Written for the Western Treasure Valley Magazine, published June 2015.
Summertime brings sweet air, warm nights and lush scenery to the Treasure Valley, but it also carries with it different types of pollens and other allergens that cause watery eyes, stuffy sinuses, and red noses.
The constant onslaught of symptoms may seem overwhelming, but medical professionals say it can really be boiled down to one thing: inflammation.
“The inflammatory response is heat and mucus and it all comes from your mast cells,” said Jane Dennell, registered nurse and owner of Willowtree Holistic Health Center. “Those are the mucus makers, they respond to foreign objects in the body that are toxic.”
Allergy symptoms occur when pollens, mold, pet dander, and other allergens make their way into the body. They are flagged as dangerous invaders and those little mast cells go to work, trying to expel them. The intruders are captured in mast cells’ mucus and moved out of the body, and while the cells may see it as a job well done, the allergy sufferer is lost in a murky cloud of symptoms.
Dennell, who spent 24 years as a critical care nurse before turning her focus to natural medicine in 1991, said the two best anti-allergens she’s come across are extracts from pineapple and from onions.
“Bromelain [from pineapple] and quercetin [from onions], they are beautiful anti-allergens,” Dennell explained. “You can’t get as good of results from just eating the foods, you have to get the extracts. I recommend taking them in capsules.”
Dennell said the two compounds calm down the mast cells, which will in turn lessen mucus-related symptoms. She has them in capsules in her shop, and the supplements can be found in most vitamin stores, as well as some drug stores.
She said fish oil is also anti-inflammatory. It comes in capsules and can also be found at most drug and vitamin stores. An over-the-counter medication she recommends is Sinusalia, which is a homeopathic medicine that she says is helpful for young children. It is also widely available.
“When all else fails, I recommend Zyrtec,” Dennell said. “It’s pretty harmless.” While bromelain, quercetin and fish oil will help calm down the effects of allergies, Dennell said her foremost recommendation for help with allergies has to do with diet.
“The best way to get rid of allergies is through nutrition,” Dennell explained. “Don’t eat stuff your body rebels against.”
The number one thing Dennell recommends to avoid is gluten, which she says can cause more mucus buildup in the body. She also cautions against artificial sweeteners and high fructose corn syrup, which puts the pancreas into overdrive.
“Avoid carbonation,” Dennell said. “You can’t pick up calcium and you can’t digest protein when carbonation is present.”
Dennell said the perfect diet is composed of one third carbohydrates, one third protein, and one third healthy fats. These fats come from foods like avocados, organic cheeses and milk, and nuts. She recommends protein from both animal and vegetable sources, and carbs from organic fruits and whole, gluten-free grains.
“Carbs are your energy and everything else is structure and function,” Dennell explained. Eating a healthy, well balanced diet, Dennell says, will help increase it’s natural resistance to things like allergies and illness.
“Rehabilitate your body with enzymes and get your immune system up,” Dennell said. “Take responsibility for your own health.”
Enzymes reduce inflammation and mucus, as well as aid in digestion, and are present in all fruits and veggies. They are fairly delicate, however, and are denatured if they are heated above 118 degrees fahrenheit. Enzymes are also rendered ineffective during the pasteurization process of animal products.
Many people use enzyme supplements, which are available in many health food stores, to give their body a boost. Dennell said neti pots and herbal teas, like nettle, are also options for controlling allergy symptoms, but to use them with caution.
Many of the herbs found in teas, she explained, have other functions as well and could deliver unintended results. When using a neti pot, cleanliness is the main potential downfall.
“Make sure you clean your neti pot regularly if you use one,” Dennell said. “They can build up with bacteria and yeast, and yeast infections in the sinuses are actually pretty common.”
Dennell said the secret to lessening allergy symptoms is to build a strong body. In a nutshell, a healthy diet provides the tools to build a healthy body and a healthy body can better ward off allergies and a whole slew of other problems.
“My goal is to get people to their strongest, healthiest body possible,” Dennell explained. “Our bodies are truly perfection, we just lost our owners’ manuals.