ITCHYCOO PARK: Pollen up close and sepia
BY ELIZABETH FIEND LIVING EDITOR What do vaginal dryness, lousy driving, methamphetamine, cocaine, steroids and Kleenex all have in common? You guessed it: this article is gong to be all about seasonal allergies. Allergies are caused by a body’s misplaced, overblown reaction to something that in reality isn’t harmful. When this happens the culprit is called an allergen. Pollen is an allergen, though it’s a harmless substance, not poisonous in any way to humans. But for a growing number of people, pollen, mold, animal fur and dust mites trigger an unnecessary, and unfortunate, attack by their immune system. The result of this attack is an allergic reaction — nasal secretion, itchy throat, eyes, and ear canals, sneezing, tearing eyes, stuffy nose and ears. Allergies also make some people tired, cranky, impair memory and concentration and prevent sleep.
More and more people are becoming allergic, to food, pollen and — crazy as it sounds — there’s currently a boom in allergies to ladybugs! As for hayfever, at least one in 10 people will suffer from hay fever at some point, and that number is growing.
If one of your parents has allergies you’re at a 50 percent risk of developing allergies yourself. If both of your parents have allergies, you’re screwed — there’s a 70 percent chance you will, too. Strangely enough, even birth order seems to have an influence on who develops allergies: If you have three or more older siblings, you might get off Scot free (presumably due to the fact that your parents gave up by the time you came along and you were exposed to more immune system-building germs than your sibs). Breastfeeding also gives a child an edge over allergies. Allergies can get worse as you age because your system is more easily traumatized and overreacts, even more, to allergens.
The weather can play a part in your allergies. Wind? Not good for the nose. Rain is good because it brings pollen to the ground, not your nostrils. Rain is bad, because it makes plants grow faster, producing more allergens.
Allergens bind to antibodies, which set off the release of chemicals called histamines. They in turn bind to receptors in your nose and set off the symptoms associated with allergies, like inflammation.
Allergy medicines work by reducing inflammation and countering the release of histamines. Inflammation is the immune system’s response to irritation. Inflammation sends an influx of white blood cells rushing to the scene of the crime, producing the redness, swelling, heat and pain of rhinitis, or inflammation of the nose.
Back in the good old days, cocaine was recommended to hay fever suffers. Today doctors usually steer patients to one or a combination of three types of medicines: decongestants, antihistamines and steroid nasal sprays. Unfortunately, none of these options do anything to actually prevent allergies, they just mask the symptoms. They all work with limited degrees of success and all come with side effects.
Decongestants, like Sudafed, Actifed, Contact, Claritin D and Allegra D are medicines that shrink swollen tissue and blood vessels to relieve the discomfort caused by pressure on your sinuses. They also raise your blood pressure, restrict urinary flow and can cause irritability, insomnia, dizziness, nervousness and make your heart race. In other words, you can get wired on the stuff. Oops I forget to mention stroke, which is another possible side effect.
Decongestants containing the ingredients pseudoephedrine, ephedrine and phenylpropanolamie, even if non-prescription, must now be sold from behind the pharmacy counter because you can also use that stuff to cook up meth in your bathtub. So along came the Combat Methamphetamine Act of 2005, which requires a patient to sign for their allergy meds and show ID and the sales are recorded in some giant computer.
If you try to buy more than nine grams of the stuff a month, an alarm goes off in an enormous warehouse in the Midwest and a bunch of guys in flakjackets bust down your door. But more importantly, doesn’t the fact that the active ingredient in meth is the same ingredient as the one in your allergy meds say something? Hint: This treatment isn’t gonna be good for your body in the long run.
Steroids, such as corticosteroid in the form of nasal sprays, also reduce inflammation. They must be taken daily for one or two weeks before becoming fully effective. Their side effects include weight gain, high blood pressure, osteoporosis, muscle weakness, even cataracts.
Antihistamines such as Benadryl, Alavert and Allegra are drugs that block histamines. They’re used to try to stop the itchy eyes, sneezing and runny nose. Of course it would be smarter to try to stop the release of the histamines in the first place, especially because antihistamines have side effects like drowsiness, dry mouth and mental fog. Studies have also shown that antihistamines can negatively affect learning and thinking in children.
According to a recent study in England, 3.3 million drivers admit that they lost concentration at the wheel or had an impaired reaction due to side effects of their allergy medicine.
Both antihistamines and decongestants work by drying up your nose. But your nose isn’t all that gets dried out; these meds, when used frequently, can also dry out other parts of your body, even causing vaginal dryness (been wondering how I was going to work that in, huh?).
Wiser than taking those medicines would be to make simple changes in your behavior, like more frequent showering to remove pollen from you skin and hair, and keeping your bedding and house clean and free of dust. It may look silly, but wearing a dust mask when doing the housework can really help.
