For the last few months a drought is visiting us here in California. We hope for rain, but so far the showers are few and far between. The other day as I walked our dog, I noticed a little bird checking out one of the pine trees near the house. As it landed on different branches little poofs of dust and pollen rose up to fill the air. It amazed me. Clearly a sign that things accumulate fast when the system is out of balance.
With so little rain, this kind of dust and pollen fills the air each day. For some it turns into a nightmare of sneezing, runny nose and overall discomfort. Yet why are only some people bothered by these environmental things and others are not?
Very good question and exactly the subject of today’s article.
We wrap up the week with the final installment of our series on the Five Factors of autoimmune conditions. The purpose of this series of articles is to give you a sense of various factors that work in consort to effect your immune system. When several Factors are going at once, it means the strain on your body is high. Although we plan to cover these Factors in more depth, it felt important to start somewhere. Building your awareness needs to begin as soon as possible, especially given the variety of stressors the modern world provides us. If you can make even simple changes, they can have a huge impact on your overall wellness.
This final article in our series on autoimmunity discusses the Environmental Toxins that can stimulate and over-stimulate our immune systems. Environmental allergens and toxins are conceptually the easiest to understand, but often the hardest to deal with. We all know people who are troubled by allergic reactions to pollens, dust, dust mites, dogs, cats and many other common things. Then there are other things that make most people sick, like the gasses that get released from new carpeting or cheap building materials made of composite board. Formaldehyde and other chemicals released by these new materials are toxic to us all and tend to produce a range of reactions.
When the Body is Overwhelmed
If you recall, the goal when challenged by an autoimmune problem is to remove as many things as you can from your diet, your mind and your environment that are stimulating your immune system. Autoimmunity results when your immune system is so stimulated that it boils over and starts developing a reaction to your own tissues. Remove the stimuli that you can and you can often quiet your immune system to the point where the symptoms of your autoimmunity diminish and even disappear.
If you react to pollens and dust, it can be difficult to completely remove these stimulants. Yet even exposures to pollens and dust can be reduced, and there are many environmental allergens and toxins that can be well managed. In many people the severe reactions to things like pollens and dust are often a result of the fact that they already have a system that is over-stimulated. Pollen is everywhere, but as we suggested above, not everyone has the same reaction to it.
An exaggerated reaction to something that everyone is exposed to can be a sign of an over-stimulated immune system. Addressing the other stimuli we discussed in the first four articles of this series can often reduce your reactivity to environmental allergens. For example if you:
- reduce your exposure to foods you are sensitive to,
- deal with chronic infections and normalize the populations of bacteria in your gut,
- take on a program to detoxify your body,
- and address the emotional toxins in your life
Well you just may find that your hay fever disappears!
It’s Not Just in the Trees
There are many environmental allergens that are best dealt with by avoidance. The gases that come off new carpeting, rugs, paint and building materials are called “VOCs”, or Volatile Organic Compounds. Because so many people react badly to these things, many manufacturers use materials and manufacturing practices that result in products that are labeled as “Low VOC”. Look for these when you shop.
These can be pervasive, especially with goods brought to our shelves from all over the world. It is important to assume that your local stores may not truly know all the compounds added to items they sell, so bringing awareness to this issue is essential. You might think I was joking about Formaldehyde earlier, but you might be surprised the places this chemical shows up. Pressed wood furniture, paper towels, deodorant, toothpaste, lipstick and cigarettes – to name a few.
The point here becomes being aware of the products you buy and getting an understanding of what went into making them. Obviously for items like furniture, the issue is that it will be in your home for a longer period of time. So then you get ongoing exposure which can build up over time. I’ve worked with clients who reacted to the chemicals in the brand new couch they bought. The reactions can be severe, so it does not hurt to ask some questions before bringing it into your home.
Time to Break Out the Duster
Things as simple as dust are a big problem for some people. The same is true of dust mites. If dust is an issue for you, consider removing the carpeting and rugs from your home, expecially in the bedroom. Also, put a dust-proof cover on your mattress. Such a cover allows you to wipe down the mattress every now and then. This prevents exposure to the dust that can build up in the fabric cover of the mattress. Removing the carpeting also removes an item in the room that holds lots of dust and can never be completely cleaned. It is surprising how much difference there is for some people when they remove the carpeting from their bedroom.
A brief word on dust mites. These tiny critters are basically harmless, but they cause a lot of allergic reaction in some people. When you eliminate the dust as much as possible by covering the mattress and removing the carpeting, you also remove most of the dust mites. Dust mites do not seem to live at elevations above 3000 feet. So if you find you are no longer congested in the morning when you vacation in the mountains, and that the congestion returns when you come back home to the lowlands, you may be dealing with a dust mite allergy.
If dust, pollens and other airborne particles are a huge problem for you, you may want to invest in an air cleaner. If you have forced air heating and AC, keep the air filters clean, and use better filters designed to remove even the smallest particles of dust.
Environmental allergens are everywhere, but eliminating them entirely may prove impossible. Reduce your exposures. By doing that you can take away yet one more thing that is stimulating and over-stimulating your immune system and contributing to the autoimmune challenges. The work of cleaning up your life and your environment is finite, and the payoffs can be huge. Just try it.
In the coming months we will delve more deeply into each of these Five Factors and offer detailed detoxes and exercises. Again it felt that getting people to simply build their awareness to these issues first made the most sense. This needs to be a life long awareness, since these issues are going to be part of our lives for years to come. Being curious will serve you well. Being willing to change, even in small ways, will serve you well.
As always make sure to leave a comment and share your experiences with us. We learn from your own personal adventure.
Take good care. And as always – To Your Health.
Image courtesy of © Can Stock Photo Inc. / Eraxion