Build Your Own Chinese Medicine Cabinet

One of the many benefits of being a health care provider in Oriental Medicine is the resources and knowledge I have on hand when I, or someone in my family, gets sick. I feel really grateful for access to this medicine, and I’d like to pass some of these tips on to you. Please note this is not an exhaustive list by any stretch of the imagination–and I encourage you to recommend your own tried and true home remedies and herbal formulas in the comments below…

First, three good supplements for overall health and prevention of disease:

There are so many supplements on the market and not a lot of straightforward information, free of marketing, behind them. I take supplements daily, but not many. Here is my short list that I would recommend to *almost* everyone (all supplements should be stopped 5-7 days before surgery; some people have allergies or other medical conditions that may make certain supplements inappropriate):

1. Take a high quality Omega 3 (with Vitamin D3) supplement. (I like Nordic Naturals Ultimate Omega D3, but there are many, many brands on the market). For the most part, I recommend staying away from Fish Oil supplements that contain Omega 6s and 9s–our diets already have too many 6s and 9s. (Click HERE to understand why.) Even if you eat fish, I still recommend taking an Omega 3 supplement to ensure you are getting enough. This one supplement can make a huge difference in how you feel. (Omega 3 health benefits.)

2. Take Probiotics. They help with sleep, immunity, skin, digestion, mental wellbeing, cholesterol levels, allergies…the list goes on.

HOW TO TAKE PROBIOTICS: Pick a brand of probiotics that has as many strains as you can find (I like MegaFood’s MegaFlora). Start the probiotics slowly. Take less than the recommended dose, or take one probiotic pill every few days. On occasion, probiotics can cause a die off of unhealthy gut bacteria and result in gas, bloating, and diarrhea (as well as acne and rashes). It’s not a “bad” reaction–your body is detoxing–but an uncomfortable one that will be diminished if you start slowly. Increase your daily water intake to help with any possible detox side effects. Once you are taking probiotics without a bad reaction, take the normal dose and finish the bottle. After a few weeks, purchase a different brand of probiotics with different strains. Finish that bottle and take another break. In addition to taking probiotics out of a bottle, live probiotic cultures are often found in fermented dairy products such as yogurts and milk drinks. Fermented foods like pickled vegetables, tempeh, miso, kefir, kimchi, sauerkraut and soy products may also contain some lactic acid bacteria so these foods will also help to balance your gut.

3. If you feel the need to take vitamins, make sure they are Plant-Based Vitamins and not synthetic. Most vitamins on the market are synthetically produced in a lab. These are hard for your body to assimilate. Plant-based (sometimes called food-based or whole food vitamins) are made from food. Your body knows what to do with them! You can find plant-based vitamins in good grocery stores and natural pharmacies, or I can order them for you from my favorite company Standard Process. A word of warning–some of these vitamin companies like to add a variety of herbs into their mix that can interfere with other herbs or medications you are taking, so I don’t recommend these unless you do your research and make sure these herbs are right for you.

By the way, Standard Process has vitamin and supplement support for most health conditions (from infertility and high blood pressure to diabetes, depression, and memory loss). I have found, in some cases, the addition of these food-based supplements to have quite extraordinary results. I can help you to decide if adding these supplements would be right for you– just ask!

Second, common Chinese Formulas to have in your medicine cabinet:

1. Yin Qiao San for colds: Yin Qiao is well known and popular. To take it correctly, take it on first signs of a cold. Increase the first one or two doses by about half (sometimes you can stop the cold in its tracks when you do this). Yin Qiao can be found in good grocery stores or natural pharmacies, or can be ordered online. A common, good brand is “Plum Flower” by Oakland-based Mayway Company. However, my favorite brand is Kan Herbal (which can’t be found in stores); I find it to be most effective. Let me know if you want me to order the Kan Herbal Yin Qiao for you to have on hand.

2. Lonicera Complex by Evergreen Herbs for the flu. The flu is harder to treat than colds without help. Cupping and acupuncture and herbs make a huge difference. My new favorite flu formula is Lonicera Complex from Evergreen Herbs. It has strong anti-viral herbs and anti-bacterial herbs. I helped a number of patients this year recover from flu with this formula. I was also exposed repeatedly to the flu this year, and found myself coming down with flu symptoms. I heavily dosed with this formula the first day of my symptoms and the next day was symptom free. I am happy to order it for you if you want it in your first aid kit. You can also find Gan Mao Ling, another herbal formula for the flu, in most good grocery stores / natural pharmacies.

