Tag Archives: boosting immunity

H1N1 Protection: Simple Ways With Water

Here are some “water ways” to protect yourself from H1N1 and other forms of flu.  (As always, check with your doctor before doing anything that affects your body.)

First, the source: Dr Vinay Goyal MBBS, MD, DM 
is Associate Professor in the Department of Neurology
Neurosciences Centre at All India Institute of Medical Sciences. Continue reading

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H1N1 Pandemic: Boost Your Immunity

The World Health Organization has determined the H1N1 outbreak is a pandemic.  That in itself is not a measure of the severity of the so-called “swine flu” – just of its dispersion now into Australia, too. I asked Alexa Fleckenstein, M.D., to comment about ways to protect oneself. Here is her advice—which should, of course, never replace a consultation with  your doctor or health care professional. Always check before taking any over-the-counter or herbal supplements to make sure they are right for you. In addition, there are several ways  to use water, including saltwater rinses, to protect yourself from viruses, explained here.

So far, the swine flu has been mild – lethality does not even reach that of “normal” flu outbreaks which kill more than 30,000 people every year. The unfortunate people, who die, usually have underlying diseases which compromise their immune systems. The fear is that this flu might mutate like the 1918/19 flu did, and come down on us the second time around with a vengeance. Normally, mutations are such that the virus dies out–and it would be an extremely rare event that it would mutate into a much stronger strain. Nevertheless, that is the thinking behind taking the swine flu seriously now–mostly to observe it evolve (or perish).
Advice From Dr. Alexa (but always check with your doctor first)
Meanwhile, get enough sleep, take your herbs, eat plenty of vegetables, drink warm water and/or herbal teas. And it is never too late to start challenging your immune system with daily cold showers – unless you are already coming down with something.
Another anti-viral concoction I want to share with you is the Chinese Jian Qiao Jie Du Pian or Isatis 6, also called Honeysuckle-Forsythia Detoxifier. It might be a good idea to have some of those pills at hand when you get sick (get them from a reputable source). During the next H1N1 outbreak – or any seasonal viral disease that might come along.

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Filed under cold shower health benefits, colds and flu, Herbs

Strength and Serenity for Women With Cancer

In what appears to be a perfect union between Western academic medicine and complementary/alternative treatment, a Harvard Medical School oncologist is studying the use of acupuncture to help alleviate the symptoms and side effects of cancer treatment for women. Cancer specialist and surgeon Annekathryn Goodman, MD has added acupuncture certification to her many other credentials and now offers this complementary treatment to her patients undergoing cancer treatment at the Vincent Women’s Care Division of Massachusetts General Hospital.

“My personal vision is to create a center for women with cancer that I am calling ‘Strength and Serenity,’ says Dr. Goodman. “My goal is to use complementary modalities, particularly acupuncture, to alleviate the symptoms and side effects of cancer and its treatment that we have difficulty managing with Western medicine.” She has found the treatment helpful for alleviating neuropathy—pain or burning or numbness in hands and feet, as well as nausea from chemotherapy or radiation or from the cancer itself. “Sometimes I treat women before the chemo, which seems to lessen their suffering,” she says. “Acupuncture also seems to help people who are done with their therapy but still have side effects such as fatigue, depression and anxiety as well as neuropathy. So many people are on antidepressants to help them with their stress. Acupuncture seems to help alleviate symptoms.”

Since 2004, Dr. Goodman has been transforming a sterile  Mass General exam room into a tranquil environment for hour-long sessions of acupuncture, which uses tiny needles to stimulate energy or “qi” (pronounced “chi”) points on the body, based on 5,000-year-old methods from Traditional Chinese Medicine. She uses heat lamps to warm up the needles, replaces harsh fluorescent lights with softly glowing lamps, plays soothing music and adds bamboo shoots and fabrics as decoration. “My focus is to balance the patient’s energy, or life force,” says Dr. Goodman, “This treats the ‘root’ of the problem, which then helps to alleviate the ‘branch’ symptom, whether it is constipation, nausea, headache or depression.” (Please see How Do We Heal for more details of acupuncture.)

