The Flu

flu sneezing symptoms

The Flu is always scary.  I caught the flu a few years ago and … I was the stereotype of a sick man: moaning and planning my obituary.

The two primary reasons we catch the flu:

  1. we are exposed
  2. we are vulnerable

The first one is obvious, but the second one is key, because it explains why some of us catch it while others around us do not.  Simply put, we need to do our best to keep our defenses up.

How do we optimize our defenses?

  1. No Sugar! (I’ll come back to this but also see: Good News/Bad News: Sugar)
  2. A little exercise and plenty of rest goes a long way in the winter
  3. Take your vitamins (especially C, D, and multivitamin)
  4. Strictly limit or eliminate dairy during cold season
  5. Peppermint essential oil

Sugar and the Immune System

I go into more detail in the other blog entry about sugar, so if you want to understand the science behind this, go there.  Basically, sugar interferes with how our immune system behaves.  Sugar causes our immune system to work harder and accomplish less resulting in a weaker defense and an increased production of mucus.

  1. No sweets or desserts (yes, including ice cream)
  2. No tropical fruits (bananas, mangos, pineapples, etc.)
  3. No fruit juices (except unsweetened grapefruit juice)
  4. Honey … honey is a gray area because it has a number of benefits also. I still discourage it but not everyone responds to honey the same way.

If you are exposed to the flu or expect to be, there are other precautions that you can take:

  1. Regular neti pot
  2. Elderberry tincture or lozenges
  3. Occilococcinum
  4. Everything else that has already been mentioned above

Ultimately, if you do develop symptoms, you will probably need more intervention, but you should consult with a provider at that point to get the best results.

Vitamin D and Sleep

vitamin d supplement

Vitamin D is very important and some people require supplementation in order to get enough. In order to produce adequate Vitamin D from sun-exposure, you would have to sit in the sun every day for enough time to begin turning your skin pink. There are obvious reasons why that is unreasonable for most people, so most people opt to take a supplement.

The FDA currently recommends the RDA for Vitamin D is 400 IU per day, but that is turning out to be insufficient for many people and different healthcare providers are recommending their patients take anywhere from 2,000 IU – 40,000 IU dail,. with the intention of raising their levels to varying levels.

Calcium is not just needed for healthy bones

In fact, our bones don’t just hold us upright and protect our innards—they also produce blood and store nutrients like calcium. Every cell in our bodies requires calcium to perform. When we don’t receive enough calcium from our diet, our body will pull calcium out of the bone to supply the cells. If we don’t have enough calcium already in our bones or we are not absorbing enough from our diet, then our bones become depleted and weak which is how people develop osteoporosis.

The primary reason people take Vitamin D is to prevent osteoporosis, but it can also play an important role in cardiovascular health, hormone balance, and even mood.

Less restful sleep

Recent research has found that some women experienced less restful sleep after their blood levels rose above 32ng/mL after taking a daily 2000 IU vitamin D supplement for about 12 months (1). It is vital that we all get enough sleep to remain healthy, but with the current research showing that the ideal blood level of vitamin D is 30-35 ng/mL (2); therefore it would be more appropriate to address why the changes in vitamin D levels are altering the sleep pattern than to refuse to take the supplement.

We are starting to see a correlation in the research between melatonin (the hormone that makes us sleepy), calcium levels, and vitamin D levels; but we are still probably a long way from understanding why this is happening and what the overall implications are.

Chinese medicine has an entirely different approach to diagnosing and treating irregular sleep patterns and insomnia, regardless of what the blood tests are saying. Whether it is related to taking a supplement or not, if you have begun to experience difficulties with sleeping, see an acupuncturist. One of the first things most people notice once they begin receiving acupuncture is that they begin sleeping better. The beauty of living in a world that now has access to both acupuncture and modern medicine is that we no longer need to sacrifice one component of our well-being in order to support another.


1) Prev Med. 2016 Dec;93:166-170.

2) J Clin Endocrinol Metab. 2013 May;98(5):2160-7.

