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April 2000

Letter from Dr. Janson
What are allergies?
Lifestyle changes to reduce allergies
Exercise and stress reduction
Supplements for allergies and asthma
Vitamin C Is Still Good For You!
Curcumin -- not just for inflammation
In the Health News
By the Way
References

Letter from Dr. Janson
Dear Friends,
While most of us are thrilled with the arrival of Spring, many people anticipate this season with some anxiety. Why? Because, like more than one third of all Americans, they suffer from seasonal allergies. I often see patients who are allergic to pollens such as trees and grasses, which makes it difficult to go outside at this time of year. There are also many people who are allergic to year-round allergens such as dust, mites, molds, and animal dander, and weed pollens, which arrive later in the summer.

What are allergies?
An ‘allergy’ is an abnormal reaction to one or more environmental substances that usually don’t bother other people. An ‘allergen’ (or antigen) is any substance that can cause this allergic reaction. The trees, grasses, and weeds are among the most common allergens. In addition to these allergens, and the year-round ones mentioned above, people may also react to foods and environmental chemicals. In addition, exposure to air pollution and tobacco smoke make allergies worse.

Common allergy or hay fever symptoms are runny nose, sneezing, breathing difficulty, sinus congestion, itchy and watery eyes, sinus headaches, fatigue, and even asthma. They can make life very difficult if you are an allergy sufferer, seriously reducing quality of life. Almost all asthma patients have significant allergies, and uncontrolled allergies as a child can lead to asthma.

Most physicians treat allergy symptoms with antihistamines, including diphenhydramine (Benadryl), loratidine (Claritin), or fexofenidine (Allegra), and decongestants such as pseudoephedrine (Sudafed). Although some medications have been taken off the market because of drug interactions, the current ones may still have side effects. Benadryl can cause significant drowsiness, and even though the newer ones rarely cause drowsiness, they may cause insomnia, dry mouth, indigestion and menstrual cramps. Natural remedies almost always reduce or eliminate the need for medications.

Lifestyle changes to reduce allergies
The first step in helping to prevent or lessen your allergies is to bolster your immune system. For this, you must eat a healthy diet. Avoid any suspected food allergens (common ones are milk and wheat), chemical food additives, and all refined sugar. Eat a wide variety of fresh vegetables, fruits, beans, and whole grains (rice, millet, and buckwheat are a few alternatives to wheat). Organic foods are helpful because they are free of toxic additives and pesticide residues. Eliminate all hydrogenated oils from your diet, including margarine and vegetable shortening. These can interfere with the normal function of the essential fatty acids. Eliminating or reducing animal fat in the diet also improves the balance of body fats, although omega-3 fish oils are beneficial.

Exercise and stress reduction
Regular aerobic exercise stimulates normal immune function and detoxifies your body. Here are some suggestions:
• Brisk walking or jogging
• Rollerblading or iceskating
• Dancing
• Exercise machines
• Jumping rope (slowly!)

Start slowly. Build up to about 30 minutes most days. Make sure you don’t get short of breath (otherwise it's not aerobic.) You should be able to keep up a conversation during exercise as a sign that it is still aerobic. Exercise can also help drain your sinuses. Be creative in finding different ways to exercise so that you do not get bored. Be careful if you are asthmatic so you don't precipitate an attack–some dietary supplements may help prevent exercise-induced asthma.

Stress can bring on or worsen allergies and asthma so it is very important to learn a relaxation technique. Meditation, visualization, yoga and breathing exercises are a few of the methods that can help reduce stress and promote healing. Laughter is one of the best medicines (and, so far, unregulated by the FDA).

Supplements for allergies and asthma
One of the most important supplements for allergies and normal immune function is vitamin C. I recommend 3000 to 4000 mg daily as a minimum. Take 1000 to 2000 mg a half hour before exercise to eliminate or delay the onset of exercise-induced asthma. Vitamin C also has antihistamine and anti-inflammatory effects.

Quercetin is a bioflavonoid, one of numerous beneficial plant pigments. It is an anti-oxidant, as are many other phytochemicals. It stabilizes membranes in the cells that release histamine and serotonin (the substances that mediate allergy symptoms), reducing their release into the tissues. I suggest 800 to 1200 mg of quercetin daily. Although it is helpful fairly quickly, for the best results it is better to take it regularly.

The herb ‘nettle’ or ‘stinging nettle’ relieves symptoms and has anti-inflammatory properties. A 1990 study showed the symptomatic benefit of the dried nettle leaf, but I have found that the standardized extract works even better. I suggest taking 250 to 500 mg when symptoms appear. You can take it several times a day as needed, as it has no side effects.

