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
It’s summer, which for many people means it’s time to travel. I’ve had a lot of questions from people regarding the issue of whether full-body airport scanners (the big space elevator-looking things parked at more and more airport security lines) are safe, especially for people who may be more susceptible to radiation such as those who are pregnant or have a history of cancer. Of course there is a HUGE amount of controversy surrounding this subject ranging from an individual’s right to privacy to the issue of national security to the health risks of radiation exposure. There is an excellent excerpt from the Journal of the American Osteopathic Association titled “Pandora’s Boxes: Questions Unleashed in the Airport Scanner Debate” that sums up the health-related issues pretty well. If you have time to read the entire text I really recommend it. If you don’t have time (because you’re at the airport frantically deciding which security line to stand in) here is my 5-second summary:
- The type of radiation used in most of these machines is likely to be carcinogenic (meaning it may cause cancer, probably by damaging DNA), but the doses are supposedly very low. This is still not very reassuring to me since I am already exposed to small doses of daily radiation from my cell phone, wireless laptop, etc. and radiation exposure is cumulative.
- The common estimate is that it would take 1,000 scans in an airport scanner to equal the amount of radiation you would receive in 1 chest x-ray. However, the methods used to calculate this estimate have been questioned by studies including several performed by scientists at the University of California San Francisco.
- The authors of the text were unable to find any large-scale studies done on humans or animals using this technology. That is not a good sign – especially for something that is being placed in airports nationwide!
Another tidbit that I found in other articles was that scientists are questioning the safety of radiation that appears to only penetrate skin-deep and how that could lead to skin cancer in individuals who are predisposed. To put it in perspective, airport scanners are not exposing people to enough radiation to cause skin to burn the way that prolonged exposure to UV radiation (sunlight) would but it is something to consider when looking at overall radiation exposure over a lifetime.
With all that said, here is what I do when I’m heading through airport security:
- I decline the airport scanner line and instead ask for the standard metal detector/pat down treatment. Many people don’t realize that this is a perfectly legal option and will not put you on the “suspicious activities” list! You have a right to refuse to walk through something of questionable safety. The pat down takes an extra 5-10 minutes so plan accordingly in your travel timing. If you think this is a crazy and extreme thing to do, you can be encouraged by the fact that when I recently flew while still pregnant and refused the scanner line, the female TSA agent who did my pat down quietly said to me “Good for you honey, and good for your baby. You should refuse this every time, pregnant or not. These scanners are not good. I don’t like working around them all day.”
- I try to remember to take a dose of a good multivitamin and eat a few Brazil nuts prior to travel. The multivitamin will supply zinc and B vitamins including folate and the nuts supply selenium. Zinc, B vitamins (especially folate), and selenium are three very important nutrients for DNA repair. Even if you refuse the full-body scanner line, there is still exposure to radiation simply from the altitude at which the plane is flying.
- Do what you can to support the immune system which is your surveillance system to help track down and destroy any pre-cancerous cells (not to mention bacteria and viruses you may be exposed to while traveling). Things you can do to support your immune system include: drinking water, avoiding sugar, eating protein, getting sufficient rest, taking vitamin C and/or zinc lozenges, and utilizing immune-boosting herbs such as echinacea and elderberry. One thing I DON’T recommend is taking Airborne products for travel. The packaging is cute and it’s a nice idea but the last time I checked they all contained Splenda, an artificial sweetener that contains chlorine, as well as another artificial sweetener called Acesulfame Potassium.
Most importantly, I would say not to stress out too much about the whole issue! Traveling in and of itself is stressful and overly stressing out about exposure to small amounts of radiation can also cause damage to DNA. If you’re reading this after your thousandth trip through the full-body airport scanner and are worried your skin is going to mutate into its own person and walk away, please take comfort in the fact that the body is very smart and if you supply it with what it needs, it knows how to repair itself, all the way down to your DNA.
June 27, 2012 No Comments
Last weekend I had the privilege of flying to Iowa to speak at the Iowa City Yoga Festival, which was quite a fabulous occasion. It was my very first overnight trip away from Mr. Milk (boo-hoo) so I made it as short as possible by arriving Friday afternoon and leaving at 6 AM on Monday. Quite a fast trip to get used to a 5 hour time change! In addition to this, I happened to be finishing my first trimester of incubation for baby #2 (that is a whole separate story, but I blame my husband’s Hawaiian ancestry which is biochemically driven to procreate despite all barrier methods of birth control used). Thankfully I have not had any pregnancy symptoms – which is partially why I felt like one of those ladies from the “I Didn’t Know I was Pregnant” show when the ultrasound showed a fully formed little creature doing the Team America “It’s Me” dance (warning – bad word at the 11th second!) and we had just figured out I was pregnant a couple weeks earlier. But I digress.
The point of this blog is to share with you the fact that despite traveling over 5 time zones and lecturing 4 hours a day within the first day of landing AND being pregnant I did not experience any jet lag! Many people take melatonin to help them adjust their sleep-wake cycles while traveling but that was not an option for me since due to the pregnancy (melatonin works with pituitary gland hormones). It actually surprised me how quickly I adjusted to the time difference, so I wanted to share with you what I did.
- I made myself stay awake until a normal bed time on my arrival day. Truthfully this wasn’t hard to do, since 10:00 in Iowa is 5:00 in Hawaii but I had flown all night on the red eye so was a little tired. The way I got around this was to stay busy. I ran a few errands, had a late lunch with my two little nieces who are really hilarious and were giving (loud) social commentary regarding other people at the restaurant (they are 4 and 8 years old), went to a meeting with the other speakers, swam in the hotel pool with my nieces for a long enough time that the chlorine burned my eyeballs (not necessarily recommended), and then ordered in Thai food. Basically, do anything you can to stay happily awake, which means avoiding hanging out in your hotel bed watching TV at all costs!
- I drank a ridiculous amount of water. One of my errands mentioned above was to buy 2 gallons of water at the local store, enough for me to drink a full gallon for each day of lecturing. I didn’t quite make that amount, and drank closer to 3/4 of a gallon each day, but I do think that this made the most significant impact for me in adjusting to the time difference.
- I took 1 or 2 warm baths each day. Maybe this had nothing to do with it, but I feel like it really made a difference because I’ve traveled a lot and tried to drink water and done well but never have I felt this good. And no, it wasn’t a pregnancy hormone high – I was 14 weeks pregnant with the Little Mister (he’s in the late stages of weaning so I have to stop calling him Mr. Milk – maybe Mr. Muscles can be his new name since he’s a meaty little boy) when I left Iowa to move to Hawaii and I was 14 weeks pregnant when flying back to Iowa (the state requires that of me I guess) and this trip was definitely different as far as fatigue. So, you can throw this point out if you want but I really think that there’s something to soaking in a tub of warm water that helps you adjust to the magnetic field of the time zone that you’re in. Either that, or the hydrotherapy of the bath helped me detox and feel great, or the bath was just relaxing and refreshing enough to get rid of any fatigue that would have set in.
So there you have it. Not exactly rocket science but I find that the simple things seem to make the most difference! And in this case it sure made a crazy weekend into an enjoyable experience. Oh, and how did Mr. Muscles do with my absence, you ask? As you can see from the photo below – taken on Friday while I was still traveling – he really had a miserably hard time with it.
October 14, 2011 1 Comment