|Seasonal Allergy |
Hack, Hack! Achoo, Achoo! Got any tissues? Drat, another allergy season. Burning eyes, runny nose, plugged-up ears, sinus pressure and scratchy throat. Claritin, Benadryl, Allegra, Dimetapp, any Antihistamine. I gotta lie down.
Allergy is a hypersensitivity response of the immune system, reactions to normally harmless substances in the environment called allergens. Pollen, ragweed, animal dander, mold, and smoke are common culprits. If Dad or Mom has such an allergy, so might you (DeSwert, 1999). If you’re the oldest in the family and under age 20, watch out. Most of us self-medicate with whatever lines the pharmacy shelves, but once in awhile a visit to the doctor is prudent. Antihistamines, either OTC or Rx, are indispensible.
What is histamine, anyway? It’s a chemical made from the essential amino acid histidine, which is found abundantly in hemoglobin and is needed for the production of red and white blood cells, for maintenance of the myelin sheaths, and for removal of heavy metals from the body. Histamine dilates capillaries, which increases their permeability and lowers blood pressure. It increases gastric acid output and may accelerate heart rate and constrict bronchial smooth muscle. Histamine is released from mast cells, often equated with basophils, white cells that have tiny granules in the cytoplasm. It’s the job of white blood cells to respond to invasion by alien substances, whether bacteria, viruses or allergens. Basophils do a great job of responding to allergens, and they’re not afraid to let you know it. When basophils get activated, they de-granulate and release histamine. This activity is modulated by the interaction of antigens with immunoglobulin E (IgE), a specialized protein involved in the immune response.
Histamine is not limited to production by the body. It also appears in some foods, where levels vary based on freshness and age of the food. The longer a food is stored, the greater the histamine content and the more problematic it can be to a sensitive person. However, this is not exactly the same as an environmental allergic response. Those who cannot tolerate histamine from foods generally have low values of certain enzymes, namely diamine oxidase (DAO) and histamine-N-methyltransferase (HNMT), substances that bind and metabolize histamine. The ingestion of histamine-rich foods, or of alcohol or drugs that either release histamine or block these enzymes, will provoke symptoms that include diarrhea, headache, rhinoconjunctival reactions, asthma, hypotension, and itching and flushing (Maintz, 2007). Some of the offending foods are either highly processed or fermented, including sauerkraut, alcohol, aged cheese, smoked foods, canned fish (yes, tuna), some condiments like mustard and ketchup, yeast foods, and some fruits and vegetables, among them citrus, bananas and pears, and tomatoes, eggplant and spinach. Those who suffer both histamine sensitivity and seasonal allergy are hit with a double whammy.
Recognizing the risk factors for allergy is important to prevention, one of the recommendations for which includes staying indoors, a virtual impossibility for those who are mobile. Besides the chemicals named in the first paragraph of this epistle and the prescription medications about which too little is known, there are alternative remedies that have enjoyed scientific scrutiny. Among them is butterbur, a perennial herb of the genus Petasites. In a randomized, double-blinded trial performed in Switzerland and Germany, seasonal allergy sufferers who took one butterbur tablet four times a day fared similarly to those who took certrizine (Zyrtec) once a day, as measured by a subjective improvement scale. Despite being lauded as non-sedative, certrizine induced drowsiness in two-thirds of the individuals taking it, while no such response was associated with butterbur (Schapowal, 2002). Having to take an herb more than once a day, however, does little to guarantee patient compliance.
Leukotrienes (LTs) are biologically active compounds that regulate allergic and inflammatory reactions. When IgE is involved in an allergic response with histamine, LTs are at the scene. Butterbur was found to block the synthesis of leukotrienes in granulocyte cells and to effect improvement in nasal symptoms after five days of supplementation, reducing histamine levels and improving quality of life (Thomet, 2001). The distress and work impediment wrought by seasonal allergy is well known to sufferers. An increasing number of victims look for herbal, instead of pharmaceutical, remedies. In a head-to-head contest with fexofenadine (Allegra), butterbur was comparably effective in allaying symptoms of allergic rhinitis. But again, multiple daily doses of the herb are required. (Schapowal, 2005) (Lee, 2004)
To avoid the adverse effects of drugs, lots of people look for alternatives, often with considerable success. Pycnogenol, from French maritime pine bark, was tested as a prophylactic measure against seasonal allergy in Canadian subjects, starting three weeks prior to pollen season. It was learned that symptom relief was more pronounced the earlier prophylaxis was started, with those who took the supplement eight weeks before pollen onslaught having the best results (Wilson, 2010). Vitamin C, also known as ascorbic acid, has been a mainstay in the anti-allergy grab bag of many folks. Interest in this remedy has been manifest in studies that are decades old. Otolaryngologists examined the effects of vitamin C on allergic rhinitis and discovered that 74% of those in the trial experienced a substantial decrease of symptoms, accompanied by a surprising return to normal of otherwise elevated nasal secretion pH (Podoshin, 1991). A prior study found that forced air volume in allergic rhinitis sufferers had increased in one hour after receiving 2 grams of vitamin C in a single dose (Bucca, 1990).
Foods that contain vitamin C are likely also to contain flavonoids, plant pigments that are beneficial to human health as anti-oxidant, anti-inflammatory, and anti-viral compounds. Among these is quercitin, common to onions, apples, asparagus, tomatoes, broccoli and citrus, among a few other foods. Quercetin was found to inhibit IgE-mediated allergic responses via sequestration of mast cell secretions (Shaik, 2006) (Lee, 2010) (Cruz, 2012) (Matsushima, 2009). It has been realized that magnesium deficiency can elevate histamine levels in susceptible persons, and that histamine activity reduces magnesium, creating a self-perpetuating cycle. This discovery was made after laboratory animals, with metabolisms that parallel humans’, were exposed to magnesium deficient diets for a week, leading to the inference that magnesium supplementation can promote enzyme activity while protecting airways from allergic exacerbations (Zervas, 2000) (Nishio, 1987) (Hirota, 1999).
Those who suffer from seasonal allergies probably haven’t thought about changing eating habits, and rightly so, because histamine foods aren’t publicized as such. An oddity is that at least one of them also contains considerable vitamin C. That leaves vitamin C supplements as a line of defense, which is a problem because most of it is made in Asia from corn that is genetically modified. It might be a sound idea to look for a vitamin C made from non-GMO cassava root, like the one from BodyBio.
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