A week before Halloween, I walked into an acupuncturist’s office as a last-ditch effort to treat terrible hay fever I’ve had since my early teenage years. One of my two sisters had suggested this remedy about a year ago, and I finally decided to explore that option.
Prior to the visit, I had tried everything – from 36 years of allergy shots to multiple prescriptions or over-the-counter medications. My symptoms were largely kept at bay, though they never totally disappeared. Then I noticed that they worsened in recent years, right around the time I learned that climate change was exacerbating life for allergy sufferers like myself as well as people with asthma. That felt like an existential threat, but I soldiered on – until my tolerance for multiple sneezing fits, a runny nose, watery eyes and the occasional tickle in my throat ran thin.
As with many health care providers, I had to fill out reams of paperwork prior to my first visit, which thankfully was made affordable from a partnership that my insurance carrier, Kaiser Permanente, had with an alternative medicine boutique provider. I was asked to list and prioritize my top five health problems, which were hay fever/allergies, insomnia, gas/bloating, leg cramps and anxiety. I also was asked to rate on a scale of 1-5 as many as 200 different health conditions or problems so that the acupuncturist, who also specialized in naturopathic medicine, could get a better sense of my challenges and objectives.
During that first appointment, I was told that it could take up to two hours and that most of the time would be devoted to discussing my overall health, as well as what I would like to change about it. Only the final 20 minutes or so would involve the ancient Chinese practice of acupuncture. It was a bit surprising to me since my initial expectation was that needles would be stuck into certain parts of my body, and voila, I would be cured of my allergy symptoms.
Nothing could be farther from the truth. I was told that acupuncture merely helps manage those symptoms or makes them more bearable, while the real work involved taking various dietary supplements and changing the types of foods I ate and beverages I drank. That last part threw me for a loop. I had no idea there was a connection between what I put into my body and my terrible allergy symptoms because I had no food allergies, or at least I was unaware of any.
By the end of our first session, which included muscle tests that were done on me laying down on a massage table, I was told that the hunch my acupuncturist-naturopath initially had during our first chat on the phone proved to be correct. The diagnosis was a fatty liver from my lifelong addiction to sugar and carbs, which you’d never know from looking at my skinny body type.
There’s even a name for it: “nonalcoholic fatty liver disease,” which according to the Mayo Clinic describes “a range of liver conditions affecting people who drink little to no alcohol” (guilty as charged), and as the name implies, too much fat is stored in liver cells for that organ to properly work. It undermines the liver’s ability to cleanse the blood of toxins, and in my case, the use of antihistamines can actually increase the progression of this disease.
The phenomenon has become increasingly common everywhere, especially in Western nations like the U.S. where the Mayo Clinic notes that it’s “the most common form of chronic liver disease, affecting about one-quarter of the population.” Why so? Our growing obsession with sugar and carbohydrates, which cause a surge of dopamine that fool our brains into thinking these pleasant tastes are to be repeatedly enjoyed and not feared.
Now here’s the rub: most of us would never think of giving up foods or beverages that bring us so much joy, while many just don’t have the discipline to do this. I counted myself among both groups when this was explained to me during that first visit. The psychological part – a day of reckoning, if you will – was the hardest. But I really wanted to eliminate these health issues that I listed as annoyances, so I made the commitment to change the way I ate for nearly 62 years. It wasn’t easy, but after white-knuckling through the cravings for a week or so, I was stunned to learn that I actually could do this.
I was told that allergy pills are just a Band-Aid, whereas the use of acupuncture in conjunction with naturopathic medicine and a meaningful change in diet can substantially reduce and even eliminate my pesky allergic reactions. And I had homework: go to the local bookstore and buy “It Starts With Food,” which I found not only informative, but also surprisingly enjoyable and even funny in parts.
More than two months later, I have seen incredible changes. My allergy symptoms have dissipated, and while not entirely gone because I’m still moving from the detoxification to repair stage (maintenance is the third and final chapter for all patients of acupuncture and naturopathic medicine), I’m filled with great hope that I may actually have entire days pass without any sneezing.
What’s also pleasantly surprising is that my lifelong insomnia started to crumble just weeks into the new regimen. I’m sleeping deeper and more soundly than ever, and while I still wake up a few times each night, the bathroom trips were cut in half, and I’m dreaming of a time when I’ll sleep through the night without any of those annoying interruptions. As for gas and bloating, they’re pretty much gone, and my leg cramps are disappearing. The anxiety isn’t as bad, but learning new techniques such as the benefits of a cool or cold shower to strengthen the nervous system will eventually have an impact.
Given these promising early results, I want to shout all of this from the rooftop, which is one strong motivation for this blog. But not everyone will want to listen or take that advice. For me, though, it feels like a new beginning – one that’s strongly motivated by a desire to live long enough for my kids to make me a grandfather and cherish every second of this gift of life.