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IN THIS ISSUE
This is the ultimate time of year for eating fresh, local fruits and vegetables from your local farmer’s market or fruit stand. It doesn’t get much better than a tree-ripened peach, corn on the cob that came out of the field that morning or a ripe tomato that actually smells and tastes like a tomato. Fresh local produce almost makes supermarket produce seem like a different species.
Here’s a simple and delicious summer salad recipe that my mother used to make from my father’s vegetable garden. Thinly slice cucumbers (peeled), tomatoes and onions and place in a shallow bowl. Drizzle olive oil over, toss very gently, add salt and pepper, toss gently again, add a splash or two of vinegar and toss gently again. Taste and refine. Put in the fridge and marinate for at least a few hours. I like to use a good basalmic vinegar and Jane’s Krazy Mixed Up Salt.
Next you’ll find an article by my friend Gene Dobkin about how to reduce allergy symptoms. This isn’t the same old allergy advice—Gene always has a unique spin on healing the body and gives us some simple but surprisingly effective techniques to try.
HISTAMINE, THE ILIOCECAL VALVE AND ALLERGIES
Practical Techniques You can Do Now to Reduce Allergy Symptoms
By Gene Dobkin
This seems to be quite a year for allergies. As with many conditions, the causes can be external and internal. External causes include pollution and increased pollen, from weather and other factors. For example, urban planning has exacerbated the pollen problem far beyond the natural state. Female trees have come to be considered too “messy,” what with flower and fruit debris needing to be cleaned up regularly, so almost all ornamental trees planted by cities and towns nowadays are males—males who spread pollen.
Internal problems are interesting (and ecological) as well. Why do some people react to allergens and not others? There is nothing inherently dangerous in cat hair or ragweed or peanuts, such that the body should raise emergency defensive measures. But some bodies do, reacting with an increase in histamine production. Histamine in the sinuses causes over-secretion of mucus. With food allergies, histamine can swell the throat tissues and deregulate stomach secretions, and in response to topical allergens it can blister and degrade the skin.
Histamine functions as an element of the immune system. It is mildly antiseptic, but mostly an inflammatory. It dilates arteries and makes them more permeable (fluid escapes). At the same time, histamine constricts veins and bronchial passages, producing localized swelling around hazardous materials (or even the threat of them!). The cure often turns out to be worse than the disease. Unregulated, histamine can cause or aggravate many chronic conditions, including:
- Asthma and Bronchitis
- Poor circulation / Cold extremities
- Dry skin
- Stomach Hyperacidity and compulsive overeating
- Sexual effects
There may be some genetic factor in allergic reactions. There is often an emotional factor. But to be clear, allergic reactions are a derangement of the immune system. Avoiding all allergens, or taking antihistamines is just a stopgap. Certain controllable factors contribute to a generalized toxemia (bacteria and other cellular debris in the blood) and histamine production, such that not much of an external stimulus is necessary to trigger a reaction. In fact, the symptoms of an overfed, overburdened liver (runny nose, wheezing, sneezing, hung-over-feeling—what the French call “mal du fois”) are hardly distinguishable from allergies.
Nine Easy Steps You can Take to Reduce Allergy Symptoms
1) Avoid excess consumption of yeasted bread, dairy, eggs, corn, nuts, gluten (e.g. grains), animal protein/fat. These all contain ample amounts of histidene (from which your body manufactures histamine).
2) Avoid excess consumption of refined carbohydrates, for example the white foods such as white bread, rice, pastries, cookies. They deplete the carbohydrate-digesting enzyme amylase. This enzyme stabilizes the mast cells that release histamine at the start of inflammatory conditions.
3) Stay hydrated by drinking plenty of fluids. Doesn’t it always come back to that? Dehydration depletes the amino acid tryptophan in the brain, triggering histamine release in an attempt to retain fluid.
4) Sufficient salt intake. Less is best, but only to a point. Salt is a natural antihistamine. Ironically, a small salt intake daily, along with plenty of water, helps moisten and lubricate the breathing passages and prevent the lungs from overproducing mucus. A good pinch of natural sea salt daily will do. As always, be aware of “hidden” salt in processed foods. Saline nasal sprays and netti pots (yogic nasal cleansing devices) can bring symptomatic relief. Spray decongestants will help for a while and then backfire on you big time.
5) Bioflavonoids. These are the natural antioxidants that accompany vitamin C. Bioflavonoids reduce the production of leukotrienes and inhibit histamine. Leukotrienes are neurotransmitters that can cause inflammation and constrict airways.
6) Neck Massage. Tight suboccipital muscles can reflexively clog or dry out the sphenoid sinus. This triggers histamine production and undermines normal pituitary gland function. Massage the very top of your neck, just below the ridge of your skull, or better yet have someone else do it. Alternatively, lie on your back on the floor with a rolled-up towel under that same ridge.
7) Keep your colon healthy and toned. Toxicity in the gut translates to a general toxic state in all mucus membranes, and is closely associated with histamine production. Soluble fiber, the pulpy portion of fruits and vegetables, has a cleansing, regulating function. Friendly gut bacteria called probiotics, found in yogurt, kefir and supplements, help minimize noxious fermentation.
