Everybody's allergic to something. Cat hair, grass pollen, wheat bread by the slice, cow's milk and eggs. What about work?
According to Dorland, allergy is "a hypersensitive state." Often the subject of our reactivity is at first benign; it is only later that the obvious and sometimes very uncomfortable, even life-threatening reaction takes place. Sometimes we react most to things we find all around us--a rather unfortunate situation, at best. For instance it is said that people moved to Phoenix, a dry, clear, nearly pollen- and pollution-free environment, to get away from flowers and trees--the source of their misery. When enough people came to this desert oasis, they wanted it to look nice and began to plant lots of trees and flowers, until the city developed one of the highest pollen counts in the country, not to mention a fair amount of pollution.
Although many allergies can have a strong background of genetic disposition, seemingly unescapable, it is also known to be influenced by psychological and stress factors. And of course, diet and environmental substances, such as synthetic perfume also play a role.
There are three kinds of allergies usually mentioned when the subject is discussed.
1. Food allergies
The most common types of food allergies are due to foods that contain a good measure of protein, such as albumen in eggs, casein in milk, and gluten in wheat. Proteins are the substances in foods that are most indicative of the original organism--they contain the strongest measure of "self." In allergies, our "self" feels the intrusion of another self in the form of eggs and tries to eliminate it, mounting an immune reaction.
2. Allergies to air-borne contaminants
There are thousands of different kinds of pollen, those minute plant productions floating through the air looking for a good pistil to land on and fertilize. Instead, of a nice sticky stigma, it can be snuffed into our nose and attach itself to a nice moist mucous membrane. Once there, it can cause an immune reaction, as our immune cells try to rid us of it. A generalized immune reaction, with all the symptoms of the body's elimination attempt such as runny nose and watery eyes can follow.
3. Environmental allergies
With chemical companies producing more than 5,000 new chemical compounds every year, it is no wonder that our immune systems sometimes go a little nuts after even a brief exposure. This kind of allergy is tough to reverse, because our body is not really acting abnormally--it is probably doing us a favor by trying to eliminate these often harmful synthetic chemicals. However there is a way to work with out body and minimize unpleasant symptoms.
In this article we will focus on herbal programs for food allergies, and in the second part, air-born allergies (especially to pollen) and environmental allergies.
Herbal programs for Allergies
Most holistic health practitioners and herbalists consider two major systems when dealing with allergies--the immune system and adrenal-stress handling system. We all recognize that these two systems are under greater pressure than ever before in this world. Environmental changes, as well as the pace of modern living and working seem to work these system to the maximum.
Although not the focus of this present article, I must mention that maintaining a strong immune system is very much interconnected with handling stress in a non-stressfull way. There are many ways to nourish the immune system and lessen the impact of stress on body systems, including meditation, walking, breathing exercises, a diet of whole, organic foods and a network of loving relationships. Herbal remedies have been used since the dawn of time to help us to be in a state of health. The following herbal programs are ones that I have personally had experience with as a practicing herbalist over the past 20 years.
All of us probably have a sensitivity to some food, although we may not notice any actual symptoms. This subtle food allergy places an additional stress on our immune system. For instance if a person is in the habit of eating pasturized cow diary products regularly, this may lead to symptoms such as a chronic post-nasal drip. An herbalist would say, "instead of taking an antihistamine, let's look at the cause." A trial elimination of at least 4-6 weeks can often pinpoint allergic foods, at which time a decision can be made to eliminate or reduce the amont of these foods in the diet.
I usually approach food allergies from several directions. First, if there are digestive symptoms I recommend bowel-soothing products, such as the following tea:
1 part marshmallow root
1/4 part licorice root
1/2 part peppermint
1/2 part camomile flowers
1/4 part fennel
Simmer the roots and seeds for 30 minutes, add the peppermint and camomile, remove from the heat and let steep for another 15 minutes. Strain and store the tea in quart jars. Make a fresh batch every 5 days. Drink 3-4 cups of the tea a day. Herbs such as marshmallow and licorice are soothing to the mucous membranes. Peppermint can relieve gas and intestinal spasms, camomile is relaxing to the bowels and contains proven antiinflammatory substances. Fennel helps remove gas and stimulate the production of digestive enzymes. Together, the herbs can help relieve symptoms such as diarrhea, gas and painful digestion. There are also a variety of encapsulated or tableted products that contain these herbs. Take 2 capsules of one or more of these herbs several times daily. Tinctures or liquid extracts work especially well for digestive herbs, because they are quickly absorbed, fast-acting, and extra concentrated. The usual way to take a tincture of one or more of these herbs is to place one dropperful (45 drops) of the tincture in a little water, herb tea or juice, and drinking it 3 or 4 times during the day. In the liquid form, the herbs can be taken any time (I prefer morning, afternoon and evening before meals), but I often recommend that capsules and tablets be taken with meals, when the digestive powers are fully activated and assimilation good.
Second, helping the liver to work efficiently is important. For this reason liver and bile herbs are traditionally recommended for food allergies. Herbs such as dandelion and burdock root or artichoke leaf can be blended with a little licorice and ginger root (fresh or dried) to make a tea, or take the individual herbs in capsule or tablet form. When the liver is working optimumly, potentially allergenic substances are more likely to be eliminated before they can become a major problem. For more information on liver health and allergies, see my book, Natural Liver Therapy, available in many health food stores.
Third, I have found bitter tonic formulas to be extremely beneficial for all kinds of allergies, including food allergies. Bitter tonics or "bitters" as they are now called are easy to make, or one can purchase a wide variety of high-quality products from a local natural foods store or herb shop. The main herbs are gentian, artichoke leaves, orange peel, cardamon seed, ginger and fennel. One can easily make their own bitter tonic by blending up 1/4 part gentian, with 1 part of the other herbs in some brandy or vodka. Let the herbs soak or macerate for 2 weeks, then strain off the liquid, which is bottled for use. Take 1 tsp before meals. Bitter tonics work to improve the vigor and function of all the digestive organs, and even the part of our immune system associated with the digestive tract--an ideal combination for people with food allergies. In Europe, bitters have a long history of use, and are recommended for a wide range of ailments, including most digestive problems. For instance, in Germany, 20 million doses of bitters are taken every day! Americans like their sweets and salt, but Europeans go crazy for bitters. If I'm not mistaken, they wouldn't shun a good sweet treat either.
Although food allergies can be discouraging, especially when the suspected food is one we really like, a program of herbal remedies and a little common sense can often bring excellent results. In some cases one can moderately indulge in the problem food or foods once in a while. As in everything, moderation is one of the important keys to feeling good.