Nothing to Sneeze At
by Carole Poole
August 14, 2004
To many, nothing is more annoying
than a persistent allergy. Runny nose, itchy eyes, hives,
sneezing, coughing...Frequently, allergies seem to represent
suffering with no end.
When you are sensitive to something in your environment,
often your only hope for relief appears to be to flee to an
elsewhere that eludes the problematic, trouble-making
Complementary measures are available that can lower your
risk of allergic reactions. Heading off allergic reactions
before they strike can help you enter a comfort zone that
leaves nothing to sneeze at.
Limit Your Antibiotics
While people have always suffered allergies, today, many
experts agree, allergies are on the rise. One possible
explanation: antibiotics. For instance, research at the
Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit demonstrates that kids who
get antibiotics within six months of being born run an
increased risk of being allergic to dust mites, ragweed,
grass and animals. At the same time, if two or more cats or
dogs live with them, they reduce their chances of allergies
(Eur Respir Soc ann conf, 2003).
" I'm not suggesting children shouldn't receive antibiotics.
But I believe we need to be more prudent in prescribing them
for children at such an early age," Christine Cole Johnson,
PhD, says. "In the past, many of them were prescribed
unnecessarily, especially for viral infections like colds
and the flu when they would have no effect anyway."
Dr. Cole's investigators found that by age 7, kids who got
one or more rounds of antibiotics were:
• 1.5 times more likely to develop allergies
• 2.5 times more likely to develop asthma
• Twice as likely to get allergies if their mothers had
When antibiotics are necessary, they are crucial to quelling
bacterial infections. However, if you or your children
suffer colds or flus, diseases caused by viruses,
antibiotics have no effect on your illness but could
increase your chance of developing allergies.
" Over the past four decades there has been an explosive
increase in allergy and asthma in westernized countries,
which correlates with widespread use of antibiotics and
alterations in gastrointestinal (GI) microflora," says Mairi
Noverr, a researcher on a study linking allergies to
antibiotic use (104th Gen Meet Amer Soc Microbiol, 2004).
"We propose that the link between antibiotic use and
dysregulated pulmonary immunity is through
antibiotic-induced long-term alterations in the bacterial
and fungal GI microflora."
While a lot of research needs to be done, it may help to
fortify the probiotic, or good, microbes in your intestines
with probiotic supplements. One study has shown that giving
probiotics to pregnant women helped their children avoid
allergic eczema, a skin condition (Lancet 2001; 357:1076-9).
Green Tea Relief
Research has demonstrated that various types of tea can
produce a range of health benefits. Tea drinkers can add
allergy relief to that list.
Research in Japan demonstrates that for the
allergy-oppressed, green tea may help them have nothing to
sneeze at. In laboratory tests, scientist found that green
tea contains a substance that blocks one of the immune cell
receptors which is often a part of the allergic response.
The substance, methylated epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG),
is believed to have a similar effect in the real world (J
Agr Food Chem 10/9/02).
" Green tea appears to be a promising source for effective
anti-allergenic agents," notes Hirofumi Tachibana, PhD, the
study's chief investigator and an associate professor at
Kyushu University in Fukuoka. "If you have allergies, you
should consider drinking it."
Traditionally, many people have consumed tea as part of
their effort to suppress sneezes, coughs and itchy eyes
caused by allergies. This experiment supports the evidence
that green tea, in particular, has a reliable effect.
According to Dr. Tachibana, green tea's anti-allergenic
benefits have not been completely established, but tea
apparently has the potential to be effective against
allergens like dust, chemicals, pet dander and pollen.
EGCG has also been shown to be a very active antioxidant,
helping to quell the destructive effects of the caustic
molecules known as free radicals. Green tea is richer in
EGCG than black tea or oolong tea (a type that falls between
black and green).
Although other research has demonstrated that EGCG offsets
allergic responses in lab animals fed this substance,
scientists don't completely understand why it works for
allergies. Researchers theorize that EGCG restricts the
production of histamine and immunoglobulin E (IgE), two
substances secreted in the body as part of the chain of
chemical reactions that lead to an allergic reaction, says
This study shows, for the first time, that a methylated form
of EGCG can block the IgE receptor, which is a key receptor
involved in an allergic response. The effect was
demonstrated using human basophils, which are blood cells
that release histamine.
As of now, nobody knows how much green tea you need to
guzzle to have the best protection against allergies and, of
the several varieties available, nobody knows which green
tea is best.
Outside of the US, green tea is the second most popular
beverage in the world, right behind water. In the US,
however, black tea is more popular than green. But the
allergy sensitive should think and drink green.
Stay Away from Diesels
Those who are allergic to ragweed or pet dander usually know
they should avoid the source of their allergies. But now
scientists have found that, for many allergy sufferers,
diesel exhaust can also worsen sneezes and wheezes.
Scientists at two southern California schools have shown
that about half of us have inherited a sensitivity to diesel
pollution that can make our allergies significantly worse
(Lancet 1/10/04). "[T]his study suggests a direct way that
pollution could be triggering allergies and asthma in a
large number of susceptible individuals...," says Frank D.
Gilliland, MD, PhD, the study's lead author.
Diesel exhaust particles are thought to act as destructive
free radicals in the lungs, forming caustic molecules that
damage lung tissue. This irritation can cause your immune
system to create larger amounts of compounds that make you
sneeze and wheeze more.
The Antioxidant Advantage
Antioxidants, scientists believe, can help defuse this
damage and ease the body's allergic responses. The
California scientists looked at two antioxidant enzymes the
body makes to protect the lungs called glutathione S-transferase
M1 (GSTM1) and glutathione S-transferase P1 (GSTP1). Only
about five of ten people's immune systems can make all the
effective forms of these enzymes. The rest of us lack this
protection to some degree, and the immune system in about
one in five people can't make any effective form of these
The research team found that people allergic to ragweed who
lacked these antioxidant enzymes suffered more when they
took in both ragweed pollen and particles from diesel
Breathe Easier With C
This research may help explain why many health practitioners
recommend vitamin C, a potent antioxidant, to allergy
sufferers. Vitamin C "prevents the secretion of histamine by
the white blood cells, increases the detoxification of
histamine and lowers the blood-histamine levels," says
Sylvia Goldfarb, PhD, author of Allergy Relief
Scientists continue to study the allergy conundrum.
Meanwhile, sip a cup of green tea and shut the window before
the next truck comes by.