Relieve rashes and hives

Hives are raised, white welts on the skin, surrounded by redness. The swelling and redness are caused by the release of one of the body’s allergy chemicals, histamine. There are many factors which can trigger such a reaction – from a scratch, heat or cold to a number of foods, chemicals or additives. So the first step towards controlling it is detecting and eliminating the trigger.

Look for reactions to chemicals

The most common cause of hives is a reaction to medication – particularly antibiotics (including penicillin) and aspirin. Unfortunately, penicillin is sometimes present in foods and drinks such as milk, meat and poultry, and allergic reactions have been traced back to these ‘hidden’ antibiotics. If you do come up in a rash or hives when you are on medication, contact your doctor to check whether this may be the cause. If it is, you will both have to decide whether the need for drugs outweighs the discomfort of hives.

Salicylates are aspirin-like compounds found naturally in many foods. Hives sufferers who are sensitive to aspirin must look carefully at their salicylate intake. Of all foods, fruits have the highest levels, especially berries, pineapple and dried fruit. I would also avoid all juices, as they can contain concentrated salicylates. High levels have been found in liquorice and mint, including toothpastes, chewing gum and teas. Read the ingredients list of your foods and cosmetics to ensure you avoid those containing salicylates.

Our food is increasingly contaminated with chemicals that are used to colour, flavour, sweeten, stabilise and preserve it. One of the most common food additives that causes reactions is tartrazine, also known as E102, which is used as a dye to colour foods orange and yellow.

Numerous studies have shown that additive-free diets are very helpful to people with hives. Eating fresh food, as close to its natural form as possible, is the main way to avoid the potential hazards of commercially prepared foods. Eating organically grown or produced food is another way of avoiding added chemicals.

Test for, and avoid, food allergens

A common cause of hives is a reaction to foods. The foods that are most likely to bring on hives are: milk, fish, meat, eggs, beans and nuts, although any food can do so. Others to consider are chocolate, cured meats, chicken, citrus fruits and shellfish. See the article Hidden Food Allergies to find out how to test and avoid potential food allergens or intolerances.

Alcohol aggravates any allergic reaction and is therefore best avoided or minimised. Avoiding suspect foods is only part of the solution. It is also important to make sure the digestive tract is working well. Several studies have shown digestive imbalances in up to 85 per cent of patients who have chronic hives.

The first vital stage of digestion is to chew your food thoroughly. This allows the digestive enzymes a greater surface area to work on and do their job properly. Some people have a lack of, or a reduced amount of, digestive enzymes, which results in food not being properly broken down; this also contributes towards allergies. If you take plant enzyme formulas, the enzymes in the digestive tract can function more efficiently, helping to normalize digestion.

Beneficial bacteria help control allergies by increasing gut immunity. To promote the beneficial bacteria, reduce your intake of sugar and refined foods – these encourage bad bacteria to proliferate. Eat plenty of fibre-rich fruits, vegetables and some live natural yoghurt – these help to encourage the growth of beneficial bacteria. I would also recommend a good-quality probiotic supplement to help restore levels.

The preferred ‘fuel’ for the cells lining the small intestine is glutamine. A generous supply of glutamine can help repair and maintain a healthy small intestinal lining. You can buy supplements that combine enzymes, glutamine and probiotics. Also, take a supplement programme that includes 10mg of zinc – an important mineral needed to make stomach acid.

Supplement vitamin C

Allergic reactions cause a release of histamine that triggers symptoms. Most drugs recommended for hives are anti-histamines; however, vitamin C exerts a number of effects against histamine – specifically, it prevents the secretion of histamine by white blood cells and increases its detoxification. Research shows that 1,000mg of vitamin C reduces blood histamine by approximately 20 per cent, and 2,000mg reduces histamine by over 30 per cent.

Vitamin C is recommended for everyone at an absolute minimum of 1,000mg (1g) a day, although 2,000mg (2g) or more is optimum for most people, whether or not you have allergies. If you are suffering from allergic symptoms, you might want to take twice this amount on a regular basis. Since vitamin C is in and out of the body within six hours, it’s best taken in divided doses, either 1,000mg in the morning and 1,000mg at lunch or, if you’re taking larger amounts, 1,000mg four times a day. You can increase your vitamin C intake through food by eating plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables, although you would have to eat an enormous amount to get up to 2,000mg; for example, 100g (31/2 oz) of peppers contains about 100mg of vitamin C, 100g (31/2 oz) of broccoli contains 110mg and 100g (31/2 oz) of strawberries contains 60mg, and that’s assuming they are fresh.

Foods that contain vitamin C typically also contain antioxidant bioflavonoids such as hesperidin, rutin and quercetin, and these bioflavonoids may actually help the body to absorb vitamin C – another good reason to eat vitamin-C-rich foods.

Supplement other anti-allergy/-inflammatory nutrients

Quercetin is a potent antioxidant that promotes a healthy inflammatory response. One study found that of all the flavonoids, quercetin was the most effective at inhibiting histamine. The best food sources of quercetin are red onions, apples and berries, but you’ll be hard pushed to eat more than 20mg a day, so supplementing therapeutic amounts is also necessary if you’re suffering from hives. Take 500mg three times a day if your symptoms are severe, then drop down to 500mg once a day once your reaction is under control. The best results are achieved by supplementing 250mg twice a day, with some bromelain (see below) and vitamin C.

Bromelain is a collection of enzymes found in pineapple stems that have considerable anti-inflammatory and anti-swelling properties. Take up to 300mg daily, if you are having an allergic reaction, or 100mg daily to reduce your allergic potential.

Methylsulfonylmethane (MSM) has so many benefits for allergy sufferers that it’s hard to know where to start. As long as you’re still suffering from any allergic symptoms, it’s well worth supplementing MSM on a daily basis. Although therapeutic intakes go up to 6,000mg a day, I recommend you start with 1,000mg, or half this if taken in combination with the other anti-allergy nutrients.

Glutamine is an essential part of any regime designed to quickly restore healthy mucous membranes and reduce allergic potential. It is also a powerful nutrient for supporting healthy immune function and gut membranes. As part of a daily anti-allergy regime, take 500mg.

Some supplements contain combinations of these anti-inflammatory nutrients, so you can take them all in one pill. Powerful natural anti-inflammatory foods include oily fish, seeds, ginger and turmeric. I would use these liberally.

Deal with stress

Many people find that they react to stressful events with a skin rash or hives. Stress triggers all sorts of changes within our bodies, including a reduction in our immunity, which may well be behind this reaction. Studies have shown that people with chronic hives have more stress in their life, be it from less family support, negative coping strategies or increased impacts from life events. It seems that people who also suffer from insomnia are even more predisposed to skin rashes. Dealing with stress by means of relaxation or resolving a stressful situation is important, especially if the hives becomes chronic. Yoga, meditation and relaxation tapes are recommended or, for a more long-term problem, perhaps counselling would be helpful. For advice on how to manage and reduce stress see this report.


You should seek the guidance of a nutritionist or other professional when following any elimination diet, especially for children, as it is important to have a full range of essential nutrients.