7 Ways To Prevent The Flu/Cold Without Needles

This is my favorite post to write every year as it brings in the most people into my clinic. Enjoy!

Many of you know that I stopped getting the flu shot for multiple reasons. But the big one was after having a severe reaction to one in PA school and never fully recovering. It has been four years in a row now and though I work with people who are diagnosed every day during flu season, I haven’t gotten the flu myself. You know I’m a food as medicine fanatic, but I’m also really into resilience, stress-relief, community and play as well as the biggest fan of self-care and good, long, high-quality sleep. The combination of all of these health pillars will keep you from getting the sicky- ickies.

Since flu vaccines only have about a 27-56% effectiveness rate, I would rather feel good and make my body happy through natural prevention. I’ll go into the six pillars that I use and perhaps they can help you to prevent falling sick this season.

For those who are debilitated, have respiratory or developmental issues or those who are prone to getting very sick and possibly die from the flu, I do think a flu shot is necessary. It may not be effective, but it may provide some benefit to those populations.

First, we start with food. Food, as I have said time and time again is the Gateway Drug to whole health. If you start to eat whole, real, unprocessed, home – cooked or home – prepared food, you’ll feel better. Once you start feeling better, you’ll feel more motivation to get out and move, leading to exercise. Exercise and healthy diet lead to better mood and less anxiety and stress. The three together allow you to eliminate the worries that keep you up at night leading to better sleep. Better sleep, less stress, good food and energy from exercise make you look good, feel good and encourage you to branch out and play and connect with others. You see that beautiful whole health cascade??

Nutrition also allows you mitigate anxiety and depression through probiotic-rich foods like sauerkraut and kombucha. There have randomized trials on this very issue. The right food helps keep your immune system healthy and ready to fight infection, no matter how much you encounter sneezes and coughs. Sugar suppresses our immune function and decreases its ability to do its job right. I encourage my patients to stay away from white foods when they’re sick or worn down and susceptible to getting sick. These include bread, tortilla, sugar, potatoes, flour.

Eat lots of vegetables of all colors and shapes. Eat and drink fruit without additional sugar in them. Bulk up on healthy proteins like beans (avoid soybeans), eggs, seeds, nuts, kale, sun-dried tomatoes, broccoli.  Once or twice a week eat grass-fed beef, organic chicken and fish. Drink tons of water so your body and mind can function properly.

Then figure out a way to get your body moving. Whether you take a walk with your loved ones or you get to the gym to crank out a 30-minute weight lifting session, get going! This is one that you’ll eventually get to once you start eating better. But increasing your heart rate, getting a flush of endorphins through your body will help boost your immune system and keep it fighting off infection.

Try mindful experiences or meditation. You can even make a daily mantra that keeps you from getting sick and repeat it to yourself every morning. It can be as easy as “I am well, I feel good, I am healthy”. If you make this part of your priming daily routine, it eventually reorganizes your brain patterns to making these thoughts your reality.

In addition to preventing, if you do start to feel run down and like a virus may cause more symptoms here are seven easy to eat, do, take immune boosters that will keep you a healthy as a horse.

  1. Ester- C is which is a more bioavailable vitamin C. When I or a patient starts to get sick or have  the beginnings of a cold, I recommend taking 2,000 – 3,000 mg of Ester-C for 3 or 4 days in a row as long as you don’t have any history of kidney stones. Then for maintenance, take 500- 1000 mg daily.
  2. Drink your morning veggies. Drink a green juice with parsley, celery, kale, cucumber, green apple and a lemon. Add some turmeric and ginger root or the powder if you don’t have access to the real thing.
  3. Gargle with Thieves and drink hot water with honey and 2 drops of Thieves. Thieves is a strong anti-bug blend that Young Living makes and is of therapeutic grade, which means that you drink or eat it. I use it in toothpaste, household cleaner and I just made a tea for my supervising physician on Wednesday because he felt like he was getting sick. If you want to get some, here is a link.
  4. American Ginseng is an herb that has been studied to boost immune function, but should not be used for a fever or acute infection. Use for prevention in 200 mg twice weekly during the winter months.
  5. Probiotics. Obviously something that I prescribe for most everyone on a daily basis, but when people come in sick, I start them on a daily regimen to shorten duration of symptoms.
  6. Elderberry Tea. My mom and aunt have been cutting these flowers and making tea for both allergies and viruses since I was in high school. If you’re not lucky enough to have these trees in your area, you can buy an syrup or supplement and take the recommended dosing.
  7. If it hit you or its about to hit you, stop everything, DO NOT go to work, drink some hot tea with peppermint, put on your pjs, get under the covers, sleep, sweat, rest and repeat all day and night.

