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Natural Allergy Solutions
Nathan Zassman - Two-Part Article Featured in Lifestyles 55
While most Winnipeggers are happy to have survived another winter, spring can make many allergy sufferers wish winter had stayed around a bit longer.
With the annual awakening of vegetation that had been dormant or covered in snow, along come the most common seasonal allergies like hay fever. Also called allergic rhinitis, hay fever is usually triggered by weed or grass pollen, although dust mites, mold, and pet dander can also be causes.
Exposure to allergens doesn't cause a reaction with most people; they're usually harmless. Allergy symptoms occur when the body mistakes these particles as invaders, setting off a strong reaction and production of the antibody immunoglobulin-E. The next time you are exposed to that allergen, your immune system causes specialized mast cells to release various chemicals including histamine. These reaction chemicals produce the classic allergy symptoms including congestion, itchy eyes, sneezing, and mucus production.
A troubling aspect for many older people is that allergens that have never produced a reaction in the past can become a trigger later in life. As we age, it is critical to keep our immune system in balance. We want to avoid the "overreactions", but we also need our immune system to protect us from potential environmental threats like pathogens and harmful microbes.
There are a number of products designed to help ease allergy symptoms naturally by either eliminating the allergy triggers or by modulating the immune system to prevent the exaggerated response.
LED Phototherapy: A study published in the International Journal of Pediatric Otorhinolaryngology found a significant improvement in allergic rhinitis symptoms of children using LED phototherapy. Devices like Bionette produce a specific 630 nm wavelength of red light that can be effective for treating seasonal allergies. The device is inserted in the nose for 4.5 minutes for up to three times a day initially, reducing to once or a twice a day once symptoms have improved.
Nasal Rinsing: Shaped like a small teapot, the neti pot is one of the most popular natural products that helps relieve allergy symptoms by cleansing the nasal passages with a salt solution, using 2.5 grams of salt in 8 ounces of warm water. Simply insert the spout into one nostril and tilt your head to one side, allowing the warm saline solution to travel up one nostril and down the other, washing out dirt, dust, and pollen. Personally, I prefer a more modern version of this traditional solution. The Nasaline rinsing system allows you to control the flow and pressure, making it easier to use and more effective than a neti pot.
Salt solutions can dry out the nasal passages, and some find the solution a bit harsh for the delicate nasal membranes. I recommend a buffered salt/xylitol solution that combines sodium bicarbonate and xylitol with powdered Himalayan crystal salt. Xylitol is a natural sugar alcohol found in many fruits and vegetables. It keeps the nasal membranes moist and helps prevent bacteria from adhering to the nasal passages, enhancing the effect of the salt solution.
Nasal Cleansing Solution: To make your own buffered salt/xylitol solution, mix 100 g of baking soda with 300 g Himalayan crystal salt (fine powder) and 800 g of xylitol. This mixture should be enough for about 200 cleanses. Use 6 g (about a teaspoon) for every 8 ounces of water.
Nasal Spray: Easier to use than a neti pot, saline sprays can help with symptoms but generally are not as effective as a neti pot or Nasaline. I recommend Xlear as a superior alternative to regular saline sprays as it combines a saline solution with xylitol, better protecting delicate nasal tissues while keeping them hydrated.
Air Filtration: One of the best ways to reduce indoor allergy symptoms is with a HEPA air filtration system. HEPA filters trap pollen, mold, and many other allergy triggers. For best results, keep windows closed to prevent allergens from entering the home. Portable units can be more effective in small spaces, however, HEPA filters that are attached to your HVAC system are recommended as they reduce allergens in the entire home. Combining both solutions is ideal.
Mold Remediation: Many older homes (particularly those with damp basements) can have mold that infiltrates the home. If allergy symptoms persist, hire a company to test the air. If mold is present, there are companies that do mold remediation and can help ensure that it won't be an ongoing problem.
Bedding: As many allergy and asthma symptoms are caused by dust mites, it is important that you work to eliminate mites from your bed, bedding, pillows, carpet, and furniture. I recommend breathable total encasement mattress and pillow protectors that use silver ions to kill dust mites and bacteria. Mattress protectors like Natura's Protect Deluxe are effective at reducing allergy symptoms, as they integrate silver ions in the cotton fabric (killing mites and bacteria). Antibacterial vacuums are small portable units that can be used throughout your home. With a seal of approval by the British Allergy Association, the Raycop antibacterial vacuum uses germicidal UV light and vibration to effectively clean your mattress and furniture of dust mites while sterilizing surfaces.
