Topical Pain Relievers: Bengay and Beyond!

Back pain? Aching muscles? Joint pain?

Instead of reaching for acetaminophen or ibuprofen, have you ever tried a topical pain relieving ointment to treat your aches and pains? In this blog post, we’ll review common conventional topical treatments for pain, from Icy Hot to Bengay. The 2nd blog post in this series is about herbal topical pain relievers.

I’m sure you’d recognize the menthol-scent of someone who has slathered Icy Hot all over their shoulders after a long day of raking leaves.  Common over-the-counter topical pain relievers include Bengay, BioFreeze, Icy Hot, and Aspercreme. In my world, these topical pain-relievers composed the scent of the medicine cabinet from my childhood, as well as my great-grandmother’s apartment. The smell immediately opens my sinuses and drops my shoulders a bit (an attribute of the aromatic powers of menthol/camphor).

Topical pain relievers have been around, literally, forever. Let’s take a closer look at how they work.


Many of the active ingredients in these over-the-counter pain relieving rubs are considered counterirritants, and include menthol, camphor, capsaicin (found in chili peppers), and methyl salicylate (oil of wintergreen).  These ingredients are considered counterirritants because they cause mild, local inflammation in the area of application, and this inflammation stimulates the nerves and creates a new, milder sensation. Essentially, they distract you from the more intense pain that you’re looking to lessen.

Interesting to note that many of the counterirritants are also powerful aromatic herbs – menthol, camphor, and wintergreen – which stimulate awareness and open the senses. When I smell any of the mints, I become more aware of my body and my surroundings, and can better tune into where I am holding tension in order to release it. Just the smell is medicinal!

Counterirritants tend to provide temporary relief, and must be reapplied when their pain-distracting properties begin to wear off.

NOTE OF CAUTION: Never combine these topicals with a heating pad, and understand that though it is very rare, there have been reports of serious skin injuries, ranging from first- to third-degree chemical burns where these products were applied.

Topical NSAIDS and Salicylates

Topical salicylates contain the pain-relieving substance found in aspirin. Examples include Aspercreme and Bengay – both of these are available over-the-counter.

Another common choice to relieve pain are prescription topical non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS),  which typically have significantly less side effects than oral NSAIDS. Here’s a bit from a piece I found on the Harvard Health blog:

We know that oral NSAIDs can ease arthritis pain. A scientific review by the Cochrane Collaboration, an international body of health experts, found that some prescription topical NSAIDs can offer the same pain relief as oral medications with fewer gastrointestinal concerns. Common prescription topical NSAID pain relievers include diclofenac gel (Voltaren) and patches (Flector).

The advantage of using a topical analgesic is that the medication works locally. Targeting pain more precisely using a medication applied to the skin can help skirt the side effects of oral drugs. This can be a boon for people whose stomachs are sensitive to NSAIDs. (Keep in mind that a small amount of the medicine still enters the bloodstream and ends up in the stomach and elsewhere, so a topical analgesic isn’t a guarantee against NSAID-related stomach irritation.)

Other people seek topical NSAIDs because they want to avoid adding another pill to their daily regimen, or have trouble taking pills.

A key warning about using topical analgesics: don’t use them if you are also taking an oral NSAID—either prescription or over-the-counter—without telling your doctor. Taking too much of an NSAID can land you in the hospital with stomach bleeding or an ulcer flare-up. In fact, up to 100,000 Americans are hospitalized every year for NSAID-related gastrointestinal problems.

Quick Rules for Using Topicals Safely

• Do not apply to broken skin or rashes.

• Do not cover or bandage the skin after applying the pain reliever. Just rub it it until you can’t see it anymore.

• Do not apply heating pads to areas where you’ve recently used a topical rub.

• Remove the topical with warm soap and water if the skin becomes uncomfortable or painful.

5 Supplements to Support Your Immunity

Over lunch last week, I asked a couple of Wildwood practitioners about their favorite approach to supporting immunity. My specific request was for their favorite immunity-boosting supplements that would be available at the typical health food store (since our practitioners often use these for their families, friends, and patients many of these supplements are available at Wildwood).

After getting their recommendations, I also did some research into the foods that contain these vitamins and minerals, because eating your medicine is fun, too!

Check out the suggestions below.

5 Supplements to Support Immunity


Helps maintain optimum immune function. Also involved in collagen production, wound healing, and vision. Could reduce the length of time of sickness, as well as the intensity; recommended that supplementation is started at the first signs of getting sick.

Dosage: 30 mg a day of zinc picolinate (or zinc gluconate) for those first couple of days when you feel like you’re getting sick. Because I eat free-range eggs and beef from pastured cows (small amounts, but every week), I do not supplement daily with zinc unless I feel like I might be getting sick. If my body starts waiving the pink flags (back of throat inflammation, aching shoulders and neck), I take 30mg of zinc once a day for 3 days. I like Pure Encapsulation Zinc 30.

