How to beat the bloat this holiday season

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Ah, Thanksgiving, the start of the winter eating, I mean, holiday season.  Rich, heavy foods to keep our minds off of the coming winter (and the fact that Uncle Harry has had one too many again).  After the lighter eating we've been doing over the summer, it can all be a bit of a shock to our digestive system.   Sometimes a surreptitious loosening of our belt can often do the trick to relieve the pressure after a large multi-course meal.  For many of us, however, a heavy meal can often be followed by bloating and digestive discomfort which even the cutest pair of stretchy pants can't help. Here a few pointers to help you to beat the bloat and have a delicious and more comfortable holiday:

  • Peppermint tea:  Peppermint has long been used to ease a variety of digestive discomforts including gas, bloating, indigestion, cramping of the gastrointestinal tract and nausea.  A cup of hot peppermint tea with a touch of honey can help calm digestion down after a heavy meal.  For more information on peppermint at MedlinePlus, click here.
  • Belly rub:  A nice belly rub isn't just something enjoyed by the family pets.  Rubbing your belly in a clockwise direction can help to move the digestive qi along, especially when it's gotten a little stagnant after a heavy meal.
  • Step away from the couch: While it is very tempting to give in to the food coma from all that turkey and stuffing, a wonderful way to help your body to digest a big meal is to move. So, take a break before dessert and go for a walk around the neighborhood.  Not only can it feel great to get a breath of fresh air, but walking will help to stimulate your digestion.
  • Hold the ice:  Still drinking those iced coffees from your local coffee joint?  Well, time to shift to warmer drinks.  As the weather cools, our bodies need a bit of help to make sure our digestion continues to be efficient and trouble-free.  Drinking cold liquids and eating raw, uncooked foods is similar to throwing cold water into your furnace while it is trying to heat your house.  Like the furnace, your digestion will have more trouble working smoothly if it has to work even harder to warm up the food that is coming into it.  Bloating, gas and discomfort are all signs that the digestive system is over-worked.  So make sure to help with warm, cooked foods and drinks especially in colder weather.
  • Acupressure: The acupuncture point Triple Warmer 6 is a great point for treating pain and distention of the upper and lower abdomen.  Press on the point pictured below for several minutes.  You don't have to be exact, but if you are in the area and find a sore spot, spend some extra time there.
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TW6

Now that you are armed with some tools to help beat the bloat this holiday season, go forth and feast!

Wishing a Happy Thanksgiving to all!

5 Tips for keeping healthy during holiday travel

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With Thanksgiving nearly upon us and the busy holiday season in full swing, many of us will soon be getting on jam packed airplanes or hopping in cars to join family gatherings.  All of this togetherness can bring with it the risk of being exposed to colds and flu which are starting their own holiday season.  With a few simple tips you can improve your chances of staying healthy during your holiday travel.  One of the first steps is to follow the adage "A good offense is a good defense."  It is very important to keep your immune system functioning at its best so that it can help to keep you healthy.   Some ways to do that are:

  • Sleep:  Getting a good night's sleep is an important way to keep your immune system healthy.  So, as much as possible, try to maintain a healthy 7-8 hours of sleep to keep your immune system in tip top shape.
  • Vitamin C: Vitamin C  helps our bodies to keep a strong immune system, so don't forget your OJ!
  • Neti pot:  Our noses are the entry point for many of the germs we are exposed to when we are in groups of people.  One way to help flush out the bad bugs is to do a saline rinse using a neti pot.  The saline manually rinses the sinus membranes to wash away germs and other particulates that we inhale.  It also helps to hydrate the sinus membranes helping them to avoid drying out, especially for those who are flying or in arid climates.  Saline can either be purchased or made easily at home using water and salt.  Iodized salt has additional antibacterial properties over ordinary table salt or sea salt due to the added iodine.  It can take a little getting used to, but once you have the hang of it, it can feel quite nice.
  • Stress?  What stress?:   Stress is something that seems to be synonymous with the holidays for most of us.  It also can depress our immune system.  So, when your relatives are really starting to get on your nerves, try to take a moment for yourself to regain some calm.   Going for a walk, taking a few deep breaths, whatever you have time for will help you both enjoy the holiday more and stay healthy.
  • Press here:  There are several acupuncture points which you can press on which help to stimulate the immune system.  You can apply moderate pressureto the points below for a few minutes every day.  If you find a sore spot in that area, give it some special attention as that is the body's way of showing you what spots need some extra care.

Kiiko Matsumoto's Immune point:   

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LI10-11crop
  • This point is located in the area and inch or two on either side of LI 10 (pictured here).  It is great for boosting overall immunity.  Massage this area, paying special attention to any sore point.

GV14:

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GV14b

 This point is located on the center line of the spine just below the 7th cervical vertebra.  It boosts the Wei qi (what the ancient Chinese used to describe concept for what we now understand to be immunity).

For some additional information useful to those getting on airplanes, read more here.

Don't forget that seasonal tune-ups with your acupuncturist can also help to boost your immunity by keeping the whole system balanced and functioning optimally.    A happy and healthy holiday season to all!

