See why Olympic Athletes are availing themselves of this ancient technique of Chinese Medicine. Schedule a consultation today to discuss how cupping therapy, and other aspects of Chinese Medicine can benefit you.
Getting sick during the summer can have a major impact on our “fun in the sun.” But just like with flu and cold season in the winter, the summer also carries with it the potential for illness.
Within Chinese Medicine, there is one such illness that is solely seen in the summer season. It is aptly called Summer Heat. While anyone can develop Summer Heat, younger children, the elderly, or those with an already weaker constitution are especially susceptible to it.
But first, let’s define Summer Heat. To practitioners of Chinese Medicine, Summer Heat involves the “invasion” of a yang pathogen that consumes the body’s qi and yin fluids. This causes the qi and fluids to move upwards and out of the body (for example, as sweat and heat). In practice, Summer Heat may resemble the flu as typical signs include the sudden onset of vomiting and diarrhea, alternating fever and chills, irritability, headache, and urine that is darker in color than normal. In more severe cases, Summer Heat can also cause dizziness, delirium, slurred speech, and/or a loss of consciousness.
Within the western medical world, Summer Heat can cover what a physician would diagnose as sunstroke or heat exhaustion. However, it’s important to note that the Chinese Medical definition of Summer Heat is not simply a direct one-to-one translation to western illnesses. So while it may include sunstroke or heat exhaustion, Summer Heat also covers a wider array of symptoms and causes than any western counterpart.
The good news is that your chances of developing Summer Heat are drastically reduced by employing some simple, yet effective dietary and lifestyle precautions. Here are a few simple tips to help you and those around you avoid, or treat Summer Heat.
Children under six or individuals over 60, those who are extremely overweight, or those who have a weakened immune system should take extra care. These groups are more susceptible to getting Summer Heat and the effects can be quite debilitating.
Incorporate foods of a “cooling” nature into your diet. These include barley, mung beans, coconut milk, as well as fresh fruits and vegetables such as kiwis, apples, spinach, lettuce, cucumber, pears, pineapple, and tangerines. Especially beneficial is watermelon (either whole or freshly juiced). For tea drinkers, green tea is an excellent option. These foods are ideal for nourishing the body and helping to manage the effects of increased heat and sun exposure.
Avoid caffeine and alcohol (or at least keep it to a minimum) when spending significant time in the sun.
Conversely, avoid foods that are actually ice cold (in temperature). Ice cream, ice cold beverages, and the like will actually contribute to the potential of developing Summer Heat. Combining cold foods and beverages with exposure to activities that introduce cold to the exterior of the body, such as swimming in ice cold water, taking an ice cold shower, or entering an extremely cold room, are also sure fire ways to trigger Summer Heat.
Avoid spending excessive amounts of time in direct sun without staying hydrated with cooling and hydrating beverages. As mentioned above, green teas and watermelon juice are considered especially beneficial for avoiding and/or treating summer heat.
Don’t overdo it with strenuous outdoor activities. Unless you are a prime athlete, don’t push yourself beyond your limits during outdoor time. Pace yourself, take regular breaks to hydrate and get some shade; basically, just be aware of your limits.
In the event of a Summer Heat invasion, treatments include drinking plenty of fluids, especially ones that include electrolytes (fennel tea is extremely beneficial in the treatment of Summer Heat), get yourself out of direct sun, and apply ice packs to the upper back/neck area to lower body temperature. If symptoms persist or even worsen seek medical attention as soon as possible.
Unfortunately. there’s never a guarantee for avoiding illness. But making some simple lifestyle and dietary adjustments throughout the season will dramatically reduce your chances of getting sick. This will help to make sure you get the most from your favorite summertime activities!
While most Westerners celebrated the New Year on January 1 according to the Gregorian Calendar, the Chinese New Year will actually occur on Monday, February 8, 2016 following the lunar calendar.
Unlike the Western view of the New Year, which still leaves us in the depths of Winter, Chinese New Year marks the start of spring. And spring, like birth, represents new life and growth out of the darkness of winter. What better season to signal the start to a new year?
