Dr. JoAnn Yanez, AANMC executive director, joins KCAA’s NBC LA affiliate On the Brink to discuss naturopathic approaches to allergies.

Full Transcript of Interview Below.

Topics Include:

  • The various causes of allergies – nature vs. nurture
  • The burden allergies place on your system
  • Environment, nutritional and lifestyle changes for allergy prevention and management
  • How naturopathic medical education is responding to COVID-19

Erin Brinker: Welcome back. I’m Erin Brinker.

Todd Brinker: And I’m Todd Brinker.

Erin Brinker: And we are On the Brink, the morning show on KCAA, AM 1050, FM 106.5 and FM 102.3. I’m super excited to welcome back to the show- (LONG PAUSE)

Todd Brinker: Somebody from somewhere.

Erin Brinker: Oh my God. I have allergies so bad.

Todd Brinker: Dr. JoAnn Yanez.

Erin Brinker: Dr. JoAnn Yanez, and I’m just kidding. I love to welcome back Dr. JoAnn Yanez from the Association for Accredited Naturopathic Medical Colleges. She joins us once a month to talk about health and wellness and just everything feeling good from a naturopathic perspective. Help me with my allergies, Dr. Yanez.

Dr. JoAnn Yanez: You bet. That was the best intro I think I’ve ever gotten. Oh, my goodness.

Erin Brinker: I have allergy brain. I really do. And while I was joking, just then it’s happened to me in meetings where I know what I want to say, and I can’t get it out because my head feels like it’s full of cotton balls.

Dr. JoAnn Yanez: Gosh, you know, allergies affect so many people, and we don’t always really know the full cause of allergies. There are genetic susceptibilities and environmental factors that play a very important role. When we’re looking at the reasons and the heritability rates for allergic disease, a lot of times it’s in your family. Erin, did you have any family members who had allergies?

Erin Brinker: I think my dad has some. Yes. I’m going to say yes, I do.

Dr. JoAnn Yanez: Very often we’ll see this hereditary component. It can be as high as 95% for asthma, 84% for atopic dermatitis, which are like skin rashes and so on. It’s clear that genetics account for a good chunk of this, but a lot of this is nature and nurture. I don’t know if you’ve ever heard of that before, but how much is our genetics, and then how much is our interaction with our environment?

Erin Brinker: Right.

Dr. JoAnn Yanez: Allergies are a topic where avoidance helps a whole lot. If you know what you’re allergic to, that makes it a heck of a lot easier to avoid things that will trigger your system. What are allergies? It’s basically just an overreaction of your immune response. Your immune response is set up to detect what is self and what is not self – what’s me and what’s not me.

All the stuff that’s ‘me’ is good, friendly, let them be. And all the stuff, that’s not ‘me’, we’re going to attack like viruses and bacteria and molds and pollen and things of that sort. But the body sets up this extra response to things that would be in our environment like pollen, like maybe some foods or cat dander, animal dander and things of that sort. And then, as a result, you get itchy eyes, the runny nose, the foggy brain.

Erin Brinker: I am allergic to just pollen, so in the spring, and here it’s not as bad as other places. The year that I was an exchange student in Austria, I thought I was going to die in the spring because there were beautiful flowers everywhere, and I was miserable. So, yeah. I don’t know if it’s because I don’t live in that local area normally. And so, maybe it was because it was new to me?

Dr. JoAnn Yanez: There are a lot of different theories behind that. The other theory that is often discussed when we’re talking about this allergy topic is total load, and that’s the total burden on your system. Think of it like that proverbial hair that broke the camel’s back. You may be fine with a low level of the things that you’re allergic to, and there might be things in your environment right now that you have more mild sensitivities to that maybe don’t get to that level of the itchy eyes, but there might be a low grade inflammation in your body as a result of being exposed to certain types of things.

When you add that one extra little piece on top of the camel and boom, the camel tips over. I think that’s very often what we see in allergies, and so in general, a naturopathic approach to allergies is going to be looking at the whole person, looking to decrease the overactive inflammatory response and lower that burden wherever we can.

We’re going to be identifying maybe even some of those lower level allergens and getting those out of the system and decreasing the burdens so that if and when you are exposed to some extra pollen, that doesn’t throw you over the edge. Does that make sense?

Erin Brinker: It makes total sense. If you find out, which is my greatest fear, that you’re actually allergic to cats, but it’s not so bad that it makes you really sick, but then you walk outside and there’s pollen falling from the trees and you go bananas. The issue may really be more the cats than the trees.

Todd Brinker: It could be both.