Sugar substitutes - how to choose?

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Like most people nowadays, I have been trying to reduce the amount of processed sugar in my diet and cooking.  Besides simply reducing the amount of sugar called for in recipes, I've often explored using various substitutes.  But I've had difficulty knowing which were truly a healthier improvement versus just a different form of the same thing.  As someone who loves baking, finding the right balances of sweet and health without changing the chemistry of the end product has been challenging.   In general, I've found that most recipes can do with ½ to ¾ of the sugar called for in the recipe without hugely changing the texture.   Even the kids in our house haven't seemed to notice the reduced sugar for the most part.  A cookie is still a cookie to them despite it being secretly a little healthier. I recently ran across an article which was really helpful in clarifying the differences in different types of sugar substitutes  and how to modify your recipes if you want to swap them in for the sugar.  I'll go over a summary of what they discussed here, but for those that would like to read the full article you can find it here at Sugar Substitutes.

So, what's the take home message really?  Sad to say, it's not really the news most of us would prefer to hear.  Sugar in any of its forms is not really our bodies friend.  A few of the sugar substitutes do contain small amounts of nutrients and minerals compared to table sugar:  raw sugar, honey, maple syrup, dates and coconut sugar.  Unfortunately, these nutrients are in pretty small concentrations, so the amount of sugar you'd need to eat to experience any real benefit would itself be unhealthy.  Due to a higher ratio of fructose to sucrose, sugar substitutes such as agave and honey do have a lower glycemic index, producing less of an insulin spike in the body.  However, fructose is processed by the liver, so once the processing limit of the liver is reached, it is converted into fat and stored.   On the other side of the coin, coconut sugar has a higher ratio of sucrose to fructose than table sugar, so less can be converted to fat, but the insulin spike in response to it is greater than that of table sugar.  Lower insulin spike good, more fat not so good.  With respect to the fructose:sucrose ratio it is really picking the option which is most important to your eating habits and health situation.  The last option is Stevia, which pretty much is in its own category.  Stevia is much sweeter than the other types of sugars, contains no nutrients, doesn't change insulin levels  but also has no calories.  The taste of stevia can be a bit off-putting for some, is not great for baking and can be difficult to digest for those sensitive to sugar alcohols.

So, what's a person to do?  Well, the first thing to do is to gradually reduce the amount of sugar of any type that you use in your diet.  I've found that it is possible to reduce the amount of sugar in many recipes without significantly affecting their taste.   Gradually reducing the amount called for in a recipe is the least jarring way and allows you to figure out if there are any effects on the texture of the food or how it cooks.  The different types of sugars do behave differently, so which you try will depend a lot on what you are cooking.  Studies have shown that our taste buds become more sensitive to sugar (and salt too) after a few weeks of reduced intake.  This means that you will still sense that something is sweet despite it having less sugar in it.   And really, that's what we all hope for.  Feeling like we are having a treat while still be kind to our bodies.

A new antibiotic from medieval recipe

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One of my favorite podcasts, Radiolab, had a very interesting piece this week about some scientists in the UK who have unearthed a medieval recipe for a brew which has shown potent antibiotic effects against bacteria as difficult to manage as MRSA.  Antimicrobial resistance is a serious and growing problem across the globe.  Research into antimicrobials has long been on the decline despite this increasing need for effective treatments against infections such as tuberculosis which had previously been managed well  with standard antibiotics.  In recent decades TB and many others have acquired multiple resistances to current drugs, resulting in a resurgence of lethality and often nowhere to turn for affected patients. Two professors in the UK, one a historian and one a scientist have worked together to unearth a very old recipe brewed from onions, garlic, wine and copper or brass which has shown remarkable effects in the lab.  Perhaps digging deep into our past and exploring medicines which do not come out of a pill bottle could help us to rediscover treatments which could again be used to help patients today.

I highly recommend listening to the entire podcast which can be found here - Radiolab - Best Medicine podcast

A lovely morning with Lucy's Love Bus and Accent Health

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Sometimes the most interesting things happen when you least expect them. I have been fortunate to have been working for the past several years with Lucy's Love Busan organization which provides funding for pediatric cancer patients to integrate therapies such as acupuncture, massage, therapeutic riding and art therapy into their treatment.  Through their program I was connected with a young girl named Camille and her mom Colleen.  In a flurry of  texts and emails on Monday, Beecher Grogan (Lucy's mom and founder of Lucy's Love Bus) managed to pull us all together to shoot a story for CNN's Accent Health featuring the therapeutic riding program at Friends for Tomorrow and acupuncture at Synergy Acupuncture & Wellness.  

Linda and Ed, the team who came to shoot the piece, were wonderful and managed to work really well with our small space, putting those of us who were a bit camera shy immediately at ease.  They also shot some of a treatment for Camille, but I'm afraid Ed was a bit disappointed at not having time to see some fire cupping.    All in all, it was a great time for a great cause.  To learn more about the many programs Lucy's Love bus has for cancer patients as well as a bunch of ways people of all ages can get involved check out their website Lucy's Love Bus.