*Please take note that too much zinc, if taken as a daily supplement, can disrupt copper balance. If you take daily zinc, see dosage recommendations here).

Food Sources: (Cooked) oysters! An 1 oz. oyster (your average-sized oyster) contains about 8-9 milligrams of zinc. Also, beef, eggs, sesame seeds, pumpkin seeds, and lentils are good sources of zinc.

Vitamin A & D

These two fat-soluble vitamins are important for immune health and can help prevent and/or reduce the instances and longevity of colds and flu. I’ve listed them together because they work best when taken together.

Vitamin A 25% off our favorite immunity products for the month of March!

Vitamin A serves an important role in immunity and helps the skin and mucous membranes repel bacteria and viruses. Also important to bone growth, reproduction, and vision. Vitamin A is the all-encompassing term for retinoids, which occur naturally in both plant and animal tissue.

If from animal tissue, Vitamin A comes as fat-soluble retinoic acid, retinal, and retinol, which are all bioavailable forms, and often referred to as preformed Vitamin A. (Because of this fact, a person can have an excess of animal-derived Vitamin A in the body, which can occur in populations eating the liver of certain animals, including polar bear, seal, walrus, and moose, or in cases of over-supplementation).

The Vitamin A in fruits and vegetables come in the form of carotenoids (you’ll often see “mixed carotenoids” on the listed ingredients of a supplement). Carotenoids are water-soluble and do not accumulate in the body, therefore no toxicity is associated with taking too much (though super high doses can turn the skin orange, this is a reversible condition).

Dosage: Dependent on the form of Vitamin A you are taking; follow instructions on back of bottle and see here for more info.

Food Sources: 3 ounces of beef liver provide over 23,000 IU of retinol (preformed Vitamin A); in other words, one does not have to eat much liver to get plenty of Vitamin A, so consume in moderation. Plant foods high in carotenoids include sweet potatoes, carrots, spinach, kale, butternut squash, cantaloupe, mangoes, and pumpkins.

Vitamin D

The immunoregulatory actions of vitamin D have been recognized for over a quarter of a century, but it’s only been in the past decade that it’s received such significant attention in the media. Unfortunately, there have been some upsides and downsides to this. First, and most importantly, know that too little Vitamin D is not good, but too much of it is also not good. For a while, most advice (and research) was directed at deficiency, but over-supplementation is possible and can have serious negative effects. Ideally, have your Vitamin D levels testing before taking megadoses of Vitamin D.

*Deficiencies of vitamin D are common, especially in industrialized countries in northern latitudes, where sun exposure is typically infrequent…that’s us, Maine!. See here for more detailed info on Vitamin D.

Typical dosage: 1,000 – 5,000 IU a day, depending on blood level. I use Liquid Vitamin D-3 because I’d rather drip of drop of (tasteless) oil on my tongue than take a pill. I also use a liquid vitamin for women, they taste much better than a pill vitamin would.

Sources: Real sunshine is the best, but not always practical. If your arms and face (or the equivalent amount) is exposed to the following amounts of midday sun (11 am to 3 pm), without sunscreen, on a day when sunburn is possible (i.e., not winter or cloudy), then you should not need any dietary vitamin D that day. It’s also interesting to note that aging, being overweight, and inflammation reduce our conversion of sunlight to vitamin D.

Light-skinned: 10 to 15 minutes
Dark-skinned: 20 minutes
Elderly: 30 minutes

Food Sources: The egg yolks of free-range chickens, cold-water, fatty fish (like sardines and salmon), and dairy products from cows that ate green grass (not corn). Shiitake mushrooms have vitamin D in small amounts. For a more detailed list of Vitamin D food sources, see here and here.

Vitamin C

Vitamin C (also known as ascorbic acid) is a water-soluble vitamin and a powerful antioxidant that is abundant in vegetables and fruits. Vitamin C is involved in maintaining connective tissue tissues, protecting against heart disease, and decreasing total and LDL (“bad”) cholesterol and triglycerides. According to research, it’s also likely that vitamin C helps protect against a variety of cancers by combating free radicals, and may also lessen the duration and symptoms of a common cold.

Typical dosage: The most common supplement for of Vitamin C is ascorbic acid, and an average dose for an adult is around 75mg-90mg a day (though many people take up to 1000 mg per day; it’s common to increase the dosage to combat or prevent a viral infection.) If I feel like I’m getting sick, I take as much as 1 gram (1000 mg) of Vitamin C for a few days.

Sources: Vitamin C is abundant in fruits and vegetables. Good sources include: apples, asparagus, berries, broccoli, cabbage, melon, cauliflower, citrus fruits (lemons, limes, oranges), kiwi, dark leafy greens (kale, spinach), peppers (especially red bell peppers, which have among the highest per-serving vitamin C content), potatoes, and tomatoes. For more on this, see here.

