Spring has sprung. Walking about town imparts daily wonders. New blooms greet us as old friends. The scent of flowers fills the air, as does a plethora of pollens. Once the grass starts blooming, hay fever season will be upon us. But there is hope for allergy sufferers, ways to reduce or alleviate discomfort during this glorious time of year.
Allergies are your body’s way of saying, “We need to talk. I am working my butt off and could use a bit of help here.” Holistic medicine offers gentle approach that alleviates symptoms by addressing the root cause of the problem.
Allergies can come and go. Common comments of my patients include, “I used to be allergic to____when I was younger, but I’ve outgrown it,” or “I never used to have allergies but now I do.” It’s not a matter of growing in or out of allergies but how strong the immune system is. What determines that is how efficiently the body rids itself of toxins and what internal challenges the body is dealing with.
When your body’s full of toxins it’s struggling to push out and one more thing comes along, a virus, dust, bacteria, animal dander, pollen, etcetera, your body says; “That’s it. Spring Cleaning. Everybody out! ” Nasal discharge, swollen and tearing eyes, itching, diarrhea, vomiting, fevers, and rashes are all ways of moving toxins out of the body quickly. While over-the-counter meds, or prescription medications, can stop symptoms, they don’t treat the underlying causes of the problem.
So what are some of the causes?
The body’s major detox network includes the Kidneys, Liver, Spleen, and Lymphatic System. If any one of these aren’t working efficiently, the others have to work overtime to divvy up the work load. If they aren’t able to keep up, the emergency backup system kicks in. The body goes into Spring Cleaning Mode.
The kidneys remove toxins from the blood. They condense water from the body to create urine, which isolates the toxins. The urine is stored in the bladder until flushed out via the urinary tract. When people aren’t drinking enough pure filtered water each day, it puts a strain on the kidneys making it more difficult to do their job of flushing out toxins.
The liver creates bile. It filters toxins from the blood and contains them in bile, which then travels to the gallbladder. The gallbladder condenses and stores the bile until it is needed. When we eat fats, bile is released from the gallbladder into the small intestines where they’re broken down. Bile also breaks down phlegm in the body. A drippy nose, a chronic cough, phlegm stuck in the throat, trouble swallowing, snoring, and sleep apnea can all be hints that the gallbladder would appreciate some help. People who have had their gallbladder removed usually benefit from taking a supplement that contains bile with each meal to help them digest fats and phlegm.
Calcium deposits can accumulate in the kidneys or the gallbladder creating stones. This can impair the function of these organs. There are Chinese herbal formulas that coat the outside of gallbladder or kidney stones with a slippery substance so they can’t get bigger. These formulas then break down the stones. Other supplements prevent the formation of additional stones. When there are stones in the gallbladder it can prevent the body from breaking down fats and phlegm.
A congested gallbladder can also impair the function of the pancreas, which shares a duct with the gallbladder. The pancreas secretes digestive enzymes into the small intestines to break down starches, sugars, protein, and fats. So, overproduction of phlegm in the body sets people up for allergies. Thus keeping the gallbladder happy is an important component to prevent over-reacting to seemingly innocent pollen floating through the air.
Hormones are the messengers that facilitate all bodily functions. Fats are the building blocks for hormones. If the gallbladder and liver aren’t delivering bile to break down fats hormone production suffers, which in turn compromises the immune system.
The Thyroid supports all organs and related systems. The blood runs through the thyroid every 17 hours, suggesting that it’s also a part of the detox system.
The spleen filters the blood.
The lymphatic system is like an internal car wash washing toxins out to the body.
If any of these organs or systems; the kidneys, liver, spleen, lymphatic system, or thyroid aren’t working up to par it can lead to an allergic reaction.
The digestive system is another crucial piece of the puzzle when it comes to allergies. The digestive system is the body’s first line of defense and is intimately connected to the immune system. Anything we eat that is difficult to digest places a strain on the immune system.
When we breath in external pathogens, such as pollen molecules, they become coated in mucous. The mucous flows down your throat, mixing with saliva. The digestive enzymes in the saliva begin to break down pathogens. The bulk of the mucous travels to the stomach where more digestive enzymes and stomach acid, continue to break down the invaders (pollen, mold spores, viruses, bacteria, parasites…).
If there are not enough digestive enzymes, or if the stomach acid isn’t strong enough to dissolve the pathogens, they continue unimpeded to small intestines.
