by: Wendy Romig, MS, CNS, LDNAllergies can manifest for a variety of reasons, from food allergies, hay fever and seasonal allergies, to animal allergies and reactions medications. Often allergy sufferers experience some sort of inflammatory response such as sneezing, hives, watering eyes, runny nose, and/or redness when they come into contact with an allergen. Allergies are the body’s response to a stimulus that it feels is foreign or dangerous. The biochemical cascade when the body comes in contact with an allergen is somewhat complex but the response is generally pretty immediate. Our body is equipped with a host of protective mechanisms that make up our immune system. We have various cells such as immunoglobulins or antibodies, that are responsible for identifying potential threats and assisting in their destruction. In the case of allergies, Immunoglobulin E (IgE) is the antibody in charge of identifying allergens and signaling the release of mast cells, resulting in the classic allergic response sometimes referred to as a histamine response (sneezing, watering eyes, redness, etc.). Allergies are commonly treated with antihistamines and those with life threatening allergies may carry an epipen which contains a dose of epinephrine to treat anaphylaxis (symptoms include rashes, nausea, vomiting, difficulty breathing and shock). Some people may find that allergies come and go depending on their age, the season or their overall health. Allergy shots are often used as a long term treatment for allergies by desensitizing the immune system to specific allergens over a period of 1-3 years. Research suggests that nutrition may play a significant role in controlling allergies and even in contributing to worsening of symptoms. Studies have shown that excessive intake of certain foods high in omega 6 fatty acids, like animal fats, can increase arachidonic acid levels in the body, leading to an increase in inflammation. Other foods which can increase histamine responses (and thus inflammation) include foods that are naturally high in histamines or that release histamines when they enter the body. Examples include left-over food (more than 2 days old), overly ripened fruit, canned foods, aged cheeses, alcohol, wine, shellfish, some beans, certain nuts, vinegars, coffee, citrus fruit, fermented foods (like pickles and saur kraut), and cured meats. Reducing inflammation in the body can significantly improve symptoms of allergies, especially environmental and seasonal allergies that may persist over a period of time. Anti-inflammatory, low histamine diets can help to lower inflammation, improve gut function and reduce levels of omega 6 fatty acids in the body.
Anti-inflammatory foods to consider including or increasing in the diet are:o Dark leafy greens like spinach, kale, and collardso Bitter foods like broccoli rabe, arugula, and dandelion greenso Zinc containing foods like pumpkin seeds and ginger (which help balance the immune system)o Liver detoxifing foods like cilantro, parsley, basil, cucumber, and celeryo Cruciferous veggies like cabbage, broccoli, kale, and cauliflowero Root vegetables which are high in mineralso Beta carotene containing foods like squash, sweet potatoes and carrots (which are antioxidants)o Antioxidant fruits like berrieso Foods containing omega 3 fatty acids like fish, flax seeds and flax oilSome research suggests that supplements like Vitamin C, Omega 3, zinc and probiotics may also be useful for allergy sufferers. Herbal medicine can also play a critical role in lowering inflammation and improving gut function. There are many healing culinary herbs that, when added to daily meals, can offer tremendous benefit. Herbs like cilantro, parsley, dill, oregano and spices like cumin, turmeric, ginger and cayenne all aid in digestion, improve liver function and help to reduce inflammation in the body. Other natural methods which can help in reducing inflammation and symptoms of allergies include acupuncture, chiropractic and massage. Exercise has also been found to lower inflammation as recent scientific evidence points to increased levels of inflammation with a sedentary lifestyle. There are many resources available for lowering inflammation including antiinflammatory cook books, Dr. Andrew Weil’s online anti-inflammatory food guide and the Environmental Working Group (ewg.org) which lists pesticides and products that may be toxic and inflammatory to the body. If you suffer from severe allergies, it is always best to consult your physician first to discuss all options available to you.Wendy Romig, MS, CNS, LDN is functional nutritionist/herbalist and owner of Sage Integrative Health Center where she sees clients for a wide range of health concerns. Wendy is finishing her Doctorate of Clinical Nutrition and is currently on a research team investigating the anti-inflammatory effects of a proprietary blend of herbs.
by Sage Contributor: Elizabeth Traison
As we age, one topic that becomes increasingly more important is heart health. According to the CDC (Center for Disease Control), cardiovascular disease is one of the top health concerns in the US with nearly 1 in 4 people experiencing a cardiovascular condition like hypertension, elevated cholesterol, heart attacks, ischemia and more. There are a few wonderful plants that can support heart health that everyone should know about.
