Holistic Health: Seasonal Allergies
by Pax Rasmussen
Alternative modalities are nothing to sneeze at. Here’s a natural guide to dealing with hay fever.
Pharmaceutical hay fever drugs work, but to work properly, they must be taken every day, all season long. A couple years ago I researched alternatives to these drugs. In speaking with various alternative medicine practitioners across the valley, from herbalists to colon hydrotherapists, I discovered the most notable difference between them and my doctor was one of approach. My doctor’s response to my suffering was simple: Take a drug and stop the symptoms. Without fail, the reaction of the naturopaths and healers I spoke to was, “What’s causing the allergic reaction?”
For many Utahns, the first sign of spring is not hyacinths flooding the air with their sweet smell, but sneezes, sinus infections and itchy eyes. Yes, hay fever season is at hand.
Contrary to the flowery ads for allergy medication, hay fever is not caused by colorful garden bouquets; rather, it’s the less flamboyant but more insidious pollen from trees, weeds and grasses. The grains lodge in eyes, nose, lungs and skin, setting off an allergic reaction in many people. In Utah, tree pollen starts floating about this month and continues through June, when grasses begin blooming.
Years ago, my allergies were bad. I sounded like a robot, a stuffy nose kept me awake all night and swollen eyes sometimes prevented me from driving. My solution? Western medical science, of course! I sat in the doctor’s office, for once wishing I could smell the sterile, rubbing alcohol-scented exam room. The doctor took one look at me and wrote a prescription for Allegra. I popped those mental haze-inducing pills for years.
A difference in approach
Pharmaceutical hay fever drugs work, but to work properly, they must be taken every day, all season long. A couple years ago I researched alternatives to these drugs.
In speaking with various alternative medicine practitioners across the valley, from herbalists to colon hydrotherapists, I discovered the most notable difference between them and my doctor was one of approach. My doctor’s response to my suffering was simple: Take a drug and stop the symptoms. Without fail, the reaction of the naturopaths and healers I spoke to was, “What’s causing the allergic reaction?”
Addressing the cause
According to Todd Mangum, M.D., of Web of Life Wellness Center, seasonal allergies are caused by the body viewing pollen, mold and other organic substances in the air as a threat; in response, the immune system antibodies release histamines in far greater quantities than are necessary, causing the swelling, sneezing and breathing disorders. Taking a drug that suppresses this immune response does nothing for the underlying cause. “Often patients complain about allergies and after a few tests, we find they have an overgrowth of Candida [a fungus],” he said. “Candida releases substances that cause an antibody response, tricking the immune system into thinking pollen is more of a threat than it is, leaving itself [the Candida] unbothered.” Treating the Candida infection often results in reduced seasonal allergies, he claimed.
For others, he recommended taking small amounts of local bee pollen every day (which contains pollen from just about every blooming thing around town), increasing the dose throughout the allergy season. He also suggested perilla seed extract—”it has the ability to tone down the antibody wing of the immune system”—a natural way of reducing the histamine reaction. I’ve found pollen extract formulas work quite well—the idea is to take a small dose of the allergen orally to desensitize your system. Commercial herbal blends help, notably a turmeric-catechu formula (containing other herb extracts as well), produced by Gaia Herbs (www.gaiaherbs.com) and a nettle/bayberry extract. Similar mixtures can be found at Dave’s Health and Nutrition and Whole Foods.
Improve your baseline health
All of the healers I spoke to stressed the importance of making sure the body is healthy and functioning properly in order to combat seasonal allergies. “Patients come to me with bowel problems and often I find they have sinus and allergy trouble as well,” said Karen Schiff, colon hydrotherapist. “The bowel is the body’s primary channel for eliminating toxins, and if that’s not working well, they build up.” Then the body is not only less able to deal with the stress of seasonal pollens and molds, but often incorrectly gauges the proper response to take. According to Schiff, the bowel plays a big part in the production of T-cells and other functions of the immune system, and when it’s not working well, the whole system ceases to work properly.
Schiff, like many other alternative healers, recommends more than one path of action. She recommended exercise and improving one’s diet as well as cleaning the bowel. For people with serious allergies and poor diet, she recommended a one-month gentle cleanse beginning with a 24-hour fast, improving the diet, getting more exercise and six colonics over the course of the month, though she tailors each person’s program individually.
On the subtler side
Massage therapist Catherine Patillo suggested CranioSacral Therapy (CST). CST involves manipulating the flow of spinal fluid using extremely gentle touch along the back of the neck and spine. According to Patillo, this fluid is supposed to flow easily and rhythmically through the skull and spinal column. When this flow is blocked or inhibited, the body’s natural processes are impeded, causing immune system malfunctions, migraines, emotional problems, and more. “CST facilitates the body’s ability to correct itself,” Patillo told me. Because the primary goal of CST is holistic, it can help alleviate allergy symptoms as well. “Helping the fluid flow aids the body’s immune system and can even allow sinuses to drain properly and release built up toxins. Open up these blockages and the body can take care of itself,” she said.
Clean your house
Taking steps to ensure that your living space is conducive to overall well-being can’t hurt. I was surprised to find myself thoroughly cleaning my house, dusting on top of shelves, even rearranging furniture, after speaking with Mary Shurtleff, an interior design and feng shui consultant. Shurtleff told me allergies are exacerbated by a body already overloaded with stressors, many of which can be eliminated through an examination of the home environment. “A home that’s free of clutter and dust helps to balance the body,” she said. When the home is properly balanced, the immune system is less taxed and is able to respond better when assaulted by pollens and other allergens. “When the body becomes weakened and tired, it becomes a lot more susceptible, to everything.” I’m not sure if it’s helping my allergies or not, but it sure helps my mood not to trip over piles of clothing in the dark.
In the years since, I’ve incorporated much of this advice into my lifestyle, taking Schiff’s advice to examine my diet and get more exercise. My house smells like citrus instead of dirty socks. I’ve found the turmeric-catechu formula to work surprisingly well, and I’m eating local honey. Just these simple steps have made me feel a whole lot better. I’ve been Allegra-free now for years.
Todd Mangum, MD, integrative medicine. Web of Life Wellness Center, 989 E. 900 S. 801-531-8340. Initial consultation—$300. www.weboflifewc.com
Karen Schiff, PT. colon hydrotherapy/abdominal massage. Health Wave, 150 S 600 E #1A, 801-541-3064. $70/session. http://www.karenschiff.com
Catherine Patillo, LMT, CranioSacral Therapy/ hypnotherapy. Conscious Journey, 989 E. 900 S. 801-864-4545. $75/hr.
Mary Shurtleff, interior design & feng shui practitioner. Design Wisdom, 801-573-4042.Consultation—$120/hr. http://www.maryshurtleff.com
Allergena Zone 6 pollen extract formula (http://www.progena.com)
Pax Rasmussen is the managing editor at CATALYST, an Agent for Change and a lieutenant in the H.E.A.D. Revolution.