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DandelionIt’s getting to be that time of year where a remarkable number of people here in the Willamette Valley start sneezing, dripping, and itching with seasonal allergies.  Fortunately, there are a number of natural steps you one can take to mitigate or even eliminate allergy symptoms without suffering the drowsiness and other side effects that often come with taking pharmaceuticals.

In Chinese Medicine, we distinguish between two main types of allergies: those where heat or cold predominates.  Wind, joining forces with either heat or cold, invades the body from the outside, causing an acute attack of those symptoms we all know and don’t love: sneezing, nasal congestion or runny nose, itchy eyes, tiredness, and even diffiuculty breathing.

Symptoms of wind-cold type of allergies include very drippy runny nose with clear mucus and fatigue, while the wind-heat type is characterized by itchy eyes, itchy throat and thick yellow or green mucus. Both conditions are made worse by the presence of phlegm.  Phlegm is which is basically accumulated turbid water that the body is trying to throw at what it perceives as a dangerous pathogen: the evil, invading pollen.

So what can you do besides hide indoors?

  1. Use a neti pot to rinse your sinuses to get the pollen out of your respiratory tract. Combine warm water and enough salt so that the water tastes like a teardrop, and rinse your nasal passages twice daily.  Flushing the allergens out of your body gives the body a break from having to perpetually react to them.  Plus, freeing the flow of qi in your sinuses makes it less likely for stuff to percolate there and become infected.
  2. Eat strategically: Making sure that you’re digesting well and therefore not creating more residual crud to hang out in your system as dampness or phlegm is very important.  Keep damp-producing foods like dairy products, refined sugar, bananas, alcohol, and refined flour products to a minimum (Though yogurt and kefir with active probiotic cultures can help the immune system, you may be better off with fermented foods like miso and kimchi — or taking probiotic supplements– which are less mucogenic than dairy.) The taste of bitter helps to transform phlegm, so including lots of leafy greens in your diet can be helpful.  If you have wind-heat type allergies, cooking with spices such as rosemary, oregano, turmeric, and mint can be helpful. For wind-cold type allergies, cook with onions and fresh ginger.
  3. Drink tea:  Both green and black tea are especially rich in quercetin, a component of plant-based foods that has anit-inflammatory properties. Other foods rich in quercetin include red onions, lovage, capers, red grapes, and green leafy vegetables.Tea made from nettles can be highly anti-inflammatory: steep the leaves for 10 minutes in hot water (and handle with care!) Chrysanthemum blossoms (steeped covered for at least 5 minutes) is especially good to relieve itchy eyes.
  4. Take Herbs: Herbs are simply stronger foods. Ready-made Chinese herb formulas like Pe Min Kan Wan, Bi Yan Pian, or Xanthium Pills are all aimed at treating the wind-heat or wind-cold to decrease symptoms of allergies, and many people find to be effective symptom relievers without the side-effects of pharmaceutical drugs. (available at Life in Balance Acupuncture.)
  5. Get acupuncture.  A study published in the Australian Journal of Medicine suggests that acupuncture provides safe, effective treatment for persistent seasonal allergies, even 12 weeks after the course of treatment. But you may already know that!

It’s starting to feel like spring here in the Willamette Valley. Plants are emerging from their winter dormancy, flowers are budding, the days are getting longer. This same seasonal cycle that we  observe in the outer world of nature is also happening inside our bodies. The enlivening and renewing of spring is associated with the Liver and Gallbladder system in Chinese Medicine. This system encompasses not only your physical liver and gall bladder that you know and love, but also with the tendons and connective tissue, the eyes, and the free flow of emotions, the creative drive or as the beginning phase of a new endeavor and the envisioning, planning, decision-making that go along with it, and the emotion of anger (short temper, impatience, frustration also). The upward and outward movement of qi in spring resonates with those same energetics within us.

How can you give your liver a break and move with the natural rhythms of spring?

  • Go outside and breathe some fresh air, exercising for 30 minutes. Healthy lung qi helps invigorate stuck Liver qi.
  • Do some qigong or yoga to allowing your qi to flow freely, and to maintain flexibility in the tendons and connective tissue, which is associated with the Liver.
  • Forgive someone. Holding onto anger and resentment constrains the Liver Qi. Let it go!
  • Eat Lightly.  Our Livers help us get rid of the heavy stagnation we might have accumulated during the winter (which might manifest as seasonal allergies as the sludge moves up to eyes and nose). Leaving behind the heavier foods of winter, especially heavy meats, dairy products, and wheat, can help you move into spring feeling lighter.
  • Consider cutting down on your liver’s workload by eliminating alcohol, refined sugar, and anything artificial like fake sugar, alcohol, pesticides and herbicides. Even if you don’t want to do this  forever, consider giving your liver a week or two off from known toxins — a spring vacation from toxins.
  • Eat green and pungent. Foods with a pungent taste like onions and garlic, peppermint, basil, dill, fennel, turmeric, rosemary, parsley resonate with the upward, outward direction of the season and can be helpful in eliminating venting the winter sluggishness. Young, tender shoots and green leaves, like asparagus, rabe, bean sprouts, and pretty much anything green and leafy kale, collard greens, watercress, romaine, dandelion, parsley are tremendously beneficial to detoxify that liver. If your digestion is weak, stick to cooked vegetables as opposed to raw, which require more energy to digest.
  • Drink hot water with lemon first thing in the morning. A little bit of the sour taste helps to gently help the liver slough off toxins. But too much sour will not be good for the liver, so think moderation.
  • Enjoy life!