Seasonal Allergies: Naturopathy and Herbal Medicine to the Rescue!

With the coming of my first winter, my body has been undergoing some serious adjustments consequently, given me much suffering and discomfort.

I don’t blame it though, because I realize that I’ve spent the past 26 years in a hot, humid, tropical country like Singapore so this first winter must be quite a traumatizing experience for it.

This is probably my first true real winter experience as previous ones were just short 10 day family trips to “winterlands”. This time though, I arrived in New Zealand at the end of summer (Feb) and have experienced the slow transition through autumn and now into winter.

An allergy to grass?!

For the first 4 months, I was happily running around with my Earth Runners or even barefoot on the grass most of the time. Despite minor cuts here and there, I had absolutely no problems with my feet!

Come winter though, I started to develop some sort of allergic reaction in my feet!

It started with one foot but eventually both feet would become red, swell and itch REAL BAD. The itching was the worse part and if I resisted the urge to scratch it, the leg muscles would spasm and make a jerking, kicking reaction!

Inflammed feet
Swelling, redness and an almost unbearable itch!

At first I thought it was something I ate that my body was overreacting to. And it did seem like it because this happened whenever I ate cheese, deep fried foods, spicy foods, preservative/artificial additives and chemical laden ‘food’.

I would wake up in the middle of the night, itching and scratching away for hours!

So I cut those foods out completely. As much as I could and stuck to my almost Vegan diet of lots of veggies, whole grains and beans and sometimes, at most 2 eggs a day.

However, the same swelling, redness and itching continued and would appear at seemingly random times in the day!

One time I was just taking out the trash and my feet brushed against the rain-laden grass on the lawn. This eventually blew up into a full-blown itch reaction!

I then started to think, “Could it be the grass?!”

Recently, I had a conversation with a pharmacist and he was telling me that come winter, the whole natural world has to adapt to the changing environment. This means the grass would have to change biochemically too, to adapt to the changing winter conditions.

Suffice to say, the microbiome of the grass would be changing as well.

Maybe I was reacting to this new ‘winter bacteria’?

It definitely did not help that my feet still had some cuts and cracked, dry skin from overexposure to the cold winter winds on my 30 minute jogs to and from school daily.

“Maybe my body is trying to tell me something … ”

It dawned on me that I was the only fella still running around in winter with shorts and sandals.

Maybe my feet were complaining, “It’s cold John! Give us some warmth and protection!” and “Show us some love! Help us heal from these dry, cracked skin!”

So I started wearing socks and avoiding the grass/dirt as much as I could.

This really made a difference and the allergic reactions to grass/dirt went away in a couple of weeks.

I’m still wearing socks with my running sandals these days and have been religiously applying creams and salves to moisturize and heal those cracked skin.

Thankfully or by divine intervention/serendipity, our last week of school was herbal manufacturing week and our group made so many skin-healing creams, balms and salves! These have played a pivotal role in healing and nurturing my feet to the point that they almost feel as smooth and well taken care of as a ladies’ feet!

At the start of this all, I consulted a naturopath at the local health food store and she recommended a homeopathic remedy for allergies.

At first I think this did help to a certain extent. However, I soon realized that during times of an acute reaction, spraying this into my mouth every 15 mins made the symptoms of itching worse!

I stopped using this during the reactions and only as a form of maintenance 3 times a day whenever I wasn’t having a reaction.

I’m not sure how helpful that was but this experience taught me not to use over the counter ‘generic’ homeopathic products. It is wiser to consult an experienced homeopath who knows how to ‘tailor-make’ your individual remedy.

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Additionally, she also recommended a balm to a Kawa Kawa balm with Tea Tree oil to apply for the itch but that did not help much during the times of acute itching either.

Kawa Kawa is indigenous to New Zealand and revered as a native medicinal plant with a myriad of therapeutic uses.

Later on, I would eventually find a cream that works wonders for itching an allergic reactions (see Hives section below).

Food Triggers

Because I allowed myself ONE cheat meal a week as a psychological valve to release whatever built up tension whenever you follow a really strict diet, I was still getting the same reactions to food.

I would start to feel my feet getting hot and start to swell as the inflammation kicked in. Then my sandals would feel too tight from the swelling and the itch would set in. And I’d be miserable for another couple of hours.

You’d think I’d learn my lesson after a couple of times but no… that once a week cheat meal was just too tempting.

Besides this, my fingers were also perpetually swollen most of the time and the joints in my fingers and toes would ache and feel swollen when I ‘scrunched’ or curled them up. Probably a side effect from my old autoimmune symptoms.