We will be posting a link to the video when it goes up so stay tuned!

 

Float through Fall - 2015 Fall Newsletter

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Float through Fall

Despite Summer's best efforts to hang on, Fall is definitely in the air this week.  Fall is one of my favorite times of year when those sunny, clear, warm days with cooler nights perfect for sleeping begin to ease us gently out of the heat of summer.   Something about Fall always seems to make it easier to get organized and to stop putting off all those things that just seemed like too much effort during Summer's heat.

Our newsletter this season is aimed towards helping you to Float through Fall with articles on what to do about those pesky Fall allergies and a seasonal recipe to enjoy. 

Keep an eye out for some specials we will be offering to celebrate Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine day coming up in October.  We will also be posting a blog post soon on meditation for beginners so we can all find more calm this season. 

Here's to a happy and healthy Fall for you and your family!

Fall Allergies

While the Fire element makes Summer a time of activity, of loosening the rules and taking it easier, the Metal element of Fall calls for us to return to a life of more structure and routine.  Fall is also associated with yin yang channel pair of Lung and Large Intestine.  The Lung channel relates strongly to our immunity so this is a time of year when allergies can act up or those first colds start to appear.  The Large Intestine channel itself travels up the throat, onto the face to the nose, so those allergies often manifest more in the nose and sinuses along with scratchy throats.

Here a some things you can do at home to help relieve some of the pesky symptoms of fall allergies.

Sinus massage - Sinus pain & congestion are often present for many of us suffering from allergies.  A simple sinus massage can help to relieve pain and ease congestion.  This can be done as needed and can provide some temporary relief.

  1. Place the middle bone of your thumbs on either side of your nose and rub them down and outward along your nose and the upper border of the cheekbones to your temples.  Repeat 30 or more times.
  2. Place both thumbs in the same manner but on your brow bone between your eyes and rub them outward along your brow bone to your temples.  Repeat 30 or more times.

The Immune Point - A local Master, Kiiko Matsumoto, treats an area on the forearm for helping to boost the immune system.  To find the area, place your forearm on a table in a "karate chop" position resting the pinky side of your hand with the thumb side pointing up.  Starting an inch or so from the elbow crease, massage the muscle that lies on the top edge of your forearm towards the thumb for about a few inches.  If you press on an area that feels sore, pause there to give it a rub for a few minutes.

Use a Neti pot - Once you get the hang of them and no longer feel like you are waterboarding yourself, neti pots can be great for helping to clear the sinuses of congestion and rinsing out allergens that aggravate symptoms.  The best thing to do is to do it while you are in the shower to avoid soaking your clothes if anything goes awry.

Warm things up -While we have all enjoyed having ice cream, fresh salads and iced tea or coffee, as the weather cools our food needs to warm in balance to keep our bodies healthy.   Soups, stews and warm drinks can all be comforting this time of year.  Warming spices such as cinnamon, garlic and ginger can be very helpful to the energy of the Lungs and to our immunity so take full advantage of these in your fall cooking.

Enjoy the harvest:  Warm Apple Crisp

Now that the heat of summer is past, the bounty of fall is bring us an endless supply of delicious local fruit and vegetables.  So many to choose from it's hard to decide was to eat first!   Growing up, this time of year the house was filled with two scents:  the ever simmering pot of sauce made from our own tomatoes and baked apple crisp.

The recipe below is a very basic one which my family has been using as long as I can remember.  I like to use a mix of apples, always including a tart Granny Smith or two, sometimes adding raspberries or cranberries when they're in season and some pecans or sliced almonds in the crumble add a nice nutty flavor or a bit of orange or lemon zest for some citrusy brightness.   There are an endless number of ways to make this recipe your own, so feel free to experiment and create your own classic.

Apple Crisp

4 cups apples sliced ¾ c brown sugar 1/2c flour ½ rolled oats ¾ t cinnamon ¾ t nutmeg ⅓ c soft butter

Place apples in a 8" x 8" pan.  Blend remaining ingredients until crumbly.  Spread topping over apples.  Bake at 375 for 30-35 minutes until apples are tender.  Serve warm.

Summer sun series: Putting out the fire of sunburn

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As discussed in the first part of our Summer Sun Series, the best defense is a good offense.  It is always better to avoid a sunburn in the first place, but even the most careful precautions sometimes aren't quite enough and we end up a bit on the crispy side.  Here are some home remedies for putting out the fire of sunburn.

