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How to Handle Seasonal Allergies

As much as I love when spring comes around because it means the introduction of warmer weather and longer days, what I don't love is the fits of sneezing and itching that tell me it's a new season.

I've had hay fever since I was young and it runs in my family. When I was a kid, it was so bad that I had to carry multiple packets of tissue around with me, making summer daycamp much less enjoyable. I would wake up sneezing, coughing, with itchy eyes, and a runny nose.

An estimated 35 million Americans experience hay fever caused by wind-borne pollen or mold spores. Wearing sunglasses outside can lower the amount of pollen or spores that get into your eyes. Allergy-irritated eyes are also more sensitive to sunlight, so stylish shades may help your eyes feel better, too. 

One of the biggest causes of indoor allergies is the dust mite. These microscopic insects love to live on your bedding and stuffed animals. Wash all of your bedding in hot water and drying it in a hot dryer to kill dust mites. Keep stuffed animals off the bed, and wash sheets and blankets at least once a week in water that's 130° F or higher to limit the effects of this indoor-allergy culprit.

Mold flourishes in moisture. To help control indoor mold, use a dehumidifier or your air conditioner to keep your home humidity close to 50 percent. Take the guesswork out of measuring indoor humidity with a device called a hygrometer. It's also critical to clean up water spills promptly, repair any leaks, and change the filters in your air conditioner and heating ducts regularly.

If you take a road trip when the pollen count is high, be sure to keep your car windows closed. Before beginning your trip, start the car and turn on the air conditioner, then get out and let the air inside the car cool. If possible, travel early in the morning or in the evening. Also avoid vacationing in a high-allergy destination. For example, you might want to stay away from damp, cold climates because of mold, and damp tropical climates because of mites, molds, and pollens.

Windows, curtains, and blinds are the preferred hiding places for dust and mold. These indoor allergy culprits are also often found in poorly ventilated laundry rooms, basements, refrigerator drain pans, and old books. Wipe down bathroom and kitchen areas with diluted bleach, and vacuum your floors often. If you're allergic to cleaning products in addition to the mold and dust, wear a mask when cleaning and get out of the house for a few hours afterward to let the air clear.

Take some simple precautions to keep outdoor pollens out of your home. Wear a mask if you work outside, and remove your work clothes before entering the house. It's also good to shower right after coming in from yard work.

If you have hay fever or a mold allergy, limit your number of houseplants and definitely keep them out of your bedroom. The biggest culprits are indoor shrubs, trees, and grasses that may produce pollens.

Use a dryer instead of hanging your clothes outside when doing laundry. Leave all windows in the house closed during allergy season, and rely on your air conditioner or dehumidifier to help protect you from indoor allergies.

If you have outdoor or indoor allergies, any substance that irritates your airways can make your symptoms worse. Don't smoke in your home, kindly ask house guests to smoke outside, and avoid wood fires and wood-burning stoves. Strong odors such as perfumes, paint fumes, hair sprays, disinfectants, and air fresheners can also trigger an allergy attack.

Studies have shown that cockroaches are a surprisingly common cause of indoor allergy symptoms and asthma, especially in children. Remove water and food sources that may attract cockroaches, and if you see a cockroach, get professional help. That goes for rodents, too.

Diet-wise, one of the best strategies to alleviate those miserable symptoms is to abstain from alcohol and other histamine containing foods. As far as alcohol goes, wine (both red and white) seem to be the worst inflamers. Sulfites are part of the issue with these drinks, but histamines that result during the fermentation process also aggravate the problem. If you have allergy issues, consider steering  clear of other foods subject to aging and fermentation like aged cheese, pickles, and sauerkraut. And as for yeast, it’s one more reason to skip the bread. Grapes and ciders can be offenders as well.

Also, if you know the cause of your particular allergy, you can further determine foods that tend to provoke what’s called “oral allergy syndrome,” a reaction to allergen-related foods that affects primarily the lips and mouth. Check out the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia information on cross-reactive foods for those with seasonal allergies.

As for what to eat, think anti-inflammatory. Research supports the particular benefits of fresh produce, fish and nuts for limiting both the symptoms of existing allergies as well as the development of allergies later in life. Research on the pregnancy and childhood diets of Spanish children found that a higher intake of certain vegetables (like tomatoes and eggplant) and fish offered protective benefit from allergies and asthma. Another study with Greek children linked high intake of nuts, fruits and vegetables with a decreased risk for respiratory allergy. The EPA and DHA in fish and fish oils has been shown to be among the best preventative options for allergic disorders.