Since allergies are basically a malfunction of the immune system it’s important to keep yours in good shape. Jade Screen, a Chinese herbal combination does a super job of boosting your immune system. I take this and it really works. (Leave a comment if you want more info on Jade Screen).
Your diet plays a huge role in your immune system’s functionality. Diets high in protein, like Atkins, can mess with the immune system in some people. The best diet for people with allergies is — yes I’m actually going to say it again — one that centers on fruits and vegetables, eating fat and protein in moderate amounts and drinking plenty of water, while avoiding processed foods, white sugar and white flour.
Also try my animal, vegetable and mineral approach.
The number one dietary change you can make to relieve allergies is to give up cow’s milk. Milk, ice cream and cheese are really, really bad for you if you suffer from hay fever (this is totally independent and has nothing to do with being lactose intolerant). I know it’s hard to give up pizza, but cow’s milk, specifically the protein casein, increases mucus, a lot. Even non-dairy cheese made from almonds or soy may contain casein, so check the label. The good news is that sheep and goat milk don’t have casein so you can still eat products made from these sources.
According to integrative-medicine guru Dr. Andrew Weil, effective herbal remedies for allergy suffers include the leaves and root from the stinging nettle plant. Take one to two freeze-dried capsule every two to four hours.* And quercetin, a bioflavonoid from citrus fruits and buckwheat, should be taken in the form of 500 mg coated tablets (avoid the powder) for at least six to eight weeks* to stabilize the cells that produce the itch. Dr. Weil also recommends using a nasal douche which rinses pollen from your nasal tissues while soothing the irritated mucus membranes. A commercial, non-prescription product he recommends is Nasalcrom Nasal Solution. (*Dosages given are for non-pregnant adults.)
Mr. Fiend and I can personally state that zinc really does boost the immune system. It makes your hair grow real nice too. Ziacam is a zinc-based product made specifically for allergy suffers. We prefer to take a simple mineral supplement that contains calcium, magnesium and zinc.
Mind-body medicines like meditation, guided imagery and hypnosis have good track records in treating allergies, as do acupuncture and homeopathy. All three consider the body as a whole, not just parts, and there are generally no side effects to treatments. An acupuncturist and homeopathic practitioner will spend a lot more time diagnosing your allergy and developing a personal treatment than a doctor of Western medicine will. These techniques not only lessen specific allergy attacks, they can actually help your body unlearn its whacked response to allergens — allergies-be-gone.
Honey is a folk remedy for pollen allergies. It’s kinda like the allergy shot concept, take in a small dose of an allergen and your body will learn to relax, not overreact to it and your allergies will gradually disappear. Honey contains pollen; the body recognizes honey as a food, your immune system chills out instead of freaking out. Important: Use local hone and take a spoonful a day.
Allergy medicine is BIG business.
Drug company GlaxoSmithKline just won FDA approval for their new steroid nasal spray Veramyst. It’s expected to make sales of up to $1 billion in the first year alone, so don’t expect your doctor to recommend acupuncture, mind-body techniques, herbal remedies or dietary changes that can cure your allergies. It’s in the best interest of the medical field to keep you sick.
Sources and For More Information:
General on allergies:
Dr. Weil, search >allergies< for various articles:
Homeopath and natural remedies:
Allergies and meth:
Allergies are big business:
Driving while under the influence (of allergy meds):
ABOUT THIS COLUMN: At no time in recorded history have we possessed so much knowledge about health and nutrition, nor have we ever had such vast and effective machinery for disseminating that knowledge — and yet, for all intents and purposes, we live in hi-tech Dark Age with the vast majority of the global population essentially ignorant or confused about the basic facts of their own biology. How did this happen? Well, that’s a whole six-part mini-series in and of itself, but the short answer is that the bottom line of many a multi-national corporation is dependent on that ignorance, and vast sums of money are expended to maintain it. The global warming argument is a classic example. When scientific fact did not favor Big Oil, they hired their own scientists to to conduct and publish studies that contradicted the peer-reviewed facts about the environmental impact of carbon-based emissions. As a result, whenever the latest global warming news is relayed to the public, it always comes with the caveat that “some dispute these findings.” There was time when newspapers saw it as their duty to truth squad these debates, but that’s long since become a luxury most papers can no longer afford — better to hire another gossip columnist and give the people what they want. To fill this crucial gap, Phawker began publishing the JUNK SCIENCE column by Elizabeth Fiend, beloved host of Big Tea Party. Every week, Miss Fiend connects the dots to reveal a constellation of scientific facts that have been hiding in plain sight — scattered across the vast, cold reaches of the Internet. With a background in punk rock and underground comics, and longstanding employment as a library researcher, Miss Fiend doesn’t pretend to be a scientist or an expert. She does, however, know how scientific facts become diluted by corporate-sponsored non-facts, and every week she separates the smoke from the mirrors. Why? Because she loves you.