Seven Steps to Staying Healthy During Cold Season

IMG_5160It’s that time of year.  Coughs, colds and flues are going around, and for many of us, it feels like just a matter of time until we’ve caught one too.  Luckily, with the right support, our immune systems are quite capable of fighting off most bacteria and viruses without us ever knowing we’ve been exposed.  Here are seven simple ways to help your immune system be its most efficient and effective this season.

1) Sleep

I once read “sleep is free medicine,” and it’s true.  The act of sleeping actually increases the number of antibodies we make against foreign bacteria and viruses. The more of a full-night’s sleep we get (usually 7-9 hours for an adult), the more antibodies we produce and the more protection we have against invading bacteria and viruses.  Sleep also lowers stress hormones and reduces inflammation, two other important factors in immunity.  Difficulty getting to sleep? Getting some light exercise during the day, reducing alcohol intake and turn off electronics one hour before bed will help; you can also ask for help from your acupuncturist.

2) Wear a scarf

When our bodies are cold, our immune system is less active. Just a 5 degree drop in temperature in our nostrils shows a measurable effect on our ability to fight off the cold virus.  When our necks are exposed to the cold, we lose valuable body heat lowering our immune function while also leaving our neck muscles to become more easily stiff and sore. Try and keep the base of your head and neck covered and protected from cold and wind, and cover your nose when possible as well.  If you work in an air-conditioned building, this advice is applicable in the summer too!

3) Cut out the sweets

Sugar has been proven to notably reduce immune function up to several hours after consuming sweets by upsetting the environment in which our white blood cells work efficiently.  Our white blood cells tag, attack and remove invaders, but an increase in blood sugar can reduce this capacity by more than half.  So work on having nourishing meals during this time period and reserve sugary treats for special occasions.

4) Take a probiotic

Did you know you are never alone? Our bodies are inhabited by billions of tiny microorganisms that live on our skin and in our digestive tract. These organisms play an important role in mood, digestion and immunity.  They support the capability of our white blood cells to patrol and protect the body, while others can stop invasive bacteria from binding to our digestive tracts, protecting us from gastrointestinal illnesses like the flu, parasites and even food poisoning. Taking a probiotic has been shown to significantly reduce the number of respiratory tract and other types of infections and has even been shown to improve vaccine responses!  Oh, and these guys hate sugar and love veggies, so remember them when choosing your diet!

5) Eat warm foods

Warm foods are a way to preserve your body’s energy while providing it with easily accessible nutrients. Great foods to stock up on this time of year are soups and stews, squash, garlic and onions, and greens like broccoli, brussels sprouts, chard and kale.  Many of these vegetables still grow during the fall and winter months, and so are chock-full of the nutrients we need this time of year.  Bone broths improve probiotic health and provide essential amino acids to help reduce respiratory tract inflammation, boost immune function and protect against a number of respiratory and digestive illnesses.

6) Stay Hydrated

Our throats, lungs and nostrils are meant to be moist as a way to trap invading viruses.  Keep them nourished by drinking plenty of hydrating fluids, such as water and herbal tea.  Reduce caffeinated beverages, which tend to by drying, and sugary drinks which reduce immunity.

7) Nip it in the bud

If you do find yourself coming down with a cold or flu – such as a feeling exhausted, a sore throat, or a feeling of being chilled or feverish, now is the time to make sure your immune system has everything that it needs. Enact steps 1-6 if you haven’t already done so, and schedule a visit with your acupuncturist. Acupuncture can encourage healthy immune function, helping your body fight the pathogen and recover more quickly.

One great home remedy for colds in which you feel chilled (but don’t have a strong sore throat or fever) is ginger scallion root tea. These herbs warm up the body, promoting immune function, while the small amount of natural sweetener stimulates digestive function.

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Acupuncture and Diabetic Neuropathy

Foot-acu

Diabetes is a complex condition with many possible complications. Among these are vision loss, kidney disease, hypertension, heart disease, hearing loss, mental health, skin and neurological disorders.  Acupuncture and Chinese herbal medicine have long been used to support the body’s ability to improve outcomes in the treatment of diabetes – both to mitigate the complications of diabetes and to reduce the insulin resistance at the root of the disease.  A recent study published in the Journal of Thai Traditional & Alternative Medicine highlights acupuncture’s impact on one particularly troubling complication: peripheral neuropathy.

Peripheral neuropathy occurs in diabetes when high blood sugar injures the nerve fibers of the body.  Nerve injury occurs most commonly in the hands and feet, where people experience symptoms ranging from numbness, tingling or burning to complete loss of sensation.  Other complications of neuropathy can include urinary incontinence, erectile dysfunction and abnormal sweating.  Diabetic peripheral neuropathy can produce symptoms that range from mildly irritating to extremely painful, and is potentially fatal: loss of sensation can prevent recognition of cuts or injuries to the extremities which, undetected, may become infected, leading to amputation or even death.

