Did you know that there’s a difference between these two? Well, if not, you are certainly not alone. I can’t even tell you how often I get people asking all manner of questions about food sensitivities and allergies. The problem is that its all very confusing, but everyone keeps hearing about them. Everyone’s heard one or another of the terrible, terrible stories that go something like: “..there was a girl who had a peanut allergy and kissed a boy who had eaten peanut butter like 3 days ago, and then her throat swelled up and…” and everyone knows someone these days with a gluten intolerance. It seems like every third person can’t digest gluten these days!

So the question is: “How did we come to this?”

And I’ll tell you– I don’t know. Truthfully, nobody really knows– but there are theories. First though, let me do what I promised. Let me explain the difference between allergies and sensitivities. I think we all know about seasonal allergies. The more heated problem these days, though, is food allergies. The most common perpetrators are peantuts, nuts and shellfish, and in children– eggs and dairy. So what happens when you eat something that you’re allergic to? Well, usually you’d suffer a predominantly histamine mediated reaction. Histamine is a molecule released by white blood cells that triggers your immune system to react in the presence of a foreign substance. Most of the reaction tends to appear as an itchy rash on the skin or as an itchy, uncomfortable feeling in the mouth. Other, lesser known molecules that are also released by white blood cells contribute symptoms such as runny nose, mucous production, and in the worst of cases, anaphylaxis or anaphylactic shock. Anaphylaxis is the name of the extremely dangerous syndrome in which the body is stimulated in the presence of a very specific allergen to both constrict the bronchial tubes (sometimes to the point of asphyxiation) and to cause a reduction in blood pressure by the blood vessels as they dilate and literally leak blood into the body’s tissues. This can sometimes lead to shock and even death. It’s terrible and frightening, and can happen very quickly. That being said, the occurrence of anaphylaxis is relatively rare. Most people have symptoms that are more in the “itchy and annoying rash” category. So that’s allergies– you’re probably pretty well acquainted with those (ah-choo!)

So then, sensitivities are a little different and they tend to be far more elusive. My patients with sensitivities are those that come in complaining of IBS (constipation or diarrhea, bloating, painful indigestion) or heart burn and reflux. They also tend to have symptoms of general tiredness and discomfort. I’ve even had patients that have entirely bizarre symptoms like throwing up/coughing up of blood or general aches and pains; symptoms that could not be explained by the full gamut of tests that they have inevitably been put through by the time they come to see me. It is these people that I usually begin on a food elimination diet to see if they experience any improvement after a week of not eating specific foods. Sensitivities do not show up on allergy tests because the mechanism by which they occur is completely different than allergies. Food sensitivities are usually due to a person’s inability to properly absorb a  specific nutrient or chemical. A very well known example of a food sensitivity is lactose intolerance. In this case, some people can’t properly absorb the dairy sugar lactose because they don’t have the proper enzyme (lactase) to break it down into a form that the gut can properly absorb. The result of which can be… traumatic and annoying.

Another common sensitivity is to the protein gluten, which is found in wheat, barley, rye, and other related grains. It seems like just about everyone has gluten intolerance these days! Why is that? Well, of course, nobody really knows. There are some educated guesses out there, though. For example, it has been theorized that since, as humans, our diet originally consisted predominantly of those foods which go along with a hunter/gatherer lifestyle (ie fish, meat, fruits, nuts, and vegetables), we simply aren’t as well equipped to digest the foods that were added into our diet later on when we began to cultivate our own foods. Perhaps. Perhaps its more a result of the cultural mixing that has occurred in the past few hundred years– some cultures are simply less inclined towards the glutinous grains. Why are diagnosed cases on the rise in the past, say, 5 years? The jury’s still out, but it seems to this humble acupuncturist that prior to this period their sure were a whole lot of non-specific IBS diagnoses out there. People are just really starting to look towards food intolerances more than ever in the past– and there’s still a lot of resistance out there!