But then why not start spring on the vernal equinox, which marks the first day of spring to those in the West? The reason is fairly simple, yet elegant and is also represented within the Taiji (yin/yang symbol). Within the cyclic nature of things, there is a natural ebb and flow. The phases of our own lives, for example, being in infancy, with much development to do throughout our youth. This leads to the height of our maturity before starting the slow decline into old age. We don’t start our lives fully developed.
Similarly, if spring represents the early growth and development of youth, we don’t start at the height of that phase, but rather at the beginning and move towards its zenith. Spring then gives way to make room for the more intensity of summer before the seasons begin their inevitable decline into autumn and finally winter. The vernal equinox, therefore, represents the height, or mid-point, of spring before it’s decline into the early stages of summer.
So within the Chinese calendar, spring runs roughly from early February – early May with mid-March serving as the height of the season. In similar fashion, summer runs from May – early August with the Summer solstice serving as its seasonal mid-point.
This makes for a much more sensible transition to the seasons, and provides context for why Chinese New Year is such a major event, with family and friends celebrating to wish each other a happy and prosperous New Year.
While we Westerners may not ascribe to Chinese culture, I believe there are some ways we can learn and benefit from it in a way that enriches our own lives.
Thing Spring! We all know the feeling after New Year’s of realizing that spring is still three months away. But encouraging awareness that Chinese New Year marks the start of spring and its movement towards fulfillment can make bearing those colder months more manageable.
Find a way to celebrate. Some people find themselves almost hibernating during the colder months, minimizing contact with the outside world. Use the Chinese New Year to plan a get together with family and friends.
Renew previous resolutions. Many of us make New Year’s resolutions and start the year off with gangbusters. Whether it’s going to gym or dieting, or writing that great American novel. But then we may find ourselves struggling to maintain them a month into the New Year. Use the Chinese New Year to reaffirm those resolutions or even generate new ones.
Take advantage of the Chinese Zodiac. We may or may not believe in astrology (Western of Eastern), but that doesn’t mean we can’t reflect on the theme of the New Year and use that theme as a context for what we’d like to achieve. 2016 is the year of the fire monkey. To read more about the major themes present in such a year, check out: http://www.chinahighlights.com/travelguide/chinese-zodiac/monkey.htm
For more information about Chinese New Year, visit: http://www.chinahighlights.com/travelguide/chinese-zodiac/monkey.htm
Most importantly, have a Happy New Year!
I’m very excited to announce that Paradigm Acupuncture is having an Open House to celebrate my new practice in Eau Claire, Wisconsin. The event is free and open to the public. Stop by for delicious refreshments, prizes, giveaways, acupuncture demonstrations, or simply to chat with me about my practice!
click the image below for the full poster.
I look forward to meeting many new people during the event.
Chinese Medicine has always been aware of how the environment can affect health. There are chapters in several classic texts on how individuals can adjust their lifestyles during each of the four seasons in order to stay healthy and avoid the illnesses that predominate during those seasons.
If we expand this idea, geography itself has an impact on the types of illnesses that might predominate in a given region.
For example, individuals living in high humidity climates are more likely to develop signs of nasal congestion, heaviness of the limbs, and cough with phlegm. While people living in drier, cooler climates may experience dry cough and nasal passages, dry skin, and wheezing.
Consider for a moment any ailments you typically suffer from. Are they worse during particular times of the year? What are the symptoms and how might they differ from other people diagnosed with the “same” illness? If you have friends or family in different parts of the country, do they talk about different illnesses than people get locally? If you travel, do you ever get sick? If so, think about how your symptoms may be the same or different from other times you’ve been sick.
For the Chinese Medicine practitioner, the different manifestations of these symptoms (dry cough versus cough with phlegm) indicate a different pattern of illness that requires a different treatment approach to be most effective.
This issue has come up for me as a result of having recently relocated from the east coast to the mid-west. Besides the typical adjustments that come with any move to a completely different place, I began observing how my health is affected by the different environment and climate in which I now find myself. By extension, I began to wonder how my patients would differ from those I’d seen in New York, where certain patterns appeared fairly regularly.
As a practitioner I pay close attention to the presenting symptoms I see in my patients so that I can determine what treatment approaches will be most effective. If I simply try to apply the same treatments I did in NY to a patient in Wisconsin I will more than likely see less than ideal results.
