A Child’s Pain–the Dreaded Ear Infection

I have noticed that childhood illnesses travel in packs. Last month it was a croupy cough. This month’s affliction seems to be ear infections.  As a parent, you may be wondering, what’s next?! While childhood illnesses are rarely life threatening, they can be uncomfortable for the children, can lead to sleepless nights for the whole family, and may result in lost work hours.  Apart from putting your child in quarantine, here are some ideas to consider:

1) Make sure your child’s hands get washed several times per day.

2) Teach your child how to cough and sneeze into the crook of his/her elbow, which minimizes those germs all over the hands.

3) Feed your child whole foods: steer away from processed foods and make healthy choices for them, such as water instead of sugar-filled juices, fruit, grains, yogurt, and of course, vegetables and lean meats.

4) Supplements: probiotics (acidophilus, etc) are easy to administer, and are a good idea on a regular basis–not just when your child is on antibiotics.  My brand of choice is Jarrow. You can buy probiotics that are marketed toward children, or you can open a capsule and pour half of it onto cereal, into yogurt or applesauce. Probiotics have no taste. Just mix them into whatever you choose.

5) Acupuncture, aka Shonishin. I see a lot of children when they are in distress–the ear infection that kept the family awake the night before, or the cough that has lingered for weeks. However, regular, monthly treatments can keep your child from experiencing the worst cold symptoms. For children under about 8 years old a treatment is brief, and involves specific tools such as “rake” and micro needles for pediatric use.  I have worked with newborns, toddlers, and kids of all ages, and have found that children respond very quickly to treatment.

Finally, a word on antibiotics for ear infections: in my experience, antibiotics can effectively rid the ear of its infection. However, the fluid and pressure that have built up in the Eustachian tube and behind the eardrum are typically still present. Acupuncture and light massage can help drain the fluid back down the Eustachian tube, thus completing the healing process within your child’s ear.

And, for the adults reading this, have you washed your hands lately?

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Happy Liver, Mellow Minds, aka Stress, and what to do about it.

Very few people have gone through life without experiencing some level of stress. Stress may be a great motivator. Stressed about an exam? You’re more likely to study a little harder. Stressed about a promotion, you’re likely to make sure you’re well prepared. Most of us experience short-term stress, but what happens when it turns chronic?

Stress has become a catch-all word that means anything that causes us difficulty. There is a physiological change that happens within our bodies when we are under a difficult situation. Specific hormones are secreted, the nervous system goes on hyper-alert, and our brain shuts down our ability to see the larger picture. We literally can only focus on the event that is causing our bodies to react.

On a simpler note, it’s as if our nerves are firing rapid fire, telling our brains that there’s DANGER. This is useful if we need to run from a charging tiger. But while most of us aren’t being chased by wild animals, our brains cannot effectively differentiate between a dangerous animal and an impending job interview. The brain still sends the message of DANGER.

So what can we do? Short of taking medication to calm the stress and anxiety, here are some tips.

1)      Get enough sleep. Sleep is one of the best ways to rejuvenate the brain, body, nervous system, and immune system.

2)      Breathe deeply. Stop right now and take three very deep, very slow breaths. This will slow the heart rate for a moment, and will oxygenate the brain.

3)      Get therapy. Yes, psychotherapy if you are in need, but do yoga, Pilates, get acupuncture, take a walk.

4)      Get out and have fun. Remember that you have friends—prioritize your friendships. One of the great things about friends is that they can lend an ear and offer a fresh perspective on our lives.

How does acupuncture work for stress and anxiety? From a Chinese medical perspective, the organ most closely related to stress is the liver. The liver is responsible for “smoothing” out our Qi and blood, allowing to flow better. Stress and tension, whether physical or emotional, is a sign that our Qi and blood are stuck. Acupuncture moves this stagnation. From a more modern scientific perspective acupuncture needles stimulate the body’s production of endorphins and anti-inflammatories.

If it has been a while since your last treatment, it’s time to get in for some Qi movement. You’ll feel much more relaxed and energized. I guarantee it!

A Walk is as Good as a Run

I’ve been wanting to post this for a few weeks now, but every time I sit down, I decide to take the walk instead of writing about it! I guess you could say I’m practicing what I’m about to preach. Having already taken my early morning walk today, I’ll now tell you why you need to be out there walking too!

Walking is one form of exercise that most people are able to engage in, barring injury or other physical limitations. You don’t need to be athletic or even particularly fit to take a walk. If you never go for walks, start with a short, 10-minute walk around the block or office complex at lunchtime. This is one of the most rejuvenating activities you can do during a workday. You may be one of those workers who eats lunch at your desk, and with the ease of sending e-mail or instant messages, you may barely move from your chair during the day. It’s little wonder that by mid-afternoon you are reaching for another cup of caffeine or some chocolate! Instead of the caffeine or candy, get out of your chair, take a quick walk outside, then before you sit down, drink a glass of water.

Walking is an under-rated form of exercise and fitness.  Unlike running, walking is low impact but invigorating for the muscles. It can help lower cholesterol, blood pressure, even your weight! While the ideal may be 30 minutes of walking five times per week, your schedule may only allow for a long walk once or twice per week. That’s fine, esp. if you remember to take the stairs when you can, park just a little farther from the entrance, and walk outside your office during the day.