Dr. JoAnn Yanez: Like I said, it’s, it’s that total load. You bring up this cat example and it’s hilarious. When I was in medical school, medical school’s hard and I was thinking of stress release, and I went and I got myself a cat. She was amazing and beautiful and so fun to have around the house, but I was a medical student. I wasn’t home a whole lot, but I started noticing … I had some really funny friends in medical school, a naturopathic school, and they would tell these amazing jokes and all of a sudden when they would joke, I would laugh and then start coughing. I never put it together that it was the cat that was creating extra inflammation in my lungs. They would tell a joke and it would jostle up the phlegm that was in there, and I would start to cough.

I didn’t put it together. And let me tell you, I had the cat until she was about 18, so you can see where we’re going with the story. But as a medical student and then as a young doctor, I was not home a whole lot. And so, I might’ve been home really just to sleep and then go back out to work again, and so it wasn’t until we moved to South Dakota, and I was home with her pretty much all day long. I was working from home, and my husband started noticing every night I would start coughing. He’s like, you need to go get tested. Figure it out.

At that point, I’d probably had her for about, I don’t know, 13, 14, 15 years. It was just this total load of building up over time, and the fact that I was with her now all day long was that straw that broke the camel’s back. And so I go to an allergist and I get all the allergy testing and, lo and behold, trees and cats.

You know what? I’m looking at my little fur baby. I’m like, I’m not getting rid of you after 16 years, so I did as much as I could to keep the house clean, so there are environmental things that you can do. Get rid of your carpets. Get rid of your drapes. Get rid of any fabrics that you can’t wash in your home that attract and hold onto that.

We got a bunch of air purifiers to clean out the air, and then I started working on my own diet and taking anti-inflammatories as much as I could. I got pregnant around the same time, so that limited the amount of things that I could take, but it was one of those where, all right, I’m not going to put my cat down because I’m coughing and sneezing.

Erin Brinker: Right.

Dr. JoAnn Yanez: So, what are the other options?

Todd Brinker: Are there some natural anti-inflammatories that you maybe took as an alternative?

Dr. JoAnn Yanez: There are natural anti-inflammatories and this is not a diagnosis or promotion of anybody taking anything. Make sure to check with your doctor to make sure that you’re taking the right things for you. But there are things like stinging nettle, quercitin, fish oil. You could do turmeric, which is a natural source of anti-inflammatories. There are a lot of things that you can do, making sure your bioflavonoids are up, and then allergen avoidance. Just really avoiding the types of things that are inflammatory so paying attention when you eat, how do you feel after a certain food? Do you get a little extra phlegmy in your throat after you’ve eaten something?

Paying attention to those signs and removing those things from your diet. A food journal or a rotation diet, a rotation and elimination diet is an easy way, not easy, but it’s probably of the more effective ways to figure out that. So journaling, removing things from your diet, and then adding them gradually back in and seeing the symptoms that pop up.

I think when it comes to allergies, it is a comprehensive approach. There isn’t a one-size-fits-all answer. It’s going to be very variable for folks, but it can be extremely, extremely effective. We have a webinar coming up on May 26th with Dr. Jonathan Beatty, who’s going to speak about his own journey, which is hilarious. He was a kid. He used to work at Dairy Queen, and had horrible eczema, only to find out that he was allergic to dairy.

Erin Brinker: Oh, wow.

Dr. JoAnn Yanez: He’s going to tell his story and journey to ridding himself of horrendous eczema, and also share some other patient cases and some other ways that naturopathic medicine works with patients with allergies, but it’s really one of those things where, with my cat it’s like, okay, she was 16 at the time. I can’t put down an animal.

Erin Brinker: No. She’s your baby. I’m a cat lover, and I’m remembering now, my father is allergic to cats, so I’m probably allergic to my cats, but I love them so much, and I’ve had them for 14 years, 13 years.

Dr. JoAnn Yanez: It’s really tough. My cough was bordering turning into asthma, though, so it’s like, okay, this is getting to a point where, after my cat naturally passed away, “all right, not getting near any cats anymore.” Now I’m so sensitive that my nose starts itching as soon as I walk into a home that has cats.

Erin Brinker: Interesting. Interesting. Wow.

Dr. JoAnn Yanez: Total load. Total load.

Erin Brinker: Total load. And I have to tell you, I was constantly sick for years, constantly sick, and in January I became a vegan. I have cut, because of that, just wanting to be healthier, with no dairy I get little colds. I had kind of a sore throat last night, but I’m fine this morning. I haven’t been consistently sick since I gave up dairy. I’m quite certain that these consistent colds that I had were because my body’s like – Stop. Eating. Dairy. Knock it off, Erin.

