Spring has sprung!
Although up here in the Northeast, we still have snow on the ground in shady areas, before long, thoughts will turn to stocking up on Kleenex. But there’s a lot you can do to prevent and relieve seasonal allergies! Most people just consider them a part of life, but actually, you don’t have to live with them!
What Are Allergies, Really?
It’s good to understand a little bit about what seasonal allergies are and why we get them. Seasonal allergies are, at the most basic level, our immune system stressing out. Pollen in the air can make anyone sneeze for a moment, just the same as sawdust can, but it shouldn’t cause an all out assault on your nose, eyes, and sinuses. So how can we calm the body down?
When we think about the role stress plays in the body, we can think of it like a bucket: everyone has a bucket in which they carry around their stress. This is all stress – the stress from your job and the stress from your in-laws, as well as environmental toxins, undiagnosed food allergies, whatever germs happen to be floating around, and pollen. When your bucket is only half full, for example, you might stand right in front of someone who sneezes all over you, and not get sick, because your body still has the capacity to carry more stress. But when your bucket is full, things that should be reasonably normal – like pollen – suddenly become big problems.
The second factor in allergies is the tag-team of your liver and kidneys. You need your liver not only to break down stuff (both trash but also things you’re done with, like used up hormones), but also to produce stuff. The liver produces lots of things, but in this article, what we care about is histaminase – the antidote to histamine! Histamine is good, we need it to live, but we don’t need the massive quantities that we make when we have allergic reactions to pollen. If your liver isn’t in good working order, you won’t be able to neutralize all that histamine! If your kidneys aren’t working well, you won’t be able to take out the trash. And if you can’t take out the trash, it’s hard to get rid of stress in the body.
So how can we empty our stress buckets, and beef up our liver and kidneys? Here’s a list of great solutions – pick at least three things from this list and start them right now. I guarantee this allergy season will be better than the last! Better yet, if you can start to incorporate all these suggestions, and start to stick with them, you’ll kiss your Kleenex good bye – forever!
Ways to Dump Your Bucket
Undiagnosed food allergies play a big role in the way our bodies respond to other potential allergens. Consider removing some of the most common allergens from your diet for a trial period, such as two weeks or one month. The most common undiagnosed food allergens are wheat, dairy, soy, corn, eggs, and gluten (wheat, oats, barley, rye). Especially if you have congestion or asthma, consider removing dairy. Especially if you have bloating and/or intestinal distress, consider removing soy and gluten. If you tend towards constipation, remove dairy and wheat. Or go for a good thorough test and remove them all – it’s not as hard as you think! You can still eat meats, healthy fats, vegetables, and fruits. The things on this list of allergens commonly accompany sugar anyway, and sugar is next on the list!
Sugar wreaks havoc on your immune system. Not only that, but sugar drastically raises blood insulin levels, and prolonged exposure to high insulin levels – even if you’re not diabetic – can lead to many chronic diseases, as well as cancer. With specific regard to allergies, the body cleans up insulin with cortisol – which is another of our anti-inflammatory, anti-histamine hormones. If your cortisol is all tied up cleaning up high insulin levels, you won’t have any left to clean up your histamine. Consider cutting out sugar starting a couple weeks before your allergy season gets started, and throughout the season. If you need to add sugar back in, wait till after the pollen parade is done, but you may find that you are content to cut it out for good: your waistline and your long-term health will thank you!
Give up the caffeine. Caffeine puts a lot of stress on the body, and interferes with insulin, cortisol, and adrenaline. Not only that, but we usually drink caffeine because we didn’t get enough sleep. During allergy season, give your body the real thing: sleep! Humans need at least 8 hours of sleep every night, so let allergy season be your chance to recharge your batteries. A well-rested body will respond to stress much more easily!
Eat whole foods. Processed foods contain all sorts of additives, from artificial colorings to preservatives to, of course, unhealthy fats and often a whole lot of sugar. Each of these adds more stress to the body. If you can get rid of Oreos and pretzels forever, that would be ideal, but if you can’t, at least cut them out during allergy season. The fewer things you put into your bucket, the more room your body will have to take care of the things you can’t control!
Not only that, but whole foods – meats, healthy fats, vegetables and fruits – will all build up your body’s strength. You’ll be keeping stress out of the bucket while at the same time upgrading your body’s ability to deal with stress!
Build up your liver. This can be as simple as taking a good quality milk thistle capsule. Milk thistle is one of the few herbs that is just as effective to take in capsule form, as long as it’s good quality. Milk thistle has the ability to actually regenerate liver tissue, as well as providing nutrients to all your liver cells.
You can also add burdock and dandelion roots into your daily routine. If your yard is clean, you can dig dandelion roots right out of your lawn! Pretend they’re carrots and slice them into the stir-fry. You can also order burdock and dandelion roots from herb companies like Mountain Rose Herbs. A strong brew of these two roots has a flavor like coffee, but instead of stressing your system, it repairs and rebuilds! Try to have some daily.
Build up your kidneys. The easiest way to do this is with a tea I call “Nettle and Friends”. Nettle is one of the best herbal anti-histamines around, so not only are you nourishing your kidneys, but you’re also having direct anti-allergy impact! The tea is made from equal parts nettle leaf, dandelion leaf, and red clover blossoms. You can add just a bit of licorice root to the blend to add a hint of sweetness, but more importantly because licorice nourishes the adrenal glands, which sit right on top of the kidneys. Two for one!
The best way to make this tea is to do it right before bedtime: put several spoonfuls into a quart-sized mason jar (I like to put about an inch of herb in the bottom of the jar), and pour the boiling water to fill the jar. Let it sit overnight, and in the morning, strain it and drink the whole quart throughout the day.
This tea has some other great benefits as well – it’s super high in minerals and vitamins, and it also has some very beneficial and nourishing effects on the reproductive system.
But wait, your allergies already started?
No problem! Go ahead and pick three things from the list above anyway – in fact, pick a couple extra to compensate for the late start. Then, try some of the following herbs for managing the symptoms:
Hayfever, itchy eyes, sneezing – Nettle, either as Nettle and Friends tea, or freeze-dried capsules, at least 300mg daily.
Itchy, watery eyes – Eyebright. HerbPharm makes a great quality tincture, as do many other herbal producers.
Dry mucous membranes, wheezing – Mullein. If you drink this as a tea, make sure to strain it very well, to get all the little fibers out. You can also take mullein as a tincture.
Wheezing, asthma, congestion – Yerba Santa. If you drink this as a tea, make sure to let it steep for at least 30 minutes, so that the resins will release into your tea. You can also take it as a tincture.
Congestion and blocked sinuses – Cayenne, Ginger, Horseradish, Hot Mustard, Wasabi – not only do they release congestion, but they also reduce the histamine reaction. You can put any of them in your food, put a bit of whichever one you like best on your tongue, or in the case of horseradish, just smell it! Have your handkerchief at the ready!
All of these herbs are safe for children, though of course most kids won’t appreciate the flavor of cayenne! For congested children, I recommend a bit of ginger, as it tends to be the most palatable for them. Alternately, you could let them just smell some horseradish – let them make all the funny faces they want, as long as they breathe deep!
Wow, Katja – that’s a lot to take in! I don’t know where to start!
Start with Nettle. Everyone can benefit from nettle, and it’s safe for all ages. It has a somewhat green, but not unpleasant flavor, and blended with dandelion and red clover, with a bit of licorice root, the tea is usually tolerated well by children.
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