Less Stress, Less Seasonal Allergies?

I’ve struggled with seasonal allergies for years. The sneezing, sniffling, itchy throat and watery eyes can go from annoying to debilitating. Here’s another article I recently wrote for our clinic patients. This spring, let’s enjoy the outdoors!

Spring! The mild temperatures, the daffodils in bloom, downtown full of SunRun-ners, our neighborhood streets densely lined with cherry blossoms, the opening of farmers markets and (the theoretical possibility of) less rain in the near future. We are drawn outdoors by the inviting weather and community events only to be faced with that dreaded sneezing and sniffling.

jocelyn6More than one in six Canadians suffer from seasonal allergies or hayfever. The sneezing, congestion, runny nose, itchy eyes and stuffy ears can occur anytime (or for the whole duration) between March and November.  And for many of us, our immune systems’ overactive response to allergens such as pollen and spores can really disrupt our daily lives. Antihistamines can help relieve some symptoms but can cause mouth dryness, dizziness, drowsiness, restlessness and other undesirable effects.

For thousands of years Traditional Chinese Medicine has identified the close connection between our respiratory (breathing) system and our digestion. We now know that our digestive tract is home to 80% of our immune cells – it’s no wonder our digestive health affects our allergies!

Strengthening our digestive system to better extract nourishment from food is at the basis of Chinese medicine recommendations for strengthening the lungs and preventing allergies. First, avoid excess cold and raw foods as this dampens the digestive ‘fire’ needed for proper breakdown of food. Next, avoid excess dairy, fats and sweet/sugary foods as much as possible and avoid all known food allergies. Instead, choose mild flavours, clear broths and lots of gently cooked vegetables. We have also found Chinese herbal formulae aimed at supporting digestion and modulating immune responses to be particularly helpful in many patients.

In addition to processing food, in Chinese medicine ‘digestion’ also refers to the processing of information and emotions. Too much mental work such as prolonged periods of studying or brooding on problems can also weaken our digestive system, in turn, making us more prone to seasonal allergies. This connection may explain why we search for food when we are actually in need of emotional comfort. Identifying and acknowledging our needs, whether it means joining a support group or being kinder to ourselves, contributes to reduced stress, improved digestion and less allergy symptoms.

This year, incorporate small changes now to prevent sneezing and sniffling in the coming months!

Photo courtesy of A. Graber


Don’t blame the mosquitoes

A quote from my classmate’s presentation today:

Regarding the role of organisms (such as bacteria) in disease,

“Mosquitoes go to stagnant water. They don’t stagnate the water.”

This is a good reminder that viruses and bacteria are always in and around us. Instead of focusing on eradicating the ‘bugs’, let’s focus on improving the flow and balance of our bodies so we create an environment less appealing to ‘the mosquitoes.’

Thanks for the great presentation, Faith!

What’s triggering my migraines?

99% of women and 94% of men experience headaches in their lifetime. Most of these headaches are due to muscle contraction and migraines. Today I’d like to discuss migraines.

What are they? Migraines tend to be in the front and sides of the head. They’re more common in women and in adolescents and young adults. It can be a dull ache but they tend to have a throbbing nature and often the scalp feels sensitive. Some people also have sensitivity to light. Migraines ‘with aura’ refers to migraines with visual changes, like scintillating lights, dizziness or muscle weakness. Migraines can last a few hours to over 24 hours and occur at irregular intervals (can be weeks or months between each) and can be accompanied by nausea and vomiting. Interestingly they decrease as we approach middle age and during pregnancy.

It’s thought that a wave of electrical activity passes through the brain making nerve fibers more sensitive to pain and dilating blood vessels. This is probably the reason we feel the throbbing and fullness in our head especially when we change body position.

What can be done about them? Studies have shown that eliminating allergenic foods greatly reduce  triggering of migraines in most patients. Cow’s milk, wheat, eggs, oranges and benzoic acid are the most common foods allergies. Foods that cause blood vessel dilation may also trigger migraines. These foods include chocolate, cheese, beer and wine.  Monitor symptoms while avoiding 1 or 2 of these foods at a time. Your ND can also suggest specific nutrients and herbs that can prevent and decrease the intensity of migraines.


Identifying and avoiding food allergies is definitely one of the most important steps to preventing migraines… but if you already have a migraine? Try essential oil (such as peppermint and lavender) products made for application to temples or using essential oils in a diffuser. Acupuncture can also be extremely effective in reducing the sensation of heaviness in your head and mitigating nausea.

Remember: head pain that follows head or neck trauma, starts suddenly or is unusually severe needs to be assessed by your physician.