Hawthorne is one of the most well-known herbs when it comes to heart health. Almost every part of the plant, from leaves, to stems, to flowers and berries can be helpful to the heart. This wonderful herb is used to help keep blood pressure in a normal range. Hawthorne can also be used to help promote good cholesterol balance in the body, which helps keep the heart beating strong. Steep Hawthorne berries and/or leaves and stems in a water for a heart-warming and healing tea.
Hibiscus is another herb that can help with heart health. Well known for it’s beautiful brightly colored flowers, and it’s slightly sour tea, hibiscus has many healing properties as well. Like hawthorne, it helps to keep blood pressure and cholesterol in balance. It can also be used in combination with others herbs, like lemon balm, to aid with falling asleep. Steep dried hibiscus petals in water for a magnificently colored, nourishing tea.
Despite its reputation of causing “garlic breath”, garlic is one of the most potent (and most delicious!) herbs to support heart health. It has long been used in traditional medicine, with records dating back as far as Hippocrates. Garlic is known both as an antioxidant, and also used to lower cholesterol and triglyceride levels. In addition to using garlic in recipes, garlic can be added to teas. For a really delicious creation, place peeled garlic cloves in raw honey and allow to sit for some time. Add the syrup to teas and salad dressings to help with overall health.
Motherwort is used to support both the physical and the emotional heart. Most often, motherwort is used to calm heart palpitations or fluttering, conditions that are sometimes associated with emotions like nervousness and anxiety. Like other the aforementioned herbs, motherwort can also be used to aid in hypertension. The flower of the plant can be made in tincture or teas.
Most of us are already familiar with the benefits of olive oil, but fewer know about the power of the olive leaf. Oleuropein is one of the main compounds found in olive leaf, and it is associated with lowering blood pressure and preventing cardiovascular disease by lowering elevated LDL levels. Try olive leaves steeped as a tea, or look for it in a supplemental powdered form.
Gingko is often known for its ability to help with memory and cognition, but Gingko can also help with heart health! By improving blood flow, strengthening capillaries, and reducing clotting this herb helps to ensure that the heart is getting enough blood and circulation is strong throughout the body. Gingko can be found consumed as a tea or as a supplement.
Reishi is a potent mushroom that has been used in Chinese medicine for centuries. As an adaptogen, which helps with the negative effects of stress, Reishi mushrooms assist in maintaining balance in the body. Additionally, Reishi mushrooms have been shown to reduce blood pressure and improve circulation. These fungi also have an effect on preventing high LDL cholesterol and lowering inflammation. Reishi mushroom tops can be used as a tea, as a tincture, and also found in powdered supplemental form which can be sprinkled into food.
There are also delicious spices that can be used to help with heart health in addition to these herbs. The main compound in turmeric is curcumin, a powerful antioxidant. Turmeric is well known for it's anti-inflammatory powers, and it is also shown to help lower LDL-cholesterol and raise HDL-cholesterol. The main component of ginger is gingerol which is thought to help relax blood vessels, stimulating blood flow. Like turmeric, ginger is also anti-inflammatory. Black pepper can be used to lower LDL-cholesterol, especially for people consuming high fat diets. It has also been shown to help with the recovery of people who suffer from heart attacks. Cinnamon has also been linked with a lowered risk of heart disease by reducing LDL-cholesterol and keeping HDL levels stable. Some studies suggest that cinnamon may lower blood pressure too.
For a tasty way to try all of these heart healthy spices together, try Golden Milk. Combine one or two teaspoons of turmeric and ground or fresh ginger with a quarter teaspoon of cinnamon and a healthy pinch of black pepper. Whisk into almond or another nut milk over a low heat, adding honey to your liking. It's a tasty, heart healthy, anti-inflammatory treat!
