Tag Archive | Acupuncture

TCM Spring Training

Almost Spring at Zilker Botanical Gardens, Aus...

Image by DigiDragon via Flickr

Spring is the season of the Wood element and is characterized by reawakening and outward expansion. It is associated with the Liver and Gallbladder energetic systems, which when balanced are known for Qi that flows smoothly, initiative and good decision-making. Physical associations manifest in the eyes, tendons, ligaments and sinews which are nourished and maintained by the Liver. Just as the expansiveness of Spring can be seen in nature, emotional and physical energies associated with the Liver can be directed outward. Just like a sprout beginning to rise, energy is still fragile and can easily be damaged. Outbursts or projections of excess energy can best be put to good use with activities or projects that can utilize it.

Climactically Spring is associated with wind. The wind which can carry other pathogens also tends to aggravate the wood element. In the body it can cause allergies, itchy skin and pain patterns that tend to move from place to place. Symptoms may present as fever, slight aversion to wind or cold, cough, or mild thirst with burning pain in local areas. Sensitive people should enjoy windy outdoor time in minimal doses.

Injuries may present as:

  • Wind:  marked by a decrease in range of motion and pain that changes location.
  • Heat:  local inflammation and/or redness in the joints or extremities, and may be aggravated by heat.
  • Damp:  fixed and intense pain with a feeling of heaviness, numb skin and muscles that wet conditions may aggravate.

Movement in the Spring
To prevent injuries and improve performance in the Spring, consider the following:

Warm up properly utilizing dynamic stabilization exercises to ensure that postural muscles are activated prior to regular training.

As a stand-alone program or as an adjunct to another endeavor or sport, take advantage of strength training with slower to moderate speed movements. Strength guidelines state using 70%-85% of your estimated 1 repetition maximum, at a moderate to high volume (up to 25 sets when your main activity is weight training), with up to 60 seconds rest between sets. Incorporate this into your program for about four to six weeks to allow ligamentous tissues, which have a poor circulatory system, time to adapt. The nervous system and muscles characteristically adapt more quickly, which is part of the strength continuum but does not take all tissues into consideration. Transitioning into ballistic movements too soon, especially after a lay off due to injury or from sedentary life will predispose a person to further injury. Beginners should spend more of their workout doing stability exercises with a strength component.

As part of a post workout cool down, emphasize static flexibility to bring the body back into a more parasympathetic (normal) state. This will allow tendons to relax and circulation of metabolites in the muscles to move more smoothly.

Proper maintenance such as Tui Na, bodywork, acupuncture and meditative movements assist in recovery from exercise and injuries and boost the immune system.

Spring Time Nutrition
Food that assists in balancing the nature of the Liver and Wood element should nourish, soothe and keep the Liver clean, tonify the Spleen, nourish Yin, & strengthen Yang. Enjoy plenty of young plants, fresh greens, sprouts, and yellow to red veggies nutrient-dense and low in calories. These include tomatoes, loquat, beets, mint, onion, green beans, broccoli, chives and leeks. Flavor meals sparingly with vinaigrettes and pickled foods.

Keep high-calorie, refined, greasy or fried foods, sugars and alcohol that overtax the Liver and Gallbladder to a minimum.

Fasting will over tax the Liver and create more disharmonies in the body. A better way to cleanse the Liver is via sound nutrition, herbs that support Liver function and simply sweating from exercise.

Seasonal Recipes:
Ju Hua (chrysanthemum) congee: 100g white rice, 50g chrysanthemum.
Soak chrysanthemum separately for 30 minutes. Then combine with rice over heat for 5 minutes. Soothes the Liver and brightens the eyes.

An Chun (‘animal ginseng,’ quail) dish: 100g quail, asparagus 100g, mushrooms 5g, cucumbers 15g, egg whites.
Slice quail and mix with egg whites then sauté. Add asparagus, cucumber & mushrooms later. Sea salt to taste. Nourishes and soothes Liver.

