Category Archives: Conditions

Allergy Valley

“You’ll do great in this town!” a friend told me when I first moved to the Pioneer Valley.  “Everyone has allergies!”

Oxeye Daisy Flowers


Allergy Valley
I love this little slice of the country.  The way the seasons take hold of the Valley, and turn it into a totally new place every few months is astounding.  The spring explosion of green is one of my favorite times of year

Except for all the nose blowing and eye rubbing that is.  It seems unavoidable around here— either you suffer from allergies or someone around you does.
If you are like a lot of people, you are thinking about stocking up on over the counter allergy pills right about now.  These medications are great in a pinch, but they can have some troubling side effects such as anxiety, low libido, foggy brain and depression.   Luckily there are natural alternatives that can help you use less medication, or not need it at all.
Have you ever come home from work one day and found that your house is a complete mess? You don’t remember being particularly slovenly, you just figured you’d tidy up tomorrow… for the past few weeks.
Allergy symptoms can sneak up on you like a messy house.  It seems that they hit you suddenly when the pollen comes out.  The truth is that they have been brewing for some time.  Luckily there are some simple steps you can take now, before the buds are even on the trees, to decrease you allergy symptoms this season.  There are three main approaches that will help you decrease your symptoms.
1.  Lower Inflammation 
Allergies happen when your body reacts to something relatively harmless (such as tree pollen or dust) as if it is a horrible invader.  Your body is on red alert!  What you can do right now is start to re-train your body to have a more toned down response to these allergens.  Here are some simple steps to decrease inflammation:
Fish Oil:  This is an extremely effective long term strategy.  You will not see results right away, but you should see results, especially when combined with the other steps in this article. Take 3,000 and 5,000 mg a day.  You can substitute krill oil for fish oil if you prefer, though the dose may be slightly different.
Nettles: Nature provides us with abundant nettles during the time of year when allergies are at their peak. The part of nettles that helps with allergies is also the part that gives you a little sting.  You can eat nettles (they are chock full of minerals and are very nutritions), drink nettle tea or take them in capsule form (freez
e dried is best).  It is probably a good idea to start drinking nettle tea or taking it in capsules right now, and move to eating them in a few weeks when they start to come out.  My favorite way to eat nettles is to make a delicious nettle pesto. Click here for the recipe.  
2.  Decrease Mucous
One of the main symptoms of allergies is a stuffy nose and clogged sinuses.  Here are some ways to decrease mucous a
nd breath easier.
Dairy and Sugar: One of the best ways to decrease these symptoms is by avoiding the foods that tend to cause congestion.   Dairy and sugar are the number one foods that will cause a snotty head.  Gluten is up there too.  Some people will also have this reaction to citrus, but not everyone.  If these don’t work, you might be one of the folks who has a reaction to a less common food.  I’ve seen a people react to all sorts of foods I wouldn’t have suspected, such as garlic and onions.  If you are having difficulty figuring out what you are reacting too, you may need to go on a more thorough elimination diet or get a food allergy test.
Nasal irrigation:  Rinsing sinuses with saline water can clear mucous and flush out allergens so that they cause fewer problems.  Click here for a tutorial on nasal irrigation.  
3. Reduce Allergens in Your House
Your home should be your sanctuary.  As much as you can, keep allergens outside the house.
Shoes Off: Take off your sho
es at the door to prevent allergies from being tracked in.
Clean Pets:  As often as possible, wipe down your pets with a damp towel when they come inside. Most dogs and cats don’t mind this if you are gentle.
HEPA Filter: Get a HEPA filter for your bedroom so that the air you are breathing while you sleep is as allergen free as possible
What Else? Following these simple steps can make a big difference in your allergy symptoms.  If your allergies are particularly bad, or if you have other health problems that are making things difficult, you made need some additional treatments and more individualized support.   If this sounds like you, please feel free to click on the link in the side bar
to set up a free phone consult to find out how you can can have an allergy free Spring!

Cold and Flu Part 2

Sometimes, despite your best efforts and intentions, colds and flu sneak up on you.  In my last article, I talked about things you can do to prevent colds and flu.  Today I’m going to give you some tips for what to do if you do get sick.

Here’ s the first trick: don’t wait until you are sick to read this article.  Make yourself a cold a flu kit to keep on hand should you, or someone in your family, fall ill.  I can promise you that when you do have a head full of snot, the last thing you want to do is research remedies and go to the store to pick them up.

1. Broths

When you are sick with a cold or a flu, make broths your main food.  Bone broths are incredibly nourishing (click here for a recipe), as are vegetable broths.  You can prepare the broth and store it in the freezer to have on hand.  Making broths a regular part of your diet is also a wonderful way to support your immune system.

