It may seem a little whiny to complain about volcanic smog (referred to as “vog” here in Hawaii) while my friends and family on the mainland are dealing with freakish winter weather. It’s a beautiful and poetic thing to be near an active volcano where you can be a witness to the continual formation and transformation of our beloved earth. However, a recent and especially wicked two day migraine has led me to prioritize the whine-ability of vog. I never had allergies when I lived in Iowa or near DC, but living near a volcano has taken things to a whole new level. When the Kilauea volcano on the Big Island of Hawaii is more active and the wind directions are right, it leads to more sulfur dioxide particles in the air over Oahu (the island I live on), which leads to sinus pain, headaches, and irritable children (in that order). I know that vog is something unique to those living near active volcanoes, but hopefully the tips below will be helpful for anyone living in an area with poor air quality either due to smog or pollen (or both – celebrity allergen name “smollen”!) because it all leads back to the same root cause – irritation to the respiratory system. This irritation causes the body to release histamine, which is a chemical produced by specific immune cells that burst when triggered. The histamine provides a signal that says “something’s wrong, send help”, so these immune cells tend to congregate in areas that are prone to “invasion” such as the nose, eyes, and skin. Histamine has other important roles in the body and is actually also a neurotransmitter, which is a chemical that has an effect on the brain. This is why taking anti-histamines can make a person feel groggy or tired – histamine helps the brain to be alert, especially in times of danger. Some people are prone to excess production of histamine. It’s a simple genetic trait, probably kept around and passed on because people with more histamine tend to be more alert and aggressive – qualities that will get you a higher ranking on dating websites, I guess :). Dietary factors are also involved, and eating allergy-prone foods such as excessive amounts of gluten and ultra-pasteurized dairy can increase histamine levels.
With that said, here are a few tips to lower your histamine response during times of acutely poor air quality. (All dosages for supplements are only suggestions based on personal experience – please check with your healthcare practitioner before taking anything, especially if you are taking medication):
- Keep track of your local air quality. Here are the websites for Hawaii and California, which also include practical tips to follow during times of increased exposure vog or pollution (i.e. try to stay indoors, use air conditioning, avoid physical exertion).
- Make your neti pot a close, personal friend. Dissolve half a teaspoon of salt in warm water in your neti pot and use it to flush out your sinuses as often as needed (obvious statement- use clean water! If your tap water is prone to parasites or contaminants please use a sterile source of water to clean out your nasal passages). I find this to be more effective than almost any other method for sinus pain.
- Drink plenty of water! If you are hydrated, your respiratory system will be better able to deflect irritants. A pinch of Celtic salt and a squeeze of lemon will help to make your water more absorbable.
- Run a humidifier with a little bit of peppermint essential oil in the water (if your humidifier allows for that) or boil a pot of water with peppermint oil on the stove to get the same effect. This moisturizes the nasal passages and the peppermint acts as a natural anesthetic for sinus pain.
- 1,000 mg of Quercetin3 times per day for up to two weeks. Quercetin is a bioflavonoid that stops the release of histamine without the side effects of pharmaceutical anti-histamines. It can be purchased at most health food stores.
- 500 mg of Bromelain 2 times per day for up to two weeks. Bromelain is an enzyme from pineapple (you can also try eating fresh pineapple daily and skip this one) that works synergistically with Quercetin to balance histamine levels.
- 2,000 mg of Magnesium Ascorbatedaily for up to two weeks, which can be taken in divided doses if taking it all at once causes diarrhea. This is a specific form of vitamin C that is attached to magnesium. The reason I like this form for allergies is that vitamin C itself increases the body’s rate of detoxification of histamine (one study found that just taking 2,000 mg of vitamin C daily for 1 week decreased histamine levels by 38% in participants) but when you attach it to magnesium you get the added benefit of magnesium blocking the calcium channels that trigger histamine release. To put it very simply, calcium is the “go, faster, increase” mineral and magnesium is the “stop, slower, relax” mineral. So in this case, taking Magnesium Ascorbate kills two birds with one stone.
NOTE: This blog is for informational purposes only and is not intended to diagnose or prevent any disease. Supplement dosages above are given for information only based on personal experience and do not replace the advice of a qualified health care practitioner. Please consult with your practitioner before making changes to your diet or lifestyle, especially if you are under treatment for a specific condition or are on medication.
February 19, 2014 5 Comments
Lately it seems that I’m working with more and more otherwise healthy women who are battling breast cancer at younger and younger ages. The purpose of this blog is to give some nutrition and lifestyle tips to aid the fight against breast cancer, but I have to start off by saying that if you are dealing with breast cancer it’s not your fault. It’s not because you did or didn’t do something: many of us don’t exercise, eat a terrible diet, live a stressful lifestyle and don’t get breast cancer. Of all cancers, breast cancer seems to be the most emotionally charged because it is so fundamentally wrong that the parts of us which help to make us visibly feminine and which may have nourished our infant children would now be capable of so much destruction. So – in my very humble opinion – the first thing you have to recognize is that a breast cancer diagnosis is not your fault, but that there are things that you can do to help turn your hormonal chemistry back to health.
