Seasonal Allergies and What to Do About Them

Is your medicine cabinet stocked with anti-histamines and allergy medications around pollen season? And do Paul Simon’s ‘Allergy’ lyrics ring true to you?

“Maladies, remedies,.. still the allergies remain….”

Most people assume pollen is responsible for allergies but foods, insect bites, domestic pets, mold, chemicals and smoke can all trigger a histamine response. Histamines are a type of immune cell that gets released when your body comes in contact with an allergen.  Conventional medicine can treat the symptoms of histamine release (like over-the-counter anti-histamines) but do not address the underlying cause to prevent it.

In this blog, I’ll share some tips on reducing the allergy disorder that many of us suffer from this time of year.

Keep your liver clean – Normally, your liver can process annoying allergens but in the toxic world we live in, it’s VERY easy to overload your liver – hence, the sneezing, itching and watery eyes. Did you know that bitter foods are like a gym session for your liver?  Bitter foods stimulate the liver to produce bile to optimize digestion and keep it functioning optimally. Some bitter foods to add to your diet include: a stiff cup of black coffee, dandelion greens, radicchio, bitter melon (you can buy this in the Asian markets), and green tea. In addition, you can try herbs like milk thistle, burdock and dandelion in tea form or as a supplement. Here is a powder blend I buy to add to coffee in the morning:

Eat a clean, gut-healing diet – Were you aware that more than 60% of our immune cells are in the gut? So it’s no surprise that an inflamed gut leads to more allergies. Focusing on an anti-inflammatory diet that’s packed with nutrients will enable your body to fight off these invaders:

  • Greens, cruciferous vegetables and polyphenol rich foods: broccoli, swiss chard, cauliflower, berries
  • Raw honey: evidence has shown the benefits of honey as an antioxidant and anti-inflammatory agent. Try adding a tablespoon of honey several times a day to your diet to reduce allergy symptoms. I suggest local honey – it’s easy to find at farmer’s markets and many grocery stores.
  • Apple cider vinegar: great as an antioxidant drink and to keep mucus at bay. Add a teaspoon to your morning glass of water and also to your neti pot to flush out your nasal passages.

AVOID gut-inflaming foods like corn, wheat/gluten, dairy, sugar, bad oils and processed foods.

Consider supplements – In addition to having adequate vitamin D, zinc and omega-3 fatty acids, here are 2 others that I add to my regimen during allergy season:

  • Stinging nettle – The leaf of stinging nettles has been shown to bind to histamine receptors and inhibit inflammatory responses. It can be taken in tincture of tea form. Here’s an extract from a reputable herbal company to try:

 

  • Quercetin – this powerful antioxidant found in foods like onions is known for inhibiting histamine production. Consider a supplement to get a strong enough dose to keep sneezing under control – here’s one that’s been third-party tested:

Clean up your environment:

  • Avoid fragrances and perfumes which are loaded with chemicals – there are many fragrance-free (or natural fragrance) soaps, cosmetics and personal care products to choose from. Here’s a cosmetic line that is free of parabens, chemicals and synthetic fragrances and dyes: https://hanscc.com

  • Use EWG-verified (Environmental Working Group) cleaning products for the home and avoid harsh bleaches. Actually, one of my favorite cleaning agents is just hydrogen peroxide. I buy the 12% food grade concentrate and dilute it 4:1 with clean water and use it to clean hard surfaces like bathrooms and countertops. To make your own, pour ¼ cup of 12% peroxide into a clean container. Then add ¾ cup of distilled, reverse osmosis or clean spring water to dilute. It’s very inexpensive and extremely effective! Here’s the 12% peroxide I buy:

  • Avoid pesticides/herbicides around the home: We have a lush weed-filled yard which my dogs and family enjoy without worrying about chemical exposure. Stick to non-chemical pesticides or traps if appropriate to manage critters and unwanted guests.

  • Get rid of mold and make sure areas inside and around your home are dry to prevent growth. If you think you may have a mold issue in your home, you may have to call a mold remediation specialist but you can purchase kits online to check first. Here’s a DIY mold test kit I bought:

  • Vacuum regularly – how about a robotic vacuum? I am obsessed with how much dirt/dust this small robot picks up. Here’s one I use.
  • Get an air purifier for areas where you spend the bulk of your time (i.e. bedroom, home office). There are many to choose from and they do not have to be expensive to do the job. Here’s one I bought. Just don’t do what I did – I was in such a rush to turn this purifier on that I forgot to peel the plastic cover off the air filter so it ran for months doing absolutely nothing!

