Archive for June, 2010

Natural Remedies for Hayfever: Part 2

Monday, June 21st, 2010

Many natural remedies are recommended for hayfever – here is a summary of some of the evidence and my own investigation.

Local honey

There are no studies on whether regularly using honey can prevent hayfever, but anecdotal evidence abounds. The proposed mechanism is that honey contains small amounts of the pollen that can cause hay fever, and so ingesting it desensitises the immune system to the allergen. Local honey is the best option as it should contain the pollen that is also causing symptoms (regional is local enough in the UK).

Verdict: Not great for weight loss, but natural and generally safe. Probably better to start before the hayfever season.

Marshmallow root

Studies have shown that his herb, used as a traditional hayfever remedy, can protect the mucosa and also  suppress cough, although there are no studies specifically showing reductions of hayfever symptoms directly.

Verdict: Little direct evidence, but easy to obtain and has much anecdotal evidence.

Nasal therapies

Creating a barrier against the pollen with a powder or gel has been shown to be effective in reducing the amount of pollen reaching the mucosa. There are no studies on salt water sprays, but common sense would indicate that removing pollen from the nose by washing would be helpful.

Verdict: Avoiding contact between the pollen and the mucosa makes sense if you suffer from hayfever. This starts with changing clothes after being outside and showering before bed. Pollen barriers may help, as may salt water nasal sprays.

Perilla

Subject of 1 direct study (Exp Biol Med (Maywood). 2004 Mar;229(3):247-54.) , also mentioned as part of a systematic review. Shown to reduce symptoms in a small group of hayfever sufferers. Its active ingredient, rosmarinic acid was also shown to be effective when purified and used alone. A mechanism of action involving decreased infiltration of the mucosa by white blood cells is proposed and supported by the results of the analysis of nasal washings.

Verdict: Sounds promising, but further studies are needed.

Probiotics

As well as other health benefits, certain probiotics have been shown to reduce hayfever symptoms in a number of studies. It is important to use a good quality probiotic containing L.acidophilus  and B. lactis (the product should state the activity level in CFU and give an expiry date) – inferior products and sugary “probiotic” drinks are less likely to be effective. Alternatively you may wish to try a natural source of friendly bacteria, such as kefir, although dosage and activity level is less assured with these.

Verdict: Definitely worth a try – evidence to support use and probiotics have many other benefits.

Quercetin

Small number of studies showing the effectiveness of modified quercetin and of a formula containing (amongst other components) quercetin for reducing hayfever symptoms, a study from 1982 explains its mechanism of action. Quercetin is related chemically to cromolyn, a compound used medically to treat allergies and asthma.

Verdict: Again, promising, but more studies are needed. Anecdotal evidence seems to be strong, and the product is easily obtained. Quercetin is present in many foods, including apples, onions and tea.

Vitamin C

Apparently a “natural antihistamine”, there is some evidence for it suppressing bronchial hyper-reactivity.  There are hints to a more central role in the titles of some older papers (e.g. from 1942).

Verdict: A generally useful vitamin, water soluble so difficult to overdose on it. If you don’t already supplement with extra vitamin c, may be worth a go.

My experiments

After using 1 tablespoon of local honey every day for a few days, my “scratchy throat”  symptoms improved. After a few days of using high dose vitamin C and marshmallow root capsules, feelings of congestion had also improved. Both of these improvements could have been a coincidence, however, and I still needed to use antihistamines on some days. I found salt water spray useful for reducing nasal congestion. I didn’t try barrier creams for long enough to see if they made a real difference.

Overall, it is definitely worth trying out some of the natural therapies – they may not cure your hayfever, but could reduce the need for medication. If started early enough in the season, some of them could have a dramatic impact. I’d advise trying probiotics first, as these can have a multitude of other benefits.

Consultations at Urban Kings Gym

Monday, June 14th, 2010

Marie-Claire is now holding consultations for members at Urban Kings Gym, in Regent Quarter, near to King’s Cross (London).

Urban Kings is a unique and brand new Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) gym, where anyone can go to get fit and improve their physique, and where fighters can perfect their art. To find out more about the gym, go to www.urbankingsgym.com

Natural Remedies for Hayfever: Part 1

Sunday, June 13th, 2010

Hayfever blights the summer months for millions of people. In the coming weeks, I will be looking into some of the natural remedies suggested for the condition.