Tea, specifically green or white, supplies a big flavonoid boost that decreases inflammation and supports general immune function. For raw dairy enthusiasts out there, farm milk consumption was shown to provide similar protective advantage against allergy and asthma whether or not the children consuming it lived on the farm or not.

Although antioxidants and flavonoids in general yield therapeutic benefit, certain nutrients like vitamin C and quercetin are potent natural antihistamines. An additional dose of magnesium can help ease wheezing symptoms. Some report success with spirulina as well. As for herbal remedies, butterbur shows good promise, but isn’t recommended for women who are pregnant or nursing.

Vitamin D promotes a healthy, balanced immune system through regulation and differentiation of immune system cells. Many cells in your body have vitamin D receptors and need vitamin D to function properly, including those in your skin and brain.

Deficiencies of vitamin D are common. It is currently estimated that more than 1 billion people worldwide and 30-to-40% of the population between 15 and 49 years of age in the United States suffer from vitamin D deficiency. Because relatively small amounts of vitamin D are obtained through the diet and so many lifestyle factors reduce endogenous vitamin D synthesis, supplementation becomes an important avenue for achieving and maintaining optimal vitamin D status.

As far as how much you need, that depends on who you’re asking. Every person has different needs, but many researchers believe that further research will eventually prove that the U.S. government recommendations aren’t high enough. Your safest bet is to talk to your doctor and have your vitamin D levels tested every three months.

Check out the fancy chart I snagged from the Vitamin D Council below to see the different vitamin D recommendations, and be sure to share this important information with your friends and family.

Oh, and don’t forget that supplementation is a super reliable way to get your vitamin D. Just one of USANA’s Vitamin D tablets provides 2,000 IU of vitamin D3, which is the same type of vitamin D your body produces when exposed to sunlight. And guess what else? For most people, vitamin D is easily absorbable and always important to maintain. So you could probably reap some of the benefits of taking a vitamin D supplement on a daily basis.

Other immune boosting nutrients include zinc, baker's yeast and reishi and shiitake mushrooms, which are included in USANA's Proglucamune.

Another suggestion? Try some wild – and local – honey. Because bees pick up the pollen of their environment, the resulting honey can deliver something of a therapeutic dose for gradual desensitization – much like an allergy shot. It’s important to start small (1/4 teaspoon daily – max) and work your way up to gradually build tolerance.

Another recommendation is cutting out grains (and cut the chronic cardio). It may have been linked to the autoimmune connection between anti-nutrients/leaky-gut and hypersensitivity to proteins in grass seeds and pollen (grains are grass seeds). 

The gut is a barometer of overall emotional and physical health. The human gastrointestinal tract houses the bulk of the human immune system, about 70% of it. It is the cornerstone of overall health. If you have taken antibiotics, it changes the microbial environment, possibly causing reactions to allergies, water bloat, and food sensitivities.

If you prefer to stick to foods, fermented foods like sauerkraut, kimchi, sourdough bread, and soft cheese like Gouda are all good sources of various strains oflactobacillus bacteria. Fermented soy foods like miso and tempeh also include over 160 different bacteria strains (5).

Evidence supports including fermented foods or probiotic supplements into your routine for maintaining a healthy digestive balance. If you decide to try a supplement, choose one that contains a variety of strains and at least 1 billion or more active cells. Make sure it has a sufficient quantity of high-quality bacteria strains that can survive stomach enzymes and enter the intestinal tract alive to be effective.

How much should your probiotic supplement provide? It should contain 12 billion Colony Forming Units (CFU) of viable bacteria—a level shown to be effective in clinical studies. 

A happy, healthy gut means a more effective and better functioning immune system resulting in a decreased allergic response.

Clean Beauty

Women are now reading the labels on their beauty products as carefully as food labels. They’re checking the ingredients lists and seeing skin care as an extension of their health. As a result, chic, cleaner beauty products are getting way more accessible and much more mainstream.

Natural and organic brands are sprouting up almost daily, and becoming a very viable industry that’s estimated to reach $16 billion by 2020.

Like food, though, beware of the "natural" label used in marketing. There is no standard that brands are held to when using the term. Natural does NOT mean free of artificial additives, chemical preservatives or nontoxic.

Speaking of labels, Huffington Post has a list of ingredients that should be avoided in your personal care products.

