your best defense against allergies and asthma



Did either of your parents have allergies? Do you eat a lot of fries, fried foods or fast foods? Do you eat relatively few fruits and vegetables?
If you answered yes to any of these questions, you're at risk for developing allergies or asthma. That is, if you don't already have one or both of these conditions.

Just over half of Americans have allergies. The most common symptom is rhinitis, which includes nasal itching, congestion, runny nose and sneezing. Some of the most common allergens (that is, the substances you likely react to) include grass and tree pollens, molds, dust and cat dander.

What's more, if you have allergies, you're three times more likely to develop asthma, a particular type of allergic reaction that affects breathing.

Both conditions involve abnormal immune responses, in which the body reacts to generally harmless substances as if they were germs. Inflammation and the release of histamine, which results in itchiness, account for the uncomfortable symptoms associated with allergies. Forty years ago, allergies and asthma werakelatively rare conditions. So why has their prevalence skyrocketed in the past two to three generations? The leading theory is that we now live in an overly sanitized environment in which germs are routinely eradicated with antibiotic drug or antimicrobial cleansers. The consequence, according to this explanation, is that our immune systems don't get properly programmed and we end up reacting to both friend and foe.

But an often-overlooked cause seems related to massive changes in our eating habits. In a nutshell, we may be more likely to develop allergies and asthma because we're eating too many foods that promote inflammation and too few foods that halt it.

Our inflammatory response is regulated in large part by two families of essential dietary fats. The omega-6 fats, found in corn, soy and other cooking oils, form the building blocks of powerful inflammation-promoting substances called prostaglandins, leukotrienes and thromboxanes. Think of the omega-6s as biochemical matches that ignite a fire within your body.

In contrast, the omega-3 fats, found predominantly in cold-water fish and grass-fed (free-range) meats, form a parallel group of prostaglandins, leukotrienes and thromboxanes with anti-inflammatory properties. Think of the omega-3s as firefighters.

In ancient times, people consumed roughly equal amounts of ornega-6s and omega-3s. But today's processed, packaged and fast foods typically contain a high percentage of omega-6s in relation to omega-3s. The average American now eats omega-6s and omega-3s in a ratio of more than 15 to 1. The result is a decidedly pro-inflammatory tilt in our immune responses,

Two other changes have also primed us for inflammation. One is that processed foods are rich in trans fats, found in partially hydrogenated vegetable oils. Trans fats interfere with enzymes called desaturases and elongases, which are needed to properly use the omega-3s. Because of this, the anti-inflammatory benefits of the omega-3s are further hampered in our bodies.

The other change is that most people consume relatively few fruits and vegetables, the principal dietary source of antioxidant nutrients, such as vitamins C and E, flavonoids and carotenoids. Antioxidants help neutralize hazardous molecules called free radicals, which stimulate inflammation.

More than 23 million Americans suffer from asthma, which may cause sudden episodes of shortness of breath, wheezing and a feeling of suffocation.

The asthmatic reaction centers in the bronchi, part of the airway between the mouth and the lungs. Inflammation in the bronchi triggers spasms that constrict the airway. Mucus may quickly build up, further narrowing the bronchi. Asthma symptoms may start with wheezing, leading to shortness of breath and, in rare cases, suffocation.

Asthma attacks may result from exposure to any number of allergens and other triggers, including pollens, cigarette smoke, aspirin, sulfite (a preservative used in wine and salad bar foods, for example), cold air and exercise. Emotional stress can also induce asthma attacks, and being overweight predisposes people to developing asthma.

Improving your eating habits and taking anti-inflammatory supplements can reduce allergies and asthma symptoms, though they may not completely eliminate them.

Eat cold-water fish, such as salmon, at least once or twice a week. Wild Alaskan salmon has higher concentrations of omega-3s than farm-raised fish. You can rub a firm fish, such as salmon, in olive oil and herbs, then bake, broil or pan fry it. (Do not eat deep-fried fish.) Olive oil has the bonus of being rich in anti-inflammatory omega-9 fats.

In addition, eat plenty of high-fiber, nonstarchy vegetables, including dark leafy salad greens, spinach, tomatoes, broccoli, cauliflower, collard greens, spinach, onions and garlic. All of these foods contain anti-inflammatory antioxidants. High-fiber, nonstarchy fruits, such as berries and kiwi, are great sources of antioxidants as well.

Several supplements may be of particular benefit when trying to reduce asthma and allergy symptoms.

Omega-3 fish oils in high concentrations may help dampen your allergy symptoms. In one study, large amounts offish oil capsules reduced the severity of exercise-induced asthma attacks, as well as the need for medicated inhalers.

Try 1-3g daily.
Quercetin, an antioxidant found in apples and onions, helps reduce inflammation and stabilize mast cells, which are involved in allergic reactions.

Try 250-600mg, three times daily. The benefits of quercetin may be enhanced with supplements of bromelain, 400ms daily.
Magnesium is essential for muscle relaxation, and considerable research indicates that supplements of this dietary mineral can reduce the severity of asthmatic reactions. In a study of children and teenagers, published in the January 2007 European Journal of Clinical Nutrition, supplemental magnesium significantly reduced asthma symptoms and skin reactions to allergens. Intravenous magnesium is sometimes used in hospital emergency rooms, particularly in the treatment of serious asthma attacks.

Try 300-400mg of magnesium citrate daily.
Vitamin C blunts the release of histamine and helps the body break it down, which should help with rhinitis. Vitamin C also scavenges free radicals, which can help ease inflammation.

Try 2-5g daily (dose can be divided); reduce the amount if you experience diarrhea.
Carotenoids, particularly beta-carotene and lycopene, may reduce the severity of asthma attacks.

Try 25mg of natural-source beta-carotene or 30mg of lycopene daily.
Finally, if you are a woman and planning to have a baby, consider adding vitamin F, and zinc to your supplement regimen. A recent study found that the children of women with low intakes of these nutrients were much more likely to develop asthma.

Pregnant? You may need extra zinc and vitamin E. A recent study found that children of women with low intakes of these nutrients were much more likely to develop asthma.

Food allergies, sometimes called sensitivities, can aggravate any number of physical symptoms, including rheumatoid arthritis. Some of the most common food allergens include dairy, wheat, corn and soy.

Sometimes specific foods exacerbate pollen allergies, making them "concomitant" allergies. For example, beef can aggravate cedar and juniper allergies, eggs can worsen ragweed allergies, and shellfish (though not shrimp) can intensify dust allergies, if you have seasonal allergies, consider eliminating all dairy- and wheat-containing foods during those times.





By Jack Challem

Share this with your friends