Woodland Herbs June 2011
 

In this issue
Welcome to your regular newsletter from Woodland Herbs. We hope you will find it interesting, entertaining and useful. If you do not wish to continue to receive this newsletter please use the link at the bottom of this email.
Child in fieldCredit: Juhan Sonin http://www.flickr.com/photos/juhansonin/3584496703/sizes/z/in/photostream/Seasonal Allergies

Winter colds may have dried up, but sniffles and sneezes can continue throughout the warmer months for many.  According to some estimates seasonal allergies affect up to 25% of the general population in Western societies.  Though popularly called 'hay fever', symptoms of watery, itchy eyes, burning throats and congestion of the sinuses and nasal passages are only rarely caused by hay and are usually only accompanied by fever if the person is also suffering an infection.  These symptoms, known medically as 'allergic rhinitis', aren't just experienced in summer, either.  Grass pollen levels are at their highest between May and August and other airborne allergens, such as moulds, fungi and tree pollens can make many sufferers feel like they have a cold for much of the year.  For many, such allergies can make them more susceptible to colds and 'flu, and conditions such as sinusitis and ear infections.

What happens when I sneeze? 
Ironically, an allergic reaction is a manifestation of the body's immune response trying to protect it from something potentially harmful.  Though benign to the majority of the population, certain substances (allergens) trigger an immune response in sensitive people.  As the body attempts to guard against the perceived irritant, special antibodies (IgE) recognize the 'invading' substance and then multiply themselves to make large numbers of antibodies . These antibodies cause other blood cells to release certain chemical substances, including histamine.  In an attempt to flush out the allergen, fluid is drawn to the site of the 'attack', resulting in the the relevant mucous membranes become inflamed, with  streaming eyes and runny nose characteristic of seasonal allergic rhinitis. 

Sufferers may also experience related stomach problems, tiredness and skin symptoms such as itching and hives.

Why me?
It is not yet known why the immune system of an affected person overreacts in this way. In the UK, there has been a fourfold increase in allergies in general since the 1950s, with no consensus as to the reason why. Some writers point to hereditary factors, others to the time of year a person was born (babies born in the spring are said to be more likely to develop hay fever), while others blame environmental toxins and the immune-compromising effect of long-term stress.  Whatever the cause, there's little doubt that such conditions are troublesome.  Thankfully, there are a number of measures you can take to reduce those familiar symptoms.

thebittenword.com www.flickr.com/photos/galant/890670192/

Manage your lifestyle, manage your symptoms; top tips for beating the summer sniffles

- Keep a symptom diary , recording where you were and what you were doing during an attack and what symptoms you experienced.  This will help you plan your anti-allergy strategy much more comprehensively than guess work.

- Keep track of the pollen count. Limit outdoor activity on high days (less than 30 is low, more than 50 is high), shut doors and windows and if your symptoms are severe consider using an air purifyer.

Remove your outdoor clothes away from your bedroom and wash your hands and face on returning home after being out they may be covered in pollen.

 - Try applying a barrier balm  to the base of your nostrils.  A blend of beeswax and vegetable oil can help  to stop pollen from entering your body and triggering the allergic reaction.

- Drink lots of water . Water is a natural antihistamine and being dehydrated can lead to the production of even more histamine.   If plain water is rather unexciting for you, try Red Bush/Rooibus, a caffeine-free tea with antihistamine properties or try infusions of other plants which also have antihistamine properties (see below).

Reduce stress .  2010's Hay Fever Health Report by Professor Jean Emberlin showed that 71% of those with the worst symptoms reported higher than average stress levels.  

Consider supplementation Vitamin C is the main antioxidant in the cells of the respiratory passages and acts as a natural antihistamine.   Patrick Holford, founder of the Institute for Optimum Nutrition, suggests four 1000mg tablets of vitamin C daily for rhinitis sufferers. Bioflavanoids (such as quercetin) are compounds found in many fruits and vegetables, and can boost vitamin C's ability to relieve hay fever symptoms. Bromelain, a mixture of protein-digesting enzymes found in pineapples, is also a natural anti-inflammatory, and Magnesium , a mineral involved in around 300 enzyme-related processes in the body, is used by some allergy sufferers with success.

Sluice out the sinuses .  Nasal irrigation using a neti pot (a small, teapot-like receptacle with a long spout used to deliver saline solution) is a technique which dates back to ancient India and nowadays is used over the world to relieve symptoms of rhinitis, sinusitis, and other conditions associated with the upper respiratory passage.  Long term use of saline solution may dry out the passages, however, so a convenient and more gentle alternative is Weleda's Rhinodoron , a simple, effective nasal spray with soothing aloe vera. The aloe vera forms a coating on the nasal passage acting as a barrier to the pollen. 

Assess your options .  Many sufferers report that herbal medicine has been effective in addressing their seasonal allergies.  Drawing on their extensive knowledge of medicinal plants, a herbalist will view your symptoms with regard to your overall health and wellbeing and will tailor a prescription specifically to you. You can find a herbalist close to you at the National Institute of Medical Herbalists' Herbalist Finder . Others use acupuncture to control their allergies.  In 2008, a study in the European Journal of Integrative Medicine randomly assigned over 5000 people with allergic rhinitis to receive acupuncture for a 3 month period or to a control group that received no acupuncture.  The authors of this trial concluded that treating patients with allergic rhinitis with acupuncture led to clinically relevant benefits.

