Thursday, April 23, 2015

Spring is In the Air- Achoo!

Spring brings a sigh of relief for most of us that winter is on its way out. But for allergy sufferers, spring also sends out tiny grains of pollen into the air from trees, grasses and weeds which travel for miles and cause symptoms of itchy, runny nose, itchy, watery eyes, sneezing, coughing and dark circles under the eyes. We will answer three of the most common allergy -related questions in this column.

What are allergies?
When pollen grains enter the nose of someone who is allergic, the body mistakenly senses the pollen as an “enemy” of the body and starts to fight off the “attack” by producing antibodies.  This leads to the release of chemicals called histamines. It is the histamines which cause the symptoms described above.  The pollen count is higher on dry, windy days when pollen is spread faster and farther, and lower on rainy days when more pollen is washed away.

How can I avoid pollen as much as possible?
  • Try to stay indoors when the pollen count is higher, such as before 10 am and on dry, windy days.
  • Keep your doors and windows closed whenever possible during the spring months.
  • Don’t hang clothes outdoors to dry, as they will collect pollen.
  • Dust often with a damp or treated duster, as pollen is a component of dust.
  • Change your clothes and wash your hair after being outside for any length of time.
  • Vacuum twice a week with a HEPA (high-efficiency particulate air) filter.
  • Wash bedding at least once weekly & dry in a dryer to kill dust mites.

Which over-the-counter medications are best?

  1. An antihistamine is your first line of defense as it fights the source of the problems. The newer antihistamines like Claritin (loratadine), Allegra (fexofenadine) or Zyrtec (ceterizine) are all non-drowsy and long-acting (one pill daily).  The older antihistamines like Benadryl (diphenhydramine) and ChlorTrimeton (chlorpheniramine maleate) cause drowsiness  and you need to take them every 4 hours. Antihistamines may take care of all of your symptoms and allow you to live more freely again.
  2.  For itchy, watery eye relief, use antihistamine eye drops, not decongestant eye drops (which relieve redness) After 2 or 3 days, decongestant eye drops will stop being as effective, but antihistamine drops should continue working to relieve symptoms.
  3. For nasal congestion, ask for Claritin-D, Allegra-D or Zyrtec-D.  These decongestants dry up nasal passages in a time-release way and can be used over the long term.  However, decongestants also may raise blood sugar or blood pressure.  People with diabetes, high blood pressure or heart disease should check with their doctor before taking decongestants.
  4. Use nasal decongestant sprays sparingly.  If you need to use a decongestant more than 3 days in a row, you may find that it stops being effective.  Try a nasal saline spray to relieve congestion, and try nasal strips at night to help you breathe better.
  5.  For a scratchy throat, try drinking more fluids or take Mucinex (guaifenesin) to liquefy the mucus that may be irritating your throat. Try gargling with hot salt water to help decrease any swelling or try benzocaine cough drops to relieve pain.

Living with allergies is no fun.  But with some precautionary lifestyle changes and with help from your local pharmacy, you should be able to make it through the season with a minimal amount of discomfort and be able to enjoy much of the season’s activities and beauty.

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Coconut Oil- A Rising Star?

Demonized in the 80s due to its high saturated fat content, coconut oil is now being promoted to stardom with claims that it increases metabolism, enhances weight loss, improves diabetes, improves memory in Alzheimer’s disease, and more because of its unusual fat composition. Is it a villain, a hero or just plain food? This column attempts to sort through the confusion.

Most vegetable oils, like olive oil and corn oil, are highly unsaturated in their chemical composition. Unsaturated fats are always liquid at room temperature.  Coconut oil is an unusual vegetable oil in that it is highly saturated, and is solid at room temperature.  

A high intake of saturated fats has historically been linked to a higher risk for heart disease.  According to the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), coconut oil vendors claim their product does not cause this increased risk, because one study published in 2011 showed coconut oil raised both the “good” cholesterol (HDL) and the “bad” cholesterol (LDL) equally.

Additionally, CSPI points out that coconut oil is also unusual in that 60% of its saturated fats are medium chain triglycerides (MCTs).  Medium-chain triglycerides are digested differently than the long-chain triglycerides found in almost all other fats.  Claims for coconut oil are based on the theory that this difference makes coconut oil much healthier than other fats.  A few studies using 100% MCT oil, and one study using coconut oil provide the basis for most of the health claims for this product.

Unfortunately, these few studies are not conclusive.  There is, however, agreement among organizations which review medical research that all claims about coconut oil are unproven:

  • ·         In October 2013, concluded that there is no credible evidence for coconut oil’s health claims.
  • · fact sheet provides an in-depth look at the research and concludes that proof of coconut oil benefits in Alzheimer’s, diabetes or thyroid disease, is sparse or non-existent.
  • · gives low grades to the science for health claims about coconut oil.
  • ·         The 2015 Dietary Guidelines for Americans and the American Heart Association (AHA) continue to discourage saturated fat intake, including coconut oil.
  • ·         New Dietary Guidelines to Prevent Alzheimer’s Disease presented at the 2013 International Conference on Nutrition and the Brain suggest avoiding saturated fat intake, including coconut oil.

The conclusion?  For now, health claims for coconut oil simply have no proof behind them.  Enjoy it occasionally, but do not expect too much from this “rising star” of the health food industry.