5 Tips for keeping healthy during holiday travel


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:   

  • 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.



 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?


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


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