Herbal hay fever relief
There are many plants which have natural antihistamine qualities.  Nettle (Urtica dioica) , for example, can be taken throughout the day to ease the inflammatory reaction which causes many of the symptoms associated with hay fever. Plantain (Plantago lanceolota) is also antihistamine and helps thin the mucous gunging up your nose and sinuses.  Both herbs make pleasantly 'green' tasting teas and are also the main constituents of Woodland Herbs Plantain and Nettle tea , which also contains soothing German Chamomile (Matricaria recutita) , Lemon Balm (Melissa officinalis) and Elderflower (Sambuccus nigra).  
Eyebright (Euphrasia officinalis)  is drying and has a specific action on the eye, making it useful for the watery itchy eyes associated with seasonal allergies.
Studies have shown that aged garlic can inhibit the release of histamine and can enhance various immune factors such as natural killer cell activity and antibody generation. The latter suggests that aged garlic may be useful in preventing the development of congested sinuses and ears into infections, a common complication of seasonal allergies.
Garlic is also a good source of quercetin (more on which below).

Essential oils and homeopathy are often very useful components of an anti-allergy strategy.  Visit the relevant sections on our website to find out how homeopathic remedies  and aromatherapy may help symptoms of allergy and hay fever.

Understanding what is happening in the body and how to cope is very important to people with allergies and those around them.  Allergy UK has a number of factsheets   available on a range of other specific allergies, intolerances and sensitivities.

quercitinSupplement of the Month:  Quercetin

Rather than preventing the production of histamine, antihistamines block the action of histamine at receptor sites.  Quercetin inhibits the release of histamine by mast cells, which are especially numerous in the parts of the body in promiximity to the outside world.  Quercetin is one of a group of nutrients known as flavonoids (also called bioflavonoids), which are a group of compounds that give many fruits and vegetables their colour and which have been found to have many health benefits.  Bee pollen, which is taken by many as  they feel it helps reduce the allergic reaction, also contains quercetin.

Quercetin belongs to the family of flavonoids known as Oligomeric Proanthocyanidins (OPCs), which are powerful antioxidants and help the absorption of vitamins C and E in the body and prevent and reduce inflammation.  OPCs therefore have potential applications in a range of conditions from joint troubles and allergies to ageing. Many herbs and foods contain small amounts of quercetin, such as onions, apples, black and green tea, capers, berries and brassicas such as broccoli.

Solgar's Quercetin Complex includes quercetin in a formula with Ester-C Plus (a patented, pH neutral form of vitamin C that is gentle on the stomach) and bromelain, a natural enzyme derived from pineapple which has been the subject of much research regarding its potential to inhibit inflammation.

nettleHerb of the Month:  Nettle

Quercetin is one of a number of flavonoids found in Nettle (Urtica dioica)a familiar plant which herbalists often use as part of an overall anti-allergy treatment plan. Abundant in ditches, shrubberies and verges, nettle's heart-shaped leaves and tiny, hollow needles that release stinging chemicals are familiar to almost everyone. Nettle has been used both as a food source and medicinally for thousands of years - the Ancient Greeks and Romans used it for a wide variety of medicinal purposes - and the plant's leaves are used to make infusions, tinctures, compresses and ointments.

Infusions and tinctures of nettle have been commonly used to provide relief from allergy symptoms for centuries and in 2009 a study  published in the peer reviewed Phytotherapy Research identified the specific processes by which nettle inhibits the symptoms of allergic rhinitis. 

It may often also be used for its high levels of vitamin C, iron, silica and potassium. In the past the nettle stems were used to make clothing and bedsheets.

Cautions and Contraindications: Nettle increases urinary flow, so use with caution if you're taking other (herbal or conventional) diuretics.  We normally recommend seeking advice from your Doctor, Herbalist or other health professional if taking prescription medicines, pregnant or breastdfeeding  and thinking about self-treating with herbs.

Legislation on the sale of herbs has changed

Due to the Traditional Herbal Medicinal Products Directive (2004/24/EC) we are no longer able to dispense herbal tinctures for internal use over the counter or on our website.  This means that most of the tinctures we currently sell will not be available, unless it is recommended by a medical herbalist after a private consultation.  Medical herbalists still have access to the full to the full range of medicinal herbs. Dried herbs are also affected, though we are trying to keep as many available as possible.  You can find out more information at the website of the European Herbal and Traditional Medicine Practitioner Association (EHTPA) and at the National Institute of Medical Herbalists .

The National Institute of Medical Herbalists' site has a facility allowing you to find a herbalist in your area   

Cautions and Contraindications: This newsletter does not substitute the advice of a healthcare professional.  Always consult your GP or Medical Herbalist before self-treating with herbs and/or supplements.

References: Bourdin A Vachier I and Chanez P (2009), Allergic rhinitis and asthma; united disease through epithelial cells, Thorax 64 pp999-1004
Dykewicz MS, Hamilos DL (February 2010). "Rhinitis and sinusitis". J. Allergy Clin. Immunol. 125 (2 Suppl 2)
Aged Garlic Extract: Research Excerpts from Peer Reviewed Scientific Journals and Scientific Meetings, www.kyolic.ca/AGE-Research.pdf     
Brinkhaus et al, 2008, Effectiveness of acupuncture in patients with allergic rhinitis Results of a pragmatic randomised trial, European Journal of Integrative Medicine, (1, Supp 1)

Clinic

in Glasgow