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7 Strategies to Beat the Common Cold

As a busy acupuncturist, I cannot afford to come down with a common cold. I have a lot of patients that rely on me to “bring it!” and help them with their own health problems.

Therefore, I have developed some strategies to beat a common cold before it has a chance to really dig-in and take me out. Please allow me to share these strategies with you.

Keep on mind – these strategies work best (or in some cases, only) if you do them at the very first sign or day of a cold.

Since early detection is the necessary first step to stemming a cold, let’s review the signs and symptoms one is likely to experience.

  • sneezing
  • nasal congestion
  • runny nose
  • sore throat
  • cough
  • fever
  • chills
  • sweating
  • lack of sweating
  • headache
  • body aches
  • aversion to cold
  • aversion to wind
  • aversion to heat

These signs and symptoms often follow an exposure to windy, damp, and/or cold weather conditions. It’s a smart move to dress in layers when the weather is changing. Proper clothing choices are a part of a preventative medicine approach.

Chinese medicine differentiates between various cold and warm types of common cold and diagnosis is not always obvious. The use of Chinese herbs for common cold is most effective when the prescription is written by an experienced and licensed herbalist.

In case you don’t have 24/7 access to a Chinese herbalist, the following strategies can be used safely regardless of the type of common cold you are about to beat.

1. Fluids and Vitamin C.

I usually keep Emergen-CTM brand powdered Vitamin C packets around my home and at work. Ester-C® is another good choice for this purpose. People can absorb upwards of 2000 mg of Vitamin C per hour.

At the first sign of a cold, I tear open two Emergen-CTM packets and add 16 ounces of water, then drink. I do this every hour until I go to sleep that night. If no Emergen-CTM is available, 2000 mg of Ester-C® with water will work just fine.

Proper hydration is essential if you are to “flush” the cold virus out of your system. Shoot for half your body weight in ounces of water per day. I’m 190 pounds so I shoot for at least 95 ounces of water per day. Do your best, it’s okay to have to urinate a lot.

One note of caution: Vitamin C can loosen your stools, so back off on the dose if this becomes a problem.

2. Zinc Lozenges

I prefer the kind sold at health food stores which contain Vitamin C and are lemon flavored. I keep these on hand even when I don’t have the signs and symptoms of a cold. Take as directed on the package as soon as you detect that you may be fighting a cold virus.

Another word of caution: zinc can be hard on your stomach so you may need to have a little something in there to avoid becoming nauseous.

3. Saline Nasal Washes or Neti Pot

This can be used daily during the cold & flu season to prevent a common cold. The virus responsible for it settles into a persons nasopharynx, that area where the back of the nasal passage and upper throat meet. When there are sufficient quantities of the virus, you get symptoms.

Cold viruses don’t thrive in salt water environments. Saline solution simply washes them out of this otherwise opportune environment for replication. I keep my saline rinse in the shower and make it a part of my daily hygiene regimen.

4. Aromatherapy Steams

I keep certain essential oils on hand just for this purpose. I like to use red thyme, peppermint, and eucalyptus oils.

Place one drop of each oil in the bottom of a ceramic or earthenware bowl (but not more than one drop each). Have a towel handy big enough to create a hood around your head. Boil some water and pour into the bowl.

Position your hooded head over the bowl, close your eyes and breathe. Steam for 10 minutes or so, adding fresh hot water if the volume of steam drops over time. Try to let each breath of steam reach the affected areas (i.e. your nasal passages, throat, lungs).

5. Chicken Soup

Harvard researchers have confirmed the positive effects of chicken soup on the mucous membranes involved in a common cold. So if you are not a vegetarian, go get the makings for it or find a good organic soup already made. I like to add raw Chinese herbs  to mine but that is a topic for another post.

6. Things to avoid

I will avoid alcohol, sugars, dairy, cold-natured foods (such as many raw fruits and vegetables), coffee and other sources of caffeine, and greasy or fried foods when fighting off a common cold.