This is one of the beauties of Chinese Medicine. It requires keen observation and a deep understanding of the medicine in order to arrive at a correct diagnosis and effective treatment plan, rather than applying a “once size fits all” model.
I look forward to learning from my patients in this way and being a part of the collaborative journey of healing that we share. So schedule an appointment today to discuss with me your particular symptoms and see how acupuncture may help.
IT Band Syndrome (ITBS) is one of the most common injuries for runners, accounting for an estimated 8-10% of all running related injuries. However, ITBS is not limited only to runners, but can affect those engaged in other activities such as weight lifting, martial arts, and cycling or any activity that requires repetitive knee flexion and extension. Understanding what it is and how acupuncture can treat it may reduce the chances of ITBS sidelining your active lifestyle.
What is ITBS?
Essential for stabilizing the knee joint, your IT Band is a thick stretch of tissue that reinforces the muscles of the thigh, starting from the top of the hip to connect just below the outside of the knee joint. The lower portion of the IT Band runs below the knee joint passing over a bony “knob” on the femur referred to as the lateral epicondyle. Nerves and blood vessels that lie between the IT band and the knee joint at the level of this “knob” can become irritated and inflamed for several reasons:
• One explanation is that muscles in the area (called the tensor fascia latae) can become overly tight, shortening the IT Band and compressing it against the epicondyle.
• Other research has indicated that weakness of muscles in the hip and thigh allow for compression of the IT Band
• A third position maintains that the repetitive action of the IT Band passing over the lateral epicondyle is the culprit.
Symptoms of ITBS:
Regardless of the specific explanation, the result is typically stinging pain and swelling along the lateral side of the knee. The pain will usually start after running, once the muscles have warmed up, but can persist for hours to days following activity. Untreated ITBS can eventually become chronic resulting in thickened tissue at the knee joint. In addition, because we tend to modify our body posture in a way that reduces painful sensations, this can result in other structural imbalances and cause pain elsewhere, such as the ankles, hips and back. So it’s important to identify and treat ITBS before it progresses and causes further injury.
Acupuncture and ITBS:
The concept of acupuncture is based on the existence of channels that traverse and connect the entire body and, when in balance, maintain health and keep us pain-free. Given the location of ITBS pain, along with other signs and symptoms, an acupuncturist can determine the specific channels that are the most likely culprits of imbalance and pain.
In this case, when healthy, the involved channels allow the joints to remain strong, flexible and pain-free. When obstructed or otherwise not functioning properly, pain, stiffness and swelling develop.
Acupuncture can be extremely effective at restoring the proper function of the channels in the body to relieve the symptoms of ITBS.
During an appointment, an acupuncturist will first do an assessment to determine the exact nature of the current problem (such as the source of the pain) and to evaluate any pre-existing issues that may have increased the potential for ITBS to develop. This includes issues such as structural imbalances, lifestyle habits, or even diet. The acupuncturist will then determine a treatment strategy that will employ acupuncture needles and other supportive therapies to further enhance the treatment effect.
The number of treatments that may be needed to resolve ITBS or provide relief can vary based on considerations like the length of time the patient has suffered with ITBS, age, and other lifestyle factors. Your acupuncturist will generally provide you with a prognosis that includes an estimation of the number of visits needed using this and other relevant information in order to develop an effective treatment plan.
Most patients should expect to see some relief within 5-10 treatments, if not complete resolution. Continued work with an acupuncturist, especially during intensive training periods (such as preparing for a marathon), can help to minimize future flare-ups, or even prevent ITBS from developing in the first place!
As a practitioner of Chinese Medicine we often talk about how our medicine is a holistic approach to health and wellness. But what exactly do we mean by that? In my experience, I think there are two primary ways our medicine is holistic; the first relates to the underlying philosophy that defines Chinese Medicine, while the second has more do with the tools we use to inform both diagnosis and treatment. Unfortunately, the second aspect is often left out, at times, to the detriment of our patients.
