Extreme weather events, from coastal flooding, intense heat, record amounts of rainfall in some areas and historic droughts in others, are becoming increasingly common as the Earth’s average temperature rises. The World Meteorological Organization has linked some of 2013’s most extreme weather events – think back to Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines as well as flooding in central Europe and record high temperatures in Australia, Asia and Africa to human-induced climate change. “There’s been a general disruption of nature,” says Kim Knowlton, a senior scientist in the Natural Resources Defense Council’s health and environmental program. In may, the U.S. Global Change Research Program (GCRP) released a comprehensive report on the impacts of climate change. It bluntly states: “Over the last 50 years, much of the United States has seen an increase in prolonged periods of excessively high temperatures, more heavy downpours, and in some regions, more severe droughts.”
This is very bad news for people with allergies and asthma – more moisture and higher temperatures mean increased levels of mold, pollen and air pollution.
Temperatures across the U.S. are projected to increase anywhere from 5-10 degrees Fahrenheit by the end of the century so the challenges we encounter from climate change are likely to get worse. (Gagne, 2014)
AIR-BORNE ALLERGENS ARE EXPECTED TO INCREASE
According to the EPA’s report on climate change and air-borne allergens, A Review of the Impact of Climate Variability and Change on Aeroallergens and Their Associated Effects (EPA, 2011):
Aeroallergens include pollens, which can be produced by weeds, grasses and trees, as well as molds, dust particles, ash and indoor allergens.
Aeroallergens such as dust, ragweed, pollen and molds impact half of all Americans.
Treatment for allergies in the US costs $21 billion annually.
Three major allergic diseases have been associated with exposure to aeroallergens: hay fever, asthma and eczema. Collectively, these three allergic diseases rank sixth for annual expenditures among chronic health conditions in the United States.
Beyond the direct cost of medical care are the indirect, but substantial, costs associated with lost time at work, school and play.
Increases in temperature, carbon dioxide and precipitation will cause the proliferation of weedy plants that are known producers of allergenic pollen. Higher levels of CO2 in the atmosphere act as a fertilizer for plant growth. Warmer temperatures and increased precipitation will cause some plants to grow faster, bloom earlier and produce more pollen.
Climate-related temperature changes are expected to increase the potency of airborne allergens, increasing the concentration of pollen in the air, the length of the allergy season and the strength of airborne allergens.
Climate change will allow allergen-producing plant species to move into new areas.
Wind-blown dust, carrying pollens and molds from outside of the United States, could expose people to allergens they had not previously contacted. Exposure to more potent concentrations of pollen and mold may make current non-sufferers more likely to develop allergic symptoms.
HEAVIER, MORE FREQUENT RAINS PRODUCE MORE MOLD
Molds can cause serious health problems in susceptible individuals. Here’s information from the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene on the city’s health crisis following Hurricane Sandy (RebuildAdjustNY.org, 2013):
Toxins produced by mold, known at myotoxins, can cause headaches, nausea, loss of appetite, fatigue, inability to concentrate and memory loss.
Chronic exposure to mold can lead to permanent lung disease
According to the Institute of Medicine, “There (is) sufficient evidence to link indoor exposure to mold with upper respiratory tract symptoms, cough, and wheeze in otherwise healthy people.”
According to a World Health Organization-cited study, building dampness/mold increases the occurrence of respiratory and asthma-related health incidents by 30-50%.
A second study estimated that 21%of the cases of asthma in the United States could be attributable to dampness and mold in housing, for a total annual national cost of $3.5 billion.
Sandy-impacted neighborhoods are especially vulnerable to health effects from mold.
According to then Mayor Bloomberg, 70,000 – 80,000 homes suffered water damage due to Hurricane Sandy.
About 180,000 – 210,000 New Yorkers could be currently exposed to Sandy-related mold.
Mold is especially dangerous for 45,000+ children under the age of 5 and senior New Yorkers who are considered highly vulnerable to mod-related ailments.
Mold is especially dangerous for individuals suffering from asthma and other respiratory ailments.
