The start of allergy season is apparent through the blooming buds and the multitudes of people wandering around with bloodshot, watery eyes, chronic sniffles, and itchy red noses. Allergies can start early in the Spring with tree and bloom pollens, closely followed by Summer grasses, and then in the Fall with Molds and Dust. Seasonal allergies are a real struggle for many people, and many look to Naturopathic Medicine or Traditional Chinese Medicine for support.
What are Allergies?
Allergies occur when the immune system gets diverted down a pathway that starts to see normal environmental proteins (pollens and dust or food proteins) as foreign invaders instead of inert substances. The immune system goes down a very specific pathway called the TH2 pathway. In this pathway, exposure to the allergen causes activation of MAST cells, which release histamine and the activation of Eosinophils, which are the white blood cells associated with the allergic response.
There are 3 types of allergies that affect most people:
- Environmental or inhalant allergies (mostly commonly known as hay fever). This comes from tree and plant pollens, dust, mold, and animal danders.
- Food allergies. These are immediate food reactions, such as peanut allergies, and can be life-threatening. These can be the classic hives and anaphylaxis or newly understood FPIES which is an allergen triggered acute vomiting response. These are different from food sensitivities or food intolerances, which are more of an inflammatory reaction and can cause various symptoms.
- Chemical sensitivities. These are usually hypersensitivity reactions to food additives, medications, household products, scents, and other products or chemicals.
How can Naturopathic Medicine Help with Seasonal Allergies?
Fortunately, there are lots of Naturopathic options for supporting the system against allergies. One way is to desensitize the body against allergens. This is called building tolerance. Exposing the body to very tiny amounts of the allergens, especially through the digestive system, triggers the body to inactivate the immune cells that were primed for that allergen. Over time, this effectively turns off the allergic pathway triggered by that allergen.
Allergists and Naturopathic Physicians (at least in British Columbia) can take advantage of building tolerance through allergy shots or oral allergy drops. Other products like probiotics or plant medicines target pathways to move away from the TH2 pathway or to calm the MAST cell/histamine response (like Quercetin). There are quite a lot of good herbs that can be exceptionally helpful for allergy season, and a Naturopathic Physician or qualified Herbalist can help you choose an appropriate formula. Stinging Nettle can be an excellent option as a tea or oral supplement (harvest with care!). Albezia is a traditionally used in Ayurvedic medicine and has supporting research for its ability to stabilize MAST cells and reduce histamine release.
How can Acupuncture Help?
Researchers at the University Medical Centre in Berlin conducted a large study of the effectiveness of acupuncture for the treatment of seasonal allergies, or hay fever. The study divided 422 people into three groups for two months: one group received acupuncture treatment, the second received “fake” acupuncture, with needles placed in random, meaningless spots on their bodies, and the third group only took antihistamines. At the end of the study, the group that received acupuncture therapy reported greater relief from symptoms than the other two groups.
Acupuncture is an alternative to conventional treatment such as oral medications, nasal sprays, and immunotherapy. However, it can be done in combination with other treatments to aid in the effectiveness of medications that are already being taken. When beginning treatment for allergies through acupuncture, it is recommended to have weekly or twice-weekly treatments over several weeks or months, depending on the severity of symptoms.
For more information or if you are in need of allergy support through Naturopathic Medicine, please book a meet and greet with Dr. Kellie. Or if you are looking to include acupuncture, please book a meet and greet with Angelique.
*As always, this information is purely educational and not intended as medical recommendations. Please consult a healthcare provider well versed in herbal medicine prior to starting any herbal support. They will be able to help you chose the best path given your health history, medications, and needs.*