In the first sense, “holistic” refers to the way in which Chinese Medicine thinks about the body when engaged in diagnosing and treating an imbalance. Chinese Medicine looks for patterns that permeate the entire being, rather than being symptomatic. It is for this reason that classical Chinese Medicine did not develop “Specialties” the way conventional medicine has. When I meet a patient and take a history I am looking at a constellation of symptoms that may even seem unrelated to the patient. This constellation, ultimately, refers back to the very essence of Chinese Medicine – yin and yang, and essential substances like blood and qi as well as other systemic considerations.
That’s not to say that there aren’t practitioners who have specialized (lowercase “s”) in treating certain conditions, such as fertility or pediatrics. In fact, given the vast amounts of modern biomedical concepts modern practitioners sometimes need to master and apply seeing a practitioner who has established a distinct focus to their practice can lead to improved outcomes. In spite of this, however, practitioners of Chinese Medicine assess a person for an imbalance that permeates their entire system, irrespective of the specific chief complaint or symptoms.
For example, I may have a patient who is seeking treatment for chronic headaches. My assessment will not be limited simply to the symptoms of the headaches, but to many other elements of the patient’s condition: how is digestion, sweating, tendency towards getting sick, emotional state, physical appearance, pulse and tongue, physical characteristics, etc.? If the patient is female, gynecological signs and symptoms would be essential as well. All of these give me an indication of the various issues at play and specific patterns of imbalance. But at its root, I am also able to determine very basic themes; is this excess or deficiency (or both); yin or yang,; is it more an issue connected to qi or blood? Once I can make a clear determination, I can prescribe the correct treatment. Since any imbalance affects the entire system (person), selecting the correct treatment will certainly have the benefit of relieving the initial chief complaint, in this case, headaches. However, many patients will also notice the improvement or cessation of other issues, such as poor sleep, menstrual issues, other pain conditions, etc. Again, this is because Chinese Medicine has diagnosed a pattern that is essential to the person, rather than being symptomatic.
It also worth noting that Chinese Medicine not only views the patient in their current state from a holistic perspective, but also applies a holistic approach as it relates to time. Illness or injury is rarely something that happens in the short term (with the exception of acute issues such as accidents). Rather, pre-existing weaknesses or repeated environmental exposures and internal conditions have built a framework in which illness can manifest. This is the patient’s story. With this in mind, a skilled practitioner can also discern the trajectory of disharmony that may eventually manifest if no intervention takes place. In this way Chinese Medicine seeks to be truly preventative.
Now for the second half of the holistic equation: The tools we use in diagnosis and treatment. What does it mean to be holistic in our choice of tools? In ancient times, physicians had a limited set of tools to employ for the benefit of diagnosing and treating their patients. There were no microscopes or MRI machines, X-ray machines or blood tests. Sophisticated surgical procedures, antibiotics, supplements or other treatments had not been discovered or developed. Physicians used whatever knowledge and “technology” was available at the time in order to best inform their diagnosis and treatment within the framework of Chinese Medical theory. I believe this is still relevant to practitioners today.
My training focus is primarily in acupuncture and for some patients acupuncture alone is sufficient to provide relief of their chief complaint. However, I am still aware that some conditions will benefit from additional treatment modalities such as diet, exercise, and herbal remedies. This perspective can also be extended to other medical models, such as conventional medicine. For some patients, receiving conventional medical treatments in parallel to Chinese Medicine can amplify the overall treatment effect and lead to better outcomes.
We can apply diagnostic tools in much the same way. Many diagnostic tests performed by western physicians are still relevant tools for the Chinese Medicine practitioner. The difference lies only in how the practitioner uses these tools. For example, a patient may indicate a diagnosis of anemia through blood tests that show reduced hemoglobin levels. In Chinese Medicine, observation is an important part of our diagnostic toolbox. As such, having access to the results of a blood test can be useful as one aspect of an overall picture of that patient’s pattern. However, it would be a mistake to make anemia our diagnosis and implement a treatment based on that. Within Chinese Medicine there are a number of patterns of illness with anemia-like symptoms, each with different treatments. So while practitioners may be able to use biomedical tools, they must be filtered through the lens of Chinese Medical theory.
Based on the above, it is important for practitioners to consider the many possible treatment options available to a patient and consider those within any treatment plan. For me, if I am unable to provide those treatments myself, then referral is warranted and encouraged. Remember, the goal is to provide the best care possible for the achievement and maintenance of health and wellness. In order to do this we must use the right tools for the job.