In a recent research collaboration among the Mass General Vincent Women’s Care Division, Brigham and Women’s Hospital, and the Dana Farber Cancer Center, acupuncture was found to create a modest improvement in white blood cell counts among women undergoing treatment for ovarian cancer. (Cancer treatment tends to lower white blood cell counts, which compromises the immune system.) In a review of worldwide data about the use of acupuncture to alleviate side effects of cancer treatment, Dr. Goodman found that the evidence in support of acupuncture was “helpful but the data was mixed.” “It is hard to unify existing data in a scientific way,” she says. “But there is certainly interest around the world in studying the use of acupuncture to alleviate the suffering of cancer patients.” For her part, she hopes to continue the work of the Strength and Serenity Center to conduct education, research and clinical care not only about acupuncture, but also about other forms of complementary care for women with cancer.

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Filed under acupuncture, Cancer, depression, Healing, Health, Stories of Hope

FDA and the Cold Shower Remedy

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has written that “It’s not chicken soup. Believe it or not, a much more unorthodox therapy of warm-and-cold showers has recently been proposed–though not proven–for the prevention of the common cold.” The article goes on to identify water therapy researcher Edzard Ernst, M.D., who wrote  about shower therapy: “An efficient, practical and inexpensive prophylaxis [preventive measure] against one of the most frequent (and ‘expensive’) diseases has been identified at last.” In a 1987 research study comparing a “cold shower”group with a control group for 6 months, Ernst found that the cold shower group’s colds were “significantly fewer, significantly milder, and slightly shorter.”

Well, even if not “proven” to the FDA’s satisfaction yet, cold showers are worth considering as flu season looms ever closer, and here is some research evidence. As noted before in this space, however, cold showers may not be for you if you have uncontrolled high blood pressure or a circulation problem, so always check with your doctor first!

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Stress and Disease: An Important Connection

I heard a fascinating radio interview today with Dr. Ester Sternberg, a rheumatologist, researcher, and author of “The Balance Within,” a book about the ways in which the brain, mind, and body interact.  I completely agree that our  minds, brains,and bodies are intimately connected: When the mind perceives something as stressful, a cascade of  hormones, such as cortisol and adrenaline, are released. This is useful when you need to slam on your brakes to avoid a collision, but harmful if these hormones are not “switched off” when the stressful situation is over. Stress hormones flooding your body for days or weeks at a time depress your immune system, leaving you more open to disease. In the interview, Dr. Sternberg clearly explained the biochemistry underlying the connection between stress and disease.

All the more reason to practice yoga, Tai chi, and meditation and try to reduce the sources of stress in our lives! I must always add, of course, that if one is ill, it is important to recognize that certain diseases are simply beyond our control, and NOT to feel a sense of “failure” about somehow having the “wrong” state of mind. At the same time, there is always hope and the possibility of becoming whole, and living fully in every moment.

This is an excerpt from an article that Dr. Sternberg wrote on the subject with Philip W. Gold.

The brain and the immune system continuously signal each other, often along the same pathways, which may explain how state of mind influences health The belief that the mind plays an important role in physical illness goes back to the earliest days of medicine. From the time of the ancient Greeks to the beginning of the 20th century, it was generally accepted by both physician and patient that the mind can affect the course of illness, and it seemed natural to apply this concept in medical treatments of disease. After the discovery of antibiotics, a new assumption arose that treatment of infectious or inflammatory disease requires only the elimination of the foreign organism or agent that triggers the illness. In the rush to discover antibiotics and drugs that cure specific infections and diseases, the fact that the body’s own responses can influence susceptibility to disease and its course was largely ignored by medical researchers.

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Filed under Healing, Health, mental health, stress, Tai Chi, Uncategorized, Yoga

Cold Water for Babies?