Sandy-affected neighborhoods reported more than 30,000 asthma-related emergency room visits between 2008 and 2010.
Children and seniors comprise about 25% of the population in Sandy-affected neighborhoods.
Asthmatics comprise more than 25%of the Sandy-affected neighborhood of Red Hook, Brooklyn.
Mold damage is not always as easy to detect as in the photo above. It can be growing inside walls or behind wallpaper so not necessarily be visible.
And dead mold spore can still cause allergic reactions in some people so killing the mold may not be sufficient – it must also be removed. (EPA, 2012)
SO HOW CAN WE REDUCE OUR CHANCES OF INCREASED SUFFERING FROM ALLERGIES AND ASTHMA?
We know that 80-90% of our immune system resides in the mucosa of our guts. An unbalanced, impaired gut microbiome produces chronic inflammation in the body. Over time, this inflammation produces autoimmune conditions (such as allergies and asthma) – as well as gum disease, repeating UTIs, heart disease, nail fungus, some cancers, and much more.
Mast cells located in our skin, connective tissues, and the mucosal linings of our stomachs and intestines, are an essential part of our immune defenses. These unique cells are tasked with activating the immune system to defend us from harmful invaders.
In people with allergies, the immune system misidentifies innocuous substances as dangerous pathogens and sends out mast cells to combat them – as if Attila’s Huns were at the gate and needed to be attacked at all costs, even to the point of destroying the body in the process.
The real solution for both allergy and asthma sufferers isn’t just treating the symptoms but working to restore the health of the friendly bacteria living in the gut with the goal of normalizing the immune system. A healthy, balanced gut immune system will stop producing inflammation and allow a return to health.
As climate change exposes us to increasing numbers of molds and other allergens, we’re all going to need immune systems that are up to dealing with the challenge.
For more information on allergies, asthma, autoimmune conditions, the role of inflammation in these problems, and how to strengthen your immune system, see:
Are you one of those people who attract every mosquito in the neighborhood while others around you don’t get a single bite?
Mosquitoes have been around for about 170 million years – considerably longer than modern man. Archeological and fossil evidence says Homo Sapiens evolved around 276,000 years ago. So it seems modern humans have been dealing with mosquito bites from the very beginning.
There are about 2,500 to 3,000 different species of mosquitoes found around the world. (Mosquito Magnet, 2014) More than 175 species have been identified in the US alone. (Heubeck, 2005-2014)
Makes you itch just to think about all those mosquitoes, doesn’t it?
The most common – and most dangerous – are the various species in the Culex, Anopheles, and Aedes genera. Culexpipiens, known as the northern house mosquito, is the principal carrier of West Nile virus. Anopheles carries the parasite that causes malaria. The parasite gets transmitted through the mosquitoes’ saliva when they bite us. Anopheles‘ bites are responsible for over one million deaths per year. Two species of Aedes are carriers of other dangerous diseases: Aedes albopictus, the Asian tiger mosquito, transmits dengue fever and eastern equine encephalitis while Aedes aegypti, the yellow fever mosquito, transmits dengue and yellow fever. (Mosquito World, undated)
Mosquitoes cause more human suffering worldwide than any other organism – killing over one million people every year. They also transmit serious diseases and parasites to dogs and horses.
The National Center for Infectious Diseases (NCID), a division of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), publishes a list of some of the diseases transmitted by mosquitoes. (NCID, 2007) The American Mosquito Control Association (AMCA) also publishes information on mosquito-borne diseases affecting humans, horses and dogs. (AMCA, 2013) Below is a combination of both lists:
Rift Valley Fever
La Crosse encephalitis
St Louis encephalitis
Chikungunya – rarely fatal but causing excruciating joint pain that is debilitating and may persist for several weeks
Dog Heartworm (Dirofilaria immitis)
Eastern equine encephalitis – affects both horses and humans
Western equine encephalitis
Mosquitoes’ sensory organs seek sources of carbon dioxide and lactic acid – because these substances lead them to humans and other warm blooded animals. Chemical repellents like OFF! work because the DEET in them is highly effective at masking the smell of both carbon dioxide and lactic acid, not because mosquitoes don’t like the smell of the repellents themselves. (Reinagel, 2010)
A common misconception is that mosquitoes are attracted to humans and some other warm blooded animals who have sweet or pleasant tasting blood. Mosquitoes aren’t particularly interested in our blood – although people who have Type O blood are known to get more bites than people with other blood types. What they ARE very attracted to is the scents emitted by various bacteria and other micro-organisms living on our skin. These can differ from person to person and on us at different times.
