Sunday, May 22, 2011

My Experiences with Allergies

As a child, how does one comprehend optimal health? While experiencing constant headaches; fatigue, runny noses, earaches, etc. as a normal state, there is no means of comparison for how you are supposed to feel or think.

At eight years old, I was sent to an allergist and given a skin prick test. The diagnosis was allergies to cats, dogs, pollen, dust and mold. During the next four years, I got a weekly injection to subdue my symptoms with little relief.  By age twelve, I no longer wanted to be medicated. My request was granted, with no other alternative than just-suffer-with-it available.

Reluctantly accepting this as a permanent state of being, I just suffered with it for years.  This suffering included a course of antibiotics every spring for an ear infection, and a course of antibiotics every autumn for strep throat. These infections were excruciatingly painful, and in my final year of college, I was additionally prescribed Tylenol-3 (with codeine) along with the same antibiotics.  It was then that I read an article about herbal remedies for allergy sufferers. I did some further research and started taking Echinacea. It worked wonderfully! I then decided to get off caffeine (no small achievement for a student in a 5-year engineering program with a thesis looming in the background) and replaced aspirin with willow bark for the headaches.

With my thesis behind me, I headed to New York to start my career in lighting and electrical building systems engineering. It only took a few years in the profession to conclude that the lifestyle didn’t suit my true ambitions.

In addition to designing and testing the electrical systems that keep the financial district of New York in good working order, I also completed a two-year certification in Homeopathy at New York Chiropractic College as the first step in my career change.  Delving into this area of study was not only challenging, but also inspirational. This was my fit—engaging content, and a direct connection to humanity.  Even as the only non-medical student, I quickly moved to the top of my class.

Having now found my calling, I then moved to Albuquerque, NM to study at the International Institute of Chinese Medicine. I was very fortunate at this time to meet one of the top instructors for Young Living Essential Oils. We agreed to an exchange of knowledge, and I tutored her home-schooled son in preparation for the GRE and SATs in Mathematics, she gave me personal instruction in Aromatherapy.  In 2001, I graduated with a Master of Traditional Chinese Medicine.

Moving back to NYC  I began working as the chief acupuncturist at the Corsello Center, an integrative medical practice incorporating MDs, a psychiatrist, a personal trainer, as well as a nutritionist. I was also working in a dermatological spa in SOHO, where I performed cosmetic acupuncture. My migraines returned with full force while in stressful and toxic environment of NYC, and I decided to move closer to nature. I began practicing in Boone, NC, a sleepy little college town in the Appalachian Mountains. While attending a continuing education seminar on Endocrinology, I learned about testing for food allergies using saliva. I was curious about it, and my test came back positive for soy. "Oh, no big deal," I thought, "I don’t eat that much Chinese food." Armed with my new knowledge, I headed to the grocery store. I wanted to get some chocolate, and literally cried in the aisle after reading every single label, since every item contained soy lecithin. It was quite devastating.

With an acute awareness that there is a connection between what we eat and how it influences our health and emotions, in 2006 I obtained certification as Nutritional Councilor.  The same connections can be made between food allergens and intolerances which, more often than not, are at the core of many health issues. Even through this discovery of food allergies, I continued to have blood work and saliva testing. Nothing was consistent. One would be positive, then negative. It was very frustrating. It seemed as if nothing would be helpful in the long term.  Returning to an allergist, the initial lab work came back showing that I was not allergic to many things that caused me problems in my younger years and still continue to do so today. I knew there had to be a better way to accurately determine allergies, but what?

My husband also suffers with similar allergies and sensitivities.  Now in our 40’s, we are both confirmed foodies, and have been exposed to numerous yummy, delicious and delightful foods.  We share a keen, adventurous palette, and enjoy eating well.  With so many conflicting lab tests, it seemed like we were being thwarted in every direction. I had tried candida diets, eating right for my blood type, food combining, and vegetarianism. Sometimes my health would be good, and then all of a sudden, take a turn for the worse. My husband was going through the same sort of agony.

Having moved forward, and then slid back with so many ill effects, so frequently, the only thing I could think of was to dedicate myself to a strict elimination diet.  Thankfully, my husband signed on too. This took a great deal of commitment, patience and hard work on both of our parts.  By adhering to an elimination diet, we were able to determine that between us, we are allergic or sensitive to seven of the eight common food allergens. This makes finding commercially packaged food almost impossible.

 Fortunately, I am a resourceful and creative cook.  Just because we have food allergens and sensitivities does not mean that we, or anyone else in a similar situation, has to suffer the dim, dismal world of doing without. One of the most defeating feelings for those of us who suffer from multiple food allergens is that the market generally caters to persons with a single food allergen.  Reading the label on nearly every product labeled ‘gluten free’ will almost 100% of the time, reveal the presence of other food allergens.  This was the genesis of my website 8 Food Allergens Free - Delicious! and this blog.  As I am the very busy and focused mother of a two year old, my current practice is currently limited to phone consultations and this web site. I invite you to join me in the on-going work to not only eat foods that are not just allergen free, but delicious!

Thanks for taking the time to read this all the way to the end.

Be well,
Krista J. Essler, LAc

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