Did you know that chicken soup really is medicinal? Studies prove it!Read More
Incredible, but the U.S. Centers for Disease Control says that approximately 50% of antibiotics are prescribed unnecessarily. Why should we be concerned? According to the CDC, "Antibiotic resistance has been called one of the world's most pressing public health problems." In response the CDC launched a program to educate doctors and the public about the problem, which especially affects kids. "Get Smart: Know When to Use Antibiotics" is a website that helps you evaluate whether you might have a health issue caused by bacteria (antibiotics sometimes necessary so see your doctor), or a virus (antibiotics are not effective). "Get Smart" provides lots of great tips on self-care, such as rest, fluids, pain-relievers and humidifier use for a common cold, for example.
We need to think twice before asking our doctors for antibiotics for upper respiratory infections such as colds, flu, sore throat, cough, earache, and clogged sinuses - most of which are viral. A responsible doctor will rarely write a prescription without an office visit and physical exam.
If you do go home empty-handed, don't worry. Chinese herbal medicine offers many alternatives to antibiotics, such as the herbs isatis, honeysuckle, coptis and forsythia - to name a few. Under the care of a licensed acupuncturist, these herbs can replace antibiotics in certain cases, while also benefiting the immune system. While we can never replace the incredible role that antibiotics have in our world, we definitely need to get a lot smarter in their use.
Did you know that the most common symptom of stress is insomnia? Did you also know that people who sleep fewer than seven hours a night are three times more likely to get a cold? By sleeping longer and more deeply we can protect our health. But how do you do this if you suffer from insomnia? Sleep therapists long ago developed “sleep hygiene," also known as good sleep habits. I've adapted the rules of sleep hygiene into the following eight simple steps to help you get better ZZZZ’s:
(1) Sleep in a cooler room. As night falls and body temperature drops, the brain slows down and drowsiness sets in. Turning down the thermostat can facilitate that.
(2) Make your room completely dark. Cover up all LED lights (even tiny ones) on alarm clocks and any other electronic equipment. If it’s still not dark enough, buy some classic eyeshades available at most drugstores. Darkness causes the body to produce more melatonin, the hormone that signals the body to sleep. Even small amounts of light decrease melatonin production and signal the body to awaken. And don’t fall asleep to the TV or iPad screen (too stimulating); even better, move all gadgets out of the bedroom.
(3) Get a saliva test to check cortisol levels. Even a little bit of lost sleep can cause your stress hormone levels to rise the next night, increasing the likelihood of chronic insomnia. (If you'd like a cortisol test, I can order one for you — please contact me).
(4) Go to bed and wake up around the same time every day, even on weekends.
(5) Avoid alcohol and heavy meals at least 3 hours before bedtime.
(6) Exercise regularly but not within 2 hours of retiring. It may take 2-4 months of regular exercise for you to start sleeping longer and more deeply, and better sleep will then help your exercise routines. (See "How Exercise Can Help Us Sleep Better", NYTimes, 8/21/13.)
(7) Establish a pre-sleep ritual such as a bath, meditation or reading.
(8) Avoid sleeping pills. The so-called Z drugs (Ambien, Sonata and Lunesta) only increase total sleep time by 28 minutes compared to a placebo, according to a 2005 NIH study. They may be habit-forming, cause next-day drowsiness and memory loss, and mask the fact that your underlying cause of sleeplessness could be depression, anxiey or simply poor sleep hygiene.
Of course, acupuncture is well-known as a beneficial treatment for short- and long-term insomnia, and Chinese herbs such as suan zao ren (Zizyphus) are natural and safe alternatives to prescription sleeping pills.
Does your child get sick a lot or complain of stomachaches? Perhaps an older child has migraines or trouble sleeping? If so they may benefit from acupuncture. A new study published in the journal Pediatrics finds acupuncture safe for children. Already in the U.S. about 150,000 kids are receiving acupuncture for chronic pain and other issues. Acupuncture for children differs from that for adults in that the needles are left in for shorter periods — if at all. In babies and toddlers, the acupuncturist may insert and withdraw the needle in one move. The study reports that side effects are nearly non-existent in the hands of a trained and licensed acupuncturist. Read more about it at The New York Times.
Chinese herbal medicine formulated especially for children may be combined with acupuncture for a stronger effect. At my office on Larchmont in Los Angeles, our pharmacy stocks many excellent pediatric formulas called Gentle Warriors, from Kan Herb Company.
So, how do you catch a cold virus anyway? No surprise here, the leading theory shows the hands touching the nose to be the culprit. Not even sneezing or kissing spread a cold to the extent that contaminated hands do, with active rhinovirus being found on skin and household surfaces even three hours later. When you then touch contaminated surfaces, you pick up the virus at least 60% of the time and it enters the body through your eyes, nose or mouth. This explains how you can catch a cold without even having contact with someone who has one. (Even weirder, scientists are surprised at how difficult it is to catch a cold from a kiss.)
