by Karyn Siegel-Maier
Seasonal allergies affect more than 22 million Americans, with symptoms occurring anywhere from early spring through late November. If you're one of them, you could really be hit with a one-two punch this cold and flu season. Unfortunately, allergies are also poorly understood and inadequately treated by conventional medicine.
Allergy is the result of your immune system's over-reaction to pollens, grass, airborne fungi and even certain foods and cosmetics. With more than 60,000 chemicals already existing in our environment, and nearly 500 new ones being created annually, we also face biochemical challenges to our immune system. When an allergen is introduced, the body fights back by producing an excess of inflammatory chemicals, such as histamine, from mast cells. This attempt to seek-and-destroy the allergen brings on the familiar symptoms of runny nose, watery eyes and sneezing.
Given their generic name, antihistamines must prevent the production of histamine, right? No, they do not. Antihistamines merely block the action of histamine at receptor sites. In other words, they suppress the appearance of physical symptoms but do nothing to redirect the underlying cause. Antihistamines also often produce undesirable side effects, such as dizziness, drowsiness and even depression. The good news is that there is a better way to treat inflammatory disorders.
One of the mechanisms involved in an allergic response is the release of leukotrienes, an agent which can restrict bronchial tubes up to 1,000 times greater than can histamine. The production of leukotrienes is made possible by the presence of arachidonic acid, a fatty acid found exclusively in animal products. Therefore, during serious bouts with allergies, you may want to assume an all vegan diet, or at least consider reducing your consumption of meat and dairy products.
There's still another good reason to forego the meat in favor of the salad - flavonoids. Flavonoids (sometimes called bioflavonoids) are a group of compounds that give many fruits and vegetables their color. Of these, quercetin is the most widely distributed among the plant kingdom and effectively inhibits leukotriene and histamine release from mast cells. In addition to getting enough raw fruits and vegetables in the diet, you may take quercetin in supplemental form.
Nettle (Urtica dioica): Nettle has enjoyed a long history as a treatment for seasonal allergies. Dr. Andrew Weil, author of Natural Health, Natural Medicine (Houghton Mifflin, 1998) reports success with this herb to treat his own allergies. Be careful not to confuse this herb with another species, U. Urens, which contains high levels of leukotrienes and histamine.
Ephedra (Ephedra sinicia): Also known as mahuang, the generic name of this herb may be familiar since a synthetic version of its primary alkaloid, ephedrine, can be found in many conventional remedies as pseudoephedrine. This herb has been used to treat bronchial and inflammatory disorders in Chinese medicine for more than 5,000 years. In fact, ephedra is often used to treat asthma. Note: Ephedra can raise both systolic and diastolic blood pressure and can cause excitability in some individuals.
Echinacea (Echinacea purpurea): Also known as purple coneflower, this Native American herb is one of the best immune enhancing supplements you can take. Echinacea has been the subject of more than 50 years worth of study and has clearly demonstrated an ability to increase the production of a number of T-cells and their distribution in the blood.
Garlic (Allium sativum): The antiviral properties of garlic have been well examined for many years. In Russia, the herb is known as "Russian penicillin" where it was once used to treat respiratory disorders in hospitals. Recent Japanese studies have found that aged garlic extract stimulates NK activity and a potent antimicrobial action against bacteria and yeasts. Garlic owes its efficacy to allicin, a byproduct derived from the amino acid alliin reacting with the enzyme alliinase. The biosynthesis of these constituents however, can be unstable in their natural state. Raw garlic is certainly good for you and has several health benefits to offer otherwise, but the enzyme necessary to produce allicin is usually destroyed in the stomach before the conversion can take place. For this reason, enteric-coated tablets of dried or powdered garlic tablets is the best form of supplementation to take advantage of this herb's immune-boosting qualities. Note: Garlic, and other alliums can raise or lower blood sugar levels. Consult your health care practitioner if you are diabetic or hypoglycemic.
And a word about colds:
According to the Journal of the American Medical Association, the more social ties you have, the greater your resistance to upper respiratory illness. The 1997 study gave 276 healthy subjects aged 18 to 55 one of two rhinoviruses via nose drops. Those subjects with 6 or more varied social contacts had a significantly reduced susceptibility to colds, regardless of their age, sex or the type of virus to which they were exposed. So, the next time you feel a had cold heading your way, get a foothold on prevention and get together we people you admire.
Stinging nettle - 250 mg. freeze-dried extract every 2-4 hours or until symptoms subside
Ephedra: 12.5 - 25 mg. 3x day
Quercetin - 400 mg. 2x day between meals
Echinacea - 350 mg 3x day
Garlic - tablet equivalent of 10 cloves of garlic
Human Beings - As many as you can tolerate
Karyn Siegel-Maier is an herbal researcher and writer for numerous web sites and national magazines including Natural Living Today, Better Nutrition, Your Health, Let's Live and others. She is also a member of the International Aromatherapy and Herb Association and the author of "The Naturally Clean Home" and "50 Simple Ways to Pamper Your Baby" (Storey Books). Visit her web site at http://herbalmusings.com.