Sweat Cosmetics is an all-natural, mineral-based makeup brand created by pro soccer players, Lindsay Tarpley and Leslie Osborne. The products include vitamin E (which is an antioxidant, increases the efficiency of active sunscreen, and retains moisture), milk thistle (which helps skin resist stress and remain strong when faced with pollution and UV rays), and rhodiola rosea (an anti-inflammatory that aids in DNA repair after the skin has been exposed to the sun)—all of which you can find in Sweat’s SPF-laced foundation, illuminator, bronzer, and powder

 photo courtesy of tara west photography

photo courtesy of tara west photography

Husk and the Detox Market are Toronto-based one stop shops for all your natural skin care and green makeup needs. Make no mistake, gone are the days of organic beauty lines being considered second-rate to the traditional designer or luxury brands. These carefully curated lines are just as effective and beautiful.

In Vancouver, Beauty Mark, which was voted #2 for Best Beauty Shop by the Westender, carries brands such as RMS Beauty, Tata Harper, ILIA, Farmhouse Fresh and John Masters Organics.  Sephora offers Bite Beauty, RMS Beauty, Tata Harper, ILIA, Josie Maran, Bareminerals, Tarte, Drunk Elephant, Farmacy, and Sunday Riley among others.

These stores are online also, so if you're not lucky enough to be able to visit these stores in person, you can cop your natural beauty products via their websites. Other great online stores include CAP Beauty, LeVert Beauty, the Truth Beauty Company, Ayla, BeautyKind, Follain, and ONDA.

If you're attached to a particular shade, Credo has this excellent section on clean beauty swaps that provides natural dupes for your favourite shades.

3 Healthy Substitutes for Coffee

Instead of your usual morning cup of coffee for your caffeine fix, you might find yourself reaching for a cup of dandelion coffee, cold brew, or a matcha. 

Caffeine can cause dehydration, which leads to you feeling sluggish and can also be the source of headaches, anxiety, restlessness, and fitful sleep.

Dandelion coffee is a caffeine-free herbal drink that is an instant-coffee-like blend of dandelion root, roasted barley, rye, chicory root, and sugar beet.

It's great for cleansing your liver and balancing pH levels in your body. Historically, dandelion, consumed in combination with other herbs, has been used in traditional Chinese medicine to clear heat from the body, to release toxins from the liver, decrease inflammation, and in some cases, treat urinary tract infections.

It might not feel like spring in Vancouver just yet but there are still the rare few who enjoy their iced coffees even when it's cold outside. Cold brew is the latest coffee craze that reportedly also has more health benefits than your regular morning cup.

Instead of brewing coffee with hot water, chilling it, and diluting it with ice, you let the grounds sit, undisturbed, for upwards of 12 hours, then you filter the grounds from the liquid. What you end up with is highly-concentrated coffee that you can add water to. 

There’s some suggestion it’s better for the body (and gentler on stomachs), because it’s less acidic—up to 67 percent less. Try Jamaica Blue, which is roasted, brewed and bottled locally in Vancouver. They are available at select Whole Foods, Urban Fare markets, and other locations.

Matcha is particularly high in antioxidants called catechin polyphenols—linked to numerous health benefits from decreased cancer risk to reducing cholesterol and blood pressure—and since you actually drink the ground leaves, you ingest more of the nutrients than with brewed leaf teas. There's even cold brew style matcha!

Spotlight on Superfood: Turmeric

Turmeric contains three major phytochemical compounds – called curcuminoids – which give turmeric its bright yellow-orange color. (The most active component is curcumin.) These curcuminoids have been the focus of numerous clinical studies designed to examine their long-term safety, antioxidant properties, and anti-inflammatory activity.

Curcumin is a powerful antioxidant known to decrease oxidative damage of DNA and proteins. And is thought to have potential therapeutic benefits in diseases associated with oxidative damage such as certain cancers, cardiovascular disease, and neurodegenerative diseases.

It is known to inhibit many important enzymes systems associated with inflammation. Malfunction of these enzyme systems is associated to tumor production and several inflammatory disorders. Due to its possible benefits associated with cancer prevention, much research has been dedicated to curcumin (and other extracts of turmeric) over the past few decades.

Experiments in test tubes have demonstrated the ability of curcumin to kill colon-cancer cells. In people, preliminary evidence suggests taking curcumin may reduce symptoms of inflammatory bowel diseases (Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis) and rheumatoid arthritis. It’s also been shown to prevent the development of Type-2 diabetes in people with prediabetes.