Mosquitoes can detect plumes of carbon dioxide in our exhaled breath at a distance of several hundred feet. At under 100 feet they smell the odors of the bacteria and micro-organisms living in our skin microbiota. (Mosquito World, undated)
It’s only the female mosquito that bites – and what she does isn’t actually a bite. She lands on your skin and uses heat sensors on her antennae and around her mouth to detect a capillary near the surface of the skin. When she finds one, she inserts her proboscis (a long, needle-like mouth part containing two tubes) into the vessel and draws some blood out through one tube. Through the proboscis’ second tube, she inserts a little of her saliva, which contains enzymes that keep the blood from coagulating so she can feed freely. These enzymes also act as a mild painkiller so we don’t notice that our skin has been punctured. The female mosquito needs a protein in human blood to make her eggs fertile. (Ferris, 2013)
Our body’s immune system recognizes these enzymes as foreign. Antibodies prompt our mast cells to release histamines, which arrive at the scene and start to do their work of healing the breach and neutralizing the foreign enzymes by binding to receptors, causing the blood vessels there to dilate. The increased blood flow attracts more white blood cells to help vanquish the invading antigens. The histamines cause the spot to swell and become itchy. (Mosquito World, undated)
A 100 trillion or so micro-organisms live on and inside our bodies. One percent of these, about a trillion, live in and on our skin and determine our unique body odor. Without these bacteria, human sweat would be odorless. And these microbes, our skin’s microbiome, produce a variety of chemicals – some of which smell more attractive to mosquitoes and some of which don’t interest them at all. The composition of these trillion microbes varies greatly from person to person: We share 99.9% of our DNA with other humans but share only about 10% of our microbes. (Loria, 2014)
Interesting tidbit: It’s not the smell of our blood but the unique odors given off by our skin microbiota that so-called blood hounds can pick up. We’re constantly shedding a cloud of minute skin flakes. Bloodhounds are particularly adept at following a trail of these flakes, sniffing their odors. (Black, 2012)
Dutch researchers demonstrated that it is certain types of micro-organisms living on our skin that attract mosquitoes. For the study, they asked 48 adult male volunteers to avoid consuming alcohol, garlic, onions, and spicy foods, and not to shower or wear scented cosmetics for two days prior to the sampling event. The men were also instructed not to use soap the last time they showered before the experiment. All 48 volunteers were free from chronic illnesses and not taking any medications on a regular basis. (Verhulst, 2011) (Loria, 2014)
The men were given nylon socks to wear for 24 hours to build up a collection of their unique skin microbes. For the testing, researchers rubbed glass beads against the soles of the men’s feet to collect their scent as mosquito bait.
The sweat from 9 of the 48 men in the sample proved to be especially attractive to mosquitoes. Mosquitoes largely ignored the odors of the sweat from 7 of the men. The ‘highly attractive’ group’s sweat contained a 2.62 times higher concentration of one common skin microbe (Staphylococcus spp.) and 3.11 times higher concentration of another common microbe (Pseudomonas spp.) compared to the 7 in the ‘poorly attractive’ group. There was no significant difference between the amounts of Brevibacterium spp. and Cornynebacterium spp. in the ‘highly attractive’ and ‘poorly attractive’ groups. The ‘poorly attractive’ group also had a significantly more diverse bacterial colony living on their skins. (Loria, 2014) (Verhulst, 2011)
The microbial ecology of human skin is highly complex but science is still in the early stages of studying it. At this point, little is known about its species composition and only a small fraction of the micro-organisms living on – and in – us is culturable now – many species have not even been identified yet. The same is true for the microbes living in our gut microbiomes.
