The 2013-2014 beijingkids Health Guide is the latest resource for Beijing families dedicated to providing information on family health care, maternity, eating and breathing safety, mental health, emergency care and traditional Chinese Medicine. Articles from the guide will be featured twice a week on our website. Find the full version here.
Sleep problems, migraines and bad sinuses – the list of common, everyday ailments goes on and on and knowing how to deal with these issues in Beijing can mean the difference between a fantastic or miserable experience living here. We spoke with a group of long-term expats to learn what steps they have taken to help themselves feel, deal and heal better.
Step Up Your Sleep
A WHO study back in 2002 estimated about 27 percent of the world suffers from sleep issues – despite how common these problems are, they are not to be taken lightly – consistently bad quality sleep can lead to a host of health problems, ranging from high blood pressure and obesity to heart disease and even cancer. “I didn’t even realize I had sleep issues until my first acupuncture and cupping session,” says Theresa Ahdieh, who has been getting bi-weekly TCM treatments with licensed TCM practitioner Shelly Ochs at the China Culture Center. Ahdieh started noticing results after just two sessions and says the treatments have also helped improve her eating habits, metabolism and anxiety. “It’s addictive – I’m still waking up but generally sleeping more soundly – I can’t see myself stopping anytime soon.”
If pins and needles aren’t your thing marketing consultant Jennifer Thome recommends sour date plums, nansuanzao (南酸枣). “When I’m stressed out my sleep definitely suffers. A Chinese doctor friend mentioned the sour date seeds in passing, and I was tempted. So I tried it out and I find I sleep more deeply, without any negative side effects.”
If you want to try it out for yourself Jennifer recommends simmering 20 grams of sour dates in 1-2 cups of water for 20 minutes and drinking it before you go to bed.
Help for Your Head
Like many city dwellers, Chi Fan for Charity founder Michael Crain suffers from pounding headaches – a condition that also runs in his family and gets even worse when the pollution levels go up. To alleviate the pain, he has been taking Imitrex* (a.k.a. Sumatriptan), a beta-blocker that not only helps with migraines but can also treat heart disease, angina, blood circulation problems, uncontrolled high blood pressure and severe liver disease, among other conditions.
Crain obtained a prescription at the Beijing United Family Hospital and has gone from taking it 3-4 times a week to only twice a month after adapting an active exercise regimen that includes frequent trips to the gym and fitness boxing classes.
Before he started taking Imitrex Crain says that he would often feel a tingling sensation in his head before getting a headache, which he usually just “suffered through” in the hopes that it subsided quickly. “There were times when I would need to go into a quiet room to help it dissipate,” he explains. “Now I take Imitrex as soon as I get the tingle and within about 20 minutes the feeling subsides and I’m able to continue my day.” Regular exercise, taking frequent breaks from staring at the computer screen, getting enough rest and wearing sunglasses outside have also helped him deal better with his migraines.
*As with all other drugs, Imitrex can result in side effects including chest tightness, weakness and stomach discomfort. Always consult with your doctor before taking any medication.
Away with those Aching Joints
Vilma Busquets has suffered from rheumatoid arthritis for over two decades and relocating to Beijing from the U.S. required her to make many adjustments in the treatment of her condition. Along with her regimen of prescription medications, sleep and exercise, Vilma takes Caltrate, which she gets from the Sino-Japanese Friendship Hospital pharmacy, as a calcium supplement to keep her bones strong. “I take 600mg a day of Caltrate, which contains calcium and Vitamin D3,” she explains, adding that because her body is “constantly fighting pain” she becomes fatigued easily and thus needs to keep her bones strong to help support her muscles.
In order to keep her rheumatoid arthritis manageable Vilma also needs a full eight hours of sleep a night and takes naps during the day if she didn’t get the full eight hours the night before. She also regularly does Pilates everyday. “When you have chronic arthritis, strengthening your muscle mass is important so that they support the bones. I enjoy Pilates and yoga because of its high impact on muscle toning in a short amount of time.”