Gamma-linolenic acid (GLA), one of the essential fatty acids, is present in supplements of evening primrose oil or borage oil capsules. It helps relax the airways and improve immune function, and studies show that it relieves asthma and eczema. I recommend 1200 mg of borage oil daily, containing 240 mg of GLA.

Proanthocyanidins (PAC or OPC) and catechins from grape seeds and pine bark or from hawthorn berry extracts help to reduce inflammation and thus lessen the allergic response. I suggest about 50 to 100 mg of the proantho-cyanidins twice daily, or 250 to 500 mg of hawthorn berry extract. Other valuable supplements include magnesium (500 to 1000 mg daily) and pyridoxine (vitamin B6), which help to relax the airways, and the immune-supportive antioxidant supplements vitamin E (400 to 800 IU) and coenzyme Q10 (100 to 200 mg).

This comprehensive program should help you to stay free of medication and feel good about the springtime, in addition to helping with year-round allergies.

Vitamin C is still good for you!
A couple of people called me on my radio show concerned about a report that vitamin C might be dangerous for the arteries. When I investigated, I found that the study was reported at the American Heart Association meeting on March 2nd, and had not yet been published. It is therefore not yet available for professional criticism.

The study by Dwyer and colleagues, supposedly shows that vitamin C causes thickening of the carotid artery wall, and has unfortunately left many people reconsidering their intake of this important nutrient.

It is virtually certain that supplements of vitamin C, even in excess of 2000 mg daily, are beneficial, rather than harmful. Nothing in this study even suggested decreased blood flow as a result of vitamin C supplements, which would happen if the artery were clogged with atherosclerosis. Other studies confirm increased blood flow and relaxation of blood vessels with vitamin C, even when given intravenously.

This study conflicts with hundreds of previous studies showing that the benefits of taking vitamin C are far more convincing than the dubious harm suggested in this one contradictory study. It would be unfortunate if people started to limit their healthy vitamin C supplementation on the basis of one unconfirmed report.

Vitamin C is not dangerous. It is beneficial for the heart, the arteries, and the brain, including reduced risks of heart attacks and strokes, and lowered blood pressure. It can help with allergies,diabetes, cancer, immune system disorders, inflammation and viral infections.

While it is possible to get 2500 mg of vitamin C from food with a diet of all fresh fruits and vegetables, most people don't eat this way all the time. Even if they did, supplements would still be beneficial, and essential to achieving protective antioxidant levels. Continue to take your supplements of vitamin C, and combine it with the healthiest dietary choices.

Curcumin-not just for inflammation
Curcumin is a non-vitamin phytochemical that supports healthy tendons, ligaments, and joints. Because of its natural anti-inflammatory activity it reduces symptoms from injuries. Curcumin is the term for the substances in standardized extract of turmeric, the deep yellow-orange spice common in Indian cooking. For sports or other injuries, you can take curcumin with other anti-inflammatory supplements, such as vitamin C, bromelain (the enzyme derived from pineapples), and standardized ginger extract.

However, the benefits of curcumin go far beyond its anti-inflammatory properties. It's also a natural antioxidant with anti-tumor effects that help protect you from cancer. Studies in mice show that curcumin reduces tumor growth and metastasis, as well as the initiation of tumors.

A recent report showed that curcumin inhibits “angioneogenesis,” the process of new blood vessel formation that is required to support the growth and spread of cancerous tumors.

Curcumin inhibits both lipid peroxidation and platelet aggregation, so it is likely to be helpful in heart disease. Lipid peroxides damage arteries, and protection against them is considered vital to the prevention of heart disease. Excess platelet aggregation can further block atherosclerotic arteries. Taking curcumin with vitamins E and C, as well as coenzyme Q10 will help you fend off this number-one killer.

The typical supplement dose is 200 mg of standardized extract of turmeric (standardzed to 95 percent curcumin), taken three times a day. For preventive medicine for the heart and cancer, you might want to take one or two capsules a day.

In the Health News
• The Environmental Working Group lists the most pesticide-contaminated fruits and vegetables. The 12 worst, in order, are strawberries, peppers, spinach, cherries (U.S.), peaches, cantaloupe (Mexican), celery, apples, apricots, green beans, grapes (Chilean), and cucumbers. Pesticides banned in the U.S. are still found in fruits and vegetables, even those from the U.S. If you can’t always buy organic foods, the least-contaminated conventional foods are avocados, corn, onions, sweet potatoes, cauliflower, brussels sprouts, bananas, plums, watermelon and broccoli. You can find out more at their website: www.foodnews.org

• Meat handlers both in slaughterhouses and in supermarkets are at increased risk of tumors of the bone marrow and lymph nodes. The inreased risks ranged from 3 times up to 18 times more than in non-meat workers. The researchers suggested that exposure to cancer-causing viruses in chickens, pigs, sheep, and cows might be to blame.