Nonetheless, the findings from this study are leading to the development of new mosquito attractants and repellents.
Another study, this one conducted by the National Center for Biotechnology Information, found that mosquitoes and biting insects are also attracted to beer drinkers. Even one beer was found to increase the number of times subjects were bitten.
The researchers hypothesized that the attraction was due to increases in the amount of ethanol in sweat or because alcohol raises body temperature, but neither was found to correlate with mosquito landings.
This study also found that exercise, metabolism, clothing color, and pregnancy affected vulnerability to mosquitoes. (Salaky, 2013)
Wearing solid, dark clothing and dark, flowery prints
Using beauty products and lotions such as hair spray, perfume, and suntan lotion
Having standing water around – such as in backyard pools and in undisturbed pails or buckets
Working up a sweat. When you exercise, you give off more lactic acid and more carbon dioxide.
Being outside early in the day or at twilight, when mosquitoes bite the most
Eating sweet, sugary foods
Eating salty foods or ones high in potassium: Salt and potassium increase the amount of lactic acid you off-gas. Unfortunately, fruits and vegetables are the foods richest in potassium. Cabbage, green peppers, cucumbers, blueberries, apples, and watermelon are relatively low in potassium. Potatoes, lima beans, acorn squash, spinach, prunes, raisins, bananas are high in potassium.
Eating limburger cheese: It’s made with the same bacteria that cause our feet to smell.
Drinking beer: Consuming even one bottle of beer makes you bait for mosquitoes. I’ve been unable to find what it is about beer that is so attractive to them but only learned that it’s not due to an increased amount of ethanol excreted in sweat or because alcohol increases body temperature. If you find out what the connection is between beer consumption and attraction to mosquitoes, please let me know.
Being pregnant: Pregnant women attract roughly twice as many mosquitoes as non-pregnant people. Pregnant women exhale about 21% more carbon dioxide and run about 1.26 degrees Fahrenheit warmer. Mosquitoes are attracted to both the carbon dioxide breathed out and the heat given off by warm blooded animals.
Using alpha hydroxy products on your skin: Many skin care lotions and creams contain lactic acid, which is highly attractive to mosquitoes.
THESE MAKE YOU LESS INTERESTING TO MOSQUITOES:
Wearing plain, light-colored clothing
Spraying your skin with a diluted mixture of essential oils that are known to repel mosquitoes – such as tea tree oil, geranium oil, oil of cedar, peppermint oil, lemon grass oil, and citronella
Dabbing small amounts of the above essential oils on your skin is also effective against mosquitoes. A good choice is TerraShield, made by doTerra – a blend of 15 essential oils, it repels mosquitoes and ticks for up to six hours. It has a pleasant citrus smell and can be dabbed directly on your skin.
Diffusing one of these essential oils or oil blends (such as TerraShield) into the air
Placing a few drops of these essential oils or oil blends on ribbons and strings and hanging them near air vents, windows or openings where bugs might come in
Applying crushed herbs directly on your skin. Crushed catnip, citronella, vanilla leaf, tea tree, lemon balm, clove, lavender, eucalyptus, sagebrush and pineapple weed are safe to use in this way.
Spraying your skin with an infusion of herbs and plants that mosquitoes don’t like – such as calendula, catnip, lavender, pennyroyal, rosemary, basil, lime basil, peppermint, horsemint, lemon balm, lemon thyme, lemon grass, chamomile and goldenseal
Planting fragrant herbs from the list above, plus aromatic plants – such as ageratum, citronella grass, citrosa, marigolds*, common lantana, fever tea, myrrh, stone root and pennyroyal – in your garden or in pots outside. They’re all natural mosquito repellents.