These lifestyle recommendations can help you to effectively deal with allergy symptoms. The next article will outline foods and dietary supplements that can help balance the immune system and prevent the overreaction that ultimately causes allergy symptoms.
Natural Allergy Solutions - Part II
In the last entry in this series I outlined a variety of products and lifestyle changes that can help to reduce or eliminate allergy symptoms including phototherapy, nasal cleansing, and air filtration. In addition to lifestyle modifications and environmental improvement, there are a number of natural supplements designed to reduce allergy symptoms.
As mentioned in Part I, exposure to allergens doesn't cause a reaction with most people; the particles are generally harmless. Allergy symptoms occur when the body mistakes these particles as invaders, triggering an overreaction that causes increased production of the antibody immunoglobulin-E (IgE). The next time you are exposed to that allergen, specialized mast cells release various chemicals including histamine which lead to the classic allergy symptoms including congestion, itchy eyes, sneezing, and mucus production.
The connection between the microbiome (our gut microbiota) and the immune system is one of the most active areas of medical research today. Our immune system health is closely linked with healthy oral and gastrointestinal bacteria. Increasing levels of good bacteria through supplementation can help to balance immune response and prevent the overreaction to allergens. I recommend a quality probiotic, taken two to three times a day.
Probiotic Air Purifier: An exciting new air purifier, BetterAir is a device designed to reduce exposure to environmental allergy triggers by dispersing beneficial bacteria into our living space. Popular in Europe, designed in Israel, and tested in hospitals, BetterAir works by introducing probiotic bacteria to all surfaces. With portable units designed for smaller spaces and larger whole house solutions, these systems work to eliminate potentially dangerous pathogenic bacteria.
Probiotic bacteria consume harmful bacteria, using it as a food source. Similar to how probiotics work in the body, as good bacteria levels increase there is less room for the dangerous microorganisms to thrive. Users of this system report improved control of odors and a reduction of allergy symptoms within a few weeks of use.
There are a number of dietary supplements that work to balance the immune system including Proligna pine cone extract, plant sterols, and bioflavonoids like quercetin.
Proligna Pine Cone Extract: Pine cone extract has a long history of usage around the world, particularly in Japan. Fourteen patents and over 31 peer-reviewed studies support its use for immune enhancement, antiviral, antibacterial, and anticancer activities.
Allergy research has identified the importance of dendritic cells in helping balance the immune response that results in allergy symptoms. PPC boosts dendritic cell development nine-fold in just nine days, and reduces IgE two-fold in fourteen days, while promoting disease-fighting T cell response.
Plant Sterols: Naturally occurring plant fats, plant sterols are found in whole grains, nuts, seeds, and legumes. Plant sterols have a wide range of health benefits including helping to modulate the inflammatory response to allergens. Plant sterols can also help lower cholesterol, block the enzyme associated with male pattern baldness and enlarged prostate, and decrease levels of cortisol, the stress hormone that can adversely affect the immune system.
Nature's richest source of plant sterols is rice bran solubles. Supplements that work well to alleviate allergy symptoms have a minimum of 117 mg of beta-sitosterol per capsule, combined with Cellasate and Enzogenol. Cellasate is a blend of essential fatty acids designed to increase bioavailability. Enzogenol is an antioxidant and anti-inflammatory plant compound from the bark of New Zealand pine trees.
Butterbur (Petasites Hybridus): An herb frequently prescribed for the treatment of migraine headaches, recent research found it to be as effective at reducing allergy symptoms as a well-known anti-histamine drug, but without the drowsiness that is a common side effect.
Black Cumin Seed Oil (Nigella Sativa): Also called black seed oil, many health professionals believe this oil to be among the most powerful natural immune balancing products, with a tremendous range of health benefits. For allergy relief, I recommend two 500 mg capsules, twice a day.