3. Supplements for Cold sores: There is a lot of help for cold sores beyond the Abreva type topicals that tend to come with awful side effects. Here are my favorite proven supplements and topicals: Calcium Lactate by Standard Process, Watermelon Frost (a topical formula that’s not pretty, but it works), and Lysine (an amino acid that can be found most places that sell vitamins). Note that the HSV1 virus that is responsible for cold sores can be ‘awakened’ by stress and by consuming a diet that has a high ratio of Arginine to Lysine. Eating lots of foods high in Arginine like chocolate, peanuts and almonds, and not enough foods high in Lysine, like red meat, dairy and eggs can promote the recurrence of HSV1 symptoms, especially during times of stress or illness. You can avoid high Arginine foods and supplement with Lysine routinely or specifically during times of high stress or low immunity.

4. Herbs for Headaches: Occasional headaches can sometimes be remedied simply with hydration and rest. Chronic headaches, sinus headaches, stress headaches or hormonal headaches can be more of a challenge. Cupping to the upper back and shoulder area can often help to relieve stress headaches. With acupuncture we often use points on the feet to treat the head (to bring the energy down). Sinus headaches are often related to digestion, and a need to recondition the gut (with probiotics and dietary changes and herbs). Other stubborn headaches require commitment to treatment with acupuncture and herbs. I have had a lot of success with patients using two Chinese Herbal formulas— Corydalin (AC) for acute headaches and Corydalin (CR) for chronic headaches. These are both purchased through Evergreen Herbs and typically cannot be purchased online without a license. Hormonal headaches require acupuncture and herbs to regulate the hormones.

5. Bao He Wan or “Curing Pills” for stomach aches due to overeating. These can be found in most natural pharmacies, or I can order them for you from my favorite herb suppliers.

6. There are also good formulas to have on hand for other common complaints, such as occasional hemorrhoids and heartburn. I am happy to talk with you about herbal formulas or teas to have on hand for these and other common ailments.

 

 

 

6 Tips for Staying Healthy During “Sugar Season”: Preventing Colds and Flus

It’s early October and a great time to prepare yourself for cold and flu season, or what some have renamed the “sugar season” which officially begins the day after Halloween. The average person tends to get three colds per year–usually in the wintertime. Do you know that Western scientists don’t actually know for sure why we get more colds and flus in the winter? In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), they have known for thousands of years that being exposed to the wind and the cold, along with a weakened “wei qi” (immune system) can bring on a cold or flu. But it’s just within the last few years that western scientists are beginning to understand this is true!

Scientists have recently discovered that being exposed to and breathing in cold air reduces our immunity. They have also agreed that what we eat directly impacts our immune system. A lowered immunity combined with more time spent swapping germs indoors seems to be one clue to why we get more colds and flus in the fall and winter.

So, in addition to washing our hands and staying warm, here are some good tips for preventing colds and flus by way of boosting your immune system:

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  1. Stop the sugar

High sugar intake decreases immune system cells that attack bacteria for at least a few hours after eating a sugary food or drink. Americans in general consume too much sugar, especially since “low fat diets” came into fashion. All of us tend to eat more sugar than we realize. Between Halloween and New Year’s there are many occasions to indulge–coincidentally during the “flu season.” Is it that more viruses are circulating or that we are weakening our immune systems with sugar? If you’re wondering how much sugar is too much sugar, take a look at this good articleAnd remember there is also a lot of sugar in that after work glass of wine!

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2. Eat Seasonally

Pay attention to the foods coming in to season at the Farmer’s Market–and eat plenty of them! They happen to be high in the vitamins and minerals necessary to boost the immune system and prevent colds and flus. They are also whole foods, which will encourage cooking at home, and avoiding processed foods that are often loaded with bad stuff for your body.

Two good lists of seasonal foods, and other seasonal advice:

Fall foods from a Chinese Medicine perspective

Winter foods from a Chinese Medicine perspective

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3. Get Enough Sleep

Being well rested gives your immune system a boost. It may or not be possible or realistic for you to “get enough sleep.” You may be living with babies, pets, your partner’s snoring, etc., and other outside circumstances that interrupt your sleep — I know some of those things can’t be changed. But if they can actually be changed (sleeping in a different room, for example), please take the leap and do it! The world is a different place when you get more sleep.

