Thursday, April 18, 2013

Allergy Self-Help: 12 Tips for Relieving & Preventing Seasonal Allergies

Allergies can range from unpleasant to disabling. 

Allopathic medicines, such as antihistamines or cortico-steroids, can provide effective, short-term relief. However, they frequently have side effects such as drowsiness, immune-system suppression, and over-reliance. 

Fortunately, there are a range of holistic remedies worth trying for relief and prevention of allergy symptoms.

A few basic points to keep in mind  ---  Allergies are an overreaction of the immune system, involving inflammatory processes. To eliminate allergy symptoms, we want to decrease inflammation and regulate immunity and metabolic processes. 

In Chinese medicine terms, we want to expel pathogenic factors (particularly phlegm, dampness and wind) and support the proper function of the Spleen, Lung and Kidney systems.

(For a more comprehensive look at allergies from western and Chinese medical perspectives, please see my article Relieve Allergies Naturally with Chinese Medicine.)

Here's a list of self-help tips beginning with general diet and lifestyle suggestions and moving on to specific medicinal remedies.

1. Simple Diet:

If you're struggling with allergies, it's a good idea to simplify your diet.

Cut out foods that weaken your immunity, increase inflammation or build phlegm. These include sugar, sweets, carbs, wheat, excessive grains, orange juice, excessively spicy, rich or salty foods, and deep-fried foods. Pasteurized milk products may increase phlegm and worsen allergies and asthma. 

Consider the fats and oils you use. Eating poor quality fat compromises the structural integrity of your cells, making them more susceptible to inflammation and damage. Eliminate trans fats, hydrogenated oils, partially hydrogenated oils, margarine, shortening, fast food and cottonseed, canola and corn oils which are not stable at high temperatures.

High quality fats build healthy cells that aren’t as susceptible to becoming inflamed. These include olive oil, avocados, coconut oil, and ghee.

A German study, published in the journal Allergy, found that participants who ate foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids were less likely to suffer allergy symptoms than those who didn't eat these foods regularly. (Source) Omega 3 fatty acids are plentiful in grass-fed meat and eggs from pasture-raised foul. Also, consider taking an Essential Fatty Acid (EFA) supplement that is high in Omega 3 oils to reduce inflammation in the body. (One of my current favorite EFA products is fermented cod liver oil from Green Pastures, available through Radiant Life Company.) 

Avoid processed foods. Eliminate nitrates, sulfites, MSG, dyes, corn syrup, high fructose corn syrup, genetically engineered foods, preservatives and pesticides. All of these substances can increase your susceptibility to being more inflamed and allergic. Choose organic as much as possible.

Also, avoid foods that elicit negative reactions (phlegm production, bloating, abdominal discomfort, gas, etc.) for you. Decreasing the burden on your body's metabolic functions can reduce inflammation and allergic responses.

Remember that Spring is the time of year to lighten our diets. A diet consisting of lots of lightly steamed veggies, broth and stock, and small amounts of high-quality meat will reduce inflammation, build strong cells, tone your tissues and improve your metabolism, making you less prone to allergies. Ginger and turmeric both possess anti-inflammatory properties and make tasty garnishes. A garnish of horseradish may help as a temporary decongestant by virtue of its spiciness.

For more food ideas, please see my article Spring Food & Cooking Tips from Traditional Chinese Medicine.

2. Stay Hydrated:

If they body is not getting enough water, it creates mucous to counteract dryness. Getting enough water is an important first step in preventing or eliminating allergies.

One recommendation is to drink "1/2 your weight" in water daily. I.e., if you weigh 120 pounds, drink 60 oz water. Consider using a water bottle that shows the quantity of water it holds in ounces. Pay attention to how much you drink daily, and increasing that amount if necessary.

3. Avoid Exposure to Toxins:

Consider that your liver helps mediate the inflammatory responses in your body, including responding to allergens. Among the liver's many jobs is filtering chemical toxins in your body. If the liver is backed up and bogged down with daily toxic exposures, it is less able to help you with your allergic reactions. (For more on the liver from Chinese & western medicine perspectives, please see my article The Liver in Traditional Chinese Medicine.)

This can be discouraging due to the amount of inevitable toxic exposure we face in our daily lives. Read the labels on all your body care products, soaps, detergents, make up, hair care products, and household cleaning products and make a commitment to using all natural personal and household care items.