Antacids can intensify allergies by removing one important step of digestion, thereby stressing the digestive and immune systems.
The small intestines are where nutrients are extracted from food. The waste is separated to be flushed into the large intestines, where the water is removed. The waste/toxins are then flush out of the body.
Microvilli line the small intestines. They are like little fingers that hold whole food particles until they are completely broken down and just the nutrients absorbed through the intestinal wall. Nutrients then travel to the blood to be distributed to all parts of the body. The microvilli are also supposed to prevent waste and pathogens from gaining entry to the blood through the intestinal wall. Microvilli are the fastest regenerating cells in the body, regenerating every 20 minutes. But they need enough positive bacteria to do so. Without this fertilizer constantly regenerating these little fingers, holes will occur in the walls of the small intestines. The name for this is Leaky Gut Syndrome. If pollen, dust, or other external pathogens permeate the intestinal wall through these holes, a histamine (inflammatory) reaction occurs. The purpose of inflammation is to slow down pathogens until the white blood cells have time to rush to the sight and neutralize them. The goal is to prevent intruders from being swept through the whole body by the blood stream, causing a systemic reaction, which is when people get really sick. Leaky Gut Syndrome isn’t only a major contributing factor for external allergies but is what initiates food allergies. When food molecules pass through holes in the intestinal wall before the waste is extracted it causes a reaction. Your body sometimes remembers this assault and can have an immediate reaction when chewing that particular food. Food allergies place an increased strain on the digestive and immune system and reduce resistance to inhaled allergens.
Food choices also play a major role in allergies. Foods that are difficult to digest impair the digestive and immune systems. Dairy creates a huge amount of mucous and phlegm. Sugar or sweeteners of any sort other than pure stevia, can weaken the immune system for 4-6 hours. Even too much fruit can be a problem. Wheat and corn are hybrids, different from 100 years ago, and are very difficult to digest. Animal protein, including meat, poultry, eggs and dairy, that are not free range or organic contain artificial female hormones and up to 52 antibiotics, which damage the digestive and immune system. Vegetables that aren’t organic are sprayed with oil based pesticides and herbicides. GMO vegetables, and some fruits, are created to be ‘Roundup Ready.’ They’re harvested by being sprayed with a lethal herbicide which kills leaves and stems so the produce can be easily scooped up. Produce is then washed with cold water, which does nothing to remove oil based pesticides. Any of these foods eaten on a regular basis, as opposed to a few special occasions, can cause problems, including allergies. During the time a person is subjected to seasonal allergies it would be wise to avoid these foods.
Foods to avoid, which adversely affect the immune system, include those containing artificial sweeteners, preservatives, hydrogenated oils, chemicals, and rancid or impure fish oils. Open fish oils and check for rancid odor. After opening refrigerate.
There are foods you can eat that help build the immune system and help prevent or minimize allergies. Eating a wide range (6-10) of many colors and textures of organic vegetables, three times a day, helps the body detoxify three times a day. Slightly steamed or sautéed, so they are still crispy and colorful, makes them more easily digestible.
Raw food is more appropriate when it is hot outside. Too much raw food may stress the digestive system and make allergies worse.
Fermented vegetables, such as sauerkraut, pickles, and kimchi, made without sugar or vinegar, contain active cultures, which feed the positive bacteria in the small intestines. This helps regenerate the microvilli to prevent Candida (as mentioned in last month’s article) and Leaky Gut Syndrome. Look for cultured vegetables in the refrigerated and deli sections of Ashland Food Co-Op. They’re also available at Market of Choice and Shop N’ Kart.
And of course organic or free range bone broth is great for building up the immune system. Half a cup, warmed up, first thing in the morning is a great way to start the day.
Chronic viral, bacterial, fungal, or parasitic infections can weaken the body and make it more susceptible to allergies as well. Exposure to chemicals in cleaning products, toiletries, laundry soap, fabric softeners, dish soaps, etc. are a constant assault to our bodies. We are exposed to more chemicals than the human body has ever encountered before. Making chemical free, and scent free choices, helps the environment and ourselves.
Listen to your body. Give it the help it needs and enjoy a glorious spring.
Health and Happiness,
Nancy Burton, L.Ac.
Nancy Burton, L.Ac.
534 Washington St.
Ashland, OR 97520
Check out her website here