Luckily, acupuncture can do much to improve circulation and nerve function in the extremities.  The recent study showed that when acupuncture was added to a medical treatment regime for diabetic peripheral neuropathy, neuropathy symptom score success rates jumped from 8% to 90%.  Neuropathy disability scores went from a medication-only 37.45% success rate to over 90% as well.  Acupuncture points used in the study included points on the arms, legs, back and stomach.  In addition to promoting flow of energy and fluids, these points have special indications for the pancreas, stomach, spleen, kidneys, and large intestine, as diabetes is addressed through multiple organs in Chinese medicine.

Chinese medical treatment for diabetes and its complications may also include herbal medicine.  Herbal supplements, such as american ginseng, can improve glucose tolerance while other herbs and formulas help to support cardiovascular, neurological, urological and mental health.  As with all treatments, careful diagnosis by a trained professional is critical to prescribing acu-points and herbal medicines appropriate for each individual.  Careful monitoring of blood sugar and the use of physician-prescribed medications is also critical to successful treatment, as is regular exercise and a diet that includes plenty of fresh vegetables, fruits and lean proteins and excludes processed foods, sugars, alcohol and artificial sweeteners.

Read the full article on acupuncture and diabetic neuropathy here: http://www.healthcmi.com/acupuncturist-news-online/735-diabneuroacu

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Relax and Refocus

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Relaxation has so many physical and mental health benefits, yet it often feels out of reach.  I’m happy to have been a contributor to this great article in ParentMap magazine.  Sharlyn Gehrs describes why relaxation is so important, and some simple ways to find it in our busy lives.

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One-Moment Meditation

I love this short video on how to meditate in one minute. It’s a great reminder that relaxation is possible in every moment, and a great guide to practicing how to find it. Well worth the five minutes!

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Grass-Fed Meat: Why all the Hype?

‘Grass-fed meat’  has joined the ranks of ‘organic’ and ‘free range’ as one of those “does it really matter?” decisions in the supermarket.    As we mentally weigh the cost of groceries and bills in comparison to foods recommended to us, it can be difficult to put off the tangible benefits of financial savings for potential “down-the-road” or “good-for-the-planet” benefits of more costly items.  Yet buying grass-fed beef, or any animal fed greens over grain, does not just make for happier animals:  it makes for a distinctly healthier (and thus presumably happier) you.

Red meat has gotten a bad rap in the media for over a decade.  Diets high in red meat have been linked to heart disease, obesity, cancer, rheumatoid arthritis and other ailments.  Often people with chronic illness, such as Multiple Sclerosis, and Asthma find that their symptoms improve dramatically when they stop eating red meat.  Why?  Red meat can increase inflammation in the body, which reduces circulation, inhibits organ function and causes pain and disease.

A careful look at the red meat in the average supermarket shelf or restaurant helps clarify why it is so unhealthy:  most cows are not fed a natural diet consisting of plants discovered in the wild.  Instead, they are fed corn and soy (along with fground meat, cement and sawdust and corn syrup.)  High fattening foods make for beef with more saturated fat.   Corn and soy, the significant portion of most cows’ diet, provide cows with high levels of Omega-6 essential fatty acids, the fatty acids responsible for creating inflammation in the body.  These inflammatory factors are passed on to us.

Omega-6 fatty acids are essential nutrients that we receive from our food.  In normal amounts, Omega-6s  promote appropriate inflammation as an immune system response.  When that response is no longer needed, an adequate supply of anti-inflammatory Omega-3 fatty acids, then helps to reduce the inflammation.    A diet promoting a healthy inflammatory balance in the body includes a ratio of Omega-6 to 3 that is  two-to-one.

Omega-6s are found in relation to anti-inflammatory fatty acids (Omega-3s)  at a ratio of at least 4.8 in standard beef, with some studies showing ratios of as much as to 20-to-1.  The longer a cow spends on a feed-lot, the higher this ratio becomes.

A cow’s natural diet is made up of grass and other meadow plants, which, just like the leafy greens that we eat for their health benefits, are high in anti-inflammatory FAs (Omega-3s),  vitamins and minerals like magnesium, calcium, potassium  and iron.  Grass fed meat has less fat, including less saturated fat, and more vitamin E, vitamin B, calcium, magnesium, and potassium than grain-fed meat.   It is also not surprising that when the omega-3 content of a cow’s diet is raised, so too is the anti-inflammatory nature of the meat itself.  100% grass-fed meat has an Omega-6 to Omega-3 ratio of just 1.65.