A study from UCLA found that rats that consumed curcumin were more resistant to the accumulation of beta-amyloid plaque in their brains — an abnormality associated with Alzheimer’s in people. Elderly people in India have one of the world’s lowest rates of Alzheimer’s, according to the NCBI, and also have diets high in turmeric. But more research needs to be done to confirm a connection between curcumin and Alzheimer’s in humans.

Research suggests extracts of turmeric can ease symptoms of indigestion, prevent irritable bowel syndrome and alleviate knee pain caused by osteoarthritis. 

A study published in Clinical Nutrition found that taking curcumin supplements reduced inflammation in people with metabolic syndrome. A person is thought to have metabolic syndrome if he or she has a large waist circumference plus two or more of the following symptoms: high blood triglycerides, high blood pressure, elevated fasting blood glucose and low HDL (good) cholesterol. The cluster of risk factors is thought to double the risk of heart attack and increase the likelihood of developing Type-2 diabetes fivefold.

Recent research from Tufts University in Massachusetts found that curcumin suppressed the growth of fat tissue, and therefore prevented weight gain in mice. However, more research has to be done to demonstrate its effects on humans and weight loss.

Curcumin is beneficial for joints so is highly recommended for athletes, active people and especially for those with arthritis. Problem is, curcumin is rarely soluble in water or oily solvents which results in poor bioavailability.

A solution to this problem comes in the form of Meriva®, a delivery form of curcumin with lecithin. Meriva has been shown to increase the hydrolytical stability of curcumin and to increase the oral absorption of curcuminoids by nearly 30 fold.

You can buy turmeric as a fresh root in natural food stores (it looks like ginger root), in capsules containing powder and in tincture form. Curcumin is sold as a supplement in capsules. Supplements are best taken with food to increase the absorption of curcumin.

Turmeric is generally safe, particularly when used simply as a flavouring ingredient in food. However, some people might have side effects if they consume the spice in excess or take turmeric supplements. The NIH advises that people with gallbladder issues such as stones, bleeding disorders, gastrointestinal reflux disease, iron deficiency, hormone-sensitive conditions, and pregnancy should avoid medicinal quantities of turmeric. If you have any questions, ask your doctor.

That said, fresh turmeric root or ground turmeric spice is a healthy addition to your diet. Add grated turmeric root or a pinch of turmeric powder to smoothies, nut milk, rice and quinoa (when cooking), curries, soups, stir-fries, egg dishes and dips.

What's the Best Vitamin Form: Gummy, Liquid or Tablet?

There are so many different options out there. How do you know which form is the most effective? Some say liquid, some say gummy, some say tablet. 

Before you go popping just any pill, it’s important to know that the FDA doesn’t regulate vitamins. Instead, third party agencies can give vitamins a stamp of approval. These include Consumerlab’s Approved Quality Product Seal, NSF’s International Dietary Supplement Certification, and U.S. Pharmacopeia’s (USP) Dietary Supplement Verification. Each verification is slightly different: The USP process, for example, verifies that the product actually contains the ingredients listed on the label, that one serving does not contain an unsafe amount of any ingredient, and that the company has followed the FDA’s Good Manufacturing Practices. But while these verifications do exist, vitamin companies are not required to pass any of them. And more importantly, even if a company’s regular vitamins do have a certification, it doesn’t mean their other products (like, say, gummy vitamins) do.

While gummy vitamins are certainly the most appealing option because they're usually sweet, and easy to consume for those who have trouble swallowing pills, they may contain smaller amounts of vitamins compared to chewables or tablets. Also, it's easy for people to consume more than the recommended amount because they're tasty but it also increases your sugar intake.

These gummies also usually have glucose syrup, sucrose, gelatin which stick to your teeth, creating a breeding ground for the demineralization of those pearly whites. Even if the gummies don’t contain sugar, what we call ‘biofilm’ is always naturally forming on your teeth, so if they don’t get cleaned properly, plaque is bound to develop

Another undesirable ingredient that is often included in gummy vitamins is food coloring.  Artificial food dyes are likely carcinogenic, cause hypersensitivity reactions and behavioral problems, or are inadequately tested.

Many liquid supplement manufacturers claim that because their product is in a liquid form it is more bioavailable. Bioavailability means the degree and rate at which a substance (as a drug) is absorbed into a living system – or more correctly, the degree or rate at which it is ultimately made available at the site of physiological activity. Different vitamins and minerals have different absorption rates regardless of whether they come from a tablet, liquid, powder, or food. Calcium, for example, has a fairly standard absorption rate (25-35%), and the form does not generally make a significant difference.

