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I was lucky enough to spend two weeks on holiday/vacation in Turkey recently to recuperate after over-exerting my body and brain completing my bachelor's degree in nutritional health. Being a resident of the UK with its, let's say temperamental weather, I really notice a change in how I feel (mostly good, some bad) when I spend time in a country where the climate is warmer and sunnier. This got me thinking that a good topic for a blog and dscussion would be how climate and weather affect the health of people suffering from environmental illnesses.
Personally, my moods and energy levels are greatly influenced by the weather and the seasons and I have in the past been diagnosed with Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). Here in the UK it can be sunny one minute and raining the next at any time of year. When it is sunny my mood is correspondingly bright and I have more energy so I can get things done...when it is overcast and raining my mood is low and I feel tired and lethargic so the same tasks are a real struggle.
For the two weeks I was in Turkey there was only clear skies and sunshine, accompanied by temperatures of around 35C/95F. This certainly lifted my mood (beyond what everyone feels when on holiday) and boosted my energy and I was able to cope with the high temperatures well, albeit with minimal clothing most of the time (yes, it was a beach holiday!).
However, as I have experienced before, after a few days I began to feel somewhat overstimulated and restless/agitated. This has happened on a number of occasions before so I wasn't surprised or alarmed in any way. I am only making an educated guess here but I suspect that this reaction is due to the much increased levels of vitamin D in my body as a result of all that sun exposure. Vitamin D is required for the synthesis and function of many stimulating neurotransmitters, including serotonin and noradrenaline/norepinephrine. It also modulates immune function which can have a stimulating effect. Given these activities of vitamin D and the fact the overstimulation wears off after a day or two out of the sun I think this is the most likely explanation. The fact I also suffer from neurotoxicity as most people with environmental illnesses do, as well as adrenal fatigue (healthy adrenal glands prevent overstimulation), only makes this more likely.
Having said all that, all in all, I do feel better on sunny days and in a sunny climate - so long as I don't spend too much time with a lot of my skin exposed to direct sunlight (e.g. sunbathing). An added benefit I experience in countries such as Turkey is a lack of grass pollen allergies (hayfever) that I experience severely in the UK during the summer months. My ideal climate would therefore be sunny, dry, with warm, but not scorching temperatures (extreme heat does get tiring!). I would also be better off in a country closer to the equator with smaller shifts in daylight hours between seasons. Here in the UK it is dark before 4pm in December and January and that is NOT a good thing when you suffer from SAD no matter how well you are able to manage it - there is no substitute for natural daylight.
So that's me...but what other effects could climate and weather have on people with environmental illnesses?
Mold - many people have both allergic and toxic reactions to mold that are the major cause or at least a contributor to their illness. Wet climates that lead to damp living conditions are problematic when it comes to mold so those affected may do better in more arid climates.
Pollution - pollution is a problem throughout the world but is often worse in cities where the climate is hot - the warm polluted air is often trapped near the ground by layers of cooler air above. Pollution can be a major problem for those with asthma and chemical sensitivities and a cooler climate with plenty of rain to wash pollution out of the air may be beneficial.
Allergens - areas that produce the most allergens tend to be temperate with plenty of vegetation - grasses and trees in particular. Those badly affected by airborne allergies are therefore likely to be better off in hot, dry regions where grass and forests and sparse.
These are just a few environmental triggers for illness that are variable with the climate that I could think of off the top of my head. If you can think of others please do add them using the comments box below. I would also love to hear if and how your symptoms change when you travel to different regions or countries...
When thinking about how food sensitivities and/or intolerances may be affecting our health, something that is often overlooked is the role that biogenic amines may be playing.
What are Biogenic Amines?
Biogenic amines are a group of chemicals derived from amino acids (and therefore protein-containing foods) that have a number of functions and effects within the body, some desirable, and some not. The most well known biogenic amines are the neurotransmitters serotonin, dopamine, and noradrenaline, and histamine, best known for its role in allergies. Others, which are less well known, include tyramine, tryptamine, and phenylethylamine.
These biogenic amines may act as neurotransmitters, be involved in local immune responses (such as the inflammation produced by histamine release), or regulate functions of the gut.
The classic neurotransmitters serotonin, dopamine, and noradrenaline are all essential to proper brain function. Imbalances causes problems such as depression and anxiety.
In relation to food intolerances however, we are more concerned with the biogenic amines contained in foods and beverages that can cause local symptoms in the gut includig nausea, diarrhoea, and irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), as well as triggering symptoms elsewhere in the body, such as migraines, asthma, and hives.
Dietary Sources of Biogenic Amines
Biogenic amines are present in both plant and animal foods. They are produced when certain bacteria metabolise specific amino acids in food and beverages. For example, bacteria of the enterobacteriaceae group (e.g. E.coli, klebsiella, proteus, salmonella) breakdown the amino acid histidine, to form histamine.
