Allergies in spring can really get you down.

Spring is a beautiful time of year; warmer weather, clearer skies and blooming flowers. Unfortunately for some, this time of year also heralds the start of sneezing, itching eyes and throats and even sinus congestion and pain.  If you suffer from asthma or eczema this may also flare up at this time. Conventional treatment of hayfever and sinus, the most common ailments, usually involves antihistamines and steroid sprays. but these are only really a band-aid solution and do little to address the underlying reasons why the immune system is hypersensitive.

From a natural perspective there is much that can be done to deal with the symptoms, tone the area of the body affected and bring the immune system back into balance. Herbs such as Baical Skullcap, Licorice and Nettle prevent the release of histamine from specific immune cells called mast cells as does vitamin C and a group of antioxidants called flavonoids, of which quercetin is the most effective. Other herbs such as Perilla are effective for dampening the immune response responsible for allergies and Eyebright and Ribwort tone the mucus membranes of the sinus cavity.

A Question of Balance

The hygiene hypothesis proposes that there is now a higher prevalence of allergy in Australian children because of the use of antibacterials in the home and wider environment.
This is because a particular group of immune cells called T-helper 1 cells are not required as much to fight off small everyday infections. The depression in T-helper 1 cells means a corresponding rise in a group of cells called T-helper 2 cells (both types should be in balance) and these are the cells responsible for allergy.

Additionally, healthy gut flora has a regulatory role in keeping T-helper 1 and T-helper 2 cells in balance. Babies’ gastrointestinal tracts are sterile just before they are born and if they are born into a completely sterile environment the development of healthy gut flora is hindered. In babies and small children it can be enhanced by taking probioticcs in the third trimester of pregnancy, having a natural birth and breastfeeding where possible. Commercial probiotics are also useful for babies over two months, children and adults alike.

This week (May 1st – May 7th) marks Heart Week this year so it seemed like the opportune time to discuss what natural measures can be taken to protect your cardiovascular system from the effects of high cholesterol and blood pressure such as heart attack and stroke.

You can be working everyday to prevent these devastating outcomes by maintaining a healthy weight with diet and exercise, quitting smoking and eating an anti-inflammatory diet. This means avoiding saturated fat (fat from animals) and increasing your intake of healthy fat sources such as deep sea fatty fish (salmon, tuna, sardines) to two serves per week, or a tablespoon of flaxseed oil daily if you are vegetarian. It is also a good idea to include foods in your diet which prevent the re-absorption of cholesterol in the large intestine such as oats and other fibrous foods such as psyllium, fruit and vegetables. A fish oil supplement is a must if you are getting on in years or have a family history of heart problems.

If you already have risk factors for heart disease such as high cholesterol and/or blood pressure there are certainly natural treatment options you should consider.
Krill oil is actually more effective for the treatment of high cholesterol than fish oil. These small plankton that whales feed on are harvested from the pure waters of the antarctic. The oil contains a potent antioxidant called Astaxanthin and the omega-3 fatty acids are packaged in such a way that they are much more readily absorbed into cells in the body. This means you only need one 1000mg capsule per day instead of multiple fish oil capsules.

There are also several herbs which can assist with the treatment of high cholesterol such as Fenugreek, Globe Artichoke, Garlic and Ginger, the latter two also being flavoursome additions to the diet. High blood pressure can be treated with Mistletoe, Olive Leaf and Limeflowers and a supplement called Coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10). This naturally occurring substance exists in every cell and is important for energy production. It is also a must for anyone taking a class of cholesterol drugs called the statins (eg Crestor, Lipitor) which deplete CoQ10 in the body and cause muscle weakness and fatigue as a result, including to the heart itself.