Although most people think that consuming orange juice during a cold is useful under these circumstances, I do not agree. Orange juice tends to be cloying, phlegm-producing, and packed with sugars so it should be avoided. Stick to room temperature water, ginger tea, and broths.

7. Get enough rest

This often overlooked and underrated strategy can make or break your attempts at beating the common cold. Simply put, your body needs more rest than usual to marshal the forces necessary to beat a cold.

Of course, Zhu’s Scalp Acupuncture and Chinese herbal medicine can be a powerful combo to knock out a cold when it’s starting. Adjunct modalities such as moxibustion, cupping, and guasha can also prove quite powerful to knock out or shorten the duration of a common cold.

In conclusion, I know there are other tricks to avoiding a common cold but these are amongst my best, tried-and-true, self-tested and Dr. Scott approved techniques. If you have other tips that I haven’t mentioned here, please let me know what they are in a comment below.

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Support for Multiple Sclerosis Patients

Patients dealing with multiple sclerosis need a lot of support to navigate their health concerns. The hurdles involved can be considerable but need not be insurmountable.

Acupuncture and Chinese medicine, when applied in specific ways, can play a significant role in achieving improvements for MS patients.

We, as practitioners, cannot achieve this result all alone. Patient participation is required.

What’s more, patients don’t usually have access to 24/7 acupuncture service. So what can one do for oneself away from the clinic?


To paraphrase one of my teachers Dr. Ming Qing Zhu, “No movement, no life. Life is movement. Move your body.” Then, he shows the patient exactly which Daoyin is required for them to heal in the most rapid and complete way possible (which is really quite amazing to me).

Daoyin,” as it is referred to in this context, involves physical movement and mental focus in combination with acupuncture techniques. This is the hallmark of Zhu’s Scalp Acupuncture, and at its very core.

As a general rule of thumb, some exercise is better than no exercise for human beings. Get some whenever and however you can.

In my opinion, qigong and taijiquan are very appropriate additional choices for those with MS. They are adjustable to every ability level, work on strengthening and balancing simultaneously, and fulfill the meditative function, to boot.

Mindfulness Meditation

Meditation is perhaps the most empowering health improvement technique of our time. The above 10-minute guided meditation can get you started on the path toward a practice.

In multiple sclerosis, meditation becomes mission-critical. Why?

The MS patient benefits greatly from a better regulated and less stressed neuroendocrine system. That’s huge for symptom management. Meditation can deliver this effect.

The choice of video or supporting technology is up to each individual and, of course, you may opt for none. Only the actual meditation matters.

I present the YouTube clip above as an example of the myriad ways to meditate (don’t feel tied to it). Please pick your favorite script, book, app, vid, tape, cd, whatever, and go with it.

The point of it is to do it, regularly, daily. Small gains in this direction render big, measurable results (go ahead, prove me wrong).

Diet – Overcoming MS

Reading from the website, “Overcoming Multiple Sclerosis promotes a program of diet and lifestyle management that has been shown to improve the health and lives of people with Multiple Sclerosis. Professor George Jelinek, who was diagnosed with MS in 1999, developed the rigorously researched OMS Recovery Program more than 15 years ago.”

I highly recommend looking at this approach since my partner experienced dramatic changes in her MS symptoms by adopting the diet. Anecdotal, yes, but also profound and convincing to us.

Diet must be emphasized in cases of MS, as it seems to be a critical factor for outcomes. The same could be said for many chronic conditions, I’m sure.

For contrast and comparison, see TEDx talk by Terry Wahls and Roy Swank on diet for MS, here

National MS Society Northern California Chapter

A great informational resource and sponsor to fundraiser sporting events. Thousands of athletes each year help raise money for MS research. Many with MS walk and ride in these events.

Western Medicine Resources

Specialists in allopathic (neurology) approaches to multiple sclerosis, each producing high-quality research in their own right. These are the leading MS centers in the U.S.

MS Support Groups–events/ms-support-groups

I encourage you to get into a support group if you don’t already partake. My partner says, “It’s one of the most important things I’ve ever done,” for her MS.