Acupuncture for Acute and Other Injuries

acupuncture for acute and other injuries

Acute injuries can occur even when you’re taking all the necessary precautions. Whether you’re an athlete dealing with a sports related injury, or suffering from an injury due to everyday activities, acupuncture can help. In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), connective tissues such as tendons, ligaments, and cartilage which surround the joints, are referred to collectively as sinews. When sinews become overly stretched or torn, acute injury may occur. TCM offers several treatments in overcoming acute injuries quickly and effectively (1).

  • Acupuncture
    Acupuncture works to encourage the movement of blood and energy (qi), which can become stagnant in areas afflicted with injury. Blood can also become stagnant, leading to pain and swelling. Stimulation of specific acupoints encourages qi and blood to flow freely again, perpetuating the healing process.
  • Herbs
    Herbs and herbal combinations can be beneficial not only in reducing inflammation, but also for restoring blood flow to the site of injury. Specific herbal formulas like san huang san work to encourage movement of any stagnant blood and reduce inflammation surrounding the injury, so you can get back to your daily activities and exercise more promptly.
  • Cupping
    Cupping is a form of body work using a glass cup, which creates a vacuum drawing blood to the surface. Cupping works to reduce pain and swelling, and in combination with acupuncture, also breaks through qi and blood stagnation to restore qi to damaged sinews.

But don’t just take our word for it

An increasing number of western medical studies have been published demonstrating the effectiveness of acupuncture on acute and sports-related injuries. Using advanced diagnostic techniques researchers have determined how acupuncture can be used effectively in the treatment of:

  • ruptured of muscle fiber (2)
  • Sports medicine (3)
  • Knee conditions (4)
  • Back pain (5,6)
  • Tarsal tunnel syndrome (7)

Acupuncture and Related Methods Applied in Sports Medicine: Exemplified by the Rupture of a Muscle Fiber, a study conducted by Regina Schwantiz, MD documented a case study involving a female athlete with a calf injury. The athlete was treated with a combination of western treatments and acupuncture. Acupuncture treatments continued for a week and on day 8, the athlete reported significant progress, with no pain during exercise and sonography confirming the healed injury. Furthermore, studies by L. Tyler Wadsworth, MD also support its use in healing sports related injuries.

With regard to knee conditions, acupuncture “may help athletes recover faster and more safely and improve sports performance and return to play”(4). Another study concluded that “acupuncture is an effective treatment for the pain and dysfunction of tarsal tunnel syndrome, and in some cases acupuncture treatment can negate the need for surgery” (7). And it doesn’t just stop with acute injuries. Several studies on low back pain, including a meta-analysis, have concluded that “acupuncture effectively relieves chronic low back pain” (5).  So whether you’re an athlete nursing an injury or suffering from everyday aches and pains, relief is possible through treatment.


  1. Bisio, Tom. A tooth from the tiger’s mouth : how to treat your injuries with powerful healing secrets of the great Chinese warriors. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2004. Print.
  2. Schwanitz, Regina. “Acupuncture And Related Methods Applied In Sports Medicine: Exemplified By The Rupture Of A Muscle Fiber”. Medical Acupuncture 19.2 (2007): 105-108. Web. 19 July 2016.
  3. Wadsworth, L. Tyler. “Acupuncture in Sports Medicine.” Current Sports Medicine Reports 5:1-3 (2006). Web. 19 July 19, 2016.
  4. Chung, Gun; Binkley, Helen. “Acupuncture and Knee Conditions: A Review of the Literature.” Athletic Training & Sports Health Care 2.6 (2010): 278-286. Web. 21 July 2016.
  5. Manheimer, Eric. “Meta-Analysis: Acupuncture For Low Back Pain.” Annals of Internal Medicine 142.8 (2005): 651. Web. 21 July 2016.
  6. Swathy, S and V. Gowri Sethu. “Acupuncture and Lower Back Pain.” Research Journal of Pharmacy and Technology 8.8 (2015): 991. Web. 21 July 2016.
  7. Smith, Scott R. “Acupuncture in the Treatment of Tarsal Tunnel Syndrome.” The Journal of Chinese Medicine 89 (2009): 19-25. Web. 21 July 21 2016.