Major sources of biogenic amines in the diet include:
- Aged Cheese
- Fermented/Pickled Foods (sauerkraut, soy sauce, fish sauce, miso, tofu)
- Processed, Cured and Pickled Meats
- Red Wine
Other foods and drinks that either contain biogenic amines or increase levels in the gut include:
- Fruits (avocado, citrus fruit, grapes, papaya, pineapples, plums, strawberries)
- Vegetables (aubergine/eggplant, spinach)
- Nuts (peanuts, coconuts, Brazil nuts)
- Dried Fruit (raisins, figs)
- Fish (particularly tuna and mackerel)
- Drinks (beer, chianti, vermouth)
Health Problems Associated with Biogenic Amines
The dietary biogenic amines that appear to trigger symptoms in some people are histamine, tyramine, and phenylethylamine.
Histamine - It is now estimated that up to 5% of the adult population suffer from hitamine intolerance (HIT), making it a major cause of food intolerance. HIT can cause digestive upsets including chronic diarrhoea or constipation, bloating, abdominal pain, and nausea. It may also causes systemic symptoms such as migraines, low blood pressure (hypotension), and palpitations. Finally, as you may expect, HIT can trigger allergic conditions including hayfever, eczema, asthma, and hives.
Tyramine - Has a strong association with migraine, high blood pressure (hypertension), depression, and Parkinson's disease. Tyramine is a major problem for people taking MAOI antidepressant drugs as they block its breakdown which can result in dangerously high blood pressure.
Phenylethylamine - Connected to migraine headaches, depression, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), and schizophrenia.
Dirk Budka, an expert on biogenic amine intolerances, believes that 40% of those suffering from IBS can be helped by addressing such intolerances. He also states that they are an important underlying factor in allergic conditions such as hayfever, eczema, and asthma, but are not considered by many healthcare practitioners (both from conventional and alternative/complementary medicine backgrounds).
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If you're like most people you probably associate probiotics with helping to maintain a healthy digestive system and alleviate symptoms such as bloating and stomach aches. You'd be absolutely right in thinking this as studies have shown probiotics to be helpful in Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS), Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD), and traveller's diarrhea.
Companies who produce probiotic yoghurt drinks usually focus on the digestive benefits of their products with their TV ads typically showing women bent over with stomach pain which is relieved by the probiotic drink!
What may surprise you is that probiotic bacteria are also extremely important for the health of the immune system. There is a contant dialogue going on between the bacteria in the gut and the immune system and this can have profound consequences for overall health depending on how healthy the balance of your gut bacteria is.
Studies have shown that probiotics can be of benefit in the treatment of atopic eczema and now a timely piece of research has been published demonstrating that they can also help in hayfever. As we move into June my hayfever is really starting to become a pain as I'm sure it is for many of you so I thought this would be of interest....
The research published in the journal journal Clinical and Experimental Allergy showed that probiotics were able to change the way the immune systems of hayfever sufferers reacted to grass pollen, effectively turning down the volume on the allergic reaction.
Scientists from the Institute of Food Research (IFR) in the UK randomly assigned 10 hayfever sufferers to receive either a probiotic yoghurt drink containing Lactobacillus casei Shirota or a placebo daily for 5 months.
The symptoms of hayfever result from an antibody called immunoglobulin E (IgE) binding to particles of pollen and triggering the release of histamine. After 5 months it was found that those hayfever sufferers who had drunk the probiotic yoghurt drink every day had significantly lower levels of IgE and other immune chemicals associated with allergies than did those sufferers who were given a placebo (yoghurt drink without the probiotic bacteria). It was also found that tose in the probiotic group also had higher levels of another type of antibody, immunoglobulin G (IgG). In contrast to IgE, IgG offers protection against allergic reactions.
Professor Claudio Nicoletti, a member of the research team said: "This was a pilot study based on small numbers of patients, but we were fascinated to discover a response." He concluded that: "The probiotic significantly reduced the production of molecules associated with allergy."
While this study was only small the researchers hope to confirm their results with a larger group of hayfever sufferers in the future. They also hope to find out if the lower levels of IgE are directly connected to a reduction in hayfever symptoms in the patients.
So it may be that instead of messing about with nasal sprays, eye drops, tablets and various other remedies...getting the better of hayfever may be as simple as drinking a tasty probiotic yoghurt drink for breakfast every day.
Only further research can prove this for sure but in the meantime getting probiotic yoghurt into your diet is sure to have a host of other benefits!
As a hayfever sufferer in the north of England it is the early Summer months of June and July that bring on a sense of dread. In the UK by far
the biggest cause of hayfever is grass pollen whose levels skyrocket at that time of year.
In other countries