There are many nutrients involved in the biochemistry of cancer, but the two supplements I would immediately start taking if I were battling breast cancer would be:
- Iodine. Iodine is a mineral that is concentrated in the thyroid, breasts, and ovaries. It is found in seaweed, fish, egg yolks (as long as the chicken lived in an iodine-rich area), and organ meats. Iodine deficiency is related to abnormal breast tissue growth (which is why many women with fibrocystic breasts find relief by increasing their iodine intake) and increased sensitivity to estrogen in breast tissue. On the surface this increased sensitivity may not seem like a big deal, but when you factor in the amount of estrogen that our bodies are bombarded with on a daily basis (see lifestyle tips below) you can start to get a picture of why breast cancer is on the rise. Signs that a person may have low levels of iodine include low body temperature (feeling cold when others are warm), fatigue, goiter, and slowed growth of body hair (meaning you have to pluck your eyebrows or shave your legs less often, but ladies please don’t intentionally deprive yourself of iodine just to save on your waxing bill :)!). Despite the addition of iodine to salt, many Americans still have low levels of iodine. In my opinion this is because of our rampant exposure to things that compete with iodine, namely chlorine, fluoride, and bromine. Nerd alert – if you look at the periodic table of elements you will see that these elements are in the same column as iodine which means they have similar properties and may compete in the human body. Chlorine can be found in tap water, pesticide residues, and as a breakdown product in Splenda (the artificial sweetener that “Tastes like sugar cause it’s made from sugar” or in my more accurate slogan which hasn’t been picked up by the manufacturers: “Tastes like sugar cause it’s made from poison”). Fluoride is found in fluoridated tap water, toothpaste, and is a breakdown product of industrial fertilizers. Bromine is found in some baked goods and in fire retardants (which is why my kids don’t sleep in pajamas treated with chemical fire retardants – bromine is linked to hyperactivity and with two already super active little boys, Lord knows we don’t need anything to increase their activity levels!). You can see how the exposure to these elements from multiple sources on a daily basis helps to squash the small amount of iodine the average American gets in their diet. A general dosage to restore iodine levels is around 25 mg of iodine (I like the forms in Iodoral brand the best) but if you plan to take iodine for any length of time it is best to have your levels evaluated with an iodine loading test, and of course consult with a qualified healthcare practitioner to make sure it doesn’t interfere with any medications you may be on.
- Sulforaphane Glucosinolate, abbreviated SGS. This dietary compound, found in cruciferous vegetables (ie broccoli, cauliflower, kale, Brussels sprouts), works at the epigenetic level – meaning that regardless of whether you have the so-called “gene for cancer”, it works at a deeper level that tells your genes how to express themselves. Epigenetics is a huge and exciting area of research and I’m having a hard time not going on a 10-page rant about how it proves that we are not just victims of our genes so I will just save that for another blog! Johns Hopkins has done extensive research on Sulforaphane and its specific role in preventing cancerous growth in the breast as well as in prompting breast cancer cells to commit apoptosis, or programmed cell suicide. Broccoli sprouts are the richest dietary source of SGS and can be purchased at most health food stores or grown at home from broccoli seeds. If sprouts aren’t your thing, SGS is also available in supplement form. It’s important to note that SGS is not just for ladies – it has been found to prevent several forms of cancer and has similar anti-cancer effects in prostate cancer cells.
Lifestyle tips that may also help include:
- Avoid environmental estrogen like the plague that it is. Sources of environmental estrogen include plastic (especially any plastic with a smell, such as plastic shower liners – the smell means it’s off-gassing), new foam mattresses, hormones in meat and dairy products, pesticide residues on food, bis-phenol A found in plastic food storage containers and in the lining of canned foods, synthetic fragrances found in cosmetics and air fresheners (that’s right I’m talking about you, Glade Plug-ins), preservatives and sudsing agents in personal care products, chemicals and fragrances in commercial cleaning products, pharmaceutical and pesticide residues in tap water, adhesives in new carpet, fumes in paint, and dry cleaning chemicals. Now, before you banish yourself to your closet wearing a burlap sack and eating only air, realize that you can avoid most of the above by eating organic foods as much as possible, storing food and beverages in glass or stainless steel instead of plastic, drinking only filtered water, using natural cosmetics and personal care products, and being mindful of the chemical input of things in your home (i.e. choose a cloth shower curtain instead of plastic, look for VOC-free paint, consider a latex or wool mattress instead of foam).
