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Thursday, September 6, 2012

Natural Alternatives to Allergy Relief

Fall will soon grace us with autumnal leaves drifting through the crisp breeze, the smell of cinnamon and squash wafting from kitchen windows, and wicked allergies from our friends ragweed and mold. During this most beloved season many delicious things want to grow, things like root vegetables, salad greens, beets, broccoli, and cauliflower, but there are some undesirables that will undoubtedly succeed in pollinating and dominating: weeds. There are one million and one reasons to spend as much time outside until the first frost (many of which are your little babies growing in the garden), so abandon all fears of itchy, red eyes and begin preventative, natural methods of allergy treatment.

The point of natural, alternative forms of medicine is not to “stick it to the man,” although that’s a nice perk, but rather to focus on the most effective way to heal body and mind without harming it or the earth. Have you ever felt your mind in more of a haze after consuming doctor prescribed medication than you were before? Do you find yourself spending a ridiculous amount of money on over-the-counter allergy medications? Ever read horrifying articles on the increasing amount of pharmaceuticals in your drinking water? The monopoly on medicine is a socially accepted fraud, and you have the power to redirect your wealth and attention toward a more organic solution.

Alternative forms of medicine exist because, once upon a time, they were the only forms of medicine. Before the days of sterile, white lab coats and little orange bottles rattling with pills meant to numb body and mind, people healed themselves with the offerings of nature. Now considered folk remedies or strategies used by indigenous communities, these forms of medicine have been known to prevent, aid, cure, and prevent any number of physical and mental ailments.

Did I mention prevent? Natural medicine works best as a preventative barrier between your body and, in the case of allergies, the mold and pollinators seeking to shut it down, while pharmaceuticals are designed to treat your body’s reaction to those molds and pollinators. Sure, a doctor will tell you to eat your vegetables, but they’re not prescribing their patients an orange and garlic clove a day, are they? A doctor’s goal is treatment, while ours is prevention. Keeping your body healthy by supplying it with vitamins, nutrition, and energy is like supplying your internal army with enough ammunition to combat the allergy enemy.

Household Prevention
Before delving into the organic, herbal cures, we should explore some accumulated wisdom on preventative measures to take on your house. From mid-August to the first frost pollen, ragweed, and mold counts are at their highest. Common sense would say, “Don’t go outside and keep your windows closed.” To add to that, window fans or air conditioning units should be avoided as they are simply drawing air from the outdoors and blasting it into your living room.

Pets and people are also wonderful vessels for these allergens to travel indoors—rinse yourself often, particularly after spending time outdoors, and give your dog a bath following a good romp through the woods.  Air purifiers with HEPA filters can remove the spores and pollen from the air, while cool-mist humidifiers will cause water to bind to the allergens, weighing them down and causing them to fall to the floor. Turn your humidifier on at night and sleep in peace, waking up with a clearer head.

Steam inhalation is another quick fix for allergic congestion. Inhaling the steam of essential oils will clear your nasal passages and open your lungs. Simply fill a saucepan with water and bring to a boil. Once the boil begins to roll, turn off the heat and remove the pan. Add three drops of eucalyptus oil, three drops of rosemary extract, two drops of myrtle, and two drops of tea tree oil to the hot water. Tent a bath towel over your head as you lean over the steamy water and inhale deeply for five to ten minutes in the morning and at night. Relief will not be long lasting, so repeat up to three times a day if necessary.

A simple trick that has been used in India for centuries works by flushing your nasal passageway with salt water, allowing stabilization of the cells that release histamine to protect themselves. There are many products based off of this form of medicine, one commonly known as the Neti Pot, which involves pouring saline solution into one nostril with an object shaped like a miniature tea kettle. With your head tilted away from the nostril being flushed, the water should flow through the nasal passageways and out the opposite nostril. The bizarre sensation only lasts momentarily and the outcome of the flush lasts for many hours. Instead of purchasing a product at the store, simply add a quarter or half of a teaspoon of non-iodized table salt into a cup of lukewarm water. Stir until the salt is completely dissolved and flush your nose with a cupped hand.

Protect Yourself, Invest in Food
Truth be told, most alternative forms of medicine are as common as the groceries in your refrigerator or the flowers in your garden; food, herbs, and common weeds are among the many variations of natural medicine.

Quercetin, one of thousands of members of the bioflavonoid family, has been most historically used as a coloring pigment within the plant kingdom. Abundant in red wine, quercetin is the substance mostly responsible for the myth that people who drink red wine live longer, healthier lives. This substance is also a key factor in reducing the amount of the defense mechanism histamine released by mast cells, causing irritation and inflammation. Quercetin is also a natural antioxidant that reduces the number of free radicals in the body, a major cause of aging, cholesterol, and diseases such as cancer. Along with wine and grapes, citrus fruits, red onions, apples, tomatoes, parsley, broccoli, lettuce, and tea are incredibly high in quercetin. Although these foods are loaded with the substance, supplements are necessary to build up enough of the compound. A suggested dose of 1000 milligrams a day between meals beginning six weeks before allergy season should do the trick.

Echinacea, although difficult to start from seed, is an aesthetically pleasing flower with healing properties worthy of universal praise. A calming herb, echinacea is commonly used to treat upper respiratory infections. At first sign of heavy breathing or clogged bronchial tubes, begin consuming echinacea in the form of pills or tea.

Stinging Nettle, a common and pesky weed found in most yards and gardens, is a trendy super food that can now be found at farmer’s markets across the country. Also a natural antihistamine, nettle consumption does not have the side effects of dry mouth and drowsiness that pharmaceutical antihistamines claim. Freeze dried nettle extract is sold in capsules, but making your own nettle products is incredible easy. If consumed in capsule form, 300 milligrams a day will provide relief for three to five hours. Nettle can also be consumed as tincture, incorporated into food, or sipped as a tea. To make nettle tea, simple boil the leaves in water. Add peppermint leaves for added allergy relief. If you’re planning on putting nettle into food be sure to boil the nettle first to avoid the small, stinging hairs that cause skin inflammation and feel like you rubbed your hand on fiberglass. I suppose it goes without saying that gloves should be worn if and when handling nettle.