Ultimately, the value of looking at patients holistically can’t be over-stated. Patients are more than just their parts or anatomical and physiological systems that can be treated independent of each other. Using the model presented within Chinese Medicine allows for a more balanced and integrated approach to diagnosis and treatment that sees the patient as a unified organism inseparable from his/her environment – past, present, and future.
I’d like to continue my previous discussion of insomnia by outlining how Western and Asian Medicine categorize sleep disorders. In my next post, I’ll present some general information, from an Asian Medicine approach, about how insomnia is diagnosed and treated with some background on Asian Medicine pattern theory for context.
First, it’s worth noting that both Western medicine and Asian Medicine identify various characteristics of insomnia based on its presentation. However, Western medicine may choose the similar or the same treatments, irrespective of its presentation. For Asian medicine, identifying the specific qualities and characteristics of insomnia (often referred to as the pattern of disharmony) are essential to providing the correct treatment.
On the broader level, it’s valuable to identify whether the insomnia is of a primary or secondary nature. Primary insomnia means that the condition is not associated with another health issue, while secondary insomnia develops because of something else (i.e. depression, asthma, etc.).
In addition to identifying whether the insomnia is primary or secondary, is clarifying whether the problem is transient – lasting only a few days; intermittent – lasting up to several weeks; or chronic. Regarding the first two, transient and intermittent, the insomnia will typically resolve once the stressor is removed or resolves itself. However, patients who suffer repeated bouts of short-term insomnia, or who encounter more significant effects of sleep deprivation should still seek out supportive treatments to correct any underlying issues.
Patients with chronic insomnia are strongly encouraged to seek out treatments as this may result in a number of serious health conditions in Western medicine such as hypertension, obesity, and heart disease. Within the framework of Asian medicine, chronic insomnia is a sign of significant disharmonies that will adversely impact ones health in the long run.
Beyond the broader presentation of the insomnia, it’s time to look at how it manifests within a typical episode of sleep. In this regard, we speak of three ways it may present: sleep onset insomnia, where a person has difficulty falling asleep; sleep maintenance insomnia, where a person wakes repeatedly throughout the night; or sleep termination insomnia, where a patient wakes earlier than desired and is unable to get back to sleep. There may also be a combination of all three.
Other factors surrounding the insomnia, such as the type of dreaming experienced (i.e. vivid dreams), level of restlessness, time and content of evening meals, typical bed-time, etc. will also be explored. All of these issues, as well as other signs and symptoms will assist in identifying the specific pattern of disharmon(y/ies) that may present as insomnia and tailoring a treatment that will address their specific issue.
Individuals suffering from insomnia, whether short-term or chronic are encouraged to speak to both their physician as well as an Asian medicine practitioner to seek potential causes and options for treatment. For some individuals who are suffering significantly from severe insomnia, there are some necessary and effective Western medical treatments available.
However, Asian medicine can also be quite effective in treating sleep-related disorders, and since it is an holistic approach, taking the entire person’s pattern into account (you can think of ‘pattern’ here as a person’s overall “health picture”), individuals can find overall relief for several seemingly unrelated health issues with little to no side effects. This contrasts to the more symptomatic approach of just treating the insomnia.
Insomnia is a common problem suffered by millions of people that can have significant ramifications for health. Because of this I’ll be writing a series of discussions about insomnia, its many possible causes and options for relief. In future posts, I’ll continue to discuss some causes of insomnia that are often not considered especially from the Western medical perspective. I’ll also go into more detail about how insomnia is viewed from the perspective of Chinese Medicine.
However, it’s worth noting that Chinese Medicine has always included sleep patterns as an indicator of overall health. In fact, one of the “10 questions” that make up the system of Chinese Medical diagnosis includes detailed questioning about the quality of sleep. Western medicine is also now seeing the connection between sleep quality and health. Researchers have identified strong links between poor sleep and problems such as depression, heart disease, obesity, musculoskeletal pain, and diabetes, just to name a few.