Rose asks an interesting question about whether to use cold water for babies. Here is an answer from Alexa Fleckenstein, M.D., my cold water expert and the author of Health 2 0:

Dear Rose,
Yes, you can apply cold water to babies. This is done in the tradition of European Natural Medicine to raise strong, robust children.
When my son was four months old, I started him. I filled his little pink tub with cold water, cradled the naked baby in my hands and very quickly dunked him in—but not his head. It took a second or so. For babies, the head always stays outside the water.
He took a deep gasp but never cried. He was so astonished about what had happened and so busy with thinking that he never had time to protest.
Can’t remember when I stopped it – but certainly I would not force a protesting toddler under cold water.
Now that our son is a young man, he follows the family tradition and ends each warm shower with a cold one, and he has become a healthy outdoorsman.

Tell us how your baby likes it!
Alexa Fleckenstein M.D.

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Filed under children's health, cold shower health benefits, Healing, Health, Uncategorized, Water

Weeds for Health: Live from Your Garden!

The summer solstice is a wonderful time to harvest nourishment from your garden. I caught up with herbal expert Alexa Fleckentein, M.D., just coming in from her garden with an armful of grapevines (vitis vitifera), considered a bad weed here in the Northeast. “I used to swear and mutter when I pulled them out,” says Dr. Alexa. “Now I delight: A study has shown that grape leaves are even higher than red wine in resveratrol, a phytoalexin known to prolong life and prevent cancer.” The Greeks have been making little dolmades from grape leaves—stuffed with rice, herbs and pine nuts – for thousands of years. Dr. Alexa’s cooking method is simpler: She adds the grape leaves to her vegetable stir-fry (recipes in her book), and freezes them to use all winter long. “Simple, cheap, and healthy,” she says.

If you live in the South, advises Dr. Alexa, you might substitute kudzu (pueraria montana). “Kudzu has some marvelous properties too,” she says. “It is high in vitamins A and C, and also contains calcium. It comes in handy as an anti-inflammatory food (and is a much better source of calcium than inflammatory dairy products). Everybody in the South complains about this obnoxious weed. How about eating it as a revenge?”

And when you are done with your stir-fry, enjoy Dr. Alexa’s famous Garden Tea, described in her book and in this article. “I throw all the other edible weeds in my garden—as well as many plants and flowers—into my daily Garden Tea, which is filled with the healing properties of Nature’s pharmacy,” says Dr. Alexa. “Everything that’s not poisonous can go in there – from kitchen herbs to dandelions, from rose petals to pine needles. But REALLY: You have to know what you are doing and what to avoid. One hundred percent!!” Details are in her book, but she strongly advises taking an herb course to be sure you know what NOT to include!

The first time I made Garden Tea, for example, I proudly threw in a hydrangea flower—it was so pretty! Then I called Dr. Alexa while it was steeping to check on whether this was OK to include. “Throw the whole tea away!” she commanded at once. “Hydrangea leaves and flowers are poisonous.” I was sad to see it go, but I head learned my lesson: When in doubt, throw it out!

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Filed under Cancer, Healing, Herbs

Why I Like Tai Chi

The slow, flowing movements look like a dance, but it is what goes on inside the body that makes Tai chi different: During a class recently, I felt as if my body were getting hooked up to a universal “filling station” and being replenished with energy. The result? Better ease of movement, increased flexibility and a sense of peaceful well-being. I do a “short form” almost every morning that takes all of ten minutes, one of the helpful ways I have found to live with Marfan syndrome.

Tai chi originated thousands of years ago as part of the ancient system of Traditional Chinese Medicine. The movements have their origins in martial arts, but are performed slowly, with controlled breathing and an awareness of the flow of energy inside the body. Tai chi has been called “moving meditation.”

Studies have found that Tai chi strengthens the immune system and can help with pain caused by osteoarthritis of the knee. In other research, Tai chi has been found to improve balance and coordination in older people, and reduce falls. It can also help with osteoporisis by  increasing bone density.

All in all, not a bad ten-minute investment of time. Anyone else have Tai chi stories to share?

