August 27, 2013

No Funny Business Allowed: 5 Holistic Ways to Relieve Seasonal Allergies.

(Flickr: State Library Queensland)

Late August is a time of year ripe with potential.

Students, headed back to school, prepare to nourish their minds. It is also harvest time. Mother Nature’s bounty is erupting in the garden. Cherry-colored tomatoes clamor across vines. Fresh basil burgeons forth. Lustrous lettuce sways languorously in the late summer breeze. Sometimes, it seems as if there is not enough time to take it all in.

Unfortunately, for the estimated 30 million Americans who suffer from seasonal allergies, this time of year can mean sneezing, watery eyes, dark circles and, if we’re really lucky, sinus pressure, fatigue and a feeling of just being off-balance.

According to WebMD, thirty-million Americans regularly experience allergies. Hayfever is especially common during this time of year.

‘Hayfever’ (as ragweed allergy is frequently called) is a simple expression for a more complex medical phenomenon: “Like all allergies, hay fever stems from a glitch in the immune system. Instead of attacking harmful foreign substances such as bacteria and viruses, it tries to neutralize “invaders” that ordinarily are quite harmless—in this case weed pollen grains that fill the air from August through October (up to the first frost).”

No, its not all in your head. Your immune system may, like mine, may be overzealous.

I’ve been allergic to certain types of pollen since I was knee-high to a grasshopper. As a wee lass, I was at my sneeziest and most watery at back-to-school time. For several weeks, my nose ran like a faucet. To my chagrin, no public or private gathering was safe from the protestations of my immune system.

The proliferation of allergies and allergy-related symptoms in America has increased exponentially in recent years.

According to the EPA, climate change may take on some responsibility for this. “Increases in temperature, carbon dioxide (CO2), and precipitation tend to favor the proliferation of weedy plant species that are known producers of allergenic pollen.” Likewise, “Recent scientific studies also suggest that climate-related temperature changes are expected to increase the potency of airborne allergens.  Such changes increase the concentration of pollen in the air, the length of the allergy season and the strength of airborne allergens, and associated increases in allergy symptoms.”

What’s a girl or guy to do? Immunotherapy injections or over-the-counter remedies can prove beneficial in severe cases. The following natural remedies will also help to ameliorate symptoms.

1.) Yoga to the Rescue!

Stress hormones and histamines can contribute to inflammation, which makes our allergies worse. Yoga, as we all know, calms both body and spirit. It can be a boon for allergy-sufferers. By relaxing, we curtail the production of fight-or-flight chemicals.

In my experience, I have found it best to avoid hot yoga or vigorous vinyasa during an allergy flare-up. A slow hatha, yin or restorative practice is like pressing a huge reset button on my body and soul. I make an effort to relax the gut. The digestive system cannot properly absorb nutrients when our intestines are jittery and jumpy. For this reason, I also find seated twists to be beneficial.

I have always loved Viparita Karani, and love it even more when I’m having an allergy attack. (Be careful not to allow too much pressure to build in the sinuses, though. The headache can be unbearable.)

And need I mention meditation? Or alternate-nostril breathing to calm the passages? (Just keep the tissues nearby.)

2.) Eat This, Not That: Learn Which Fruits and Vegetables are Phytonutrient-Heavy:

While there is no evidence to suggest specific foods which can offer allergy relief, we all know that, over time, a poor diet can harm the immune system and make allergies worse. Fruits and veggies are an important to a healthy diet, but do we know which varietals of carrots, potatoes, broccoli or lettuce contain the most antioxidant-rich, disease-fighting properties?

Jo Robinson’s Eating On The Wild Side gives advice on how to select and prepare the most healthful, immune-boosting foods this fall. In general, the more bitter, pungent or dark-hued the item, the more healthful it is. Here are a few things I learned:

An apple a day, they say, keeps the doctor away—but, did you know that it really depends on which variety of apple one chooses? (A Granny Smith, for example, contains more phytonutrients and less sugar than a Golden Delicious.)

Did you know that some vegetables, such as beets, contain more life-giving ingredients in canned (rather than raw) form?

Or that one should press fresh garlic and wait ten minutes before stir-frying, lest many of its healthful enzymes be deactivated?

Check out the book. It’s awesome!

3.) Drink Green Tea—and Put Chamomile Tea Bags on Under-eye Circles:

Allergies can cause fatigue.

When my allergies are having a rager, I can sleep for nine hours and still look like I came out on the short end of a fight with Mike Tyson. I still have my ears, but I have two very big, very bold black eyes.

It may be tempting to beat that 3pm allergy fatigue, I’ve-been-partying-for-five-nights-straight look with a gigantic cuppa joe.

Instead, try a gentle pick-me up. Two or three mugs of green tea daily can work wonders.” Japanese researchers found that EGCG, the abundant antioxidant compound in green tea, may help stop your body from mounting an immune response to a wide range of allergens, including pollen, pet dander, and dust.”

Chamomile tea also works wonders. Have a cup in the evening. When you’re done, combat under-eye circles by cooling two tea bags and placing one on each eye. Allow the bags to sit for fifteen minutes. (And, no, silly, don’t get any in your eyes.) Camomile tea bags have anti-inflammatory properties when applied topically.

4.) Nasal Irrigation:

For centuries, yogis have relied on neti pots to cleanse the nasal passages of pollen, dust, and other impurities. A neti pot can be purchased at many large grocery stores. Water must first be boiled to kill any bacteria. Pour into the neti pot. Add a pinch of sea salt. Allow the concoction to cool and irrigate. Or, avoid the risk of bacteria altogether and purchase a handy saline allergy nasal irrigation solution at the drugstore. You will be prepared whenever the need strikes.

5.) Keep the Pollen Outside:

I feel like a hypocrite as I write this, enjoying a late-summer evening with every window in the house open. The window fans are whirring, sucking in pollen from hither and yon. I was out in the yard for a few hours, and in the garden and I didn’t get a shower or change or anything.

Do as I say, not as I do.

Allergies can be a complex issue. These natural health tips can provide some relief! Does anybody have additional allergy survival strategies? I would love to hear them!

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Ed: Sara Crolick

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