8) Massage the Illeocecal Valve
Mechanically, look to the iliocecal valve. This valve should open temporarily to let food pass from the small to the large intestine, and then close to keep it there. Food stuck too long in the small intestine will ferment and intoxicate the blood stream. Feces backing up from the colon into the small intestine, full of bacteria and other digestive byproducts, will do the same. The iliocecal valve often becomes dysfunctional, but it can be reconditioned through self-massage.
Put your fingers on the anterior superior iliac spine (ASIS), which is the small, prominent bump on the front of your right hipbone, (just by the little watch pocket on an old pair of jeans). Move about two inches towards the centerline, down just a bit, and you’re about there over the valve. As orientation, you’ll also be a couple of inches south of your navel. Fish around carefully through the fat and muscle layers and you will find a golf-ball sized lump that can reward you with a surprising achy sensation. It might be easier to find, at least the first time, by lying on your back with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor.
Massage this spot gently in a circular fashion for a minute or so, a couple of times a day. Try it while sitting on the toilet. It’s a good memory device; if you wear a belt it’s already undone, and it can often ease bowel movements. Also massage the same point on the left side which is another valve that has a balancing effect on the iliocecal.
9) Acupressure for Allergic Reactions
So far, we’ve been talking in terms of medically conventional, chemical and mechanical consequences. In Traditional Chinese Medicine, the meridians, lines of energy flow through the body, are seen as energetically and functionally paired. The Lung and Large Intestine meridians are such a pair. The first-aid remedy below for respiratory relief is, not surprisingly, a Large Intestine point.
During respiratory allergic reactions, press on your hoku point. This is the fleshy part of the webbing between your thumb and hand, a little closer to the index finger side. Pincer this with your other thumb, backing it up on the palm side with your fingers. Push inwards, towards the hand side. (Hint: if you squeeze your thumb and index finger together you will produce an oval-shaped bulge in the webbing. Press right into the center of this spot and then relax the hand.) The point can be quite sore—use that soreness to zero in. Spend about a minute or so pressing and massaging on each hand, while breathing fully.
Gene Dobkin is in Therapeutic Massage practice in California. You can visit his web site at www.neuraltouch.com.
THE BRAIN THAT CHANGES ITSELF
Stories of Personal Triumph from the Frontiers of Brain Science
By Norman Doidge, M.D.
“Mind-bending, miracle-making, reality-busting stuff with implications for all human beings, not to mention human culture, human learning and human history.”
New York Times
“You don’t have to be a brain surgeon to read it—just a person with a curious mind.”
Globe & Mail
Maybe half a dozen times a decade, if we’re lucky, a paradigm-shifting concept comes along that profoundly changes the way we perceive our world. The Brain that Changes Itself does just that.
I bought the book out of mild curiosity, picked it up with the intention of skimming it, and then couldn’t put it down until I had read it from cover to cover. It opens the door to a thrilling new world where we don’t have to be stuck in our brain ruts, and where people with physically damaged brains can heal—without drugs or surgery.
Until recently most of us have deeply misunderstood the brain and underestimated its powers for healing and change. The old paradigm is that after a certain age the brain is largely inflexible. It doesn’t grow new neurons, and once a part of the brain is damaged there’s no way to undo the damage. Dr. Doidge is a researcher and psychiatrist who observed both in his own patients and in the research of others that, given the correct stimulus and instruction, the brain is incredibly flexible and can repair almost any problem. But not in the way you might think, and therein lies the thrill of this book that begins on the very first page.
What researchers in this evolving field are discovering is that you can alter your brain anatomy and switch genes on and off with your thoughts. You can lift depression, relieve anxiety, ease pain, raise IQ, reverse senility, and change what you thought were entrenched personality characteristics. For the most part it doesn’t involve special machines or years of study, but a willingness to understand the basic concepts of how the brain changes, and to do the hard work of creating the change.
The Chicago Tribune expresses it well: “Lucid and absolutely fascinating…engaging, educational and riveting. [The Brain that Changes Itself] satisfies, in equal measure, the mind and the heart. Doidge is able to explain current research in neuroscience with clarity and thoroughness. He presents the ordeals of the patients about whom he writes—people born with parts of their brains missing, people with learning disabilities, people recovering from strokes—with grace and vividness. In the best medical narratives—and the works of Doidge… join that fraternity—the narrow bridge between body and soul is traversed with courage and eloquence.”
The Brain that Changes Itself is a beautiful book, destined to become a classic, that you’ll want to give a permanent home on your bookshelf.
Here’s another reason to read nutrition and ingredients labels on things you put in your mouth. Non-sugar sweeteners such as sorbitol, xylitol, mannitol and maltitol can cause bloating and gas. If you’re regularly consuming these sweeteners, which end in the letters “ol” and are known as sugar alcohols, and you also have a bloating problem, try getting off the sweeteners and see if the problem disappears. These sweeteners can be found in just about any type of food or beverage, chewing gum and breath mints. Even something as seemingly small as a breath mint or two can bring on the gas and bloating in susceptible people.
And speaking of non-sugar sweeteners, did you know that not one published study has ever shown that using artificial sweeteners such as aspartame and sucralose (Splenda) instead of sugar will help you lose significant weight? According to some researchers this is because the sweet taste stimulates the release of insulin, which removes glucose from the blood and carries it into the cells, which leaves the body with low blood sugar and an intense craving for a sugar fix, which leads to eating an entire pint of ice cream in one sitting.
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