Thursday, September 30, 2010

Taking Control of Fall Allergies

It’s not a condition that often comes to mind as a major public health problem, but seasonal allergies have a greater impact on our public health than most would think. Consider this: people who suffer from allergic rhinitis miss an average of 3.8 million days of work and school every year, and over a third of allergy sufferers say that their allergic rhinitis decreases their work effectiveness. Eighty percent of people with seasonal allergies say they have sleep problems, which can lead to fatigue, loss of concentration and poor performance at work and school, and over 16.7 million visits to office-based physicians each year are due to allergies (source: And if those numbers are not bad enough, brace yourself--it’s allergy season again.

To get a better grasp on this health concern, let’s first review what an allergy is. Allergy is actually a symptom of a malfunction of the immune system which causes a person to respond to a certain substance in a hypersensitive way, and have an allergic reaction. Allergies are the result of an immune response to a normally harmless substance, like pollen or dust and when substances these enter the presence of our mast cells, an immune response is triggered and histamine is released, causing the annoying sneezes and sniffles we call bad allergies.

The common solution to this “malfunction” offered by physicians is most often a prescription for antihistamines, which don't actually change the allergic process, but block the histamine and therefore the allergy, from being released. The other option, steroid nasal inhalers which treat hay fever and other seasonal allergies, can be very effective but when steroids enter the rest of the body they can actually weaken the immune system over time.

Fortunately, there are some effective natural ways to deal with seasonal allergies. To begin with, buying a HEPA (high-efficiency particulate air) air filter can help removes allergens and particles from the air by forcing it through screens that have microscopic pores so you can reduce your exposure to allergens in the first place. In addition, regular use of a Neti Pot, a great tool for performing a saline nasal rinse, helps keep the nasal passages clear of particles that ultimately contribute to sinus congestion.
There are also a number of amazing herbs which can help tremendously in keeping allergies at bay. Quercetin a bioflavonoid compound which offers antioxidant protection to plants against environmental stresses does wonders for allergy prevention, by preventing the release of histamine from mast cells. It is not very water soluble, so poor dietary absorption may reduce its efficacy, but when taken with bromelain, a natural, protein-digesting enzyme from pineapples, its absorption is greatly improved. Bromelain also has powerful anti-inflammatory properties that work well with quercetin.

Another key player when it comes to fighting allergies is Stinging Nettles, a common plant which grows in damp waste areas in the United States and Europe. While touching the stingers on the nettle plant, causes an allergic reaction, due an acid in the stingers which spurs a local release of histamine, herbalists actually recommend nettle juice as an antidote to the rash caused by the stinger, and suggest drinking its tea for allergies. The herb, Red Clover is another great herbal remedy for asthma and allergies, having antispasmodic and expectorant qualities and like stinging nettles, and can be drunk as a tea.

Allergy Bonus Tip: Reducing intake of dairy products around allergy season often helps the body to responds more appropriately to environmental allergens and reduce excess mucus production.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Prevent IBD with probiotics

A recent Harvard study has confirmed that an imbalance of good bacteria or probiotics is responsible for triggering IBD or inflammatory bowel disease. IBD includes ulcerative colitis (UC) and Crohn’s disease, of which approximately 30,000 new cases are diagnosed each year in the U.S. Both types of IBD result from of a loss of balance between our immune system, 70% of which is located in the gut, and the good bacteria that live in the intestines. The researchers found that the species of bacteria called Klebsiella pneumoniae and Proteus mirabilis (2 types of bacteria that I see commonly on the stool tests of autistic spectrum or ASD children), seem to work with the microbes in the gut to cause the diseases.

So what can we do to be sure our guts and those of our kids are colonized properly? For starters, a healthy diet is key. Avoid excess refined foods and sugars and load up on fresh fruits and vegetables as the main staples in your diet—they are full of GI cleansing fiber. Plus, you’ve got to be sure you’re taking in plenty of good bacteria through cultured foods such as yogurt, fermented foods such as miso and cultured vegetables.

By the way: I often hear parents worry that their kids won’t take to sauerkraut. Try mixing half cultured vegetables with half of a grated apple and grated carrots for a tangy sweet treat, or start with small amounts of the cultured veggies juice poured over liked foods. For more information on how to culture your own veggies and other foods at home, visit

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Optimizing your digestion - part 2

If you suffer from intestinal bloating, cleansing can do wonders for your vitality too. While some choose more intensive cleansing such as enemas and colonics, something as simple as a good fiber supplement can act as a gentle brush for the intestines and as fuel for the good flora or good bacteria which live in your gut. Many people find that after just a few days of a cleansing supplement, their bellies go down and their energy goes up.

Eating unhealthy and processed food based diets along with the overuse of antibiotics can have the effect of killing off the good bacteria that live in the gut and protect the intestinal walls from “intruders.” As a result, an overgrowth of unwanted bacteria or Candida yeast can occur, and cause damage to the gut lining in many ways. An imbalance in intestinal flora can be assessed using stool tests from specialty laboratories and broad-spectrum probiotic supplements can cover most all of your good flora bases. Sometimes, a deficiency of one particular strain can be identified and replaced with a probiotic supplement. When adding in a probiotic supplement to your protocol, remember to go slow, as adding too much at once can cause excess gas or stomach upset. Going slow with new supplements is a good rule of thumb to follow, in general.

Bonus tip: by the way, sipping herbal & spice teas is a great way to protect your GI tract and immune system from pathogenic bacteria and parasites that may be hanging out in your foods with their anti-microbial essential oils. Many herbs and spices also have a carminative effect (i.e. anti-flatulent properties), which are especially welcome after that big bowl of chili or broccoli topped baked potato with cheese that you had for lunch.

To your GI health!

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Optimizing your digestion - part 1

Known as “the seat of health,” the gastrointestinal or GI tract is a complicated system that includes digestive, endocrine, exocrine and immune functions. Our GI tracts are constantly exposed to toxins and “invaders” through the foods we eat, the medicines we take (like antibiotics) as well as the other unwanted critters that make their way through, including bacteria, viruses, yeast and parasites. So it may seem natural that our GI health can easily become compromised and burden us with uncomfortable symptoms once in a while. The truth is, the more common GI complaints like heartburn, reflux, diarrhea, constipation and excess gas are more likely a result of poor diet, bad eating habits and stress which compromise the immune system of the GI and allow problems to develop.

So how can you help keep the GI tract healthy and strong? Well, just like the importance of spring cleaning in any home, our lower gastrointestinal tract occasionally needs cleaning out too, to ensure its health is maintained and we are digesting and absorbing as needed. Colon cleansing is an excellent preventative measure which helps to cleanse the lower gastrointestinal tract of undigested food, expel worms, and inhibit the adhesion of bacteria, fungi and parasites.