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How Does Moxibustion Work Really?

October 18, 2011 2 comments

Using a form of direct moxa for a chronic shoulder injury

One of the most useful modalities in Chinese Medicine is the herb known as Moxibustion.  Otherwise known as Mugwort, Artemisia Vulgaris, or Ai Ye (chinese pinyin); it can be used in a number of different ways.  It can be taken internally, decocted as a tea, applied as a tincture, burned directly on the skin or indirectly just off the skin.

For the purposes of this article we will primarily be discussing the use of Moxibustion directly on or indirectly above the skin.  Generally moxibustion and Acupuncture go hand in hand, it is an extremely useful modality for a wide range of disorders, stages of trauma and disease as well as all ages, constitutional types and individual persons, all of which add to its intrigue.  How can one simple herb be so beneficial to just about everyone?

Mugwort (the type that we ‘burn’) is cultivated from the underside of the mugwort leaf and is packaged up looking like a spongy cotton ball-like material.  This type is generally used ‘directly’; i.e. on the skin, or placed upon the end of an acupuncture needle.  Indirect moxibustion looks more like a large black piece of chalk.  This type is much more functional in the sense that it is ‘smokeless’ and is held just off the skin to create heat and healing, and lowers the risk of getting burned.

So how does it work, and what can you expect from a Moxa treatment?  I have been using moxa a lot lately, 1) because the weather is transitioning toward winter and moxa is a warming modality and 2) because it is extremely useful in reducing inflammation, promoting healthy tissue regeneration and lately I have been surrounded by chronic unhealed injuries lately.

Many people ask how it works, and my tried and true answer is that it’s like using infra-red radiation to mellow out inflammation.  Unlike using heat just on the surface, Moxibustion, like infra-red, penetrates deep into the tissue, muscle or joint affected and though it’s warm to the feel, has the ability to flush out inflammation and essentially cool off the area.  In addition to just treating inflammatory disorders, Moxa is used to:

  • Reduce pain:  acting somewhat like an analgesic
  • Promotes healthy Immunity: when used at specific acupuncture points
  • Promotes kidney Function
  • Treat ulcers & other gastro-intestinal disorders
  • Fertility and menstrual disorders

Following is a great article, written in Acupuncture Today describing in more detail the how’s, why’s & what’s of using Moxibustion.  This article is especially great because there is some really good research to back it all up which is nice for all of us scientific brains out there who like to know how things work!

Article taken directly from Acupuncture Today:

How Does Moxibustion Work Scientifically?

By Yin Lo, PhD

Moxibustion and acupuncture have always gone together as one compound name in the Chinese classics on treatment of illness. We have explained in previous articles in Acupuncture Today how acupuncture works in terms of modern science.

 How does moxibustion work in terms of modern science? The simple answer is that meridians are like optical fibers that transmit infrared radiation.

Fudan University conducted an experiment on meridians and found the following: A high transparency (76 percent) at a wavelength of 2.66 microns has been measured along the axis direction of the collagenous fiber at the Gallbladder meridian on one lower limb in a human body. Along the fiber axis of the Stomach meridian, the transparency is 62 percent at wavelengths of 9-20 microns. The transparency vertical to the axis is 0.4 percent. There is a difference in transparency of more than 240 times between infrared light along the axis and infrared light vertical to the axis of the meridians.

The most interesting thing I have found out on moxibustion is that although it uses heat, it cools down the problem area, so the healing mechanism of moxibustion is the same as needle acupuncture. It is through qi that moxibustion does the work, not the direct incoherent heat that we associate with burning.

Moxibustion can also lower hot spots in painful areas. Please see the following infrared pictures. The color code for the images is as follows: the highest temperature is in white, followed by red, yellow, green, blue, and black.

Infrared image of back, before treatment. Infrared image of back, before treatment. The validity of moxibustion has been confirmed by many recent scientific studies.* It has effects on the immune system, analgesia, the kidneys, colitis, ulcers, neurons, and gene expression. Let us briefly describe them.

The Immune System

Moxibustion at acupoints qi hai (Ren 6) and tian shu (ST 25) inhibited the expression of IL-1 (beta) and IL-a6m RNA in experiments on rats with ulcerative colitis.

