How to Beat Cold and Flu Season Naturally

Two winters ago, I got the dreaded strep throat - painful swallowing, white goop in the back of the throat, vomiting and headache. The predominant message concerning strep bacteria is that it is dangerous, can lead to rheumatic fever and heart valve complications, and that one should quickly take antibiotics. 

I did go straight away to the doctor and took what was prescribed - Amoxicillin - the most widely used treatment for strep. By day three, my entire body broke out in unbearably itchy welts. I went straight to the ER where the doctor looked at me cross eyed when I suggested it was a drug reaction. She prescribed me steroids for the hives, which did nothing except keep me up half the night. 

I threw out the pills and turned to Eastern Medicine, which has many formulas that kill viruses and bacteria effectively at specific stages of disease, and have been used for centuries. I found, through a certified herbalist, a modification of a centuries old formula called Chuan Xin Lian. Within hours, I was feeling better. Sore throat diminished immediately and hives dissipated. This story is not to say Eastern Medicine trumps Western. It is also not to say that one should never take antibiotics. If I were diagnosed with Lyme’s Disease today, for example, I would immediately take Doxycycline. What this story is meant to illustrate is that sometimes you can find better solutions than antibiotics. 

By now, most people are aware that antibiotics should only be taken when necessary and that overprescription has led to antibiotic resistant strains of bacteria. But most people are not aware of just how many alternatives there are in the form of whole foods, herbs, and tinctures.

Antibiotic medications wipe out harmful as well as beneficial gut bacteria. Not only do we need beneficial gut bacteria for digestive function, it is the foundation of a healthy immune function. Many times I have treated patients who complain of frequent colds, bronchitis, and other infections, and discover that as a child they were given many rounds of antibiotics and their immune systems have never quite recovered. 

So how can we heal our gut from past antibiotic use and how can we build a healthy gut so that it is optimal for all functions, including immunity? 

1.  Eat mostly warm nourishing food.         

Eat a varied diet of foods, full of colors, and avoid too much cold and raw foods, iced drinks, juices, and cold smoothies that weaken digestive energy. Monkeys have much longer large intestinal tracts than humans because eating raw fruits requires a lot of digestive tract. We do not have the intestinal capacity to deal with excessive raw cold food. Your stomach appreciates warmth, and cooking food even a little bit will make it way more easy to absorb. Juicing may seem to give a boost of energy, but that is due to the glycemic spike in blood. The byproduct of juicing is a weakened digestive fire, and phlegm accumulation. Sometimes that manifests as allergies, skin problems, aching joints, and tendency toward bacterial infections.

2. Eat prebiotic foods.

Prebiotics are undigestible plant fibers that probiotics consume in your intestinal tract. They increase the population of friendly bacteria and block the growth of harmful bacteria. There is basically a perpetual battle going on in your body between good and bad bacteria. You feel better when the good guys are winning. Here are some examples of prebiotic foods to consume:

Garlic, onions, dandelion greens, asparagus, jicama root, oats, barley, jerusalem artichoke, leeks, apples, cocoa, burdock root, flax seeds, seaweed, radishes, coconut meat.

3. Eat foods or make teas that are naturally antibiotic.

These include oregano, thyme, garlic, ginger, pau d'arco (can find in tea form at any health store), echinacea, manuka honey, horseradish, cinnamon, onions, grapefruit seed extract, eucalyptus, cumin, olive leaf, apple cider vinegar, turmeric, cabbage, fermented foods (not beer and wine)

4. Avoid these mucous forming foods that aid harmful bacteria:

The following are foods that are hospitable to bad bacteria like E. Coli, and that create phlegm and mucous throughout the respiratory tract and the joints. They make you foggy, fatigued, and prone to runny noses or skin irritations or an achy body:

Sugar, Alcohol, Dairy (including yogurt), Processed / chemical foods, Fried and greasy food

5. Cook at home often. 

I know you’re busy, but try to get into the habit of making your own food. Take-out food sometimes has MSG as the star ingredient, and we wonder why we feel lousy. Unless you eat at a restaurant that carefully sources their food, what you will get islow quality factory food with a long shelf life, high sodium, preservatives, and lots of sugar.

