By May 2, 2022
I don’t think any of us find it surprising that food allergies are on the rise in the United States. One report states that up to 10.8% of adults in the US have food allergies, and up to 7.6% of children experience them as well. According to Western thinking, there are a number of factors contributing to this rise, such as a lack of exposure to microbial factors, diet, obesity, and environmental chemical exposure.
However, according to Traditional Chinese Medicine, food allergies indicate imbalances in your body’s digestive and defensive systems. Specifically, it indicates imbalances in the spleen, stomach, and lung systems. (Quick side note – when we talk about organs in Traditional Chinese Medicine, we aren’t actually referring to the anatomical organ, but to the organ system, which is based on its function).
In fact, the way in which your food allergies present can indicate which organs are out of balance. If you’re experiencing low energy, and/or abdominal pain after eating it would indicate an imbalance in your Stomach and/or Spleen, preventing these systems from properly converting your food into energy for your body. However, if you’re having skin reactions like hives or rashes, it’s more likely to indicate an imbalance in your Lung system. All of these organ systems help to build up your protective energies (what we think of as your immune system in the West).
The good news is that because food allergies are typically due to imbalances, most children will grow out of them on their own. And for those who don’t (or those who develop allergies later in life), there are treatments in Traditional Chinese medicine to help you gradually recover.
By now if you’ve been reading my blogs, you should know that the purpose of acupuncture is to improve the flow of Qi (energy) to help the body regain balance. Depending on the source of your food allergy this could mean focusing on the Lung or the Stomach/Spleen (or both) systems.
In the Lung system, acupuncture improves the flow of Qi to allow the organ to take up more oxygen. It also allows the Lung to fulfill its function of producing protective energies, strengthening the immune system.
In the Stomach and Spleen systems, again the purpose of acupuncture is to improve the flow of Qi, as too much or too little can inhibit the organs from properly absorbing energy from the food you eat.
Cupping for food allergies? That’s right! Cupping can be used to improve the function of the Lung, as well as clear out any stagnant energy or phlegm. Cupping can also be used to get the energy moving in your digestive tract, if it’s stalled or insufficient.
There are several herbs in Traditional Chinese Medicine that have been researched for use in treating food allergies. One particular herbal mix, FAHF-2, is based on a classical 10-herb formula (Wu Mei Wan) which has been used in Traditional Chinese Medicine to effectively treat intestinal parasite infections and other digestive issues that have similar symptoms. FAHF-2 has been shown to be highly effective in providing long-term protection against peanut-induced anaphylaxis, and is currently in phase 2 human trials. This mix contains the following herbs:
- Chinese plum (Prunus mume) – This dried fruit affects the Spleen, Large Intestine, Liver, and Lung. It’s used to stabilize Lung Qi, stop coughs, stop diarrhea, retain bodily fluids and encourage their production, expel parasites, and relieve vomiting.
- Sichuan pepper (Zanthoxylum bungearnum) – This pepper affects the Spleen, Stomach, and Kidney. Its main uses are to warm the body, relieve pain, kill parasites, and relieve itching.
- Female ginseng (Angelica sinensis) – This root affects the Spleen, Heart, and Liver. Its primary functions are to tonify the Blood, lubricate the Intestines, relieve constipation, promote circulation, and help with irregular menstruation.
- Ginger (Zingiber officinale) – This root affects the Stomach, Heart, Kidney, and Lung. Ginger has a long list of uses in TCM, but it primarily warms the Spleen and Lungs, and expels Cold (just trust me, that’s a good thing)
- Cinnamon (Cinnamomum cassia) – This bark (yes, cinnamon is the bark of a tree) affects the Spleen, Heart, and Lung. It’s used to adjust the nutritive and defensive energies of your body, Warm and disperse Cold, and promote the circulation of Qi in the Lungs.
- Amur cork tree (Phellodendron amurense) – This bark affects the Bladder, Kidney, and Large Intestine. Its main uses are to expel damp-heat, clear Kidney heat, and help with skin issues like eczema, sores, and swelling.
- Goldthread (Coptis chinensis) – This root affects the Gallbladder, Spleen, Stomach, Heart, Large Intestine, Liver. It serves to treat abdominal bloating, vomiting, acid reflux, fever, sores, and eczema.
- Ginseng (Panax ginseng) – This root affects the Spleen, Heart, and Lung. It strongly tonifies the Qi, the Lungs, and the Spleen.
- Reishi mushroom (Ganoderma lucidum) – This mushroom affects the Heart, Kidney, Liver, and Lung. Its main actions are to tonify the Qi, calm the spirit, and suppress coughing.
This is not an exhaustive list of herbs that may be used to help you treat your food allergies/intolerances. The exact combination and dosage has to be customized to your body and condition. You should always consult your acupuncturist and doctor before starting a new herbal regiment.
Diet and Lifestyle
As always, there are steps you can take to improve your food allergies in conjunction with the other Traditional Chinese Medicine treatments:
- Avoid foods that are triggering the allergies/intolerances
- Avoid oily, greasy, or spicy foods
- Have warm, cooked, easily digestible food (rice, soups, steamed cooked vegetables, lean meat), and avoid cold food (cold salad, ice cream)
- Have regular balanced meals
- Go to sleep earlier
- Do regular exercise