Infrared image of back, immediately after moxibustion. Infrared image of back, immediately after moxibustion at BL 23, BL 25, BL 18, DU 3 and DU 4. The back warms up as shown. A. Moxibustion at acupoint guan yuan (Ren 4) on sarcoma S180 ascitic mice increases the decreased erythrocytic C3b receptor rosette-forming rate, decreases the raised immunocomplex rosette-forming rate, and increases activity of erythrocytic immunosuppressive factor in tumor-bearing mice. Hence, moxibustion strengthens erythrocytic immunity.

B. On tumor-bearing mice, there is an instant elevation of serum ACTH and beta-EP from moxibustion at guan yuan.

C. Moxibustion at guan yuan on tumor-bearing mice promotes hyperplasia of the pituitary and adrenal glands, stimulates the secretion of beta END from the pituitary and adrenal glands, and increases the level of serum beta-END significantly.

Infrared image of back, two minutes after treatment. Two minutes after treatment, the heat due to the warming effect of moxibustion has gone and the back starts to cool off. D. In arthritic rats, moxibustion at acupoint shen shu (BL 23) could lighten local inflammatory reaction, eliminate swelling, prevent or reduce polyarthritises, maintain weight and shorten the course of the disease. It could help with recovery and promote the effects of concanavalin, inducing splenic lymphocyte proliferation in rates. It could also promote interleukin-2 production, and decrease IL-1 contents.

Analgesia

A. Moxibustion-induced analgesia was studied in rats, which were urethane-anesthetized. Single-unit extracellular recordings from neurons in the trigeminal nucleus caudalis were obtained from a micropipette. Suppression was observed on both wide dynamic range and nociceptive-specific, but not on low-threshold mechanoreceptive units. Moxibustion-induced moderate suppression with a long induction time. It suggested that noxious inhibitory controls may be involved in the analgesic mechanism.

B. The analgesic effect of moxibustion was measured by the latency of tail flinch threshold (LTH) in rats. When the surface temperature was modulated within 38-390 Celsius and 43-440 Celsius, LTH increased 17.7 +/- 2.1 percent and 22.2 +/-2.5 percent, respectively, after 5 minutes (p<0.05).

Renal Function, Colitis, Ulcers, Neurons and Gene Expression

A. The effects of moxibustion at acupoints BL 15 and BL 27 were studied on spontaneously hypertensive rats. Urinary volume was increased for BL 15, but decreased for BL 27. Urinary secretion of Na+ was decreased for BL 15 and BL 27. Systolic blood pressure was decreased for BL 15, but not for BL 27. Plasma levels of aldosterone and renin activity were increased, and atrial natriuretic peptide was decreased for BL 15. Plasma levels of aldosterone and atrial naturiuretic peptide were increased for BL 27.

B. The effect of moxibustion at acupoint Ren 4 on the function of MDR gene product P-glycoprotein P-170 in mice with S-180R adriamycin-resistant tumor cells was studied. A weak inhibition was found when moxibustion was performed at Ren 4 alone, and a very significant inhibition was observed in the presence of low dosage of verapamil, but not at high dosage.

C. Moxibustion at shen shu on experimentally induced gastric ulcerated rats was found to reduce the ulcer area significantly (p<0.05), and increase the zinc content in serum significantly. Pre-treatment by moxibustion had a protective effect on the gastric mucosa.

D. Stimulating acupoint zu san li (ST 36) on rats with a moxa stick can increase the activity of cholinesterase (p<0.05), and inhibit hyperactive gastrointestinal motility (p<0.05).

E. The effect of moxibustion on primary sensory neurons in the skin of rats was studied with immunocytochemistry combined with a fluorescent retrograde tracer dye. Moxibustion was found to induce galanin expression by primary sensory neurons containing substance P.

F. Pre-treatment with moxibustion at BL 23 significantly prevented the formation of gastric ulcer in rats.

It is quite clear from the above studies that the heat, or infrared radiation, from moxibustion preferentially transmits through meridians from acupoints to internal organs. Meridians act like a light pipe. This is consistent with our hypothesis that meridians are made up of water clusters (Lo, 2005).

Ask your Acupuncturist about using Moxibustion at your next visit; it is one of the most relaxing and comfortable experiences you will have in the treatment room!

