The Art of Health

It's That Time Again…

The days are getting longer, the sun is shining stronger. Farmers are smiling, the grass is greener, things is growin'! Spring has arrived and we can all enjoy more time outdoors in this beautiful country of ours.

But wait a minute! Stop the music… Springtime is not necessarily a happy time for all. Many people suffer from seasonal hay-fever: itchy, red, sensitive eyes; sneezing, stuffy nose; or watery nasal discharge and fatigue. While some may have quite manageable symptoms, others will find every breath of fresh air a veritable health hazard.

We all know the level and type of pollens in the air at this time impacts on people's health. But why is it that some suffer, when many do not? I have no problem with pollens and grasses, yet my 11-year old is affected for months on end.

Spare a thought for those who suffer all year round with allergic conditions such as asthma or sinusitis. Asthma is a real problem in New Zealand. Despite years of advanced medical intervention, and powerful drugs like steroids, broncho-dilators (inhalers) and anti-histamines, the incidence and severity of asthma worsens. So then, why the suffering?

What it comes down to is an over-active immune response. Certain cells in our first-line defense system seem to have a genetic defect that causes them to spill too much histamine when triggered. A trigger could be dust, pollens, dust mites, mould, or even a change in temperature. Histamine is a very important chemical messenger in our body. Practically the entire immune response begins with the production and regulation of histamine. In allergic diseases such as hay-fever, asthma, dermatitis, and so on, the production of this chemical is both excessive and poorly controlled. Once histamine is released, other immune cells are generated and primed to produce further inflammatory chemicals depending on the type of situation the immune system is being called to deal with.

Inflammation is supposed to be a good thing, as it allows the defenses to deal with invaders in the proper manner; however, a prolonged inflammatory effect is not comfortable or desirable, as this is when we get pronounced symptoms. If these symptoms are occurring in the bronchial tract, the associated condition is asthma. If it's in the sinuses, we have sinusitis. In the skin, we call it atopic dermatitis, and so on.

Okay, I hear you say, it's easy to fix the situation. Reach for the over-the-counter anti-histamine or visit a GP and get prescribed yet another steroid, anti-biotic or anti-inflammatory. Have you ever stopped to wonder why most drugs are "anti-" this, "anti-"that? The trouble with our mad drug-fix-it mindset is that the drug only manages or masks the symptoms. For example, an anti-histamine will only last a few hours, because the body is still pouring out this ocean of histamine. Not to mention the fact that the histamine is actually important to the body. You can be sure that the pharmaceutical company that markets the drug is not concerned about how well you are, but by how much of the drug you are buying. Profits go before patients in our less than ideal world.

Consider the many options available that actually help your body deal with the inflammatory cascade. Here are some of my favourites. (They work well in practice and are backed by many years of research). Vitamin C alleviates asthma and allergies by helping downplay histamine and inflammatory responses. It also inhibits bronchial constriction. It works very well with a bioflavanoid, Quercetin, which has potent anti-inflammatory properties. Another powerful modulator (controller) of inflammatory chemicals is an enzyme found in pineapple - Bromelain. Many products in health food stores combine Vitamin C, Quercetin and Bromelain because of these effects.
Then there is magnesium, that has been show in studies to dramatically improve lung function and decrease frequency of asthma attacks. It is known that a magnesium deficiency can lead to asthma.

Another tool is a compound called Methylsulfonylmethane (MSM). MSM works by blocking receptors in the target cells so they don't respond with all those symptoms when the histamine gets turned on fast. MSM also plays a role in basic nutrition for a healthy immune system.
Possibly the best herbal formula on the market for reducing and modulating allergic inflammation contains Perilla Seed. This has traditionally been used to support respiratory health, and definitely supports a healthy immune response in those sensitive to environmental or food factors. It once again controls histamine levels and the whole cluster of inflammatory biochemistry.
Look out for these goodies from your health food store, or talk to me for more friendly, helpful advice. Always remember to consult a professional before changing any medication. Keep healthy this spring time!