6. Stock up on immune supporting remedies.

At the first sign of a pathogen, try some immune strengthening herbs. Here are the ones I use and combine, and they often keep a virus away or shorten its duration:

  • Sore throat or post nasal drip - Standard Process Throat Spray

  • Feverishness and sore throat - Yin Qiao San

  • At first sign of a cold (sneezing, lethargy, runny nose, scratchy throat) - Olive Leaf Extract, Echinacea / Goldenseal tincture

  • Chills or upset stomach - Ginger tincture or fresh ginger root tea

  • Stomach Flu - Huo Xiang Zheng Qi Tang

May you have a healthy Fall and Winter.

What Should I Feed My Kids?

What Should I Feed My Kids?  Eastern Medicine’s Perspective

by Nancy Allen, LAc.

About a week ago, I sat on the subway with my six year old boy and watched in agony as a little girl about his age sat across from us and vacuumed an entire roll of bubble gum tape into her mouth in one continuous chomp. The adult next to her didn’t seem to notice. Here is what her poor little organs had to deal with in that two minutes: 42 grams of sugar (!), Gum Base, Corn Syrup, Glycerol, Artificial Flavors, Corn Starch, Acesulfame K, Aspartame, BHT, Red number 40 (a known carcinogen), and last but not least - Phenylalanine (associated with seizures, anxiety, and sleep disorders). Hopefully, she consumed some water and some real food that day to help her body deal with all of that, although I assume it wasn’t the only ‘treat’ she had that day.

Kids love sugar and they always ask for it. It’s a wonderful feeling to give them a treat, but often we give them poison without a second thought. When I was a kid, I ate buckets and buckets of sugar and fake stuff - Kool Aid, Tang (mysterious orange powder drink), M&M’s, Snickers, Nerds, vending machine pastries that may have been shelved for months. I could fill this whole page with examples. The result was that I constantly had a runny nose. You could never find me without a tissue in my hand. My friends had a phrase, “bless you infinity” so they wouldn’t have to keep blessing my sneezes, and hives popped up all over my body on select lucky days. 

At age 9, I went for an allergy test where the nurse injected three rows of six allergens into my arm to see what I would react to. All of the bumps swelled up into one mass of red itchiness. I was allergic to everything, they concluded. After two months of weekly shots and no improvement, I asked the nurse how long I would have to continue. No joke, she frankly replied, “forever" and I never went back.

It was not until decades later, when I studied Eastern Medicine’s understanding of nutrition, I finally realized that the milk with my cereal, and the sugary cold orange juice I was having every morning were exactly the worst breakfast I could have had and that my diet of sugary, toxic, mucous causing food was the reason I felt lousy all the time. When I changed my diet, my allergies vanished.

According to Eastern Medicine, children’s digestive systems are naturally deficient. When the digestive energy is weak, then phlegm and dampness form as a byproduct. What does the digestive system find hard to process? Cold, sweet food and drinks, and processed food. Cold food includes raw food. Yes, raw food contains more enzymes, but our digestive energy has to take everything we consume, bring it to temperature, and then convert it into nutrients. Think of it as a fire pit in your belly. Pouring juice onto the fire pit may give you an energy boost from the sugar and vitamins, but it puts out the fire and your body will have less energy to process what you consume. 

Sugar and dairy readily create mucous even in adult bodies, but more so in a developing digestive system. What do we feed our kids? Ice cream, candy, pizza, juice, and highly processed food like hot dogs and boxed macaroni and cheese. The result is not only phlegm forming in their body and often taking up residence in the respiratory system, it is an overall compromised immune system, since the immune system gets its strength from the health of the gut. The lining of the digestive tract contains immune cells. Kids with a weakened gut will end up suffering from frequent colds, asthma, allergies, skin conditions like eczema, and when they get sick, their mucous sticks around for weeks. 

