Tag Archives: PROD-517232

  • The 411 on Allergies

    Yup, it’s the beginning of allergy season. If you’re already dealing with itchy eyes and a runny nose, you may wonder why exactly you fall victim to the ravages of ragweed each year.

    Here’s how allergies work. Pollen, let’s say from a juniper bush, is for some reason seen as an invader in your body. When it’s inhaled, the body tries to fight off the invader by producing antibodies called immunoglobulin E (IgE). The IgE then sends a signal to “mast” cells to raise arms against the invading allergen by releasing chemicals like histamine into the bloodstream. The result is inflammatory reactions throughout the body, triggering the stuffy nose, the sneezing, the hives, etc.

    But if juniper pollen isn’t actually harmful, why does your body see it as such? And why doesn’t everyone have the same reaction to it? Scientists are still unsure how allergies develop, but some have posited what is called the “hygiene hypothesis.” Because children in the US and other developed countries have limited exposure to germs early in life, their immune systems don’t properly understand what is truly a dangerous germ and what is just an unknown invader. The result is to attack anything that might be dangerous, resulting in allergy symptoms. Though it’s just a hypothesis, studies have shown that allergy rates are indeed higher in developed countries, and the rate of allergies increases as they develop.

    In addition, according to the American College of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology, a warming climate may continue to make allergy seasons worse and worse. The reason is that earlier warming—and earlier onset of spring—helps common allergens flourish. From a recent press release from ACAAI:

    Weather conditions have a significant effect on the levels of pollen and mold in the air, which in turn affects the severity of allergy symptoms. Typically, the common allergens that cause allergic rhinitis ("hay fever") flourish when the weather is warm.

    "When winter weather turns unexpectedly warm, pollens and molds are released into the air earlier than usual, and then die down when it gets cold again," said Stanley Fineman, MD, of the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology. "This pattern of weather can ‘prime' a person's allergic reaction, so when the allergen reappears as the weather gets warm again, the allergy symptoms are worse than ever.

    Whether or not we know exactly how exactly allergies work, allergy symptoms can make life difficult. Here are some of our favorite ways to combat them.

    Neti pot. This centuries-old Ayurvedic tradition utilizes a saltwater mixture that is poured through the nostril. Used daily, it helps sweep allergens, bacteria and viruses from the nasal passages, thereby reducing the chances of infection or allergic reaction. It also helps reduce inflammation in the mucosal lining of the nose, making it stronger and more resistant to infection.

    Antioxidants help reduce free radical damage, which can suppress the immune system. The more your immunity is compromised, the more likely it will be to react badly to normal environmental allergens. Try a daily dose of Pharmaca’s Antioxidant Booster, and get lots of purple and dark red fruits in your diet—since berries, cherries, and red grapes contain powerful antioxidants that have naturally anti-inflammatory properties.

    Antihistamines. Dr. Tieraona Low Dog, MD, recommends non-sedating histamines like Zyrtec or Claritin, especially when you know you’ll be outside on a high-pollen day (take a few hours beforehand). On the other hand, herbal extracts like nettles and butterbur, and the antioxidant quercetin have natural antihistamine effects that can reduce the allergy response.

    Chinese herbs. Plantiva’s AllerDx, one of Pharmaca’s best-selling allergy relief products, offers a unique blend of Chinese herbs that go to work on the entire immune system while quickly calming allergic reactions. “I’ve gotten a lot of positive customer feedback about its quick-acting effects for sneezing, and itchy, watery eyes,” says Marisa Buchsbaum, herbalist at our south Boulder store. “It’s made up of Chinese herbs that support the liver and mucous membranes and help clear the lungs and sinuses. And the clinical studies and trials behind the products are really supportive of its claims.”

    Probiotics. Because allergies are an overactive immune response, simply helping to support the immune system can be really helpful, says China Rose Reid, herbalist at our Napa store. And since so much of the immune system is centered in the gut, probiotics help keep everything in balance. China Rose recommends MegaFood MegaFlora, especially if you’re having digestive symptoms along with your allergies. The Pharmaca brand Super Probiotic Blend can also provide a good maintenance dosage.