Elderberrysambuco bacche sciroppate tavolo grigio sfondo verde

Elderberry extract offers an effective, safe, and affordable treatment for influenza and upper respiratory infections, but should be taken at the first signs of cold or flu. One study shows improvement in cough, sleep quality, mucus discharge, and nasal congestion for those in the treatment group (taking elderberry).

Dosage: Take elderberry according to dosage recommendations upon feeling the initial signs of sickness—and continue taking it if you do get sick. I love Gaia Herbs Black Elderberry Syrup (and so does my 3 year old daughter!).

A Hot Date with A Great Book: Eating on The Wild Side

Where do our fruits and vegetables comes from? Not from the supermarket, of course. That’s just where they are sold. Nor do they come from large commercial farms, local farms, or even our backyard gardens. That’s where they are planted, tended, and harvested. The fruits and vegetables themselves come from wild plants that grow in widely scattered areas around the globe. Most of our blueberries are descended from wild “swamp blueberries” that are native to the Pine Barrens of New Jersey. The wild ancestor of our beefsteak tomato is a berry-sized fruit that grows on the flanks of the Andes Mountains. Our hefty orange carrots are related to scrawny purple roots that grow in Afghanistan. -J. Robinson, Eating on the Wild Side

Eating on the Wild Side

I consumed Jo Robinson’s, Eating on the Wild Side as quickly and delightfully as a handful of wild strawberries. This concentrated, fact-packed book of food history and food science couldn’t have arrived in my life with better timing – it was late February and all I wanted to eat was buttered toast. I’d begrudgingly pick up a bundle of kale at the market and want to weep with boredom. Things were getting dire in the crisper of my refrigerator.

On a drive to work one day, I heard a podcast episode that included a couple of quotes from Robinson’s book, and my attention was immediately piqued; I ordered it the next day. When the book arrived, I experienced a wave of excitement when I held it in my hands, as if my spirit, literally, had been hungry for this exact thing. By the time I reached the second chapter my brain was doing joyous back flips and my stomach was rumbling.

Consuming Robinson’s book was like a hot date with your partner after co-parenting a mostly tyrannical 3 year old all winter (no reflection on my personal life, none at all, move along), and it inspired a great surge of vitality into the way I was thinking about my relationship with fruits and vegetables. I suddenly saw them in a new light: Fruits and veggies, you endlessly adapting nutritional powerhouses of complexity and flavor – I want you! 

That next Sunday, at the Farmer’s Market in Lewiston, I thought WHOA PURPLE CARROTS YOU’RE LOOKING MIGHTY FINE TODAY MMMM HMMM!

For those of you who feel like you need a charge in your relationship with the plants that you understand, in theory, provide essential keys to health, but about which you also occasionally feel blahhh – you’ve got to check out this book.

In the meantime, check out a few of these facts from Eating On the Wild Side. (And yes, these facts are accompanied by a hefty list of research citations at the end of the book; Robinson doesn’t skimp on anything, including food science.)

• Tearing Romaine and Iceberg lettuce the day before you eat it quadruples its antioxidant content.

• The healing properties of garlic can be maximized by slicing, chopping, mashing, or pressing it and then letting it rest for a full 10 minutes before cooking.

• The yellowest corn in the store has 35 times more beta-carotene than white corn.

• Cooking potatoes and then chilling them for about 24 hours before you eat them (even if you reheat them) turns a high-glycemic vegetable into a low- or moderate-glycemic vegetable.

• Carrots are more nutritious cooked than raw. When cooked whole, they have 25 percent more falcarinol, a cancer-fighting compound, than carrots that have been sectioned before cooking.

• The smaller the tomato, the more nutrients it contains. Deep red tomatoes have more antioxidants than yellow, gold, or green tomatoes.

• The most nutritious tomatoes in the supermarket are not in the produce aisles— they are in the canned goods section! Processed tomatoes, whether canned or cooked into a paste or sauce, are the richest known source of lycopene. They also have the most flavor.

• Storing broccoli wrapped in a plastic bag with tiny pin pricks in it will give you up to 125 percent more antioxidants than if you had stored the broccoli loosely wrapped or in a tightly sealed bag.

• Thawing frozen berries in the microwave preserves twice as many antioxidants and more vitamin C than thawing them on the counter or inside your refrigerator.

Jo Robinson has done her research, and combined with a smooth and entertaining writing style, she delivers a truly fascinating read. If you need inspiration like I did, you can get this book here.


Herbal Aphrodisiacs

Last month, I heard these two podcast episodes with herbalist, Jim McDonald, and have been wanting to write about them since. The interview was originally posted on The Free Herbalism Project, a series of free lectures by world-renowned herbalists hosted by Mountain Rose Herbs. The intro to this interview on herbal aphrodisiacs really grabbed my attention. Here it is, from the website.

