Saturday, March 19, 2011

Hello, Spring! Hello, Pollen!

The real title of this post is "Hello, Spring! Screw You, Allergies!!"

Spring is by far my favorite season in Nashville. It's not oppressively hot yet, the bugs are minimal and, unlike the Michigan springs of my childhood, it's blooming and vibrant rather than cold and muddy. The dogwoods, forsythia, redbuds and saucer magnolias are exploding into bloom right now. I love it!

However, there's a huge downside to Spring in Nashville: the allergies. Nashville is legendary for inducing allergies even in people who have not previously suffered from them. I was warned when I moved here 13 years ago- "Just wait a few years and you'll develop allergies!" I didn't believe it, but it happened. First, it was in the autumn (ragweed) and then over the years, I also started suffering in the spring (tree pollen). See that lovely picture above? Well, that's my archenemy, the Bradford Pear tree.

Anyone who has pollen allergies knows that they're no picnic. My variety of symptoms are downright miserable. Yes, there's some sneezing and some itchy nose (no itchy eyes or sinus infections, thank goodness!) but then there's the sore throat and the intense full body fatigue and heavy head that makes me feel like I've been drugged and makes it almost impossible to think clearly. When I first developed them, I went for a few acupuncture treatments and they cleared up for a number of years. Later, I no longer had group health insurance that payed for acupuncture so I turned to natural allergy supplements. I would still recommend acupuncture in a heartbeat, but I know that not everyone has access to or can afford it.

Not wanting to resort to Benedryl, which DOES make me so drugged up I can't think straight (not to mention it blocks the neurotransmitter acetylcholine, which is essential for memory function, among other things) and not wanting to use over the counter or prescription allergy meds, I've tried many natural remedies over the years.

I tried a variety of herbal, homeopathic and nutrient formulas, such as nettles, eyebright and quercetin (I worked in the supplement dept. of Whole Foods, so I had access to so many things). I didn't try the famed neti pot because I don't have the kind of symptoms a neti pot is used for (although they are supposed to be great and I know multitudes of people who love their neti pots!)
The only thing that worked for my set of symptoms were the Bioallers Formulas, which are homeopathic formulas containing minute amounts of specific allergens. People love to bash homeopathy or chalk it up to a placebo effect. Well, I think that's a load of BS. If that were the case, I doubt Bioallers would have worked better for me than the other formulas I tried (many of which worked great for my coworkers), but they work very well and I have a number of friends who also swear by them. I love that they have no side effects or contraindications.

I use the Tree Pollen formula in Spring and the Pollen Hayfever formula (for weeds and ragweed) in autumn. Thankfully, I don't need any of the other formulas for grass pollen (summer) pet dander or mold. The first day I take it, I dose every hour until I feel better. From there on out, I dose first thing in the morning, before pollen exposure so I'm one step ahead. It's easier to prevent than to reverse a reaction.

I've had people tell me that using these formulas will over time desensitize you to your allergens. There may be some truth to that- mine did seem to get less severe over the years and last autumn, I had none at all! That could be in part because of my diet (although I still had allergies my first year of Primal eating).

I actually think I had no allergies last fall because of some allergy clearing treatments my holistic chiropractor did on me around that time, because, lo and behold, I've had NO ALLERGIES so far this spring (and this is the time of year I really suffer!)

So, what were these magical allergy clearing treatments? I went through a series of NAET treatments. I wasn't doing them for seasonal allergies, per se, but rather as part of my autoimmune treatment protocol, to resolve leaky-gut induced food sensitivities. They seem wacky and out-there, but they work. They have a great track record even for serious (and extensive) food allergies.

Balancing the immune system, in and of itself, addresses allergies, since allergies are an autoimmune inflammatory reaction.

Anyway, I'm really jazzed not to need my allergy formula this time of year. Now I can be fully present and fully enjoying the beautiful Nashville blooms:)


Monday, March 7, 2011

Dopamine Deficiency (or, I'm Not Lazy After All!) and March Updates

I usually try to pick a theme for my posts, but I couldn't decide on just one today, so I figured I would do a quick little check-in post before my main post.

Garden Update:

It's suddenly turned cold again here in Nashville (booooo, hisssss!), just when I thought it was safe to start leaving my potted kumquat trees and valencia orange tree on the porch. I have a grand total of four kumquats and one orange growing right now.

