Spring and fall are the least popular seasons for most allergy sufferers. The usual disturbing symptoms of environmental (inhalant) allergies are often severe enough to interfere with productivity. Allergies to grasses, trees, molds, pollens, dust and other environmental pollutants can cause chronic sinus congestion, runny nose, postnasal drip, headaches, earaches, itching, eye irritation and infection, wheezing and sneezing, all with variable degrees of severity. Despite a greater awareness of natural ways to both prevent and treat seasonal allergies, most of the North American public is still resorting to the use of symptom suppressing drugs like antihistamines, decongestants and corticosteroids.
Antihistamines are used for hay fever and seasonal allergy relief. Derived from tranquilizers, they can cause drowsiness, depression, weight gain and serious cardiac complications when combined with antibiotics or other drugs. A recent editorial published in The Canadian Medical Association Journal (July 1, 1997; 157(1)) concluded that certain antihistamines can cause death due to serious cardiac arrythmias (heart beat irregularities). Other negative reports on the long term side effects of antihistamines (weight gain), decongestants (strokes) and steroids (ulcers) have prompted many with environmental allergies to seek safer, more natural alternatives.
Clean Up the Diet
To begin with, several good studies have shown a positive correlation between sugar consumption and allergic symptoms. Eliminating refined sugar and foods containing chemical additives from the diet is a good place for most allergy sufferers to start. Seasonal allergic symptoms are often diminished by eating more foods like garlic, onions, horseradish, citrus, carrots, greens, cayenne or other hot peppers as tolerated, provided you are not allergic to them.
The diagnosis and elimination of unsuspected food allergies (usually to dairy and wheat products, yeast, corn, chocolate and eggs) can also have a significant beneficial effect for environmental allergies. Several studies show that people allergic to grass pollens also reacted to tomatoes, peanuts, wheat, apple, carrot, celery, peach, melon, eggs and pork.
To find out which foods aggravate symptoms of seasonal allergies, an elimination diet can be done. This involves the removal of suspected foods from the diet for at least two weeks followed by systematic re-introduction of these foods, noting reactions. An increasingly popular alternative to this elimination-provocation technique is blood tests called RAST or ELISA that measure the levels of antibodies directed against various foods.
Although one does not necessarily notice any specific allergic reactions on an immediate basis after consuming certain foods, there may be delayed reactions, the net effect of which cause an abnormal immune response in the form of chronic sinus congestion, runny nose, wheezing and sneezing. Dark circles and swelling around the eyes are common signs of unsuspected delayed food allergies, especially in children.
Clean up the Environment
The use of HEPA air filters, humidifiers or dehumidifiers in the home can often make a big difference in preventing allergic symptoms. So can water filters that remove chlorine and other chemicals from both drinking and bathing water. Ionizers and other types of air cleaners in the car are also a good idea, especially if one spends over half an hour each day in the car.
If you are allergic to pollen, wear sunglasses to keep pollen from getting into your eyes. Never rub your eyes while you are outdoors as this could lead to swelling around the eyes. Always change your clothes, shower and wash your hair to remove pollen. Washing your hair before going to bed is important to avoid bringing pollen into bed with you to inhale.
Nasal douching with a warm saline solution (a 1/4 teaspoon of salt to one cup of warm water) several times daily rinses pollen grains, mold, airborne pollutants and other irritants off nasal tissues and soothes irritated mucous membranes.
Correct Nutritional Deficiencies
Environmental allergies can also be lessened by correcting nutritional deficiencies, especially to zinc, selenium, carotenoids, vitamin C and vitamin E. Studies on vitamin C have shown that in very high doses, it has antihistaminic effects but without the weight gain and the adverse cardiac consequences. High dose vitamin C often also increases energy and enhances muscle strength. The only side effect of vitamin C is loose bowel movements or diarrhea if the dose taken is too high for the given individual.
Deficiencies in essential fatty acids (omega-3 from fish oils and omega-6 from evening primrose oil) can aggravate most allergic conditions as well as cause dry skin, eczema or, in women, worsening premenstrual syndrome.
