What exactly is ragweed?
Ragweed is a group of flowering plants, the most common of which is more formally known as Ambrosia artemisiifolia. This genus of plant is part of the larger Asteraceae or daisy family that has an incredibly widespread distribution globally, in all continents except Antarctica. Many of the members contain sesquiterpene lactones that play a role in allergic contact dermatitis where the skin becomes irritated in response to these agents.
How many Canadians are suffering from an allergy to ragweed?
According to the Allergy, Asthma & Immunology Society of Ontario, it's estimated that 10-20% of Canadians are affected by allergic rhinitis, otherwise known as hay fever. The pollen from ragweed is considered to be the biggest culprit of hay fever symptoms.
Why it is the most common seasonal allergy?
It's estimated that each plant of Ambrosia artemisiifolia releases approximately one billion particles of pollen upon blooming. Plants respond to heat and as the climate warms, plants are beginning to bloom earlier and stick around longer. All of these pollen particulates are picked up by the winds and carried throughout the country where they can accumulate in areas and create havoc for those suffering the following season.
Agricultural practices also create niche areas that favour that growth of ragweed over other shrubs, grasses, or bushes. Researchers have attempted to create a threshold level for exposure to the pollen of this plant and an allergic reaction. In the US, this threshold is estimated to be around 10 to 20 grains/m3 for an exposure period of 15 minutes.
Should this estimate be similar in Canada, it spells havoc for those across the country, especially in Ontario where levels are estimated to reach 300 grains/m3 during peak season.
I've been told that there are certain foods that can mimic a ragweed reaction, is this true?
It may surprise you to learn that yes, some foods contain proteins that are homologous to those that trigger allergies in individuals exposed to ragweed.
These include members of the gourd family Cucurbitaceae, which consists of cantaloupe, honeydew, cucumber, and watermelon amongst others. The protein in question is known as profilin and seems to exert a mild allergic effect that seems to be localized to the back of the throat.
Banana is another culprit that seems to trigger allergy symptoms like those of ragweed. A study was conducted in 1970 on patients with ragweed pollinosis and oral itchiness induced by melons or bananas.
Those with a sensitivity to the foods demonstrated a much higher skin sensitivity to ragweed than those who did not have the reaction to the foods.
What can be done to alleviate my symptoms?
1. Relief from allergies can come in a variety of forms including alleviating symptoms temporarily and prevention. One means is through products such as Allergy Relief that contains various members of plants from a variety of families. Exposure to these can help to modulate the immune response, educating the body against an inappropriate reaction to allergens such as pollen.
A clinical trial conducted in the Netherlands demonstrated that use of the product resulted in an 88.5% improvement in symptoms of allergies, especially in congestion. It's recommended to take this homeopathic preparation approximately one month out from allergy season to allow your immune system time to adjust.
2. If you prefer a dietary solution, then spicy foods such as mustards and peppers can act as natural decongestants. They can stimulate the mucus blocking the nose to thin, therefore moving it out of the body.
3. Curcumin, the active ingredient in turmeric, has been shown to inhibit the allergic response by modulating the immune system in animals and cell studies. A human trial of 241 subjects taking curcumin at a therapeutic dose showed a 70% reduction in symptoms of nasal congestion, sneezing, and runny nose that persisted after completion of the trial. The spice also lead to significant alterations of inflammatory markers throughout the body.
4. Diet plays another role when it comes to the intake of omega fatty acids, both 3 and 6. The average western diet tends to be higher in omega-6 fatty acids and lower in omega-3's. When the ratio between these two becomes too unbalanced, it can contribute to inflammation in the body, including that which occurs in response to allergies. When a pregnant woman increases her intake of omega-3, polyunsaturated fatty acids, the risk of wheezing and asthma in children decreases significantly, as does the occurrence of lower respiratory tract infections.
5. The polyphenol known as quercetin - found in a variety of foods including apples, berries, grapes, onions, tomatoes, as well as many seeds, nuts, etc - has been implicated in allergy reduction due to its anti-inflammatory, anti-oxidant, and anti-allergy properties. Studies have shown that this agent has the ability to regulate the balance of the immune system and decrease the formation of antibodies in response to a harmless allergen such as that of ragweed. It also prevents the action of mast cells which release histamine.
Wang, Julie. "Oral Allergy Syndrome." Pediatric Allergy: Principles and Practice, Elsevier, 2016, 409–413.e2. Crossref, doi:10.1016/b978-0-323-29875-9.00046-x.