Oliver's BlogThursday 23rd September 2021
How To Heal Hay Fever
When the summer season gets underway, more and more people begin to experience hay fever symptoms. For some this is mild, for others it is more debilitating.
Today I want to share with you about hay fever stimulated by lots of people getting hay fever symptoms, particularly as the summer season gets underway. Some people are getting a mildly, some people getting it seriously and it really can be really quite debilitating and very unpleasant. However, in my experience of giving dietary and health consultations over many years, this is a problem that almost always can be healed.
Not necessarily instantly, it can take time, but it's definitely a problem that that can be healed. Today I want to share about hay fever, its causes and how to heal it.
What’s actually happening when we experience hay fever?
So, let's think about what is actually happening when we get hay fever. What is it that causes hay fever? It’s a bit of a mystery in Western medicine which offers more symptomatic kind of treatments. My understanding, which comes from Macrobiotics and Oriental Medicine, is that it's primarily caused by diet and of course emotions, lifestyle, pollutants and other things will have an effect as well.
But in my experience, it is primarily a diet cause because I've seen people change their diets and then get a lot of improvement. The main cause are foods which cause the lining of the nose and sinuses, etc, to swell up, to become more swollen and more waterlogged.
We all have membranes which protect the body. These can be found in the lining of the nose and sinuses, and the back of the throat. It is a thin membrane that has to hold all the bacteria, fungi, dust and everything else in here in order to protect the body. When this layer becomes swollen, then instead of being a tight barrier that prevents things such as bacteria, dust etc from entering, it becomes swollen. This tight barrier is loosened and then things can get in.
This will not only make us more likely to pick up infections, viral infections, including Covid, but it also means that normally non-harmful things can get in, like pollen and kinds of dust, animal hairs, etcetera, so they're getting into the body and then the body then thinks it's being attacked. So, it sets up an immune response. Although the symptoms of hay fever may seem very unpleasant, the eyes, the nose, and swelling up becoming red, maybe becoming a hot etc. Maybe some pain, mucus , water being produced, actually this is a normal inflammatory response, and the body does this because it thinks it's being attacked. The body sends out signals which create chemicals that allow the small blood capillaries to swell up. This results in more spaces between the cells of the capillaries so that fluid escapes, along with white blood cells (the cells protecting the body( squeezes through. If the body has been attacked by a virus or bacteria, white blood cells need to get there, and so that part of the body becomes swollen often redder because there's extra blood. It can often become hot and may also start exuding some fluid or creating extra mucus. All of this are really the symptoms of hay fever.
One of the chemicals that triggers this inflammation is histamine. You’ve probably heard about histamine. The Western medical approach to this is to take antihistamines, chemicals which block histamines, which can somewhat reduce the inflammation. But in my experience, this can help to some extent someone with milder hay, but some people find that it makes some difference, but really it doesn't take away all the symptoms. So that's the kind of chain of events, which is creating hay fever. So essentially, hay fever happens when normal, non-harmful substances are triggering an immune and inflammatory response.
We've lived all of our evolution in nature where there has been different kinds of pollen, dust and so on. So, it's not really a problem with environment, it's more of an internal problem. The question is, what can we do about it?
We need to avoid the foods that cause this swelling and weakening of the mucous membrane in the nose and sinuses and throat etcetera. In macrobiotics, we look at foods on a scale from yang to yin and contractive to expansive. It’s a very, very simple way looking at the effects of foods, but very effective and understanding a lot of health problems.
What foods cause our mucus membrane to swell up?
So, what foods cause swelling? It’s what in macrobiotics we would call more expensive foods. This includes fruit. If you think of fruit, perhaps an apple, orange, banana, etcetera. What is its nature? Its soft, high water content and also contains quite a lot of fruit sugar. That high water content tends to make our body tissues more watery and soft. It is now becoming well known in Western medicine that having high blood sugar levels damages blood capillaries because it makes blood capillaries expand and it makes tissues expands. So, also the sugars in the fruit also have it an expensive effect. That doesn't mean we can't eat fruits and it's healthy to eat some fruit, but it's not healthy to eat a lot of fruit and a lot of the juices and also, if we are living in a temperate climate, such as Northern Europe, is better to eat the local fruits, apples, pears, oranges, berries, etc rather than bananas, oranges, mangoes and the tropical foods, which are more watery and more cooling and often sweeter.
Knowing this, we can stop eating tropical fruits and then immediately we're also really reducing our carton footprint, and so let's look around for a locally grown strawberries, apples, pears, etcetera.
