The more I study Functional Medicine and peer into the scientific intricacies of the body , the more I love Chinese Medicine. I love it because it instinctually makes sense, it works and it can’t be beat when our desire is to treat the body as a whole system instead of a sum of it’s parts (to be fair, Ayurveda is tied at first place). When it comes to allergies, one key component to treatment from a Chinese medicine perspective is prevention. Allergies are seen as a result of an underlying “Kidney Deficiency”, and when when they flare up sypmptomatically this Kidney deficiency is complicated by what we call “Wind Heat” or “Wind Cold” and a stagnant “Liver”. I'm adding all of these quotes around the names of the organs, because I'm trying to reenact that Chris Farley Saturday Night Live skit from the '90's. Just kidding, because we've translated Chinese medicine into English and what I'm talking about is not exactly what your western doc is talking about when he says kidney or liver. Our Kidneys might be weak from birth. Some people are constitutionally Kidney deficient and allergies start for them when they are young children. For others, when allergies start later in life, it’s usually a result of a depletion of some kind (working too many long, stressful hours, too many late nights, drug and alcohol use, or a poor diet for many years). In both cases, the Kidneys are not strong enough to provide the body with what it needs for optimal immune function.
Our kidneys can be likened to a savings account. Ideally we will be making regular deposits and increasing our savings. In our bodies, we’re saving what the Chinese call Jing, or Essence. There are a few ways to increase our savings account: eating food that is nutritious, getting adequate sleep at night and doing activities like Tai Qi or Qi Gong and some forms of Yoga (even a conscious walk in nature where you’re taking in the beauty of the sunshine and earth will help). And of course there are many ways to deplete our savings account, as mentioned above. The time of the year that the Kidneys are dominant is in the winter, so we want to be preserving this Essence during the winter months to help guide us smoothly into spring and summer. If we’re staying up late in the winter and not adequately resting, there’s a good chance our allergies will be worse in the spring and summer. In Chinese medicine we think in terms of cycles and circles, one thing flows into the next and everything is related. If you start to consider these ideas, you can begin to understand how to nurture your health in a way that promotes longevity.
Since spring is upon us, and for some of you the allergies have already started to mess with your well being, here are some ideas for immediate action:
Before I get into immediate action, we now know that the most optimal approach to treating allergies is to prevent them, and there is no better tool for this than acupuncture. I suggest beginning with weekly acupuncture treatments at least 3-4 months prior to the time they are at their worst. Acupuncture also works really well at treating allergies when they are in their full expression of sneezing, runny nose, watery eyes and fatigue, in which case you’d want to get treatments 1-2 times a week in addition to making any necessary dietary changes that could be worsening your symptoms.
2.) Strengthen your immune system by exercising, meditating and establishing a regular sleep pattern.
If you don’t have a regular exercise routine, try to commit to jogging for 10 minutes before you hop in the shower every morning. If you don’t have a meditation practice, start with this guided meditation I’ve created: Meditate! If you can’t sleep, try one of the following:
1-3 mg Melatonin before bed dissolved under the tongue.
Add a Valerian tincture to hot water and drink before bed.
Stretch before bed.
Try to not ever go to bed with a full stomach
Obtain a Chinese formula designed for your specific pattern and take it every night before bed.
3.) Drink fresh organic Parsley juice
This can help stop allergy attacks and ounce for ounce has 3x more vitamin C than oranges, which means it's great for your immune system. A safe therapeutic dose is 1/2 to 1 cup parsley juice per day. Parsley can be toxic in overdose, so don’t drink more than that and it should be avoided in pregnant woman.
3.) Increase your intake of yellow onions and shallots
These guys are high in the bioflavinoid called Quercetin, which inhibits the release of antiinflammatory chemicals (called arachidonic acid) and reduces histamine release.
4.) Use a Netti Pot every day
Rinsing the sinuses with a cold saline solution can help desensitize the the nose to temperature changes and common allergens.
5.) Minimize stress on your liver by reducing alcohol and sugar
If you must drink alcohol, try to avoid wine and beer. Wine contains histamines which add insult to injury, and most beer has gluten in it, which amplifies the inflammatory response and can make you feel worse. Stick with the hard stuff. (wink, wink)
One more thing to think about. Allergies are basically your body way of saying “no” to the environment. It would be worthwhile to ask yourself where in your life you’re rejecting your environment- the space through which you move. What are you consciously or unconsciously saying “no” to, which then results in a battle within? If you can shed light on these bigger aspects of your life, you can help to heal the pattern of disharmony. After all, our bodies are messengers and metaphors of the big soul-path picture.