Seasonal allergies: A deeper look

by Dr. Steven D. Ehrlich — 

In Neuro Linguistic Programming (NLP), allergies are referred to as a “phobia of the immune system.” The body has learned to fear that which is not really harmful.

In Neuro Linguistic Programming (NLP), allergies are referred to as a “phobia of the immune system.” The body has learned to fear that which is not really harmful.

Oh, to be a Kleenex salesman in spring! Or winter, fall or even summer, for that matter. There is a sneeze for every season in Arizona. As winter’s mold-producing rains fade into spring’s sun-coaxing, pollen-laden foliage … As summer’s tyrannical dust storms morph into autumn’s unique blend of mold spores and pollen … The natural desert environment’s tranquility is shattered by the constant sneeze, cough, hack, drip and wipe of seasonal allergy sufferers.

There is hope, however, for seasonal allergy sufferers to improve their condition and begin relishing all the joys the different seasons have to offer. However, like any problem, one first has to understand the cause.

Allergies are your immune system’s reaction to a perceived threat. In an attempt to shield itself from the systemic effects of noxious substances, your body unleashes a host of defenses to purge the offending substance from your system, or at least quarantine it so it cannot go any deeper.

Sneezing is a perfect example of this defensive strategy. A 500 mph gust of wind is generated to blow the invader out of your body. If that does not work, an oil slick of mucus is summoned to flush the invader out. If still further defensive action is called for, congestion and inflammation will wall off the area, isolating it from the rest of your body and often leaving you with an awful sinus headache. All these actions are your body’s valiant attempts to protect you — yet we walk around cursing our runny noses and grumbling into our tissues as though our bodies are betraying us.

The deeper question is why the body feels the need to raise such a vigorous defense against harmless substances like tree pollens and simple molds. Surely this is a case of mistaken identity. Of course we want our bodies to utilize these tactics for bird flu or bio-terrorism. But pollen? Come on.

In Neuro Linguistic Programming (NLP), allergies are referred to as a “phobia of the immune system.” The body has learned to fear that which is not really harmful. How can this happen? Let’s explore.

When a person perceives the world as unfriendly, with disasters lurking around every corner, that perception is a neurological event. Your brain sends Red Alert messages to your nervous system which, in turn, passes alarm signals to your immune system. Now, all your body’s border crossings — the mucus membranes of the nose, lungs, eyes, etc. — are at DEFCON 1. It is a distinct case of “shoot first, ask questions later.”

Another way the body gets tricked into seeing friend as foe is when digestion is compromised. NSAID medications (nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs), antacid usage, antibiotic abuse, improper chewing and poor dietary habits set the stage for large, undigested proteins to cross into your bloodstream from your digestive track. These large proteins are immediately tagged for extermination and cataloged as dangerous by your immune system.

When your immune system spots that protein again — or one similar to it — an immunologic event is set off, usually resulting in some kind of inflammation. This inflammation further degrades the border crossing at the gut level so that additional oversized proteins enter the bloodstream and aggravate the immune system even further.

Then this agitated and overstimulated immune system starts overreacting to citrus and olive tree pollens. It has lost all perspective. In short, it needs to get a grip.

A multitude of natural interventions work well to combat allergies. Acupuncture, homeopathy, herbal medicine, etc. are all powerful tools to control allergy symptoms and help restore balance to the system. More fundamental, however, is that in conjunction with these other therapies, they work at the level of the mind and the digestive process.

Eliminating or decreasing the intake of common food allergens such as gluten and dairy can go a long way toward alleviating suffering. So can the addition of digestive enzymes, bitter digestive tonics such as ginger, better dietary hygiene, proper chewing, and eating in a relaxed and mindful manner. All these techniques help heal the integrity of the digestive system, which can help quiet a hyperactive immune system.

The mental messages we give ourselves can also have a huge impact on our allergies. We just make it worse when we obsessively follow the pollen counts on the news or the Web, when we keep our windows shut tight in fear of the slightest bit of pollen entering our airspace, when we constantly tell our body that, indeed, these things are to be feared and, if you do see any, “kill ‘em!”

This is not to say you should abandon common sense and go lie naked in a field of wildflowers (unless, of course, that is your thing). Rather, we should take charge of our self-talk and reassure ourselves that “Nature is my friend,” “Trees are harmless, and they clean our air,” and “My immune system is strong, calm, intelligent and at peace.” These affirmations will ripple through our bodies and have positive effects on our immune systems.

When our minds and our guts are at peace with the world around us, our bodies likely will follow.


Dr. Steven Ehrlich is a naturopathic physician has received post-doctoral training at the Israel Center for Mind-Body Medicine and creates an individualized program for each patient, blending Eastern and Western medicine. or 480-539-6646.

Reprinted from AzNetNews, Volume 24, Number 3, June/July 2005.

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