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 Anxiety


In western medicine, anxiety is often regarded as a chronic condition of excessive, and irrational fear, dread or worry that becomes debilitating over time. Types of anxiety disorders include generalized anxiety disorder, panic disorder, OCD, PTSD, social anxiety disorder, as well as other specific phobias. Along with these emotional issues, physical symptoms can also arise including muscle tension, nausea, sweating, GI conditions, insomnia, and fatigue, among others (1) (more on PTSD here).

Acupuncture as well as specific herbs can directly address and ameliorate these conditions. Dietary changes and nutritional supplementation as well as exercise, meditation, and mind-body practices such as yoga, tai chi or qi gong can help sustain the improvements obtained from acupuncture and herbal remedies so you can get back to living your life—free from anxiety.

Several recent studies have validated the effectiveness of acupuncture on anxiety. One study performed over a 6-week period demonstrated that acupuncture in combination with SSRIs proved to be more effective than the SSRIs alone. (2) Another study noted “the volume of literature, consistency of statistically significant results, wide range of conditions treated and use of animal test subjects suggests very real, positive outcomes,” making it clear that acupuncture can be beneficial in treating these conditions. (3)

From a Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) perspective, anxiety is categorized in three different ways:

  • Fear and Palpitations (Jing Ji)
    This condition is often brought on by external events, specifically fright or shock, and can develop into panic throbbing, which is more severe.
  • Panic Throbbing (Zheng Chong)
    This is not brought on by specific external events, and is described in TCM as the heart shaking in the chest. In panic throbbing, qi (or life force) cannot stay grounded in its place of origin and exhaustion often ensues. Panic attacks would fall into this category.
  • Rebellious Qi of the Penetrating Vessel (Chong Mai)
    This is often described as an internal urgency (Li Ji) or feeling of restlessness that radiates upwards from the lower abdomen, often causing feelings of tightness or fullness in the upper chest, hot flashes, palpitations, breathlessness as well as cold feet and irregular or painful menstrual cycles in women.

Factors that can influence anxiety in TCM include emotional stress—fear, shock, guilt, shame, pensiveness and even excess joy can lead to qi stagnation or deficiency in certain areas of the body. This essentially means that energy is “stuck” and not getting where it needs to go. Over time, stagnate qi can generate too much heat and these stagnations and deficiencies begin to send organs out of balance—specifically the heart, lungs, kidneys, spleen, and liver when we’re talking about anxiety.

Five types of Anxiety in TCM (as they relate to the organs):

  • Heart
    The main symptom here is palpitations, simply meaning that you’re aware of the heart beating in an uncomfortable way. Other things like tightness or oppression in the chest, insomnia, feeling restless, fidgety and flustered indicate a Heart pattern.
  • Lungs
    Lung patterns usually result from grief or loss and are characterized by tightness in the lungs, frequent crying, and a pale complexion, weak voice and weak pulse. Anxiety over spiritual matters, existential suffering, and life’s meaning are common in a Lung pattern.
  • Kidneys
    Fear is the emotion related to the kidneys. This person may appear gaunt, have a dark complexion with a look of panic in the eyes, and often feel hot in the face or dizzy. Kidney patterns tend to manifest as pessimism, chronic fear and guilt, and expecting the worst in all situations.
  • Spleen
    The spleen is related to pensiveness. This is often seen as having mental arguments with yourself, or thoughts that go around in circles, possibly becoming obsessive. People with spleen anxiety may be prone to grasping or clinging, excess weight gain, suffer from lack of mothering, or have a tendency to put other’s needs before their own.
  • Liver
    Worry is the trademark sign of liver anxiety. A person with a Liver pattern is often a perfectionist, sets high standards for themselves and often feels a dissatisfaction with their achievements or a sense of “not being good enough.” This person is often thin and sinewy in body type.


  1. Maciocia, Giovanni. The Practice of Chinese Medicine: The Treatment of Diseases with Acupuncture and Chinese Herbs, 2nd ed. Edinburgh: Churchill Livingstone/Elsevier. 2008: 385-395.
  2. Chan, Yuan-Yu et al.  The benefit of combined acupuncture and antidepressant medication for depression: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Journal of Affective Disorders. 2015(176): 106-117.
  3. Errington-Evans Nick. Acupuncture for anxiety. CNS Neurosciences and Therapeutics. 2012;18(4):277-84.

by Claire Stark

Claire Stark is an undergraduate student pursuing a Bachelor of Arts in psychology with a minor in medical anthropology at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. She is a certified yoga instructor at the 200-hour level registered with Yoga Alliance. Working towards a career in acupuncture and holistic health, Claire is passionate about a mind-body-spirit approach to healing in order to help people achieve long-lasting, sustainable wellness in all facets of life.