For me, good sleep can be seen as one of four legs of a stool that provides a solid foundation out of which good health can be maintained or achieved; the other three being nutrition, physical activity, and management of environmental influences (these will be dealt with in other posts). I don’t mean to imply that if the above is addressed, one will never get sick or that current health issues will magically disappear. Rather, these four legs will permit the body to more fully access its own resources to remain healthy or feel better. Strengthening these resources will help to protect the body from illness, and, in instances where illness is already present, allow a person to better cope with the illness or minimize its impact.
Treatment with acupuncture can significantly improve sleep, even for people with mild symptoms of sleep disturbance. Regardless of the chief complaint, improved sleep seems to be a common secondary benefit of acupuncture. This is most likely due to the fact that, from the perspective of Chinese Medicine, illness is seen as a pattern of inter-connected signs and symptoms, inseparable from the whole; change one element and a shift occurs in the entire system. Think of it like having a rock in your shoe. To relieve the pain of the rock digging into your foot when you walk, you may put more weight on your other foot, which may result in pain in that foot. There may also be back pain from walking unevenly, increased irritability leading to headaches, and, you guessed it . . . insomnia. By removing the rock, several other related health issues may also resolve.
Insomnia can manifest in different ways, such as difficulty in falling asleep, difficulty in staying asleep, or waking too early without being fully rested; sometimes a combination of the three. The causes of insomnia are not always clear, either since it may result from any number of factors that can include emotional distress, unknown physical issues, diet, or environmental influences.
One significant factor affecting sleep that is receiving attention these days is cortisol. Cortisol is a hormone produced in the adrenal glands (those little glands sitting on top of the kidneys) and is often referred to as our stress hormone. Besides its natural ebb and flow throughout the day and night, levels of cortisol also go up when we are under stress. For good sleepers, cortisol will slowly decline throughout the day until it reaches its lowest point at bed time, allowing us to get to sleep easily. Levels of cortisol will then slowly rise throughout the night in preparation for waking, and will spike rapidly just before we wake up to give us that final boost out of bed. However, for poor sleepers, these levels may be too high in the evening, interrupting our ability to fall, or stay, asleep, and is most likely attributable to stress.
However, it’s important define what is meant by stress. For most of us, when we talk about stress, we are referring to external circumstances that lead to a negative emotional response on our part (“My boss is stressing me out!”). Remember learning about homeostasis in school? It described the way the body maintains balance or equilibrium. For example, homeostasis is what allows us to maintain a stable body temperature even though we might be in a very hot or cold environment.
So while emotional stress certainly plays a part in affecting our cortisol levels, anything that may upset our equilibrium can also lead to stress and, therefore, impact cortisol levels. Diet, activity level throughout the day, environmental triggers such as various pollutants, etc. can all lead to physical and emotional stress. That’s why the topics of sleep can’t be completely separated from talking about the other three legs of the stool I mentioned above, and will make up the content of future posts.
But for the purposes of this discussion, I want to provide some simple tips that may improve sleep for those who are looking for some relief now. Obviously, these may not be quick fixes, so give them time to work. Additionally, for those who are suffering from long term severe insomnia, it’s essential that you speak with your doctor and discuss being seen by a sleep specialist in addition to anything suggested here. You can also check out the National Sleep Foundation for more information about sleep clinics and other support services at http://www.sleepfoundation.org.
Here are some recommendations for a better night’s sleep:
Make bedtime a routine. Develop a set of behaviors that prepares your mind and body for sleep, including maintaining a consistent bedtime every night. Your body needs a chance to “power down” and variable sleep times adds stress to the body.
Timing is also important. The best and deepest sleep occurs between 10pm and 2am. Failing to reach this deep sleep may result in waking up after 2am, when sleep is more superficial. It’s actually ideal to get to sleep before, or close to, 10pm. Otherwise, you may “override” the sleep trigger and find it more difficult to get to sleep.
Darkness is key. Melatonin, a hormone that regulates wakefulness and drowsiness is affected by light, which inhibits its release. So any bedroom light could be sabotaging your sleep. Make sure to block out as much light as possible. Even a nightlight or LCD display on an alarm clock can have an effect.
