Acupuncture to Treat Allergies
Stuffy nose, watery eyes, sneezing: allergy symptoms are the body’s response to offensive elements in your environment. In fact, the body is trying to create a barrier between yourself and environmental irritants. You are trying to protect yourself from an invasion. And, yes, sometimes the body can be overprotective and create alarming levels of mucous or exceptionally rigorous sneezing. That’s when we reach for the antihistamines. Or, this time, maybe try acupuncture.
How antihistamines work
When your body encounters a potential threat in the air or food, your immune system activates histamine molecules to create a barricade by producing mucous, constricting passages or sneezing. Seasonal hay fever, or allergic rhinitis, is a response to high pollen levels in the air. An antihistamine will block the histamine reaction, though it can’t reverse the process once it has started. Taking an antihistamine before exposure, to preempt the attack, is a popular strategy for chronic sufferers. A side effect of antihistamine is drowsiness, so weeks or months of antihistamine use can be exhausting and inhibit productivity.
Along with antihistamines, nasal decongestants and nasal corticosteroids can ease symptoms.
Is it possible to dissuade the body from such a dramatic response to irritants? The incidence of allergies and asthma are increasing. More than half of the US population suffers from allergies and they are a leading cause of absence from work and school. There is a correlation between early childhood asthma and allergies (cdc.gov).
Mostly, the discussion revolves around the immune system, which is our body’s defense against invasion. When the body recognizes an invasive element, it attacks. But what happens when our body cannot tell the difference between friend or foe? Allergies, autoimmune diseases and even cancer have the same problem in common: the body can make a threat of something benign or make an enemy of itself.
Supporting the immune system
We are born with a basic immune system, which is further activated by the birth process and continues to become more potent and individualized throughout our lifetime. In order to respond appropriately to everything that enters the body the immune system samples everything it encounters and then develops a weapon (an antibody) against any threat. The arsenal gets bigger and better with time, and with exposure to new elements.
There are two ideas circulating about the increase in the incidence of allergies. One is that the environment is producing more irritants and toxins than it has in the past, creating a greater workload for the immune system. Our environment may change faster than our body’s adaptive mechanisms. Plants, the major pollen producers, are changing and adapting, too – and they are masterful adapters. The other idea is that super-sanitizing household and body products combined with less exposure to biological diversity has reduced the strength of our immune system.
Acupuncture and herbs to boost the immune system response
In TCM theory, all organs work together and are powered by the life force, which is called qi. There are many forms of qi. Wei qi is a protective system which, regulated by the lung’s rhythm, circulates just under the skin. Like our immune system, wei qi is sensitive to our external environment and, by opening and closing the pores to regulate temperature and release sweat, can clear exterior pathogens. It can also create a mucous barrier or sneeze away an antagonist. The lungs are the “first responder” organ of the body; the most sensitive to changes in the environment. Along with the nose, skin and hair, they are the first to show signs of environmental distress.
The lungs filter air and extract oxygen, which combines with the nutrients the digestive system extracts from our food. This is the basis for our daily, useable energy. If air, food or water quality is poor, we suffer. A healthy body can maximize the energy production from air and food. A body that is burdened, fatigued, and out of balance will be less efficient.
An acupuncture treatment can support the lungs to keep the wei qi circulating. The treatment can also balance the fluids in the body and support the digestive process. Acupuncture and herbs can address the mix of fluids and dryness that often accompanies the allergic response and keep the immune system strong.
In an 8-week clinical trial with 414 patients, researchers in Berlin found acupuncture more effective for hay fever than antihistamine medication. Dr. Xiu-Min Li, Professor of Pediatrics at the Icahn School of Medicine in New York City has done extensive, NIH funded research on Chinese herbal medicines to treat asthma and allergies, including skin and food allergies. You can find her article online: “Can Chinese Herb-based Medicines Heal the Immune System and Cure Allergies?” It was published in 2016 as chapter 22 of the e-book World Health Strategy edited by Renata G. Bushko. Futureofhealth.org.