“Aphrodisiac” is a highly problematic term, predominantly because of the popular but mistaken belief that they create “automatic interest” in anyone/everyone who uses them. Products advertised with guarantees for amazing results often fail to deliver, or (not infrequently) are found to be adulterated with drugs. Looking at lists of plants deemed “aphrodisiacs”, we see everything from strong, druglike herbs (yohimbe) to culinary spices (ginger) to adaptogens (ashwangandha) and antispasmodics (kava).

Well, just like all other aspects of herbcraft, one person’s turn on can put another person out…in other words, energetics apply here as well. What indications make certain herbs appropriate for certain people?

I love this take on herbal aphrodiasiacs, not only because Jim’s approach avoids boring binary ways of talking about gender black Sexual orientation icons set isolated on a white backgroundand sexuality, but because his approach to herbal medicine itself embraces difference. It’s sex positive, and more importantly, inherent to”aphrodisiac” is consent. This is an important element with people who work at websites similar to,

If you’d like to hear Jim talk about his theoretical approach to herbal aphrodisiacs, start with the first episode.

If you’d like to skip to hearing about individual herbs and whether or not that herb would be suited for your particular constitution or your particular needs, start here.

Eat To Heal: Qi Stagnation & Blood Stasis

Qi Stagnation and Blood Stasis Explained

“Stagnant qi” is something we treat every single day in the clinic. Of course, when you explain the concept of stagnant qi to a patient, they want to know more, including how the qi got stagnant in the first place, and what they should do about it. Because I explain this so frequently in clinic, I decided to write a blog post about it. Let’s start with the basics.

In Traditional Chinese Medicine, there’s an understanding that qi stagnation plays a role in most, if not all, imbalances in the body/mind. As you might imagine, symptoms of qi stagnation all involve a lack of “flow” and a feeling of “stuckness.” When qi is not flowing smoothly, one feels it in the body as tension, cramping, or pain, and in the mind as depression, anger, or frustration. There’s a common saying in Traditional Chinese Medicine: If there is free flow, there is no pain; if there is no free flow, there is pain.

It’s also key to understand that qi and blood are inseparable. Blood can be thought of as a “denser” form of qi. Its movement through the vessels and meridians is powered by qi, while at the same time, blood reinforces the strength of qi. In other words, if you experience qi stagnation, you are, to some extent, experiencing blood stagnation (technically known as blood stasis).  Blood stasis typically feels more ‘extreme’ than qi stagnation, and manifests as deep, stabbing, persistent pain anywhere in the body. The pain is localized, as opposed to the more diffuse discomfort of qi stagnation. (Blood stasis is often involved in dysmenorrhea, ovarian cysts, endometriosis, fibroids, cardiac events, and some cancers). Typically, if blood stasis is indicated in your particular health issue, your acupuncturist will likely suggest herbs, as blood stasis is best treated with a combo of acupuncture and “blood-moving” herbs.

I Just Feel…”Stuck”

Car stuck in mud
Feelin’ stuck?

At least a couple times a day, I have a patient who tells me they just feel “stuck.” It’s often a general feeling, and one that we often label as “depression.” Sometimes it’s more specific than this general feeling, and patients will point to a specific part of their body (common places include the chest, low back, and tops of shoulders). As an acupuncturist, I don’t think anything about this is weird. These areas are common places where people hold stress, and stress, in the most basic sense, is qi stagnation.

The Origins of Stagnation

So, how does qi stagnation and blood stasis happen? I’d make the argument that the most significant factor affecting the stagnation of qi involves an emotional/cultural component. In fact, 21st century living is a perfect environment for disrupting the free flow of qi and blood. Though I’d be a big jerk to overlook some of the wonders of being alive during this time (as hilariously illustrated by my bigtime love, Louis CK)…humor aside, it can also be an incredibly painful experience.

Here’s a quote from Daverick Leggett, from Recipes for Self Healing, that explains a little more about what I mean:

Qi Stagnates when the flow of the creative being is stopped. When the Qi is Stagnant, any aspect of harmonious flow can be affected. We may feel frustrated, indecisive or depressed in response to the constraint of our freedom to be ourselves. Physically we may experience uncomfortable digestion, irregular or painful menstruation, headaches, tenderness beneath the ribs, or all kinds of pain.

…It is helpful to consider Stagnation as having two levels of manifestation. The first is Constraint. This is the realm of the psyche, the subtle and shifting ways in which we stifle the more raw expression of who we are. Sorting out these patterns of Constraint means exploring the “shoulds” and “dont’s” which regulate our lives and deciding which of them provide useful and necessary containers and which of them we wish to reject because they stifle our true expression of vibrant aliveness.

