The beginning of each new season brings hope and anticipation of weekend getaways and family adventures; however for many individuals their plans are often spoiled by seasonal allergies. Sneezing runny noses watery eyes sore throats congestion and the overarching feeling of being sick interrupt life and threaten to spoil good times. Much of the population suffers from these wearying symptoms as evidenced by the increasingly frequent television advertisements claiming to provide relief through the next generation of successful allergy medications. Unfortunately the undesirable side effects of these same medications such as the dreaded drowsiness and dried out mucous membranes zap our energy and dampen our ability to make seasonal memories with loved ones. Perhaps we have forgotten how centuries ago before modern antihistamines and decongestants were produced relief from seasonal allergies was found in many herbs containing natural antihistamine properties.
Stinging nettle (Urtica dioica) is an herb that has been used for generations for the relief of seasonal allergies. It has been particularly effective against allergic rhinitis due to its ability to inhibit the inflammatory pathways that begin the wild cascade of allergic symptoms. Until recently stinging nettle's mode of action was not clear; however Roschek et al. carried out in vitro studies to discover how Urtica dioica works through various mechanisms such as helping to block histamine production and release by inactivating the H1 receptor. The same study also showed that urtica can modulate mast cell degranulation and the release of pro-inflammatory prostaglandins cytokines and leukotrienes by inhibiting tryptase. Further was found to Urtica dioica inhibit pro-inflammatory COX-1 and COX-2 production. Many OTC antihistamines have a similar mode of action but unlike OTC antihistamines urtica does not cross the blood brain barrier. By giving preference to peripheral receptors the potential for secondary drowsiness is minimized if experienced at all. Therefore stinging nettle appears to provide the relief so many allergy sufferers seek without the dreaded side effects of common allergy medications.
The potent anti-inflammatory actions of stinging nettle not only relieve allergy symptoms but also act effectively against arthritic pain and inflammation. Unlike the annoyance of sneezing and congestion arthritic pain can make the most basic activities of life difficult and sometimes impossible to complete. The decision to avoid rock climbing hiking and skiing may be made out of necessity rather than based on a person's personal preference and like seasonal allergies seasonal climate changes often influence the degree of arthritic pain experienced.
Extracts of the root leaves stems and flowers of stinging nettle have been evaluated in many preclinical studies for their anti-arthritic properties. Several components of stinging nettle extract have been found to elicit prolonged anti-inflammatory actions by modulating T-lymphocyte proliferation and suppressing the highly destructive inflammatory enzyme human leukocyte elastase (HLE). One well conducted study which included Urtica dioica looked at pain relief in individuals with osteoarthritis of the hip or knee and found significant reduction in NSAID use as well as in mean scores for pain stiffness and function when compared to placebos. Stinging nettle may soon rival traditional treatments for osteoarthritis as its ability to reduce inflammation and joint pain becomes more widely recognized and accepted.
For those who must face the double-edged sword of arthritic pain and seasonal allergies stinging nettle may just be their seasonal savior allowing these individuals to enjoy a new level of activity without concern for pain inflammation allergic rhinitis sneezing and congestion. Furthermore stinging nettle does not carry a laundry list of side effects that make patients feel as though they are trading in one symptom for another.