A useful theory to consider in relation to food, cleaning products and environmental toxins is the Total Load Theory. This theory states that for some people exposure to a single allergen may not be enough to trigger a symptomatic response; however, exposure to several allergens around the same time elicits an allergic response. A simple example is, say, that a person is allergic to cow's milk and to a particular tree pollen. That person may drink milk without any noticeable allergic response. But when certain pollens are present, she suffers from allergic symptoms. By avoiding dairy products during pollen season, she maybe able to lessen her "allergic load" and reduce her symptoms. Similarly, avoiding environmental toxins or foods to which you have sensitivities as much as possible may help reduce seasonal allergy symptoms.

4. Gut Health / Beneficial Bacteria

The beneficial bacteria in your gastrointestinal tract play an important role in your inflammatory response. You can reduce the severity of allergic reactions by increasing the integrity of your gastrointestinal tract. Beneficial bacteria are destroyed by anti-biotics, medications, stress, birth control pills, chemical toxins and excess coffee and sugar consumption. Consider nourishing the beneficial bacteria in your gastrointestinal tract by eating naturally-fermented foods such as raw sauerkraut, kim chee, whey, kefir and plain yogurt.

Here's an easy recipe for naturally-fermented sauerkraut.

Half of the immune cells in your body are found in the digestive tract. Supporting your gut will improve your immunity and decrease your allergy symptoms.

In a 2008 study, researchers discovered that people who took probiotics throughout allergy season had lower levels of an antibody that triggered allergy symptoms. They also had higher levels of a different antibody (IgG), thought to play a protective role against allergic reactions. (Source.)

5. Tea Instead of Coffee

The caffeine in coffee tends to deplete your adrenals and weaken your immune system. Tea does not have this affect. Green tea is rich catechins, including a powerful antioxidant phytonutrient called epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG) that blocks histamine and IgE, which are linked to allergies. Drink two or three cups of green tea daily for best results.

Peppermint tea is another great choice. The essential oils in peppermint have decongestant, anti-inflammatory and mildly anti-bacterial properties.

6. Chinese Patent Formulas:

Moving on to more specific medicinal remedies, there are two patent formulas that are worth having in your home-remedy kit for the relief of acute allergic symptoms, particularly allergic rhinitis and headaches:

"Bi Yan Pian," or "Nose Inflammation Tablets," disperses wind, clears heat, expels toxins and transforms phlegm to unblock the sinuses, treat sinus congestion and pain and sinus headaches and relieve red, itchy or watery eyes.

"Xin Yi Wan," or "Magnolia Flower Teapills," dispel wind-cold and eliminate dampness to relieve nasal congestion, sinus pain, post-nasal drip, sneezing, runny nose, headache, stiff & achy upper back & neck.

What is the difference between these two formulas?

Basically, bi yan pian is for allergies characterized by wind-heat  and phlegm signs (which might include thick, sticky, yellow nasal discharge; red, itchy eyes; feeling of warmth or agitation or avoidance of warmth.)

Xin Yin Wan is for allergies characterized by wind-cold and dampness signs (copious, clear, runny nasal discharge; stiff upper back & neck; feeling of heaviness or foggy-headedness; sneezing; feeling of chilliness or avoidance of cold.)

It is also worth consulting with a licensed Chinese herbalist who draws from several hundred herbs to customize a formula for your specific needs. As your acute symptoms decrease, your herbalist will also work with you to address underlying physiological imbalances and regulate your immune system to reduce overall occurrence of allergic reactions.

Also, there are many Chinese herbal patent formulations on the market. Consult with your herbalist to learn which products are safe and from reputable companies, as well as which formulations might best meet your needs.

7. Nettles

Stinging nettles are a western herb known to reduce sneezing and runny nose due to seasonal allergies. In a 1990 double-blind study, 58 percent of people reported nettles to be effective in treating allergic rhintis and 48 percent said 300mg of freeze-dried herb was equally or more effective as other allergy medications. A 2009 study demonstrated in the laboratory that the leaf of the stinging nettle plant blocks at least three chemical reactions essential to our body's inflammatory process, making it a potent anti-allergy medicine.

Freeze-dried stinging nettle extract (available in capsules, from the health food store) may be the most effective formulation, because the freeze-drying preserves certain biological activity. Tinctures are available, as well. I'd recommend steeping the dried leaves and sipping the tea throughout the day. If you're adventurous, you can eat fresh nettles (available in farmer's markets or for springtime wildcrafting.) Be sure to wear gloves when harvesting and preparing them because they do sting. Cooking eliminates the enzymes that cause the sting. Here is a link to a recipe for nettle soup.

