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Astragalus Root for Strengthening Immunity

Centuries of Traditional Chinese Medicine and European botanical medicine have documented Astragalus root (Astragalus Membranaceus) as a tonic to support the health of the spleen and the immune system, helping the body build resistance to illness. Today, researchers are studying how Astragalus may help prevent the common cold and be a complementary therapy to establish immune health.

Some of the many beneficial properties of Astragalus include:

  • Astragalus contains polysaccharides, which enhance the ability of white blood cells (instrumental in immune function) to eliminate foreign substances from the body.
  • Saponins found in Astragalus are known to protect the liver, an important organ of detoxification, and stimulate the release of cytokines, chemical messengers in the immune system.
  • With its antioxidant properties, Astragalus facilitates the breakdown of free radicals, thus reducing free radical damage in the blood system.

Also known as milk vetch, Astragalus was once only found in Mongolia and China. Today, it is grown in temperate areas of the Northern hemisphere. It takes a full two years before the plant develops roots sufficient for harvesting the plant’s medicinal properties.

Astragalus is often included in “immunity support” herbal blends with other herbs known to promote recovery in times of stress or illness. Supplements are available in capsule, liquid, tincture, injectable, and extract. This herb may interact with other medicines, including other herbal remedies, over-the-counter, and pharmaceutical drugs. Consult with a qualified holistic health practitioner to determine the appropriateness of taking Astragalus to support your health and wellbeing.


The Secrets to Building Your “Immunity Superpower”

It’s likely we all know someone who seems to have “superhuman” health. While we mortals battle seasonal allergies, colds, flu, stomach bugs and whatever else is making the rounds at schools and workplaces, these immunity superheroes go on working and playing or, if they do get sick, they overcome it quickly. Why is that?

Since the time of Hippocrates, the answer has been a mystery capturing the attention of doctors and researchers. In fact, there is a rigorous area of research known as psychoneuroimmunology that specifically focuses on this mystery. That’s a fancy word for the study of the way the mind (psych), the body (neuro, nervous system), and the immune system interact and contribute to both good health and illness, as well as recovery from illness, among other areas of scientific interest.

Research has begun to reveal how genetics, lifestyle, stress, personal history of illness and exposure to toxins affect the strength and resiliency of our immune response. These discoveries help delineate the characteristics that give some people “immunity superpowers” and explain why the rest of us have more kryptonite to overcome in our quest for health and vitality.

What Makes Us Vulnerable to Getting Sick?

When a person gets sick — be it an acute illness like a cold, a chronic disease such as diabetes, or something more serious like cancer or COVID-19 — a number of factors contribute to what makes us vulnerable to illness:

Genetics and family history. An increased likelihood for certain diseases can be “set-up” in a person’s biology by genetics and family history. But biology is not destiny. Just because a parent had a certain illness, doesn’t mean you are destined to the same fate. You are a unique individual living in a different time, having different experiences, with likely more knowledge about the benefits of a healthy lifestyle than the family who came before you.

Environment. While genetics provides your body with a template for health versus disease risk, the environment in which you work, live, and play fills in the details for that template to activate/deactivate different pathways within the nervous, immune, and endocrine systems. This revolutionary field of study known as epigenetics examines how your behaviors and environment can cause changes that affect the way your genes work.

Lifestyle. Broadly speaking, lifestyle is the end-game when it comes to vulnerability to or resilience over illness. Your lifestyle habits can make you more likely to get ill in two ways:

  1. by activating your genetic predispositions or
  2. by introducing germ-warfare that your body is not equipped to defend against.

On the positive side, lifestyle habits can rewire genetic predispositions and strengthen the immune response, which makes your body more resilient to viral or bacterial invaders.

Health science has shown us strong evidence for what we can do to make our bodies healthy, more resilient to illness, and better able to thrive as nature intended.

How to Build Your Immunity Superpower

There are several lifestyle “secrets” that can help you build your immunity superpower:

Nourish the Body. Your body needs fresh, colorful fruits and vegetables; lean meat, poultry and fish; healthy oils, whole grains, and nuts. It needs adequate hydration for digestion and absorption of nutrients and the efficiency with which all organ systems are able to work. You can complement high-quality nutrition with supplements such as vitamins, minerals, and herbs that are known to support the immune system (e.g., cod liver oil, probiotics, garlic, vitamins D, antioxidants such as vitamin C and A, astragalus, and ashwagandha among many others).

Relax the Mind/Body. Taking time to relax — away from phones and other screens — is essential to immunity. Research on the power of the mind over illness, and the effects of stress on immunity, demonstrates that a calm mind/body is better able to defend against disease and can even reduce the severity of illness when it occurs. Yoga, breathwork, mindfulness practices, massage therapy, gardening, zen sandboxes, guided imagery, and having a good laugh (yes! laughter) are a few of the practices that can shift the body’s template from disease-promoting to health-promoting.