You may also be someone who wakes up at 3 a.m. worrying, or has trouble falling asleep, or have aches and pains at night– with some help and effort (herbs, acupuncture, meditation, etc.) these problems may have some solutions.

In any case, according to ancient Chinese wisdom, living with the seasons is one of the keys to staying healthy. The fall and winter are times to be a little less social, to slow your activities down, get more sleep, and to cozy up.

Be honest with yourself about how you can get more sleep– turning the TV or your phone off earlier, installing light blocking curtains in your bedroom, or allowing yourself to take naps (or learn how to nap), and saying no to social obligations when you really are too tired. Many of us also avoid realizing how tired we actually are by using caffeine to “get us through the day.” I suggest gradually cutting down on caffeine to allow yourself to be tired, and then to sleep when you feel tired. This might mean taking a little break from your “normal” life. Eventually, you won’t be so tired!

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4. Exercise, and move around during the day.

Exercise boosts the immune the system by decreasing the body’s stress chemicals (which compromise the immune system) and increaseing feel good chemicals that encourage a good night’s sleep. Generally, thirty to sixty minutes per day of moderate exercise (walking, for example) is all it takes, in addition to moving around a bit throughout the day–that is, not spending extended periods of time sitting.  Even if you exercise 30 to 60 minutes each day, it may not be beneficial unless you are making a point to stand up and do some light activity for a few minutes every hour. For those with desk jobs, please check out this article on “Sitting Disease”.

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5. Address Your Stress

Although our lives occasionally give us a break from our troubles, generally we all have stress. In a world where change is the only constant, stressful situations will always arise (or as the Buddhists say “life is suffering”). There is nothing we can do about that. We can, however, learn to respond better to stress. Responding “better” to stress takes commitment to change our habitual responses and get a new perspective.

I strongly encourage learning to meditate, if even for ten minutes a day. One study showed that people who meditated over an 8 week period had improved immune response up to four months later.

There are many good books, websites, and local groups that can help to support a meditation practice. The benefits are countless. I recently discovered some wonderful online resources put out by the sweet and funny Tibetan Buddhist monk Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche. Here is a link if you are interested in trying out a meditation that is shorter than fifteen minutes: short meditation

If you don’t like that style, look around and ask around to find a style that works for you. If meditation is a turn off, you can try yoga, tai chi, and qi gong. If practiced regularly, they are also great stress relievers.  Spending time with loving friends and family also can help relieve stress, or watching funny movies, laughing more, dancing, listening to or playing music, getting a massage, acupuncture, taking a bath, exercising….there are many ways to de-stress, you just have to discover (or remember) what your way is, and commit to it before things get out of control. Lowering your stress levels boosts your immune system, not only preventing colds and flus, but other more serious diseases, too.

Here’s a link to some really corny jokes that you can tell to all your friends to boost everyone’s immune system. Ha ha!

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6. Use Herbs and Acupuncture

Of course herbs and acupuncture help to boost the immune system and lower stress as well. If you are someone who gets frequent colds during the year, you may be a good candidate for one of several immune boosting herbal formulas. Please ask me!  Getting regular acupuncture treatments helps to turn off the stress response as well as boosts the immune cells that kill infection. 

IF You Do Get a Cold….

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And finally, please remember that if you do catch a cold or a flu, stop taking any herbs you may be on for other conditions. Often those herbal formulas include tonic herbs which will make a cold worse!!! Instead, rely on the age old advice of resting, hydration, and actually yes, chicken soup. Herbs specific to your symptoms (designed for colds) can help a lot, and get an acupuncture treatment to help reduce the duration of the ailment.

There are Chinese Herbal formulas that you can buy at certain grocery stores like Berkeley Bowl or Whole Foods, but they should be specific to your kind of cold. In TCM diagnosis, there are different kinds of colds (mainly two, “Wind Heat” and “Wind Cold”) so you want the formula that’s right for your cold symptoms.

Here is a link to a graphic that can help you decide what kind of cold you have: wind heat vs wind cold

Please Share! If you have tried and true remedies, homemade teas, etc., that work for either prevention or resolving cold symptoms, please share them here so others may benefit from your wisdom and experience.

I am hoping you stay healthy during the coming months, and enjoy the cooler weather!

Much Love,

Frances Wocicki, LAc, MSOM, MA

www.crowheartacupuncture.com

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