Diet and Disease
• Most of you know that high homocysteine levels in the blood increase the risk of heart disease. Supplements of vitamins B6, B12, and folic acid help to lower homocysteine. A new study shows that going on a vegan diet (no animal products), can also rapidly lower homocysteine. Within one week, subjects had a 13 percent reduction of plasma homocysteine levels. Although the subjects also participated in moderate physical activity and stress management, none took the beneficial supplements. Whether a strict vegan diet is necessary is unclear, but with this evidence it is prudent to lean in that direction.

By the way:
Although many people are concerned with feather pillows causing allergy symptoms, recent studies suggest that synthetic pillows are even worse because they harbor more allergens than the feather pillows. One study showed more animal danders in synthetic pillows and another showed more dust and dust mites. Although this is a surprise, it is a good idea to reconsider the bedding you choose if you are allergic. One remedy is to buy the allergy-controlling mattress and pillow covers that are impervious to the allergens. These are available at allergy supply companies.

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References

Allergies
Middleton E Jr., Effect of flavonoids on basophil histamine release and other secretory systems. Prog Clin Biol Res 1986;213:493-506.

Mittman P, Randomized, double-blind study of freeze-dried Urtica dioica in the treatment of allergic rhinitis. Planta Med 1990 Feb;56(1):44-7.

Welton AF, Tobias LD, Fiedler-Nagy C, et al. Effect of flavonoids on arachidonic acid metabolism. Prog Clin Biol Res 213:231-242; 1986.

Vitamin C safe and effective
Dwyer JH, Report at the American Heart Association meeting, March 2, 2000 (Reported in Reuters Health, March 3, 2000).
Frei B, Indictment of vitamin C questionable, expert says. Linus Pauling Institute website, http://osu.orst.edu/dept/lpi

Levine GN, et al., Ascorbic acid reverses endothelial vasomotor dysfunction in patients with coronary artery disease. Circulation 1996 Mar 15;93(6):1107-13.

Gokce N, et al., Long-term ascorbic acid administration reverses endothelial vasomotor dysfunction in patients with coronary artery disease. Circulation 1999 Jun 29;99(25):3234-40.

Curcumin
Selvam R, et al., The anti-oxidant activity of turmeric (Curcuma longa). J Ethnopharmacol 1995 Jul 7;47(2):59-67.

Brouet I, Ohshima H, Curcumin, an anti-tumour promoter and anti-inflammatory agent, inhibits induction of nitric oxide synthase in activated macrophages. Biochem Biophys Res Commun 1995 Jan 17;206(2):533-40.

Srivastava KC , Bordia A , Verma SK, Curcumin, a major component of food spice turmeric (Curcuma longa) inhibits aggregation and alters eicosanoid metabolism in human blood platelets. Prost Leukot Essent Fatty Acids 1995 Apr;52(4):223-7.

In the health news
A Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides in Produce. Chapter three - Eating Healthy and Reducing Pesticide Risks. Environmental Working Group website: www.foodnews.org.

Metayer C, et al. Nested case-control study of tumors of the hemopoietic and lymphatic systems among workers in the meat industry. Am J Epidemiol 1998; 147:727-738.

Diet and Disease
DeRose DJ, et al., Vegan diet-based lifestyle program rapidly lowers homocysteine levels. Prev Med 2000 Mar;30(3):225-233.

By the way
Woodcock A, American Academy of Allergy annual meeting, March 2000 ("Feather pillows less likely to cause allergies" as reported in Reuters Health, March 9, 2000)

 


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CONSULTATIONS:

From September to June, I see patients in New Smyrna Beach, Florida.
Call 386-409-7747, or send an email to to make arrangements.

In summer, I have a variable schedule, and I see patients in offices at the
Rothfeld Center for Integrative Medicine in Waltham, Massachusetts. For appointments, send an email to make arrangements, or call: 386-409-7747.

I primarily do phone consultations, as well as email and instant messaging consults.


Information herein is not medical advice or direction. All material in this newsletter is provided for information only. Its contents should not be used to provide medical advice on individual problems. Consult a health care professional for medical or health advice.

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