Do you chronic symptoms of eczema, arthritis, headaches, irritable bowel disease, hyperactivity, constipation, diarrhea or flatulence? Perhaps you have fatigue, high blood pressure, muscle aches and pains, fibromyalgia, insomnia, chronic ear infections, or anxiety. Did you know that these conditions can have an allergic cause? Yes it’s true, although allergies commonly manifest as a stuffy nose or watery eyes, they can cause many other such symptoms.
If the above picture sound like you, don’t worry, you’re not alone. Millions of Americans have allergy. Even I’ve suffered from allergies. And like many of you, I tried decongestants, antihistamines, corticosteroid nasal sprays, desensitization shots, even surgery — none of which afforded me permanent long-term relief.
To further complicate things, multiple methods of lab diagnosis (with varying degrees of reliability) and numerous treatments, not accounting for a person’s unique situation, often lead to improper assessments and inadequate treatment plans.
Q: Dear Dr. P I’ve tried everything for my allergies with no permanent relief, what can natural medicine offer? Margaret
A: Margaret, allergies represent an immune system out of balance (over reactive to some things and under-reactive to others). Our 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 sometimes insufficient, and not possible when outdoors. Likewise, decongestants or antihistamines, although helpful, can predispose you 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, or stabilize mast cells (so histamine is not released,) like buffered Vitamin C, Quercetin and other flavonoids are helpful and have few if any side effects. Talk to your Naturopathic Doctor to determine if these nutrients are right 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, as they’ve been shown to inhibit excess histamine and/or block platelet activating factor, both of which contribute to allergic reactions. Finally, identifying and eliminating food intolerances or using special diets (although requiring more effort,) is often the best approach because each allows you to avoid all drugs- natural and conventional.
Q: Dear Dr. P: I’ve heard that Ephedra (Ma Huang) can help with allergies, is this true, and is it safe? Bill
A: Bill, Ephedra sinica or “Ma Huang” like many plant medicines has been used for centuries. 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 and allergies). It’s contraindicated in persons with anxiety, high blood pressure, heart disease, glaucoma, thyroid disease, prostate enlargement. Like over-the-counter decongestants, 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. Have a great month.
Dr. Kasra Pournadeali, ND, is the clinic director for the Northwest Center for Optimal Health in Marysville.