These are all recommendations and should be used with caution in case you have sensitivities to certain ingredients or supplements. Obviously stress is a BIG immunosuppressor, so take time to chill out throughout your day. Take 3-5 minutes to sit in silence and just breathe every hour if possible. Even if it means going to the restroom to do this. It is imperative to turn off the busy-ness throughout the day or else you’re going to get sick despite doing the above recommendations.

Prevention is key!! Take care of you, remember self-care is healthcare and pass it onto your loved ones just the same.

photo credit from freedigitalphotos.net by David Castillo Dominici

Share Practice – Connecting Whole Health Professionals

Hopefully you’ve realized by now that community as medicine is of paragon importance to me. I try to connect people in my local community to work together, connect and collaborate. I meet with people on my days off, listen to their story and figure out ways to help them promote their practice or their brand. I’m developing a blueprint off of Shilpa Saxena’s work for group visits in underserved communities. James Maskell inspired me to cultivate community based on his Functional Forum by creating a meet-up in Austin. It is so much fun for me to meet the great people in my community from diverse backgrounds and training, share good food, ideas and best practices. Now I’m on the board of the Austin Healthcare Professionals and am looking forward to connecting with others once again.

I also get so many questions from my colleagues about how I learned to approach my practice in a more integrative way. It took me about five years of focused curiosity, conferences, certificates, classes, apprenticeships, and mentorships and a ton of money. This has allowed me to gain an abundance of whole health information and education that I use on myself, my loved ones and with my patients. Now I’m in the midst of developing a whole health toolkit that will allow healthcare professionals and anyone interested in more integrative approaches to get the basics.

So when I found an app that combined my two passions- community and whole health, I was hooked. Because I’m a borderline luddite, I could never imagine how an app could connect people to share best practices without picking up a phone or meeting for lunch. Then Share Practice arrived into my world and continues to blow my mind. Share Practice is a collaborative medical reference that is used by healthcare professionals to ‘to rate and review the effectiveness of drugs, herbs, and supplements.’ After using it for about six months, I have seen it integrate essential oils and acupuncture as well, so it goes beyond just a pill or supplement. This resource allows you to get a second opinion from thousands of your licensed colleagues and provides a peer-based clinical support for everything from anxiety to pheochromocytoma from doctors and naturopaths to PA’s and acupuncturists. I love it. I’ve used it to give more holistic advice on viral illness and headaches. It’s great, easy to use and takes the research in our usual clinic time crunch and rolls it into a simple app. The other cool part of Share Practice is that it can be used by medical students as a read-only reference tool.

According to their FAQ page, their content comes from:

“SharePractice has built its own medical ontology that maps diagnoses to treatment options by leveraging public databases found through the UMLS.  Supporting citations are then pulled from PubMed.  And finally, licensed clinicians share their own experience through ratings and reviews that ultimately curate and rank the lists of treatments included for a given diagnosis.” Plus there is a rating system that allows health care pros to contribute their opinion about treatments, which I haven’t contributed to, but I plan to.

So if you’re a licensed medical professional or a medical student (I’m going to see if they allow this for PA students too), join Share Practice and try it out. It really is a great tool to simply see what others are doing and what actually works for patients.

photo from freedigitalphotos.net from cooldesign

A Letter To Kevin Durant

I know that I’m a total fanatic about food as medicine. It’s my passion. I believe the gateway drug to optimal health. My hope is that I can share what I learn with anyone who will listen. Usually this ends up being my patients and clients, which is awesome. My favorite part of a visit with patients is the education piece. The way their eyes light up when they realize they can reverse Type 2 diabetes. Having them ask questions about the meds they take and how they can use food and exercise to get off of them. After a 12-hour day in my practice, I feel reinvigorated and excited that I was able to share as much as possible to help my patients take control of their health.

