There are over 65 million Americans who suffer from seasonal allergies while more than 12 million people also have asthma. Most of these people have a history of nasal congestion, swelling of the eyes, and difficulty breathing through the nose. According to the Centers for Disease Prevention and Control, five percent of the US population has some kind of respiratory disease. Every spring (when the world blooms), summer and fall, millions of Americans sneeze, wheeze, itch and sniffle their way through a world filled with allergens, including airborne dust, pollen, and smoke particles. Besides the many environmental “allergens,” there is a litany of food allergens, chemicals, and animal dander that also adds to the myriad of problems.
Although it is not clear whether we can completely cure ourselves of allergies, there are certainly a number of steps we can take to decrease exposure and severity of symptoms. It is estimated that over 70 percent of allergy sufferers use some form of medication (prescription or OTC) to treat their symptoms. Common drugs such as Benadryl, Allegra, Claritin, and Zyrtec are leading non-sedating drugs. Although many patients seem to find relief from allergy symptoms by the use of these drugs, the side effects can often be negative and the “source” of the problem (exposure to the allergen) is not addressed. Common side effects include sedation, dizziness, fatigue, dry mouth and insomnia. The goal of these drugs is to reduce the release of histamine but it does not address the underlying immune dysfunction behind allergic patients.
Common Groups of Allergens
The most common groups of “allergens” include:
- Food allergens. The most common include milk/dairy products, wheat and gluten, eggs, nuts, shell fish and soy.
- Workplace and environmental exposure. Chemicals such as ozone, carbon monoxide, and nitrogen dioxide can worsen symptoms in people with allergies or asthma. The most common work place allergens include mold (air-borne and in wood), dust mites (carpeting, upholstered furniture), and volatile organic compounds (ozone, formaldehyde, paint, adhesives, photocopy machine toners). Keep the windows closed.
- Indoor air. In many cases dust, lint, hair, smoke and pollen can actually exceed levels found outside. Consider cleaning the home or workplace filtration system.
- Exposure to animal dander is a major culprit in the majority of allergies. These inhaled aeroallergens, composed of dandruff-like skin cells, saliva, and urine, often remain airborne for many hours.
- Cosmetic perfumes, fragrances and/or aromatherapy. Some of the most common allergens and skin irritants are preservatives and synthetic fragrances. Oils and drugs are also included in this group of allergens.
Food allergens are undoubtedly the most common allergens that sufferers can be exposed to on a daily basis, however they are rarely the most severe. Researchers have established that the diet of our Stone Age ancestors consisted of large amounts of fruits and plants, with very few dairy products and cereal grains. It has been speculated that a change in this diet over the centuries may account for the recent upsurge in worldwide allergies and asthma. In recent decades there has been additional concern about how ‘genetically modified foods’ may be playing a negative role in food allergic response. Americans are eating a huge degree of processed foods, fat foods, artificial sweeteners, and pre-packaged foods. All of these choices may have an untoward affect on the allergic response. Research shows that it may be best to try and rotate your foods. Try eating a different group of foods each day for 3-5 days and then repeat the cycle. This method may help you identify the most offending foods.
When your body is too acidic (pH under 7.0) the response to allergic triggers is amplified. Decrease intake of highly acidic foods, including soda, alcohol, sugar, fast and processed foods, and caffeine. Most nutritional experts will recommend eating more green foods, fruits, whole grains, fish and legumes, while drinking plenty of spring water.
The Elimination Diet is the best tool to utilize when identifying potential food allergies. It can be used to recognize, rotate, desensitize, and eliminate foods that may be allergenic in nature. This diet is particularly helpful in children. Current research suggests that consuming anti-allergic foods can alleviate or prevent allergy and asthma attacks.
Most Common Food Allergens
Cow’s milk and milk products (cheese, ice cream), wheat and wheat gluten, eggs, citrus fruits (especially oranges and strawberries), shellfish and all seafood, coloring agents (mayonnaise), chocolate, tomatoes (and some legumes such as lentils and peas), nuts (mainly peanuts), processed and refined foods, Monosodium Glutamate (MSG), and corn are often associated with food allergens. By eliminating them, one at a time, from your diet for a few weeks each, you can identify which are the source of your particular allergies and change your diet accordingly.
Symptoms of Food Allergies or Sensitivities
The most common symptoms of food allergies and sensitivities include frequent gas or belching, chronic constipation and/or diarrhea, lactose intolerance (problems eating dairy products), bloating experienced after meals (take a digestive enzyme), craving for sugar and refined carbohydrates (check for hypoglycemia), severe headaches or migraines, and symptoms mimicking an auto-immune disease.