Constraint arises from the relationship we have with the growing edges of our being as we shape ourselves against the rules imposed by family, authority, and culture. Wherever healthy assertion of aliveness is chronically suppressed and then internalized, patterns of constraint will develop as we struggle to assert who we are against the ‘controller’ we have taken on inside.

Treating Qi Stagnation and Blood Stasis

As you might expect, treating any type of stagnation involves movement. (It’s one of the reasons people love acupuncture; a well-placed needle is a miraculous thing in regards to moving qi).

The dietary approach to moving qi and blood isn’t overly complex, and can even end up being pretty fun to practice.

  1. Eat until you’re about 70 percent full. 80 percent works, too, if that quiche is especially tasty today.
  2. Pay attention to breathing and posture while eating. In other words, as often as possible, try to sit down (your car doesn’t count), breathe, and chew your food. Taste it!
  3. Incorporate qi and blood moving foods into your diet.

Foods That Move Qi Stagnation

Symptoms: tendency to depression, frequent sighing, flares of temper, sensation of something being stuck in the throat, pain in the ribs or abdomen, uterine cramping, tension in the body that seems stuck, IBS

One easy approach to mitigating a tendency to stagnation, especially if it’s coming from eating too fast, or eating while stressed, is to take a dropperful of bitters before or after you eat (I use bitters before and after meals, especially at a food-centric event, like Thanksgiving). I prefer to mix bitters with a small glass of seltzer water. Some find that eating a segment of section of grapefruit before a meal serves the same purpose.

Use the onion family more! Includes onion, garlic, leeks, and chives.

Embrace the Brassica! Cabbage, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, mustard greens, turnip, kale – all can help move qi!

Pungent/aromatic foods are your friends. Use radish, basil, cilantro, arugula, coriander seed, fennel, turmeric, cayenne, cardamom, and mint.

Incorporate sour flavored foods, in moderate to small amounts, like lemon, grapefruit, vinegar, plums, and green apples.

Try adding a little citrus peel to grain dishes or teas. Use organic citrus fruit for this. I especially love to add lemon rind to basmati rice before cooking. It’s wicked good.

tangerine peel on old wood table, shallow focus
Chen pi (citrus peel) does not directly go to the liver, but it can help move qi, especially when your digestion is feeling ‘stuck.’

Try starting your morning with a small glass of warm water mixed with organic, raw, apple cider vinegar and local honey.

Here’s simple tea for any time you’re feeling stagnant, especially digestively: Take equal parts cinnamon, ginger, and tangerine peel; simmer until a 1/3 of the water has evaporated. Add a small amount of honey. Drink up.

Limit: refined grains, sugar, fried foods, food additives, low fiber diets

Foods That Clear Liver Heat

If qi stays stagnant for long enough it will give off heat. An example of this? A traffic jam when tempers flare, or a compost pile in late spring – put your hand over the compost and feel how it gives off heat. Symptoms of liver heat, or the more extreme version of this, liver fire, include severe irritability and rage, pain and distension in the head (including migraines and headaches), insomnia, constipation, tight neck and shoulders, anxiety, ringing in the ears.

Use bitter foods to your benefit, since they are cooling. Celery, romaine lettuce, dandelion greens, asparagus, and rye are all good choices.

Other cooling foods include cucumber, summer squash, tomatoes, carrot, spinach, artichoke, burdock root (gobo), lemon, lime, grapefruit, green tea, mint, and chrysanthemum.

Limit spicy foods, alcohol, coffee, lamb, beef, and trout.

Foods That Treat Blood Stasis

Heap of Fresh Ripe Eggplants isolated on Rustic Wooden background
Eggplant is specific to moving blood stasis that affects the uterus. Cramping, colicky pain in that area? Try eggplant. (To be used with moderation during pregnancy, but a great addition when trying to induce labor!)

Like stated above, since qi and blood are so closely interdependent, know that qi-moving foods are, to some extent, blood-moving.

If blood stasis is an issue for you, focus on incorporating onion, garlic, scallion, ginger, vinegar, turmeric, saffron,eggplant, shiitake, hawthorn berry (Shan Zha), cayenne pepper, and chili pepper.

Limit cold foods (like iced water and riding the ice cream train too often), as well as refined foods.

Your Baby’s Digestive Health

Before getting into the details about the digestive health of infants, I’ll start with a personal story since it’s a great entry point into discussing the fascinating world of wee’ babies and their wee’ gut microbiomes. It’s a birth story, so if you’re not a fan just move on to the links below for more information.

The Arrival of The Pooties: September 2012

My labor started with a splash (literally) and moved along faster and furiously than the average labor. I don’t mean to imply that it was any more difficult than any other’s labor, but because it progressed so quickly there was no adjusting to the various stages and within an hour I went from shopping for sweatpants at the Goodwill to losing language. Thankfully, my inner athlete took over and I labored with the kind of intense, unwavering focus of a tied soccer match between the daughers of the Capulets and Montagues, with only 10 minutes to go, and an 8 pound human squeezing its way through the birth canal. (My metaphors typically impress, thank you.)

