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 awake half the night. 

I threw out the pills and turned to Eastern Medicine, which offers many formulas that can 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 early stage Lyme’s Disease, I would probably 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 including beer and wine, unfortunately).

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 fresh food. Who knows what is hiding in your take out food. Unless you eat at a restaurant that carefully sources their food, what you will get is low quality mass produced 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. If you can find a Chinese herb shop, these formulas are always stocked.

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

  • 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.