If you’ve had Moxibustion in the past, what do you think of it?  How has it helped you?  Share your stories as they are usually the most helpful for people when understanding the elusive practice of Acupuncture and Chinese Medicine!

Until next time ~

Erin

Sources: 

Lo, Y. (2005). How does moxibustion work scientifically. Acupuncture Today, 06(02), Retrieved from http://acupuncturetoday.com/mpacms/at/article.php?id=30023

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Treating Eczema

November 15, 2010 Leave a comment

By, clevercupcakes @ flickr

As if people suffering from Eczema really want more to deal with, a study recently published in the British Journal of Dermatology claims that using emollient skin lotions that contain Sodium Laurel Sulfates (SLS) on eczematous skin might exacerbate the problem.  What’s more, people who have itchy/eczematous skin apply these lotions liberally as a means to soothe the skin & it’s one of the commonly prescribed forms of treatment regarding eczema.

“Our study has found that rubbing aqueous cream containing SLS into the skin thins this protective barrier, making the skin more susceptible to irritation by chemicals.

“So to use this cream on eczematous skin, which is already thin and vulnerable to irritation, is likely to make the condition even worse.”

Postgraduate researcher Manda Tsang worked on the project as part of her PhD CASE studentship funded by the Biotechnology & Biological Sciences Research Council with York Pharma Plc.

Tsang said: “Eczema affects around 30 per cent of the population, an increase from around five per cent a generation ago.

“This is due to a combination of genetic and environmental factors, such as central heating and carpets that can encourage dust mites, and using more creams and cosmetics that can thin the skin if used too frequently (University of Bath, 2010).

Being a victim of skin issues (basically all my life), I suffered from eczema that got progressively worse in my early twenties and lasted up until this past year.  Thankfully, I have been lucky enough to manage it on my own through chinese medicine, chinese herbs, acupuncture, diet and lifestyle… but it took years of me trying product after product and consulting doctor after doctor  to realize that nobody actually did know how to help me.

Eczema is right up there with asthma and allergies; these three disorders actually make up what we refer to as the Atopic Triad (they are commonly found in conjunction with one another and are very obscure disorders that are affecting more and more people).  Steroid creams have their place in treatment and can be very helpful, however, research shows these are only safe to use for two weeks at a time, not a lifetime.  We can identify the things that exacerbate these conditions (sometimes) & work to avoid them; but sometimes it is so many different things causing the eczema that sifting through them can be exhausting, frustrating and time-consuming.  Not to mention the fact that it could be the very thing that we think is helping, which is making it worse… much worse.  Case in point, sodium laurel sulfate’s (SLS); commonly found in all sorts of dermatologic & cosmetic products.  It has been shown to cause a short list of health issues including organ system toxicity, skin irritation, endocrine disruption and has been linked to cancer.  If you don’t believe me, check out the Environmental Working Group’s cosmetic’s database:  Skin Deep.

For me, eczema was a huge struggle, I spent years of sleepless nights, had the pleasure of feeling ‘crazy’ itchy, a sensation that still haunts me to this day, I had numerous patches of eczema pretty much covering all of my limbs and the frustration of not finding help everywhere I looked.  I found relief in steroid creams and the only information I could get from my allergist was a blood test that told us my IgE (that’s the allergy Immunoglobulin that tells you there is an allergic reaction happening in the body) levels were through the roof, but no insight as to what to do about it.  So, I sought care under an acupuncturist and herbalist, changed my diet (cut out grains and most sugars), moved out of the house I was living in and stopped using ANY and all lotions on my skin.  Knock on wood, here I am 8 years later (finally) without a spot of eczema and able to sleep.  Anyway, I’ll get off my soapbox, but if there is something positive to take away from all of this, I now have a great appreciation for what I’ve learned through that process and I currently have a couple of cases in clinic who have skin disorders and I’m really enjoying the chance to work with them.  We learn the best from our own life experiences and I only hope I can use mine to help others in need.

Till next time,

~be well~

Erin

Sources:

University of Bath (2010, November 13). Creams used to treat eczema could make it worse, study      suggests. ScienceDaily. Retrieved November 14, 2010, from http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/10/101018074536.htm

Toxic babies?!

