Let’s face it. Sometimes even the most disciplined of us are going to overindulge. We convince ourselves it’s ok to eat one more bit of dessert, drink just one more drink, eat the whole bag of junk food we’ve been craving. But afterward, inevitably, we feel lousy. Especially during the holiday season, where for a couple months we are surrounded by Halloween candy, Thanksgiving turkey and Christmas desserts it’s no wonder most of us gain at least a few pounds. But, there are some things we can do to help avoid that after dinner heartburn. Here are 8 easy steps we can all take to avoid that bloated, sluggish feeling and revive us from our food coma.

  1. Portion Control I get it, we all know we shouldn’t overeat. But, once the food is on your plate, it’s only a short trip from the plate to your mouth, so it’s better to serve smaller portions to begin with. You can also use a smaller plate to the same effect. In the end moderation is key, because the more pressure at the bottom of your stomach, the longer food will have to stay in your stomach and there’s more chance for the food you just ate to try and go up, not down.
  2. Savor the Flavor Actually chew, swallow and taste your food, don’t vacuum it in and straight down. Digestion starts in the mouth with chewing the food into small pieces that are easier to digest. Enzymes in saliva begin to break down carbohydrates and your taste buds signal the rest of the digestive tract to get ready for the types of food it’s about to digest. Even before we put the food in our mouth the smell and the appearance of the food will trigger digestive enzymes in our body.
  3. Relax and Enjoy What we are thinking and feeling, and what state our body is in while eating, has a lot to do with how well we digest our food (or not!). If we are stressed, scared, or angry then our Flight or Fight(Sympathetic) System will be triggered. The sympathetic nervous system slows down digestion in order to move blood and resources to your muscles and the areas of your body will need to deal with the threat and stress. So, the more relaxed we are the more efficient our digestion is.
  4. 100 steps “If you take 100 steps after each meal, you’ll live to 99.” This common old Chinese saying (which sounds a lot better in Chinese because it rhymes) is actually quite true. There have been several studies (click here and here for those studies) showing moderate activity after eating improves blood sugar metabolism and assists in digestion. This doesn’t mean go for a run, because this will actually slow your digestion, but instead of slumping down in the chair and loosening our belt, it’s much better to go for a walk around the block or in the backyard.
  5. Eat Your Fiber – Only 5% of people in the US eat enough fiber. Fiber is the fibrous part of plants our bodies are unable to digest or absorb. This extra bulk helps move things through your digestive tract quicker, and is an important food for our gut bacteria. We can get more fiber in our diet simply by eating more whole fruits and vegetables. Avoid processed foods as most of the fiber in these has been removed.
  6. Warm It Up Spices such as garlic, coriander(cilantro), cardamom, basil, cumin and cinnamon are all considered warming in herbal medicine. They have been used throughout human history not just for their added flavor boost, but because of this warming quality on the digestion. This means spices increase circulation, activity and movement through the digestive tract. They help the body produce and release bile to digest fats, reduce cramping and bloating and in some cases directly fight off pathogens that may be in the food.
  7. Herbal Allies Perhaps one of the most well-known herbs for digestion is Ginger. Reducing nausea and bloating and stimulating movement through the digestive tract, ginger after a meal can greatly assist the whole digestive process. Shan Zha is a type of Hawthorne Berry very commonly consumed in China to help digestion. A berry that could be used for a similar purpose here in the US is the cranberry. Yep, that side dish of cranberry at Thanksgiving is more than just a pretty garnish! Digestive Bitters are another helpful remedy, especially when consuming meals high in fat. Bitters are a blend of many different herbs that target the liver, pancreas and other digestive organs in order to stimulate their digestive activity.
  8. Digestive Enzymes I’ll always recommend consuming whole foods and herbs over isolated chemical supplements, however, sometimes supplements can be a helpful “Band-Aid” solution. If we know we are going to eat something our body needs help with, or if we have a chronic digestive illness we can take these enzymes preventatively before the meal to give our body a little extra help. There are many digestive supplements on the market and many of them of good quality. Consult with your natural health practitioner about which might be most helpful for you. For a natural source of enzymes, two fruits, papaya and pineapple, contain papain and bromelain which are helpful in digesting protein.

Dark blue berries and star shaped clusters of cream white blossoms with a strong sweet and musty aroma, the elder is one of the most famous and revered of all herbs in the Western Hemisphere.