  • Hydration:  Hydration is key after a burn.  Your body needs additional moisture to combat the drying effects of a sunburn.  Drink plenty of water in the day or two after a burn to rehydrate.
  • Cool water:  A cool shower, bath or a cloth dipped in cool water can help to calm the heat of a burn.  Just be careful not to soak or shower too long, or the skin can end up drying out too much.  Keep your bath or shower to 15-20 minutes, avoid using soaps or bath products which can dry out the skin.  Once you are done, don't towel off, but allow yourself to air dry.
  • Aloe vera:  Aloe has long been known to be one of Mother Nature's remedies for a burn.  A fresh plant is always best, but there are many aloe creams and gels which can be found at your local store.  To further boost the relief from aloe, refrigerate the plant's leaves or cream before applying.
  • Oatmeal:    Anyone who has had chicken pox as a child probably remembers being dumped into an oatmeal bath by their parents to help with the itching and discomfort.  Oatmeal can also help with the pain and discomfort of a sunburn.   You can either buy prepared colloidal oatmeal at your local pharmacy, or you can prepare it yourself.  If making your own, take 1 cup of rolled oats (not the quick cook variety) and grind them into a powder with a food processor or blender.  Prepare a cool bath and add the oatmeal to the bath while it is filling to evenly distribute it in the water.   Soak for up to 15 minutes in the bath and try to air dry or gently pat yourself dry to preserve as much of the beneficial oils on your skin as possible.   Repeat as necessary up to 3 times a day.
  • Moisturize:  Since the skin needs moisture to heal after a burn, making sure it is well moisturized will help it to heal more quickly and can help minimize peeling.

Summer sun safety series: Sunscreens

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With summer in full swing, it seemed a good time to do a short series of posts regarding sun safety. As the sun continues to get stronger we are all reminded about protecting our skin....usually just after the first time we are out a little longer than we planned and come home pink and a bit over toasted.  With all of the options out on the market it can be hard to figure out what the safest but most protective products are.

The Environmental Working Group (EWG) has an excellent guide posted on their website which goes through the basics of sunscreens (what ingredients are important, which to avoid, etc) as well as providing lists of the good and bad options out on the market.  You can even search for your favorite brand to find out if it falls in the good, bad or ugly categories.

Click here for the EWG sunscreen Guide

Here are some key points to consider when choosing a sunscreen:

  • Avoid sunscreens with oxybenzone (thought to be a hormone disruptor & damaging to cells) and retinyl palmitate (doesn't increase effectiveness of UV protection and may increase skin cancer risk in sun exposed skin)
  • Choose "broad spectrum" sunscreens which protect from both UVA and UVB rays
  • SPF only refers to protection from UVB rays and SPF of more than 50 has not been shown to provide significantly more protection
  • Apply at least 30 minutes before heading into the sun and be sure to reapply after swimming, sweating or every two hours.

Of course, staying covered up and in the shade is the best protection but for most of us, that isn't always practical or possible.   So, be sun smart and enjoy the summer!

A cardiologists perspective on acupuncture

Acupuncture is slowly and steadily gaining ground when it comes to acceptance by western medicine.  I recently came across an interesting article by a cardiologist discussing his experience of acupuncture through one of his patients and what areas he now finds it useful for his patients use acupuncture as part of their health team.  It is quick read, but well written and interesting. The article can be found here:  Why I prescribe Acupuncture: A Cardiologist Explains.

 

 

Veterans and acupuncture

The military has long been known for being on the cutting edge of many technologies which become commonly used by civilian society.   Many things which we now take for granted in our everyday lives can be traced back to military developments.  Microwaves, duct tape, gps and gaming consoles, just to name a few, all evolved from specific military needs.   Over the last decade, acupuncture has come to be an important part of both battlefield and post-tour medicine for military members.  Veterans can experience a wide spectrum of symptoms during and after their service.   Everything from pain, to insomnia and emotional distress can be addressed with acupuncture.  There are ongoing studies to put more hard data behind these findings for military personnel and PTSD in particular, but many of the PTSD symptoms have experienced by veterans have been examined individually in civilian research studies. When I was still as student in acupuncture school I had the opportunity to assist at a wonderful project open to veterans and their families called the VAC Metrowest.    Most of the veterans who came in were men, which is a shift from what many of us see in private practice where the majority of our patients tend to be women.  They were of all ages, having served in wars from the Vietnam era to the Gulf and ongoing Middle East wars.  Many came in with pain of some nature, others with sleep problems and still others clearly carrying an unspoken emotional burden.   As in this piece recently aired on WBUR's "Here and Now", and this 2010 article from the Department of Defense's own website,  without exception all would leave feeling better than when they had walked in.

Accessibility to acupuncture for veterans continues to grow in this area as well as across the country.  Two years ago, the Boston VA hospital in Jamaica Plain opened the first acupuncture clinic, headed by one of my teachers, John Coville (Boston VA Acupuncture).      Along with the VA and organizations such as VAC Metrowest, acupuncturists hope to help veterans and their families recover from the effects of their service.

 

Acupuncture & fertility in the news

One of the areas for which acupuncture has become most commonly accepted is in the area of fertility.  As a practitioner I see first hand the positive effects that acupuncture can have on a very complex and highly individualized area of women's health.  As with anything, there is no one sized fits all approach and each woman must choose what feels right for her. Two recent articles discuss some of the ways in which acupuncture and traditional chinese medicine can assist women undergoing in-vitro fertilization (IVF).  For those who would like to read the articles in their entirety they are linked in the paragraphs below. US News & World Report's recent article "East Meets West: Treating Infertility with Acupuncture and Modern Medicine"  discusses many of the ways in which acupuncture and TCM is used to assist women undergoing fertility treatment or experiencing fertility difficulties.  The gold standard of success in fertility medicine is, of course, live birth rates.  This article states that a recent study, which remains un-cited, did a meta analysis showing there was no effect of TCM/acupuncture on live birth rates.  However, another article published soon after by Health CMI "Acupuncture Reduces stress for IVF Fertility Treatment", cites a specific meta analysis study which did see an increase in live births when TCM/acupuncture was used in addition to standard of care for women undergoing IVF.

