Chinese Medicine Offers Help for Spring Allergies

by Carmela Mager, Chapel Hill News, April 16, 2006

Temperatures are rising, flowers are blooming, and pollen counts are going way up. What a paradox -- the beauty of spring can make you ill.

As a practicing acupuncturist, I have noticed spring brings major allergy outbreaks. North Carolina sits right on the border between two major climate zones, so we're home to a greater variety of flora than many other regions. We also have a long growing season, so our bodies are constantly bombarded with lots of airborne allergens.

Allergies can exacerbate IBS, colitis and joint pain, increase headaches and worsen acne and other symptoms. What can you do about these problems besides taking more Claritin and hiding indoors? Here are some suggestions from Chinese medicine.

In Chinese medicine, spring is the season of the liver, the organ that filters toxins from our bodies and breaks down fat. The liver is also involved in conversion of fat, amino acids, vitamins and minerals into useable forms.

We've heard it before: "You are what you eat." This saying holds true for allergies just as it's true for any dis-eases in the body. By strengthening our digestion and by feeding our body what it needs, we can reduce the effect of allergies.

As your first line of defense, it's crucial to keep the gut healthy. This helps prevent imbalance of the immune system and the allergies that come with it. If you've been taking antibiotics to tackle your bronchitis (very cooling in Chinese medicine), you may be suffering from dysbiosis, which means too much yeast, or overgrowth candida. To combat your digestive imbalance, try taking acidophilus; this can help replace healthy bacteria in your gut.

Many of my patients have reported improvements in their health by lightening up their diets in the spring. We naturally eat less or even fast to cleanse the body of the fat and heavy food of the winter. We emphasize food that contains the qualities of spring: fresh greens, sprouts, juicing with carrots, beets, apples, mint tea and the pungent cooking herbs basil, rosemary, dill and bay leaf. These are foods that support good liver function and produce and activate the enzymes that help in various phases of detoxification.

Give the liver as much support as possible. Reducing coffee and alcohol can be especially helpful. At the same time, increase dietary Vitamin C (found in citrus fruits, rosehips, bell peppers and broccoli), the B vitamins, especially B-12, general multi-vitamins, ginger, milk thistle, lightly cooked vegetables, and give the liver the protection it needs.
Other tips include drinking warm water with lemon, which helps cleanse the liver.

Be watchful of the effects of different foods on your mood and energy levels. If you suspect that a food makes you sleepy or irritable, try cutting it from your diet for a while.

I ultimately believe that allergies are the result of an imbalanced body. Diet, rest, exercise and health programs that promote balance and well-being are integral to the healing process -- include healing allergy reactions. I hope this information helps make your spring time less sneezy and much more filed with health and vitality.

Needle Points to Change for the Better

by Valerie Schwartz, Chapel Hill News, February 6, 2006


Carmela Mager of Carrboro puts the "whole" in holistic medicine.

During the 25 years she has been a licensed acupuncturist, Mager has brought her patients more than (mostly) painless insertion of needles that open meridians, enhancing energy flow through their bodies and releasing pain. She has shown them how everything they put in their body and how they handle daily stress affect their health and well-being.

"People are so much in their suffering they don't believe that they can change," she said. "A change requires you to do something for yourself -- do something very generous for yourself."

In the lower level of her home, Mager sees clients five days a week. After hours, she enjoys life upstairs with her husband, Sela, a biofeedback practitioner, and their two teenage daughters.

Mager, a native of Israel, was trained in California at the Samra University of Oriental Medicine and is certified in Chinese herbology, reflexology, and Alexander Technique.

She doesn't look for clients -- they find her. The help she provides by helping people remove toxic practices from their lives -- like having only coffee or soda for breakfast and lunch, or self-medicating with alcohol, sweets or heavy meals at nighttime -- benefits all aspects of her clients' lives.

But Mager wants more. She wants to offer her practices to those who can least afford it. She has discussed with business people finding a site in Carrboro or Chapel Hill where she can open a clinic with other practitioners who would agree to provide free services for a certain amount of time each week to those who cannot afford to pay.

"I have a vision of a center where physicians, massage therapists, and other acupuncturists work; where grants and donations provide a free clinic for those who cannot afford it," she said.

Mager would like to include a paralegal to help those who also have legal issues.

"If there's a model for this, I want to do it," she said. "I don't have the energy to create the wheel."

During a two-week educational trip to China last year, she saw the possibility in hospitals there.

"We pamper our clients more than they need sometimes," she said. "We could work on several people in the same room together."

She spoke of an elderly Chinese man with arthritis in his thumb who sat in a hospital waiting room with acupuncture needles in his thumb and a poultice of herbs on top of it. Someone tended to him alternately with other patients until his thumb moved free of pain.

"Clients don't always need to lie down," Mager said.

Last year, Mager released Mike Loeser, 18, from incessant nose blowing and daily medications that had been part of his life since early childhood.

"Allergies aren't a problem I have any more," Loeser said from Atlanta, where he is enjoying his second semester at Emory University.

Last year, his mother suggested that he visit Mager for his chronic allergies, asthma and sinus infections. Not even sinus surgery in 2004 brought lasting relief.

"I didn't really believe it would work at first," Loeser said. "I started to believe it as I started to feel better."

He said Mager started by eliminating certain foods from his diet for 24 hours and then testing him for sensitivities. After a couple of months, the medications were flushed out and he could feel the results.

"I felt more natural," said Loeser, who is now medication-free. "I started to feel more lively and healthy overall."

Mager helped Loeser transitionally as well. 

"She talked things out with me and helped build up my confidence," he said. "She really got me ready for college emotionally."

Agnes DaCosta of Hillsborough had tried everything modern medicine could offer before she saw Mager.

"I started seeing her on Jan. 10, 2005," said DaCosta, who had foot pain, knee pain and limited mobility in one arm. She had tried an internist, orthopedist and chiropractor as well as shiatsu and massage.

Her sister, Virginia Saam of Chapel Hill, suggested Mager.

"The second time I saw Carmela, she asked, 'Have you ever been diagnosed with Parkinson's?'" DaCosta said.

She had not.

"She said she was not in a position to diagnose but that it sounded like it," said DaCosta, 63, who went home, looked up Parkinson's and saw that she had all the classic symptoms, including tremors and micrographia -- tiny handwriting.

DaCosta said two doctors later confirmed Mager's diagnosis.

"Over the past year, I've gone to Carmela weekly, and she's been right on everything she's said. Carmela treats the whole person," DaCosta said. "She takes time to listen. She always starts with how it went -- how did you sleep, any tremor in your hand? She takes my pulse and she's very focused, always listens. I get relief."

Mager sometimes treats DaCosta's tremors by sending her home with needles in her head that must stay in for eight hours. Even DaCosta's manicurist has commented she doesn't feel the tremors any more.

"I think this is a good example of eastern and western medicine working together," DaCosta said.

 "People get so much benefit from this for so many things," Mager said. "There are many, many levels of how to look at the person.

"We need not be prisoners of our fears. We can live life differently."

If you can help Mager provide better health for the disadvantaged of our community, contact her at 933-4151.