The standard American diet contains between 14 and 25 times more Omega-6s than Omega-3s.  A study by the British Journal of Nutrition showed that volunteers eating a grass-fed meat diet improved their levels of Omega-3s and reduced Omega-6s in just four weeks, while volunteers who ate standard meat actually saw their levels of Omega-6s rise throughout the study and their Omega-3 levels fall.   Reducing Omega-6 intake and increasing Omega-3s has been linked to reduced pain, improved cardio-vascular, respiratory, mental and pre-natal health, lower triglycerides,  improved symptoms of ADHD and rheumatoid arthritis, and protection against Alzheimer’s and dementia.

Chinese medicine recommends red meat as medicine, and in medicinal doses: no more than a portion the size of your palm, three times per week.  I do not recommend red meat, or any meat, for every meal.   But red meat, in addition to being energetically warming to the body, is incredibly nutrient-dense.  Three ounces of red meat has just 180 calories but provides 10 essential nutrients.  Red meat provides the highest amount of absorbable iron of any food, more than twice as much as chicken, fish or pork .  It supplies high levels of vitamin B-12, needed for nerve and red blood cell function, and zinc, which promotes a healthy immune system.  And it provides protein, essential for bone and muscle health.  For people who regularly lose blood (such as menstruating women), who have chronic fatigue, weakness or bruising, or those who have a digestive system weakness and cannot extract more difficult-to-absorb iron from plant sources, eating some red meat may be essential to provide the healing they need.   If the source is grass-fed, red meat can also play a nutrient-rich role in reducing inflammation, and thus in disease prevention.

Sources:

http://www.eatwild.com/healthbenefits.htm

http://elkhorn.unl.edu/epublic/live/g2032/build/g2032.pdf

http://www.health-alternatives.com/meat-protein-nutrition-chart.html

http://math.ucsd.edu/~ebender/Health%20&%20Nutrition/Nutrition/oil_good.html

http://www.redcrossblood.org/learn-about-blood/health-and-wellness/iron-rich-foods

http://www.umm.edu/altmed/articles/omega-3-000316.htm

http://www.umm.edu/altmed/articles/omega-6-000317.htm

http://www.webmd.com/healthy-aging/omega-3-fatty-acids-fact-sheet

http://www.webmd.com/food-recipes/features/the-truth-about-red-meat

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Sugar Addiction: The Not-So-Sweet Effects of Sugar on the Brain

We all know we aren’t “supposed” to eat sugary treats, but often we feel powerless when it comes to avoiding them.  In an interesting article in Forbes Magazine, David DiSalvo describes how sugar literally becomes an addictive substance, and how this addiction can cause some disturbing impacts on the function of our brains.

Chinese medicine has long held the view that a little bit of sweet (i.e. naturally occuring sugars in foods like fruits and grains) tonifies the digestive system, thereby supporting activities like memory, calm sleep, and the ability to view the world clearly.  On the other hand, excess sugar, including refined and added sugars, harms the digestive system.  Sweetness is cloying and too much impedes digestive function and the ability to properly break down food. This results in over-production of fat and phlegm, lethargy, cloudy-headedness, worsened immunity, poor memory and decreased mental function.

Interestingly, DiSalvo’s article shows scientific evidence that refined sugar has precisely the same effect on the brain as Chinese Medicine theory believes it to.  Glucose is required by the brain to function, so we need some naturally occuring sugars in our foods. However, “a diet high in added sugar reduces the production of a brain chemical known as brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF). Without BDNF, our brains can’t form new memories and we can’t learn (or remember) much of anything.”  Those with impaired ability to metabolize glucose from the blood stream, like diabetics and pre-diabetics, have particularly low levels of the BDNF factor, and as the levels of BDNF fall, so does their ability to metabolize sugars.

So sugar has been shown to cause poor memory and reduced mental function.  What’s worse, once we pass the threshold of “useful” sugar levels in the brain, our brain begins to lose it’s ability to recognize that it’s had too much.  Chronic sugar consumption reduces the sensitivity of oxytocin cells, the brain’s own blood sugar monitor. Thus the more sugar we eat, the more we begin to think that another serving would sound good.  It’s a strikingly similar pattern to that of many addictions.

The trouble here is that with increased tolerance for sugars, cutting back becomes harder.  Many people feel withdrawal symptoms in the first few days of reducing sugar consumption, and the brain will come to crave its standard systemic flooding of glucose.  But replacing your sugary treats with fresh organic fruits and low-glycemic sweeteners like stevia and raw-honey will have its rewards.  Cravings for sugar tend to go away over time as added sugar is removed from the diet.  In return?  Among many other things are weight loss, better memory, and a clearer mind.

Resources:

When you must sweeten – such as in baking – here’s a handy guide on how to replace processed sugar with some natural,  healthier alternatives.

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Ice prevents healing.

Do you have a chronic or slow-healing sports injuries? Ice could be the culprit. Read this article about the down side of icing, and then ask your Chinese medicine practitioner about topical and internal herbs that reduce inflammation and promote healing!
 
 
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