Using a garlic spray in your garden or a garlic-scented lotion on your skin
Eating garlic provides mild protection – both from the scent of your breath and the sulfurous compounds you’ll emit through your skin. Of course, eating garlic or smearing its scent on your skin will probably keep away more than mosquitoes!
Eating foods high in vitamin B – such as fish, brown rice, molasses, brewers yeast and wheat germ. Mosquitoes don’t like vitamin B.
Here’s a good article containing recipes for making your own natural mosquito repellent using essential oils. Non-chemical mosquito repellents contain a diluted mixture of essential oils that mosquitoes find distasteful or which confuse their ability to detect your own odors so they can’t find you and therefore won’t bite you.
* WARNING: Never keep marigolds in areas close to windows, patio tables and other outdoor areas where you spend time as the flowers’ bright colors often attract wasps. (wikiHow, undated)
I would have included Avon’s Skin So Soft in the list of mosquito repellents except that they contain some not so nice chemicals – including methylparaben and proplyparaben.
Parabens are used as preservatives to increase shelf life in many cosmetic products (lotions, underarm deodorants and antiperspirants, hair care products, moisturizers, shaving products and make up), medicines and foods. Some of the major parabens we absorb or ingest in these products are benzylparaben, butylparaben, ethylparaben, isobutylparaben, methylparaben and propylparaben.
The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) reports that parabens have hormone-disrupting qualities that mimick estrogen interfering with the body’s endocrine system. The EPA has linked methylparabens in particular to metabolic, developmental, hormonal and neurological disorders, as well as to various cancers.
Companies like Burt’s Bees, Botanical Skin Works and Barefoot Botanicals do not use parabens in their products. For more information on products containing parabens visit www.thinkbeforeyoupink.org.
For more information on the parabens-breast cancer link and some paraben-free alternatives, see here (Johnson, 2011) and here (Mercola, 2012).
AO+ REFRESHING COSMETIC MIST – TO REPLENISH THE MICROBIOME OF MICROSCOPIC ORGANISMS LIVING ON OUR SKIN
In doing the research for the post just before this one, Living Bacterial Skin Tonic – Instead of Soap?!, I came across this about a living bacteria skin tonic being developed by a Massachusetts start up called AOBiome – I’ve highlighted the last two sentences:
The company’s scientists think that this product will be good for us because it could refill our bodies with microflora that do us good. In this way, it could actually be better for us than the antibacterial hygiene products that we are accustomed to using. Although these kill off bacteria, they can harm us due to the chemicals they contain (such as triclosan) which have been linked to various health problems.
If you’re still not convinced that you would want bacteria on your skin, consider this: bacteria can assist in treating various skin conditions, such as eczema and acne. It helps to heal wounds that are resistant to antibiotics. It can also change body odour so that it keeps mosquitos at bay.This is especially good if one considers illnesses like malaria that can run rampant and affect many people. (Simolo, 2014)
Our usual approach to the bacteria and other micro-organisms living on our skins – and everywhere else we can get to them – is to KILL THEM DEAD. We generally regard bacteria and their relatives as dangerous and just plain nasty. So this is an entirely new approach – a U turn in how to think about the bacteria living in and on our skin: This new spray contains billions of cultivatedNitrosomonas eutropha, an ammonia-oxidizing bacteria (AOB)
It’s to be used in lieu of – or as an adjunct to – taking showers. Bathing with most soaps and shampoos KILLS ALL THE HEALTHY ELEMENTS OF OUR SKIN MICROBIOME. This new living bacterial skin tonic REPLENISHES the biome of microscopic organisms living on our skin.
If you recall the Dutch experiment described above, in the OUR SKIN MICROBIOME section, one of the findings was that the group of men who were the least attractive to mosquitoes had a significantly more diverse bacterial colony living on their skins.
So it makes sense to me that we would want to reverse our ill-considered search and destroy approach to bacteria and begin valuing and supporting our skin microbiomes, the trillion bacteria and other micro-organisms that dwell in and on our skin – for many reasons, not making ourselves so attractive to disease and parasite spreading mosquitoes being only one.