Move the Body. Consistent, moderately vigorous daily exercise not only does wonders for heart, lungs, and muscles, it’s good for the health of the brain and immune system. If you aren’t exercising regularly, consult with your holistic health practitioner or a certified fitness professional to help you get started.

Live Clean. Strive to actively control the things you use and put in your environment. Use air purifiers. Clean home air filters regularly. Use organic (less toxic) household cleaning supplies. Carefully choose the cosmetics you use on your skin.

Remember: health is a journey. The more often you practice healthy lifestyle habits, the healthier you make the template within the body and the more likely you will be to create your own “health superpower.”


Can Bach’s Rescue Remedy Rescue You from Anxiety?

Rescue Remedy is a type of Bach Flower Remedy, a line of flower essences developed by Dr. Edward Bach during the early Twentieth Century. An English physician, Bach believed that many illnesses were caused by negative emotional states. He put forth the theory that conditions such as chronic stress, anxiety, and depression could be alleviated with flower essences.

What is a Flower Essence?

A flower essence is made by placing fresh flowers in water and exposing the mixture to sunlight (or another heat source) to create an infusion. When the infusion is ready, the flower parts are discarded and the remaining liquid is preserved, diluted, and stored in vials. A flower essence is said to work by imbuing the vibrational healing energy of the infused flower when consumed. Usually, this involves using it sublingually or dropping a certain amount of the liquid infusion into a tea. Most Bach flower remedies are derived from a single flower, but Rescue Remedy is a specially blended infusion of five different wildflowers:

  • Cherry plum
  • Clematis
  • Impatiens
  • Rock rose
  • Star-of-Bethlehem

Stress is a well-known cause of emotional and physical distress, as well as being a key player in chronic health conditions. Holistic health proponents of Bach flower remedies indicate that flower essences can provide gentle relief from the ill-effects of stress, thereby reducing the occurrence and/or intensity of emotional distress and anxiety.

There is growing interest in Rescue Remedy and other flower essences. While clinical research is limited on the therapeutic effects of flower essences, they are generally safe to try. As always, your holistic health practitioner is an invaluable resource to guide you in your healing.


The Acne Remedy: From Diet to Skincare Routine

Ranging from minor flare-ups to significant inflammation, acne is a condition that varies in appearance and severity, primarily appearing on the face, chest, and back. Many teenagers struggle with acne and it can linger well into adulthood. Whether acne is mild or severe, the best approach to treatment is individualized, utilizing natural and safe therapies from a qualified holistic health practitioner. Let’s take a closer look at the factors that play a role in the development of acne and holistic “from the inside out” approaches commonly used to heal acne.

What Does Acne Look Like?

The appearance of acne can vary from person to person and where it appears on the body.

  • Scaly red skin (seborrhea)
  • Pinheads (papules)
  • Blackheads/whiteheads
  • Nodules or cysts
  • Rash-like clusters

Scarring can result from acne that is inflamed, picked-at, or not properly treated. The results can be emotionally crushing for both teens and adults. Consequently, over $100 million dollars annually is spent on non-prescription treatments for acne.

How Acne Develops

Problems can begin at any age and there is no reliable method to estimate how long it takes to clear up. When acne arises, it’s due to changes in the skin structures deep below the surface including hair follicles and sebaceous glands (oil-producing). Development of acne is often multifaceted including factors such as:

  • Family history
  • Hormonal Changes
  • Stress level
  • Exposure to toxins or irritants
  • Nutrition
  • Abrasive cleansing products
  • Use of cosmetics containing allergens, irritants, and chemicals

Of these factors, nutrition exerts the strongest influence over the prevention and healing of acne. The nourishment we give our bodies fuels many processes that affect the organs of detoxification. Specifically, the liver and the skin (integumentary system) help keep the surface of the skin glowing.

7 Simple Dietary Habits to Support Healthy Skin

  1. Hydrate! Drink plenty of water throughout the day. Healthcare recommendations vary from 6-8 glasses of water a day, to drinking at least one-half your body weight (in pounds) in ounces. Talk with your holistic practitioner about what’s right for you, based on your health and lifestyle, including diet, exercise, occupation, climate, supplements and other therapies.
  2. Avoid sugar-laden drinks and reduce caffeine intake. The theory is that caffeine invokes the stress response (it elevates HR, BP, cortisol,etc.), and circulating stress hormones contribute to acne. Overconsumption of caffeine may trigger and worsen existing acne.
  3. Eat fresh, raw fruits and vegetables, nuts, and seeds– opt for nutrient-dense foods.
  4. Avoid hydrogenated /partially hydrogenated oils/fats such as those found in processed food.
  5. Take nutritional supplements to support the skin (e.g., zinc, vitamin D/ E/ A).
  6. Take a probiotic to support gut health (another detox pathway).
  7. Take Essential Fatty Acids, which are important to skin health.