The best way to get rid of germs is to wash your hands by rubbing them together for 10-20 seconds under running water, using regular soap. Soap doesn't kill germs, it just loosens them so they’re rinsed off (and antibacterial hand wash doesn't work on viruses).
But the frustrating fact remains that medical researchers are still confounded by the common cold, and the basics still hold true: no cure yet, wash your hands, chicken soup really does work, and wait for "exciting cure found!" Meantime, an acupuncture treatment and Chinese herbal medicine to boost your immune system will help reduce the length and strength of a cold. Try to get treated at the first sign of symptoms for best results.
When life is interrupted by sudden sneezing or a sore throat, you can easily make the following at home from common pantry items: • For common cold with runny nose, chills, head/neck ache, but no sore throat: Sweat it out with a soup of fresh ginger, scallion, cilantro, cabbage, and cayenne (high in vitamin C). Drink cinnamon stick tea (gui zhi) or fresh ginger tea (sheng jiang) with brown sugar. Avoid cold foods like salad, iced drinks and ice cream (sorry!). This is called "wind-cold" in Chinese medicine and is the most common type of cold.
• For swollen sore throat, bodyache, fever and possibly a cough: Drink tea made from a Chinese herb like peppermint (bo he). Chrysanthemum tea (ju hua) is also great but you might have to make a trip to the Asian market. Keep food intake light, drink lots of fruit and veggie juices, and add honey to your tea. This is called "wind-heat" and can correspond to the flu or tonsillitis in Western parlance.
Astragalus, or huang qi, is to Chinese medicine what echinacea is to the North American materia medica. It is the Chinese herbal practitioner's number-one herb to boost Qi (pronounced "chee" and translated as "energy flow" or "breath"), in people who are frequently sidelined by colds and the flu. In Chinese medicine, when someone gets sick we say that their "protective Qi" is deficient, and astragalus acts to stabilize this protective Qi running along the surface of the body. How do you know if you have a weak immune system? Exhaustion, food allergies and depression can all leave the body vulnerable to infection, leading to persistent colds or flu, frequent skin infections, and/or chronic fatigue — all key symptoms.
Astragalus also helps a number of other problems, including spontaneous sweating, low appetite, and recovery from long-term illness, and can improve immune function in people with cancer and HIV.
Note: One should not use astragalus during an acute illness — only as a preventative. For this reason it's best to take it under the care of a licensed acupuncturist, who can make a proper diagnosis and treatment plan.
The use of herbs, whether animal, vegetable or mineral, is an essential part of traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) and generally produces zero side effects. Most often, we combine herbs in a formula of 4-15 ingredients customized to the individual. You might be familiar with many of the following herbs used in TCM. I’ve listed their common uses and pinyin names.1. Cinnamon (gui zhi and rou gui): common cold with chills; arthritis; type 2 diabetes. Daily use has been shown to lower blood sugar, triglycerides and cholesterol levels just as well as the class of drugs known as statins. (Best to use medicinal extracts, not the powder from the spice rack.)
2. Hawthorn (shan zha): high blood pressure; coronary artery disease; high cholesterol
3. Fresh ginger (sheng jiang): nausea; upset stomach; morning sickness; motion sickness; common cold with chills; cough
4. Mint (bo he): common cold with fever and sore throat; headache; rashes
5. Licorice (gan cao): diarrhea; cough; asthma; ulcers; leg spasms; high cholesterol. (Taken long-term, licorice can cause high blood pressure and/or water retention, so only use under the care of a licensed acupuncturist.)
6. Watermelon (xi gua): summertime colds, when it's hot and humid out
7. Hemp seed (huo ma ren): constipation
8. Jujube (da zao): fatigue; low appetite
9. Barley malt sugar, or maltose (yi tang): low appetite; dry cough
10. Gelatin (e jiao): dizziness; palpitations; chronic bleeding; dry cough
11. Garlic (da suan): diarrhea; flu prevention
12. Ginseng(ren shen):Like caffeine, the famous ginseng, sold in tiny bottled “shots” even at the local convenience store, is a stimulant that increases energy. It has been widely studied and shown to be beneficial to people with diabetes, peptic ulcers, stress, anxiety, fatigue and wheezing. The herb should only be taken in consultation with a TCM practitioner, however, as it can also act as a sedative, increase blood pressure, and cause headache, insomnia and/or palpitations in people for whom it is not indicated (in other words, who don’t have a problem where ginseng would be useful).