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

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Are Food Sensitivities Behind Your Symptoms?

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The other day I had another reminder about the significant effect food has on our health. A patient who had been medicated for years for daily acid reflux and nasal congestion, tried an elimination diet for only 3 weeks. Essentially all her symptoms of reflux and sinus inflammation resolved! Inadvertently, even her rosacea improved! Her hsCRP blood test had for years been showing whole-body inflammation  (associated with high risk of developing diabetes and cardiovascular disease). But after 3 weeks of the protocol, she went from a high risk level to a very low risk level!

So what’s an elimination diet?

The elimination diet is a protocol used to identify foods in our diet that may be causing or aggravating headaches, sinus inflammation, abdominal pain, gas and bloating, fatigue, mood changes, skin rashes and hives, eczema, acid reflux, constipation or diarrhea, joint pain, brain fog, wheezing, palpitations and many other symptoms.

Sometimes the adverse reactions to foods are obvious to us (such as when it changes our breathing or causes a skin rash). However, food reactions can occur up to 3 days after eating the food triggers so often symptoms are hard to track and difficult to correlate to foods. Generally the protocol involves eliminating common food allergens for a short period of time and watching to see if any symptoms improve. This is followed by systematically reintroducing the foods and observing responses to each food group to identify which foods are associated with which symptom(s). As you can imagine, this program involves careful planning, guidance and monitoring so make sure to do this under the supervision of a physician. Also, this protocol is NOT for suspected anaphylactic reactions (closing up of the throat and difficulty breathing) caused by foods.

I have heard some people say “I would rather not know if certain foods are bothering me because that means I can’t eat it!” That’s not necessarily the case. Often times, once we identify foods that exacerbate symptoms, we avoid them for a period of time to allow the gut lining to heal. After this break period, sometimes those foods we were previously sensitive to are well tolerated. Either way, knowing our body’s responses, we can choose to manage our food sensitivities to our comfort level.

What a great reminder: before jumping to therapies to suppress symptoms, in non-urgent cases, let’s always investigate our basic daily practices, such as diet, to improve symptoms from the inside out.

The Trick with Protein

Unlike vitamins and minerals, most people in North America actually eat more protein than recommended (American Dietetic Association recommends 0.8 g of protein per kg of body weight – so that’s about 55-75g of protein a day for most adults). So if people are getting enough, why am I talking about it? There’s a trick with protein: source and distribution.

Most of us eat most of our protein later in the day (at dinner time). If we redistribute protein intake throughout the day (say 20g of protein at each meal) we can better control our weight, maintain muscle mass, maintain energy and blood sugar levels and prevent sugar cravings. So for many of us, this means, redistributing protein to breakfast and lunch. How do we do this?

All animal proteins are “complete” (meaning they contain all 9 essential amino acids). However, higher animal protein intake has been associated with higher diabetes risk. So the key to increasing protein is to add a variety of plant-based protein sources (which are NOT associated with diabetes risk). (Combining grains with beans or legumes allows us to get complete protein sources.) Whole grains, nuts and seeds come with lots of protein, vitamins, minerals, healthy fats and fiber. A 1/4 cup of pumpkin seeds will instantly add 14g of protein to your morning oatmeal. How about just substituting the butter on your toast with a nut butter (like almond, peanut or cashew)? This substitution alone will cut the increase in blood sugar by half!

Other sources of protein that come with additional benefits: salmon and sardines contain anti-inflammatory omega 3 oils; low-fat yogurt is a significant source of protein plus it comes with probiotics; try some good quality organ meats as well! They’re packed with vitamins and minerals that are hard to get elsewhere.

Try to avoid processed sources of protein such as cured ham and deli meats. Also any foods high in salt and chemicals (like nitrates) as these can increase risk of diabetes and heart disease.

Remember: protein recommendations vary with the individual’s physical activity level and kidney health; consult your naturopathic physician or dietitian to determine optimum protein amounts and protein sources.

The Power of Food

This is an incredible story: a physician who was struggling with MS, revamped her diet based on nutrient research to nourish and support nerve function and mitochondria (the energy-producing organelles of our body). She had astounding results! I also loved that she studied about all these nutrients (like B vitamins, CoQ10, etc.) and concluded that the best way to get them was from food!

Food truly is medicine.

Thanks for sharing this, Cherry!

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.

Do I Need a Detox?

Who can benefit from a cleanse? People who have had exposures to chemicals (recently or in the past); patients preparing for pregnancy or menopause; patients with or wanting to prevent autoimmune disease, cardiovascular disease, chronic disease, neurodegenerative disease, hyper-inflammatory disease, chemical sensitivities, frequent infections, migraines, allergies, hives, eczema, foggy-thinking, fatigue, IBS, constipation… so, basically, anyone could benefit from a cleanse.

The body has built-in systems for eliminating naturally produced waste products as well as chemicals and heavy metals from exposure. Unfortunately these cleansing systems are often under-utilized due to lack of fiber in the diet, nutrient poor diets, dehydration, shallow breathing, lack of regular sweating and lack of rest. This leads to the reabsorption of many of the toxins that would normally be eliminated from the body if the systems were in ideal working condition. For example constipation can lead to the build up of chemicals leading to a headache.

Solvents, fossil fuel products, insecticides, herbicides, plastic residues, flame retardants, wood preservatives, toxic metals, and more can be eliminated via sweating and via our liver and kidneys. Even breathing helps to eliminate volatile compounds from solvents, cleaners, dry cleaning fluids and fuel compounds.

The toxins in our bodies are often stored in fat, nerve cells and the brain decreasing the overall tissue functioning.

The basics: quality sleep, clean air, nourishing diet, adequate hydration, love, healthy thought processes, etc. all support organs in the elimination process.

Keep in mind: The more inflammation the body is already experiencing, the more antioxidant support needed during the cleansing process (a diet rich in antioxidants may be sufficient support for many while others may require supplemental support and greater time). Also, when we “stir things up” in the body, there is re-exposure (as the toxins are circulating to leave the body) and often strong emotions may surface. So it’s important to stay connected with your physician and other support networks during a cleansing process.

Photo courtesy of A. Graber