An hour or so later, after careful watch of all the beeps and blips of various monitors, my midwife made the call for a c-section. She squatted down to look me in the eye, put a hand on my shoulder, and announced, “She’s not coming out the old-fashioned way.”

Because I trusted my midwife and knew she wouldn’t advocate for an unnecessary intervention, I offered her a long grunt that I hoped would translate as, “F*****k!!!…….But, okay.”

10 minutes later I was wheeled away for surgery.

A little while later, my daughter was born via c-section. She was a chalky gray-blue color and making feeble, soggy cries. The doc whisked her away and I stared into space, spinning in the center of a giant wave of resignation. This was not how I planned on welcoming my daughter into the world. Yet, somehow, even more potent than my disappointment in having an emergency c-section was the sudden embodied understanding that my life had changed forever. I was both thankful for my daughter’s arrival and terrified by this sudden evaporation of Child-Free Lauren. Some parents experience this change slowly, throughout the pregnancy and into infancy. Mine happened on the operating table.

But back to my waterlogged daughter.  She had swallowed a bunch of meconium (the first baby poo) on her journey and now had a lung infection. Within a couple of hours of birth, my daughter was nested in an incubator, IV antibiotics pumping through her veins to my horror and my relief. The markers that showed infection were high, but the antibiotics began to work within 24 hours. Her infection slowly but surely cleared up.

There were highlights to my birth experience that I’d be remiss to neglect. During the first 48 hours upon her arrival, she was fed colostrum through a syringe, was serenaded by her dad and his guitar, and held tightly the various, gloved pinky fingers of family who adored her. In the meantime, I did my best to calm the waves of anxiety that overtook me as I adjusted to the disappointment of missing out on the initial skin-to-skin contact that I had read so much about, as well as to the other uncomfortable realities of a c-section (like trying to poo, and worrying about how the drugs I was taking might affect my breast milk). The thing that got me really good, though, was recalling exactly what antibiotics can do to the gut. If I ruminated on the fact that antibiotics were now an integral part of her introduction into the world, I would begin to panic, and would have to yank on the gears of my brain until I could refocus on the fact that they may just be saving her life.

(If this story is creating anxiety, I should say now – keep reading. There’s a practical, helpful ending.)

Section 4A of Pootie’s legitimate fan club.

In just a few days, she weaned off of supplemental oxygen and we transitioned her from the warmth of her incubator to the warmth of my own skin, and upon our first legit snuggle, we immediately formed (what felt like) an indestructible crystalline bond. This mewly bundle of suckling need was my newborn daughter! Watch out world! Happily, she thought my boobs were great, and my boobs thought she was great, too. It was true love.

Anyway, here’s the point of this post. Though she recovered fully from her lung infection, my daughter did not thrive in infancy. From the age of 3 days to 6 months, she projectile vomited about 70 percent of everything that she ate, which was exclusively breast milk. She was a gaunt-faced, odd-complected, PootiePoots at 2 months, with eyes that would bulge almost out of her head before she’d toss back all the milk that I had just served up. She went through 5-10 onesies a day. She could only sleep upright, which meant that I propped myself with pillows for many, many slumbers and she slept on my chest. By 5 months, she had gained a little weight but still flung her milk if you moved her the wrong way.  Her dad and I did our best to remain at the periphery of Totally Strung Out. When we’d dabble in crossing over into Totally Strung Out and threaten to sit down and stare at our toes forever, some family member would take her from our arms and demand that we go take a nap.

Healing the Gut: Treating Reflux and Other Digestive Issues in Infants and Children

In retrospect, I better understand what was happening, and though I did my best as a parent (who was trying to be a practitioner, too, even though you’re not supposed to do that, but whatever), there were actually a couple of things that I would have done differently.

Upon birth, a newborn’s digestive system is in the midst of the process of blossoming (and will continue to blossom for the next couple of years). The antibiotics that my daughter needed –  though they did exactly what they were meant to do and for that I’m thankful – put out the “pilot light” of her digestion, according to the perspective of Traditional Chinese Medicine.

Her reflux was truly insane. I’m talking, like, a four foot reach (considered a “reversal of Stomach qi in Traditional Chinese Medicine, combined with Spleen cold-dampness). We never used drugs to treat her reflux, just experimentation and patience. Thankfully, we had a D.O. who answered all of our questions with wisdom and compassion, and never urged us to try drugs.

In the end, I suspect it was a combination of probiotics, acupressure, and the passing of time that solved the issue. She stopped tossing her cookies a dozen times a day. Her digestive center worked out its kinks, and she began to thrive. (The two probiotics that I used were Baby’s Jarro-Dophilis+FOS Powder and Klaire Labs Ther-Biotic Infant Formula. We carry both brands in our online store, if you’re interested.)