‘Our forefathers also held the Ellhorn holy wherefore whoever need to hew it down (or cut its branches) has first to make request “Lady Ellhorn, give me some of thy wood and I will give thee some of mine when it grows in the forest” – the which, with partly bended knees, bare head and folded arms was ordinarily done, as I myself have often seen and heard in my younger years.’ (Arnkiel)

Used for thousands of years as protection against the invasion of evil influences both physical and spiritual, today elder is recognized as an effective anti-viral. Tracing it’s use back to several thousand years before the common era, the elder tree has been one of humanities allies long before recorded history ever remarked upon its virtues. The entire plant, from the bark and leaves, to the flowers and berries has been used for everything from food and medicine to flutes and toys. Over the millennia elder has gained a reputation for having influence over spiritual forces, both evil and good.

In Cole’s Art of Simpling he relates:

‘in order to prevent witches from entering their houses, the common people used to gather Elder leaves on the last day of April and affix them to their doors and windows,’

Lady Northcote in The Book of Herbs says:

‘The Russians believe that Elder-trees drive away evil spirits, and the Bohemians go to it with a spell to take away fever. The Sicilians think that sticks of its wood will kill serpents and drive away robbers, and the Serbs introduce a stick of Elder into their wedding ceremonies to bring good luck. In England it was thought that the Elder was never struck by lightning, and a twig of it tied into three or four knots and carried in the pocket was a charm against rheumatism. A cross made of Elder and fastened to cowhouses and stables was supposed to keep all evil from the animals.’

Potent Antiviral

Today, the flower and berries of the elder plant have been extensively studied for their potent antiviral abilities against influenza and herpes simplex 1. They have also been shown to be anti-bacterial, anti-inflammatory and antipyretic (lowers fever). Elder’s blue berries are also high in Vitamin C, making elder a perfect herbal remedy with direct action against the virus or bacteria making you sick, and also relieving the many side effects that come along such as a high fever, sore throat, and inflamed airways.

Chinese Medicine and More

In Chinese Medicine Elder is described as cooling and able to expel superficial heat causing symptoms of cough, sore throat and malaise. This is the same use as what modern research indicates. Elder’s cooling nature is especially helpful at breaking a fever, and relieving the upper and outer areas of your body like the sinuses, throat and skin when they feel warm, congested and are inflamed. While best to take in the first days before feeling very sick, elderberry is a perfect immune boost even if you are already suffering from a cold or flu. More than just a cold and flu remedy however elder has many medicinal compounds inside that are antioxidant, beneficial for blood pressure and also assist in blood sugar metabolism.

Great Recipes to Enjoy

If you want to make your own medicine from elder it is quite easy. Simply make a tea with the freshly picked flowers or blue berries. Elder wine is a common treat enjoyed in Europe and a syrup made with the berries is a great way to get your kids to take their medicine. Click here for many great recipes using elder such as vinegar, syrup and a tasty cordial. I look forward to making this cordial every year! Keep in mind however, there are many types of elder tree out there though, and while the flowers and leaves can be used medicinally in all species, the blue berries are the only berries that should be consumed in any significant quantity. So, if you live in Colorado like I do where the main type of elder that grows in the mountains contains the red berries, please, only consume the flowers and not the berries.

  1. Chevalier, Andrew. Natural Health Encyclopedia of Herbal Medicine 2nd ed. New York, New York: Dorling Kindersley Ltd, 2000.
  2. Garran, Thomas Avery. (2008) Western Herbs According to Traditional Chinese Medicine: A Practitioner’s Guide. Rochester,      Vermont: Healing Arts Press.
  3. Grieve, Maude. (1971) A Modern Herbal. New York: Dover Publications, Inc.
  4. Hearst, Caroline et al. (2010) Antibacterial activity of elder (Sambucus nigra L.) flower or berry against hospital pathogens. Journal of Medicinal Plants Research, 4(17), 1805-1809.
  5. Vlachojannis, J. E., Cameron, M and Chrubasik, S. (2010) A Systematic Review on the Sambuci fructus Effect and Efficacy Profiles, Phytotheapy Research, 24, 1–8.

The deep red, orange and yellow leaves rustle in the crisp autumn wind. Day by day the sun sets a little earlier and the nights get cooler. Fall time. That magical transition between the heat of summer and the chill of winter where nature sheds the old before hibernating and beginning anew. So many iconic flavors and smells permeate the air this time of year but one of the most iconic is Pumpkin Spice. What is it about this blend of sweet and spicy herbs that we all love so much? Even the smell seems to soothe and comfort bringing thoughts of cuddling in front of the fire while scents of cinnamon and nutmeg waft through the house from a tasty treat baking in the warm oven. This blend of spices can vary, but is usually a blend of cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, clove and allspice.