The Role of Uric Acid on Diabetes and Chronic Diseases (It’s Not Just about Gout)

I listened to a great podcast featuring Dr. David Perlmutter’s new book. He is a board-certified neurologist and five times New York Times bestseller including the well-known “Grain Brain”.  The new book was released in Feb 2022 and called “Drop Acid” which is NOT about LSD but refers to the role that uric acid plays in the development of diabetes and other chronic conditions. 

Here’s a summary of the podcast interview:

  • Up to 88% of Americans are metabolically unhealthy, with at least one component of metabolic syndrome like high blood sugar, insulin resistance, hypertension, obesity, cardiac disease and even Alzheimer’s. It was very eye-opening to learn about how uric acid plays a critical function on the development of chronic conditions.

  • Uric acid is measured in blood and typically associated with gout BUT it’s also an important marker for metabolic conditions.

  • In an 8-year study, it was found that all-cause mortality was dramatically increased with high levels of uric acid. For example, heart disease and stroke related mortality was 35-40% due to high levels of uric acid.

  • Uric acid levels are easy to check during an annual check-up. Ideal level should be 5.5 mg/deciliter or below. For every point above 7, there is an 8-13% increased risk of all-cause mortality in addition to gout.

  • Uric acid is raised by 3 key factors: Alcohol, Purine and Fructose
    • Wine has not been shown to raise uric acid much; Hard liquor raises some but BEER raises it a lot. Why? Beer contains purines from the brewer’s yeast so it’s a double whammy of alcohol AND purine to contribute to the beer belly
    • Purines are from organ meat consumption but unless you’re eating a ton, it doesn’t raise the bar much
    • Fructose is the elephant in the room!

  • Unlike glucose, fructose is metabolized directly into uric acid. As fructose raises uric acid, weight, blood pressure and insulin all go up. An interesting study showed that if you give the gout drug (allopurinol) to participants eating a lot of fructose, their uric acid levels drop.

  • Fructose means energy storage whereas glucose means energy utilization. That’s why bears eat a ton of fruit during the summer so they can store fat for hibernation in the winter.

  • Fructose in the form of fruit is okay because it’s a whole food and not processed. It has fiber, vitamins and antioxidants. However, modern fruit has been hybridized for ultra sweetness so an apple a day is fine but that doesn’t mean a half dozen…

  • 60% of the food in the store with a bar code has been sweetened with high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) or some derivative of it. Our bodies are designed to seek out sweet food for our survival. Were you aware that the US gov’t sponsors corn production to the tune of ~$500B/year and a lot of that goes into making HFCS which then makes us fat and sick?

  • When you eat fructose like HFCS, you are turning on gluco-neogenesis (body makes glucose), compromising insulin functionality and setting the stage for diabetes. Fructose inhibits leptin sensitivity (hunger suppressing hormone) which makes us want to keep eating and contributes to weight gain. Fructose also requires energy for it to be absorbed and uses up all the ATP (energy cells) in the gut. The uric acid enhances inflammatory bacteria and increases gut permeability leading to leaky gut syndrome. 

  • There are also medications that increase uric acid: Aspirin, diuretics, proton pump inhibitors, acid blockers, beta blockers and even the sugar substitute xylitol.

 

What to do?

  • First, get your uric acid levels checked. You can ask your physician or buy a test kit on Amazon: Here’s one to try.

 

How to Reduce Uric Acid

  • Eat a mostly plant-based, high fiber, high color diet. It’s better for you and your bacteria.
  • Limit fruit and do NOT drink fruit juice as it’s a concentrated form of fructose. I stopped buying green drinks at the grocery store because they contain fruit juices to make it palatable to most of us. If you drink juice, stick to vegetable juice only (which is hard to find).
  • Shellfish, anchovies and organ meats are rich sources of purine – it’s hard to eat a pound of anchovies in one sitting so no worries as long as everything is enjoyed in moderation.
  • Alcohol, especially BEER, should be avoided except for an occasional glass of wine (and I mean occasional, not every other day occasional!)
  • Coffee is a great drink for lowering uric acid.
  • Vegetables like broccoli have higher levels of purine BUT it is rich in fiber, bioflavonoids and vitamin C so enjoy to your heart’s content. 
  • Minimize consumption of refined grains like flour – flour elevates insulin and this increases uric acid by inhibiting its excretion in the kidneys.

