Allergies and Chinese Medicine:
It is spring time, an exciting time for growth and transformation! The flowers are out, the weather is getting warmer, and we can finally go outside and enjoy the benefits of all the rain we have had in the winter. Then, there is the sneezing. The itchy eyes. The runny nose. The sinus headaches! With all this new growth in spring time, we also have a lot of pollen in the air, and with pollen comes allergies.
Traditional Chinese Medicine views spring time as a time for transformation and growth. Spring is associated with the liver organ, which takes on characteristics of planning, vision, growth, and pursuit of one’s goals and dreams. Yet, we often see lung symptoms manifesting in the springtime. So, what does the liver have to do with allergies, which seem more related to lung?
Allergies can be aggravated by the following factors – a congested liver, a congested lymphatic system, and an over-active immune system. When treating allergies, all these factors must be taken into consideration. In the autumn, where our lung dominates, our immune system is working hard to prevent illness, gathering what we need for winter and letting go of what we do not need. In the winter, our body’s energetic matrix tends to contract and rest – storing our energy in our liver as well as toxins accumulated from autumn and summer. In the spring time, where our liver dominates, our energetic matrix begins to expand and our immune system can be over-active. If we haven’t taken good care of our health in the autumn, then in the spring-time our immune systems are compromised again and allergies can result. Our immune system function needs to work properly to heal and to prevent it from over-responding to the new pollens and dusts that are present in the air in the spring months. This is one of the ways the lung and the liver share a relationship.
One of the ways that allergies can be treated is through acupuncture. Acupuncture treats allergies by improving the immune system function and response, reducing inflammation, encouraging lymphatic drainage and stimulating your body’s natural healing response so that your body’s tissues can heal properly. It can be helpful to stop cough due to post-nasal drip by dilating the bronchi and inhibiting activity in the brain that causes cough. The acupuncturist will ask you questions about your health history, symptoms, and lifestyle and then feel your pulse and look at your tongue. The acupuncturist will then make an assessment to determine the root cause of your allergies. After the acupuncture treatment, I may also suggest an herbal formula to take to treat allergies as well as make lifestyle and dietary recommendations.
What else can be done at home to treat allergies? First, the diet should be high in vegetables, leafy greens and protein. Sugar, trans fatty acids, dairy and alcohol can contribute to mucus formation, so it is important to avoid those as much as possible. The flavor of the liver and springtime is sour, so fermented foods such as sauerkraut, umeboshi plums and kimchi can be beneficial, or you can take a teaspoon of apple cider vinegar a day. These are also helpful for detoxification of the liver. But please only eat the sour flavor in small amounts, because too much of the sour flavor can cause the body to retain dampness and phlegm instead of expelling it which can compromise those with impaired lymphatic drainage. Drinking an herbal tea consisting of nettles, butterbur, chrysanthemum blossoms, and raw local honey can be beneficial to alleviate allergies.
Other ways of treating allergies are by encouraging lymphatic drainage are with dry skin brushing and sauna therapy. Purchase a dry skin brush and make circular motions on all four limbs, abdomen and back in the direction of the heart. Trampolines and inversion tables can also encourage lymphatic drainage. Lymphatic drainage massages can also be helpful. Please drink plenty of water before and after a massage or sauna.
As I mentioned, a properly functioning liver is essential to allergy prevention. If you want to do a liver cleanse, this is a good time of year to get started with that, but I recommend doing so with certain pre-cautions in mind first. We will discuss more on cleanses in more detail in another article. A properly functioning liver requires adequate sleep, mood regulation, a healthy diet, and adequate exercise. These are all areas that an acupuncturist can treat and make appropriate recommendations for.
As with any illness, we need to be mindful of our health year-round and discussing our health care providers what the best ways to maintain our health are during certain parts of the year. An acupuncturist is highly trained in this area and can help you reach your health care goals so you can enjoy the spring season instead of suffering through it.
Emily Edmonds is a licensed acupuncturist and herbalist for Tao to Wellness in Berkeley, CA. If you have any questions or would like to make an appointment to see Emily Edmonds, please call our office (510)883-0383 or make an appointment through our website. Emily is in the office Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday from 9 am – 2 pm and on Fridays from 8:30 am – 7pm.