All these herbs are considered to be warming in herbal medicine. Warming doesn’t necessarily refer to an actual hot temperature, although some may raise your body temperature and even cause you to sweat, but instead warming herbs more often refer to herbs that are able to increase movement, activity and circulation in the body. As it gets colder this time of year this blend of herbs can improve circulation in the body, reduce inflammation and help conditions such as arthritis and joint pain that often get worse in the wintertime. All these herbs also help the digestion. Helpful if you’re feasting more this holiday season, many studies have shown cinnamon’s ability to help reduce cholesterol and improve sugar metabolism. Ginger helps with this as well, and is also well known to reduce nausea, stomach upset, gas and bloating. Cloves, nutmeg and allspice have traditionally been used for digestive upset too. One of the most helpful attributes of these herbs however is to fight off infection. As cold and flu season comes into full swing, the aromatic chemicals that give these herbs their distinctive smells are all highly anti-bacterial. So if that wasn’t enough for you, placing clove oil on a sore tooth can reduce dental pain, and nutmeg has been shown to help reduce the degeneration of neural pathways that may lead to dementia or Alzheimer’s. Below is a recipe for some pumpkin spice you can make at home. Feel free to play with the proportions depending on what you like and add it to your coffee, oatmeal, or steamed milk with a little sweetener to make a tasty chai-like tea. Enjoy this traditional herbal blend with some great health benefits this season!

Pumpkin Spice Blend

2 Tbsp cinnamon

2 tsp ginger

2 tsp nutmeg

1 tsp cloves

1 tsp allspice


When you think of medicine do you think of fresh mountain air and cool glacier fed streams? A refreshing breeze rustling the aspen leaves wafting the scent of pine with just a hint of vanilla, while lazy fluffy white clouds drift past rocky peaks. Or, is medicine fluorescent lights, an antiseptic tang in the air; a chemical based world of drugs and pharmacy?  In the modern world of steel and glass high rises, cement and asphalt paved ground, it is easy to forget that only a couple generations ago the rainbow of flowers poking through the high mountain grass, the verdant world of grasses, trees and bushes, was the only medicine that has sustained us since the dawn of human existence.

This weekend the American Institute of Integrative Herbalism (AIIH) held our 3rd annual Colorado Mountain Medicinal Plant Field Study where we reconnected with the medicinal plants that grow in the mountains of our beautiful state. Students, clinicians and artists gathered in the picturesque Rocky Mountains to learn how the plants that grow all around us can be used for health and healing. In this modern world of surgery and biomedicine it is easy to forget that nearly 70%-80% of new drugs come from plants, but as you’re walking through the high mountain meadows, hearing each plant’s medicinal benefits, it is impossible to ignore each drop of color holding the whisper of medicine and the promise of health. Every day we encounter herbs that can be used to help many common ailments and here are just 4 of the highlights from this past weekend.


Many of us are familiar with this herb, and you may already be slapping on some Arnica gel or liniment to treat your sore, bruised and achey muscles and joints. Most of us however, don’t know that this beautiful yellow flower grows all over the Rocky Mountains. Like a burst of sunshine poking through the green underbrush, this powerful little plant has long been used topically for traumatic injuries and poor circulation. Infused into oil or alcohol some caution is needed when using this herb as it has some toxicity, and should never be applied to open wounds or taken internally.


Well known for helping us sleep, this plant is another common one that grows throughout much of North America. The root is the main part of the plant that is used. Having a unique, musky scent that some say is reminiscent of sweaty gym socks, it is immediately obvious when harvesting this plant that it contains strong, albeit pungent, medicine. While Valerian is deserved of its reputation as an herb to help sleep, some may find that it has the opposite effect and does not relax them at all. The reason for this, according to Chinese Herbal theory, is that Valerian is a “warming” herb and should not be used when someone has a warm constitution. Signs of warmth, or heat, in the body may include high blood pressure, acid reflux, easily red flushed skin and face, red eyes, generally feeling hot all the time, dry mouth and thirst, a bitter taste in the mouth and being easily irritated and angry. That means, if you have some or all of these symptoms it is best to consult with an experienced herbalist before using Valerian. However, more than just being an herb for insomnia Valerian has a long history of usage to treat joint pain, bruising, digestive pain and diarrhea.


Perhaps not as well known, this plant has recently gained popularity because of its ability to help adjust to high altitude environments and improve exercise performance. The species of Rhodiola that has been most studied is one that grows in Tibet, Mongolia and Siberia, but other species have been used extensively throughout Scandinavia and Europe as well. The Colorado species is quite similar to all of these and could potentially be used for a similar purpose. Aside from increasing oxygenation in the blood, it has also been shown to have positive effects on stress and cortisol levels, In some studies it has even been shown to be helpful in mental health conditions such as depression.


