The trees are starting to bloom in Minnesota, a welcome sign of the coming spring and warm weather. Unfortunately, it’s also a sign that allergens are about to fill the air. For those of us susceptible to pollens and molds, this can make spring a bit of a mixed bag. Luckily, preventative acupuncture and herbal supplements can help control symptoms of allergies before they get bad.
Multiple studies have been done in an attempt to understand acupuncture’s efficacy when treating allergy symptoms. One of the more recent, larger studies funded by the German Research Foundation measured the outcomes of 422 patients with allergies to birch and grass pollen over a period of 8 weeks. They concluded that “acupuncture led to statistically significant improvements in disease-specific quality of life and antihistamine use measures after 8 weeks of treatment compared with sham acupuncture and with rescue medication alone…” (http://annals.org/article.aspx?articleid=1583578&resultClick=3)
The methods used in this study when crafting the treatments, are the same we use at Minnesota Community Acupuncture with great success. In Chinese medicine allergies are looked at as forms of “Wind Invasion.” This sounds a bit dramatic, but as a functional metaphor it explains exactly what is going on in the body and the environment. “Wind” simply means any pathogen or allergen carried through the air. Allergens are especially problematic in spring and fall, whereas different types of bugs can be carried through the air during times like the flu season. “Invasion” is not dissimilar to the word infection, and has the same implications. Generally the Chinese think that if the immune system is weakened or imbalanced wind can invade, i.e. you get sick. Understanding what these two words mean, helps one understand how acupuncture and Chinese herbal medicine seek to cure the problem. The approach with both is two pronged: 1) Expel the Pathogens (this is important since invasion or infection means they’ve already breached our defenses) 2) Boost the Wei Qi and Secure the Exterior (this is fancy metaphorical language for strengthening the immune system).
In both the aforementioned German study, and on a daily basis at Minnesota Community Acupuncture, a number of points have been selected to help boost the immune system, and expel any pathogens or allergens.
I’d like to look a little more closely at just one of these points, as it sums up very concisely the acupuncturist’s approach to treating allergies. Yingxiang (sometimes referred to as LI-20) translates as “Welcome Fragrance.” The name alone gives you a clue that it might be important for helping one breath through the nose again. Its functions are to “dispel wind, open nasal passages, and clear heat.” On top of this, the point lies on a channel that is said to be full of Qi and Blood…essentially a channel that when stimulated can’t help but strengthen the body and the immune system.
In part two of this series, we’ll look at an important Chinese herbal formula for preventing and treating seasonal allergies. Of course, if you want the herbal answer to your allergies now, you can always ask one of our acupuncturists about options during your treatment and they will be happy to make a recommendation!