Seasonal allergies involving tree, grass and weed pollen lead to itchy eyes, runny nose, congestion, sneezing, scratchy throat and, in the worst cases, asthma attacks. With allergies, the immune system overreacts to harmless pollen and treats it the same as it would an invading microbe or pathogen, resulting in a cascade of inflammatory immune molecules being released with the end result being you stuck indoors, box of tissues at the ready, nose set to perma-drip and wishing you could enjoy the beauty of spring blossoming outdoors.
A number of studies from around the world have all come to the same conclusion: Allergy season has become a pollen tsunami that gets worse and worse each year and seems tied to climate change. Rising temperatures and CO2 levels result in more pollen being produced and for extended periods of time. Studies have shown that ragweed season over the past decade has increased by up to 25 days in North American cities. Globally, studies have found that there was a 96% increase in pollen production between 1998 and 2016. Looking to the future, a study modelling the effects of climate change on pollen counts in Europe found that this trend of pre-allergy season conditions (temperatures and CO2 levels) increasing pollen counts will continue with a 60% increase in severity over the next 20 years.
While medications can help, they can also come with side effects, rebound congestion once you stop using them and diminishing efficacy (or tolerance) if you use them daily. They’re a good tool to have in your kit for dealing with allergies but it’s always nice to have other options as well. One nutritional supplement that shows promise is spirulina (Arthrospira platensis). This blue-green algae is nutritionally dense – a superfood rich in protein, vitamins, minerals and antioxidants. The term superfood does tend to get thrown around a lot and overused but in this case it’s legit. Spirulina was even famously used by NASA as a dietary supplement ‘space food’ for astronauts to consume while on missions to space. One unique aspect to spirulina is that it helps to modulate the immune response with anti-inflammatory effects that inhibit release of histamine from mast cells. Less histamine and immune overreaction to pollen means less sneezing, congestion and itchy eyes. Spirulina is also able to reduce other inflammatory cytokines. For example, a randomized, double-blind, placebo controlled trial of spirulina for allergic rhinitis found that 2g per day for 12 weeks resulted in significantly reduced (by 32%) interleukin (IL)-4 levels; this is a marker for inflammation associated with allergic rhinitis (AKA your red, swollen nose).
So, not only can you include something that is chock full of nutrients to support your overall health and well-being, you can also thank spirulina for nudging your immune response towards a more balanced state that isn’t as reactive to harmless things like pollen drifting through the air. Being able to breathe easy and enjoy spring in full bloom outdoors is a wonderful thing – one of life’s simple pleasures. Flora offers Vie Sun’s GandalfTM Organic Spirulina (USA/CA) in both powder and tablet form. Add it to smoothies, juice, water or check out one of our creative recipe ideas on the Flora site Recipe section.
Robert Dadd is a Master Herbalist (Dominion Herbal College) with a BA in Communications from Simon Fraser University. His areas of research include adaptogens, probiotics, and essential fatty acids. He is currently the Product Information Supervisor for Flora Manufacturing and Distributing.