This plant grows all over the Northern Hemisphere of the world and has been used as medicine in nearly every culture since the beginning of human existence. Fossilized yarrow has been found in caves of Neanderthals dating back 40,000-60,000 years ago, and the latin name for yarrow, Achillea millefolium, is named after the Greek hero Achilles where legend says he learned of it from the ancient Greek healer Chiron, and used it to heal his soldiers during the Trojan War. Fortunately, this feather-leafed, white topped plant is ubiquitous in Colorado and perhaps one of our best local medicinals. An herb with many uses, it can help stop bleeding when applied topically, assist in sweating out a respiratory infection in the initial stages, relieve the pain of gas and indigestion in digestive upset, soothe menstrual cramps, ease pain and cramping in muscles and joints when applied topically and even calm symptoms associated with stress and depression. Truly if one were to only know one plant that grows in our beautiful Colorado mountains this would be it!

So, next time you take a hike, or even if you’re just walking around your local neighborhood or backyard, take a look at the plants growing all around you and know that many, if not most, of those plants may be edible or medicinal in some way. Of course, this article is not intended to give any medical advice, and please seek the advice of a trained herbalist before taking any herbal medicines you are unfamiliar with. This is especially true before you go harvesting plants in the wild, as one should always educate themselves on sustainable harvesting practices before collecting any plants in the wild. However, all of us could benefit from knowing how to use the plants that grow all around us, so seek out the aid of your local herbalist, or join us on a plant walk outside and experience the bounty the natural world has to offer.



What Is Holistic Rheumatology?

This is a specialty where we focus on treating pain and inflammation of the musculoskeletal system using natural holistic treatments. In this post we’ll discuss the many holistic solutions to rheumatological diseases such as Fibromyalgia, Rheumatoid Arthritis, Lupus, Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, and more.

Why Do We Have Pain?

Before we talk about how to get you out of pain it’s important to know why we have pain in the first place? Think of a suspension bridge like the Golden Gate Bridge. Tall, red, steel towers, with arching cables spanning the length of the bridge reaching to the steel girders lining the pavement of the road below. This suspension bridge is a great analogy for the way our body is constructed. The steel cables are like our muscles, tendons, and connective tissue and are attached to the large steel supports and the road, which are like our bones. All these must be balanced and even for the bridge to be usable; just like the tissues in our body must be balanced and healthy for all the blood vessels and organs to have clear passage and space to function. If the steel cables of the bridge have uneven tension one side is pulling more than the other, and it would begin to pull the whole bridge up in one spot while another spot would sink. In the short run, if the amount of pulling was small, it may not cause permanent damage, but over time cracks develop and the cables weaken from this imbalanced tension. This must be repaired, or eventually everything will collapse. The same is true with our body, if one area is continually pulled or pushed more than another, the body must adapt or collapse. The way we repair a bridge is by sending in construction crews. The construction crew must be able to easily drive along the road in order to deliver all the necessary equipment to the bridge, then they must block the area they are working on in order to give them space to do their work. In our body the “construction crew” is our immune system and the response and flow of this crew is dependent upon the vessels in our body and a proper inflammatory response. Like the construction crew rushing to the area, our body increases blood flow to an injured area and immune cells infiltrate the spot to break down the damaged tissue and repair it. Like the orange cones and flashing signs blocking the work site, the nerves send a pain signal as a warning to restrict movement in the area and prevent further damage.

Is Inflammation a Bad Thing?

Overall, inflammation is not a bad thing. Just like a construction zone, it may not be convenient, but it is our bodies natural repair mechanism and the only way it can heal the damage. Of course, we’ve all heard the hype around chronic inflammation being a bad thing and causing many diseases such as heart disease, cancer and diabetes, but this is different than a short amount of inflammation. In our bridge analogy chronic inflammation is similar to our bridge continually breaking and the construction crew continually blocking traffic across. We’ve all tried to drive along roads that are always under construction and know the pain and annoyance this causes. More than just an annoyance however, what if this bridge is the only way in and out of a city? How well will the city function if supply trucks, workers, and residents can never get in and out efficiently? This is what is happening in the body when we experience continual, chronic injuries and inflammation and don’t allow for proper healing. So, yes, while inflammation is inherently not a bad thing, chronic inflammation, like a construction crew that never finishes will cause everything to become more congested.

How Can We Heal?