  • Supplements that Dr. Perlmutter suggests to lower uric acid include:
    • Quercetin (500mg/day) is a powerful antioxidant, anti-inflammatory bioflavonoid and is present in foods like onions.
    • Vitamin C (1000mg/day) aids in the excretion of uric acid.
    • Luteolin (100 mg/day) also lowers uric acid and is on par with the gout drug allopurinol!
    • DHA (1000mg/day) present in fish oil offsets the damage of uric acid.
    • Tart cherry extract can also bring down uric acid.

It has been estimated that 25% of the western world has elevated uric acid so it’s important to get our levels checked so we’re not part of this statistic. 

Here’s the podcast.

And Dr. Perlmutter’s new book.

Why the “Great Resignation” is Driving Physicians to Explore Opportunities in Telemedicine

Recently, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that a record number of workers left their jobs by the end of 2021 – 4.5 million to be exact – and that healthcare was among the top three industries impacted by the “Great Resignation.” A pandemic awakening for many individuals, and a pain point for many organizations, the Great Resignation has prompted employees to quit their positions as they reevaluate their careers and priorities. 

While healthcare is not exclusive in its struggle to retain its workforce, it is uniquely challenged because the pandemic itself dictates healthcare workers’ daily priorities and routines. Burnout and staffing shortages were issues before, but with new variants showing up, hospital staff is reeling from prolonged overwork. Some are looking for opportunities to lessen their exposure to COVID-19, while others are seeking better work/life balance and the space to take care of themselves and their families. 

More physicians are finding these opportunities by moving into telemedicine roles. Telemedicine has been an invaluable asset for patients and physicians for years, and although not for everyone, telemedicine is an increasingly valuable option that can help doctors achieve their personal and professional aspirations.   

Flexibility

For many, work has changed dramatically since March of 2020. Employees exchanged long commutes and water cooler conversations for home offices and virtual meetings; and while there were inevitably some challenges, having a more flexible schedule allowed them to find more of a balance in their personal life, finish projects around the house, and, for those with young children, be available for virtual school days. 

Traditionally, it’s unlikely that healthcare workers have been able to enjoy those same benefits, as embracing a flexible schedule can be challenging in an in-person hospital setting. That is why some have opted to embrace telemedicine opportunities. Telemedicine has given physicians the freedom to practice medicine from the comfort of their homes. Without full schedules or long shifts, healthcare providers can also enjoy the flexibility and convenience that working virtually delivers while still practicing medicine and treating patients.  

Safer Working Conditions

There is no question that telemedicine effectively limits patient exposure to COVID-19, whether in place of traditional in-person visits or a means of performing initial evaluations in a hospital setting. However, telemedicine also keeps doctors protected by avoiding direct contact with a COVID-positive patient. Through technology, providers can stay connected to patients and deliver care without being concerned about the stress of contracting the virus or passing it along to a loved one.

Furthermore, mental health concerns among healthcare workers have been a growing concern. The pandemic has, without a doubt, taken a toll on everyone, but healthcare workers have endured the majority of that burden. According to McKinsey & Company, burnout, grief, and loss are leading to a lack of motivation and driving workers to look elsewhere for employment. Telemedicine alleviates many of the stressors that doctors face daily by managing the load of dealing with overcrowded waiting rooms and allowing providers to have more focused, meaningful interactions with their patients.  

Fresh Income Opportunities

What the pandemic brought to patient volume varied significantly depending on the practice. While many hospitals dealt with overflowing waiting rooms, specialty providers saw a steep decline in patient visits due to stay-at-home orders and fear of exposure. According to the Medical Group Management Association, 97% of the 724 medical practices interviewed reported that COVID-19 had a negative financial impact on their practice, resulting in reduced salaries, diminished work hours, and furloughs. 

Telemedicine helps alleviate these concerns because it allows providers to treat more patients in a more organized environment. By easing some of the burden found in hospital waiting rooms, virtual physicians can handle the overflow of cases that may have otherwise been turned away. Telemedicine doctors are also flexible enough to address patient concerns outside of regular business hours and outside of their own city. In addition, telemedicine physicians’ salaries are on par with in-person providers and can sometimes earn more depending on their location.  