Interestingly, in comparing the proper treatment of food allergies and sensitivities, current thinking stipulates that they be treated in significantly different methods. In the case of allergies, lessening exposure to an allergen is both good and bad.  This is because the less a person is exposed to a specific allergen, the worse an allergy will likely, in time, become. Yet, if the allergy is intense, then avoiding the allergen is extremely important to avoid anaphylaxis. So, the treatment is somewhat case by case. If, for instance, a young child has a peanut allergy wherein the reaction is relatively mild, an allergist will likely recommend that the child still be given some exposure to peanuts to avoid having the allergy become hypersensitive and dangerous. If, however, the allergy is already hypersensitive, treatment in this fashion is difficult. Although research has shown that low dosage immunotherapy of this sort (similar to allergy shots– in which an extremely small amount of allergen is injected) can be effective, in the case of hypersensitive allergies the patient’s reaction to the therapy has to be controlled and carefully watched to avoid anaphylaxis. So, doctors aren’t doing it yet. Hopefully sometime in the near future this kind of therapy will emerge. In the meantime, perhaps the best treatment is preventative. Make sure your little little ones have some conservative exposure to the common allergens— because it has been shown that in countries that expose their infants/toddlers to things like peanut butter early, the percentage of older children with that allergy is greatly reduced. Furthermore, it seems that the number of people with peanut allergies has only increased since parents began to be instructed to avoid common allergens in their childrens’ baby food.

Treatment of food sensitivities, on the other hand, is simple. Well, or maybe not so simple. You simply have to completely avoid that food. In the case of dairy or gluten, this can be very difficult, as they seem to be in everything! The additional problem is that, once you avoid it, you actually become a bit more sensitive to it– so, you will actually react more to smaller amounts of it. This means that just reducing the amounts you eat doesn’t really work if you are having major, system-wide problems. It simply all must go– and that is no small deal! That’s huge! We humans have a very deep, emotional relationship with our food. Sometimes, however, it simply all MUST go. Your body doesn’t get “used to” foods its sensitive to as it can in the case of allergies, because in the case of sensitivities, your body lacks the proper mechanism to digest the food, and it likely always will. These don’t tend to come and go in the same way that allergies can.

So there it is. Enjoy your food– unless, of course, you’re getting rashes, sniffly, bloaty, acidy, or constipated. Because in these cases, I’m probably going to have to sit you down and have a little heart to heart with you, and I might end up telling you something you really don’t want to hear…!

About a year ago I began to recognize a phenomenon that I like to call “the delay.” I began to find myself becoming repeatedly surprised over my patients’ outdated beliefs regarding multiple topics on health and nutrition. The deal is this– there is a very long delay between the time that research uncovers new information regarding health/wellness and the information disseminates into popular culture. That being said, I have also since learned to check myself and remember that, you know, not everyone spends so much of their day researching health and nutrition topics as I do! Anyways, here’s my quick list of quick and dirty catch-ups, just in case:

1) Fats are good! It’s the empty carbohydrates that are doing you in! Please, lordy, no more buying of the “reduced fat” products! BAD BAD BAD! They’re full of sugar sugar sugar!

This article explains things wonderfully: http://www.menshealth.com/health/saturated-fat

2) Chemical based sunscreens can increase DNA damage and free radicals in your body! DNA damage and free radicals can lead to skin cancer. So, the very products you are using to prevent skin cancer may actually be doing the opposite. Yes. That means your sunscreen. The one you’re using right now. Unless, that is, you’ve actively sought out (non-micronized) zinc oxide or titanium dioxide based sunscreens. Have you? Additionally, sunscreens have never actually effectively been shown to prevent skin cancer at all!

Read More: http://breakingnews.ewg.org/2011sunscreen/

3)While we’re on the topic… sunlight appears to be actually anti-carcinogenic. It also stimulates your body to produce vitamin D– the one vitamin that almost everyone is deficient in.

4)Running Shoes. Less is more. It seems that all of our recent additions (arch support, cushiony bottoms, etc.) to running shoes have only resulted in more injuries. See, the problem is that supportive shoes hold your foot in an abnormal position. This results in an emphasis on the wrong muscles to support your running. Then you’ll have to come to me to fix your knees! Which I will do, but…!

Here’s a recent study: http://www.livescience.com/6027-study-running-shoes-joint-strain.html

5)Eating fish is pretty much a bad idea all around. Mercury and other heavy metals are found in all saltwater fish. Plastic is also found in their muscles and gut (think Body Worlds plastination). Even farmed saltwater fish are a problem because saltwater fisheries are contiguous with the ocean. Actually, farmed saltwater fish is probably worse because most of the time there are a lot of antibiotics involved that get out to the open sea. The fish that you can eat with the least worry is farmed freshwater fish (like tilapia, for example). Unfortunately, these fish simply aren’t quite as nutritionally beneficial as their ocean counterparts– and, let’s face it– they aren’t exactly the Don Perignon of fish either!