8. Medicinal Mushrooms

A regular dose of medicine mushrooms may build your immune system and reduce inflammation. Reishi and cordyceps have been shown to reduce systemic inflammation and allergic reactions. These can be found in capsule and tincture forms. Source.

9. Nasal Rinsing/Neti-Pot

Many people find it helpful to irrigate the sinuses with warm saline water in order to wash away mucous  and environmental debris. You can use a neti-pot to do this or a simple bulb syringe.

Here's a recipe:
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
8 oz. slightly warm tap water

Using a bulb syringe or nasal rinse bottle, 3 squirts in each nostril while making a harsh "K" sound. Blow nose between squirts and do 2-3 times per day.

Always use clean equipment for to spray inside the nasal cavity. Sterile, distilled or boiled (be sure to cool first!) is recommended to avoid dangerous contaminents.

Along this line, a nasal spray containing xylitol might be helpful. Xylitol is a sugar alcohol which breaks up the biofilm protecting bacteria and viruses and trapping environmental debris in the sinus cavity. An OTC nasal spray like Xlear can be helpful in clearing the sinuses, while also helping to keep them slightly lubricated and less susceptible to invasion by pathogens. For sinus infections or acute allergy symptoms, add a few drops of goldenseal tincture to the rinse solution. Goldenseal has astringent and anti-bacterial properties that are healing and soothing to the nasal passages.

10. Herbal Steams

These are a wonderful, relaxing way of clearing sinus congestion. Put some fresh aromatic herbs (like rosemary, thyme or eucalyptus, sage, cedar, juniper berries, even mint) in a medium to large pot. Cover with water. Bring to a boil & let simmer for 5 minutes (Do not boil for more than five minutes or you'll lose the aromatic quality of the herbs.) (Alternatively heat water and add a few drops of aromatic essential oils.) Remove the pot from heat. Be sure to allow the water to cool sufficiently that you don't burn your face! Sit at a table with your head over the steaming pot. Cover your head with a towel. Breathe the warm vapors into your nose & lungs for up to 20 minutes. Enjoy.

The Chinese pharmacopoeia has lots of wonderful aromatic herbs that are great for steaming, including schizonepeta (jing jie), siler (fang feng), Chinese angelica root (bai zhi), magnolia buds (xin yi hua), xanthium buds (cang er zi), and more. These herbs clear the sinuses, clear the bronchioles and relax & tone the lungs. Other herbs can be added to address specific symptoms (ear pain, coughing, etc.) I love prescribing steaming formulas for my patients.

11. Quercetin

Quercetin is a natural chemical, a plant-derived antioxidant flavenoid, found in many foods. Quercetin has been shown to stabilize mast cells, thus slowing the release of histamine and other chemicals related to allergic symptoms. Quercetin may be taken as a supplement. Also, consider increasing your intake of quercetin-rich foods (such as citrus fruits, apples, onions, parsley, broccoli, lettuce and black/green tea.) Quercetin is absorbed better when taken in combination with bromelain, a natural, protein-digesting enzyme with anti-inflammatory properties, derived from pineapples.

12. Acupuncture

Research shows that acupuncture reduces allergy symptoms.

I've seen acupuncture provide immediate symptomatic relief in one session. I recently gave a quick, simple acupuncture treatment to a woman who'd been suffering from pretty significant allergies. When I saw her a month later, she told me that her allergies had gone away during the treatment and had not recurred since then.

Treatment plans for allergies vary, and the possible results range from temporary relief to complete remission. Gentle manipulation of points around the nose, such as Yintang, Bitong and Large Intestine 20, with massage or very fine needles, usually relieve nasal congestion and sneezing as soon as the needles are inserted. Points on the chest can open the bronchioles, alleviate chest tightness, wheezing, coughing and postnasal drip. Points on the arms and legs are often used to bolster Spleen and Lung Qi, addressing weaknesses underlying propensity to allergies.

Link to further reading:

Relieve Allergies Naturally with Chinese Medicine

Sinusitis: Acupuncture, Herbs & Self-Treatment Tips

For allergy relief, call 510-495-5752 or email, to learn more about how Chinese medicine can help.


Western herbalist Kami McBride's "Ten Steps to Reducing Your Allergies."
Dr. Mercola's article "How to Reduce Allergy and Asthma Symptoms."