Fortunately, there are many things we can do to help our “construction crew.” We must treat the root of the pain, keep inflammation in check and maintain free and open pathways of healing. Holistic Rheumatology utilizes many tools of natural health to assist your body’s natural healing mechanisms.  When we use Acupuncture to heal the body, the acupuncture needle alerts the body to the area of damage. If our Golden Gate Bridge has a crack in it, someone must see the damage and call the repair crew. An acupuncture needle is doing just this. By inserting a needle into the body, it is signaling the brain and the immune system to recognize the damage and quickly send help. Herbal medicines are another great tool to help our body heal. They are like the tools and resources our construction crew uses in order to fix the damaged structures of the bridge. Perhaps we need asphalt to repair the road, cement, more steel cables, or more cones or barriers to block the area off. In the same way herbal plants are jam packed with minerals, vitamins and nutrients our body needs in order to nourish our tissues and provide it with the resources and tools it needs to heal. How do the engineers know how to build and repair the bridge in the first place? They run simulations and experiments in order to test their ideas and materials. This is what exercise and stretching does for us. By stretching and exercising we are modeling and practicing the activities and movements our body may have to perform. By physically training our body daily, we are forcing the body to adapt and change, so when we are unlucky and get into a car accident, or fall, we’ve already put our body into a position that it recognizes, we’ve already strengthened it sufficiently, and now it will not become injured so severely. No physical structure, neither our body nor a bridge, can continually function smoothly without continual routine maintenance and repair. The food we eat every day provides nourishment and resources to our body, so everything runs smoothly and efficiently and can provide the day to day maintenance it requires. This is why I combine multiple modalities in my practice to heal your pain. Nutrition alone, while providing the resources for routine maintenance is not always enough to repair recent damage. Herbs, while giving your body important tools to heal tissue damage and calm chronic inflammation, are not as quick at signaling the brain and the immune system as acupuncture is. Acupuncture, while sending a good strong signal, is not going to smooth out the bumps in the road. For this massage is best at maintaining smooth and efficient movement along your muscles and tissues. This is why at Wiseman Natural Health all these modalities of natural medicine are combined to give you the best tools available to stimulate your body’s natural healing mechanisms and keep you healthy every day.

►With $2.6 trillion in healthcare costs, the US has the highest in the world.2

►Americans are some of the unhealthiest and most obese in the world.3

►38% of Americans are now using Complementary and Alternative Health.1

►Regular use of CAM therapy can improve your health and lower your healthcare costs!!5,6

As the economy around the world continues to stagnate, and healthcare reform in the United States battles onward, everyone is worrying about healthcare costs. Some are saying healthcare reform will hurt costs, others say it will help; the only thing for certain is the US health system needs to change. Despite the fact that the US spends the most money on healthcare we are still some of the unhealthiest people in the world. Overall, the 2000 World Report by the WHO ranked the US healthcare system as #37 in the world. A large part of the problem is the fact that because healthcare in the US is expensive many people can’t afford the care they need. As more and more Americans become disenfranchised and can’t afford US healthcare they begin to use Complementary and Alternative Medicine(CAM). Now, studies are being done showing that these people who use CAM medicine such as acupuncture, massage, herbs and supplements are making a smart financial decision. It turns out these people tend to have lower healthcare costs.

A recent study done in Washington state where 90% of people use CAM therapies showed “that CAM users with low back pain, fibromyalgia, or menopausal symptoms had lower average expenditures compared to non-CAM users ($3,797 vs $4,153, P=0.0001). The most impressive difference in expenditures was seen in patients with the highest disease burden, wherein patients with the poorest health cost an average of $1,420 less annually if they were CAM users compared to those who were under the care of conventional providers exclusively (P<0.0001).” This means not only do people save money when they use CAM therapies for mild things such as colds, flus, minor aches and pains, digestive conditions, but they actually save even more money when they use CAM therapies for serious chronic conditions such as diabetes, heart disease, cancer, etc. In many more studies done throughout the United States and the world various Complementary and Integrative Medicine (CIM) techniques have been shown to be cost-saving. “Some examples of cost savings were seen for acupuncture in reducing breech presentation in the Netherlands, acupuncture for low back in the United Kingdom, manual therapy for neck pain, vitamin K for preventing osteoporotic fractures, and adjunctive use of antioxidants for preventing cataract formation.” Another study reviewing 12,036 treatments for back pain showed patients using CAM therapies saved an average of $796 on their total annual medical health care costs. Most importantly, however, this study also found “CAM users did not add to the overall medical spending in a nationally representative sample with neck and back problems.” Considering, back problems are the number one reason for workman’s compensation claims and the number one reason for missing work this is a huge finding. It essentially means people using CAM to treat their back pain did not have to seek professional medical help from places such as the emergency room. Right now some of the biggest healthcare costs in this country are due to people not being able to pay their medical bills due to either a lack of insurance or the bills being too expensive. In this study these people consistently paid their bills, paid a lower bill and did not add to the growing problem of government funded health costs.

