Hay fever & Chinese medicine
People often refer to Melbourne as the hay fever capital of the world with many people finding that they are becoming reactive to environmental allergens for the first time in their lives. Hay fever also known as allergic rhinitis is caused by a variety of airborne pathogens. It may occur in the spring from tree pollens, summer from grass pollens, autumn from weed pollens, or may even be a perennial reaction caused by fungus spores, dust, and animal dander.
Allergic symptoms may present as itching of the nose, mouth, pharynx, and eyes, lacrimation (tearing of the eyes), sneezing, nasal discharge, frontal headaches and wheezing in severe cases.
Chinese medicine is a big advocate of ensuring that the gut is healthy to make the rest of the body healthy. It is important to assess digestion in correlation to a weak immune system. Digestion may be weakened by the overconsumption of cold raw food and chilled drinks, dairy products and fruit juices. Also, the over-use of cold medicinals such as antibiotics can harm digestion.
Western medicine often relies on medications such as antihistamines that can create unwanted adverse side effects and have decreased efficacy. This is the point that people usually come to try Chinese medicine as an alternative.
Diet is a major part when it comes to sinus problems whether due to allergic reaction or chronic sinus infections. The consumption of dairy, sugars, fruit juices and some grains can exacerbate the condition.
Typically, I use a combination of acupuncture, herbal medicine and dietary advice in cases of rhinitis. Cupping and moxa (heat) therapy may also be incorporated depending on the patient’s body type.
Hay fever Advice:
- Reduce exposure to the allergen. This involves being aware of triggers and the use of an air filter to remove dust or avoiding certain animals.
- Clean up your diet to give your system a chance to heal. If you consume a lot of dairy or rich greasy foods try to move towards simpler home-cooked meals. If you have poor digestion you might be consuming too much cold food and drinks?
- Clean your sinus using a neti pot, saline spray or gargle to help flush irritants from your sinus and throat.
- Consume good quality chicken broth to help your gut health and immunity
- Emotional health is always important. Stress can be contributing to weakened immunity. I often suggest doing an exercise that causes sweat and gets your blood pumping as a great de-stressor and helped me survive much of my university (sedentary) life.
And consult a registered Chinese medicine practitioner if you require further assistance.
Do you like cold weather?
“Often I find myself drinking a delicious warming tea that I refer to as a cup of hug”
Chinese medicine is preventative medicine; typically patients are treated before they are sick. Historically, Chinese doctors would only treat healthy people, and their patients should not get sick in the first place. Also, treatment is related to the season, and if a patient has a health problem in a particular season, then treatment should begin long before the start of that season.
In this light, I would like to share with you some of the wonderful warming herbs and spices used in Chinese medicine dietary therapy for those people whose health declines in winter, for those who find it hard to stay warm or get warm in the first place.
Warmth is so important to maintain healthy digestion, blood flow, joints, and muscles. Cold has a contracting nature that tightens the pores on the skin, restrict circulation and can lead to pain. For these reasons so many aspects of warmth have such a lovely healing effect on the body.
Of course, not everyone requires the same amount of warmth to be healthy. Some people can have too much heat in the body, for those people this advice is not for you. Heat in Chinese medicine refers to Yang. If you are deficient in Yang you may experience some of these signs and symptoms:
As the colder days approach, it can be a great idea to start bringing out some lovely warming spices and herbs to start supporting your Yang. Often I find myself drinking a delicious warming tea that I refer to as ‘a cup of hug’, because of the warmth that starts radiating from my stomach as I drink it.
There are many herbs that can be incorporated in teas and dishes if you find that you are easily affected by the cold such as:
- Ginger – consumed fresh, it has the ability to make you sweat out a pathogen when you have a cold, whilst the dry type goes to your digestion. Simmer with green onions and water at the first sign of a cold with white phlegm. Or have grated as a tea to help circulation or if you have arthritis that gets worst in the winter. Also often used for nausea.
- Cinnamon – Warms the digestion, relieves bloating and encourages circulation. I love the flavor of this in Morrocan curries.
- Fennel seeds – Used for abdominal distension/pain, reduced appetite and or vomiting. It is great as tea or season meats or added to salads.
- Lamb – Nourishes the blood and warms the Yang to treat weakness in the lower back, knees, frequent nocturnal urination, and low libido. Cook in liquid with ginger, garlic chives, rosemary, thyme and oregano to enhance the warming effect.
- Star Anise – improves appetite, used for bloating, lower back and abdominal pain. Add it to your Indian curries.
- Tumeric – invigorates blood to treat pain, period pain, often used for shoulder joint pain. Though it should be avoided during pregnancy because of its strong moving quality. Enjoy a turmeric latte, add to curries or add it to a sweet potato soup.
Incorporating some of these into your diet is a great way to use food as medicine and ensure that healthy digestion and a strong Yang is ready as the days get colder.
In the colder seasons, it is also important to reduce cold liquids and keep the body warm, particularly the kidneys, nape of the neck and the feet.
Chinese Medicine – Why We Ask So Many Questions
To celebrate the opening of the Four Pillars clinic, I would like to share with you some of the principle ideas that inspire me to practice this form of medicine. One of the most important challenges is learning to ask the right questions, then piecing together all the clues to treat the patient and their condition. To do this, Chinese Medicine applies the theory known as Root and Branch. The Branch is a sign or symptom that is typically the reason a patient has come in for treatment and the Root is the underlying cause. When it comes to treatment, sometimes we cannot treat the root cause of a condition until a symptom has been resolved. For example, if a patient has recently fallen sick (Branch) but has a weak immune system (Root) we cannot strengthen the immune system, as this may intensify the pathogen. Therefore, the pathogen may need to be cleared first such as inducing sweat. Or perhaps a patient suffers from bruxism – teeth grinding, we could do a treatment that relaxes the muscles and sore jaw (Branch) but if the condition is caused by stress (Root) the condition is bound to come back unless we treat both the Root and Branch
Unfortunately, I have experienced medical treatment in the past that has been just concerned with the symptom (Branch) at hand. Many years ago I was trying to work out why I was always prone to excess ear wax and would have to get them cleaned out – which can be an unusual and dizzying experience. Once my ear was cleared I asked the practitioner what was causing this to happen and what could I do to help? I was informed that sometimes people needed to have their ears cleaned every month. I was not exactly impressed with this answer at the time. After some research of my own, I discovered that the Root cause of this issue was my diet. I was consuming a lot of rich greasy food, coffee and not enough water. It is in this situation that I personally learned the importance of treating the Root (diet/digestion) to address the branch (ear wax build-up).
Chinese Medicine treats a variety of physical conditions, though they are not all caused by injury or trauma. It may seem strange for a patient to come in with, for example, elbow pain and all of a sudden I am asking about how their sleep, do they often feel hot or cold, how is their energy…? As there may be a weakness in the digestion, leading to a lack of nourishment for the bones, ligaments, and muscles. Possibly the body has been subject to a prolonged cold environment that has affected their circulation. Some people may think the questions are excessive, but to be a good Chinese Medicine practitioner you have to be a good detective to fully understand the constitution of a person. The idea of Root and Branch reminds us that we are treating people, treating patterns and not always just a symptom.