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The long version on this topic went out in a newsletter, but for those of you who are not subscribed, here’s a quick checklist of ways that you can reduce your dependence on drugstore remedies during allergy season. Now that we know benadryl can contribute to dementia, the last thing we want to do is take that every day.
1. Tolerate some symptoms. A runny nose is rinsing allergens out of your head, and that is good. If you want to help your runny nose do its job instead of taking some drug that dries you up and makes the allergens stay in there, try using a neti pot.
2. Exercise daily. Cardio immediately changes the balance of your immune system and makes you better able to fight infections and less prone to hayfever.
3. Eat a clean diet rich in fruit, veggies and fresh fish, and limited in meat and cheese. Mangos, blueberries, cherries, raspberries, ginger and hot peppers have been shown to reduce allergies. Fast food, leftover fish, and aged meat and cheese definitely increase allergies. Kids who eat fast food have a much higher risk of developing allergic asthma.
4. Limit allergic exposures. This includes changing your sheets and dusting your house, cutting back on foods you are sensitive to, not using soaps that you sometimes react to, wiping down your pets, and generally trying to live in a minimal-allergen environment.
5. Increase Omega 3 fatty acids—You can take fish oil or you can change your diet to consume more fresh fish and certain nuts and seeds, specifically walnuts, chia, flax and hemp. Eggs are allowed because there are omega 3’s in the yolk.
6. Be nice to your intestines because leaky gut is another allergy trigger. Avoid stress, eat fermented foods, avoid NSAIDS, and keep going back to that clean diet with lots of veggies. Make sure you are eliminating every day. A happy intestine reduces your risk of allergies and autoimmune disease.
7. If you drink alcohol, go easy on beer and wine and try mixing drinks with clear liquors instead. Wine contains sulfites which worsen allergies. Gin contains juniper berries which are a fairly strong anti-allergy medicine. And there’s something about gin and tonics that’s perfect when the weather turns warm.
Most of us don't eat enough fruit and veggies. It's so easy to eat processed stuff and meat and cheese instead. It takes effort to eat a healthy diet. I happen to agree with Michael Pollan who wrote "Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants." But how can we safely eat mostly plant matter when it has toxic chemicals sprayed on it?
There are several tricks to getting or making clean food. The first and most obvious is to grow it yourself. Unfortunately gardening is time-consuming, and you can't get tomatoes in winter. Some folks can't or won't grow food. Grow what you can when you can, and forgive yourself when you can't. Home-grown tomatoes are one of the great pleasures in life.
If you're not going to grow it yourself, perhaps you have a job that will allow you to buy clean organic produce. There's more of it available all the time. If you have a local source of produce that isn't organic certified but is still cleaner than grocery store produce, use that. Farmer's markets are nice because you can talk to the farmer about what they use to manage pests and weeds.
The plant foods that you should try to buy clean are listed by the environmental working group every year as the "dirty dozen". The 2017 list (below) includes many of our favorite fruits and veggies.
The EPA sets limits for pesticides, herbicides, fungicides and other chemicals on food, and those limits are not zero. There's no way you can avoid every toxin in or on commercial food, but it's worth some effort to minimize your exposures. Young people and children have the most to gain in terms of healthy life years.
Some contaminants are easier to remove than others. Strawberries are covered in little pores and it is impossible to get the pesticides off (out) of them, so it is important to buy those organic or choose another fruit. Apples are also hard to clean because they can have a coat of parrafin (to make them shiny) that seals in the pesticides. Potatoes may be less important to buy organic if you peel off a good layer and boil them too. Boiling has been shown to remove or destroy some of the contaminants.
A review of the literature reveals that washing your veggies in tap water for 30 seconds actually removes most of the pesticides and fungicides. Unfortunately there are some that water does not remove, including chlorpyrifos (a nerve-gas pesticide) and vinclozolin (a fungicide). Thankfully these are removed by soaking in an acid solution, acetic acid being the most effective. Acetic acid is vinegar. The longer you soak your veggies the more of the chlorpyrifos is removed. My rule is to soak my cherries in a 5% vinegar solution for at least an hour.