Right now everyone is trying to figure out how to save money on healthcare and now studies show we can save money on healthcare by covering CAM therapies. Seems like we have a win-win situation here, and yet this is never mentioned in the healthcare debate and insurance companies continue to not cover it. Why? Unfortunately, we are fighting against a very entrenched status quo here. Not only are there thousands of doctors who have been trained to practice medicine in a certain fashion, and have been doing so for decades, but the billion dollar pharmaceutical industry has a vested interest in selling their type of medicine and not an alternative one. Furthermore, insurance companies and the medical industry is generally a for profit industry and less money is made in covering healthy individuals using good supplements and successful CAM treatments. To be fair, insurance companies have become much better at covering CAM treatment, however it is still nowhere near where it should be compared to the prevalence of CAM usage in the United States. Another reason often cited for the lack of coverage of CAM, is the lack of evidence to support the efficacy of CAM therapies. However, we have now created a “self fulfilling prophecy.” First, we say there is not enough research to support CAM treatment, then we don’t give the money needed to support CAM, therefore there is not enough money to do more research on CAM treatments. This circle goes on and on where the majority of the money spent on medical research is spent by pharmaceutical companies on proving the efficacy of their treatments, and not by institutions studying techniques and modalities of care that have existed for millennia before modern pharmaceuticals even existed. However, there still is hope, in that despite this huge discrepancy in research spending, more and more high quality studies are being published on CAM. The only problem now is that doctors and insurance companies are not choosing to look at the new data that supports CAM and simply sticking to their status quo of treatment options.

So, what needs to be done to change this? Truly, the only thing that will make a difference is you. If each person who wants to use CAM talks to their insurance company, and talks to their medical practitioners then slowly the culture around medicine will change. The proof is that in several states certain CAM treatments are mandated by the state government to be included in healthcare coverage. For example, acupuncture coverage is mandated in California, Florida, Maine, Montana, New Mexico, Nevada, Oregon, Rhode Island, Texas, Virginia and Washington. Massage therapist coverage is mandated in Maryland, New Hampshire, Utah and Washington. Naturopath coverage is mandated in Alaska, Montana, Vermont and Washington. As everyone knows, dealing with politics and insurance companies is about as fun as a trip to the DMV, however, in the end it not only could save you a significant amount of money, but more importantly it can improve your health and quality of life. So, please exercise your political voice by speaking to your legislators and voting for CAM treatments. Vote with your dollars and continue to support CAM. While you’re paying for your supplements, or your acupuncture treatment, it may seem like you’re spending more money than when you pay a $20 copay, but annually it will actually save you money by having to see the doctor less and not having to pay for more serious and expensive procedures. Most importantly though, talk with your insurance company or human resource department to get CAM included in your insurance coverage so you can just pay a $20 copay. For while most of these treatments are based on ancient wisdom, only modern science, continued activism and future budgeting will allow them to flourish.

  1. Barnes, Patricia MA, et. al. Complementary and Alternative Medicine Use Among Adults and Children: United States, 2007 National Health Statistics Report. Dec. 10, 2008
  2. Beamesderfer, Adara and Usha Ranji. US Healthcare Costs Kaiser Health news http://www.kaiseredu.org/issue-modules/us-health-care-costs/background-brief.aspx. Feb, 2012
  3. Knox, Richard. S. Ranks Below 16 Other Rich Countries In Health Report http://www.npr.org/blogs/health/2013/01/09/168976602/u-s-ranks-below-16-other-rich-countries-in-health-report. January 09, 2013
  4. Musgrove, Philip et al. The World Health Report 2000: health systems: improving health World Health Organization, 2000
  5. Martin BI, et. al. The association of complementary and alternative medicine use and health care expenditures for back and neck problems Med Care. Dec 2012;50(12):1029-36
  1. Tais, Setareh ND and Erica Oberg, ND MPH. The Economic Evaluation of Complementary and Alternative Health, The growing importance of including naturopathic doctors in healthcare reform Natural Medicine Journal. Feb 06, 2013.               