Here are a few of the suggestions that I will be looking into and trying out, as a new hayfever sufferer:

1. After going outside, change and wash your clothes as soon as possible

2. Take a shower and wash your hair every evening, to get rid of pollen

3. Trap the pollen with natural barrier waxes or powders. When applied to the nostrils, these prevent the pollen from reaching the mucous membranes and causing a reaction. Research has shown they can reduce the need for medication in hayfever sufferers

4. Try out salt water nasal sprays, to clear out the  irritants

5. See if you can source some honey made from local flowers (flowers from the same region, e.g. Southern England should be close enough, choose a mixed flower honey), and incorporate it into your diet every day. Ideally, this practice needs to start before the hayfever season, evidence for its effectiveness is anecdotal and it may not be the best choice for people wishing to reduce body fat. Bee pollen and products made from it could also be worth a try

6. Try herbal therapies – perilla oil, marshmallow and nettle are all reputed to help hayfever

7. Of course, optimise everything else. See if removing dairy from your diet helps, and improve your digestive health with a probiotic supplement or probiotic and prebiotic foods

It may still be wise as a hayfever sufferer to keep antihistamines to hand, for picnics, weddings, etc.

Look out for hayfever updates on the blog!

The Dukan Diet: Review

Thursday, June 10th, 2010

Overview

The Dukan Diet may be the next diet phenomenon in the UK – it has already been a runaway success in many countries, including its native France, where it is reported to have over 5 million adherents. Designed by Dr Pierre Dukan, a medical doctor, it is promoted as the most realistic way to achieve lasting weight loss. In addition to the book, email coaching, online forums, etc. are available.

The diet can be used by anyone wishing to lose weight (fat), but may be particularly suited to people who are very overweight (with high body fat percentages).

Positives

  • A very structured approach, that starts with a strict, protein-only Attack phase, and progresses through intermediate phases to the Stabilisation phase, where the previously overweight person can eat normally – except for 1 day per week, when they must eat only protein. Followers must also include oat bran in their diet, never again use lifts or escalators and walk every day. These simple rules make the overall approach seem reasonable and easy to follow
  • Coverage of how to address unhealthy weight in children – an important topic (unfortunately)
  • Useful insights, such as “diet resistance” – the state where having tried so many diets in the past, a person cannot lose weight on any regime. May be good for some readers to hear that this is recognised!
  • Understanding that food is a source of pleasure for many people, Dr Dukan does not require dieters to make a permanent switch to seeing food as fuel
  • The author has years of experience and offers coaching and support

Negatives

  • Focus on weight loss, rather than fat loss, although this is common to many diet books
  • Notion that aspartame and artificially sweetened “foods” can be used with impunity – even giving children sweet tasting but low calorie foods is allowed. There is no discussion of how this might encourage cravings for the “real thing”. Safety concerns about asparatame are simply brushed aside
  • Despite Dr Dukan rejecting the low-calorie approach to dieting, he lists numerous ways in which to create a caloric deficit, including, for the very overweight, the use of cold food and cold environments! In some places in the book, there is the feeling that food is inherently a bad thing – one of the reasons Dr Dukan prescribes daily oat bran is that he claims it can prevent full intestinal absorption of nutrients. Also it is implied that people become overweight largely due to a lack of self control
  • There are areas of waffle, and scientific explanations are not included (for example, the pleasure aspect of food is explained entirely without reference to neurotransmitters) – although admittedly the simpler explanations may be welcomed by many
  • Some feeling of a patronising approach towards women. It is assumed that it is the goal of women to be “seductive” (this word is used many times throughout the book), and there are references to typical female sterotypes – hypersensitive teenage girls, and unbalanced, water-retaining perimenopausal women, for example

Verdict

If you are signficantly overweight (with a body fat percentage that is above average), and have tried, and given up on, numerous diets in the past, the Dukan Diet may help you – it has helped many other people and includes some sensible advice. If you are serious about your goals, you could benefit from the structured, progressive nature of the programme, the opportunities for support, and the no-nonsense approach to lifestyle modifications. The message there is that if you are overweight and want to lose weight (fat), you must accept moving more as an absolute necessity, with no excuses.

However, do your own research into sweeteners and consider avoiding the sweet taste entirely for some time if you have an attachment to it.  Whilst being honest with yourself about your food intake, and challenging overuse of food as a comforter/stimulant/social aid, try not to pay too much attention to the inference that greed is the cause of weight (fat) problems, and do not think of food as your enemy or start counting calories obsessively. Finally, if you are female,  perhaps prepare yourself for some mild annoyance on reading the book!