2.  Tea

Make a tea with a combination of elderflower, yarrow, boneset, linden, peppermint and ginger; drink it hot and often for combating a cold or flu. It causes you to sweat, which is helpful for eradicating a virus from your system.  Women who are pregnant or nursing should consult their practitioner before using any herbal medicine.

3. Elderberry

I mentioned elderberry in my article on prevention.  It is a great thing to take when you do get sick as well.  Take the maximum dose recommended on the bottle.

4.  Rest 

The best way to help a cold or flu move quickly and not turn into something more serious or lingering is to rest.  Stay home if you can, and allow your body to heal.

These simple home remedies can help you move through a cold or a flu relatively quickly and easily.  However, if you have a chronic medical condition, you may need a more customized treatment approach.  If you are a current patient, please ask me about herbs and vitamins to keep on hand at your next visit.  And of course, if you or a family member does become very ill with a flu, please visit your doctor ASAP.

Should I get the flu shot?

“Should I get the flu shot?”

I get asked this question a lot. Let’s face it, the flu can be scary.  And it seems that everywhere you turn there are advertisements that subtly (or not-so subtly) imply that you are putting yourself and your family in danger should you choose not to get this vaccine.

The truth is, just like anything, the flu shot comes with risks and benefits, and each person needs to choose for themselves what makes the most sense.  It is not always an easy decision. Whatever you decide, it is important to protect your health as we move into the winter.  Even if you choose to get the flu vaccine, it is not 100% effective, and it will not protect you from your run of the mill colds. Here are 6 tips for staying healthy during the cold and flu season:

  1. Hand washing

This remains one of the most effective ways to prevent the spread of disease.  Before you put anything in your mouth, wash your hands.  I recommend using only non-antimicrobial washes (i.e. regular soap and water), or natural essential oil based hand sanitizers (these do not breed antimicrobial resistance).

2. Vitamin D Vitamin D is crucial for your immune system, and many of us in the Northern Hemisphere have low levels.  I urge you to get your levels tested (it is a simple blood test that your doctor can order), and to take vitamin D supplementation if you are low.

3. Probiotics Probiotics help improve immunity and prevent infection.  I recommend products that contain multiple strains of probiotics, and at least 10 CFU’s per cap (CFU stands for colony forming unit, and it is how the strength of probiotics are measured).

4. Hydration Staying well hydrated is important because parched mucous membranes are more susceptible to inflammation and irritation, and then they don’t do their job of acting as a primary barrier against infection. Water and herbal teas are your best bet.

5. Herbs One of my favorite herbal remedies to prevent colds and flus is elderberry syrup.  Effective and delicious!  The amount that you need to take varies with the brand. In general, 1 tsp per day is good for prevention.  You can also read more about winter immune tonics here.

6.  Rest Your immune system is intimately connected with your nervous and endocrine systems.  Taking time to rest and de-stress will go a long way towards keeping you healthy this winter.  Try to get 7-8 hours of sleep every night, and turn your electronics off 30 min before going to bed.

Following these simple tips can go a long way towards helping you stay healthy this winter (and recover quickly should you get sick).  If you or a family member does become very ill with a flu, please see a doctor as soon as possible. Stay tuned for my next article, where I’ll talk about natural remedies that you can use if you do get sick!

Need more support? Schedule an appointment to discuss how to maximize your immune system this winter.  

Sanity in the Holiday Season

There are many ways in which the holiday season can make us feel crazy.  We all have our own individual ways in the which the combination of family, consumerisms and various social situations can bring us to our knees emotionally.  What I want to tell you about in this blog post today is a way in which Chinese medicine can help us to stay balanced and engaged during this season.  I say balanced and engaged, because what I am proposing is not a way to slip into some higher spiritual state and leave the madness below you.  No.  I am talking about a way in which we can be fully present with all the chaos of life, while remaining centered and connected with that which is deeper within ourselves.  Deeper than the chaos.  Deeper than the fray.  That part of us that is universal and is connected to everyone.

Before we can get into this too much we must first understand the nature of the Chinese  system of medicine.  Specifically, we need to know what a heart is.  Because in Chinese medicine, the organs do not exist in the democracy.  It is an absolute monarchy, and the heart is the emperor.  All of the other organs, which have both the traditional western characteristics, as well as emotional signatures, are in health when they are in service to the heart.

What is the heart?  In Chinese medicine, the heart is more than the physical muscle pumping blood.  The heart is a radiant void.  It is the place inside ourselves in which Shen, the Chinese word for spirit, resides.