Avoid television and computers before bed. Television and computer screens use light from the blue end of the spectrum. Blue light, like sunlight, is stimulating and will not promote sleep. You can counteract some of this stimulating blue light by placing an orange light bulb in a lamp in your bedroom and turning it on about 20 minutes before bed.
Avoid too many liquids before bed. Keeping hydrated is important, but downing large quantities of water before bed can result in repeated visits to the bathroom throughout the night. Definitely avoid liquids such as caffeine, soda, and alcohol close to bed time.
Minimize distractions. Try using a white noise machine, or even adding ear plugs to minimize noises that might wake you up or make it difficult to sleep. The goal is not to completely cut off the outside world, but to mask those “jarring” noises that can snap you out of a sound sleep.
Try a good foot soak. Grab a basin of warm (not hot) water. Epsom salt is enough, but if you want, add some lavender oil or other soothing scent (avoid stimulating scents such as citrus).
Think positive. This may sound corny, but as mentioned, stress increases cortisol levels. If you are spending your evenings focused on the person that cut you off, or watching the latest disaster on the evening news sleep is not going come easily. Rather, spend your time doing something you enjoy, meditating, or playing a board game.
Manage your meal times. Trying to digest a large meal can make it difficult to sleep. Eat your dinner earlier in the evening (by 6pm) and if you feel “snackish” before bed, have something light, preferably a good source of plant protein or good quality carbohydrate snacks, such as chia seeds or quinoa, which will keep you sated throughout the night. Definitely avoid sugar, including high sugar fruits (like bananas).
Be active during the day. Studies show that people who are more active during the day sleep better at night.
Avoid Hot showers or vigorous activity. Hot water can be stimulating, so switch to tepid/warm water for that evening shower. Don’t start a workout routine before bed either!
Supplements may be an option. There are several natural products that are commonly used to help with sleep. These include Melatonin, Valerian Root and L-tryptophan, all available in most health food stores. Make sure to speak to a healthcare practitioner who understands these supplements and their effects, as they may not be recommended for certain people who have illnesses such as depression or for people on certain medications. Also, because dosages can be challenging with supplements, a knowledgeable practitioner can work with you to get the best outcomes.
As an acupuncturist, I have noticed that a number of the patients I treat complain primarily or secondarily of gastrointestinal (GI) discomfort or disorders. In fact, GI complaints are extremely common conditions for all healthcare providers and may have connections in today’s culture of processed foods, eating on the run, super-sized portions and generally poor eating habits. However, these same patients are also likely to dismiss their GI problems as something they just have to live with, having nothing to do with their primary complaint.
But Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) sees the body as an integrated whole, and for me there is often a line that connects these GI complaints to other health issues. In fact, the GI imbalance itself may actually be the root of a larger health issue. If the root is not treated, then it is unlikely that the health issue for which the patient initially sought care will ever resolve itself.
Within TCM, digestion is one of the foundations upon which our overall health is determined. The food we take in provides the body with its capacity to be, and stay, healthy. TCM takes the old saying, “You are what you eat” to its furthest connotation.
It’s not just what we eat, either. The systems in charge of processing what we eat and use for energy, vitality, balance, and health must be strong enough to do its job. Over time, those systems can become unbalanced or weakened in some way. When this happens, we begin experiencing any range of symptoms from mild intestinal discomfort to severe health concerns, such as ulcers, cancers, etc. If this one area is out of balance, eventually other systems will become involved in the imbalance. This may lead to complaints or disorders seemingly unrelated to digestion.
Conversely, making changes in what we eat and the way we eat it, can have positive effects on our overall health and well-being. In fact, I have seen patients who were able to dramatically reduce or eliminate medications and other healthcare treatments just by making essential but significant changes to their dietary habits!
In conjunction with dietary changes, certain healthcare practices can provide support to the digestive system so that it remains strong (or regains its strength), such as acupuncture. For example, current research has shown that acupuncture can affect GI complaints by altering acid secretion, GI motility, and visceral pain.
Since GI complaints and disorders can be quite varied, it’s useful to describe some of the more typical conditions from which people suffer. Referred to as functional GI disorders, they include:
- GERD: GERD is typically characterized by increased acid secretion, motor dysfunction of the esophagus and stomach, and an increased sensitivity to acid secretion (i.e. esophageal irritation not seen in people who do not have GERD).
