Regular physicals are a must, of course. But what you do outside the doctor's office is arguably even more important to your health.
Chinese medicine and other types of alternative health care offer holistic ways to take care of yourself. Though there aren't many studies of alternative treatments, there is evidence in favor of many of them. And many of the available options are safe to try on your own. Keep in mind, though, that it's always important to consult your doctor before taking any supplement or trying a new treatment.
"It's always worth checking with a doctor to see if they have any interactions or problems," says Donald Levy, M.D., medical director of the Osher Center for Integrative Medicine and assistant clinical professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School.
Here, some alternative remedies you can consider to help you deal with some common health issues.
Preventing colds and flu
Black elderberry syrup. Try this when you first feel cold symptoms coming on. Good evidence suggests black elderberry can reduce the severity and length of a cold, and may even help with the flu, says Levy. You can find elderberry syrup and lozenges at many drugstore chains; Sambucol is a common brand.
Vitamin D. Levy says taking vitamin D daily can be helpful for warding off colds. "Our ancestors used to take cod liver oil, which was loaded with a lot of vitamin D, and some vitamin A," he says. Cod liver oil isn't the best way to get those vitamins, though, because it doesn't contain the vitamins in the right amounts. Vitamin D supplements are a better option. If you want to get the vitamin A as well, try taking purified fish oil and some additional vitamin D.
Green-tea extract. If you get sick often, this could be worth adding to your arsenal. The extract comes in capsule form. It's difficult to drink enough green tea to help with cold prevention, according to Levy.
Ginger and cinnamon. The doctors at UCLA's Center for East-West Medicine often recommend ginger or cinnamon as traditional Chinese remedies for runny nose, coughs, sneezing and congestion, which indicate "cold in the body," according to Chinese medicine. Both ingredients can be added to the diet, says Lawrence Taw, M.D., assistant clinical professor of medicine at the center. For ginger, he recommends tea made from the fresh root, thinly sliced or grated and steeped in hot water for a few minutes. It should be drunk warm or at room temperature; you can dilute it according to taste. Ginger tea bags from the grocery store – often mixed with ingredients such as lemon) are another option.
As for cinnamon, try sprinkling a teaspoon or so onto oatmeal, cereal, or other foods or drinks. Or try store-bought teas that include cinnamon as an ingredient.
Mint, honeysuckle or chrysanthemum tea. Symptoms such as fever and sore throat, on the other hand, would indicate heat in the body, which are treated differently in the Chinese tradition. Try these remedies for a cold with "heat" symptoms such as fever, sore throat or green or yellow mucus, says Taw. It's best to drink these teas hot, not iced.
"Cooling" foods. Because menopause is characterized by heat symptoms — think hot flashes, night sweats — Chinese medicine holds that eating plenty of "cool" foods such as watermelon, cucumbers, celery, Asian pears and mint may be helpful in combating those symptoms. Although there are no studies supporting this, eating these foods shouldn't cause a problem as long as there are no food allergies or other concerns, so they may be worth trying. Taw also recommends avoiding "warming" foods such as alcohol, chocolate and caffeine.
Pumpkin seeds, walnuts and pomegranates. According to Chinese medicine, these foods promote prostate health, and, absent food allergies, probably won't hurt if you add them to your diet.
Asian pears. "Those are very moist and juicy, so those may help dry skin," says Taw.
Lemon and honey. Add these to tea, especially in the winter months when dry, chapped skin can be a problem.
Mint tea. This can make a great vehicle for your lemon and honey, since it also helps combat dry, itchy skin.
Aloe vera. Apply this topically to the affected areas. Avoid alcohol-based products, which will dry skin.
Acupressure. This technique uses specific points in the body to encourage relaxation and promote self-healing. You use hands or fingers to stimulate the points, so it's easy to do on your own. Taw recommends consulting a doctor for advice on any specific issues you might have, but if you'd like to try acupressure for common problems such as headaches, fatigue, cold symptoms, muscle tension or stress, you can learn how by visiting "Acupressure for Beginners" at exploreim.ucla.edu/.