So also sugar itself as in refined sugar and all of the other different forms of sugar. These really expand that mucus membrane, so it is really good to avoid refined sugar. This is what we've been doing for years in macrobiotics. Now, Western medicine is catching up and NHS is recommending to people drastically reduce their sugar intake adults to 7 sugar cubes (30g) per day. That might sound like quite a lot (and in a sense, it is a lot for the body to process). But when you look at how that translates foodwise, it's only a slice of cake, a stack of biscuits or a couple of bowls of sugary breakfast cereal such as Kellogg’s cornflakes or sugar laden Frosties.
You may already be reducing or cutting down sugar, or you may not. This may seem like a really difficult thing, actually it's not. You can find more information on how to cut sugar out of your diet and what you can replace it with instead here. We are not kill joys! We need some nice desserts and some nice sweetness in our diet. But there’s a whole range of healthy deserts that you can make which are just as sweet and tasty without using the refined sugar, brown sugar, muscovado sugar, corn syrup and all of these kind of things. So, if you want to reduce sugar and then check that out, I think you'll find that helpful.
Other expansive foods include strong spices, really heating spices like chili, paprika etc. When eating these you may experience your mouth heating up, going red, your lips may become more red. There’s a bit of inflammation happening. It weakens the mucus membrane. Personally, I really enjoy a curry once in a while, but I'm not using spices on a daily basis. These are much more suitable for living in a hotter climate because they have a cooling effect.
Let's talk a bit about drinks, so soft drinks, coca cola etc contain sugars. Other substances imitating sugars also have a strong yin, expansive effect.
Also caffeinated drinks whether they are canned drinks, black tea coffee also will be expanding that mucus membrane. This means that it is not so great to be drinking lots of tea and coffee anyone because it’s a stimulant and may feel good temporarily but long term it’s actually weakening your kidneys and our internal energy.
With alcohol, you may experience if you drink alcohol, you become it soft and fuzzy. However, it is also weakening the mucus membrane. Again, this is not about being kill joy. If we're in good health, if our body is strong, if our mucus membrane is strong, you can enjoy a little alcohol from time to time. But drinking it daily or in larger amounts will certainly weaken the mucus membrane.
Dairy - some people may find that the lighter dairy foods such as cow’s milk, cream and various things made from those also contribute to their hay fever.
These are some of the things in our diet that can really weaken the mucus membrane. The next important question we can ask ourselves is what is going to strengthen the mucus membrane?
The answer to this is pretty simple. In one (or maybe two) words - whole foods.
Whole grains, whole beans, whole vegetables, whole seeds, whole sea vegetables etc. These entire foods, along with the natural fibre in them have a more strengthening effect on our lungs which are very connected with the nose and sinuses and also on the mucus membrane. So, they are helping to strengthen that membrane, they are helping to keep the pollens, dusts etc out so that hay fever symptoms can reduce.
Animal foods such as fish, chicken etc have a neutral effect. I wouldn't suggest eating a lot of eggs, meat, chicken, because in looking at the quality of the food, they have a much more contractive effect. It can be energizing but can also create a lot of tension in the body, and whenever we eat a reasonable amount of meat chicken eggs also cheese then we always then swing to want the opposite. We are likely to find ourselves then craving a glass of wine with the meat or maybe we want a nice, sweet dessert, or a cup or few cups of coffee afterwards, and it’s then those things which swell up the mucus membrane and cause the hay fever.
I really recommend making these changes in the diet, not only will they help hay fever but will help other organs in the body as well and help you to enjoy better health.
How long does it take to heal hay fever?
How long will this take? It does take a bit of time. Changing our food, our body, all of this is made from our food. Our food has a big effect on what happens in our body. So, it takes time for the food we are eating to get into the blood and then start building the body cells, it’s not an instant cure. I know some people that change their diet, particularly cutting out a lot of those expansive foods who within a couple of weeks experience some improvements. A few months, the improvements go deeper. What I see is often it takes 6-12 months to really get a strong improvement or to really clear the hay fever completely because it takes that long for our body to really strengthen and change.
When we are in hay fever season, it’s great to make these changes. But also good to keep these changes up because through the autumn and winter, so that next spring your mucus membrane is going to be in a stronger state, making a better barrier to the pollen and dust etc. You may also have allergies too. So, your experience next spring and summer will be very much better.
Everybody is different, everybody’s health condition is different so the rate of improvement is different in different people but really I’ve seen a lot of people drastically improve or get rid of their hay fever. There’s about 5-6 million people in the UK, that’s almost 1 in 10 of the population that gets hay fever. It would be really good to make these changes. These changes as well will help overall health so if you are only motivated by hay ever, that might be very motivating for you if you are suffering badly. But really, you may experience other health benefits as well to digestion, breathing, heart circulation, your energy levels etc.