Now this is where the former scientist in me kicks in a bit.   It is always best when referencing research data to cite the publication in a way that those who are interested can easily locate and read the paper themselves.  A lot of scientific data is often reduced to a 30 second soundbite which can easily be taken out of context or misinterpreted.

The discrepancy between the two articles is also an example of how science is continually evolving and being added to as our understanding and knowledge increase and as we continue to question historical data in order to improve upon it.  What both articles, and your friendly neighborhood acupuncturists, agree on is the beneficial effects of acupuncture on women's stress levels and many other aspects of fertility including hormone and menstrual cycle imbalances.  However it is important to note that improving fertility is not a one shot, or needle, deal.  For most women, it can take several menstrual cycles to see significant improvements.   A woman has a menstrual cycle on average every 28 days.  So we have to wait 28 days to see if things such as PMS symptoms, menstrual irregularities, etc change or pregnancy occurs in response to a series of treatments.   It can take a number of cycles to see more complex problems improve.  This can be difficult for women anxious to start a family to balance against the ever ticking "clock."

The same is true for improving IVF success.   A paper which is well known in IVF circles and which really started the acceptance of acupuncture as a useful treatment to be used during an IVF cycle is the 2002 paper published by a German research group.  This study showed that two acupuncture treatments performed 25 minutes before and after embryo transfer resulted in a 42.5% pregnancy rate in the acupuncture group versus a 26.3% pregnancy rate in the non-acupuncture group. ("Influence of acupuncture on the pregnancy rate in patients who undergo assisted reproduction therapy" Paulus et al, Fertility and Sterility, April 2002)  It is worth noting that this study did not look at live births as an outcome but rather pregnancy at 6 weeks post-transfer.  In addition, this study is now over a decade old and much more research has been done since that time.  Most TCM practitioners, and a continually growing body of research, would agree that a more involved treatment plan would improve the modest success seen by the Paulus group.  Fertility is a delicately balanced, complex system which typically requires complex treatment.

IVF and fertility problems are incredibly stressful for both partners in a couple (hint, hint guys....this could help you too).  Many doctors have now begun to recognize stress as an important factor in IVF success.  It is not as simple as just deciding to not stress out.  Stress is inherent in the process of assisted reproduction, so it is best to address it than to pretend it isn't there.  Here acupuncture can help by signaling directly to the brain and the body to reduce its stress response.  By calming the body's response, the negative effects of stress can be reduced.  One of the studies discussed in the Health CMI article above found that the stress reduction benefit seemed to be dose dependent.  In other words, women who underwent a series of treatments saw more significant stress reduction than those who only had a single treatment.

Dr. Licciardi is quoted in the US News article as saying “I do embrace acupuncture,” he adds. “I just don’t want to oversell it.”  I would argue that this could be applied to western as well as eastern medicine.  We have come to expect easy answers and "cures" from our practitioners regardless of their specialty.   The important lessons we should all keep in mind is that each approach has both strengths and weaknesses.   Both are continually evolving as new insight and data become available and neither has all the answers.  And no, there is no magic bullet, pill or needle for much of what ails us.  The road to health is also not a passive one.  It requires the active involvement of all of the members of the team including patients, their partners and their practitioners.   It is through the thoughtful use of a holistic, integrated and engaged approach that we can employ the strengths of all specialties to balance the weaknesses and help our patients reach their goals.

 

 

 

 

Foodies corner - the new dairy?

Those who know me know just how much I love food.    I'm also always hunting for ways to eat better, more sustainably and yet still enjoy the eating.    A recommendation I often make to patients during cold and flu season is to avoid dairy when a cold involves phlegm or mucus.  For those with recurring sinus problems, reducing cow-based dairy products are a great way to reduce the amount of mucus the body generates.   Our bodies weren't built to process the fat droplets in cow's milk easily.  This can result in digestive upset or the production of mucus.   In TCM, all foods are given a temperature.  Cow's milk is considered a very cold food which can result in the build up of "damp" and "phlegm" in the body.  For people who have difficulty with excess damp, such as runny noses and congested sinuses, avoiding these types of foods can be beneficial. The difficulty is that, well.....cheese, ice cream and a big cold glass of milk with dessert taste GOOD.   Thankfully many people do not have to completely cut them out of their diet to see a benefit.  Many alternatives to cow's milk products now exist, so it is good to try what's out there to see what works for you.