She reports to me that the experience is a source of information, inspiration, and camaraderie.

MS Blogs

Have a look at these, some are better than others. Not every flavor will appeal but, per chance, you may find a gem or two to relish.

Ultimately, the goal here is to empower you with information and the perspectives of others so you can learn from them and make more informed, more proactive decisions around your MS.

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Chinese Medicine for Seasonal Allergies

I was just today, out for a hike at Edgewood Park, California. I think it has, despite the amazing benefits it has had upon my health in general, also made me worse in a way.

As a result of my hike, I experienced increased sneezing, irritated eyes, and general upper respiratory system constriction and decreased function. If, you too suffer from hayfever or seasonal allergies, you know how miserable this condition can be.

The main symptoms of this imbalance include: nasal discharge (often copious), sneezing, post-nasal drip, headache, itchy & watery eyes, and in some cases, fatigue.

Chinese medicine and particularly Chinese herbal medicine and acupuncture, offer a variety of non-pharmaceutical approaches to this problem.

The herbal formula that I always think of first for hayfever and seasonal allergies is Pe Min Kan Wan (a.k.a. Bi Min Gan Wan) “Nasal Susceptibility Pill.” There are various iterations and variations on the formula but all seem to have a similar mode of action. 

The chief herbs Xin Yi Hua Magnolia and Cang Er Zi Xanthium direct the other herbs in the formula to the nose and “open the orifice,” while herbs like Huo Xiang Agastache drain the dampness and phlegm.

I have heard from several patients that the Dr. Shen’s formula Allergy is particularly effective. That being said, I will generally avoid the following manufacturers because they list Xiong Dan Bear Gallbladder (endangered wildlife) in their ingredients:

  • Fo Shan Herbal Product Co.; Foshan, China
  • United Pharmaceutical Manufactory; Fushan, China
  • Yu Lam Medicine Factory; Guangdong, China
  • Guangdong Zhaoqing Pharmaceutical Factory; Guangdong, China

Additionally, Farfun Peiminkamwan by Fushan United Manufactory; Guangdong, China is banned in California because it contains borneol and chlorpheniramine.1

Insofar as acupuncture for hayfever goes, there are endless possibilities. It is our usual practice in Chinese medicine to treat both the root (the underlying constitutional cause of disease) and the branch (the manifestations or symptoms of the disease). I will present to you my most common approaches to allergy cases, below.

From Kiiko Matsumoto-style Japanese acupuncture, we glean some useful protocols for hay fever and seasonal allergies. I like to include “Nagano’s Immune Point” a.k.a. “Triple Intestine Ten” in all respiratory or immune system imbalances. 

To find the point, “One palpates between the Large Intestine and Triple Warmer meridians at the level of LI-10 to LI-11.”2 Shanzhong CV-17 is especially good as this tradition considers it to be like a one-point four gates, so it can disperse Lung Qi stagnation quite readily. Also, Jingqu LU-8 threaded to Taiyuan LU-9 is a way to tonify and disperse Lung Qi in one fell swoop.

TCM-style of acupuncture has many, many approaches to respiratory disease and hayfever. I like to use an often overlooked acupuncture point: Tongtian UB-7. This point works so well for nasal congestion that I am very surprised when a case has not completely resolved by the end of an acupuncture session.

Plus, I find it easy to teach a patient how to locate this point and to use acupressure on it to continue their hayfever relief away from the clinic. Simply reach to the bilateral tender points in your scalp. They are located as such: “4 cun [one full hand-width, counting the thumb] directly above the midpoint of the anterior hairline and 1.5 cun [your pinkie and ring fingers] lateral to the midline.”3

Master Tung’s Acupuncture tradition also has some very effective points to deal with hayfever. Master Tung himself carefully studied the Pi Wei Lun or “Treatise of the Spleen and Stomach” of Dan Zhu-xi. He relates a lot of allergy and nasal discharge (as well as a generally weak immune system) to Spleen vacuity.