In most cases it is okay to consume lamb, carrots, chicken, beef, papaya, mangos, peaches, and most vegetables.
Most Common Non-Food Allergens
The most common non-food allergens include plant and tree pollens, dust, animal dander, smoke, fabrics, pesticides, mold, dust mites, latex, nitrites, MSG, dyes, penicillin and sulfa, many pharmaceuticals including non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs and muscle relaxants. People who have allergies are often sensitive to air quality, reacting to airborne particles and chemicals emitted from new carpeting, drapes, and furniture. They may also suffer from indigestion, brain fog, fatigue, achiness and nasal congestion.
- Environmental toxins and irritants are significant risk factors. There are increasing problems with exposure to environmental allergies on the job and in the workplace. Use filters and air purification systems when possible.
- Over-the-counter decongestants can increase blood pressure and cause insomnia.
- Antihistamines cause drowsiness, sedation, insomnia, and dry mouth..
- Taking allergy shots for hay fever is expensive, time-consuming, and not always effective. The shots, received on a weekly and monthly basis, for 3 to 5 years, are not without risk. It’s possible to have an allergic shock reaction to them.
The Allergy Cascade
All allergic reactions basically occur in a similar manner; it is mainly the degree of severity that differs. Because of the very significant role played by IgE antibody production in the development and propagation of allergic inflammation, inhibiting IgE production is essential for intervention in the allergic cascade.
First, there is exposure to the allergen, either by ingestion, inhalation, or absorption through the skin. Next there is an increase in MAST cell production. Mast cells release arachidonic acid (AA) which makes them swell in size and volume. At one point the mast cell bursts open (degranulates) and releases histamine. During mast cell and basophile degranulation (breakdown), chemical mediators such as histamine and cytokines are released into the blood stream. Histamine degranulates to leukotriene and prostaglandin synthesis, which induce an inflammatory response. Leukotrienes are potent activators of allergic responses and can cause asthma-like symptoms, itching, swelling, redness, rash, runny nose, sinus congestion and even fatal anaphylactic shock. The final result may be oxidative stress. Low antioxidant levels in tissue are associated with allergies and asthma which can promote damage to affected tissues.
Antihistamines (Benadryl, Claritin, Zyrtec, etc) will relieve allergy symptoms but do nothing to improve the problem of exposure to allergens. Don’t rely on antihistamines as a long-term strategy because they only suppress–rather than eliminate–allergic symptoms. There are many natural substances that function higher up in the allergy cascade, and help to minimize the release of mast cells. These nutrients include vitamin C, quercetin, stinging nettles and grape seed extract. Taking these supplements will not eliminate the allergen, but will naturally minimize the severity of the allergic reaction. In the long run they will decrease the need for taking antihistamine drugs.
- VITAMIN C
There are practically zero instances in which allergy and asthma symptoms will not be reduced with supplementation of Vitamin C. Vitamin C effectively reduces sensitivity to air toxins, prevents bronchial spasms, blocks histamine release, and boosts your immune system. A variety of in vitro and in vivo experiments have shown that select flavonoids possess anti-allergic, anti-inflammatory, antiviral, and antioxidant activities. It is important to maintain adequate doses, especially during seasonal allergen exposure. Even higher doses are recommended for neutralizing a moderate or severe allergic reaction, especially an asthma attack (buffered vitamin C powder is preferred). Dosage: 500-5,000 mg a day. See a qualified health care practitioner.
Quercetin is a potent bioflavonoid found in many foods (red wine, grapefruits, onions, apples, colorful fruits) and in some herbs. Quercetin directly inhibits the release of histamine and other inflammatory compounds which is extremely helpful in reducing sensitivity to allergens. Dosage: 50-300 mg 2-3 times a day. There are health advantages of combining quercetin with Vitamin C.
- STINGING NETTLES
Many studies have shown that stinging nettle extract inhibits some of the cellular events that results in seasonal allergy symptoms in our bodies. Stinging nettles may be more effective if given in combination with quercetin. Do not take this herb if you are pregnant or lactating, and it may also interfere when concomitantly taken with blood thinner drugs (Coumadin, heparin) and some blood pressure medication. Dosage: As directed on package or consult a qualified practitioner.
- PERILLA SEED EXTRACT
This herb provides long-lasting relief that may have the effectiveness of prescription antihistamines without the side effects. Perilla modulates IgE-mediated immune response, supports healthy histamine levels, and provides optimal antioxidant protection. Dosage: As directed on package.
Bromelain is an anti-inflammatory herb that also eases digestion. Digestive enzymes reduce allergic inflammation. Dosage: 500-1,000 mg with each meal and bedtime.
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