Holistic Skin Care Tips

  • Avoid harsh cleansing products such as astringents. These initially feel refreshing, but their potency actually dries out the skin, signaling the glands to produce more oil.
  • Utilize plant-based (botanical) cleansers that contain herbs and floral components that are gentle and effective for nourishing and cleansing the skin. Some common botanical ingredients are calendula, chamomile, cucumber, citrus, rose, Manuka honey, tea tree, witch hazel, among many others. Avoid cleansers that contain any plant to which you have an allergy or sensitivity.
  • Explore Phytotherapy (the medical use of plant extracts), which can include a variety of botanicals that are used topically or taken in a tincture or capsule, depending upon the severity of the acne.
  • Wash daily with lukewarm water and a gentle soap such as one made from goat’s milk, olive oil, or coconut oil. Follow with a cool rinse.
  • Use a soft clean washcloth or a soft, natural sponge (change monthly to avoid build-up of bacteria).
  • Use a toner when you are not able to wash your face midday or after exercising (look for a mild herbal-based product). Saturate a small face sponge or cotton ball and apply in smooth strokes across the skin to remove sweat, oil and dirt.
  • Apply moisturizer daily.
  • Change pillow covers weekly.

Finally, to soothe flare-ups, nourish the skin with herbal salves and essential oil compresses to suit individual needs. To discover what phytotherapy-based cleansing routine, nutritional supplements, and dietary changes would best support your skin’s needs, consult with a holistic health practitioner.


Top 10 Things Treated with Acupuncture

tcm-pointsAcupuncture is mainstream these days, depending on the area of the country you live. It’s covered by most insurance plans (at least in Washington, where I practice) and every week I have at least one patient who experiences it for their very first time.  Some are simply curious and others have tried “everything” to address their complaint.  Often during these visits I get asked what acupuncture treats.  My response it typically “everything”. Acupuncture stems from the larger medical theory and practice called Traditional Chinese Medicine which also include herbs, physical medicine, and Qi Gong. These are usually applied in combination. Rather than a vague answer though, let me sum up my experience for what acupuncture is very effective for.

1. Low Back Pain.  Without a doubt one of the top complaints that walks into most acupuncturists’ offices.  Western medicine has been trying to uncover how acupuncture is so darn good at treating this problem and the jury is still out. Much research has gone into studying low back pain and acupuncture, because, again and again, it works.

2. Migraines/Headaches. Whether a patient comes in in acute pain or they simply have a history of severe headaches, acupuncture can work immediately to reduce the severity of the headache, prolong the time before a reoccurrence and reduce the duration.

3. “Women’s issues”. Chinese Medicine has so many options for women with menstrual issues, acupuncture being just one.  Whether you are experiencing amenorrhea (or no period), severe cramping before and during your period, irregular cycles, and general PMS symptoms, I encourage you to seek out a practitioner and give it a try over your next 3 cycles. I’ve had patients’ fibroids reduce in size just using acupuncture and periods returning.

4. Menopausal Symptoms.  To piggy back on number 3.  Bio-identical hormones are the hot topic and quick shotgun approach these in the natural health world to treat hormone imbalances and menopausal symptoms.  However, I’ve found using acupuncture and Chinese herbs provides better, safer, and long-term benefits that ease women into the next phase of their life.

5. Smoking and Addiction.  Acupuncture provides a great deal of benefit for those trying to quit smoking or overcome addiction.  There is even a national training program that deals specifically with acupuncture and addiction treatment.

6. Stress-related illness.  This is obviously a broad category.  Being in health care it’s hard for me to think of a complaint that isn’t affected by stress.  However, how many of us suffer from insomnia, anxiety, irritability, fatigue, and on and on.  Acupuncture works by moving energy, stress stops the flow of energy which produces symptoms.  By addressing the stress, acupuncture is able to treat this larger symptom picture.

7. IBS/GI conditions. How many of us experience something wrong in our GI system?  I don’t just mean the occasional reaction after a glutinous meal. I mean those that have to know where a bathroom is at all times or those who haven’t used the bathroom for days.  Our brain and gut our directly connected. Acupuncture is a wonderful tool at alleviated much of the emotional upheaval that then leads to a GI upheaval.

8. Fertility.  Yes, you’ve all heard by now and maybe even experienced acupuncture in managing challenges associated with getting pregnant. There are acupuncture clinics solely devoted to fertility and improving one’s chances of conceiving. For some, it can be miraculous.

9. Acute Illness.  Many of my own patients don’t even think about this.  They come in to address a specific complaint with acupuncture.  It’s at a later visit that they tell me they had a terrible sinus infection, cough, sore throat, etc.  I smile and ask why they didn’t come to see me?! I’ve been the patient with stabbing pain in my throat, white spots on my tonsils and a fever unsure if I should go see a regular doctor, try and treat myself, or see what the acupuncturist could do for me.  I walked out of any hour visit with the acupuncturist, sore throat completely gone, and functional within a couple days!

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