Well + Good Boston Healthy City Guide feature

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I’m so pleased to be featured as a healer in the Well + Good Boston Health City Guide!

The guide lists a lot of great places including two of my favorite places to get healthy–South Boston Yoga in Southie and Life Alive in Central Square.

If you haven’t visited their website, Well + Good is a a health-focused website based primarily in NYC and LA. Hopefully they’ll add Boston to that group!

It’s cold season again. . .

As we move into the colder months we become vulnerable to colds. While it’s true what they say, “there’s no cure for the common cold,” Chinese medicine offers some help to prevent it in it’s early stages.

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In Chinese medicine, a cold is an invasion of wind, what we call an “outside pernicious influence,” or an “OPI.” We are more vulnerable to wind invasions when the weather is changing from one season to the next. Energetically season transitions are considered windy times. As we move from warm weather to cool our body’s energy must make the journey from the surface, where’s it’s helped us sweat and cool down all summer, to the core where it becomes a furnace to keep us warm in the winter. This transition makes us more vulnerable–think about the unexpectedly cold day early on in the season. You probably feel colder than you think you should because your qi is still at the surface, not stoking your furnace.

So, what can you do about these things that you don’t have any control over? Chinese medicine gives us a few helpful tools:

1. Wear a scarf. Wind enters your body through the neck (think about the stiff neck/headache you get at the onset of a cold). Keeping your neck covered can help keep that door shut to OPIs.

2. Dress for the weather, not for the time of year. Dressing warmly on an unexpected cold day early in the season can help you protect you as your qi makes that journey from the surface to the furnace.

3. Eat immune boosting Shiitake and Maitake mushrooms as frequently as possible. Fresh shiitake and maitake can be expensive and hard to come by, but dried mushrooms are always available and much more affordable. You can rehydrate dried mushrooms by soaking them in hot water, then using them as you would fresh mushrooms. Use the soaking liquid in soups and stews. Add dried mushrooms to home-made vegetable stock.

If you do feel like a cold is taking hold, catching it in the early stages can help you prevent it from becoming a problem.

1. As soon as you feel like you might be coming down with something, make yourself sweat. I prefer a passive sweat–sit in a sauna, take a hot bath or shower–but if you’re not feeling too tired, a gentle workout can be o.k. When you sweat, it forces the OPI out of your system. Also, heating up the body tells the immune system to turn on to do battle with invaders.

If you’re like me and have some home-made ginseng tincture at home, you can add some to you’re hot bath for an extra immune system boost. This is an extravagant use of an expensive herb, but if you have it, it’s a nice addition. You can also boil dried ginseng root to make a decoction and add that to your tub.

2. Make tea with fresh ginger root. Fresh ginger can help release the exterior and make you sweat. Slice about 1 inch of ginger root into roughly quarter-sized coins. Boil for 20 minutes in about 2 cups of water. Drink this tea with some honey. It should taste spicy and potent. If it doesn’t, add more ginger and a little more water and boil it again. You can get a really good sweat going by drinking this tea while you’re sitting in your hot bath.

3. Take Yin Qiao San or Gan Mao Ling. These are two of our most basic cold-fighting formulas, and are generally safe for you to take on your own. I feel that no one should self-medicate with herbs–you should _always_ consult a trained herbalist–but these two formulas are well tolerated and increasingly available at natural food stores. Yin Qiao can sometimes cause loose stool, depending on your constitution, but it shouldn’t be a huge problem, and is a trade off for keeping a cold at bay.

4. See your acupuncturist. If it’s early stages, we can help kick the cold out of your system. If it’s taken root and you’re sick, a treatment can help you feel better faster.

Public domain image of ginger root from here.

Considering a cortisone injection?

I treat a lot of pain in my work as an acupuncturist. Many of my patients come to me from doctors who want to give them cortisone shots. Cortisone shots sometimes give near miraculous relief from pain, but amongst my patient population, it really seems like a 50-50 type of outcome. Often the pain relief is only temporary, even if the patient has the 3 shots allowed by their doctor.

Why only 3 shots? Cortisone causes deterioration in the tissue and bone around the injection site, and it’s thought that you can have up to three shots without causing major problems. It’s crazy to us in the natural health community that anyone would think it’s a good idea to risk tissue degeneration for maybe a 50-50 chance that you’ll get temporary relief from pain. Read what the Mayo clinic has to say about the risks of cortisone injections here.

Check out this article from the New York Times about a study on long-term outcomes of cortisone injections. The research doesn’t sound encouraging–people who got temporary relief are often set further back in their recovery over the long term.

Before you consider cortisone injections, consider alternatives like acupuncture, Rolfing or even massage. All three can give you pain relief while you work with a physical therapist to rebuild strength and flexibility in the affected area. None will cause tissue degeneration–something I think we’d all like to avoid.

Preventing that next cold

Chinese medicine is powerful stuff, but we can’t say that we have that elusive “cure for the common cold.” We do, however, have some ideas about how to head it off at the pass.

In the Chinese medical model, a cold is an invasion of wind, which often brings either heat or cold and usually some dampness. Wind invasions first hit the body at a superficial level usually felt with a sore throat (a superficial aspect of your lung energy) and the skin, particularly at the nape of the neck (think about how achey you feel when you first start to get sick). Whether you have a wind-cold or a wind-heat seems to mostly depend on your constitution, but in my practice I mostly see wind-heat. Dampness often comes with a wind-cold or a wind-heat and physically manifests as phlegm. With wind cold, this phlegm is often white. Wind-heat phlegm is often yellow or green.