Use Nutritional Supplements
Several other food supplements may be of help to chronic allergy sufferers: vitamin A, pantothenic acid (vitamin B 5), vitamin B 6, and the bioflavonoids, especially quercetin, grape seed extract or pycnogenol. Bicarbonate powder (calcium, magnesium and potassium bicarbonate mixture) is another drug alternative that can be used to neutralize acute allergic reactions in many individuals.
Quercetin stabilizes mast cell membranes and prevents histamine release (500 to 1,000 mg at least three times a day). Pycnogenol (pine bark extract) or grape seed extract is another useful natural antihistamine. I suggest 300 mg per day until symptoms clear, then half that dose thereafter for several months. When taking quercetin, adding 250 Ð 500 mg. Of the pineapple enzyme, bromelain, is a very good idea since bromelain improves the absorption of quercetin from the gastrointestinal tract.
Rutin, hesperidin and catechin are other bioflavonoids that are effective for some individuals; dosages range from 1000 to 3000 mgs. daily as needed. These can be used along with quercetin for more serious cases.
Pantothenic acid (vitamin B5), helps form adrenal hormones that deflect stress and allergic reactions. Try 500 mg three or more times daily. Vitamin C is a natural antihistamine. Take it to bowel tolerance levels (6,000 mg or more in divided doses throughout the day).
New findings suggest that for each additional milligram (mg) of vitamin E consumed in the diet there is an allergy antibody lowering effect of over 5 per cent. The higher the blood concentrations of vitamin E, the lower the level of an antibody family called IgE, a marker for the degree of allergy in the body. Asthma and numerous diseases associated with allergy may therefore directly benefit from vitamin E supplementation (400 IU Ð 3200 IU daily). (The Lancet, November 4, 2000).
Many doctors who have prescribed vitamin E for decades have noted anecdotally that people who suffer from various conditions benefit from high doses of vitamin E. These ailments include seasonal allergies, hay fever, asthma, autoimmune diseases like rheumatoid arthritis, thyroiditis, lupus and many other types of immune system disorders. In my practice I have consistently seen IgE and other high antibody levels return to normal with daily doses of 3,200 IU of vitamin E combined with high-dose essential fatty acids (fish oils, evening primrose oil, hempseed oil).
Use Herbal Remedies
To reduce mucous and nasal congestion, try the herb stinging nettles, one to two capsules (500 mg.) every four hours as needed.
Curcumin, an extract of tumeric, has been shown to be as effective an anti-inflammatory remedy as prescription cortisone. Unlike steroids, curcumin has virtually no side effects. In selected cases, treatment of bacterial overgrowth, parasites or a chronic candida ("yeast syndrome") infection improves allergies.
Other herbs with an anti-inflammatory or anti-allergy effect are licorice root, ephedra (controversial these days), lobelia, eyebright, cayenne, horehound, fenugreek and mullein.
Use Immune Modulating Supplements
The use of natural remedies in the form of herbs and other food extracts has become an increasingly popular way of both up-regulating a sluggish immune system or down-regulating an overactive one. Aside from vitamin E discussed earlier, there is a long list of immune modulating supplements. The most notable of these include astragalus, bovine colostrum, echinacea, larch arabinogalactan, medicinal mushrooms (reishi, maitaki, shitake), mild silver protein, oil of oregano, probiotics (e.g. lactobacillus acidophilus and bifidobacteria), sterols and sterolins (beta-sitosterol) and transfer factor. One or a combination of these can make a dramatic impact on optimizing immunity.
Use Other Alternatives
Homeopathy, acupuncture, chiropractic and massage are other therapies that have been reported to help those with seasonal allergies. The choice is yours but itÕs always wise to discuss any drug alternatives with your health care provider.
For more information on all these remedies and the natural approach to illness in general, see the Encyclopedia of Natural Healing (Alive Books, 1998; medical editor: Zoltan P. Rona, M.D., M.Sc.; 1-800-661-0303).
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