Spring has finally sprung - the snow is gone, the sun is warm, and the plants are in bloom. Sounds like a fairy tale, but spring also brings sneezing, itchy eyes, congestion, cough, scratchy throat and fatigue. Does this sound like you? If so, then you suffer from seasonal allergies. Spring isn't the only season that is troublesome for people - fall also brings about symptoms in some people. Either way, if you suffer from allergies, this blog post is for you.
First lets talk about spring as a season. In spring the world comes alive, awakening from it's winter dormancy. Temperatures rise, plants and trees grow. Growth is the theme for the spring. In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), spring relates to the wood element. Think about the properties of wood for a moment and you might understand this philosophy. In a tree, wood grows strong, but only by bending flexibly with the changing winds. When the tree is ill or dies, the wood becomes hard and inflexible - unable to bend without breaking. We see similar characteristics in people; when they become inflexible to the changes they are faced with life becomes much harder to survive. Also relating to spring is the TCM organ Liver - we will talk more about that in a bit.
The immune system works super hard around fall during cold and flu season. So how you’ve treated you body and immune system in the fall greatly effects how your immune system will be in the spring. Eating poorly, being stressed out, overworking yourself, being sleep & exercise deprived will all contribute to a weaker immune system. But in reality things aren't this simple - seasons exist in a continuous cycle so if your are neglecting self care in the spring & summer you might experience a rough fall, and then an even rougher winter. Then as spring comes along again you feel better because there is more sunlight, but then you get busier, just in time to start all over in the summer… Okay, so your busy and self-care isn't a priority, what’s the big deal you ask? Well if you’re body is taxed, it physically has less fuel to work with, and therefore something has got to give. Your body, without consulting you first, will decide what areas are more important to put energy into, and which ones can be neglected. For some people, the weakest link is the immune system. Your body says, I just can’t handle it all, you don’t listen, then BAM! Now you’ve had a weakened immune system for a couple months so you are susceptible to catch every single cold and flu that you (or your kid, or your co workers) even come close to. But it’s not only the virus’ that blow your way that you are likely going to catch, it could be any of the many antigens you come in contact with on a daily basis. Antigen? Say what? Here’s where we consult the mighty Google,
“An antigen is any substance that causes your immune system to produce antibodies against it. An antigen may be a foreign substance from the environment, such as chemicals, bacteria, viruses, or pollen. An antigen may also be formed inside the body, as with bacterial toxins or tissue cells.”
And there you have it, anything is an antigen, depending on the person’s immune system. So some biggies that typically cause your body to produce antibodies are: foods like eggs, dairy, gluten, food additives, GMO’s, nightshades, citrus, nuts, sugar; and stuff in the air like pollutants (cars, fires, smog), pollen, dust, animal dander, chemicals in building materials (what’s in your carpet?). So if you breath air, or eat food…..you are most likely going to be exposed to one or some of these antigens. A person with a strong and healthy immune system might not notice symptoms when they come in contact with these things. And yet a person with a weaker immune system can be sensitive or down right allergic to one or all of these antigens. The take home message is, build up your immune system and you build up your tolerance to antigens.
Okay, spring is here now, what do I do? Make an appointment; Acupuncture focuses on treating the root of the problem and also helps with your symptom management along the way. Acupuncture is known to clear the foggy head feeling, open up sinuses, decrease phlegm production, soothe a scratchy throat, and cool & clear the eyes. All of these symptoms are signs of inflammation caused by the antigens. So the root problems being a weak immune system and inflammation, are all treated with acupuncture. Acupuncture helps by getting rid of the antigens and stimulating the healing process.
While receiving acupuncture you’ll also want to clean! Yup, spring cleaning, of your house and car, body and lifestyle. Clean your house to remove as many antigens from your environment as possible. Do a body cleanse, there are many you can buy over the counter, but we recommend you talk to someone who has experience (Chiropractors, Naturopath, Acupuncturist). There are many different types of cleanses out there. Some are specific for specific areas in the body, for example you can get one to clean your digestive tract, or your liver, or heavy metals, you get the point. A cleanse can be done just by using a specific diet over a set period of time, usually a month or so. If you use a product (most of them speed up the cleansing process that happens naturally in your body) it can range from a few days to a couple weeks. Generally the longer the cleanse duration, the deeper it goes. Spring is the best time to do a cleanse, because it’s Liver season remember. Doing a liver cleanse/detox helps your body stay flexible, and to keep things flowing. The secret to a good cleanse is to not continue in old bad habits after you’ve done the cleanse. If you go eat a greasy pizza and a beer right after you’ve done a cleanse, for one you’re reversing all that hard work, and two you could have an unpleasant reaction to the pizza and beer.
To support your body after a cleanse, eat an anti-inflammatory diet (See Dr Weils Anti-inflammatory diet), get plenty of rest, drink lots and lots of water, exercise, lower stress levels, and strengthen your immune system. Take herbs and supplements recommended for strengthening the immune system. Eat local honey, drink green drinks & bone broth; avoid caffeine, alcohol and sugar. See a practitioner who either specializes in immunity or someone who knows how to strengthen the immune system (ehm…Boise Acupuncture Co-op, we do that stuff). All these small actions and decisions are going to add up to mend the root of your allergy problem (if it’s a really big allergy problem you might also need additional therapies).