My seed trays are sitting in my big south-facing living room window and are full of sprouting seeds waiting to be transplanted into the garden boxes soon. We still have to build said boxes, though! That's been on the back burners due to some bad weather. The rainstorms seem to have come early this year and we had a tornado that did some real damage the other week (definitely not the norm for March in Tennessee!)

Sleep Challenge Update:

Wow, I am so failing my sleep challenge! I swear, this is my biggest stumbling block. Sigh. I'm such a hard-wired night owl! At least this challenge has resulted in me getting to bed earlier many nights than I would have otherwise, but I'm in no way close to having reset my sleep rhythms. On the bright side, now that spring is kicking in, I seem to need a little less sleep and have been waking up a little earlier naturally. I'm just going to keep chipping away at my sleep habits (like one of those highways that are under perpetual roadwork;)

Dopamine Deficiency

I recently started taking a dopamine supporting formula and I can tell a difference in how I feel upon waking in the morning (i.e. less zombie-like and way more alert). In fact, a few days ago, I woke up with a perfectly clear, non-foggy mind and non-heavy head. It felt completely novel! It was like my brain was switched to "on" instead of stuck in the "conserve energy" setting. I am noticing more brain energy to start and finish tasks, which is a big issue for me.

I'm not a lazy person (there's a rather sarcastic voice in my mind saying "Sure, Erin- of course you're not!") But seriously, if I were truly lazy, it wouldn't bother me that I don't get things done (and it DOES bother me!)

It's more like my brain runs out of juice easily and can't stay on track. It's not true A.D.D., either. I used to have superb concentration, so I know I wasn't always like this. Again, it's more like a lack of mental stamina. The Primal diet has improved my brain function but my brain has the deck stacked against it due to my Hashimoto's related cognitive symptoms (Hashi's often causes brain inflammation and interferes with neurotransmitters), so I need a little extra help!!

Here is a list of symptoms of dopamine deficiency (with my emphasis added on symptoms I identify with):

1. Physically fatigued easily (Sometimes.)
2. Sleep too much and trouble getting out of bed (Yes on trouble getting out of bed!)
3. Reduced ability to feel pleasure
4. Flat, bored, apathetic (Yes on feeling flat)
5. Low drive, motivation & enthusiasm (Yes, and yes.)
6. Depressed
7. Difficulty getting through a task even when interesting to me (HELL yes!)
8. Procrastinator/little urgency (Mmmm-hmmm!)
9. Shy/introvert (Yes.)
10. Mentally fatigued easily (Yes.)
11.Difficulty paying attention and concentrating (A little bit!)
12.Slow thinker and/or slow to learn new ideas
13.Put on weight easily
14.Crave uppers (e.g. caffeine/sugar/nicotine/diet soft drinks/cocaine/amphetamines)
15.Use these improve energy/motivation/mood
16.Prone to addictions (e.g. alcohol)/addictive personality
17.Light headedness
18.Reduced libido and/or impotence (sometimes on the libido)
19.Family history of depression/alcoholism/ADD

Factors which reduce dopamine levels (with my emphasis added on factors I have):

1. Chronic stress
2. Inadequate sleep (Like, DUH!)
3. Hypothyroidism (Bingo! Hashimoto's!)
4. Lead, arsenic and cadmium exposure
5. Under-methylation (Possibly- I suspect my dad's family under-methylates their B12. They have a strong history of Alzheimer's and dementia.)
6. Tyrosine (precursor) deficiency
7. Magnesium, iron, zinc & vitamins B3/B6/C/D deficiency
8. Excess copper levels (I have melasma and used to be vegetarian, so copper might be a factor.)
9. Genetic dopamine receptor abnormalities
10.Chronic opioid, alcohol & marijuana use
11.Adrenal insufficiency (Definitely!!)
12.Glutathione deficiency
13.Parkinson's Disease
15.Estrogen deficiency (Yes.)
16.Human growth hormone deficiency

I'm encouraged that I'm seeing some results after about a week and a half on the formula. My moods are less flat, my brain seems more alert and I've been less distractible. I'm getting better at following though on tasks. All big deals for me.

Low thyroid often causes low dopamine, which then causes further low thyroid function. Vicious cycle, there! So, this is probably another piece of the healing puzzle for me, which I'm thankful for. Maybe this will be a puzzle piece that some of you are looking for, too.