In addition to adding herbs and spices into the diet, there are other important self-care practices that promote optimum heart function, which contributes to better overall health. The heart works hard all day, making sure to get enough rest ensures the heart can continue to function at its best. Choosing foods such as colorful fruits and vegetables and whole grains supply vital nutrients to the heart. Be sure to choose healthy mono- or polyunsaturated fats instead of saturated or trans fats which keep the heart beating and the blood flowing.
This information is meant to be educational, not prescriptive. Always check with your doctor and/or clinical herbalist before taking herbal medications.
The flu and the common cold are both caused by viruses that infect the respiratory system, causing fatigue, headache, nasal congestion, cough, sore throat, and general misery. The flu tends to be more severe, and can also be accompanied by a high fever, chills, body aches, and loss of appetite. For those with healthy and resilient immune systems, both the common cold and the flu will typically resolve within 2 weeks. While many people report an improvement of cold & flu symptoms after taking a prescribed antibiotic, it is important to remember that both are caused by viruses, and not bacteria. With the development of drug-resistant ‘superbugs’, the practice of prescribing antibiotics to cold and flu sufferers is thankfully a thing of the past.
With so many signs and posters proclaiming ‘cover your cough’ and ‘sneeze in your sleeve’, it’s hard to miss the fact that we have officially entered this year’s cold & flu season. Soon, we will start to see commercials for medicated tissues, and will glare unapologetically at fellow commuters who dare to cough in our presence. On average, adults in the U.S. have 2 colds each year, with children averaging over 6 colds per year. The vast majority of these colds will occur over the winter season.
When it comes to general guidelines for preventing colds and the flu, much of it will not be surprising.
Stress Management: While you may not be able to control the circumstances of your life, controlling your reaction to overwhelming situations- using various relaxation methods such as meditation or yoga- can help keep your immune system available to respond quickly and adequately to viruses that you come in contact with.
Food Choices: Having a diet that is rich in fruits & vegetables and low in sugary or processed foods will help to protect your body and reduce inflammation levels that make us vulnerable to illness and infection.
Good Hygiene: Be careful to wash your hands thoroughly when entering from outdoors, before eating, after using the restroom, or after spending time with someone who you know is ill.
Increasing Circulation: This includes both internally and externally. Be sure to stay physically active in the colder months to maintain good circulation and fitness. Also, although many of us keep windows closed during the colder months, opening a window every so often to allow fresh air in can boost your mood and your health- especially if you live in an area with low pollution or have an air purifier in your home.
If you, or someone you love, does end up getting sick, there are several reliable home remedies that one can implement to ease symptoms and support a full recovery from a cold or flu infection.
Rest: Adequate rest is vital to protect against and heal from cold and flu infections, because reducing stress plays a key role in immune function. Stress goes beyond the situations that cause us anxiety or upset, and includes the excess demands placed on a body that has not been given sufficient time to rest and recover from the demands of daily life.
Hydrate: Consuming enough fluids will ensure that your organs and cells are receiving nutrients and having waste products removed efficiently. During a respiratory infection, such as a cold or the flu, drinking warm liquids like broth can help to ease sore throat symptoms and reduce congestion by loosening mucus.
Probiotics: Although it has not been proven if probiotics play a role in preventing colds and the flu, those who take probiotics on a regular basis seem to have less severe symptoms when sick with a cold. Probiotics can be particularly helpful for children who attend daycare, as children who take probiotics are shown to have fewer colds.
Honey: Taking honey at night can reduce coughing episodes and ease other cold symptoms. Many people will also take a combination of honey with raw garlic, for an antiviral boost, to treat and/or prevent illness throughout the winter months.
Eucalyptus: Diffusing eucalyptus essential oil helps to ease nasal and chest congestion. Rubs or salves that contain eucalyptus can also be applied to the back and chest to help loosen mucus.
You may notice that some of these remedies also double as preventative measures. Be sure to sign up for our upcoming workshop to learn more about how you can strengthen and support your immune system through the coming winter months, and beyond. We hope to see you there!
Dana McNaught, MS
Sage Contributing Writer
(2012, June 8). Girl sneezing [digital image]. Retrieved from https://kids.niehs.nih.gov/games/songs/childrens/cover-your-mouth/index.htm