We are very excited that it is finally looking like spring in New York! One aspect of the weather change that we are none too thrilled about are allergies. In search of a natural remedy to our runny noses and itchy eyes, we turned to Acupuncturist and Alternative Medicine expert, Natasha Kubis. Natasha is a Hawaii native who has been a patient of acupuncture her whole life. Since she has been practicing in New York since 2009, she is hyper-aware of the local allergens. She broke down why our bodies react so intensely to pollen and provided some at-home hacks we can do the combat our seasonal discomfort:

Why are allergies so bad with the season change?

During the change of season and blossoming of spring, people are exposed to allergens through wind-born trees, grass, or weed pollen. There is nothing inherently dangerous in ragweed pollen or in dust, the problem occurs because the immune system overreacts to the substance. Because of this overreaction, the body malfunctions in the form of a runny nose, red itchy eyes and scratchy throat.

Since pollen is harmless to the human body, the fact that the immune system acts so aggressively to destroy pollen is an indication that the immune system is acting inappropriately. This inappropriate hypersensitivity indicates that the immune system is weak, counterproductive to the overall harmony and homeostasis of the body.

Are there any preventative measures we can take to avoid the results of bad allergies?

Factors such as genetic predisposition, diet, mental stress and consistent exposure to environmental toxins should be taken into consideration when seeking a cause and a cure. The best treatment for seasonal allergies is a balanced immune system. This can be achieved through proper nutrition, supplementation, physical exercise and modalities that strengthen the immune system such as acupuncture, homeopathy and herbal medicine.

Western medicine currently offers several types of pharmaceutical drugs that may offer temporary relief but ultimately do not cure the condition and often have adverse effects. Some if these medications include oral decongestants, antihistamines and intranasal topical corticosteroids, which have associated side effects such as dizziness, drowsiness, insomnia, nervousness and gastro-intestinal disorders.

How do allergies usually manifest themselves?

Allergic reactions manifest as a variety of symptom. Most commonly, in the form of runny nose and red itchy eyes but also skin problems such as hives, eczema and psoriasis. Other symptoms can include headaches, breathing issues, fatigue and irritability. Gastrointestinal issues can occur if the allergen is ingested (for example wheat, soy or shellfish). Depending on the type of allergies, they can occur seasonally or continuously throughout the year. Either way, they wreak havoc on an individual’s well being.

When a person is first exposed to a specific allergen (i.e. dust and pollen), certain antibodies bind onto the mast cells (the cells that play a role in regulating the immune system) of the upper respiratory tract, triggering a release of histamine (responsible for allergy symptoms) from the mast cells. At this point the immune system will continue to recognize the dust and pollen as a foreign invader within the body. This results in an increase of nasal secretion, congestion, itching, and sneezing, a condition we call allergic rhinitis.

What are some natural remedies to combat bad allergies?

There are many natural remedies that can combat allergies by strengthening the immune system. To fight allergies most effectively, these practices should begin several months before allergy season. Treating the symptoms as they appear is a less effective than preparing the body ahead of time. Focusing on proper nutrition, supplementation, exercise, homeopathy and acupuncture treatments throughout the year will help prepare the body for allergy season.

Are there any foods/drinks that help subside allergic reactions?

Nutrition plays an important role in maintaining a healthy immune system. I would suggest eliminating foods that cause excess inflammation in the body. These types of inflammatory items include alcohol, tobacco, sugar, wheat, dairy, caffeine, saturated fats and highly processed foods.

Here of some foods/vitamins to incorporate into your diet to boost the immune system:

  • Local, raw honey: This sweet nectar can help allergy symptoms by regularly exposing you to local pollen – not unlike the concept of how allergy shots work. Allergy injections help desensitize pollen-allergic people by exposing them to a specific pollen.
  • Turmeric: This root has very strong anti-inflammatory, antioxidant and anticancer properties. I suggest buying fresh turmeric root from the grocery store and using it in smoothies, soups and other dishes.
  • Ginger: This plant is another natural antihistamine and decongestant. It may provide some relief from allergy symptoms by dilating constricted bronchial tubes.
  • Quercetin: A flavonol that can reduce allergic reactions by having an antihistamine effect. It also decreases inflammation and is found in apples, cranberries, grapefruit, grapes, pears, spinach, kale and cabbage.
  • Magnesium: This essential mineral may open constricted airways in asthma by relaxing the muscles around the bronchial tubes. Some think a deficiency in magnesium can even release histamine. Sources of magnesium include almonds, spinach, avocados, oysters, seeds and buckwheat.
  • Beta-Carotene: This carotenoid helps boost immunity and keeps the respiratory system working optimally. It also is a powerful antioxidant and is found in sweet potatoes, kale, spinach, carrots, winter squash and collard greens.
  • Vitamin C: This vitamin has been shown to decrease production of histamine, thus reducing an immediate allergic episode. Green and red peppers, strawberries, kiwi, oranges, potatoes and cabbage are all high in Vitamin-C.
  • Eat Organic: To reduce risk of additional toxin exposure.

What about supplements?

I suggest a good multi vitamin derived from whole food and a probiotic. In addition, Chlorophyll (found in spirulina and chlorella) is a powerhouse of nutrients and helps to calm inflammation in the body. This is a great addition to smoothies to help detoxify the body and balance the immune system.

How can acupuncture help ward off allergies?

Acupuncture can help boost a weakened immune system or re-balance an over-active immune system by stimulating or calming the production of red and white blood cells in the body. Typically, patients fighting allergies have compromised immune function. In this case, acupuncture works with the body to bolster the production of white blood cells and strengthen the immune system's resistance to infection by increasing its lymphocyte count and activity. Preventative acupuncture is also important as it can help strengthen and maintain the balance of an already strong immune system.

In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), the body is composed of an intricate web of energy pathways known as "meridians" that maintain a balance of Yin (substances which nourish the body such as blood and body fluid) and Yang (related to activity and function). Each meridian is named after the specific internal organ that it encompasses and through which it passes.

When Qi (vital energy) and Xue (blood) flow freely through the meridians, the body is in good health and can perform at its optimum. However, if a particular energy pathway is obstructed, its corresponding organ's function will also be affected and the body's yin and yang will become unbalanced. This imbalance will ultimately affect the functioning of the body as a whole. Under normal conditions, the lungs can control respiration and ensure that one breathes freely through the nose and with an acute sense of smell. The lungs are also responsible for dispersing energy throughout the body and for preventing pathogenic factors from invading the body. Allergy treatment varies from patient to patient depending on their particular issues but generally the blockage of energy is situated in the lung meridian, for which the nose is considered an extension.

Other areas addressed are the Liver/Gallbladder, which are activated in spring and responsible for detoxification, the Spleen, which can cause excess dampness and mucus if not in harmony and the Kidneys, which play a role in genetics factors of an illness.

Photograph Courtesy: Healthy Haven