Alternative milks such as almond, hemp and rice milk are easy to adjust to with rice and hemp milk having the added benefit of thickening well when heated.  Almond milk will separate, so not a great substitute for sauces.  Almond milk is, however, very easy to make at home for those care to try.  Soy milk is a common, but complicated option as it actually is as cold as cow's milk in TCM and the question of the potential effect of phytoestrogens in it are still very much under debate.  Sheep and goat milk products are also potential substitutes with many cheese and yogurts now easily available.   The fat droplets in sheep and goat milk are much smaller than that in cow milk, making them easier to digest.

One area I've personally had difficulty finding a good alternative is in the area of vegan cheese.  They can often have a funny, plasticky texture, don't tend to melt well and often don't taste much like cheese.  It would seem that a new era is dawning, however with the development of nut milk cheeses.  A recent NPR piece looked at these new nut milk cheeses and it seems there may be hope.   Read the article here-  Hold the Mammal: Daring to make dairy free cheese from nuts

As a fan of nut milks and lover of cheese, I look forward to trying some of these new nut-cheeses.

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Fall harvest: staying healthy and getting the most out of the bounty

Well, it has happened once again.  The summer has flown by and suddenly I find myself in the middle of raking leaves and quickly shortening days.  Between a remarkably mild summer largely devoid of New England's typical heat and humidity and a fall which can't seem to decide if it should be summer or winter, this year of the Horse has been quite the crazy ride.

The Fall for many of us comes with it two puzzles.  One is how to take advantage of the amazing variety of fresh and local produce.  The other is how to avoid catching one of the many colds that seems to crop up this time of year.  To that end, I thought I would send along a few tips and a recipe that is just great for this time of year.  Soups are a simple and wonderful way to enjoy many of the foods available this time of year while at the same time boosting our immune system or helping it to fight off colds that have managed to sneak past out defenses.  The recipe is a mix of many different recipes and can ingredients can be swapped out or added as your preferences and whim may dictate.

3 Fall tips to stay healthy:

  • Keep warm: Despite the wide range of temperatures we are experiencing here in New England, our bodies still need to prepare for the colder temperatures to come.  Keep light gloves handy to warm hands and dig out those socks that have been idling in your drawer since last spring.   Swap out your iced coffee, lattes and cold salads for hot beverages and warming soups & stews.  If you just love a great salad, have a hot drink along with it to help your body digest it more efficiently.  Think of it this way, if you want your furnace to keep your house warm, putting cold water in it will make it much harder for it to do its job.  The same is true of our digestive systems.
  • Protect the back of your neck: In Chinese medicine, colds are considered to be invasions of external "wind".  The back of our neck can be thought of as the back door of our house.   If we leave it exposed to the wind, that can invite the unwelcome guest to saunter right in.  Wearing a scarf can both be a fashion statement and can help to keep that back door protected and nasty colds out.
  • Stay flexible: With the typical stress that comes with the end of summer vacations and the resumption of school, work and everyday life, many of us may find that our necks and shoulders are tighter and those toes we used to be able to come close to touching feel farther away.   Doing some light stretching after getting out of a hot shower or after a workout will help keep you limber and can help avoid or alleviate the soreness, tension and discomfort of tight muscles.  A hot pack or heating pad used while sitting at your computer or chilling out at night can also help those muscles remember how to relax.

Fall harvest soup: 

Based on the Lentil Soup recipe in "Soups and Stews" by Cook's Illustrated.

A delicious way to enjoy the bounty of fall and great for boosting our immune systems, this soup is very versatile, so feel free to tweak it to make it your own special recipe.  Onions, garlic and kale are all warming in nature and can benefit the lungs by easing congestion and boosting the body's Lung "qi" which is an important part of our defense system.  Lentils and carrots are neutral in temperature, but benefit the energy of the Kidneys and Lungs respectively.

Ingredients:

  • 2 medium onions, chopped
  • 3 cloves garlic, chopped or pressed through a garlic press
  • 2 medium carrots diced
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 14 oz can of diced tomatoes (you can also use fresh and just add additional liquid later)
  • 1 Bay leaf
  • 1 teaspoon thyme
  • 1 cup lentils, washed & picked through
  • 4 cups chicken or vegetable stock
  • 2 cups additional liquid (you can use a combination of white wine or simply add water)
  • 4-6 stems of Kale, stems removed and leaves cut or torn into small pieces
  • Salt & ground black pepper to taste
  • 1 Tbsp Balsamic vinegar
  • Optional: meat of your choice (bacon, pancetta, sausage or chicken are all nice adds to this soup)
  1. In a large heavy pot, heat the oil over medium high heat and sauté onions, garlic & carrots until soft (about 2-3 minutes).  If using a meat in your soup, cook this in the oil first, allowing it to brown slightly, then add in the onions, etc.
  2. Add tomatoes, bay leaf and thyme, cook an additional 2 minutes.
  3. Add lentils, salt & pepper, cover and cool on medium low heat for 8-10 minutes.  Lentils will become darker and vegetables soft.
  4. Uncover, increase heat to high and add broth and other liquids.  If using white wine, add that first and allow it to simmer for a minute before adding the rest.  Cook the soup partially covered for 30-35 minutes until lentils are soft, but still hold their shape.
  5. About 5 minutes before the soup looks to be done, stir in the kale and allow it to soften.  It will turn a vibrant green color and will cook down quite a bit, so do not be alarmed if it seems like a lot to be adding to the soup at first.
  6. Finish the soup with balsamic vinegar, adjust salt and pepper to taste and remove bay leaf.
  7. Serve hot with some crusty bread for dipping.
  8. Enjoy!