Spring Herbal Considerations
This year has brought much change in the world and continuous perceptions of disharmony which sound nutrition and lifestyle may not relieve quickly. Strong emotions may affect digestion, causing stomach butterflies or bloating, acid regurgitation diarrhea and/or stomach pain. A Chinese formula that has made its way into  Western use is called Xiao Yao San or “Free and Easy Wanderer”. This formula profoundly soothes the Liver, thereby reducing the effects of stress on the body and helps prevent digestive symptoms. For those with enteric brains, this is quite a find. (For a thorough diagnosis, consult a Licensed Acupuncturist (L.Ac.)

Climate and physiological change affect the natural tendency of the Liver to spread and grow. By nourishing and maintaining the Wood element, the outward momentum of Spring will segue nicely into the warmer months of Summer.

Read about the coming Summer

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Autumn and Oriental Medicine

Autumn in Austin
Image by Andreanna Moya Photography via Flickr

Autumn begins at the equinox, where the day and night will seem to be equal in length. During this season harvesting and eliminating can be seen as crops are brought in and leaves change colors and float to the ground. Creatures in nature tend to become more dormant and focused on preserving energy. Yang Qi (warmth, vibrance) goes inward, & Ying Qi (combination of air/ da qi and food qi/ gu qi) starts to grow.

The fall corresponds to the “Metal element,” which has a quality of moving inward and represents the organs of the lungs, the large intestine, and the skin. The Lung and Large Intestine energies affect respiration, digestion, nutrient assimilation, and opening and closing of skin pores. They are also seen as the main organs for cleansing & detoxification. The Lung manifests in the nose and represents an entrance for clean air/ da qi into the body. The Large Intestine is seen as a segway for elimination of unwanted and unnecessary constituents from the body.

The metal elemental energy is associated with processing and grief, letting go of old attachments and emotional baggage. Autumn is a good time to assess what we value and determine what is needed. As we do this we realize who we are without constraints, in effect remaining positive and calm.

The Lungs are strong in the fall, but exercising less than the spring & summer is essential to store yang qi for the winter. This can be optimized by choosing exercises that do not require excessive sweating, focusing more on athletic skills & techniques, and practicing inward-directed movements such as Qi Gong, Tai Qi, Yoga and breathe work. In terms of recovery acupuncture, herbal medicine and tui na (Chinese clinical bodywork), accompanied by the philosophy of going to bed earlier and waking up later applies well in this season.

This is also an excellent time to rejuvenate the lungs and to cleanse and nourish the skin by avoiding extreme dryness.

Potential imbalances can be seen in the immune system/ wei qi, respiratory problems (allergies, shortness of breath & asthma), skin conditions and constipation.

Foods that will help balance the metal element, nourish and protect body fluids/ jin ye, should be warmer, sweeter and slightly sour. But not pungent, acrid or spicy as these can be too dispersing & may cause damage to body fluids.

Here is a general list of foods that can nourish  the body during autumn: pears, white fungus, onion, garlic, chive, ginger, turnips, daikon; yellow, orange vegetables like carrots, yams, sweet potatoes; dark leafy greens, such as mustards, kale, chard and spinach; and rice, quinoa, amaranth or oats.

This is an easy recipe that is beneficial to eat at the beginning of autumn or winter:

  • 1 pear – peeled, remove seeds
  • Fill with 30g Fritillaria bulb/ chuan bei mu (a licensed acupuncturist can provide this)
  • Steam 10-15 minutes, cut into 3 equal parts and add local bee honey/ feng mi.

This can also be cut into cubes, added to rice & water to make congee.

As the air becomes cooler and our environments become more still, we can learn from the world around us. Turning towards introspection, and nourishment via breath, food and Oriental Medicine, we can allow an opportunity for conserving strength and a renewal of energies/ Qi.

Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) and Oriental Medicine

Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS), also known as spastic colitis, is the most frequent gastrointestinal (GI) disorder and accounts of 30 -50% of all referrals to gastroenterologists. In 10-20% of European and American populations it starts in late teens to early twenties occurring more often in women.

