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Conquering Spring Allergies

Excerpted from "A Year of Living Mindfully"

by Randi Ragan

The biggest spring-allergy trigger is pollen—tiny grains released into the air by trees, grasses, and weeds for the purpose of fertilizing other plants. When pollen grains get into the nose of someone who’s allergic, they send the immune system into overdrive, causing increased allergy symptoms: stuffy nose, ears, and sinuses, inflamed eyes, headaches, sore throat, and difficulty breathing. The mucus-producing processes of the immune system are on alert to attack innocuous invaders such as springtime pollens. Antibodies—substances that normally identify and attack bacteria, viruses, and other illness-causing organisms, attack the invaders, which leads to the release of chemicals called histamines into the blood. Histamines trigger the allergy symptoms. 

Many of us (myself included) have been severely affected by seasonal allergies; some unfortunate folks experience them year round. Mine were so bad they led to asthma attacks and a few trips to the emergency room for adrenaline shots. I outgrew the original severity, but was continually plagued with symptoms for many years. I noticed that the symptoms reoccurred during times of stress and uncertainty. They spiked in a work situation once and I could not breathe. 

In desperation, I tried every traditional, drug-based therapy (both over the counter and prescription). Without a doubt, it’s exhausting to have to sleep upright and it’s an extremely scary feeling to be sucking on your steroidal inhaler and not getting any relief. Gradually, as I became aware of more natural ways of taking care of myself (with diet, acupuncture, and herbs), and started seeing results, it was unbelievable to think I had once thought it was my lot to live with steroidal inhalers. 

There are other causes of allergies, of course, having nothing to do with pollen. They are due to indoor toxins (cleaning chemicals, chemicals in carpets, paints, furniture glues, and resins), outdoor toxins (factory and automobile exhaust, pesticide sprays), and myriad other environmental chemicals. We can’t all walk around wearing gas masks, and yet it’s a miracle to me that not every single one of us is in a heightened state of allergy-induced trauma. But we do have epic proportions of kids with childhood asthma and allergy-induced asthma in people of all ages. So, too, is the use of drugs to combat them at an all-time high. 

Some allergy suffering doesn’t have to be chronic and inevitable; it can be prevented, or at the very least, reduced, through some fairly simple daily health habits. 

Yoga: Through relaxation, the nervous system can tell the immune system to settle down and stop attacking the foreign bodies, which are naturally cleared out in a non-allergic person by sneezing once or twice a day. When the immune system backs off, inflammation and mucus decrease and symptoms diminish. Practicing any yoga posture in a relaxing way with slow deep breathing, and the intention to let go and relax the nervous system, can be very beneficial in decreasing the symptoms of allergies. 

Nasal Wash: Use a neti pot—devised by the ancient Ayurvedics—to cleanse your nasal passages. Nasal washing thins the mucus in the nasal cavity, which makes it flow more easily out of the body, and removes bacteria, allergens, and other irritants that cause problems. The job of the nose is to moisten the air for the lungs. It’s important for water to be in the air for the lungs to function. 

When the nose becomes inflamed from allergens or even colds, the inflammation uses up water, causing the nose to get dry. When the nose gets dry, the brain pumps more mucus to keep the air sent to the lungs moist. Adding water to the surface gives the nose the ability to add water to the air, which calms the brain and lowers inflammation. 

Probiotics:  Research shows people with allergies have lower levels of healthy gut flora, and are overrun with bad bacteria. 

Probiotics are good bacteria that can be taken as a supplement, which helps to reset the bacteria balance, providing a protective barrier in the gut. Immune responses are a balance between go and stop responses. Go responses cause inflammation that are necessary to eliminate infections. However, without stop responses, inflammation continues resulting in an inflammatory disease. Probiotics help the immune system to develop stop responses, so that you don’t overreact to something harmless like food or pollens. 

Make sure you are taking one that can withstand stomach acids during digestion; these will have an enteric coating. Probiotic supplements can take between eight and ten weeks of daily use to change the environment of your gut for you to notice a difference, so be diligent and patient. 

Note: Chlorinated water can contribute to probiotic depletion in the body, so install water and shower filters throughout your home. 

Fermented Foods: These are foods that have been through a process of lacto-fermentation in which natural bacteria feed on the sugar and starch in the food creating lactic acid. This process preserves the food, and creates beneficial enzymes, B vitamins, omega-3 fatty acids, and various strains of our friends, the fabulous probiotics. 

Natural fermentation of foods has also been shown to preserve nutrients in food and break the food down to a more digestible form. This, along with the bevy of probiotics created during the fermentation process, could explain the link between consumption of fermented foods and improved digestion, improved bioavailability for nutrients to the immune system, and most importantly, decreased allergies in people susceptible to them.  

The easiest way to consume natural probiotics (you can’t overdose!) is through foods that have been clearly marked as being naturally fermented. These would be high quality yogurts, kefirs, and sauerkrauts with no added sugars and other fillers, and the krauts should not have vinegar as one of its ingredients (cabbage and salt should be all). High quality miso, kimchi, and kvass (fermented beets) should also be sought out. 

Magnesium: Research has found that this mineral relaxes airways, helping ease congestion.  A dosage of 200 – 400 mg. daily is recommended for maximum benefit.  Magnesium is naturally found in highest quantities in bran, spinach, nuts, and bananas.

Limes: This citrus fruit contains a high amount of bioflavonoids, natural antihistamines that can help relieve allergy symptoms. Squeeze the juice of half a lime into each glass of water you drink during the course of a day.

Quercitin: An antioxidant in the bioflavonoid family found naturally in black tea, citrus fruits, apples, and red onions, quercetin appears to fight inflammation and act as a natural antihistamine.   Start a quercitin supplement two to three weeks before allergy season to build up nutrient levels in the body. 

Holistic wellbeing expert, green-living entrepreneur, and author Randi Ragan is the founder of GreenBliss EcoSpa, Los Angeles’ only award-winning mobile spa and wellness service. For more than twenty years, Ragan has led yoga and spiritual retreats, created experiences for healing and wellbeing and guided groups and individuals with rituals and ceremonies to mark life milestones. Her new book, A Year of Living Mindfully, grew out of her popular blog, Randi Ragan’s Mindful Living Almanac (Twitter feed (@randiragan). All her work strives to provide readers with ideas, tips, and inspiration for creating a mindful, sustainable life.

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