Jennifer Loper was allergy free for most of her youth. But at 30, she began to notice rashes on her skin and a cough that wouldn’t go away. At first, Loper, who was living in Chicago, worried that she was allergic to her cat, but a visit to an allergist confirmed that dust mites, mold, and tree pollen were triggering her symptoms.
The news helped explain why Loper’s skin would begin to itch and her eyes to water whenever she worked in the garden. Loper began using a prescription allergy medication and nasal sprays to treat her symptoms. The medicine helped but added to her daily medication and supplement regimen, which includes a high blood pressure medication and multivitamin.
When she and her family moved to Colorado three years ago, Loper’s allergy symptoms decreased considerably and she quit taking the medications. Slowly, however, the symptoms have returned. “I also have mild asthma, and dust can occasionally trigger an attack,” she says. Today, Loper’s allergies usually manifest in morning congestion and some coughing and sneezing when she goes into the basement or cleans out seldom-used closets.
Q. Jennifer Loper: Why does my body react to dust, mold, and pollen the way it does?
A. Shari Lieberman, PhD, CNS, FACN: You’re experiencing an immune reaction to something that is foreign to your body. Basically, when you’re exposed to something like pollen, your body tries to deal with it by creating an antidote to the problem. Sometimes it’s able to do that efficiently and sometimes it’s not. Certain things, such as dust, are difficult for most people to handle, which is why it’s rather common for dust to trigger sneezing, coughing, or other allergic reactions.
In addition, many, many things can make you susceptible to allergies, including some medications. In fact, it’s possible that your high blood pressure medication is contributing to your symptoms, because particular medications can induce allergies and autoimmune reactions. Check with your doctor to see whether the medication could be a contributing factor. Exposure to pollution or toxic chemicals can also trigger allergies because it overloads the immune system.
Q. Can you recommend natural remedies that might help ease my symptoms?
A. First, you should determine whether the foods you’re eating are contributing to your allergy symptoms. There is a very high correlation between wheat and allergies. Milk is also highly allergenic. So I suggest you go off all wheat products for ten days and see how you feel. If you feel better but not 100 percent better, go off all dairy products for ten days. This process will give you a chance to see if wheat, milk, or both are contributing to your allergy symptoms.
I also suggest eating more onions and garlic because these foods are made of plant compounds that help ease allergies and asthma. They also contain a lot of sulfur, which is really great for your immune system. You can eat them raw or cooked. You should also try to eat more salmon because the omega-3 oils in salmon are helpful for treating allergies and particularly excellent for easing asthma. If you don’t like salmon or don’t want to eat it every day, I suggest you supplement your diet with four to six fish oil capsules daily.
Q. What other supplements or herbs might help prevent or treat my allergies?
A. You should take vitamin C and quercetin, both powerful antihistamines. Take 2 to 4 grams of vitamin C and 1 to 2 grams of quercetin twice a day with meals. The quercetin, vitamin C, and fish oil will help with your skin rashes and itching, too.
For the asthma, lobelia (Lobelia inflata) is one herb that is absolutely fantastic. Lobelia is a bronchodilator, which means when taken orally it works like an inhaler and will stop your wheezing on contact. Lobelia usually comes as a tincture, and you can take up to 1 ml three times a day, or follow the directions on the label. (Be sure to consult with a health care practitioner when taking lobelia because higher doses can cause nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, dizziness, rapid heart rate, and tremors.) Another simple thing you can do every day to help detoxify your body of allergens is to have a “green” drink that is packed with antioxidants and other nutrients, such as spirulina, chlorella, and other green foods.
Q. Do you have any tips for how I can eliminate the dust, mold, and other allergens in my new home?
A. Keep your house very clean. And use natural cleaning products to limit the chemicals you breathe in while cleaning. Your vacuum should have a HEPA (High Efficiency Particulate Air) filter so the dust will be trapped inside the vacuum and not be blown back out into the air. When changing or cleaning the filter, wear gloves and be careful not to touch or breathe in the dust. You might also consider using a HEPA filter to continually clean the air in your house. Finally, have your furnace vents cleaned in the fall before turning on the heat for the season and then maybe once again three or four months later.
Q. What can I do to help prevent my children from developing allergies?
A. The most important thing you can do is to make sure they eat very well. They should be eating foods with a lower glycemic index, such as whole grains, beans, lentils, yams, and fresh fruits and vegetables. High-sugar diets can increase inflammation, which can exacerbate allergies. So you should limit their intake of refined flour and sugar. They should also be taking a good children’s multivitamin with vitamin C and, if your kids don’t like to eat fish, a fish oil supplement. They make fabulous fish oil supplements that are orange- and peach-flavored. These are great for kids.