When I first started to look for allergy solutions vitamins never crossed my mind. I found they were a BIG piece of the puzzle! When I was younger I would have laughed at the idea that there are vitamins that help allergies. I have since learned how much I do not know and how much doctors do not know. The side effects from allergy medication can be extreme especially if you need to take more than one to control allergies.
Allergies that aren’t life-threatening are looked at as an annoyance but in reality, it impacts a large part of your life. After living with someone who had allergies for years I never realized the full impact it had on our life until the allergies started to improve. The constant stress on your body from allergies, the fatigue from allergies and side effects of the medication, the mental fog, all the symptoms can be overwhelming and cause you to feel hopeless when medical treatments don’t fix the problem.
Desperation is when most people finally turn to a natural solution. I realize now this is backward but whenever looking into vitamins it feels as if there are more warning about the dangers of taking vitamins or supplements as opposed to taking medication. It makes trying something scary (not to mention embarrassing since in the past I may have laughed at people who always had a “natural cure” for something).
After swallowing my pride and looking into natural ways to help allergies (only took about 10 years), I found some that really worked. The body is complex and different amounts or different vitamins may be what helps you but these are a few that I found helpful.
Always check with your healthcare provider before adding any supplements or making any big changes. If they are the kind to roll their eyes and laugh at the idea just ask if there is any reason you can’t try something. Most healthcare providers may not recommend large doses of vitamins but if you tell them what your planning to take they can let you know if it interacts with any medication you may be taking.
Vitamin D is by far my favorite out of all the supplements for allergies. It is great for allergies but also for overall good health. I had my vitamin D level tested and found out I was low. After finding out my levels were low I started looking into what vitamin D actually does.
- It helps the body absorb calcium.
- Help the immune system function better.
- It may help muscle spasms, twitches, and cramps.
- Plays a role in keeping the lungs, heart, and kidneys healthy.
- Enough vitamin D may help ward off weight gain.
- Improved mood.
- It may help improve mental function.
Needless to say, it plays a pretty important role in the body.
Through several studies, it has become well known as an immunomodulation (it just means it alters the immune response of the body in a good way).
There are several studies that suggest low vitamin D can be linked to allergies, asthma, and even autoimmune disorders. Getting enough vitamin D may help prevent or improve some of these problems.
Causes of Low Vitamin D
Many people these days are low on vitamin D. There are some pretty common causes for low vitamin D and if any of these apply to you it may be a good idea to get your vitamin D checked.
- You live in a northern climate – During the winter there are fewer hours of sunlight and the rays from the sun aren’t as direct. When the body receives very little sunlight it doesn’t make much vitamin D.
- Dark skin – The more of the pigment melanin the darker the skin. Melanin reduces the skins ability to make vitamin D.
- Wearing sunscreen or having the majority of skin covered by clothing – Sunscreen and clothing (also windows) block the rays needed for the skin to produce vitamin D.
- Working inside – Being trapped inside when it’s sunny out makes it difficult to enjoy the sunshine and let your body make some vitamin D.
- Getting older – The kidneys don’t convert vitamin D to its active form as well as we get older.
- Digestive disorder – Any disease that hurts the intestine’s ability to absorb nutrients can cause low vitamin D levels.
- Being overweight – Those with a BMI over 30 are at a higher risk for low vitamin D. Fat cells take the vitamin D out of the blood causing a lower vitamin D level.
It is always a good idea to get vitamin D tested to know for sure. Most doctors are willing to check vitamin D levels if you ask them.
Sources of vitamin D
The recommended dietary allowances (RDA) for most adults is 600IU or 15mcg. The best way to know if you are getting the right amount is to get tested. Make sure to ask for the number if you get tested. Lab tests usually consider anything over 25ng/ml to be normal, but optimal is above 50ng/ml. Depending on where you live it may take closer to 1,000IU to 4,000IU to get you to a good level of vitamin D.
Sunshine is the best source of vitamin D. Getting outside without sunscreen for a little while each day allows your body to make vitamin D. Since the amount of vitamin D your body makes varies based on the color of your skin it can be a little tricky to know how much sunshine you need. For fair to medium skin 10-20 minutes, a day without sunscreen should give you a good amount of vitamin D. For those with darker skin 40 to an hour outside is preferable.
The further away from the equator you live the longer it takes to make vitamin D. In the United States that’s about the mid states and north. During the winter the time it takes could double since the suns rays aren’t as strong. Remember you don’t want to get a sunburn that is being out in the sun too long and causing damage. In places, with cold winters it may be unreasonable to get vitamin D from sunshine. Even if the sun is shining in the middle of winter frostbite may happen before getting enough vitamin D. To save your fingers and nose from frostbite try a supplement in the winter.
To prevent overexposing some areas to the sun put sunscreen on your face and hands but giving your limbs some sun exposure to create the vitamin D.
The main sources are fish and fortified foods. There aren’t many great food sources and the ones there are vary quite a bit in the amount of vitamin D they actually contain.
- Wild caught salmon 3.5 oz – between 360 to 700IU. The amounts in salmon (and many foods) can vary greatly. Farm-raised salmon has about 25% less vitamin D than wild caught, so opting for wild caught salmon whenever possible is the best choice.