During the SARS epidemic “health workers (took) herbal formulas to boost their immune system and combat the virus. Equally, patients treated with Chinese herbal formulas were achieving a much higher success rate compared to the Western medical approach of using the antiviral ribavirin combined with steroids.(Reuters, April 21, 2003)

As this quote shows Chinese Herbal Medicine has been highly effective at treating epidemic diseases such as SARS and the same holds true for other diseases that are simpler such as the common cold and flu. In fact, Chinese Herbal Medicine is not the only form of herbal medicine that has demonstrated effectiveness in treating these diseases and many other traditions of herbal medicine throughout the world also contain efficacious herbs. There is a certain sense of irony as each year fear over a flu pandemic grows, and yet there have been effective herbal treatments for this and other infectious diseases.

One of the most important qualities of herbal medicine that makes it highly effective in treating these diseases is the differing diagnostic criteria compared to Western Medicine. For example, in western medicine to treat influenza the same treatments are always used. First, one must provide an influenza vaccination to prevent influenza, and if a person contracts the virus and is in a vulnerable state then treat the symptoms. Unfortunately, as recent history demonstrates the efficacy of these treatments is not always that great because there is limited ability to treat the virus itself. Herbal medicine on the other hand treats illness according to each person’s unique set of symptoms and therefore different herbs are used at different stages of disease. There are always going to be similarities and differences in each disease presentation, but whereas western medicine may diagnose the same illness in two people and therefore prescribe the same treatment, herbal medicine may view the same disease as having two differing diagnoses.

When we are discussing colds and flus in Chinese Medicine there are two main criteria for diagnoses, cold and heat. In Chinese Medicine humans and nature are inseparable parts of the same whole and under the same influences. Therefore, out in nature there are many influences upon the environment such as cold, wind, heat, humidity and dryness and these influences can also affect your body. For example, if you have contracted the flu and you have chills, very achey muscles, possibly a headache, some nausea, a runny and congested nose with clear mucus then these symptoms are most likely due to cold. Cold causes things to contract and be tight and aching so those are the main symptoms experienced and one must use warming herbs to disperse the cold.. On the other hand if you have a severe sore throat, a headache, nausea and a fever this is most likely due to heat and “light and fluffy” herbs that float to the upper body and release the cold through the surface are used. While there are many different formulas and herbs that could be used I will focus on a few that have been shown to be highly effective.

The first group of herbs I will discuss are ones that are better at treating what in Chinese Medicine is known as heat. The most common symptoms seen with this pattern of diseases usually includes sore throat, fever and cough with colored mucus and is most often treated with a formula in Chinese Medicine called Yin Qiao San. Within this formula are 10 herbs, some of which I will discuss later, but the main herbs for which the formula is named after are Jin Yin Hua(Honeysuckle) and Lian Qiao(forsythia). The overall formula inhibits viruses and enhances the immune systems ability to attack against pathogens. It is anti-pyretic, anti-inflammatory, anti-allergy and enhances the phagocytic ability of macrophages. The main herbs in this formula, Jin Yin Hua and Lian Qiao have these effects and more. They are also effective at relieving cough and Lian Qiao is highly effective against the influenza virus. Two other herbs within this formula Jing Jie and Mint both contain high quantities of menthol or menthol like chemicals which have effects at alleviating pain, inhibiting bacteria, decreasing inflammation and reducing fever. Mint, in its various forms has been an herb highly valued in Western Herbal medicine for many centuries. In the Bible it is described as being used as a tithe to the Pharisees. The form used in Chinese Medicine differs slightly to that used in Western Herbal medicine but both have similar constituents and activities. Two other herbs which are being used more for there powerful anti-viral and anti-bacterial effects are ban lan gen(isatis) and Huang Qin(Scute). Ban Lan Gen’s effectiveness has been demonstrated in numerous studies to be effective at treating many different infectious diseases from bacterial endotoxins to lyme disease and influenza. Huang Qin has also been shown to be highly effective at treating many forms of infection as well as being anti-inflammatory and slightly sedative. In fact, the form of scute used in western medicine differs from that of Chinese version and is used primarily as a sedative.

Several western herbs are worth mentioning here as well, namely goldenseal, chamomile, olive leaf, oregano and thyme. Goldenseal contains a highly antiseptic ingredient called berberine. Along with thyme, the essential oil of oregano and olive leaf these herbs are extremely effective at treating bacteria and viruses. Chamomile is an herb that is used for many differing complaints from digestive upset, to nervousness and irritability but also contains constituents which have anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial effects that would help in treating colds and flus. A Chinese herb, Ju Hua(Chrysanthemum) has similar effects to chamomile and is traditionally used for similar complaints.