One evening, after one of these 12-hour shifts I was feeling great driving my normal two-mile commute home when I noticed a certain fast-food chain advertising new slushies named after my favorite basketball player, Kevin Durant. I rushed home and got on the internet to do some research. Sure enough, sugar-laden slushies that sound incredibly delicious, but totally terrible for your health endorsed by a hero of an athlete. I was frustrated and broken hearted. I work so hard to educate my patients to eat healthily and KD can come and destroy that in one fell swoop.

So just like I do, I wrote him a letter defending and advocating for my patients. The patients in communities he knows very well, as he grew up in similar neighborhoods among similar kids with big dreams of playing in the NBA.

Just like it is Kevin’s responsibility to represent and model healthy life choices, in all realms, it is also ours as healthcare professionals, parents, teachers and adults. I hope you’re encouraging and engaging your patients as much as they’ll allow and teaching them about food, sleep, stress-relief, self-care, exercise, play and community as medicine. They listen to us even if you don’t think they do. They also follow what we model, even when you don’t think they’re watching.

Dear Kevin,
Let me start by saying that you’re a true champion of a role model. Your rise from the beginning is something that I’ve watched and admired from Austin since 2006. You’re a badass basketball player and your talent launched you pretty much from high school to the pros, living out a dream of most senior athletes, especially in Texas. I’m glad you took a season to represent my alma mater, UT Austin, even if it was for a minute. I was a hardcore pro basketball fan for years, but you never made it to my teams, so I had to quit watching. Ok, that may not be entirely true.

I cried like baby watching your heartfelt MVP speech, as I’m sure many did. You are so real, transparent and kind. It was a warm dedication to those who sacrificed and lifted you up throughout your life. Your love, respect and gratitude for your momma was beautiful. She is obviously a queen of a woman and a model for all single mommas out there, but you already know that.

I clearly have a deep respect for you, your game and what you represent. But when I was driving home the other day and saw your name on slushies at a certain fast-food chain, I was shocked and saddened. I totally understand big corporate food trying to leverage a superstar for their benefit. But after coming from work where I treat patients who use fast food as their main source of nutrition, I was disheartened.

You, out of all people, should know and understand the importance of what we put in our body and performance, mental and physical. I work in underserved, low-income communities and have since high school. My patients live in food deserts, where there is little or no access to fresh, whole, healthy, unprocessed food. In food deserts, convenience stores, liquor stores and fast-food restaurants are king and this is where many of my patients go for their nutrition.

The Bogalusa heart study showed that kids as young as nine years old have markers of heart disease and diabetes. Childhood and teen obesity is a tragic public health problem and most prevalent in the communities I serve. Hispanics, African- Americans, Asians, minorities live in these food deserts and this hits close to home. I’m Hispanic and grew up in these same neighborhoods and ate a lot of the crap food that is available.

I’m a food as medicine fanatic and an advocate for bringing healthy food to schools and communities. Our schools are full of empty calorie food with little or no nutritional value. How are our kids supposed to shine without getting the nutrients and fuel they need? I see these same kiddos who get excited about a nerds slush because KD endorsed them (and yes, though they’re delicious, they’re full of sugar, which a known body and mind killer).

My patients are my life. I spend as much time with them educating and empowering them to take control of their health. It is hard to do this when their heroes are pushing sugar in a cup. The Journal of Pediatrics did a study in 2013 showing the influence of a celebrity endorser (an athlete in this case) promotes increased consumption of the product (chips in this case). It doesn’t take scientific study to realize the reality of this; it’s just common sense. Kids follow their role models.

I’m writing you because I’ve been that kid who gets excited because a certain supermodel I adore is drinking coke. I’m writing because I believe it is important for me to advocate on behalf of the communities I serve. I’m used to celebrities endorsing products, its common practice. But when one of the athletes I’ve always held in an entirely different light, one who is not only a superstar athlete, but a true team player, a standup human, and an intelligent and kind man, endorses a product that is destroying my patients health, I have to say something.

You’re not just a basketball player, you’re a role model, a hero, a superstar and you have a huge tribe that follows and imitates many of your moves. I believe when you hold a position like that it is your responsibility to promote what is healthy and right. Kudos for doing this with Kind bars. I also love that you placed ‘kind and strong’ hand in hand and believe as a role model for so many impressionable youth, this message is imperative, as compassion is necessary for health too.

Thank you for reading. Continue the magic you’re making in preseason, congratulations on your latest status in the top players list from SI, and good luck in the regular season, not that you need it.