In those times of acute itching, all I could do was meditate and calm my mind while waiting for the allergic reaction to pass – often at 3am in the morning, sitting miserably on my bed, doing some Wim Hof breathing.

Talking to my Body

In desperation, I decided to try something I’d never tried before – talking to my body.

This stemmed from a consultation with my student-naturopath as part of my course.

She suspected some sort of mind-body disconnect going on. What with my history of autoimmunity and now the allergies.

Basically I started “talking” to my body, in my head, while imagining myself (or my soul) wrapping some ‘spiritual arms’ around my physical body, kinda like someone giving you a most loving hug from behind.

I would say things like:

“Dear body, I love you.

Please stop over reacting to these foods.

Its okay, this foods are okay.

They will nourish me and heal me.”

I also incorporated these lines into my prayers whenever I said grace before every meal.

“Dear Lord, thank you for this food that is going to nourish me and heal me.”

and consciously look and appreciate the food that is in front of me, however ‘bad’ or unhealthy I had trained myself to believe it was (like a slice of pizza or a piece of cake). And treat it with love, sending good intentions and vibrations/energies/frequencies to the food.

I also did this whenever I had the (now occasional) reaction to dirt or grass and slowly but surely, over the course of a few weeks, it has somehow become quite effective!

Last night I went for an indian buffet with a friend and ate lots of different curries that had foods like cheese (paneer) and dairy (yogurt) and spices which I would have had a full blown reaction to in the past.

Every time I felt the onset of those reactions coming, I would repeat one of the above lines to my feet/body and just carry on eating as if nothing was going to happen.

By the end of the meal, nothing happened! Last night and this morning too, there was no itch or swelling.

However I must admit that for the past two weeks I have had almost no cheat meals and been eating very, very clean with lots of raw and nutritious, gut healing foods.

Also, on the advice of my Singapore-based Naturopath and mentor, I have been taking a supplement of quercetin, bromelain and vitamin-C for another allergic reaction – Hives. This might have had some effect on calming down my immune system and these reactions to food.

HIVES: The last attack!

Beginning about 3 weeks ago, I started waking up in the middle of the night, every night, with itching not in my feet but now further up my body. And like before, this would last for hours and all I could do was meditate and try to take my mind off scratching the itch.

It started with my thighs and hip area but soon spread up to my back and shoulders.

At first I thought it was bed bugs but after washing and changing my sheets, I started to suspect it was food again. That picture above was a reaction during the day when my landlord offered me a commercially mass-produced raspberry tart from the supermarket – chock full of artificial additives and vegetable oils.

I consulted Dr. Sebastian and in his wisdom, he suspected Hives because it did not look like bites from bed bugs. He told me to find and take that supplement above as well as get Chickweed cream for the itch.

This cream worked wonders for the itch! I cannot recommend it enough if you are someone who suffers from an itching skin condition such as psoriasis.

It is soothing and cooling to the skin after applying and leaves a layer of coating that helps to prevent more itching and which kinda feels like dried mud.

Another herbal remedy that made a difference during the times of intense itch was a bach flower remedy that a fellow student put together for me in class during one herbal manufacturing lesson on the last week of school. This was after a 30 minute consultation.

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Bach flower remedies are very effective on an emotional level. How it works is still a mystery but somehow, the ‘energy’ or essence of the flowers get extracted into these water solutions.

I would take 2 drops of this during an acute reaction and together with meditation, I was able to calm myself down much quicker than before and fall asleep easier.

It also helped that I finally learnt my lesson and stayed away from anything that might trigger the Hives, food wise.

However, the ‘Hive attack’ was still continuing every night. Despite it getting much more manageable.

It wasn’t until I moved into this new house and bed 5 days ago that they stopped.

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Check out this sweet as (and fierce) tiger mink blanket that my new landlord provided me!

So at this point I am tempted to suspect the Hives had something to do with the previous bed and sheets.

Conclusion

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“Sausage toes” and swollen feet (before)

These last two images show my current ‘normal’, un-inflamed fingers and toes. As compared to the one above, here you can see there isn’t much redness or swelling at all, as indicated by the outline of the bones of my metatarsals, metacarpals and toes being visible.

I’m really happy to say that I think the worst of the allergies and reactions are over!

And I do hope it stays this way but I also know that if I don’t take care of my body and/or neglect a healthy diet for too long, these reactions and more will come back. So its all about staying on top of it and finding balance I guess.

Have you experienced something like this before? Please share by commenting below!

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