As mentioned before however, there are differing symptoms a person may have when they contract a common cold or flu. When these infections take hold it is possible one may not have a sore throat, but instead have muscle aches, more chills than fever, clear mucus and possibly a headache. These symptoms are associated with a different pattern in Chinese Medicine and while the aforementioned herbs may help there are different herbs that are used more effectively. The herbs used in this situation tend to be “warmer” according to Chinese Medcine. These are herbs such as Ma Huang(ephedra), Gui Zhi(cinnamon) and Sheng Jiang(ginger). In western medicine herbs such as thyme, garlic, the already mentioned ginger and oregano fall in this category. Interestingly, all these herbs demonstrate anti-microbial, anti-viral and anti-inflammatory effects. However, these herbs also have differing effects on increasing superficial circulation, inducing sweat and relieving pain which assists in relieving the aching feeling and enhancing the immune systems abilities to fight infection. Some of these herbs such as ma huang are highly effective at dilating the bronchioles in cases of respiratory inflammation, reducing fever, and assisting the immune system as well. Overall, depending on what symptoms and what area of the body is more affected one can use differing herbs.

Often these herbs are combined with other herbs to further enhance the immune system’s ability to fight off infection during a cold or more importantly to prevent an infection from taking hold in the first place. One main formula for this purpose in Chinese Medicine is Yu Ping Feng San or the Jade Windscreen. There are only three herbs in this formula one of which has become extremely popular in both western and Chinese herbal medicine, Huang Qi(Astragalus). This herb is used in enhancing the immune function not only in respect to preventing colds and flus, but is commonly used in China during cancer treatment to prevent the damaging effects on the immune system. Echinacea is a common herb in Western herbal medicine that is used for a similar purpose. It has been shown to have marked effects on increasing the white blood cells function of fighting infections.

Overall, the most important thing to keep in mind when treating and/or preventing the common cold and flu is to treat the symptoms as they are presenting in you. For example, you may be a person that always gets a sore throat when you get sick or you may be different and instead always get achey joints and chills. Depending on who you are different herbs may be more effective. When in doubt seek a qualified herbal practitioner in order to receive a proper diagnosis and treatment.

Fall is now upon us and that means falling leaves, cooler weather, Halloween costumes and of course those dreaded colds and flus. During this time of year I treat many people for their runny noses, sore throats and coughs and thought it would be beneficial to give a few tips from Chinese Medicine on how to stay healthy this season.

In Chinese Medicine there are five main elements that not only govern the world around us, but also our bodies within. Fall time is associated with the metal element which corresponds to the Lungs in Chinese Medicine. Traditionally, humans would use metal tools in order to perform many functions such as defending themselves from attack, reaping the crops for the harvest, or pruning back the plants in preparation for the winter. These functions are all attributed to the Lungs as well. The lungs are in charge of your bodies defenses and must mount a proper immune response and they must harvest the oxygen and nutrients from the air through the process of respiration. They must also prune back the waste material and rid the body of carbon dioxide and also rid other waste products through the paired organ of the Large Intestine. Just as the tress must shed their leaves each year so must your body shed unwanted and used material on a regular basis.

Chinese Medicine uses acupuncture, herbs and nutrition to support all these functions of the Lungs in order to maintain a healthy system and fight off any viruses that may be trying to take hold. First of all, receiving regular acupuncture if you’re prone to getting sick or if you are already experiencing symptoms can boost your immune system and reduce the time it takes to kick that cold. Secondly, there are many very classic herbal formulas that have been used in Chinese Medicine for centuries that support the immune system, actively fight off bacteria and viruses and reduce any symptoms such as cough, sore throat or a runny nose. Finally, proper nutrition is essential for maintaining your bodies immune system and can even reduce any symptoms that you may be experiencing. Some specific foods such as mushrooms are great for boosting the immune system and keeping your body strong. Apples, pears and almonds are all fruits that are harvested in the fall and extremely beneficial to the lungs. During this time of year, especially in Colorado, the lungs are prone to dryness and we easily get that dry sore throat, sticky sputum that is difficult to cough up and causes irritation and cough. Foods such as apples, pears and almonds help moisten the lungs, soothe that dry and irritated throat and reduce coughing. A traditional recipe from China calls for an Asian pear cut in half and scoop out a small section in the middle of each half. Fill with slivered almonds, rock sugar and cinnamon and place in the oven at 400 degrees until soft. (If rock sugar is not available use good quality local honey.)

So, remember while you’re enjoying those beautiful fall colors and trying to stay healthy to eat healthily and treat any symptoms that come up before it manifests into a severe cold.