You’re still my favorite basketball player, despite the slush incident.

Take care Kevin.

Erica Benedicto


photo from freedigitalphotos.net by hin255

I Was Ready To Quit Medicine

In 2011, my life was a wreck and I felt like I was one of those pennies spiraling down a giant plastic funnel. Working as a PA was a dream come true, but after a few years of practice it stopped feeling like a healing profession and began to feel like a factory. I felt hopeless and I didn’t feel like I was actually helping patients, much less helping them heal. I felt bored, anxious, stuck, insecure and sick all the time. My co-workers felt the same. I was surrounded by a heavy feeling at work and home. I drank and indulged to cope with life. I moved from practice to practice and looked for ways outside of medicine to make money. I felt the same hopelessness everywhere. Endless 10-12 minute visits with patients, no real time to listen and troubleshoot a plan for their health, writing prescription drugs like I was a rock star signing autographs. I proposed changes to my supervisors with the promise that I would do everything myself, all they would have to say is “GO!” Nothing ever stuck or changed. So because it was all I knew, what I was trained to do, I stayed on the hamster wheel.

I was doing the same with relationships of all types. I would bounce from person to person wanting so bad for them to save me from myself, to make me happy and whole again. Then I hit rock bottom. The dark night of the soul is a real thing. And it’s super scary. You feel like someone took a giant spoon to your chest and scooped out your insides. You can’t breathe. You can’t feel. You can’t fake a smile or eat or think. But somehow with the grace of God and the universe I was able to crawl out.

As I chased the light, at an incredibly slow pace, I began to make tiny changes. The little shifts took me almost three years to start feeling better, more optimistic, excited about the day and about life. I focused my attention on my intention, to be a healer, to partner with my patients and in my relationships, and to make my own rules based on the right way. Then my brain cells started adopting the good thoughts and eventually that became my pattern. I began my first gratitude journal, which created a big shift. I thought constantly about everything I had instead of focusing on what I thought was lacking. I began a yoga as medicine training and even bigger shifts started taking place.

Then I read that you are the average of the five people you spend the most time with, so I began to surround myself with the ‘dreamers and doers, the believers and thinkers’, which forced me out of my comfort zone of medical professionals and into a new world of independents, start-ups, creatives and entrepreneurs. I serendipitously applied to a TedX conference where the theme was FearLess and was granted admission. There I found my tribe. I learned from them that without a vision, nothing exists and that thoughts become reality. I began to write down my goals, my dreams, how I wanted to practice medicine and my vision for my life. Every time I went to work, I took my written dream practice and made it my reality and it worked. Patients loved it. I was happier and healthier and hopeful again. But more importantly, my patients craved this type of care and they were happier and healthier because of it. 

I honestly never thought I would want to leave clinical practice and perhaps I won’t for a while, but until I find a space where I can actually listen to a persons story from the inside out, from the early years to the present day, to evaluate the mental, emotional, physical and spiritual aspects of their health, my work will in the current system will be limited. My wonderful profession allows for this and I thank my lucky stars every single day that I have this flexibility.

I remember taking one of my grand plans to my two supervisors in 2012. I sat in their office, computer on lap, business plans plotted out for easy understanding. At the end of my presentation, I told them my ultimate dream. One of them turned to me and said “That’s a cute dream Erica, but this is the real world and you will never make a living with holistic health or food as medicine in underserved communities, just keep doing what you’re really good at, patients love your care” then sent me on my way. So for them and their plans for my life, I will be forever grateful.  Seriously, there is nothing stronger than someone saying you can’t do something. As Walter Bagehot said; The great pleasure in life is doing what people say you cannot do.”

I see my penny analogy happening throughout the healthcare world.  Whenever I do step into a clinic, it breaks my heart to witness and know that there is a different and better way. This is the gift I want to share with the world. My gift to those who have dedicated their lives to underserved communities and went into medicine for the service, not the prestige or the title or the money. Anyone can transform their life and their practice as long as their intention is there.

I wasn’t the chosen one. I am not a golden child. I simply have a dream, a drive that won’t be slowed and an obligation to my patients whose timid whispers need a louder voice. Will you join me?

“Another world is not only possible, she is on her way. On a quiet day, I can hear her breathing.” Arundhati Roy



Photo from sumetho at freedigitaldownloads.com