Below is a brief chat with my wonderful acupuncturist Aimee Raupp. We've been working together for the last year and a half. Whilst under her care, I started an elimination diet [which TOTALLY helped], I've continued my Anusara yoga studies and she been boosting my immune system through acupuncture. One of the things I like about her is she’s about my age. She’s a cool chick who can relate to the stressors of a thirty-something living in NYC, dating, juggling their career and NOT eating pizza or ice cream.
What is acupuncture and how does it work?
Acupuncture is just one facet of the broad-based medicine known as, Traditional Oriental Medicine. Traditional Oriental Medicine includes Acupuncture, Chinese herbology, dietary therapy and exercise, all of which are based on over 2000 years of clinical application. These therapies work with the natural vital energy inherent within all living things to promote the body’s ability to heal itself. Acupuncture is a method of encouraging the body to promote natural healing and improve function. I often tell patients that acupuncture is a means of aggravating the body so that it functions better. This is done by inserting sterilized, stainless-steel, disposable needles (that are as fine as a human hair) into specific points located near or on the surface of the skin which have the ability to alter various biochemical and physiological conditions in order to treat a wide variety of illnesses.
What kind of alternatives or co-treatments to traditional western medicine can acupuncture provide for people with allergies?
Mainly lifestyle and nutritional awareness.
Often we are creating or making our allergies worse, whether it’s a function of our internal or external environment, or both. Patients can become less dependent on medications while gaining more control over their lifestyle choices that are most likely exacerbating their condition. Acupuncture enhances immune function by means of initiating an immune ‘cascade’ when needles are inserted into the body. I always say to patients, “I am sticking a foreign object into your body. Your body is smart enough to know it doesn’t belong there, so the first thing it does it try to defend itself against this foreign invader. It does this by initiating an immune response. It is in this way that acupuncture enhances immune function”. If your immune function is enhanced, your allergies will be less injurious.
For asthma? Again, I go after asthma, not only through enhancing immune function, but also through cleaning up the diet: avoiding heavy, phlegm creating, hard to digest substances like added sugars and dairy products. Often these substances hamper lung function; if the lungs are filled with phlegm, of course it’s going to be difficult to breathe.
Additionally, asthma is often accompanied by an anxiety factor. Whether the anxiety or asthma came first, it doesn’t really matter, by calming the patient’s anxiety, they’re less likely to have stress induced breathing issues.
Just what I was going to say: panicky reactions often coincide with allergic and asthmatic reactions. So tell me more about how can acupuncture help?
Well, in addition to the immune cascade that acupuncture induces, it also causes a large dumping of endorphins, the body’s natural pain mediators. This occurs because the body thinks it’s under attack when those acupuncture needles are inserted. So, in defense of itself, the body will dump endorphins to protect itself against possible harm. These endorphins cause us to feel a sense of deep relaxation. By instigating this deep sense of relaxation, acupuncture calms patients.
Panicky patients respond well when they are relaxed. I often look at it like I am retraining the patient’s body to remember what relaxation feels like. If I can remind the body enough times what relaxation feels like, it often can get there by itself in the future. I give patients tools to calm themselves out of anxious/allergic situations.
Do you have any suggestions for the general health and well being of people who have food allergies or food sensitivities?
I always urge patients with sensitivities or allergies to note how their diet affects them (using a food diary, noting what foods they ate and how they felt after eating them, as well, any body reactions, i.e. diarrhea, heartburn, itchy skin, etc). We are very much what we eat. Chances are if a patient is allergic or sensitive they can mitigate those issues with simple dietary changes or complete elimination of the more allergic food groups (such as dairy, wheat, soy, processed foods).
As well, Traditional Oriental Medicine always takes the emotional perspective into account when treating any disease state. Individuals with allergies, typically have a weakened immune system (in western medical terms) or weak or deficient Qi (in Traditional Oriental Medicine terms). To boost the Qi, we recommend acupuncture (obviously), a clean and clear diet (foods that are lightly steamed, without added sauces or preservatives), and foods that are as close to their natural state as possible… and always organic.
Other suggestions would include, yoga, meditation, exercise, deep breathing, internal awareness (i.e. how emotions or food affect us), air purifiers and certain vitamin supplements such as acidophilus.