- Mackeral 3 oz – about 300IU
- Tuna fish 3 oz – about 150IU
- Fortified Milk – 124IU
- Eggs 1 large – 20-40 IU. Chickens that have access to outside and sunshine produce eggs with 3-4 times the vitamin D as those without outdoor access.
There are other foods that contain some vitamin D but not in large amounts. Even the foods high in the vitamin may not be enough to get someone to an optimal amount of vitamin D in their body.
Cod liver oil is a good supplement to use for vitamin D just be aware that it has a large amount of vitamin A in it too.
When levels are tested a common recommendation from doctors is 2,000IU if D levels are low. It can take a year or two with this dose (depending on your response to the supplement) before levels are in the optimal range. This dose may not be enough for some people and may require larger dose supplements. Unless if it is recommended by a doctor don’t take doses over 4,000IU for long periods of time. It is possible to get too much vitamin D.
Vitamin D takes time to increase and toxicity is rare. For most people who have limited exposure to sunlight, a dose of 2,000IU to 4,000IU shouldn’t cause a problem. When taking any vitamin if you begin to feel worse stop taking it. Toxicity typically starts to show around 125ng/ml to 150ng/ml. For most, it takes high doses for months to get there. If you are taking large doses make sure you are being monitored by a doctor and having levels checked. Keeping your level between 50ng/ml to 80ng/ml is a good range to aim for.
When taking supplements since vitamin D is fat soluble take with some fat to help absorption.
Another great vitamin for the immune system is vitamin A. Unlike vitamin D it is hard to get an accurate blood level to check for a deficiency. Vitamin A is stored in the liver and a deficiency won’t show up until advanced.
Vitamin A is great for the skin and all the mucosal lined areas of the body. This includes the lining of the nose, mouth, stomach, intestinal tract and in the lungs. All the areas vitamin A works are common areas irritated by allergies. It also helps support the immune system and protect the eyes. Vitamin A is used up quicker during illness, so if you are frequently sick getting some extra vitamin A could help.
It comes in two forms, preformed vitamin A (found in foods that come from animals), and beta-carotene which is converted into vitamin A in the body. It is better absorbed when taken with fats. The recommended daily dosage for males is 5,000IU and females 4,000IU (4,500IU if pregnant). There is no recommended daily amount for beta-carotene but more is needed to produce enough vitamin A to meet daily needs.
Causes and Symptoms of Vitamin A Deficiency
True deficiencies in vitamin A are seen mostly in poor countries and rarely in developed countries. In developed countries, there is typically a medical reason for a deficiency. Causes of low vitamin A can include
- Little vitamin A or beta-carotene in the diet.
- Iron deficiency
- Fat malabsorption problem
- Excess alcohol consumption
- Celiac disease
- Autoimmune disorders
- Inflammatory bowel disease
- Pancreatic insufficiency
Vitamin A is stored in the body but if there is insufficient vitamin A intake eventually symptoms may occur such as:
- Dry eyes – Vitamin A is critical for eye health
- Night blindness – This happens the most in developing countries but if you find you’re having more trouble seeing at night increase your vitamin A intake.
- Dry skin – This can be caused by many things including low vitamin A
- Acne – Retinol (vitamin A) creams are great for wrinkles and acne and getting more in your diet improves all aspects of skin health
- Infections – Frequent infections (for example colds, respiratory infections, flu, and sinus infection) can use up vitamin A quicker and can be a sign of low vitamin A
- Poor wound healing – Wounds that heal slowly or refuse to heal maybe a sign of low vitamin A
- Delayed growth in children – Vitamin a is required for proper development
Many people in developed countries don’t usually experience the extreme symptoms but may not recognize symptoms as a possible deficiency. If your the type of person who catches everyone’s cold or always get the flu everytime your in the same building as someone who has it some extra vitamin A may help. If you have eye problems then definitely increase your vitamin A intake.
Sources of vitamin A
Beta-carotene is a great way to get your vitamin A. It allows the body to make what it needs without the getting too much. Since it is stored in the body excess of preformed vitamin A can cause problems. Even though it is possible to get excessive amounts of vitamin A, it is hard to do from food, unless your favorite food is liver and you eat a large amount of it often. If your trying to increase your intake of vitamin A add in a few of these foods
- Butternut squash – contains about 22,000IU per cup
- Medium sweet potato – 22,000IU
- Carrots – 1/2 cup raw about 9,000IU
- Beef liver – 1oz about 8,000IU
- Spinage – 1/2 cup boiled about 11,000IU
- Kale – 1 cup chopped about 10,000IU
- Cantaloupe – 1 cup about 5,000IU
- Egg yokes – 1 large egg 250IU
Some people convert beta-carotene to vitamin A better than others. Even for those who don’t convert as well getting enough vitamin A shouldn’t be an issue for most people. A couple servings of vegetables and fruits high in beta-carotene a day, with a little fat to help the body absorb, and most people should be meeting their daily requirements. Beta-carotene is also a great source of antioxidants.