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Filed under Aging, Chronic Pain, Healing, Health, Marfan Syndrome, Tai Chi, Traditional Chinese Medicine

Cold, Happy Half Bath

“Traditionally, cold sitzbaths — also called happy half baths — have been recommended against hemorrhoids, varicose veins and infertility (of both sexes),” says board-certified internist and expert in European Natural Medicine Alexa Fleckenstein, MD. “Taken in the evening, they work against insomnia. Done regularly, they promote immune health and disease resistance, similar to cold showers. I take mine because I want to emulate the wonderful feeling I have when I swim in the cold waters of Maine in the summer; my cold sitzbath in the morning leaves me with the same elation and freshness, geared for another strenuous day.”

The name “sitzbath” is a halfway translation from German into English: The original word is “Sitzbad”. “Sitz” means “to sit” and “bad” is “bath”. Dr. Fleckenstein advises that a cold sitzbath should not be done for more than a few seconds. You should not feel cold afterward – just energized and really warm within a few minutes. And never do any cold water treatment on a cold body – Rule Number One in all hydrotherapy. “Let cold water run into a clean bathtub – two to three inches is enough,” says Dr. Fleckenstein. “Sit. Don’t forget to splash – it’s fun! Get out and towel off. That’s all. Some hardy people recommend skipping the toweling in the evening and going into bed wet, promoting sleepiness.”

While sitzbaths have a long tradition in European Natural Medicine, there is not much sound research evidence. “However,” says Dr. Fleckenstein, “my patients have benefited. As is the case with many natural therapies, studies have not been done because there’s no money to be made. Nobody can make a buck if I sit for a few seconds in cold water in my tub!”

Contraindications from Dr. Fleckenstein: “Don’t do a cold sitzbath during an acute urinary tract infection, acute back pain and any acute disease. And always check with your doctor first.”

For more information on cold, warm and hot baths, see her book, Health20.

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Herbs for Health

Here are some herbs that will help you have stay healthy, especially during winter. My expert is Alexa Fleckenstein, MD, author of Health2 0 and Healthy to 100. Here is what she told me:

“Herbs have been with us throughout evolution. They fit into our ancient physiology like a key into a lock. In prehistoric times, we always ate herbs from the wild. In modern life, a bitter green or strong root might just be what your body needs to find its way back to balance.”

Unlike the new “superbugs” that are resistant to antibiotics, bacteria and viruses do not easily develop resistance against herbs, says Dr. Fleckenstein. That is because a single herb contains hundreds or more of compounds, and many of these compounds work on killing off the germs. Since point mutations in bacteria can only develop one by one, it is highly unlikely that an herb becomes ineffective against a pathogen, because there will always be plenty of compounds to destroy the microbes first.

“The word for these compounds working together is synergy,” she explains. “Synergy is the reason why I recommend whole herbs (tinctures or so-called phytocaps with extracts of the whole plant) instead of ‘taking the best’ from several pants, and making a patented medicine. Patent medicines exist because natural plants can’t be patented, and so firms try to make money by taking single compounds from a plant, combining it with other single compound, thus producing a ‘new’ medicine which allegedly is better. The truth is that in many cases it is not better because you cannot improve on nature.”

So what does Dr. Fleckenstein recommend that you have on hand this winter in case illness strikes?

For colds and flu: echinacea, osha, pau d’arco, olive leaf, elderberry
For simple urinary tract infection: Uva ursi, usnea, cranberry. (Drink lots of warm water, too.)
For indigestion: dandelion, peppermint, milk thistle. (And think of cleaning up your diet!)
For cough: horehound, echinacea, linden flowers
For insomnia: valerian, hops, passionflower

Important caution: Always check with your doctor before taking any herb, since there could be dangerous interactions with other medicines you are taking!

For more information, check out her books (which include not only advice about herbs, but also about cold water, nutrition, movement and life balance). Another great resource is The Green Pharmacy, by ethnobotanist James Duke.

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