Guest authors’ work is reviewed and edited by Ben Townsend.

Acupuncture and PTSD

PTSD trauma help

PTSD: if you’re not suffering from it, chances are you know of someone who has

Whether it is veterans returning from war, the aftermath of a car accident or an abusive relationship—PTSD is more common in today’s society than we might think. However, the typical treatment protocol for PTSD (drugs, drugs, and more drugs) is rarely helpful. Many patients become hooked on their prescription painkillers, or turn to overconsumption of alcohol as a means of coping—which we all know only makes a bad situation worse over time.

Acupuncture and Chinese Medicine provide another way

An increasing number of studies have reported the benefits of acupuncture as viable treatment for PTSD.

  • As the medical director of the Program for Traumatic Stress at the VA hospital in Long Beach, California, Dr. Michael Hollifield has extensive experience with patients suffering with PTSD and in 2011 he identified “conceptual, clinical, and biological data” in support of the acupuncture’s efficacy for the treatment of PTSD. (1)
  • Further research has concluded not only that acupuncture improved symptoms of PTSD but also that patients continued to experience relief three months after their last treatment.(2)
  • Dr. Elspeth Cameron Ritchie, Chief Clinical Officer, Department of Mental Health, for the District of Columbia and Professor of Psychiatry at the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences, speaks to the effectiveness of acupuncture, specifically for veterans, in her article, Acupuncture for the Treatment of PTSD:

One veteran says, “I had not been able to sleep more than 2 hours a night since I returned. After one session with the needles, I had the best sleep I had had in a year.”

Dr. Ritchie backs up these veteran testimonials with support from the health care providers themselves “[regarding veterans] When they first come to me, those guys who have been deployed three, four, five times, they can’t sit still for CBT (cognitive-behavioral therapy). We get them a few sessions of acupuncture or yoga, and they can settle down enough to do the trauma work.”

“I had not been able to sleep more than 2 hours a night since I returned. After one session with the needles, I had the best sleep I had had in a year.”

Acupuncture addresses illness at its root

As holistic medicine, acupuncture works on the mind, body, and spirit as a unit making it ideal for people dealing with the complex symptoms of PTSD. Instead of putting a Band-Aid over the symptoms with drugs, acupuncture addresses illness at its root — and then the symptoms just go away.

The take away message: If you’re struggling with PTSD, regardless of the reason, acupuncture can offer relief (more on acupuncture and anxiety here).

Works Cited

  1. Hollifield, M. (2011), Acupuncture for Posttraumatic Stress Disorder: Conceptual, Clinical, and Biological Data Support Further Research. CNS Neuroscience & Therapeutics, 17: 769–779.
  2. Hollifield M, Sinclair-lian N, Warner TD, Hammerschlag R. Acupuncture for posttraumatic stress disorder: a randomized controlled pilot trial. J Nerv Ment Dis. 2007;195(6):504-13.
  3. Ritchie, Elspeth C. Acupuncture for the Treatment of PTSD. Psychiatric Annals. 2013; 43(5): 235.

Guest authors’ work is reviewed and edited by Ben Townsend.

Perform Better

athletics fitness exercise

Acupuncture and Athletics

The goal of acupuncture is to bring an individual to a state of ease. A state of mental and physical clarity that leads to an overall state of well being. The symptoms of an individual’s ailments or disease are not simply treated or muted, but the root cause of the body’s imbalance is discovered, and the healing process begins there at the foundation. This outlook on correcting a problem goes hand in hand with the world of athletics and sports. If a track runner wants to be faster, he does not simply get new shoes. He works with coaches to correct his form and posture, he works with athletic trainers to correct injuries, and he focuses on nutrition to optimize his performance and open up his full potential in order to see results.

