Millions of people cringe when they see flowers start blooming in spring each year; because they know they will soon be fighting spring allergies. According to a recent article in the U.S. News & World Report, allergies are assuming epidemic proportions in the United States, with up to 30% of adults and 40% of children now suffering from hay fever symptoms — nasal congestion and itchy, watering eyes. Allergy now reportedly appears regularly in the top 10 reasons for visits to doctors’.
Doctors have traditionally asked sufferers to avoid the allergens causing a reaction, but this is often easier said than done. Allergy shots currently available and antihistamines can create harmful side-effects and reactions, worsening the situation. Scientists and researchers appear to be convinced that the ultimate solution will be to figure out ways of teaching the body to be indifferent to innocuous allergens. The irony is that the human body is born knowing how to do just that: the question is, what can be done to prevent the body from “losing” that knowledge.
What Ayurveda Says
Gearing up the body’s own immune systems to effectively combat allergens is exactly what Ayurveda suggests as the long-term, effective solution to allergies. “In the spring, impurities inside the body are melting due to the rising temperature in the environment. The liquefied toxins clog the channels of the body. When the channels are blocked, nutrients are not delivered properly to the cells, and the body’s immune systems for resisting allergens become overwhelmed. In the spring, as flowers burst into bloom, they fill the air with pollen. So the allergens in the environment are increasing at the same time that the body’s defenses are being challenged. That’s the reason for the incidence of allergies suddenly shooting up in the spring.
Ayurveda Physicians explains that in respiratory allergies, a particular sub-dosha of Kapha, called Shleshaka.Kapha, which is responsible for maintaining moisture in the upper respiratory tract, is involved. “As the Ama (digestive impurities) in the body starts melting, it combines with Shleshaka Kapha to form a thick, sticky toxin called shleshma, which starts to fill the respiratory tract and sinus cavities,”. “The entire respiratory system, as a result, becomes a fertile breeding ground for bacteria and infection. This is the reason many allergies end up as secondary sinus and respiratory infections.”
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Recommended Diet for Allergies
The main dietary and eating guidelines for allergies are as follows.
1. Eat the largest meal of the day at lunch, between 12:00 and 1:00 PM, when your digestion is strongest. The sun– the heat element in nature– enlivens agni, the fire of digestion and metabolism, making our digestion strongest at the height of the day.
2. Avoid eating heavy meals in the evening. The single biggest contribution to toxins and clogging in the body comes from eating heavy evening meals, particularly after 7 PM. Eat a warm, freshly cooked vegetarian evening meal without fried foods, desserts, cheese, yogurt or other curdled products, since these are heavy for digestion and cause more blockage, congestion and mucous.
3. Ayurveda recommends we eat fresh warm food, freshly prepared. Avoid micro-waving, which has been shown to destroy over 90% of the protective antioxidants in the food. Also, avoid cold drinks, ice cream, frozen yogurt and other cold foods.
4. Avoid leftovers. Once food has been heated and then gets put back in the refrigerator it becomes hard to digest and very clogging in nature.
5. Avoid excessively hot spices, sour and acidic foods. These foods are irritating to the body and promote inflammation, according to Ayurveda.
6. Do include detoxifying spices in your daily diet. Turmeric in particular has anti-allergy, immune-balancing effects. Coriander helps to detoxify on a cellular level; fennel cools and balances; ginger helps the digestion and dissolves ama, and black pepper clears the channels and increases bioavailability of nutrients. Make a spice mixture of 6 parts fennel, cumin and coriander, 4 parts turmeric and 1 part each of ginger and black pepper. Freshly grind the spices, sauté them in a pan without oil until lightly browned, and put in a small airtight container. Carry them with you and sprinkle _ to 1 tsp. on your food at each meal, and cook with them when at home.
7. Do sip boiled warm or hot water about every half hour during the day around the change of seasons, to help your body purify and to support good digestion.
Behavioral Approaches to Reducing Allergies
Diet is not the only consideration in allergies. Ayurvedic theory also recommends the following behavioral changes to help tone down the allergic response.
1. Go to bed by 10:00 P.M. Between 10 PM and 2 AM; the body performs a natural cycle of internal cleansing. If we stay up after 10 PM, we interfere with this metabolic “house cleaning” and toxins and impurities begin to accumulate. Worse yet, the metabolic activity of cleansing tends to trigger hunger, and we may be tempted to indulge in the proverbial “midnight snack.” Unfortunately, eating after 10 PM further compromises the cleansing process and leads to even more waste accumulation, and more allergy tendency. On the other hand, going to bed by 10 PM improves the overall rejuvenative quality of sleep. You will find that your early bedtime habit helps not only your allergies, but your energy and complexion as well!
2. Cleanse the body before the allergy season. The traditional Ayurvedic answer to allergies includes purifying the body of ama and toxins before allergy season begins to prevent symptoms from arising at all. This internal cleansing may be done at home or, more thoroughly, through in-residence cleansing treatments called panchakarma or Maharishi Rejuvenation Therapy.
3. Have a regular routine of life. Eating, sleeping, working and exercising at about the same time each day is very balancing and stabilizing to the immune system and to the body as a whole. Allergies tend to be aggravated when routine of life is hectic and scattered.
4. Practice Yoga asanas and meditation. Yogas asanas and meditation are very balancing to all aspects of mind and body and have been used by many people to reduce allergy symptoms. For meditation, I suggest the TM technique because of its ease of practice and scientific verification.