February 8, 2010 Leave a comment

 I just got this email from the President of the Environmental Working Group and wanted to share.  In this day and age, it is almost impossible to avoid environmental toxins; it’s in the air we breathe, the clothes we wear, the food we eat, the water we drink & the house we live in to name a few… you’d pretty much have to live in a bubble to be sure you weren’t being affected by anything; & then you’d probably be worried about plastic off-gassing, BPA and CO2 emissions anyway!  The real, unfortunate thing these days however, is that we can’t even catch a break from the moment we are conceived!  Even in what seems like a very sterile, nourishing & protected environment like the placenta, free from (what we assume) outside contact; we are directly influenced by whatever the mother is exposed to, be it any of the afore-mentioned toxins.   With this in mind, get informed, be smart about your health and the environment you live in.  

Here are a few quick tips: 

By, Daniel Hurst Photography on Flickr.com

1.  Find healthy, local and/or organic foods 

  • Sometimes local is just as important as organic!
  • Learn to sustain yourself; grow a garden (see Tip #4 below), get some chickens & goats, & if you really want to get primal, hunt for your own meat!

2.  Think about getting an air filter/sanitizer *especially if you have asthma &/or allergies*  

  • I like to use Dr. Mercola’s Website for a lot of these, mostly because I know he’s done his research on marketing only the best products and it gets a little overwhelming when searching for these things on your own, there are so many products out there all claiming the same thing and it’s nice to know you are getting a good product for your money!  Dr. Mercola.com

3.  Get a water purifier for both your tap (drinking) & shower *your skin is the largest organ on your body and we absorb almost everything through our skin, without the added benefit of detoxing it through out Livers before it’s absorbed straight into our blood*; and if you really want to get into it, look into getting a water ionizer, to both filter and alkalize your water, giving you the benefit of a more hydrating water molecule as well as creating a more alkaline environment inside your body

4.  If you have a garden, check your soil for heavy metals and previous pesticide/herbicide use.  

  • Use oats to check for herbicide/pesiticides:  Clean Air Gardening Blog 
  • To test your soil, call your local Health Department and send in a sample.  You should be able to look up areas of concern through the local Health Department as well.  Some areas are more prone to lead or other heavy metal accumulations than others and this is all tracked and recorded.  
  • Or you can order soil tests as well to get a whole plethora of information about your soil:  Dr. Good Earth.com

The Environmental Working Group is a great resource as well as Dr. Mercola’s website.   EWG has great info about farming, children, chemicals, water, food and even cosmetics and skin products; they have been very active these days in changing the way our government controls these things in our daily lives!  So finally onto my initial purpose for writing up this blog post… please read below to see their most recent agenda:  

Dear Erin,
On Thursday, I testified in a U.S. Senate hearing, and I want to tell you what I told the Senators.  Babies are coming into this world pre-polluted with toxic chemicals.  When EWG tested the umbilical cord blood of 10 Americans, we found nearly 300 chemicals, including BPA, perchlorate, fire retardants, lead, mercury, and PCBs.  The best way to stop this pre-pollution is to enact the Kid-Safe Chemicals Act, which would require that chemicals be proven safe for children before they can be sold.  Click here to sign our petition.
  

By, Paul D'Andrea

Now is the time for Congress to introduce the Kid-Safe Chemicals Act.  The chemicals are in us. The risk of disease and illness is serious.  The chemicals we found are increasingly linked to serious long-term health effects, from childhood cancer and autism to ADHD, learning deficits, infertility, and heart disease. We need a system for assessing chemicals so our children get the healthy start they deserve. The longer Congress waits, the more babies are exposed.  

Sign EWG Action Fund’s petition to Congress
Join the 1000’s of other Americans who are telling Congress it’s time for a real federal toxics law that will make chemicals in consumer products safe for kids.
Click here to add your name to our petition. Congress needs to hear from you right now. We’ve waited long enough.
Thank you for speaking up for a new national chemical policy that places human health front and center — right where it should be.
Sincerely,
  

Ken Cook, President
Environmental Working Group
and EWG Action Fund
  

Don’t just take my word for it, be informed about these things, they affect your health and well-being as well as those you love and lets face it, without these essential things, we miss out on living the life we dream of!  Our health is the basic building block of our lives! 