Therefore, he uses Sima “Rapid Horses” points (along the Spleen channel) and Tongtian + Tongguan (along the Stomach channel) for hayfever.

I personally think emphasizing the root over the branch in chronic conditions is warranted. This is a useful approach to shift a patient’s underlying constitution in hay fever. I hope this leads to more stable, longer-lasting results in more patients.

Through my professional experience, I know it’s possible to make a permanent shift in hay fever and seasonal allergies. In my clinic, I often hear patients give the anecdotal evidence that after a short course of acupuncture treatment, their hayfever was “completely resolved.” 

Without follow-up, its hard to know for sure. To me, this is just more evidence that Chinese medicine is a natural and safe alternative to pharmaceuticals for hayfever and seasonal allergies.


1 Fratkin, JP. Chinese Herbal Patent Medicines. Shya Publications, 2001. 48-67

2 Matsumoto K., Euler D. Kiiko Matsumoto’s Clinical Strategies: In The Spirit Of Master Nagano, Vol. 1. Kiiko Matsumoto Int’l, 2002. 60.

3 Xinnong, C. Chinese Acupuncture & Moxibustion (Revised Edition). Foreign Languages Press, Beijing, China.

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Help for Insomnia

So many people I know needlessly suffer from insomnia. This is a very common sleep disorder and it can affect people of any demographic. The causes are many and range from mood disorders to chronic pain to internal medicine issues. 

There are a few things you can do on your own to ensure that you get a good night’s sleep. Before I get into the specific technique to relieve your insomnia, allow me to briefly discuss some pertinent Chinese medicine theory.

Bu Mei or insomnia is a disease category in Chinese medicine. According to Philippe Sionneau & Lu Gang in The Treatment of Disease in TCM, Vol. 1 (Blue Poppy Press, 2008), there are nine potential patterns of imbalance that can cause insomnia:

  1. Heart/Spleen Dual Vacuity
  2. Breakdown of Interaction Between Heart/Kidneys
  3. Heart Yin Vacuity
  4. Gallbladder vacuity & Qi timidity
  5. Phlegm Fire
  6. Liver Fire
  7. Heart Fire Exuberance
  8. Retained Heat
  9. Food Stagnation

For the best treatment of insomnia, it is my opinion that a careful assessment with Chinese medicine diagnostics to uncover the underlying pattern(s) must come first before a treatment is delivered. Then a treatment including acupuncture and herbal medicine to address the underlying pattern(s) is applied. 

This process is repeated until the root of the condition (the underlying constitutional cause of the insomnia) is brought back into balance.

Very commonly in speaking with patients in my acupuncture practice, I discover that folks are waking up at Liver time (1-3 a.m.) The little story I weave for them to help explain goes a little something like this. We live busy lives and just being an adult in Western society means that we experience some stress. 

The feeling of stress is the sensation of a Liver in qi-stagnation status. The stress must be actively released somehow or it will have repercussions that one may not expect. Stagnation is an excess condition because what wants to flow is stuck and creating friction. 

That friction can cause heat. Heat rises and can move to other organs in the body (especially ones higher than the liver such as the Heart and the Lungs, but also commonly the Spleen and Stomach). Excess heat agitating an organ will tend to manifest as sleeplessness during that organ’s associated time on the Chinese “circadian clock.”

Not everyone has the wherewithal to seek immediate and continued Chinese medicine treatment when they are suffering from insomnia. So for those who need a quick-fix to help you sleep tonight I offer you a technique which comes from two healing traditions: Ayurveda and Medical Qigong.

As you are winding down for bed, take a few moments to do self-massage. Start by rubbing your hands together to generate some heat. 

Then, put your hands on your lower back in (in the region of your kidneys) and massage in a circular motion. Do this calmly and quietly 100 times. 

Next, place a few drops of sesame oil in your hands (yes, the kind you cook with). Massage the sole of your left foot 100 times with the sesame oil. Add another drop or two and repeat for the right foot. Get immediately into bed and turn out the lights. Done!