Athletes are becoming increasingly open to alternative therapies

Athletes are seeking alternative therapies outside of training and exercise in order to enhance their abilities. Mental health is being explored to increase focus and decrease anxieties, nutrition is becoming a staple in an elite athlete’s training regiment, and techniques such as acupuncture are being used to maintain balance between the mental, physical, and spiritual aspects of being an athlete. In fact, multiple studies have shown that after both immediate and prolonged treatment of acupuncture there is a statistically significant increase in muscular strength and firing speed. This could mean enhancing athletic performance naturally without harming their internal systems or violating any supplement or substance restrictions. Acupuncture has the potential be another tool in the arsenal of the elite athlete to separate themselves from their peers, and push them into a state of progression.

Everyone has experienced sore or tired muscles, but Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness (DOMS) can be an athlete’s worse enemy. It can effect your performance at practice the following day, it can prevent you from doing certain activities that will cause muscle soreness before performance or game time, and, well, it can make simple things like climbing stairs or brushing your hair seem nearly impossible. There is little use in trying to prevent this phenomenon. Every time you exercise you are causing small microscopic damage to your tissues, which brings about small amounts of inflammation and even lactic acid. Plenty of potassium and protein following exercise as well as hydration throughout your day will decrease the intensity, but every athlete that pushes themselves harder, faster, and stronger will experience this throughout their career.

Another alternative for speeding up the recovery process has proven to be acupuncture

Research has shown a faster pain recovery for those who utilize acupuncture when they have DOMS and in some cases, an even quicker return to full muscle function than those that didn’t.

In closing, if you are an athlete at any level, acupuncture can do wonders for you physically by increasing muscle performance and decreasing residual soreness after an intense work out. It can also assist in providing harmony, balance and mental clarity. Look for future blogs discussing how acupuncture can decrease performance anxiety and increase mental clarity before sporting events!


Article: Ergogenic Effect of Acupuncture in Sport and Exercise: A Brief Review
Shahin Almedov – School of Physical Education and Sport, Near East University, Nicosia, Turkey

Guest authors’ work is reviewed and edited by Ben Townsend.

Why Eating Fat Doesn’t Make You Fat

Healthy fats avocado fish olive oil seeds

It seems intuitive—if you eat a lot of fat, you’ll get fat. That’s what we’ve been told, right? Wrong. The truth is, fat is not making us fat. Sugar is what’s making us fat. This includes processed, refined grains and white flour products, which are metabolically just as harmful as consuming white sugar by the spoonful (more on the dangers of sugar here).

Fats, on the other hand, are essential to human health, and if you’re looking to feel better and lose weight—yes, even lose weight—then healthy fats should become a staple in your diet.

The role that fat plays in health:

  • Support brain health
  • Increase metabolism
  • Control blood sugar and curb hunger
  • Protect against cancer and diabetes
  • Improve skin, nails, and hair

Some key healthy fats to emphasize in your diet:

  • Avocados
  • Coconut and coconut products (coconut oil, coconut butter, etc.)
  • Extra virgin olive oil
  • Dry roasted, unsalted or sprouted nuts (Brazil nuts, almonds, walnuts, macadamia nuts, cashews)
  • Seeds (chia, flax, pumpkin, sesame, hemp)
  • Pastured, organic eggs
  • Grass-fed, organic beef
  • Fatty fish (wild caught salmon, mackerel, sardines)
  • Fish oil supplements have been shown to improve mood-related disorders such as anxiety and depression, as well as prevent brain-degenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s and dementia. In fact, one study noted how “those who consumed fish were 60% less likely to develop Alzheimer’s than those who rarely or never ate fish” (see my white paper on fish oil).

It’s important to remember that not all fats are created equal. Some fats are harmful, particularly trans fats and inflammatory vegetable oils (think hydrogenated oils found in many packaged foods). Opt for getting fats from whole foods (foods with only one ingredient) to be sure you’re getting the highest quality fuel for your body—and of course, choose organic and local whenever possible to minimize pesticide exposure and avoid GMOs.


Hyman, Mark. “Separating Fat from Fiction: 10 Fat Facts You Need to Know.” Dr. Hyman. Hyman Digital, n.d. Web. 3 Aug. 2016.

by Claire Stark

Claire is an undergraduate student pursuing a Bachelor of Arts in psychology with a minor in medical anthropology at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. She is a certified yoga instructor at the 200-hour level registered with Yoga Alliance. Working towards a career in acupuncture and holistic health, Claire is passionate about a mind-body-spirit approach to healing in order to help people achieve long-lasting, sustainable wellness in all facets of life.

Guest authors’ work is reviewed and edited by Ben Townsend.

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.