Every Provider Matters

Even before the pandemic, telemedicine was changing the way hospitals and doctors delivered care, allowing them to utilize technology to deliver better options for patients. What COVID-19 and the ensuing Great Resignation have unveiled is how telemedicine can also deliver new and maybe even better employment options for physicians. By offering more manageable schedules, allowing providers to see patients on their timeline, and offering avenues for financial gain, doctors, once again, can begin to feel more productive, focused, and valued. At VirtualMed Staff, we always welcome experienced and qualified physicians to apply to join our team. If you are looking to make an impact on your patients, your career, and the future of healthcare, find out more.

The Importance of Self-Care Part 2: Preventing Burnout

If you’re like me and often accommodate stressful situations because of an overload of work, family and social commitments, read on!

Burnout can be sneaky, as it creeps up on people over time. The causes can be different for each individual. Just like some end up burnt out from stress at work, for others, it’s from things like the emotional toll it takes from managing difficult personal relationships.

A few of the symptoms associated with burnout include:

  • Fatigue
  • Excessive stress
  • Sadness and irritability

So in this blog, I’ll share some self-care tips for dealing with burnout or to prevent getting there.

It’s important to note that some of the symptoms associated with burnout are similar to those of serious mental health conditions. So make sure to reach out to your healthcare provider to rule out depression or other disorders if you’re noticing that something feels off.

Healthy Solutions Don’t Have to be Difficult

If you’re experiencing burnout, you might be tempted to turn to ‘comforting’ vices…because when difficulties don’t give us a break, going all out with the chocolate cake, bag of chips or a bottle of wine appear to give us relief from the hassles of daily life. However, we all know that it’s a slippery slope with these unhealthy coping mechanisms leading to more stressful situations (weight gain, poor sleep and digestion, unhealthy liver, depression, etc.) And I’m so done with people telling me all the things I’m NOT doing correctly and why I may not be achieving my goals. So how about starting with one simple habit with intent and focus on cultivating it? Studies have shown that repeating something for 21 days is the average time it takes to make new changes stick. For example, walking for 30 minutes will not only lift your mood but keep you away from the refrigerator. If you’re feeling stressed and need instant comfort, try a brisk walk around the neighborhood – and bring a friend as studies have shown that habits stick better when you’re surrounded by a supportive community. One good habit will lead to another as you build momentum and positivity around the changes in your life. And stay away from the naysayers!

How are Your Boundaries Holding Up?

Preventing burnout, no matter the cause, all starts with establishing healthy boundaries. It’s important to get to know your limits and your needs… and once you’ve figured those things out, you have to learn how to effectively communicate and enforce them with others.

As with most of the work that surrounds personal growth, establishing boundaries and doing the work to enforce them can be uncomfortable. Here’s a simple boundary I established with my dogs – they are always conniving to get me in the kitchen to give them one more treat before bed. So, I put the virtual ‘kitchen is closed’ sign up after 9PM – no ifs, ands or buts!

Here’s a short video that describes setting boundaries in the workplace. They can also apply to the home (like point #2: never saying no – that sounds like my life).

BOUNDARIES IN THE WORKPLACE || EASY HEALTHY BOUNDARIES AT WORK – YouTube

Tap Your Way to a Stress-Free Life

Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT), developed by Gary Craig, is sometimes just referred to as “tapping.” It’s a simple, accessible tool that many people report to be incredibly helpful for stress reduction.

EFT utilizes points along the body that are known as Meridian points. According to Traditional Chinese Medicine, Meridians are channels through which energy (qi) flow – like a network of energy pathways connecting to every cell, organ and tissue in your body. Meridian points are often used in acupuncture, but with tapping, there are no needles involved… or expensive bills!

You can use this technique from the comfort of your home, and while there are paid training sessions that you can do, there are also many free tutorials and materials that allow people to learn the basics on a budget.

Studies have shown the correlation between EFT exercises and significant reductions in anxiety, depression, and other issues. And while it’s hard to fathom that something as simple as tapping specific points along the body could have a major impact, there’s a reason why it’s gained so much traction and popularity.

This video shows how quick and simple it can be:

How to Tap – with Nick Ortner of The Tapping Solution – YouTube

In the comments section, you’ll see many people discussing how tapping has helped them!

In future blogs, I will cover some other modalities that you may want to consider in your healing/wellness/vitality journey.