Natural Medicine Q&A
Ask Dr. P
by Kasra Pournadeali, ND
Natural Medicine Specialist
Are your allergies making you miserable? Are they keeping you from enjoying the spring weather? Does your nose run like a faucet, and are your eyes itchy & irritated from constant wiping? Maybe you have bouts of sneezing that stop only to let you blow your nose, or are about to be kicked out of bed by your spouse because your snoring has gotten worse.
If this allergy picture sounds like you, you're not alone. Over 40 million Americans are victims of allergy, hayfever, food or chemical sensitivities, most being affected in more than one category. Even I've suffered from allergies. And like many of you (before I learned about natural approaches,) I tried decongestants, antihistamines, nasal sprays, desensitization shots, even surgery-none of which afforded permanent long-term relief.
To further complicate things, multiple methods of diagnosis (with varying degrees of reliability) and numerous treatments, which don't account for a person's unique situation or environment often lead to a suboptimal result.
Finally, many other conditions (eczema, arthritis, constipation, diarrhea, flatulence, Irritable bowel disease, headaches, hyperactivity, and recurrent ear infections) have an allergic cause, which is often overlooked. It's therefore important to get expert, thorough and open-minded care when trying to address your allergies.
Q: I've tried everything for my allergies with no permanent relief, what can I do?
A: I like to view allergies as an immune system out of balance (over reactive to some things and under-reactive to others). The goal is to identify causes of this imbalance and with natural medicine modify biochemistry to restore normal immune function. Many allergy docs recommend "changing the environment" by using air cleaners, encasing bedding, and reducing exposure to dust, mold, and pets. This is helpful, although often insufficient, and not possible when outdoors. Likewise, drugs which "dry you out" predispose a person to infection, and often have other undesirable side effects. Interestingly, antihistamines cause drowsiness because our brains normally need histamine to stay alert! Alternatives, which break up excess histamine, like buffered Vitamin C, Quercetin and other flavonoids are helpful and have few if any side effects. Typical adult dosing for buffered C is (1000mg 2-4 times a day between meals,) and for Quercetin (500mg three times a day 20min before meals). Always talk to your Naturopathic Doctor to determine if high dose nutrient therapy is safe for you. Nutritional deficiencies of Magnesium, Vitamin B6 or B12, which can lead to allergic reactions, should also be considered. Botanicals like Ginkgo, Tanacetum, and Urtica might be part your natural anti-allergy plan, because they've been shown to inhibit excess histamine and/or block platelet activating factor which contribute to allergic reactions. Finally, identifying and eliminating food intolerances or metabolic detoxification often gives permanent relief to individuals with allergies or chemical sensitivities.
Q: I've heard that Ephedra (Ma Huang) can help with allergies, is this true, and is it safe?
A: Ephedra sinica or "Ma Huang" like many plant medicines has been used for thousands of years. It was historically used for the treatment of colds, asthma, hayfever, bronchitis, edema, arthritis, fever, low blood pressure, and hives. In 1927 its alkaloid ephedrine was synthesized, and since that time drugs such containing ephedrine and pseudoephedrine have been widely used in over-the-counter cold and decongestant preparations. Ephedra, is sympathomimetic and positively inotropic, which means it increases the heart rate, blood pressure, and pumping force of the heart, as well as dilates the breathing passages (hence it's use in asthma). It's contraindicated in persons with anxiety, high blood pressure, heart disease, glaucoma, thyroid disease, prostate enlargement, as well as persons using certain drugs. Like over-the-counter pseudoephedrine drugs, Ephedra can have side effects like headache, insomnia, increased heart rate, and at high doses even life-threatening heart arrhythmias. Because of potential interactions and side effects, Ephedra is not my 1st choice when treating allergy or asthma. Many other options with fewer side effects are available and just as effective.
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