So, what would I have done differently?

These 3 articles wrap up the kind of knowledge I wish I’d had at the time, but didn’t.

The Human Microbiome: considerations for pregnancy, birth and early mothering

Scientists Swab C-Section Babies With Mother’s Microbes

How to Treat Acid Reflux in Baby’s Without Using Drugs

Also, check out this research.

Lastly, and this is a bit off the subject, but I wanted to share the book that I used the most in the first couple years of my daughter’s life, to treat everything from colds to ear infections to confusing-colored poo. It also makes a great gift for new parents and/or caretakers.





Lyme Disease Prevention Kit?

The Rise of Lyme and Other Borrelial Infections

Many parts of New England are considered a hotbed for Lyme disease, and infection rates are steadily rising. When I first began to dig deeply into the research on Lyme disease and common co-infections, I experienced a spike in anxiety. Typically, when this happens to me, I scramble to find another place to direct this energy, and sometimes this tactic yields positive results. In the case of learning about Lyme disease, my anxiety became the catalyst for an exhaustive search on Lyme prevention.

And guess what?

I learned that there’s a BUNCH you can do to protect yourself and your loved ones from Lyme/co-infections.

Note of transparency: Wildwood carries most of the products mentioned below. It was a team effort, deciding on the best-quality products; it’s also what we use on ourselves and our families.

Lyme Disease Prevention Kit

First, know the basics.

I prefer to avoid Permethrin. I use Tickshield Tactical Biting Insect Spray instead. I’ve had good luck with this bug spray, but I also encourage you, if you’re going to use botanical formulations (essential oils) as repellents, to experiment with different oils/combinations. Also, please know that some essential oils are not meant to be applied directly to the skin, and that some people may experience an allergic reaction to a particular botanical.  For more info on this, see the EWG’s guide to bug repellents.

I Found an Embedded Tick: Now What?

If you’ve been bitten by a tick, consider the following steps:

  1. Remove the tick properly, and save it.
  2. Testing the tick is much easier than “depending” on undependable blood tests. The most affordable and dependable place we know of for testing the tick is a lab in Colorado. Here are the details. You can also bring the tick to Wildwood Medicine, and we will send the tick for you.
  3. In regards to saving the tick for testing: Secure each tick (dead or alive) in a Ziploc bag. Keep the body intact. Place  a slightly dampened cotton ball or piece of paper towel/napkin (1 inch x 1 inch) in the bag with the tick (do not wrap the tick). This will help preserve the tick for identification purposes. If the tick is alive, great! Double-bag it for added security.
  4. At the site of the bite, apply a few drops of andrographis tincture (Andrographis paniculata).
  5. Wet a small amount of green clay or bentonite clay with water and apply this paste to the bite. Wrap to hold in place. Green clay is absorbent due to its micro molecules (it literally “drinks” oils, toxic substances, and impurities from your skin). Keep in place for 12-24 hours. There is a decent amount of anecdotal evidence that this may decrease chances of becoming infected.
  6. After applying green clay/andrographis, take the homeopathic remedy ledum palustre. You can find ledum at most health food stores in 30c potency. That works. If the tick has only just latched on and has not been engorged, take two doses (each dose is 2-4 pellets) within an hour. Do not repeat. If the tick has engorged, take two doses a day, for three days. The initial dose can be as above (the first two doses within an hour), and for the second and third day, you can take one dose in the morning and one at night.  When taking homeopathic remedies, try to avoid taking remedy immediately before or after eating. (Advice on using ledum for tick bites comes from here.)
  7. When you get home, send in your tick for testing. Results are typically back in about 7 days.
  8. If you test positive for Lyme or a common co-infection, seek out a Lyme-literate practitioner.
  9. Inform yourself about Lyme before seeing any practitioner. Advocate for yourself to get the best treatment.

One Podcast Episode You Must Hear!

On the Science (and Magic) of Herbal Medicine

When I listened to this interview with Guido Masé on my way to work last month, I found that his words, quite literally, filled me to the brim. Within the next couple of weeks, I listened to this interview two more times. I’m not through with it, either. I plan on listening to it whenever I need inspiration. About anything, really – not just in the practice of medicine – which makes it doubly awesome, in my book.

So check it out, and hear Guido Masé eloquently explain the science and magic of plant medicine. He skillfully weaves in history and science and tradition to deliver a  fascinating and educational narrative about three therapeutic classes of plants (bitters, tonics, and aromatics).

His message is practical,  potent, and pure, and I encourage you to give it a listen! Check out the interview here.

Below is the link to Guido’s book:




Acupuncture for Inducing Labor?

In the community clinic, we have helped many a pregnant person through the process of gestation and birth. This post is specifically about how acupuncture can help the body prepare for and enter into labor.