Winter Newsletter

Synergy Acupuncture & Wellness' Winter Newsletter!

Synergy Acupuncture & Wellness

Celebrating Winter & the Year of the Water Snake

Hello

,

It is incredible to me that we already find ourselves in the second month of the 2013!  For those of us who never got around to setting a resolution or who have already fallen off the wagon despite the best of intentions, the Lunar New Year is the perfect time to recommit yourself to your goals for the year, or to set new ones.  This Lunar New Year finds the Fire Dragon yielding to the Water Snake.  These two zodiac signs are inextricably intertwined as the Snake's Yin strives to balance the Dragon's Yang of the previous year.  So it is within each of us, the struggle to find balance between action and stillness, work and play, caring for others and caring for ourselves.  The image of the snake can be especially useful for all of us on our journey towards our better selves.  As the snake sheds its skin, so can we shed those things which no longer serve us or which hold us back.  This allows us to grow more fully towards our potential.  So, take a moment to reflect on the past year with its ups & downs.  Set your intention towards letting go of those things which are holding you back from being more present and open to your loved ones and the opportunities around you.  We wish you a peaceful & prosperous New Year!

Winter, the season of the Water element    Here in New England, early February is usually the time of year we find ourselves knee-deep in snow, bundled up to our eye balls against the cold.  Mother Nature seems to have decided that we are in need of a bit of excitement this year with a wild weather roller coaster ride, offering us some brief tastes of spring before plunging us back into the cold of winter and, in the coming hours, sending us a bounty of snow.  All of which seems appropriate as the element associated with Winter is that of Water.

Water is a unique element.  It can take many forms from fog to rain to snow or ice.  It has the ability to be calm & reflective, fluid & yielding or hard & impenetrable.  No matter what the form, water has great power for change whether slow and subtle or sudden and violent.  It can carry us gently to our next destination, nourish us with it's calm, thrill us by awakening the child within or fill us with fear at its power.  Sometimes, it forces us to stop in our tracks or other times wipes everything away leaving behind only a clean slate on which we must begin again.

Winter is also associated with the energy of the Kidneys.  The Kidneys supply us with our deepest energy (Jing), which we are given at birth and fuels us throughout our life.  As water is required for continued life, so is the energy of the Kidneys.  When we over-work ourselves or dwell too much upon our anxiety & fears, we deplete this energy.  As a river that has too many demands on its supply slowly dries up and eventually is unable to reach the ocean, our supply of Kidney energy is not inexhaustible.  No matter how much we might wish otherwise.  However, it can also be replenished.   Care must be taken to allow ourselves time to rest, recover and restore ourselves from life's demands and Mother Nature's wisdom calls all creature to do that this time of year.

The emotions associated with the Kidney energy are fear and wisdom.  Fear, when the Kidney energy is out of balance, can make us freeze as water into ice, unable to move, imprisoned and unable to interact with the world around us.   However, when the water element is in balance, this fear transforms into wisdom.  It is this wisdom which gives us the will to move forward and adapt to the ups & downs of life in the same fashion that the river moves decisively towards the sea, always finding a path around whatever obstacles lie in front of it.

For many of us in the northeast, winter is a time for hibernation.  A time when many of us do our very best imitation of a bear, eating lots of comfort food and hunkering down in our dens waiting quietly for the warmth of spring to rouse us from our slumber.   This doesn't mean that this is not also a time of activity, however.  Rather, that the activity which was previously outward has turned inward to its deepest reaches.  Winter is a time for reflection & contemplation, the work of our inner selves.  A time for planning the year ahead from a place of calm and quiet.  A time when seeds, deep in the earth garner their strength in preparation for the activity of spring.  

So take season of Winter and Water to reflect and cultivate the fluid, adaptable aspect within you so that it can carry you through the rest of the year and give you the will and determination to achieve your goals.

And by all means, take some time to indulge your inner child and go out to play in the snow!

News Corner:

Each issue we will pass along recent articles or research to our readers.  So, feel free to let us know if you read anything you would like us to pass on!A

cupressure for flu season

  - A quick way to boost your immunity this flu season

Penelope Cruz's Ear Bling

 - Ms. Cruz was photographed with a set of press balls in her ear, leading one reporter to give auricular acupuncture a try herself

Deals & Steals:

Give the gift of health to your Valentine:  Gift certificates are available for purchase to treat that special someone Refer a friend and you'll also get 20% off your next visit!  Double happiness!

Cold & Flu Season: Tips & Tricks

With Flu season in full swing, it is a terrific time to consider all the ways in which we can help ourselves stay healthy.  One of my favorite tips comes from my father-in-law, a retired surgeon.  When asked how he managed to stay so healthy when he spent so much time around sick people he replied "Wash your hands frequently & keep your fingers out of your nose."   