Countless times I have heard parents complain, “Well the cold is gone, but the phlegm will not go away” as the child munches on a cupcake and juice. The food we give them is almost always sweet, sugary, milky and cold. It’s what they enjoy and crave, but it’s what damages their digestive and respiratory health the most.

So what should I feed my kid, you ask? Number one - feed them real food. You never need to go to the canned food aisle or the frozen food section. If you’re busy and you don’t have a lot to spend, you can still make it work. Eating healthy doesn’t have to be expensive. Cooking black beans from scratch costs about $5 to feed four people. For some healthy, kid friendly recipes, Wellness Mama has great ideas. 

To counterbalance a kid’s weak digestive system, feed them mostly warm, tasty, easy to digest foods. Soups and stews will keep them strong. The following foods are especially good at dispelling mucous: onion, cinnamon, ginger, scallion, basil, rosemary, dill, oregano, sage, parsley, cardamom, nutmeg, fennel, anise, clove, coriander, leek, chives, aduki beans, rye, celery, lettuce, alfalfa, turnips, and raw honey.

If they have been exposed to antibiotics and have a weakened immune system, try giving them a daily children’s probiotic, or if they will eat fermented food like sauerkraut, that will be even more effective to boost gut flora. When I look at pictures of myself from childhood, I almost always see a grumpy little face. Kids are grumpy when they don’t feel well. Healthy kids make a happier family.

Does Acupuncture Work?

I have been asked this question countless times. What I would often like to do is give a sarcastic response. 'Well I don't know but I figure since I spent all that time and money getting my degree and license, I just keep at it.' Instead I say something like, "In my clinical experience, yes, it works." People usually try acupuncture after they have tried everything else. And they almost always leave pleasantly surprised.
Acupuncture has been around for thousands of years. Teachers have passed on their skill, their lineage, and their clinical wisdom to their students. If it didn't work, I imagine somewhere in all those years, clinicians would have realized it didn't work and they would have tried something else. People everywhere exclaim yes, acupuncture works, despite biomedicine's scientific double-blind tests' inability to grant acupuncture the clinical respect it deserves. 
How does it work? It moves stagnation out of excess areas of your body, and directs energy to places that are deficient, and it stimulates your body to heal itself. (fMRI study of how acupuncture stimulates the limbic system of the brain). Therefore, it can treat just about anything. People often come to acupuncture for one major complaint and find that a handful of other complaints improve.

Western medical language doesn't deal with Qi and meridians. In order to get a picture of how acupuncture works, one has to be open to learning a whole new view of the body. Our Western view of the body is as a machine with disparate parts. There are systems that work independently and there are layers of muscle, tissue, bone, fluids, and blood. 

Acupuncture's view of the body takes all of that into account but also sees the subtle levels. It sees the body less as a machine and more like a network of rivers, channels, estuaries of flowing and stagnating energy. Each part is connected to another and to the whole. The individual is also connected and influenced by nature and the world - microcosm and macrocosm. Bringing a person to health means balancing all of these influences as they exist uniquely in each body.

A couple weeks ago, I was treating an MD and he remarked that he would never have given acupuncture a try if his wife hadn't forced him. I replied with a laugh that it was funny because I avoid western docs unless I feel like I'm dying. Luckily, he laughed too. I certainly respect Western Medicine, but taking a pill to mask a pain while causing a host of other problems doesn't appeal to me or many other folks. I would rather get to the root of the illness, if I can.

A good acupuncturist will not only needle you, they will give you a diagnosis that you can understand and advise you on how to best nurture yourself. If we incorporate acupuncture and the wisdom of Eastern medicine into our lives, we can certainly keep the doctor away. :)

How to Eradicate Hate

“In a time of anger or despair, even if we feel overwhelmed, our love is still there. Our capacity to communicate, to forgive, to be compassionate is still there. You have to believe this. We are more than our anger, we are more than our suffering.
We must recognize that we do have within us the capacity to love, to understand, to be compassionate, always.”