Now, if you have a partner at home who could do this for you while you are already in bed, that is ideal. You may wish to place a small towel under your feet during the massage to prevent spilling the oil onto your clothes or bedding.

I have had good success using this technique on one partner in particular who suffered from insomnia. Giving her foot massage like this consistently knocked her out within 5 minutes tops. Many patients report to me that this technique has worked for them too. I hope you will experience a similar if not better effect.

I would not consider this to be any kind of “cure” for insomnia but rather a tool you can apply when needed. Clearly the more thorough approach is to have the underlying constitutional causes of your insomnia addressed with a medical professional.

Lastly, for those who regularly suffer from insomnia and who have tried various approaches to it’s treatment, I have a recommendation: do an internet search for the term “sleep hygiene.” This is a concept that will allow one to set up a conducive environment for sleep.

Sleep well everyone!

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Monkey Metaphor

I want to share with you a metaphor that I have crafted. I created this metaphor to assist my patients in their process of healing with Chinese medicine. The metaphor is in the form of the short story, below.

Not long ago, there lived a young monkey in a lush green forest. The forest was so popular with the local animals that there were many monkeys living in there. Food and other resources were becoming scarce.

One day, the young monkey spotted a ripe and delicious looking peach at the very top of a tree. She jumped up into the branches of the tree and started to climb. Up the tree she worked her way toward the fruit but soon realized that she was getting to where the branches were too thin to support her weight.

She pressed on anyway and before reaching the fruit, the branch supporting her snapped and she fell. She caught her self on another branch and regained her footing but decided to climb back down the tree, thinking the fruit out of reach.

When she had reached the ground, she saw that there were several other young monkeys watching her attempt to attain the fruit. They all laughed and called the young monkey “clumsy” and “stupid.”

The young monkey became quite frustrated since now she had not only failed to obtain the peach but she had also humiliated herself in the attempt. The more she thought about that beautiful peach, how sweet it would be, and how much she desired it, the more unhappy she became.

So, she went to her mother and sought guidance.

“Mother, how can I become less clumsy?”

The monkey’s mother thought about this question for a moment.

“If you can follow me and mimic my every move as we race through the forest, I think it could help you become more dexterous,” mother monkey said.

The young monkey agreed and the mother monkey sped off into the forrest, swinging from branch to branch and tree to tree, while the young monkey followed her every move.

Finally, both monkeys finished their race and fell together in laughter onto the forest floor. The young monkey realized that she could easily follow her mother and make all the same moves, naturally. She discovered that she was no longer feeling so frustrated.

Feeling better but still somewhat uncertain of herself, she decided to go find her father.

“Father, how can I become less stupid?”

The father monkey, knowing very well that the young monkey was actually quite bright, said nothing for a short while, looking up and to the right for a few moments.

“What runs but never gets tired?” he asked.

The young monkey paused for a moment to think about the question.

“A riddle?”

She asked as a smile spread across her face. The look of realization lit her face and she answered, “it’s the stream! It seems to run on and on, ever moving yet ever staying the same.”

“That is correct and a very smart answer indeed for I could not have given a better answer myself!”

The young monkey smiled widely and no longer felt unhappy.

By this time it had become late so the young monkey settled down to sleep. That night she had very vivid and colorful dreams of the peach – she saw it at the top of the tree and in her dream, took a silly flying leap to the top, snatched the peach from the branch, then landed softly on the other side of the tree.

She looked at the peach in her hand just before taking a big juicy bit out of it. As he did, the sweet nectar spilled around her mouth and the tangy flavor danced upon her tongue. She took bite after bite in her dream until there was nothing left but the pit. When she awoke from the dream, she knew what she needed to do.

The next morning, the young monkey returned to the peach tree. This time, she knew how to succeed at the task. She climbed to the top of the tree… and…

The end.

I am interested to find out what you get out of this story. What is the message that I’ve encoded in this metaphor? Can you identify any individual symbols? Please leave your guesses and any comments you may have, below. Thank you for reading my monkey metaphor.