When you first start to feel like you might be coming down with something, the best thing you can do is to make yourself sweat. I prefer a passive sweat like a hot bath or a visit to a sauna. Two things happen when you sweat it out. One is that raising your body temperature helps turn the immune system on. The other is that a sweat expels wind from your body. Since external wind first lodges in your skin, opening the pores and sweating it out can expel that wind from your body.

In addition to having that hot bath/sauna, making a tea with fresh ginger can help make you sweat, too. Boil a few slices of fresh ginger for about 20 minutes to make a potent, spicy brew. Add some honey and sip (best is sipping this while you’re in your hot bath!).

If your cold has progressed beyond the early stages and into a yellow phlegm stage, skip the ginger tea and sip mint tea. Mint is cooling and can help expel wind-heat and mildly relieve some sinus congestion.

Sweating it out is best right at the very beginning of your symptoms. If you don’t catch it early enough, the wind can go deeper and be more difficult to dislodge.

Acupuncture and Chinese herbs also can expel wind invasions, but only if you get a treatment in the early stages. If your cold progresses beyond the early stages, acupuncture and herbs will reduce your suffering and shorten the duration of your cold.

Of course, the true first line of defense is a healthy immune system. If you feel like you catch every cold that comes around, having regular acupuncture and certain herbal formulas can strengthen your immune system and help keep you well.

Read more about Chinese medicine here and here.

Om Trinity Fall Ecstatic Chant Festival

I’m excited to announce that my office group will have a table at the Om Trinity Chant Festival on Saturday, 10/23, at the Somerville Armory. David Newman, Donna Delory and Girish will perform for hundreds of yoga and chant devotees.

We will have a table at the back of the auditorium, and we’ll be offering free chair massage and ear acupuncture demonstrations. We’re going to have a raffle for our services, and $10 coupons for acupuncture and massage appointments.

If you’re at the festival, please stop by to say hello!

Leaky Gut Syndrome

Nancy (not her real name) came to see me for acupuncture to treat her lupus symptoms of chronic neck and upper back pain. She had a host of other issues, too–anxiety, poor sleep, low energy, intermittent joint pain–but the neck and upper back were the worst.

When someone has pain, Chinese medicine believes that there is usually an element of stagnation present–blood stagnation, dampness causing stagnation, maybe cold causing stagnation–and we do a treatment to move that stagnation, and strengthen the patients qi so that their bodies can keep battling stagnation off of the treatment table.

When I agreed to work with Nancy, I encouraged her (actually, I practically begged her, at almost every visit) to get tested for Celiac disease and food allergies. I have seen in my clinical practice that a condition called “leaky gut syndrome” can be the cause of autoimmune diseases like lupus and rheumatoid arthritis. Leaky gut syndrome can occur when someone has an overgrowth of candida, or if they are consuming food that their body can’t tolerate. Overuse of oral antibiotics can be a factor, too, since they destroy all of the “good” bacteria in the intestines, leaving them weak and inflamed. The small intestine becomes porous and toxins leak out into the body, stimulating an autoimmune response.

Western medicine has not gotten on board with the idea that a leaky gut could have anything to do with autoimmune disease. I can’t say that it’s the only cause, but I’ve seen it in a few patients.

Nancy finally had to get allergy testing after two severe allergic reactions that sent her to the emergency room for anaphylactic shock. Her first test showed that she was allergic to at least 90 different things. No wonder she was so sick!

Food intolerances are not a part of Chinese medicine, but digestive health is believed to be one of the most important keys to well-being. People with digestive problems often have dampness, which can lead to pain. So, while we don’t have traditional explanations for a problem like leaky gut syndrome (at least not that I’ve encountered), it fits into our medical theory that problems with the intestines can make problems in the rest of the body.

To avoid another experience with anaphylactic shock, Nancy needs further testing to check for other allergenic foods. Her doctor has her eating the foods that she seems least allergic too until they can get more test results. Unfortunately for Nancy, it’s only 2 items–dairy and eggs.

It’s a difficult and depressing situation for her, and she’s hungry and getting tired of eating only eggs and dairy products. But, her pain is already starting to recede. For the first time in years, her neck is not in excruciating pain all the time. I expect that as her body detoxes (and as she is able to incorporate other foods into her diet), she will feel better than she ever has.

Jake Fratkin, and acupuncturist and naturopath in Boulder, has a great article about leaky gut syndrome. You can also go to his website here.

Dr. Andrew Weil has a brief posting here.

Plastic Surgery: One (Extreme) Cure for Migraines?

The New York Times recently had a story about how migraines disappeared in 80% of people who had plastic surgery in the forehead, temples, or back of the head. Wow!

Now, I’m not sure how I feel about surgery for migraines, but if it truly produces significant improvement, then it’s nice to have that as an option. Acupuncture also works well for migraines. I don’t usually see a total elimination of migraines, but a big reduction in frequency and severity. The nice thing about acupuncture versus plastic surgery is that it does not have any of the risks associated with surgery.

Read more at the New York Times.