IRRITATED BY ALLERGIES?
Spring. At this time of year it seems like the world is divided into two groups of people. Those that don’t suffer from allergies. And those that do.
Now, if you are in the first group, then you have probably clocked the word allergies, and decided to skim past this article. But stay with me here, or at the very least, skip through to just before the last paragraph, because there I’ve got something just for you.
For those of you who DO experience the effects of allergies – sneezing, sniffling, watering eyes, itchy throat, coughs, headaches and feeling just damn irritated by it all, then here are some strategies to help you overcome your symptoms, and maybe even deal with the cause.
SO WHAT CAUSES ALLERGIES?
Allergies happen when your immune system has an abnormal reaction to a normally harmless substance (the allergen). The allergen will bind to antibodies, which then causes mast cells to release histamine, which in turn, causes inflammation. Where the histamine is released in the body will determine the symptoms experienced – a runny nose; itchy, watery eyes; shortness of breath and dry skin may all be signs of mast cells reacting in those parts of the body.
Typical allergens can include pollens, animal dander, dust mites and mould. You may be allergic to one or many things, and it is worthwhile getting tested to determine exactly what it is that your immune system over-reacts to.
GET YOUR PLUMBING HUMMING
A great part of our immune system resides in the gut, so it is important to take care of the digestive system. Probiotics can help to balance out intestinal flora, and adopting a clean-style of eating really makes a difference. When choosing probiotics, it is best to get advice as to which strain will work best for you. Probiotics with the LGG strain are often indicated for those with allergy-type symptoms.
An intolerance to certain types of food can make the symptoms of airborne allergies worse, so it may be worthwhile investigating this through food intolerance testing or trying to eliminate any foods you suspect may make allergies worse. Common foods which can cause problems are milk, eggs, wheat, peanuts, tree nuts, fish, soy and wheat.
And avoid sugar. It is very inflammatory and a high sugar intake has been shown to depress the immune system.
Eat up foods which contain high levels of vitamin C as it is a natural anti-histamine. Good sources include blackcurrant, broccoli, Brussel sprouts, citrus fruit, guava, parsley, pawpaw capsicum, pineapple, potatoes, raw cabbage, strawberries, sweet potatoes and tomatoes.
Speaking of pineapple, the nutrient bromelain, found in the sweet fruit, is a great remedy for sinusitis and hay fever as it thins out mucus. Nice.
Anti-oxidants in general is helpful, so eating a wide variety of fruits and vegetables is the way to go. Also includes lots of garlic in the diet – it is great for the respiratory system in general.
Look after your liver. Spring is a great time to consider a detox and eliminate (or at least try and reduce) habits which add an additional burden on the liver such as coffee, alcohol, junk and processed foods.
Replace your morning tea or coffee with a daily fresh juice of parsley, pineapple, lemon, cucumber, carrot and ginger.
Don’t forget to consider herbal remedies too.
Albizia works to stabilise those pesky mast cells to treat a runny nose, itching and asthma, and as an added bonus, also has a positive effect on mood and memory.
Another important herb used to manage allergies is the prettily named Perilla, from Eastern Asia, which is anti-inflammatory and anti-allergic, and is used for hay-fever, itchy eyes and skin, and sinusitis.
Other herbs that help deal with allergies include Elder Flower, Eyebright, Golden Seal, Horseradish and Nettle Leaf. There are also herbs which can modulate the immune system such as Echinecea, Korean Ginseng, Shiitake and Withania.
Make no mistake – herbs have a powerful action and can interact with other medications, so seek professional advice before using. Your best bet is to ask your naturopath or herbalist to make up you up a custom herbal blend for you, or recommend a suitable tablet formulation. There are some very effective practitioner-only supplements.
Something also to try is peppermint and lavender oil in a diffuser – this can help to clear the nose (and the mind). Great to have handy on your work desk.
SOME COMMON SENSE LIFESTYLE ADVICE
Obviously, you will want to avoid as much as possible the airborne allergens. Avoid grassy areas in springtime. Use pillow case and mattress protectors to keep dust mites under control. Some people find that using synthetic materials instead of animal product materials in the home helps, or even going to the measure of eliminating carpets and curtains. An air purifier or dust filter can also be effective.
Ensure you get plenty of sleep and drink lots of water – it is surprising how these simple measures can make a difference to allergy symptoms.
And don’t forget to address the mental irritation that allergies cause. Where possible, work to adopt a positive frame of mind and look at meditation and yoga to help calm the mind. Take your mind off your allergies by keeping a gratitude journal, and perhaps also have a “happy list” of about 15 things that you make feel happy, and commit to doing one straight away.
HELPING ALLERGY SUFFERERS
Even if you don't suffer from hay fever, I bet that someone close to you does. Be the best friend in the world, and organise an allergy-free date for someone you know who suffers allergies.
Perhaps an indoor picnic followed by a movie, and bring a gift basket filled with some home-baked low sugar treats, fresh citrus juice, and don’t forget a box of tissues! You’ll feel great knowing you have helped someone take their mind off their allergy symptoms.
One of the questions I often get asked in clinic is "How can I persuade my partner/family/kids/friends/co-workers to follow a healthier lifestyle?".
Sometimes the path to eating better and taking care of yourself can be very lonely, so it's a good question. Whether you have just discovered how much better you feel on a wholesome, nutritious diet; or if you have always taken care of yourself, it is natural to want others around you to enjoy the same benefits. And of course it is easier to keep on track yourself if those around you are not scoffing junk food or indulging in bad habits.
The first thing we often want to do to encourage someone to break a bad habit, or eat better, or remove negative thought patterns, is to TELL them what to do.
I don't know about you, but when someone tells me what to do, part of me (OK a big part) wants to rebel. Perhaps get passive aggressive, or stubbornly dig my heels in and refuse to take the advice, no matter how well-meaning it is. On top of that, someone pointing out your faults or telling you what to do makes you feel bad about yourself.
On some level, whether consciously or sub-consciously, we already know if we are doing something that does not serve us well, and having it pointed out to us makes us feel so much worse.
On top of that, continuing to nag will just dilute your message, until it is not heard at all.
So what do you do?
Well, to paraphrase Gandhi - "Be the change you want to see in others".
Be an inspiration to those around you by taking care of yourself. Be passionate about what you are doing, and let the enthusiasm spread to others. Lead by example and SHOW the benefits of being positive, embracing wellness and natural healing. Let them see how this leads to a happier state of mind and better health.
Be patient, be kind, be positive.
And be accepting if they won't change at all. It is a personal choice, and while you know that someone would feel so much better, more alive and happier if they took care of themselves, it is ultimately their journey.
"Think twice before you speak, because your words and influence will plant the seed of either success or failure in the mind of another." Napoleon Hill
Naturopath, Nutritionist and Herbalist