A good way to get in touch with your heart, with this radiant void, is to put a hand on your chest.  Sit like this for a few minutes, feeling the warmth of your hand as it radiates onto your chest.   When you feel you are connected to this part of yourself, start to visualize that there is a space in your chest through which light is coming through.  This is the light of Shen.  And this light, Shen, is the same in every person.  The light coming through me is the same as the light coming through.  How fully can you take that in? You have in your chest this beautiful radiant void, through which comes a light that is completely pure and totally sane.  My teacher, Thea Elijah, uses the metaphor of a donut and a donut hole to describe the Chinese heart.  In this metaphor, you can think of yourself as a donut, and other people as donuts as well.  There are all sorts of different flavored donuts; the ones that are our favorites, and the ones that we can’t stand.  But in all of these wildly different donuts, there is always the same exact hole in the center.  That hole is heart space.

The donut metaphor helps to bring us into awareness that the radiant void opens from both the front and the back.  See if you can feel this.  This light that comes not from you, but through you.

Getting in touch with that light is one of the keys to successfully navigating the holiday season.  The holidays can really help us get in touch with all the messy emotional stuff that goes on between humans.  Using the donut and donut hole metaphor, we can think of the emotions as being part of the donut.  “You hurt me and now I want to crawl up in a ball every time I am around you.” Or, “I’m still made at you for how you treated me in the past.” Or even, “You cut me off in line at the grocery store and I hate you!!!”  And everything else that goes on inside of our minds that is not completely loving.   All of this is the donut.  Can you get in touch with the fact that, in the midst of all the poison darts of our emotions and the emotions of others there is a radiant void? That the light coming through me is the same as the light coming through you? This light is the nature of who we are.  I am not a woman, but light coming through a woman.  You are are not a man or woman, but light coming through a man or woman.

Notice what you feel when you are doing this practice.  Likely you will feel a decrease in tension and an increased sense of ease.  The person that you are interacting with may or may not change what they are doing right away.  Most people are not used to being treated as light coming through a woman or light coming through a man.  They are used to being treated as an amalgamation of all of their stories and all the things they have screwed up.  It takes some time to change that, but interacting with someone in the way described above can be incredibly healing for both people involved.  Even if you forget 90% of the time, keep trying.  It takes practice.  Make it a habit to come back to heart space; to come back home.  Put a and on your chest and breath.  Feel the warmth.  Remember who you are.  Remember who we are.  We are carrier mediums for light.

If you are interested in learning more about ways to cultivate heart space and stay sane in the midst of chaos, please contact me about my Medicine Without Form classes.  

I learned the concepts that I’ve spoken about in this article from studying with Thea Elijah, a master teacher of Chinese medicine and Sufi healer. 

Winter Immune Tonics

I could hardly believe my excitement last week as I glanced out my treatment room window and saw the first snowflakes falling.  It was a funny kind of excitement, because it came with feeling of profound peace.  I always feel this way at the beginning of winter. The deep quiet and opportunity for rest that winter provides are things that I treasure about living in New England.

Many people ask me how to stay healthy during this time of year, which brings with it colds and flus that for some people can last for weeks or months.  Here are some simple ways to avoid getting sick, and to take care of yourself when you do.

To avoid getting sick, it is important to take care of your body’s immune system.  The bulk of vitamins and minerals needed to support our immune system come from vegetables and whole grains.  Eating a diet high in vegetables, fruits, whole grains and lean proteins is a great way to strengthen you immune system. Regular exercise also boosts your immunity.

Immune tonics can also be useful this time of year.  Two of my favorites are astragalus and shitake mushrooms.  Both have been shown in scientific studies to boost the immune system, and are tonics in traditional Chinese medicine.  And they are easy to use in cooking!  Whenever I am making a soup, I put a couple sticks of astragalus root and a few dried shiitakes in the boiling water.  Astragalus and shiitakes are best used as preventative medicines.  If you do get sick, it is best to avoid them until you are feeling better agin.

Another tasty way to boost your immunity in the winter is elderberry syrup.  Elderberries have been shown multiple clinical trials to reduce the duration and severity of colds and flues.  I recommend taking 1 teaspoon of elderberry syrup daily during cold and flu season, and increasing this to 1 tablespoon when you are sick.  Elderberry syrup is a tasty addition to seltzer water or juice, or can be taking strait from the bottle.  Be sure to get a good brand that contains 100% Elderberries (we carry this in our herbal pharmacy, so feel free to ask about it if you stop in for a visit).

If you are suffering from frequent colds and flues, or sicknesses that last for longer than 1-2 weeks, you may need a customized herbal formula and/or dietary program to bring you back to having a robust immune system.  This is best done through a licensed alternative healthcare provider (naturopathic physician, acupuncturist, registered herbalist).  Please click the “schedule” link on the side bar if you would like to schedule an office visit or a free 15 minute phone consultation.