Why do we care about chlorpyrifos? You may have heard about it in the news. It was originally developed as a nerve gas by the Nazis. Now it is used as a pesticide because it paralyzes insects. No surprise that it also wreaks havoc on the human nervous system. It was slated to be banned until Trump got elected. It's already banned for indoor use. Dow chemical (the maker of chlorpyrifos) donated a million bucks to Trump's inauguration fund to make sure that their profitable poison would remain legal. The EPA reversed course and this toxin will be sprayed on veggies and golf courses, in spite of the fact that it shrinks and deforms children's brains, lowers their IQs, and is linked to lung cancer and Parkinsons. Chlorpyrifos sticks to fruit even when it's rinsed in tap water.
For the foreseeable future we will need to work to avoid this toxin as best we can. This means seeking clean sources for our produce (gardens, farmer's markets, buying organic), washing it, peeling and boiling what can be peeled and boiled, and soaking plants that we eat with the skin on in a vinegar solution for at least an hour.
If you need a little good news to help wash off the sad feeling about all this poison, below are the kinds of food least likely to be contaminated. =-] Eat more of them.
We humans are part of the web of life in a way that is somewhat unpleasant to consider. We think of parasites as those things that grow on trees and use the tree's sap for fuel, like mistletoe. We know about the parasites that you can get in your gut from traveling. But we don't like to think about the millions of microbes that live in our guts, on our skin, in our noses, and unfortunately, inside every cell in our bodies. In fact, at least of quarter of us have Staphylococcus aureus living inside our noses. This is the microbe that is called MRSA when it has become resistant to the antibiotic methycillin.
Sometimes the things that live on and in us are actually useful. At that point it is no longer a parasitic relationship, it is more of a synbiosis or eubiosis. There are bugs (microbes) in our guts that help digest our food, and also that make vitamins that we need. Mitochondria are organelles inside our cells that were probably parasites at one time, but they were so useful that we came to depend on them. They make ATP, the cash of energy currency in the body. We know that mitochondria were most likely independent organisms because they have their own DNA.
Relatively recently in human history, a bold man drank a potion of Helicobacter pylori bacteria, and gave himself gastric ulcers. Before that we didn't know that particular bug had much to do with ulcer formation. But now we know. And most of us have at least a few of this bug in us. In fact, pretty much all of us have a few of lots of different kinds of bugs that could be dangerous if they overgrew.
We get some microbes from our parents, and gain new ones throughout life. Babies who are born the normal way, through their mother's vagina, get their mother's vaginal flora in their mouths and swallow it. That sets up the kind of biota that lives in their guts for life. Usually a child's gut biota is fairly stable by age 3. A lot of our gut biota depends on what we eat. A sugary diet sets up a whole different community than a vegetable and fiber-rich diet. You can guess at which one is better for you. A stable community in your gut is protective because it stops other kinds from getting established. People with very stable healthy populations of bugs in their guts can eat anything and never get sick from it.
Stomach acid is the other normal way that we prevent new or bad bugs from setting up house inside us. Infants don't have much acid, so they are especially susceptible to whatever they eat. Adults normally have such strong acid that not much survives the stomach and gets to the intestines. But if we block our stomach acid with anti-acids, we are at risk for getting the wrong kinds of bugs in our guts.
The fastest way to mess up your microbial communities is to take antibiotics. The more high powered the drugs, the more imbalanced your biota will be as a result. The more often you take antibiotics, the more the remaining community will be antibiotic resistant. The bug that really hits hard on people who've taken a lot of antibiotics is called Clostridium difficile. It is on the CDC's list of extremely dangerous antibiotic resistant bugs.
In naturopathic-speak we call your body the "terrain". It is the ground upon which things grow. The list of possible infections is endless, and the number of bugs on and in you this very moment is also endless. As long as we are strong and relaxed and young enough, we don't get sick. When we get run down and weak the microbes can get the better of us. Stress from life events raises our cortisol and decreases our immune response, and the microbial populations start booming. We feed them sugary junk, and don't exercise enough, and don't keep our bowel movements regular, and they start running the show. It is possible to end up sick from the same bugs that you've been carrying around for 40 years or more.