- Thich Nhat Hanh


If you're like me, you are concerned about the hatred and bigotry we are seeing this political season. Perhaps the hatred is nothing new. It has been a latent pathogen that is now expressing itself more loudly.
In Eastern Medical philosophy, we view the world as inseparable from ourselves. The individual is a microcosm of the whole. When there is disease in the whole, there is a seed for it in the each of us. When there is so much anger and hatred in our world, we have no choice but to search inside our own hearts for the cause.
This is how I'm working to eradicate hate:

  • I ask myself, what do I hate? I may not believe there is anything I outright hate, but if I investigate, I might be habitually operating at a low level of hate - irritated with people in my way as I rush to work; annoyed with people I live with; judgmental and dismissive of people on social media; longstanding resentment toward one or more people in my life for which I have strongly cemented stories in my mind concerning who they are and what qualities I believe to be inherent in them. 
  • Once I have identified some things to work on, I decide to take responsibility and proactively send a ripple of peace into the world by creating antidotes for my own dislike.
  • Perhaps I decide to just focus on one person that I feel anger towards. When I interact with them, instead of allowing my habit of anger to dominate my mind unchecked, I watch it arise, and that simple awareness has detached me from my anger. That is the beginning of the end of that habit of anger.
  • If I can muster up the strength to act lovingly toward them or even have a loving thought for them, I dedicate that effort to eradicating hate. I say to myself 'may this act eradicate hate. May it create peace.'


If you're afraid of needles but curious about Eastern Medicine, perhaps you should try cupping. Practitioners use glass cups to create a suctioning effect by lighting the inside of the cups with fire and quickly applying the cup to acu points. The cups can either remain on the points or can be applied on lubricated skin and moved along the skin gently (sliding cupping) which is particularly effective for loosening painful muscles. The vacuum effect that is created by the fire draws pathogens from deep in the body out to the surface to be more readily circulated and eliminated. 

The earliest known records of cupping come from an Egyptian text in hieroglyphics in the Ebers Papyrus, the oldest medical textbook known, from 1550 BC. In it, cupping is used for treating fever, pain, vertigo, and menstrual imbalances. The history of Chinese cupping dates back to the year 281 AD, where it was described in a medical text called The Handbook of Prescriptions for Emergencies. The text was written by Ge Hong, a renowned herbalist and accomplished healer. During the Tang Dynasty, cupping was used as the main treatment for tuberculosis, and still today acupuncturists often use cupping to treat coughs and colds. 

Stay Strong in the Cold Months

In Classical Eastern Medicine, living healthfully meant harmonizing with the seasons. The cold months signaled time to slow down and rest. But New Yorkers tend to work even more in the winter months and pile on top of it holiday stress and sugar binging amidst a flourishing of cold and flu viruses.
Here are some helpful suggestions for keeping your body healthy and strong between acupuncture treatments:

1. Warm Foods
Putting cold drinks, smoothies, juices and salads into your belly, although they may be nutrient dense, will deplete your digestive energy, just like pouring cold water onto a fire. Depending on your constitution, this either immediately or eventually leads to more sluggish energy overall and more internal dampness in the form of weight gain or respiratory mucous. 
Besides cooking your food, choose foods that are warming. In general, the longer a vegetable takes to grow, the more warming it is internally. This is why root vegetables are such a good winter and fall choice.

2. Supplement
This is a good time to regularly boost your immune system. Some helpful daily immune supplements are Vitamin D, probiotics, Reishi Mushroom, and Elderberry.

3. Restore
Even if you are working a 14 hour day, you can find ten to fifteen minutes to lie down in a restorative pose and breathe mindfully to let your body realign and get out of fight or flight mode.
Try lying down on your back with your calves resting on a chair or couch or low bed. Stay there breathing slowly and fully until you have completely relaxed. 

4. Acupuncture
Research shows that acupuncture helps regulate the autonomic nervous system and is effective in boosting immunity.