Here are some tips for making walking a pleasurable experience:

1) Vary your route. Try a different street or path each time. If variety is not available, then mix it up a little. You’ll find that if you are used to walking up your street one way, try walking the other direction. You’ll see it from a brand new perspective.

2) Take a camera along. Yes, you’ll stop every so often, but it will help you see the beauty around you when you look through the lens of a camera.

3) Choose a destination. An easy and wonderful destination here in San Francisco is the Ferry Building. Wherever you are, find a place you like, and walk there.

4) Walk with friends. Time passes quickly when you’re sharing your walk with a friend.

5) Invest in a decent pair of shoes. You don’t need to spend hundreds of dollars on a fancy pair of running or walking shoes, but do make sure your shoes have proper support.

While walking is not a substitute for more vigorous exercise such as weight lifting and cardiovascular workouts, adding walks to your weekly routine will get your Qi flowing and may even lift your mood.

To your health!

The Crud, AKA, the Common Cold

Let’s face it; we all get it. Some more often than others, with children getting it the most. It’s the common cold. It’s a nuisance, a drag, it slows us down, and gets in our way. Sometimes it passes quickly, other times it lingers and gets caught in the chest, the sinuses, or the ears.

Cold viruses are constantly around us. Luckily we do not contract each virus that we come into contact with. This is due to our immune system, which is known as our defensive Qi in Chinese medicine. This is our body’s protection from external influences. If our defensive Qi (wei qi) is sufficient, we can walk directly through a viral cloud and not be bothered. However, during times of defensive Qi deficiency, we are most likely to become ill.

Now for a little Chinese medical anatomy lesson. The Lung is responsible for maintaining our defensive Qi. If the Lung is weakened, through improper diet (too much cold, damp foods–yes, there is a relationship between the Spleen and Lung), poor sleep, insufficient or excessive exercise, our defensive Qi becomes weakened. While most of the time we can get away with washing our hands and avoiding the common cold, if the Lung is not able to keep our defenses strong, no amount of diligent hand washing will be enough.

As a rule of thumb, at the first sign of a cold, a pre-sign, even, such as a faint scratchy feeling in the back of the throat, a little extra sinus congestion, a sneeze that has nothing to do with the dust mop, stop, sit down, drink a large cup of water. It may not have gripped you yet. If you have some echinacea or vitamin C, dose up. Even better, if you have some Chinese herbs (my favorite being Cold Away or Gan Mao Ling), it’s time to dose up. Acupuncture is also helpful. If the cold has set in, acupuncture may help to express it faster, meaning the duration of the illness may be shortened.

Indeed, the best way to boost your defensive Qi is to keep your Lung energy happy. Drink plenty of water every day, eat a balanced diet, get plenty of sleep, and of course, keep your hands clean and away from your face. In addition, regular acupuncture treatments can increase your defensive Qi and increase your general immunity. If it’s been more than 4 weeks since your last treatment, get in before the winter winds blow in.

Happy Thanksgiving!

The Splendid Spleen

In my last post I wrote about how digestion is viewed in Chinese medicine. Today I will delve a bit further into the spleen and how to keep it happy.

In order to discuss the spleen I must first say something about how organs are viewed in Chinese medicine. While there is quite a bit of overlap between western and Chinese medical anatomy and physiology, the ancient Chinese had a broader view of the internal organs. Not only do organs perform their physiological functions within the body, they also have specific elements associated with each one.

As I mentioned last time, the western role of the spleen is to filter out white blood cells. However, in Chinese anatomy and physiology, it is likely the most important organ in the body. Not only does it, along with the stomach, create all of our Qi and blood, it also works hard to spread water throughout the body. The elements associated with the spleen are the color yellow, the earth, and, if out of balance, we may become overly worried or obsessive.

What does this mean in modern/plain language? Take care of your spleen! Overthinking and overeating can damage the spleen. One of the cardinal sins that many of us engage in is to read while eating. The eastern wisdom is that if we engage our brains while we eat it diverts energy away from the spleen, thus slowing our digestion.  So, first things first, put down the book, the newspaper, and step away from the computer at mealtime. Next, take a look at the food that you are eating. Remember that the spleen needs to stay warm so that it can help the stomach break down the food. Therefore, salads and cold sandwiches, ice water, and excessive sweets all have a deleterious effect on the spleen. But enough of what not to eat. Here’s how you can eat to support your spleen: plenty of warm food and drinks!

More specifically, here are some common spleen-supportive foods and spices you might try incorporating into your daily diet:

barley, basil, carrot, chicken, cinnamon bark, clove, coriander, cucumber, eggplant, garlic, ginger, green & red pepper, honey, licorice, nutmeg, peanuts, rice, squash, soybeans.

If this sounds complicated, I’ll make it simple: all you really need to do is balance out the foods that you eat. If you still want to eat a salad, make sure it’s not your main course. Have it as a side with some soup. Instead of putting ice in your water, drink it at room temperature or enjoy a warm cup of tea with your meal.

The most important thing, however, is to take a few moments to enjoy the food that you are eating. It is, after all, the fuel that will propel you through your day.