~be well~  

ErinSources:  Cook, Ken. “Thursday.”  Email to the author. 6 Feb 2010;  www.ewg.orgwww.marksdailyapple.comwww.mercola.com

Going Alkaline

April 8, 2009 3 comments

alkaline1

Over the past 4 years, I’ve been a victim of chronic skin issues, which have blossomed into an awful array of eczema that seems to come and go as it pleases with no apparent rhyme or reason.  At this point, I have to take it all in stride and know that I’m gaining valuable knowledge along the way that may someday help somebody else in a similar position, and hopefully one of these days I will actually get to the bottom of my eczema and get rid of it once and for all!  On my school break, I pretty much spent my time devoted to getting healthy, and that included days and days of getting acupuncture treatments, various homeopathics and diet changes.  All of which helped, but never cured… so my next venture is experimenting with an alkaline diet.  I started reading this book “The pH Miracle Diet” and couldn’t put it down.  The basic idea of the diet is to maintain a diet that is at least 80% alkaline.  The theory behind this is to maintain the bodies normal pH levels in the body. 

The pH level of our internal fluids affects every cell in our bodies.  The entire metabolic process depends on an alkaline environment.  Chronic overacidity corrodes body tissue, and if left unchecked will interrupt all cellular activities and functions, the beating of your heart to the neural firing of your brain.  in other words, overacidity interferes with life itself.  It is at the root of all sickness and disease. 

It may surprise you to know that the average American diet, rich in lots of animal protein, sugars and dairy is highly acidic, and this acidity in our diets promotes a breeding ground for disease in our bodies.  This acidity is linked to a laundry list of health issues, such as allergies, headaches, colds, flus, acne, muscle cramps, soreness, skin irritation’s, inflammation, osteoporosis, diabetes, heart disease, gout, arthritis, cancer and many many more.  

Since, I’m sure we would all like to know how to eliminate our chances of sickness and live our lives to their healthiest potential I thought I’d share a couple basics I learned that can easily be incorporated into your daily life. 

Alkalizing your water:  This will neutralize any stored acid waste in your body an gently remove acid from the body.  If you don’t have access to a water ionizer, which alkalizes and purifies your water for you there is a cheaper option.  Put 5 drops of Hydrogen Peroxide (H2O2) per 8-12 ounces of your purified water, and presto… you have alkalized water.  You can also squeeze lemon or lime into your purified water which will also alkalize it. 

Meal plans:  In order to maintain an alkaline environment internally, you should stick to a diet that is 80% alkaline (which mostly comes from vegetables).  So when you take a visual of your plate make sure 80% is covered by vegetables.

Veggies w/ Protein:  It’s important for your digestive systems sake, to eat dark leafy greens with your animal proteins, for these will actually help to breakdown the meat, making it easier on your digestive tract.  In addition, you shouldn’t eat animal protein with starches, as they require very different environments for digestion.

Alkaline Foods:  In general, veggies are your friend!  In addition, you can eat lemons, limes, tomatoes, avocados and even grapefruit, they are all alkalizing.  Eat lots of nuts and seeds and even tofu.  Some good grains to eat, which are slightly acidic to slightly alkaline include, quinoa, buckwheat, millet and amaranth.

Eat Raw:  As much as you can at least!  (Just be careful when eating raw during the Winter months, as this can be an unhealthy diet in the wrong environment).

Cut processed foods and artificial sweeteners:  These are both highly acidic and if you need a sweetener, stick to plant based sweeteners, such as Stevia or Chicory.

Essential Fats:  Make sure you are getting the right oils in your diet, after all they are essential.   Surprisingly, 20% of your calories should come from your healthy oils.  Some examples include Olive Oil, Grape Seed, Sesame, Flax and Hemp just to name a few.  Look for brands that are “cold-pressed”.

Alcohol, Coffee, Chocolate and Sodas:  Unfortunately, as you may have guessed all these are highly acidic and should be avoided for the most part.  

So, there you are, a few words of advice for taking your health into your own hands.  I, myself went alkaline as of 2 days ago and maybe you’ll join me… even if you just work on one thing for now, like making your water alkaline, it’s a step in the right direction!

