When the winter season takes up nearly half of the year in Ottawa, most of us are more than ready to welcome spring by the time it finally rolls around. As the snow melts, the days get warmer and brighter, and beautiful, multi-coloured flowers take bloom, we experience a profound sense of renewal. Everything feels fresh and new and ripe with possibilities. We feel invigorated and ready to take on new challenges. At least, that is how many of us feel when we aren’t plagued by seasonal allergies, otherwise known as hay fever.
The Canadian Allergy, Asthma and Immunology Foundation estimates that between twenty and twenty-five percent of Canadians suffer from seasonal allergies. This means that, over the course of the year, more than seven million Canadians are laid low by the symptoms of seasonal allergies, which can include runny, watery, itchy eyes; sneezing and coughing attacks; dark circles under the eyes that don’t go away with sleep; a sore, irritated throat; fatigue; headache; and a host of other unpleasant symptoms.
The immune system is a complex and fascinating entity. With a wisdom forged over the millennia of human evolution, the immune system must differentiate between cells that are harmful and those that are healthful. Once it has differentiated between the healthy and unhealthy cells, the immune system goes to work seeking out the harmful cells, enveloping them, and breaking them down into harmless by-products.
Much like the skilled warrior that grows stronger after every opponent he or she faces, the immune system grows and strengthens after every pathogen it has battled, storing up a database of accumulated knowledge that will help it better defeat its opponent if ever faced with it again.
When the immune system is strong and well-functioning, it recognizes harmful irregularities, sending white blood cells where needed to protect the body against both infectious disease and/or foreign invaders, and the potential crisis is averted before we even realize that we were "under attack" or on the verge of getting sick.
Seasonal allergies occur when the immune system starts to overreact to perceived external threats. Most seasonal allergens, such as grass and pollen, are relatively innocuous substances that do not cause harm unless our immune systems are out of balance. After all, if these substances were truly noxious, all of us would be reacting to them. The optimist in me interprets this to mean that, with adequate systemic balancing, there is genuine hope for allergy sufferers.
So what can we do to support our bodies through seasonal allergies?
NATURAL ANTIHISTAMINES—When our bodies come into contact with an allergen—be it pollen, ragweed, or dust mites—it makes chemicals called histamines, which are largely responsible from the unpleasant symptoms that we associate with seasonal allergies. Antihistamines, as their name might suggest, reduce or block histamines, thereby reducing or alleviating allergy symptoms. While many seasonal allergy suffers are well versed on their pharmaceutical antihistamine options, did you know that there are natural antihistamines, such as quercetin, bromelain, and Vitamin C? Try adding onions, apples, and grapefruit to your diet for quercetin; pineapples for bromelain; and papaya, bell peppers, and broccoli for Vitamin C. Natural supplements are also available at health food stores.
REST—According to Janice Kiecolt-Glaser, PH.D., a researcher at Ohio State University College of Medicine, stress hormones may stimulate the production of IgE, blood proteins that cause allergic reactions. As such, it is important to take time to relax and self-nurture. It is also vital that we make sleep a priority, as Kiecolt-Glaser further states that a sleep deficit can worsen both allergy symptoms and stress.
ACUPUNCTURE—Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) practitioners have used acupuncture to address the symptoms of allergies for hundreds, if not thousands, of years. From a TCM perspective, the purpose of acupuncture is to balance body energy by increasing or decreasing the flow of qi, or vital energy, through judicious selection of appropriate acupuncture points. By balancing body energy, acupuncture can help minimize pain and discomfort, reduce stress, and help optimize healing. Controlled clinical trials have shown that acupuncture can relieve symptoms or seasonal allergies.
The best approach is often the multidisciplinary approach. If you suffer from seasonal allergies, you might consider consuming more natural antihistamines, reducing stress where possible, making sleep a priority, and/or trying acupuncture treatment. Consider your options and do whatever feels right for you.
Kristin Jillian Shropshire, MS, ROHP, R.Ac., is faculty member of The Institute of Holistic Nutrition and works at Glebe Health House as a Registered Acupuncturist and Registered Nutritionist.
The article can also be found on pg. 35 of the May 2017 edition of the Glebe Report.