It’s become a common event in the community clinic for a person with a big pregnant belly and a big pregnant sigh to partially recline into one of our chairs and say, “I’m ready to be induced, but can you tell me one more time how this is gonna work?”

Great question!

I was going to write a blog post all about it, but then I realized it has already been written, so instead I’m sharing!

Below is part of a great piece written by Melani Bolyai of Natural Qi Acupuncture.

See the entire post herePregnant woman holding wall clock. It's time. Isolated on white.

Though acupuncture is a natural way to encourage labor, acupuncture needling will not cause labor before the baby is ready to be delivered. The process of natural labor is actually triggered by signals from the baby’s body. Acupuncture needling works on the mother’s body, not the fetus; so acupuncture merely prepares the mother’s body to be as ready and supported as possible for when the baby is ready to trigger the labor process. Labor will not occur if the mother or child’s body is not prepared.


Acupuncture for Chronic Pain

What is Chronic Pain?

First, let’s define chronic pain. Simply put, chronic pain is pain that extends beyond the expected period of healing. More specifically, it’s pain that has lasted longer than three to six months. Though an acute incident often precedes chronic pain (an injury, an illness, a surgery), some suffer from chronic pain in the absence of any acute injury or event. If you are suffering with chronic pain due to an injury that you believe to not be in the wrong for, law firms like and many others take cases from chronic pain patients often.

Historically, those who suffer from chronic pain have not only had to deal with the pain itself but with hurtful stereotypes and inaccurate assumptions that accompany it. Research shows that chronic pain is not a personality problem. In other words, the discomfort suffered by those diagnosed with chronic pain conditions is not “in their mind.” If your medical practitioner implies that this is the case, seek advice elsewhere, you might be interested in checking out somewhere like Dublin Physiotherapy Clinic for help or information about chronic pain.

Important to understanding chronic pain is that research shows that a person can have tissue damage without pain and a person can have no tissue damage but still have pain. In other words, pain and tissue damage are not always related. Countless patients have come to the clinic, flustered and discouraged, reporting something similar to this: “My doctor ordered imaging of my (insert part of the body) and it showed nothing! But it still hurts really bad! I’m pretty sure he/she thinks I’m crazy!” Diagnostic form with diagnosis Fibromyalgia and pills.

These patients aren’t crazy, of course. They simply haven’t received accurate information. In fact, education is considered one of the first steps in dealing with chronic pain. Along those same lines, current research shows that educating patients on how pain works can actually reduce pain.

Why does chronic pain happen?

Pain is typically triggered by messages that are sent from the body when local tissues are exposed to something potentially dangerous (i.e touched a hot plate = PAIN!). The system that detects and transmits harmful events is called “nociception.” Nociception allows the body to instantaneously communicate a message to the brain and the hand will be immediately withdrawn from the danger in order to minimize damage. This is a very useful, and a very basic, survival mechanism.

In general, in response to incoming “danger” information, the nervous system will stimulate other signal receivers and output messengers to increase the body’s capacity to deal with the threat. This process is usually self-regulating. However, sometimes the system goes haywire and the nervous system remains in a sensitized state long after the threat has passed; this is called central excitation.

A simple metaphor for this would be a fire alarm that will not turn off even though you pulled the smoking piece of bread from the toaster, threw it in the snow, and opened all the windows to air out the house. Sometimes, the body’s alarm system never shuts off. It generates a constant signal output of nerve pain. This faulty system leads to disease states that involve chronic pain (like fibromyalgia, complex regional pain syndrome, phantom pain, and migraine headaches).

How can acupuncture help with chronic pain? Pain Relief Concept

Put simply, acupuncture may be a way to ‘reboot’ the nervous system and help reestablish neurological homeostasis. Acupuncture can help down-modulate sympathetic up-regulation. In everyday language, this simply means that acupuncture can help break the vicious cycle of “fight or flight” and help a person access the parasympathetic nervous system, which can be thought of the part of your nervous system that allows for “resting, digesting, and restoration.”

Some research suggests that inserting needles into the skin at peripheral sites “jumps” the neural threshold on the position nerve pathway, so that the signal can reach the brain. The nerves that are chronically firing below the threshold will eventually reestablish themselves. In other words, the central and peripheral nervous system will recalibrate and begin to work in the non-pain state rather than in the pain state. The technical term used for this is reestablishment of neurological homeostasis.

It’s also worth mentioning that well before all of this research on chronic pain and/or acupuncture came to light (and well before the advent of modern research, for that matter), acupuncture has been used successfully to treat acute and chronic pain. Contrary to popular belief, acupuncture is not just about inserting needles into specific locations to decrease pain. It is part of a complete medical system, more than 2,500 years old, with a solid history of preventing, diagnosing and treating disease.

For those of you who are interested in a more detailed look at acupuncture and how it works for pain, see here.