Good News / Bad News

sugar can decrease your immune system function

The good news is that I know a guaranteed way to boost your immune system for free.  The bad news is that it requires you to stop eating some of your favorite foods.  In 1973 the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition published a study that showed how consumption of sugar correlated directly with a diminished function of the immune system, or more accurately, neutrophilic phagocytosis.  Neutrophils are major players in our immune system and sugar basically causes them to not function properly, so, essentially, sugar makes your immune system lazy.  High fructose corn syrup was introduced in the 70s, but was not mentioned in the study; however, the study does state that fructose had the most significant impact, albeit by a very close margin.

What this means is that anyone who is prone to catching seasonal illness or who is being exposed to contagious pathogens should not eat sugar.

For the sake of staying well, avoid sugar if:

A) You are prone to seasonal colds

B) You are going to be or have been exposed to contagions pathogens, i.e. taking a flight, working or living with children, etc.

There are certainly other reasons why most people should avoid sugar but this is one thing too many people are unaware of.   Orange juice is loaded with sugar.  Most cough drops are almost entirely sugar.  There are benefits to both when you have a cold, but the sugar may negate them, so it is typically better to take a vitamin C supplement and taking prescribed herbs if you do get sick.  Eat right, exercise, and get enough sleep.  Your body should take care of the rest.


Am J Clin Nutr November 1973 vol. 26 no. 11 1180-1184

General Diet Guidelines For Headache Sufferers

headache pain

The following guidelines are based on classical Chinese literature, and include descriptions of specific headaches.  Regardless of whether or not your headaches match the descriptions, if you are experiencing any headaches after behaving in any of the ways listed below, you should suspect the behavior to be responsible.

  • Dull Headaches: Inadequate meals or nourishment are a common cause for dull headaches, if the diet is consistently lacking nourishment, more severe headaches can develop
  • Frontal Headaches, Sharp Pain: Overeating is a common cause for headaches characterized by sharp pain, especially those in the front of the head
  • Frontal Headaches, Sharp Pain: Eating too quickly or while engaged in serious conversation can lead to sharp headaches in the front of the head
  • Frontal Headaches, Dull Pain: Eating irregularly from day to day or eating too late at night can lead to dull headaches in the front of the head
  • Frontal or Temporal Headaches, Sharp Pain: Excessive consumption of hot-natured foods (curry, peppers, etc.), red meats, or alcohol are also common causes for sharp headaches in the sides and/or front of the head
  • Headache of entire head or Occipital region, Dull Pain: Excessive salt in the diet (canned soups, smoked or cured meats, etc.) will often cause dull headaches in the whole head or back of head
  • Temporal Headaches or Migraines: Excessive consumption of sour foods (yogurt, grapefruit, pickles, vinegar, red currants, etc.) can lead to temporal headaches or migraines
  • Chemicals in foods (MSG, dyes, etc.) can cause headaches for many reasons that are not discussed in classical Chinese literature, but should always be considered when headaches recur after eating certain foods.  In general, food coloring should be omitted from the diet when possible.
  • Coffee and chocolate are examples of foods that were not traditionally available in China and were not explained in Classical literature, but both can be a cause of headaches.  It is always advisable that headache sufferers eliminate both to determine if they may be causing the headaches.

Top 5 Herbal Remedies Every Parent Should Know About

Herbal remedies ginger ginseng

Ren Shen Bai Du San for common colds

Usually we wouldn’t give herbs like ginseng to someone with a cold because this type of herb can nourish everything in the body, and if there is a germ there, it can make it stronger. Children, however, often do not have the strength the push the bug out of their body, and it can just sit there and fester (or grow stronger and make the parents sick).

This formula was originally used by the Imperial Medical Department of the Northern Song Dynasty and is composed primarily of herbs which drive the bug out of the body, dry up the mucus, and provide some relief from any aches.  A small dose of ginseng is included to provide the weaker body with the energy needed to push the bug out.  An added benefit is that it also improves the mood so Cranky McCrankypants can turn back into a sweet child.