The Algalita Marine Research Foundation talks about plastics in the ocean and fish: http://www.algalita.org/index.php

6)Household antibacterial soaps, detergents, etc. are mostly bad for you and the world. Now, I’m not saying not to wash your hands, and if you’re in a business that brings you into contact with sick people constantly, by all means– wash profusely. I’m just saying to wash with normal soap. I promise that you can get them as clean as they need to be with normal soap. The problem with antibiotic/antibacterial products is that they make bacteria stronger, more virile, and resistant to antibiotics!

From the CDC: http://www.cdc.gov/ncidod/eid/vol7no3_supp/levy.htm



As an acupuncturist, the most dreaded question someone might ask me is, “Why does acupuncture work?” The problem with this question is that we acupuncturists still really don’t know why it does. Most acupuncturists, when pressed for an answer, will simply explain that acupuncture returns balance to the body, and that it helps to restore the proper movement of energy throughout the body. So, I could do the same. I could go into a full explanation about the movement of the body’s energy (or “Qi”, pronounced chee) throughout the body, or I could explain the principles of yin and yang and how they relate to the body and disease. In short, I could easily explain why acupuncture works from a Traditional Oriental Medicine standpoint. However, most patients are interested in an explanation that involves, say, muscles, nerves, or organs.


So, here’s what we do know. We know that acupuncture somehow stimulates the immune system to remove inflammation from the body, and that it triggers the central nervous system to release endorphins that help to block pain and to elicit a euphoric effect. Research with brain imaging has also shown that specific parts of the brain are stimulated with the needling of different acupuncture points. For example, points pertaining to hearing or speaking will light up the parts of the brain that also pertain to those functions. Most recently, another research study has found a correlation between acupuncture and the molecule adenosine. Adenosine is known to inhibit pain, reduce inflammation, and regulate sleep in the body. In this study, adenosine was shown to increase by quantities of 24 times its normal level near an acupuncture point when a needle was inserted.


The problem is that, while this information does give us an idea as to how acupuncture works (meaning, it helps to explain what happens when a needle is placed in an acupuncture point), it still doesn’t really satisfy the question of why it works. It also leaves me wondering why a needle inserted into the skin can have such a profound effect not only on the tissues the needle is inserted into, but on the entire body. For example, I can very effectively treat insomnia, gastrointestinal disorders, asthma, and anxiety to name a few. These are very complicated disorders to treat by any means. So, until the big why is answered more effectively, I’ll have to simply be reassured that it does work, and really, isn’t that all that matters?


Read more about acupuncture research at the following links:








Eating Naturally

The best diet is a natural and balanced one. These days the word “natural” has become a catch phrase for many food and supply companies. It can mean any number of things, and it seems that each product that is presented as “natural” bends the word to their own convenient definition.

When considering the word natural and how it pertains to food, consider the sort of items that any person anywhere might recognize. For instance, fruits and vegetables, meats, grains, and dairy items are fairly recognizable to any person from any society or place on earth. These are the basis of all our foods, and what we are built to eat.

So, in general, when choosing foods, read the ingredient labels and consider each ingredient and whether or not it is commonly “recognizable.” If it isn’t, then the food you are considering is processed. The more unrecognizable ingredients it has, the more processed it is; the further away from natural it is.

Additionally, natural foods expire. They go bad. This even includes ingredients that you might use to cook with, like flour or oil. High quality whole grain flour or high grade oil should be kept in the refrigerator to keep them fresh and nutritious. Otherwise, these can begin to degrade without you even knowing.

A word about fat:

We must remember that fats are actually very important to our body. They help to keep our skin healthy and strong, and they are one of the major building materials for our brains. So, we need fats! The best fats are those that we eat either raw, or cooked as little as possible. For example, raw nuts and seeds are spectacular sources of fat. High fat fruits and vegetables are terrific as well– an example would be avocados. There’s a reason why they’re so delicious! The dairy group also contains very healthy fat.