If you suspect you are not be getting enough vitamin A from beta-carotene sources just add in a couple sources of preformed vitamin A. Animal sources like liver, dairy, and eggs contain the preformed vitamin A.
A supplement shouldn’t be required for vitamin A but if you feel it is necessary, look for one that is mostly from beta-carotene. Make sure it is not synthetic but from a natural source. Fresh vegetable juice with high beta-carotene vegetables is a great option.
It is possible to overdose on vitamin A symptoms including nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and headaches. These are all acute symptoms if excess vitamin A is consumed for long periods of time more severe or permanent symptoms may occur. Once vitamin A supplementation is stopped symptoms usually disappear but if large amounts are taken for a long time kidney or liver damage may occur. This is why it is best to get vitamin A from food and avoid supplements of vitamin A. Excess amounts of beta-carotene can turn the skin yellow/orange color, but won’t cause toxicity from too much vitamin A. Besides being a yellow/orange color I can’t find any reliable sources that show excess beta-carotene is harmful.
Ok, magnesium is a mineral but close enough. About half of the population in the USA doesn’t get enough of this mineral. That can be bad because magnesium is involved in many enzymatic reactions in the body, the more it is studied the more reactions we find it is involved in. I like to think of magnesium as the master mineral.
Enzymes help make chemical reactions happen in the body. Some of the enzymes require cofactors to produce results. Magnesium is a cofactor for many of the reactions and one of the reasons it’s critical to have enough in the body. Enzymes can make reactions happen millions of times faster. If you would like to read more about enzymes check them out here.
There isn’t a large amount of research on magnesium and how it relates to allergies but the ones I could find were interesting. In one study rats that were fed a magnesium-deficient diet had higher levels of histamine. After the rats were placed on the diet histamine levels continued to rise for eight days. When they were fed a diet higher in magnesium their histamine levels decreased in two days.
Since magnesium is such a fundamental part of the body and involved in many different processes the signs that you are deficient could vary. Symptoms can be mild or severe. Deficiency can cause problems such as irregular heart rhythms, irritability, cramps, muscle spasms, fatigue, insomnia, and headaches. A mineral that has a large influence on many different parts of the body could cause symptoms that aren’t listed.
Typically increasing magnesium won’t cause any problems, and a healthy person will have to take a large amount before getting too much, may be worth a try.
Causes of Low Magnesium
Some common causes of low magnesium are:
- Lack of magnesium in the diet.
- Digestive problems – chronic diarrhea, chrones disease or ciliac diaease.
- Alcohol use (frequent use)
- Age – Older adults do not absorb magnesium as well, eat less magnesium containing foods, and may take medication that decreases magnesium.
- Medication – diuretics can cause the body to lose more magnesium.
- Health conditions – Uncontrolled diabetes can cause low magnesium by increasing urination. The kidneys control magnesium level. Kidney disease can cause magnesium levels to be high or when correcting acute kidney failure magnesium levels can drop to low. Excess urination can cause loss of magnesium.
- Physical stress – Burns over a large area of the body or surgery can increase the body’s need for magnesium and also may decrease the absorption of magnesium.
How much magnesium should you get
Magnesium intake for men should be around 400-420mg/day and 310-320mg/day for women.
It is always best to start by increasing dietary sources of magnesium. This also gives many other vitamins and minerals that are important to health. Some good sources of magnesium are:
- Leafy greens – Some great examples are spinach, swiss chard, collard greens, and kale. Spinage is one of the best sources of magnesium 1 cup cooked has about 157mg. That is about 39 percent of your daily value.
- Seeds – Pumpkin seeds, chia seeds, sunflower seeds, and flax seeds
- Nuts – Almonds, brazil nuts, cashews, pine nuts, and peanuts.
- Avocado – 1 medium 58mg
- Dark Chocolate – 1 square 95mg. Just make sure it is dark chocolate and look for no less than 70% cacao.
- Black beans – 1 cup 120mg.
- Banana – 1 medium 32mg.
- Yogurt – 1 cup 47mg
Magnesium can also be absorbed through the skin. There are even magnesium creams and sprays. Epsom salt is magnesium sulfate that can be dissolved in water and used in the tub or a foot soak. If you have time soaking in a bath with 1-2 cups of Epsom salts 2-3 times a week is a great way to keep your magnesium level in a good range. It also helps relax sore muscles, decrease stress, and improve sleep.
If your having trouble getting enough magnesium in your diet and want to take a supplement you can start around 200mg once a day. Take it before bed to help improve sleep. I personally take 500mg daily to help with headaches and restless legs at night. My husband takes 250mg daily for his allergies.
Increasing dietary magnesium was not enough in our case for allergies, but we did try it first. After adding a supplement of 250mg daily there was a noticeable improvement within a few days. Give it two or three days before increasing the dose to see if it will work.
Taking to much magnesium has a laxative effect. This is one reason it is good to start at a low dose. If you have a problem with constipation taking magnesium may also help that problem but too much will cause diarrhea.
Anyone with kidney disease should be cautious with magnesium. The kidneys regulate magnesium and large amounts can accumulate if your kidneys are unable to get rid of the extra.
As always check with your doctor before adding supplements or making changes.