Tinospora Cordifolia: Also known as guduchi, Tinospora cordifolia stem powder is one of the most revered herbs in Ayurveda, the 5000-year-old Indian system of medicine. While this herb is known to help reduce symptoms of arthritis, inflammation, and diabetes, it is also one of the herbal superstars in the treatment of allergies. In a study published in the Journal of Ethnopharmacology, 83% of patients experienced relief from sneezing, 69% showed improvements in nasal discharge and 61% for nasal obstruction. Most find relief from allergic rhinitis symptoms within 15 days.
Omega-3: A German study published in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition found those with the highest levels of omega-3 essential fatty acids were less likely to overreact to potential allergens. Researchers found the higher the omega-3 levels, the greater the effect. Omega-6 fats can cause inflammation, while omega-3 fats are anti-inflammatory. I recommend a 1:1 ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fats in the diet, and avoiding oils high in omega-6 including grapeseed, corn, safflower, sunflower, rice bran, walnut, and soybean oil. Choose oils high in monounsaturated fat (olive, macadamia nut, avocado), saturated fat (coconut, palm, MCT) and omega-3 (camelina and flax).
Vitamin C with Bioflavonoids: Two to three grams of vitamin C taken in divided doses (ideally 500 mg every four hours) can be effective at reducing allergy symptoms. Choose a formula with bioflavonoids, which help strengthen capillaries and stabilize mast cells, or a quercetin formula that includes bioflavonoids. I recommend buffered forms of vitamin C, which combine the ascorbic acid with minerals like magnesium and calcium to increase the alkalinity. These mineral ascorbate forms of vitamin C are easier on the stomach, with the added benefits derived from the minerals in the formula.
Quercetin with Bromelain: One of the most effective natural antihistamines, quercetin is a bioflavonoid found in onions, apples, blueberries, okra, buckwheat, olive oil, citrus fruits, green tea, and red wine. Quercetin may also be effective at reducing symptoms of asthma. Researchers at Tufts Medical Center found that 300-1000 mg per day can help alleviate allergy symptoms by reducing the inflammatory response. Bromelain (at 400-500 mg per day) has also been shown to help reduce allergy symptoms. I recommend choosing a supplement that combines quercetin with bromelain and citrus bioflavonoids.
Stinging Nettle: The roots of stinging nettle have traditionally been used to help reduce an enlarged prostate, but the shoots can be effective for treating kidney stones, arthritis, and allergy symptoms including hay fever. In a recent study, 60% of those taking 300 mg per day experienced relief.
Allerinol (Perilla Frutescens): A double-blind placebo-controlled human study confirms that the Japanese herb Perilla frutescens ameliorates allergic inflammatory reactions including hay fever and rhinoconjunctivitis. Supporting sinus, lung, and eye health, Allerfin is an excellent formula that combines Perilla (a source of rosmarinic acid) with quercetin, stinging nettle, and bromelain.
Zinc: Studies show that over 40% of seniors are deficient in zinc, one of the most important minerals for the immune system. When histamine-producing mast cells are zinc deficient, zinc lozenges can help stop the release of histamine and provide quick relief, often lasting up to 12 hours. Oral lozenges containing zinc acetate or zinc gluconate are usually recommended to help combat the common cold, but with continued use, some find that allergy symptoms disappear completely. I recommend taking a multivitamin that supplies a minimum of 15 mg of zinc per day, but if you are a vegetarian or don't often eat animal products, I recommend 30 mg.
Magnesium: According to Terry Phillips, Ph.D., "magnesium deficiency definitely accentuates the allergic situation." A key nutrient that is required for over 360 biochemical reactions in the body, over 60% of the population is deficient, and many pharmaceutical drugs interfere with its absorption. Magnesium helps relax constricted airways while inhibiting the release of histamine from mast cells. Studies have found that higher levels of histamine are associated with magnesium deficiency. I recommend a multivitamin that contains a 300-500 mg of magnesium per day in divided doses. For the highest bioavailability, I recommend magnesium in glycinate or bis-glycinate form when taken as a separate supplement.
The key to alleviating allergies is modulating the immune response to prevent the overreaction that results in allergy symptoms. The recommendations outlined here can help control the response without the side effects of prescription medicines, and can provide additional natural health benefits.