- Go to bed at or before 10 PM and sleep in a totally dark room. This helps your brain to produce adequate amounts of melatonin, a hormone involved in sleep regulation that also has antioxidant and anti-cancer properties. The link between melatonin and breast cancer may partially explain why nurses and other night-shift workers have higher incidences of breast cancer than other populations.
- Take time to nurture yourself. Metaphysically speaking, the breasts are commonly linked to feelings of nurturing (or lack thereof). Figure out what this means for you – maybe it’s getting a massage, taking a hot bath, eating a meal you really enjoy, going on a trip, scheduling a few minutes of “me time” into your day, planting a garden, reading a book, allowing yourself the time to exercise, or simply taking a nap! Regardless of the treatment option you choose, taking the time to nurture yourself will help you on the road to healing. For more info on this, see the excellent book Feelings Buried Alive Never Die by Karol Truman that discusses the link between specific emotions and the particular diseases they are associated with and gives practical steps for creating health in the link between mind and body. For an overall look at emotions and women’s health, I recommend the book Women’s Bodies, Women’s Wisdom by Christiane Northrup, that is an amazing and practical read on learning to love our bodies – even when certain parts may be giving us a hard time.
One more thing that I would like to mention is that when choosing a treatment option, make sure you go with the option that is absolutely what you want to do. I know I personally tend to have a more holistic approach, but in talking with oncologists through the years the one theme that remains constant is that people have the best outcome when they are confident in their treatment choice. Whether you decide to go with chemotherapy, radiation, surgical options, natural options, experimental treatments, nutritional treatments, or no treatment make sure that you are doing it because you feel it’s the right choice for you. Every woman is different, every cancer is different, and finding the right treatment option for you – regardless of what your insurance company thinks – could be the key to getting you through this difficult step and on to the rest of your life. Things may seem bleak right now, but in lectures I have given nationwide with cancer survivors, the thing I hear most often from these amazing women is that cancer changed their life for the better because they realized how strong they really were. A cancer diagnosis was the catalyst that forced them to choose daily to replace fear and despair with love and celebration. My sincere wish is that it does the same for you!
October 31, 2012 4 Comments
My husband and I bought a new Serta mattress earlier this week, a replacement under warranty for our former Serta mattress that behaved more like a papasan chair. While researching which mattress would be the best replacement, I came across all kinds of info on new mattresses and off-gassing of harmful chemicals from the foam (especially memory foam, apparently) and fire retardants. There are all kinds of opinions and scary stories out there ranging from everything from multiple chemical sensitivities to SIDS.
I try to not be an alarmist, but I must admit that reading this info made me wary of our new and exciting purchase – especially with the recent law mandating that all new mattresses be doused in fire retardants during manufacturing, unless you can get your doctor to write a prescription for a fire retardant-free mattress. I started wondering if I should just forget about the Serta and opt for an all-natural, foam-free mattress. However, I could feel my Filipino ancestors shaming me from beyond the grave for even thinking of questioning the benefit of a FREE brand new mattress. (Mind you, I am not making ethnic generalizations – my Filipino grandma once haggled so intensely over a 25 cent item at a flea market that the vendor ended up just giving it to her for free. Getting free stuff runs in my genes and I am sure she is not the first one to inherit it.)
I decided to proceed with the Serta replacement and took the following precautions to make our slumber as non-toxic as possible:
- First and foremost, I took the plastic wrapping off the mattress as soon as we got home and opened the window in our bedroom. I’m in Iowa and it is still relatively freezing so I closed the door to the bedroom while the window was open. We also live on a farm so I wasn’t about to leave the mattress outside as temptation for neighborhood mice and raccoons. We brought the mattress home in the early afternoon and I left the window open until about an hour before bedtime. Some websites said to do this for 24 hours, since the first 24 hours is the time of the most off-gassing, but we were too impatient.
- I invited a friend over and we both put on clean socks and walked all over the mattress (with the window still open). I read about this online – apparently walking on the bed squeezes the air out of the foam and draws new air in, which accelerates the rate of off-gassing and gets the chemicals out of the mattress and into the air.
- I put all the plants in the house in the bedroom for 24 hours. NASA has done studies on using house plants to purify the air in space shuttles so I figure they’re good enough for me and my mattress. Fast growing plants such as spider plants are especially good at purifying VOC’s (Volatile Organic Chemicals) out of the air. My husband thought our bedroom looked like Jurassic Park but that’s what he gets for marrying a crazy nutritionist.
I must admit that I have no chemical sensitivities or serious health concerns, so if you are someone who does, the above three precautions may not be enough for you and you may need to look into chemical free bedding. However, my husband and I love our new mattress and I feel good knowing that the surge in off-gassing that occurs with brand new mattresses happened in a controlled manner instead of into us while we’re dreaming!
March 18, 2009 16 Comments