Dr. JoAnn Yanez: Step away from the cheese.

Erin Brinker: But it’s so hard to do that.

Dr. JoAnn Yanez: I know, but you have to open it, and you just highlighted, these nutritional changes, the lifestyle changes are some of the hardest to make, you know? And so, I think for people, I always guide folks, all right. What’s your goal?

When you make decisions about eating, is that decision moving you closer to your goal of health or farther away? Just be conscious about it so that you can make that decision of, all right, yes, cheese is really tasty but every time I eat it, I end up sick, or my colds don’t go away, or my colds turn into longer flus or pneumonia or whatever.

Erin Brinker: Or I get cold sores over and over and over again.

Dr. JoAnn Yanez: Is that really worth this slice of cheese?

Erin Brinker: No, it’s not. I can tell you right now, no.

Todd Brinker: Says the now vegan eater.

Erin Brinker: Exactly. Exactly. So, Dr. Yanez, this is a great topic. How do people see your webinar and learn more about this and at the Association for Accredited Naturopathic Medical Colleges?

Dr. JoAnn Yanez: Well, we’re at AANMC.org. Instagram, we have a whole site on there for our events as well. We update events every month. This month is allergies. Next month is cancer. Every month we’ve got events for free to the public. I kind of caught the tail end of you talking about education.

We’re in naturopathic medical education, and that’s something that we’ve also been working on as all of our schools have had to emergently move online, and what can be done online long-term and what really cannot, so I applaud you for taking on that topic. It’s definitely something, all of us in education, are chewing on really thoughtfully right now.

Erin Brinker: These are discussions I think that people have been having because we’ve had online education, but it’s like, oh, we want to consider everything, and then all of a sudden, bam, we’ve got to make these decisions now. And oh my gosh, what does this mean?

Nobody’s had time to really think things through, and we’re kind of working through things out. This is true in K-12 education, too, because I’m married to a teacher. It’s working in some ways and really not working in others. Yeah, we got to talk about it.

How are you all doing? How are your member colleges or universities doing their online education because it’s a medical school, so all of the labs and all of the science that has to take place, how do you do that online?

Dr. JoAnn Yanez: It’s been a very quick trial by fire and emergency effort. I applaud my member schools and deans and educators for getting their programs online and getting the students transitioned, especially the ones that were getting set to graduate, where they were just about done.

We’ve been working with our accreditors, our testing agencies, the deans. There are emergency measures that have been implemented (with permission from the accreditors and Department of Education) right now that we recognize. Like you said, there are some things that are working and there are some things that were emergency measures. All of the schools are working right now on transition plans of how do we safely get students back on campus to do some of that hands-on learning that really needs to be hands-on, although I will say that there are some amazing technology simulation labs that have been created that, while it isn’t the same as face-to-face, there are some amazing technology feats that have been created.

Some of our schools have gotten really inventive to where, like for botanical medicine labs, they’ve sent boxes home to students with herbs and you all of the things that they need to do the experiments and the procedures and such at home. And so, what’s that? Necessity is the mother of-

Erin Brinker: Invention.

Dr. JoAnn Yanez: Exactly. We’ve really been getting very inventive in trying to ensure the continuity of our students’ education. So, while yes, there are some things like delivering babies and phlebotomy and all of that that have to have to have to be face-to-face, we’re also securing protective equipment. Several of our schools have been able to be providers during this time either with protective equipment or telemedicine.

Every single one of our schools has gotten telemedicine up and running because the other thing is you have patients. You have patients at all of our clinics that rely on our clinics for medical care. You can’t just abandon your patient because now there’s no way to continue with their care. So telemedicine was something everyone stood up very quickly. Many of the schools, almost all of them, already had very active tele-med programs, but this was something that really got ramped up to full capacity quickly.

Erin Brinker: Well, it sounds like everybody’s working hard to keep the quality of the education as high as possible to meet the needs of their students, and I think that’s wonderful.

Dr. JoAnn Yanez: Harder than we’ve ever worked in our lives.

Erin Brinker: I can imagine. I can imagine. So, Dr. Yanez, it’s always, always, always a treat to have you on the show. Thank you so much for joining us today.

Dr. JoAnn Yanez: You bet. Thank you both and stay safe and healthy and happy.

Erin Brinker: Thank you. You too. So with that, it’s time for a break. I’m Erin Brinker.

Todd Brinker: And I’m Todd Brinker.

Erin Brinker: And we are On the Brink, the morning show on KCAA. We will be right back.

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