Beijing’s notorious air pollution is terrible for people who suffer from sinus problems. For many residents air purifiers and facemasks have become necessities of life but there are other steps you can take to keep yourself breathing freer and easier.
Theresa Ahdieh never had any sinus problems until she moved to Beijing but now swears by her Neti Pot, a nasal irrigation system that dates backs to ancient Hindu times and literally rinses the gunk out of your sinuses. “It clears up my congestion and filters through everything, it’s the only thing that makes sure that my sore throats and chest pains disappear,” she explains. “I fill the pot with body temperature water and saline solution and use it both in the morning when I wake up and before bedtime on really polluted days.”
Ahdieh got her Neti pot prescribed by Beijing United Family Hospital along with the saline solution for RMB 300, but you can also purchase cheaper options on your own along with nasal salts, off Taobao searching under its Chinese name bí hú (鼻壶).
Jennifer Thome also suffers from sinus problems and congestion and recommends using apple cider vinegar for nasal washes. “My nose is triggered by dust in the winter and spring and mold in the winter and fall, and it also gets worse when I drink a lot of dairy,” she says. “I generally hate popping pills but I recommend Huodanwan (霍胆丸), a type of Chinese medicine that does wonders on stuffy noses.”
Beat Deficiency with a Dose of Vitamin D
Vitamin D helps our bodies with multiple functions and is critical for building stronger bones, protecting against cancer and heart disease, helps with weight loss and even puts us in a better mood. It is mainly derived from certain foods, supplements and the sun. Our bodies make our own vitamin D when the sun shines on bare skin (see p44). But since there are plenty of days where the sun disappears for unknown periods of time in Beijing, it’s important to make sure your body is getting enough vitamin D.
Melanie Atkinson has lived in Beijing for more than 13 years, but on a recent trip home in Australia she discovered that she is vitamin D deficient through various blood tests. “Cloud coverage and pollution cuts out the ultraviolet ray (UVB) that carries vitamin D. Even though I was regularly taking a multi vitamin I was still vitamin D deficient. The doctors and I could only put it down to the pollution. People like me who stay in Beijing for many years are prone to be at risk. Vitamin D deficiency can inhibit your immune system so I was prone to catching every cold and infection that was going around,” says Atkinson.
Today, she takes a daily dose of three drops of a liquid D3 supplement that she brings from back home. Other ways to make sure your body is getting the sufficient amount of vitamin D is to take vitamin supplements and eat foods that contain vitamin D. Most foods don’t have naturally occurring vitamin D with the exception of fish such as salmon, swordfish or mackerel. Additional sources include fortified cereals, tofu, soymilk, salami, ham and sausages, eggs and mushrooms.
From (and for) the Heart
Cardiovascular diseases are now the leading cause of death in the developing world and the numbers are getting higher, especially in big urban centers like Beijing. When Philip Huang moved to Beijing from California last year he began taking a supplement called Resveratrol (a.k.a. “the red wine pill”) to boost his cardiovascular health.
A strong antioxidant containing extracts that occur naturally in red grape skins and certain plants, resveratrol is believed to have anti-inflammatory, anti-cancer, anti-aging and other disease-combating benefits. Huang says that taking resveratrol, along with Vitamin C supplements for his immune system, has made him feel generally “more energetic,” and research indicates that it may even slow down ageing and can help prevent pre-diabetes.
But a word of caution: A recent study indicates that for older men, taking Resveratrol may actually blunt the effects of exercise, and other studies call into question its purported anti-cancer and cardiovascular benefits (which, in turn, goes against another recent study that seems to confirm its anti-aging benefits). For the layman it’s all rather confusing and bear in mind that Resveratrol supplements are not currently regulated in the US or China, so it’s best to read up for yourself and consult your doctor with any questions or concerns.
Beijing’s environment and fast-paced lifestyle can indeed take its toll on your health if you suffer from these everyday ailments, but know that you’re not alone and there are proven steps you can take to make your life in Beijing healthier and ultimately happier.
This article originally appeared on page 18-20 of the beijingkids Health Guide.
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Photos by Lova Li and Sui