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Spring is here! Can you keep the allergies away?

Spring is here marking the start of Allergy season. Allergies can show up just about anywhere in your body and create an incredible variety of symptoms. They can affect your nose, eyes, throat, lungs, stomach, skin and nervous system. They can make you itch, wheeze and sneeze, make your nose run and your eyes weep, give you a headache or a bellyache and even bring on fatigue and depression.

With the amount of pollen floating in the air increasing each year, allergy sufferers are left wondering what hit them. People who normally wouldn't even notice the change of season experienced watery eyes and sneezing. Allergy sufferers all too familiar with the perils of high pollen counts are forced indoors, giving up visits to the park or a pick-up game of basketball because the sneezing, stuffiness and general misery of allergy symptoms are overwhelming. Allergy symptoms occur when your body's immune system overreacts to substances in your environment. Most people can live with a little cat dander, dust or pollen, for example. But people with allergies have immune systems that can react to just about anything that comes along. "It fights these foreign substances just as it would bacteria or viruses," explains Jeremy Kaslow, M.D., a Garden Grove, California, allergy specialist and associate professor of medicine at the University of California, Irvine. The main causes of run of the mill allergy symptoms are histamines.

You can blame Mom and Dad for the fact that you're allergic; the tendency is inherited. But some doctors believe a healthy diet and certain nutritional supplements can balance your immune system, keeping it strong but not overreactive.

"To crack the underlying problem, you really need a healthy nutritional foundation that's based on diet," says Dr. Kaslow. "If you continue to eat poorly and simply take a few supplements, you aren't going to see much of a benefit."

A number os research studies concluded that Vitamin C plays an essential role in the immune system and is an important way to keep allergies at bay. Several of them have shown that high levels of vitamin C help reduce histamine release and make histamine break down faster once it is released. Other studies have shown that vitamin C may also help dampen some of the inflammation associated with chronic allergies.

Vitamin C aids in fighting off foreign invaders, helps joints, is a powerfull anti-oxidant, neutralizes pollutants and it has natural antihistamine properties.

"My experience is that vitamin C can have modest beneficial effects for inhalant allergies and asthma if it's taken on a regular basis," says Richard Podell, M.D., clinical professor of family medicine at the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey/Robert Wood Johnson Medical School in Piscataway and author of When Your Doctor Doesn't Know Best: Errors That Even the Best Doctors Make and How to Protect Yourself.

Vitamin C has not been proved to help much if it's taken once symptoms begin, Dr. Podell says. "But if you take it before you're exposed to whatever is causing your allergies and allow it to get into your bloodstream, it is helpful, although it doesn't work as dramatically as do standard anti asthma drugs," he adds.

He recommends taking the slow release form of vitamin C, C or calcium ascorbate in 500 to 1,000 milligram doses twice a day. (if you take regular vitamin C, you'll see the best results if you take several hundred milligrams three or four times a day, he notes.)

Although the Daily Value for vitamin C is only 60 milligrams, these higher doses are considered safe for most people. However, some people experience diarrhea with doses as low as 1,200 milligrams. If you experience any discomfort, you might want to cut back.

Sources of Vitamin C

As we mentioned before a healthy diet is essential and you can combine the benefits of your diet with Vitamin C if you choose the right foods. The Vitamin C content in most fruit is higher when it is slightly immature, and declines as the fruit hits peak ripeness. Some of the fruit sources include:

Berries, Cantaloupe, Grapefruit, Guava, Lemons, Limes, Mangoes, Oranges, Papayas, Peaches, Persimmons, Pineapples, Strawberries, Tangerines Alfalfa, Asparagus, Avocados, Beet Greens, Broccoli, Brussel Sprouts, Cabbage, Collards, Dandelion Greens, Green and Red Bell Peppers, Green Peas, Kale, Lettuce, Mustard Greens, Onions, Potatoes, Radishes, Spinach, Sweet Potatoes, Swiss Chard, Tomatoes, Turnip Greens, Watercress

Supplementing Your Dietary Intake

Most people do not eat the recommended 5 fruits and vegetables a day and do not consume an adequate amount of Vitamin C. In these instances, a supplement may be beneficial.

As with any supplement, taking large doses of Vitamin C should be discussed with your physician. A daily dose of 1000 to 4000 milligrams may help reduce the severity of sinus stuffiness and runny nose.

Everyone's tolerance for Vitamin C varies. When your body reaches its tolerance level, you may experience increased gas and possibly diarrhea.

It is better to take multiple doses of Vitamin C throughout the day since the body excretes what it doesn't absorb through the urine. A time-released version is another option.

Prescriptions for Healing

For the best allergy alleviating action, some doctors suggest adding these nutrients in the form of supplments to a healthy, balanced diet.

NutrientDaily Amount
Magnesium400 milligrams
Vitamin C1,000 2,000 milligrams
Plus a multivitamin/mineral supplement

ALERT:If you have heart disease or kidney problems, check with your doctor before taking magnesium supplements.
Some people may experience diarrhea when taking more than 1,200 milligrams of vitamin C a day.

If you are eating well, taking supplements and are still with allergy symptoms or if you have them for many months of the year, consult an allergist. Your allergist may recommend immunotherapy treatment, also called allergy vaccinations or shots. This treatment involves receiving injections periodically-as determined by your allergist/immunologist-over a period of three to five years. This treatment helps your immune system to become more and more resistant to the specific allergen, and lessens your symptoms as well as the need for future medications.

Dos and don'ts during allergy season

Following are some Dos and Don'ts that you may want to follow during the pollen and mold seasons to lessen your exposure to the pollens or molds that trigger your allergy symptoms.

DO eat a healthy and balanced diet rich in Vitamin C
DO keep windows closed at night to prevent pollens or molds from drifting into your home. Instead, if needed, use air conditioning, which cleans, cools, and dries the air.
DO minimize early morning activity when pollen is usually emitted-between 5-10 a.m.
DO keep your car windows closed when traveling.
DO try to stay indoors when the pollen count or humidity is reported to be high, and on windy days when dust and pollen are blown about.
DO take a vacation during the height of the pollen season to a more pollen-free area, such as the beach or sea.
DO take medications prescribed by your allergist/immunologist regularly, in the recommended dosage.
DON'T take more medication than recommended in an attempt to lessen your symptoms.
DON'T mow lawns or be around freshly cut grass; mowing stirs up pollens and molds.
DON'T rake leaves, as this also stirs up molds.
DON'T hang sheets or clothing out to dry. Pollens and molds may collect in them.
DON'T grow too many, or overwater, indoor plants if you are allergic to mold. Wet soil encourages mold growth.

Sources: Articles at American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology, web site at www.aaaai.org; various articles on Vitamin C and Seasonal Allergy at www.about.com; and Allergies chapter from Healing with Vitamins, Rodale Books

Adapted by Editorial Staff, May 2006
Last update, July 2008

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