  • Hand washing:  Whether it is with soap & water or hand sanitizer, this is still the number one cold preventative.
  • Bundle up:  In chinese medicine, it is believed that pathogenic qi (i.e. colds, etc) can slip past our body's defenses when it is exposed to the elements.  So while it may be macho to see who can wear shorts the furthest into winter, think of it as an open invitation for the passing cold to come for a visit.
  • Zinc:  If you start to feel a cold coming on, increase your intake of Zinc.  Products such as Zicam (or the generic equivalent) have concentrations of Zinc which have been scientifically shown (http://summaries.cochrane.org/CD001364/zinc-for-the-common-cold) to reduce the length of a cold by inhibiting viral replication.   Even if your cold is already in full swing, adding Zinc to your cold treatment regimen will still help give the virus the old heave-ho and have you back on your feet sooner.  As a preventative, making sure Zinc supplementation has also been shown to reduce cold frequency.
  • Food as medicine:  When a cold is coming on or has already taken hold, increase the amounts of garlic, onion, ginger & cinnamon in your diet.   All are considered to be warming foods which "release the exterior.  In other words these foods open the door so your immune system's "bouncers" can kick that cold to the curb.  Put them into a nice brothy soup and not only will you feel warmed up from the inside out, but you'll keep away any vampires that might be in the neighborhood.
  • Acupressure:  Check out the article in our News section for some handy self-care acupressure points to help boost immunity
Recipe corner

Recipe Corner

:  

Simple Winter Congee

adapted from TheCulinaryLife.com Congee, or rice porridge, is a staple in Asian households and a perfect meal to warm up a winter's day.  This recipe can be used as a base to create your own tasty soup.  Made in a slow cooker or on the stove, you can set it up and have a wonderful warm bowl to welcome you in from the cold.

Yield: 6 servings

Ingredients:

  • 6 dried shiitake mushrooms
  • 1 cup short-grain or glutinous rice (which is gluten-free)
  • 4 cups vegetable stock
  • 4-8 cups water
  • 1 2-inch knob of ginger, peeled and diced
  • 1 large carrot, peeled and finely diced
  • 1 small head of bok choy, chopped
  • 1 teaspoon salt + more to taste
  • 4 tablespoons scallions, finely chopped
  • 1 teaspoon sauteed garlic

Recipe method:

1. Soak mushrooms in enough hot water to cover them. Once they are soft, discard water, drain mushrooms and remove the stems. Chop coarsely and set aside. 2. Rinse rice once and set aside. 3. In a medium saucepan, bring stock to a boil over high heat. Once the stock is boiling, add rice and 4 cups of water. Bring to a boil again, then reduce heat to very low, allowing to gently simmer for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally and adding more water as necessary to create a creamy consistency. 4. After 30 minutes, add mushrooms, ginger, carrots, and bok choy. Let cook for another 60 minutes, continuing to add water and stir occasionally. You’ll need to stir and scrape the bottom of the pot every few minutes to keep from burning. 5. Once you’ve got a nice, creamy consistency and most of the rice grains have melted away into the stock, salt to taste. Serve hot in individual bowls, garnished with minced scallions and sauteed garlic.

A beautiful day at Lucy's Love Bus Fly Away event!

On a simply glorious day on September 17th, I had the good fortune to participate in the Lucy's Love Bus annual Fly Away event at Woodsom Farm in Amesbury, MA.  Practitioners of many styles volunteered to provide mini treatments to attendees for donations which would benefit Lucy's Love Bus and its mission to provide complementary therapies to children suffering from cancer.   Acupuncture, reiki, massage and cranio-sacral were all represented. We were set up in teepees which sat on a hill overlooking the event.   Sun, a lovely breeze and a spectacular view of the event below us made for a truly amazing experience.   People came from near and far and many who had never experienced acupuncture stopped by to try it out.

For pictures and more news stories on the event and Lucy's Love Bus, check out the links below.

Photos of the event:  http://bit.ly/FlyAwayPhotos

Local article: http://bit.ly/NDNarticle A short You Tube piece on LLB: http://bit.ly/oBRpyZ

 

New Study Finds Acupuncture May Curb Severity of Hot Flashes Research Finds Traditional Chinese Needle Therapy May Provide Relief for Menopause Symptoms

ABC news recently reported on a small study examining the effects of acupuncture on hot flashes.   The results were clear, however, that women receiving acupuncture experienced a dramatic reduction in the severity of their hot flashes. While it may sound lovely to many of us to have a free, brief vacation in the tropics after the New England winter we've been having, women who experience hot flashes can also experience insomnia and excessive sweating during a hot flash.  These symptoms can range from non-existent to severe and may last for years.

Hormone replacement therapy came in to use in recent decades, but carries with it the potential for significant side effects.  Acupuncture offers a safe alternative to women seeking relief from menopausal symptoms.

Please check out the ABC news article & related video through the link below.

http://abcnews.go.com/Health/study-shows-acupuncture-curb-severity-hot-flashes-menopause/story?id=13075594