Hives - A Natural Approach
Signs and Causes of Hives
The term “hives” is usually used to refer to raised wheals or bumps on the skin, associated with severe itching. Occasionally, it can be associated with similar inflammation around the eyes or in the breathing passages; in this case, the problem can become serious. Hives is sometimes called urticaria or nettle rash, which more or less describes its appearance.
Hives, or something looking very like it, can be caused by nettle stings. In this case, the cause is obvious and the treatment is fairly easy; wash the skin, preferably with something mildly alkaline - baking soda for example. The reason for this treatment working is that nettle stings are caused by the skin having formic acid injected into it.
For the more usual type of hives, it is always an allergy or sensitivity reaction. The distinction between these two is that sensitivity reactions are usually to things that irritate everybody’s skin to some extent such as strong soap or chlorine in water, while allergies are usually to things that people not allergic to that particular item don’t have any problem with.
Some triggering substances include:
· Food such as strawberries, citrus fruits, shellfish, wheat, cows’ dairy products, eggs, pork.
· Chlorine in tap water, and chlorine and chlorine compounds in swimming pools.
· Food additives such as colours, preservatives and synthetic flavours.
· Drugs such as aspirin and antibiotics.
· Hidden drugs such as antibiotic residues in dairy products, chicken, eggs and various meats.
· Coffee, alcoholic drinks and tobacco.
All the agents described above can and do trigger hives, but this will not normally occur unless the body has been sensitised to them beforehand and made less able to cope with irritants. There are a number of these sensitising factors.
The adrenal glands produce the various corticosteroids, which are natural anti-inflammatories. Perhaps unfortunately, the adrenals are also responsible for producing adrenalin (epinephrine) which is part of the body’s response to stressful situations. If kept busy producing adrenalin, the adrenals have a hard time producing enough corticosteroids; hence, someone under constant stress will tend to have more likelihood of developing hives. The same can also apply to people who consume large amounts of stimulants such as caffeine, or large amounts of sugar. Excessive sugar intake can also trigger candidiasis; see below.
If liver function is impaired by over-consumption of toxic substances such as alcohol, stimulants, drugs (including prescription and medicinal drugs) and exposure to such things as toxic solvents, and also by under-consumption of liver-supporting nutrients such as B vitamins, sulphur amino acids and selenium, then it will be less able to eliminate potential allergens from the body. Also, a liver under stress will be less able to produce bile to help with digestion; this in turn is likely to mean that more allergens get in.
The lymph system is a parallel circulation to the arterial/venous system; its function is to return fluid that has leaked out of the capillaries (some of which is inevitable) towards the heart along with various unwanted substances. Like the venous system, the lymph system has no pump like the heart to return fluids towards the heart, and relies on contraction of various muscles to do the pumping. If the muscles are not contracting then this does not happen; hence, lack of exercise impairs lymph circulation and tends to cause accumulation of allergens and toxins.
The body is actually quite good at keeping in a fairly narrow range of pH, which is a measure of the acid/alkali balance of the body. Unfortunately, it is quite common for the body to lean towards the acid end of the normal range; this makes various inflammatory responses stronger. The usual reason for an over-acid system is excessive consumption of meats and grains and under-consumption of fruit vegetables, nuts and seeds.
Poor digestion and poor intestinal condition
Poor digestion makes inflammatory responses more likely, largely because it makes for a greater likelihood of partly-digested food getting into the bloodstream. The most common reason for poor digestion is simply eating too much, particularly too much difficult-to-digest food such as red meat and cheese; probably the second most common reason is low levels of stomach acid, which is almost universal in anyone over 40 and increasingly so with advancing age. For some unknown reason, low stomach acid (low enough to cause problems) is far more common in women after the menopause.
It’s worth mentioning that high level of stomach acid does not mean that the body as a whole will be acid; this is because the acid in the stomach is made by a process that actually makes the bloodstream feeding the stomach more alkaline.
The second reason for poor digestion is for the wall of the small intestine to be in poor condition and excessively permeable. This causes the body to absorb more things that it shouldn’t - especially partly-digested food molecules that an intestinal wall in good condition would block. A healthy intestinal wall will only let through fatty acids, simple sugars, amino acids and small peptides.
In turn, a small intestinal wall in poor condition is usually caused by one of two things; Candida albicans overgrowth or lack of the amino acid L-glutamine in the diet.
As mentioned several times already, one cause of inflammatory reactions such as hives is candidiasis which is overgrowth of the fungus Candida albicans. This organism is encouraged by excessive consumption of sugars, but even more by use of antibiotics; these drugs kill the probiotic bacteria, normally present in the intestines, that keep Candida in check. I and several others have written Hubs on this subject.
Natural Remedies for Hives
Some of the things to do about diet are rather obvious. As a start, if you know about any particular items of diet that cause hives in your case, don’t consume them! The next step is to eliminate probable causes, if you haven’t identified them. Common causes of hives are cows’ dairy (sheep and goat milk products usually aren’t a problem), strawberries, and various sorts of nuts, along with various artificial additives such as artificial colours, benzoic acid (a common preservative) and sulphur dioxide. Less obvious are foods that weaken the system generally and make allergic reactions more likely; heavily processed food and food high in quickly absorbed carbohydrates are examples here.
This boils down to the usual message when talking about natural healing methods - clean up the diet - with the addition of eliminating specific known or possible causes of the problem.
Vitamins and Minerals
Some specific vitamins and minerals can be particularly useful in controlling hives.
· Vitamin A: general skin condition, 7500 IU per day as a minimum.
· Omega-3 oils, preferably from fish: 1000-2000 mg per day as supplements, or eat oily fish. Cod liver oil supplies vitamin A also.
· Zinc: up to 25 mg per day; helps vitamin A.
· Vitamin B5 (pantothenic acid): 500-1000 mg per day; helps adrenal function.
· Vitamin B complex (50 mg/mcg as appropriate, of all B vitamins): needed to balance the B5.
· Vitamin C: 1000 mg 3-6 times per day; helps adrenal function and skin healing.
Other Nutritional Factors
Some non-vitamin nutrients and supplements can be useful here.
· L-Glutamine: helps intestinal wall condition, 5-10 grams per day of powder, on empty stomach.
· Betaine HCL and maybe other digestive enzymes: 1 tablet with each sizable meal, to help digestion.
· Quercetin: powerful anti-inflammatory bioflavonoid, 500 mg per day.
· Aloe Vera: gel for topical use soothes the skin, liquid (low aloin) helps intestinal condition.
Chickweed ointment: soothing for topical use.
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