Most dairy products are both pasteurized and homogenized. The process of pasteurization is the heating of raw fluids to the point where most potentially harmful bacteria have been destroyed. On the other hand, the purpose of homogenization is solely one of convenience and taste. Non-homogenized dairy fats separate,  which results in a layer of cream that rises to the top in milk and yogurt products. To alleviate this inconvenience, dairy companies homogenize their milk. Molecularly, dairy fats are composed of long chains of fatty acid molecules. When homogenized, these molecules get chopped up into smaller pieces that are more easily absorbed by the gut. Does this matter? Well, that is very debatable (and indeed, it is debated very frequently). Personally, I believe that we consume the foods we do for a reason. Over time, our bodies have adapted to consume foods the way that they are found naturally. So, I recommend not taking the chance. Drink milk the way it molecularly occurs naturally. Drink your milk pasteurized but non-homogenized.

The best way to moderate your intake of dairy fat (especially for reducing caloric intake when dieting) is to eat regular fat dairies, but in smaller amounts. Whole fat dairy isn’t bad– in this instance it just needs to be consumed conservatively. For example, whole fat yogurt is far healthier than most of those modified to be non-fat.  So, reduce the fat by serving your whole fat yogurt with a greater portion of fresh fruit– that way you can enjoy the taste and benefits of real yogurt responsibly.



Sciatica is the name for the symptom that many patients experience of burning, shooting pain following the pathway of the sciatic nerve, from the lower back to the buttocks and further down the outside of the legs and feet, sometimes all the way down to the little toe.

There tends to be a good deal of confusion and misunderstanding regarding the actual cause of sciatic pain. There are actually two entirely different syndromes that are implicated in Sciatica.

  • The first is a radiculopathy of the lumbar spine. A radiculopathy is an irritation of the nerve at the the nerve root, where it first emerges from the spine. Common causes are disc herniation, misalignment of the spine, and degenerative disc disease. Frequently, the affect of the radiculopathy can be worsened by tension of the muscles surrounding the spine.
  • The second syndrome that frequently leads to sciatica is far less easily diagnosed, and therefore more often overlooked. This is compression of the nerve further down its trajectory by muscles that the nerve runs through and next to. The most common muscle perpetrator is the piriformis muscle of the buttocks. In a significant portion of the population, the sciatic nerve actually runs directly through the piriformis muscle. In these people especially, tension or spasming of the muscle can lead to compression of the sciatic nerve, and thereby the associated sciatic pain.

Very frequently sciatica, even long standing sciatica, can be relatively easily addressed by acupuncture and a few simple exercises. The goal of treatment is to relax the stressed muscles that may be impacting the nerve, and remove inflammation from the nerve directly to reduce pain immediately. If the sciatica is caused by a radiculopathy, it will also be very important to strengthen the lower abdominal muscles to better support the back, and allow the muscles around the spine to loosen and relax.

Herbal medicine, topical ointments, kinesio taping, TENS therapy, cupping, and ultrasound therapy can also be effective adjunct therapies for treating sciatica.

Tennis elbow, or as it is clinically known, Lateral Epicondylitis, is a repetitive stress injury that results from continuous bending and turning of the wrist and forearm in the direction of wrist extension and supination (ie the bending of the wrist away from the palm, and twisting it toward the thumb). The common causes of this disorder are excessive computer usage or competing in sports that require a racquet—hence the name “tennis elbow.”

Clinically, what happens is this. The extensor carpi radialis brevis muscle of the forearm, which is located between the lateral elbow and the thumb, becomes strained and slowly incurs damage to both its muscle and the tendon that connects it to the elbow.

The best treatment of tennis elbow is a combination treatment. First, it is imperative that the patient avoid the offending action as much as possible to allow the muscle and tendon time to heal. Of course, it is not always possible to completely avoid the action, and additionally, sometimes the benefits incurred by activities associated with the motion tend to outweigh the risks (as can be the case with recreational activity). In these cases, it is very necessary for the patient to take frequent breaks, and to correct their positioning as much as possible.

Second, the patient should receive acupuncture from an acupuncturist that specializes in acupuncture orthopedics. Acupuncture is extremely useful for multiple reasons. Acupuncture will help the body to invoke the immune system and promote blood flow to the area to help with the healing process. Acupuncture will also help to reduce the pain and sensitivity of the elbow by reducing inflammation there as well.

Third, the patient will need to rehabilitate the muscle and surrounding muscles so as to avoid incurring more damage in the future. For this reason, physical therapy can be a terrific addition to treatment, though exercises can be prescribed by your orthopedic acupuncturist as well.

The key to this and any repetitive stress injury is in early detection and treatment to avoid a long recovery time, as can be the case with long-term chronic conditions.