The Immune System
I’d like to talk more widely about our immune system as this is very pertinent to the current situation that the world is in. There are various layers to the immune system. Western medicine focuses on a particular layer of the immune system which is the response by certain white blood cells to recognize certain viruses or bacteria or fungi, and then set up a specific response to kill that particular kind of virus, bacteria, microorganism etc. So that’s obviously a very important part of our immune system. But there are other parts as well.
The first part of our immune system is to just create a barrier on the outside of the body to stop things getting in in the first place. Our skin is a pretty good barrier. But the skin can be quite thick, it needs to sweat, it’s also an organ of elimination through the sweat. But it’s easy for the skin to be quite thick, it’s rare for bacteria, viruses, fungi etc to get in through our skin. However, the mucus membrane both in our nose and lungs and also in our intestines is very thin. So, this is where viruses and bacteria can easily get into the body. So, everything which I’ve been describing so far as a way to reduce hay fever symptoms will also help strengthen the mucus membranes both in the nose and sinuses, also in your lungs and also in the intestinal system. Some infectious illnesses are airborne, and we are breathing them into our nose and lungs and then they may get into the body. Others are more food borne through our food, it goes into our intestines, start multiplying, may then start getting into the body as well. So, really the easiest and first thing to do is to strengthen that barrier to the outside.
My experience of making positive changes to diet and lifestyle
I got into macrobiotics actually 41 years ago now when I was a young 24 year old exploring the world. Before then I quite often got colds, I had flu several times but in the last 41 years, I very seldom pick up a virus. Every few years, maybe if there’s a really viral one going around I may get some symptoms. Really, we can strengthen our immune systems greatly and I think a lot of this is through strengthening the barrier in our mucus membranes in our nose, sinuses, lungs and in our intestines.
So that’s one way we can strengthen our immune system. Another way is through the white blood cells, our immune cells. The ones which western medicine is focusing on and producing vaccines for. Vaccines have some external protein molecules in them similar to the microorganism covid or flu or whatever it is so that the body recognizes it and sets up a reaction so that if we catch it it’s all primed and ready, it already recognizes that particular foreign protein and so as soon as it’s in the body it can set up a very fast response to overcome it. So that’s the kind of learned part of our immune system.
But there’s also a general or innate part of our immune system where if we have a cut for example, and some bacteria get into it then often that cut becomes pussy. That puss is made of white blood cells that have squeezed out of the blood capillaries and have come to destroy the bacteria or other organisms in various ways. It may surround it and gobble it up and digest it, it may produce chemicals, so we want this innate or more general part of immune system to be working well. This depends a lot again on our diet and nutrition.
Eating sugar can compromise your immune system for up to five hours!
There were experiments done in a University in California quite a few decades ago where they gave people different types of sugar and then took blood samples and mixed the blood with staphylococcus bacteria to see how quickly the white blood cells attacked the bacteria. They found that when people ate refined sugar, honey, orange juice and other forms of sugar which are all high in sugars, they found that the immune response by the neutrophil white blood cells against the bacteria was greatly reduced. That effect went on for up to five hours. If we eat a blast of sugar then that is impairing our immune system for up to five hours.
What has commonly happened in the west is we start off in the morning with some orange juice, sugary breakfast cereal, some granola (some are sugar free, some contain a lot of sugar, some contain honey – supposed to be very health but contains a lot of sugar which inhibits the immune system) so that’s going to affect our immune system for some hours. Then if we have a few biscuits with our tea then that further reduces it. At lunch we end with something sweet. Mid-afternoon, we may have a piece of cake, chocolate, something like that, in the evening something sugary then really we’ve been impairing our immune system throughout the whole day. This is greatly increasing the chances of infections getting into the body and creating symptoms.
So, if there’s one thing, if you really want to strengthen your immune system, one thing which is really simple and straight forward to do is to stop eating refined sugar and other high sugar foods. And find really good replacements for them (don’t forget you can check out here for ways on how to cut out sugar).
If there’s a good time for strengthening our immune systems it’s got to be now. I really wish that governments and health systems were putting this out. Vaccinating, mass vaccination is effective, but really there’s so much we can do as individuals and as a society and as nations and internationally to strengthen our immune systems and improve our health and that would greatly, greatly, reduce the number of people getting serious and life threatening symptoms from coronavirus.
If you would like more in depth help, Oliver offers health consultations in person or online, especially if you have a more deeper, longer term problem that you want to turn around, then it can be useful to get some very specific advice to help your individual health. Oriental Medicine is very individualised, personalized advice assessing the health, of all the whole body, the different organs and seeing where their imbalance is and giving tailored advice with helping particular imbalances in the body. If you’d like to book a session, get in touch by visiting here.
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