There's new research that shows that depression, anxiety, and obesity are linked to particular sets of gut bugs. Experiments in mice and humans have shown that taking the microbes from an anxious person's gut and putting them in a calm person will make change what we thought was their personality. And switching gut bugs in mice can make a fat mouse skinny and vice versa. The wrong gut bugs are linked to all kinds of diseases of the gut, from ulcerative colitis and crohn's disease to IBS. There's a lot more information coming down the pipe about this. Supplement companies are trying to figure out how to introduce the right microbes into people's guts to help them heal from various diseases and mental states.
There's not much you can do about the fact that you will be exposed to microbes. No amount of antibacterial soap will protect you. The thing that will is keeping yourself healthy and calm enough to mount a good immune response. That way you keep the populations down to reasonable levels, where they may even help you somehow. Oh, and garlic will help. Garlic turns out to be the very simplest way to keep your gut biota in line. If you can stand it, some raw garlic every day kills the baddies and keeps the goodies. If you can't stand it, you might need some more advanced help.
The Environmental Working Group (EWG) releases a list of best products each year, and it has come out. Look here before you buy another bottle!
The Key Points about Sunscreen:
1) SEEK sunscreen that contains zinc oxide or avobenzone to protect against UVA.
2) SEEK sunscreen with an SPF between 15 and 50.
3) REAPPLY your sunscreen often, no matter the SPF.
4) AVOID any type of application other than rubbing cream onto your skin. No powders, sprays or towelettes.
5) AVOID Super high SPF (over 50). SPF only refers to protection against UVB (the burning rays); they may not protect against UVA which can accelerate aging and cause cancer.
a. Oxybenzone. It’s estrogenic and linked to endometriosis.
b. Retinyl Palmitate in sunscreen. It might make lesions grow faster.
c. Bug Repellant in your sunscreen.
Every year the Environmental Working Group tests fruit and vegetables from grocery stores and comes up with their list of the most pesticide-contaminated foods. This year's list is almost entirely food that I personally eat, so I am very glad that we are growing a lot of them in our home garden. The spinach overwintered and came up on its own! But for the foods that are on the list, which we don't grow, I plan to buy organic. I would recommend that you do, too. Only by voting with our dollars can we change the market. Without further ado, the dirty dozen:
1. Apples (99% of apples tested were contaminated)
2. Strawberries (these are bad because it goes in the pores and you can't wash or soak it off)
3. Grapes (one grape tested positive for 15 different pesticides)
7. Bell Peppers
11. Cherry Tomatoes
12. Hot Peppers (looks like they lumped a lot of kinds of peppers together)
Well folks I've relocated my kit and caboodle from SE to SW Portland. I remember reading somewhere, years ago, that moving incurs stress equivalent to a death in the family. I hope that's not true because I've moved so many times it would be like having lost my whole family more than once. I think that would be worse. Still, it's stressful. Even now I am looking for my slippers, my clippers, my this and that. Nothing is normal for a while after a move. But it's getting better.
I just received word that Satya Ambrose and her team have finally found a suitable site for our dream hospital. It is 84 acres of old growth forest beside the mighty Clackamas River here in Oregon. The hospital is intended to be a lovely inpatient facility where one can go to heal, recover and renew. Imagine a room with a view of the forest and river, excellent fresh organic food, cheerful staff and supportive treatments, instead of invasive procedures, benign neglect and crappy hospital food! At this point we need investors and contributors who can help purchase the property and break ground on the facility. We need to raise several hundred thousand dollars in a few weeks. Do you want to help? Please contact Satya. Comment and I will provide you with phone numbers.
The word is getting out. On my plane ride home yesterday I sat next to a chiropractor who was in the process of reading a book about human health. She was very excited about what she was learning, and told me all about it. She told me about how human genes can be turned on and off by our environment---what we eat and what we are exposed to influences the way that our genes are expressed. It's called epigenetics, and it's a fast-growing new area for research and rumination. This is not news to me, but it was good to realize that there are popular books out there inspiring people to eat apples and get exercise. People want to be healthy, but after several generations of trusting in technology and medicine, we have forgotten how. We have come to rely too much on external sources that tell us not to worry about our ailments because technology will patch us up. We have forgotten to listen to our own internal intelligence. The time is right for teachings of an old kind, that we are mammals not machines, and that to thrive we need to treat our bodies with respect, even love.
Author: Teresa Gryder
Integrative Physician and Student of Life, Medicine, and the River.