Xiao Chai Hu Tang for middle ear infections

Fortunately, most doctors will not give antibiotics for ear infections, because most ear infections are not bacterial.  But when you see your child in agony time and again, you want to do something, and that’s when you end up talking your doctor into prescribing an antibiotic.  Antibiotics kill good and bad bacteria (see my blog on supplements to understand why we need probiotics living in our guts).  If there is no bad bacteria to kill because there is not bacterial infection, then you are only killing part of your child’s digestive and immune systems.

Xiao Chai Hu Tang may be the most widely prescribed herbal formula in Japan.  It is a fascinating and complex formula written by “The Sage of Medicine”, himself, Zhang Zhong-Jing, of the Later Han Dynasty.  This is not the place to go into detail about the profound magnificence of this elegant formula, maybe I’ll write a blog about that later, but for now we need to talk about ear infections.

Unlike common colds, children aren’t prone to ear infections simply because their immune systems are weaker or because they are less selective with what they put in their mouths.  Children get ear infections more easily than adults because the anatomy of their young ears is different.  The children that do not get ear infections have qi flowing unobstructed from the ear.  (If you don’t believe in qi or  meridians, you can come up with your own explanation as to why this works).  The most common source of this obstruction is too much dairy or sugar in the diet, but that too is for another post.  The way to drain the ear is to initiate the proper descension of qi from the ear, which is what xiao chai hu tang does here.  If caught at the right time and before antibiotics have been administered, one or two dose usually does the trick.  It can still work even if antibiotics have been given, it just may not work as quickly.  Since it doesn’t work immediately, the child is still in pain, so apply tea tree oil direcly to the external part of the ear.  Start with a drop on a q-tip to see if the child’s skin is too sensitive.  Then calm the child and let the herbs work.

Yu Ping Feng Wan

Imagine a forcefield around you or your child that keeps you from catching whatever the other kids have and that’s basically what this formula does.  And it tastes good.  Whether your child is just prone to catching colds or if there is something going around, taking this at the right time will almost always prevent an upper respiratory infection.

Han’s Honey Loquat Syrup for cough or sore throat

I like this one largely because it is easy to get a child to take it when they are coughing in the middle of the night.  It does taste good, but it also contains herbs that break up phlegm instead of just suppressing the cough, which is also nice if the sore throat is the result of post-nasal drip.  These herbs are gentle and not too drying.  There is a lot of sugar in this formula, which is unfortunate, but the sweetness helps to coat the throat to ease the cough and has enough mint and licorice in it to soothe a sore throat.  It’s best to avoid the cold altogether, but if you miss your chance (or the kid eats sweets while already fighting the cold) then having some of this at home will help everyone in the house get some sleep.

Culing Wan (aka Curing Pills aka Kan Ning Wan) for upset stomach

Birthday parties may be the only times when our children are allowed to make meals of cake and ice cream.  Not only are they allowed, but it is a cultural norm.  Of course, then we have Halloween, Easter, road trips, and any other time our kids are going to eat something that doesn’t agree with them.

When we fill our stomachs with sweet, rich foods it gums up the works, which can result in constipation or diarrhea as the body forces the gunk out.  The constipation brings me to a different formula, so I won’t digress, but when it is diarrhea or mild constipation, Culing Wan fixes the problem.  It used to be sold in the US as Curing Wan (wan means pill), and you can occasionally still find it labeled that way, but herbal remedies can’t claim to “cure” anything, so they remarketed it as Culing Wan, which may be easier to pronounce anyway.  Culing wan is similar to huo xiang zheng qi tang, which may not make any difference to you, but whereas hu xiang zheng qi tang is excellent for food poisoning, Culing wan is excellent for dietary indiscretions.  Two of the primary herbs are the same in both formulas and function to literally penetrate the turbid gunk in the system and begin to break it down from within.  Just drink plenty of warm water to either replenish what is lost with diarrhea, or lubricate the system to ease passage when mildly constipated.