Butterbur, another natural antihistamine used for extreme grass allergies, is hard to find in the United States and has some questionable stipulations to its consumption, but many holistic medicine practitioners recommend its use. This common weed derived from Europe is as effective as cetirizine, the active ingredient in Zyrtec. The weed is in the same family as ragweed, so some may have adverse reactions post-consumption. Allergies to marigold, daisy, and chrysanthemum are also triggered by the consumption or topical use of butterbur. The raw use of butterbur is extremely dangerous, as raw extract may cause kidney and liver damage and has been linked to cancer. Butterbur should only be consumed during allergy season, as side effects of long-term use of the weed are unknown. 32 milligrams a day, divided into 4 doses, is as effective as most over-the-counter allergy pharmaceuticals. Interestingly (and off topic), the weed’s large leaves were once used to wrap and preserve butter before refrigeration existed.

A perennial herb called goldenseal, also known as orange root, is often used to boost the effects of other medicinal herbs used for cancer or digestion treatment. Goldenseal increases secretion of mucous membranes to flush out passageways but also contains astringent factors that counter the flow; the increase of healthy mucous and decrease of excessive flow perfectly counterbalances to aid in a runny nose. This mucous membrane tonic mixed with freeze-dried stinging nettle and saline solution is a magical elixir to cleanse mucous out of passageways. Drop a few drops of goldenseal underneath your tongue and hold the tincture there for a few minutes to feel the effects on the mucous membranes in your sinuses.

Consumption of the appropriate vitamins and supplements during pollen and mold season can be easily incorporated into your daily meals. Foods high in omega-3 fatty acids, particularly in conjunction with Vitamin C, such as cold-water fish, walnuts, flaxseed oil, grass-fed meats, and eggs, are natural anti-inflammatory agents that will help to calm skin and other organs that tend to flare up during allergy season. One ounce of walnuts a day, whether drizzled over pancakes in the morning or blended into a veggie burger patty, and one tablespoon of flaxseed oil two to three times a day are adequate servings of the omega-3’s. Vitamin C, in its many forms, is a natural heal-all with tastiness to boot. An additional 1,000 milligrams of Vitamin C has been known to lower the levels of histamine in the blood, so consider consuming more kiwifruit, oranges, broccoli, and bell peppers.

Live cultures called probiotics keep the immune system strong and build resistance to allergic reactions. Found in things like kombucha, plain yogurt, kefir (fermented goat milk and grains), sauerkraut, dark chocolate, microalgae like spirulina or chlorella, miso soup, pickles, tempeh, and kimchi, probiotics are the live soldiers you send into your immune system to ward off sticky pollens. Local honey is thought to have a similar effect. Although the theory is not scientifically proven, the idea of consuming local pollen collected by bees native to your area acts as an allergy shot, implementing your allergies into your body so that your cells can adjust to the presence of the allergen and build immunity. Similarly, an old wives’ tale boasts that drinking goat’s milk after the herd has grazed on local pollinators (it even works for poison ivy) builds immunity.

Garlic, every meal’s lifesaver, scares off mosquitos, vampires, and a runny nose. Along with extreme heart health, the spicy nasal feel of garlic will surely clean out your tubes after a bite or two. Horseradish, chili peppers, hot mustard, hot ginger, cayenne pepper, onion, and wasabi also keep passageways clear because of their spicy sting. Carotenoids are another key factor to a diet that prevent the inflammation of airways, so a diet filled with things like apricots, pumpkin, carrots, sweet potatoes, spinach, kale, butternut squash, and collared greens is sure to keep the airways open.

Avoidance and Limitations
As important as it is to consume healthy foods and appropriate vitamins to build immunity to and treat allergy symptoms, refraining from certain foods will also boost your immunity to the season’s nasty allergens. Cut out foods that cause any stomach upset or mild breakouts. Dairy and cloven-hooved animals are a common food allergy for most people, whether they know it or not. Avoiding those food products may increase your chances of allergy immunity.

Those allergic to ragweed should avoid melon, banana, cucumber, sunflower seeds, chamomile, and echinacea. Grass allergies should avoid raw celery, oranges, apples, tomatoes, and peaches, as well as wheat, corn, rice, barley, millet, rye, oats, sugar, and bananas. Beet sugar is fine, but most raw sugars consist of cane, so be cautious that raw or organic does not necessarily mean “beet.” Buckwheat flower, arrowroot, and nutritional yeast are wonderful substitutes for the thickeners and seeds that those with grass allergies must avoid. Reduce foods rich in arachidonic acid, such as egg yolks, shellfish, and some red meats, as a recent study associates these acids with allergies and hay fever.

Also remember that natural remedies can be toxic when consumed in large quantities and absolutely do not mix natural treatments with pharmaceutical drugs. Allegra, an antihistamine, coupled with an antihistaminic product like quercetin or butterbur could supply too much activity, resulting in significant problems such as glaucoma, ulcers, bladder infections, hyperthyroidism, high blood pressure, deliriousness or hallucinations, and heightened side effects like incredible drowsiness or fatigue.

If we invest as much money and time into our bodies as we do our homes, cars, gardens, or other hobbies, we’d be a much healthier (and probably more peaceful) world. Be cautious with your consumption, as with anything, and remember to prevent before you treat!


1 comment:

  1. I'm getting a humidifier stat! "Sleep in peace, waking up with a clear head"? Yes please!