For a really helpful list of alkaline & acidic foods (it might surprise you); here is a link that a fellow student shared with me!                                      http://manumissio.wikispaces.com/Alkaline+Foods

Sources: Young, Robert O., Young, Shelley Redford, The pH Miracle: Balance Your Diet, Reclaim Your Health,  New York: Wellness Central, 2002; www.snyderhealth.com

Using Herbs, Phytochemicals and Vitamins to Soothe Your Allergies This Season

March 25, 2009 11 comments

 

pollen-allergies-phot

If you are one of the lucky few that doesn’t suffer from seasonal allergies, consider yourself, well lucky!!  I myself have had allergy problems since before I can  remember, and trust me I have gone through just about everything there is to treat them.  Personally, the only relief I’ve found and felt good about using is in Complementary Medicine, be it, herbs, diet, or acupuncture.  My allergies, unfortunately are not only seasonal but a vague anomaly that continues year round for a laundry list of reasons of which I am never sure of.  Fortunately, dealing with your personal health and testing new ideas on yourself is a great learning tool, and one day hopefully I will have squashed all my allergy problems and live an itch free life.   

I recently came across an article published in The Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology reviewing CAM’s history in treating various ailments of the immune system, including asthma, allergic rhinitis and dermatitis through the use of Vitamins, Herbs and Phytochemicals.  If you are looking for some hope in a prescription drug free world of allergy treatment, check out the research.  Some highlights of the research include:

Vitamin D:  It has long been said that Vitamin D plays a vital role in your overall health, this article just reinforces the importance that Vitamin D plays in our immune system and how it can be a crucial part of dealing with allergies of any kind.

Vitamin E:  Has been shown to decrease mast cell production, thereby relieving an allergic response.

Vitamin A:  Has been shown to increase antibody production.

Vitamin C:  Is an important mediator in the immune response. 

Magnolol:  As far as phytochemicals go, Magnolol is polyphenol found in plants that plays a part in the immune reaction, lending an inhibitory effect that reduces the allergic reaction.

Quercetin:  Found in cherries, Quercetin plays the same sort of inhibitory role in the cascade of events causing an allergic reaction and effects the production of mast cells.

Resveratrol:  Found in grape skins, it’s a powerful antioxidant that has been shown to have anti-cancer effects, it plays a role in alleviating the stress response that can be an instigator in the allergy response.

Ma Huang (or Ephedra):  Which has recently been taken off the market is a great herb in the treatment of asthma and has unfortunately been misused as a diet drug and energy enhancer due to its amphetime-like effects. 

As far as using these substances clinically in the treatment of allergies, there is SO much information in the article that I could hardly paraphrase any one part of it in one page, but if you are looking for specific info regarding Atopic Dermatitis, Allergic Rhinitis or Asthma, please read the article, there is quite a bit of good information in there and natural substances that are worth taking a look at.  For example, some of the remedies they review are as follows:

In treating Atopic Dermatitis, Evening Primrose, Essential Fatty Acids, Rumex japonicus Houtt  & Actinidia arguta are a few of the herbal remedies found to have positive effects.

For Allergic Rhinitis, Butterbur is worth mentioning as finding similar test results as the use of Fexafenadine a prescription medicine commonly prescribed for allergies.  Citrus unshiu also showed positive results in treating seasonal allergies.  Likewise, dietary products like grape seed extract, tomato extract, dietary spirulina, and cellulose powder have been suggested for the treatment of allergic rhinitis.

As far as Chinese Herbal Formulas are concerned Bhu-zong-yi-qi-tang is shown to have efficacious results when treating both allergic rhinitis and atopic dermatitis as well as Shi-Bi-Lin, another formula.  

Also worth mentioning are a couple of other homeopathic remedies, including Apis Mel, which is helpful in acute cases for hives, bee stings and other insect bites and Histaminum which is helpful in the case of nasal congestion, hay fever, insect bites, eczema, and even food allergies.  One that has been super useful for me when I’m having an acute reaction is Quantum AllerCleanse a Botanical Supplement produced by Premier Research  Labs. 

So, take control of your health this allergy season and look into these great natural remedies!  I know some of these have done wonders for me in helping to relieve my allergy symptoms throughout the years and I hope you too can benefit as well! 

 

Source:  Mainardi, Timothy, MD, MS, Kapoor, Simi, MD, Bielory, Leonard, MD, ( Feb. 2009)  Complementary and Alternative Medicine: Herbs, Phytochemicals and Vitamins and Their Immunologic Effects.  The Journal of Allergy & Clinical Immunology, 123 (2), 283-294 

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