A well-made tablet provides a very effective delivery system and is the form of choice for most pharmaceutical medications. This is because tablets have been confirmed, through years of carefully controlled studies, as a reliable and efficient delivery system for medications. Why would vitamin and mineral supplements be any different? Does anyone doubt that an aspirin tablet is ineffective because it comes in a tablet?

Tableted products can also provide an increased amount of active ingredient (almost 3x as much as a capsule and much more than a liquid or spray). In general, the stability of tablets is also superior to liquids.

Finally, liquid supplement promoters often contend that liquids are better because they don’t contain fillers (excipients used in tablets for disintegration, form, binding, coating, etc). This is perhaps the most illogical argument of all, since liquid supplements require many more “other” ingredients, including emulsifiers, solvents, preservatives, stabilizing agents, coloring, flavoring, and more. Generally speaking, the more vitamin and mineral ingredients there are in a liquid supplement, the more excipients that product will require.

Reflections and Resolutions for 2017

It's the end of the year. Naturally, a time to reflect on how the year went and think about what we would like to have happen in the next year. I think most people would agree that in general, 2016 has not been great.

My year was better than the last but I don't think that's saying much. However, the goal is always to have this year or the next be better than the last so there's that at least. Some of my relationships have fallen apart, ones that I thought would have lasted the test of time but no matter how well you think you know someone, people always have the ability to surprise you. In that same vein, I've met plenty of new friends, though, too. And I was laid off but also found a position with a new company that I'm really enjoying so far with an excellent team.

Some things that I'm looking forward to leaving behind in 2016 are bad habits such as negative self-talk, the focus on the scale or goals that are based strictly on aesthetics, workouts I don't enjoy, perfectionism, calorie counting, and everything else that is holding me back.

Everyone experiences moments of doubt and negativity, when your fears seem bigger than you. We are capable of so much more than we believe. Eliminate the negative self-talk and instead start complimenting yourself with daily affirmations! It might seem silly at first but practicing self-love is an essential part of wellness. Successful people still have fears but they refuse to let it stop them from accomplishing their goals. Henry Ford said: “Whether you think you can, or you think you can't – you're right.”

Quantifiable goals are great but tunnel vision with the numbers on the scale can be far from positive. Make it, achievable, specific and measurable, and habit based. Focus on action-based results, not outcome-based. Examples of good goals are eating vegetables with every meal, drinking 2 liters of water everyday, chewing food 15-30x before swallowing to boost digestion, meditating for 5 minutes a day for 4 times a week, or exercising 5 hours per week.

Try something new to get your blood pumping and make exercise fun. Working out doesn't have to be a chore. Experiment with different activities such as kickboxing, aerial yoga, spin class, archery tag, trampoline fitness, hula hooping, or barre.

Work out because you love yourself, not because you "hate" your body. After I've been working out consistently for a year, I absolutely appreciate and feel more comfortable with my body. I still have my moments when I'm not feeling myself but they are fewer and farther between now. Celebrate what your body can do, feel empowered, boost your energy, sleep better, improve your health, alter your mood for the better, among myriad other benefits. 

Focus on progress, not perfection. Giving yourself unrealistic or unattainable goals is detrimental to your mental and your physical health. Don't beat yourself up if you aren't adhering strictly to your objective. Shake it off, re-focus and get back on track! Remember it is what you do every day that impacts on your health, not what you do occasionally. If you're willing to be patient and apply some simple, daily disciplines to your everyday life, then success may be even closer than you think.

Avoid obsessing over calories — especially if it has created a negative relationship with food. Food is fuel, and we need calories to have strong muscles, bones, and a functioning body. Carbs are not the enemy. They are necessary for your health. Eat protein, healthy fats and plenty of veggies. Limit your intake of sugar and overly processed foods.

Your compromised mental health can have a gravely negative impact on your health. Stress can cause weight gain, poor sleep, bloating, physical pain, skin problems, and more. Practice some self-care, however that feels like for you. It could be drawing yourself a bath, some quiet time with a book, a massage or meditation.

What is preventing you from being your best self and living your best life? Is it a toxic relationship, an awful job that drains you of your energy, or a deep-seated fear? Let. It. Go. Surround yourself with people who support your goals. Say goodbye to work that doesn't make you feel good — or worse, makes you feel bad. Remove unnecessary obligations that keep you from reaching your physical, mental, and personal goals. This is YOUR time! Swap these things with activities that help you reach your goals, a job that fosters your creativity and empowers you, and relationships with people who build you up.