Friday, March 26, 2010

Supplements for Allergies

I have to preface this post by saying that I don't need any supplements for my allergies if I'm eating just raw foods, but since that hasn't been the case for the past several months, I've had to rely on a few helpful supplements to keep the hayfever at bay. My ideal is to not have to take supplements -- to get whatever nutrients I can from the food that I eat. But whenever I find an herb that helps me that either I can't find in a food item or in the concentration I need from the amount of food that I eat, then I go for the supplement.

My last two babies were born in the fall, which meant that my early months of pregnancy were at the peak allergy season. I was relying on antihistamines and even steroids at times to manage my seasonal allergies and asthma. (Here's an earlier post with more details on that). My OBGYN told me I couldn't use antihistamines. I was beyond frightened by that news because I knew that I'd suffer all those awful allergy symptoms without some intervention. I wasn't really into any sort of healthy eating at the time, but I had heard of herbal supplements. I asked him if I could use other supplements and he said I could look into them and check back with him. He ended up approving the three that I later brought back.

I went to the herb store and asked what might work. The woman told me that Eyebright and Goldenseal were a good combination, but that Goldenseal was not good for expectant mothers. She did recommend Stinging Nettle, Bromelain, and Quercetin though. So I bought all three.

I still take these from time to time when my allergies flare up (which isn't as often or as harsh as it used to be now that I don't eat dairy and eat better). But on occasion, I need them and am grateful to have them in my cupboard.

Stinging Nettle -- You might be familiar with stinging nettle if you've lived on the north coast or in the west as I have all of my life. It's a little plant that has leaves similar to a mint leaf, but once touched imMEDiately stings like crazy and causes little red bumps that just hurt, hurt, hurt! I've only been stung by it twice (once on a field trip in the coastal redwoods in 6th grade and again when I was on a hike near Las Vegas up in Red Rock canyon when I was 25), but I can remember the pain like it was yesterday.

Apparently the fine hairs on the leaves and the stem from the stinging nettle plant causes an allergic reaction to the skin. If the leaves are gathered while wearing gloves, you can boil them into a tea or dry them as you would other herbs and use them for tea or a supplement. I haven't tried that. I'm a bit too aware of what the leaves have done to me ungloved. So I just buy the herbal supplements in the capsule form. Stinging nettle has been used for centuries to reduce inflammation in arthritis, eczema, joint & muscle pain, gout, anemia, and hayfever (voila!) People today also use it to treat urinary tract infections, tendonitis, insect bites, and enlarged prostate conditions. Some say it also is a natural diuretic. I just say that it does indeed help with my allergies. Love that! There are probably herbal teas with stinging nettle in them too, but I just take the supplement a few times a day when allergies strike.

Bromelain -- This flaveniod is a combination of enzymes found in the stems and juice of pineapples. Have you ever made jello, decided to add some pineapple slices, then waited and waited (and waited!) for the jello to set, but it never did? I have. (Back in my jello-making days, anyway). If I had just read the side of the Jello box, I would have seen that you don't add pineapple or kiwi (later made the mistake with kiwi -- I don't learn fast, do I? :)) because they contain enzymes that interfere with the jello setting. Well these same enzymes are great for getting rid of allergies! (If I were doing the write-up for the Jello boxes, I'd add that for all the allergy sufferers out there -- helpful information!)

Bromelain is a natural anti-inflammatory and is approved in Germany to treat inflammation and swelling of the nasal passage and sinuses. Bromelain is also helpful for digestion of protein. Have you ever seen someone put pineapple juice in with their beef marinade to tenderize the meat? This is why. The enzymes break down the protein.

Since Bromelain serves two different purposes, experts advise taking it with or without food depending on what you are using it for. If you need it as a digestive aid, then you take it with food or with a full stomach. If you need it as an anti-inflammatory, you take it on an empty stomach and don't eat for another 1/2 hour or so to help with absorption. Interesting, isn't it? I love learning stuff like this.

Quercetin - This supplement is a phytonutrient from the coloring in apple peels and the skin in red onions. It's also found in cabbage (possibly more so in red cabbage?), cauliflower, nuts and berries. Quercetin has become respected as a powerful anti-oxidant and a natural anti-inflammatory and antihistamine (joining the club with the other two above). It can be found to be very effective in combination with Bromelain (as pictured to the left -- this is the brand I use). It can also reduce fatigue, depression, and anxiety. Quercetin is a flavonoid known to reduce the risk of cancer and improve cardiovascular health. If you walk into your health food store and want to ask for it, but aren't sure how to say it, it's pronounced "kwair' suh ten." I've gone in asking for it a few different ways and this is how the sales clerk ends up saying it after I bumble through it. As for bromelain, it's pronounced "broh' meh lane." I think we're all fine with saying "stinging nettle" :).

Last but never least, I take bee pollen during peak allergy season too. Here's my earlier post about the wonders of local Bee Pollen. And if you're already smack dab in the middle of having allergies, take a hot shower to wash off any allergens you can on the outside and use the neti pot to rinse out your insides. (That last link was to an earlier post too). Wishing you the ability to enjoy this spring without any allergy symptoms!

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