  • Expert Advice: Allergy Relief

    Dr. Low Dog is an internationally recognized expert in the field of herbal medicine and integrative approaches to women's health. She is currently the Fellowship Director at the Arizona Center for Integrative Medicine and Clinical Associate Professor of Medicine at the University of Arizona Health Sciences Center. Find out more at drlowdog.com.

    Allergies--they can be debilitating for the approximately 50 million Americans that suffer from them. If you’re looking for relief from your symptoms, whether they’re caused by cat dander or tree pollen, take some advice from Dr. Tieraona Low Dog, MD, and member of Pharmaca’s Integrative Health Advisory Board.

    Avoid or remove the allergens. “There’s a way to monitor pollen levels,” says Dr. Low Dog, who recommends keeping track of your known allergens via the local news or on websites such as weather.com. When the pollen counts are high, “keep the doors and windows closed, and limit outdoor activity.” Dr. Low Dog says you might feel weird wearing a mask to do yardwork, but it’s vital if it means the difference between an allergy--or even an asthma--attack.

    In addition, Dr. Low Dog strongly urges allergy-sufferers to get rid of things that collect dust, dander and other allergens in your house, such as throw pillows, thick carpeting and drapes. “How often do you get drapes cleaned?” she asks. Invest in a vacuum with a HEPA filter and, of course, wash your hands frequently and take off pollen-filled clothes as soon as you get in the house.

    Indoor air filters can also be very useful, says Dr. Low Dog. “Houses with forced air heating and air conditioning can spread allergens throughout the house,” she says. “Putting a HEPA filter into that central unit can help remove a lot of those allergens.” You can also try a stand-alone air purifier in the allergy-sufferer’s bedroom, which Dr. Low Dog recommends running at least four hours per day. The highest-quality purifiers will have the UL seal and FDA approval, she says.

    Finally, Dr. Low Dog strongly recommends a saline nasal rinse. “It helps to keep the mucus thin and get rid of the pollen that’s in your nose,” she says. “It also relieves dryness, which is important--when you get cracks in the nasal mucosa it can increase the chance of infections.” Nasal rinses can be easy and inexpensive, too. Just add 1/8 tsp of iodine-free salt to 8 oz of warm water, along with a pinch of baking soda to neutralize the pH. She recommends using a neti pot, or a bulb syringe, to apply the rinse.

    Boost your allergy response with vitamins and supplements. Dr. Low Dog recommends getting several small doses of vitamin C each day, along with essential fatty acids from fish oil and flaxseed. “I also recommend freeze-dried stinging nettles. I like the Eclectic Institute brand, which was part of a clinical trial,” says Dr. Low Dog. “And I like butterbur, which has been shown in several trials to be as beneficial as a non-sedating antihistamine. Make sure you use a brand that is free of pyrrolizidine alkaloids, compounds that can be toxic to the liver.” She recommends taking the nettles or butterbur at the beginning of hayfever season.

    Try over-the-counter or prescription solutions. “Non-sedating antihistamines like Zyrtec and Claritin can be useful,” says Dr. Low Dog. “I tell people that if they know they’re going to be outside on a high pollen day, take one a few hours before going out. You’ll get the short-acting effect without it making you sleepy.” Benadryl, on the other hand, should be reserved for quelling attacks, since it almost always induces drowsiness.

    Another option is a prescription nasal steroid, ideal for patients who with severe nasal allergy symptoms that do not respond to other measures. “They offer localized relief without necessitating a medication that affects the whole body,” says Dr. Low Dog.

    Boost digestive health. “I am a firm believer that reducing inflammation in the body is key,” says Dr. Low Dog. “Watch for food sensitivities and allergies, and do things to restore gut health.” She often recommends taking bitters (such as Angostura Bitters, one tbsp in 4 ounces water or Gallexier by Floradix) before a meal to help prime the digestive tract, along with a multi-strain probiotic. Together these help improve digestion and restore intestinal integrity, decreasing the risk of food-borne allergies and improving overall health.

    Ultimately, reducing allergy symptoms is as simple as reducing your exposure. But there are a variety of integrative approaches to quelling symptoms when exposure is inevitable. Speak with a Pharmaca practitioner about other ways to find relief from your allergies.    

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