- Functional Dyspepsia: FD is a set of symptoms characterized by upper abdominal discomfort (usually after eating), reduced appetite, nausea and vomiting, abdominal distention, bloating, and weight loss that are chronic or recurrent and not due to the presence of an ulcer.
- Irritable Bowel Syndrome: In contrast to the two conditions above, IBS presents mostly as lower digestive tract issues. Patients may have constipation-predominant or diarrhea-predominant forms of IBS resulting from either reduced or increased intestinal motility, respectively. It accounts for a significant number of doctor visits and has both physical as well as psychosocial components to its manifestation.
One study published in the Journal of Gastroenterology in 2006 looked at the effect of several specific acupuncture points on GI symptoms. Three specific points were investigated that are traditionally used to treat GI discomfort: Stomach-36 (ST-36), located about 3 inches below the knee; Pericardium 6 (P-6), located about 1 inch above the center of the wrist crease; and Ren-12, located on the abdomen about mid-way between the navel and sternum.
All three points have an effect on gastric motility (how fast food moves through the digestive tract) and on acid secretion. Some evidence suggests that ST-36 may do this via stimulation of the Vagal nerve, which is involved in stimulation the digestive processes. Whatever the mechanism, needling of these points can modulate the speed with which food moves through the digestive tract (extremely relevant for those with IBS), as well as increasing or decreasing acid secretion (relevant for those with GERD of FD).
Through effectively developed treatment plans, a licensed acupuncturist can help guide the patient’s body to reestablish normal digestive function based on the specific symptoms. However, as a holistic practice, I don’t believe that acupuncture is a replacement for good dietary habits. Rather, it is a supportive approach that seeks to balance the body and strengthen the digestive processes. Dietary modification is also essential to ensure long-lasting results.
Changing our dietary habits is by no means an easy feat. Acupuncture can help here as well by reducing stress and cravings associated with changing those behaviors. But it’s important to understand that this is a process that will take time (perhaps a lifetime), and not something that happens over night. Making small, achievable changes can often lead to better, longer-lasting results than trying to go “cold turkey”. I encourage my patients to identify manageable goals that can be incorporated in conjunction with their acupuncture treatments in order to ensure the highest chances for success.
While resources on diets abound, below are some simple recommendations based in TCM theory that you can use as a starting point. Remember, start small and build on your successes and you’ll eventually get to where you want to go.
Tips in Improving Digestive Health:
- Regularity is important. Try to eat your meals at the same time each day
- Cut out distractions. Meal time should be about eating. Light conversation is ok, but avoid studying, reading, TV, or discussions that are highly emotional during meal times.
- Eat smaller, more frequent meals throughout the day, Rather than stuffing yourself at 2-3 meals, try eating five, smaller meals a day.
- Don’t keep eating until you’re full. Stop yourself when you think your stomach is about 2/3 full.
- Minimize liquids during your meal; drink after you have eaten, or take small sips throughout your meal. Try to use room temperature or hot liquids to aid digestion rather than cold drinks.
- Eat slowly. Try chewing 20 times for every bite. Besides helping with digestion, this will allow your brain to catch up with your eyes!
- Portion control is important. Not only monitor the amount of food you eat at any sitting, but the amount of food you put in your mouth for each bite.
- Eat foods appropriate for the season. Colder foods might ok in the summer, such as watermelon, or ice cream, but not in the winter. Avoid iced drinks, ice cream, cold fruits, etc. in the colder months and instead rely more on soups and stews.
- Avoid too much raw food. Lightly cooking your food is preferable.
- Balance sweet, sour, salty, bitter, pungent, and bland flavors on a daily basis. Try not to favor one flavor over another, but incorporate each flavor throughout the day or into a single meal. Cravings for a particular flavor can sometimes be an indicator of an imbalance.
The above list is only general advice that would benefit anyone seeking to improve his/her digestive health. Your acupuncturist or Chinese Medical practitioner can help you to identify more specific foods and dietary changes based on your specific symptoms. I encourage anyone who may want to learn more about how acupuncture and Chinese Medicine may be beneficial for their health concern to contact me today.