IBS is not classified as a disease, but as a syndrome. It is considered a functional GI disorder characterized by a variable combination of chronic and recurrent intestinal symptoms that are not explained by structural or biochemical abnormalities.

Symptoms may occur alone or in combination:  abdominal pain or discomfort with altered bowel function; abnormal frequency of bowel movements (BM); typically diarrhea, constipation or both; flatulence, bloating, loss of appetite, nausea, increased mucous production, painful BMs. Cramping, intermittent, lower abdominal pain does not usually occur at night nor interfere with sleep and most symptoms are commonly relieved by defecation.

Additional non-bowel symptoms may include heartburn, chest pain, headaches, fatigue, muscle pain, urologic dysfunction and gynecological symptoms, and often coincide with chronic fatigue syndrome. There is a Mind-Gut interaction where anxiety and/or depression frequently accompany IBS symptoms in varying degrees.

The cause of IBS is not clear. It is felt to be a “dysregulation” of intestinal motor and sensory functions of central nervous system (CNS) origin – thus the psychogenic component.  The gut produces 95% of serotonin in the body. If the gut is not functioning optimally this affects mood, thought processes and clarity of mind. There is strong evidence for disruption of balance between non-pathogenic flora and the immune system, while GI infections treated by antibiotics result in a higher chance of acquiring IBS.

Diagnosis follows the Rome III Criteria, which includes abdominal pain for at least three days per month for three months and is characterized by two out of the three following symptoms:  pain relieved with a BM; change in frequency of BM; and change in the consistency of BM.

Other causes should be ruled out such as lactose intolerance, drug-induced diarrhea, parasites, food sensitivity (may depend on combination) and food allergies.

Medications include the possible use of tricyclic antidepressants and symptomatic treatment for spasms, constipation and diarrhea. Antibiotics are often improperly prescribed because diarrhea is confused with infection. This leads to other gut problems such as poor gut flora.

Lifestyle: Eliminate offending foods such as common allergens:  wheat, dairy, corn and soy. Avoid gas-producing and diarrhea-producing foods:  beans, fermentable carbs, sweeteners, hydrogenated fats, brussel sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, raw onions, grapes, plums, raisins, coffee, garlic, red wine and beer. Increase dietary fiber from non-wheat plant sources for constipation and foods that promote healthy flora in the gut such as beet fiber.

TRADITIONAL CHINESE MEDICINE (TCM) cannot be simplified without losing its essence. It seeks to find and understand the cause. TCM’s advantage in treating functional disease is holism and emphasis on various exterior functional activities of the human body.

TCM can’t live without the Spleen (SP); biomedicine does not consider its importance. In TCM the SP and Stomach (ST) energetic systems are paired. Together they receive food, assimilate it and send it to the rest of the organs and the body to be further processed. The SP ascends energetically while the ST descends. SP dysfunction may result in diarrhea, while ST dysfunction may result in nausea or vomiting.

The Small Intestine (SI) separates pure substances from the un-pure. It has the ability to absorb and distribute nutrients. There are few specific SI syndromes and SI qi deficiency can result in chronic diarrhea. Most SI diseases are referred to as SP problems. The Large Intestine (LI) has the ability to eliminate waste and its dysfunction is constipation.

Causes of IBS in TCM include:  irregular diet; emotional stress leading to qi stagnation and affecting the SP and ST; SP deficiency causing anxiety, depression and sleep disturbances; Qi, Blood, Yin or Yang deficiency after chronic disease or after delivery; or overuse of laxatives or purging supplements.

Differentiation follows the basic presentations such as diarrhea-predominant IBS, constipation-predominant IBS with abdominal pain and flatulence, abdominal pain-predominant and alternating between diarrhea and constipation. Subcategories go into further detail and include but are not limited to:

  • Excess presenting with abdominal distension and/or pain, red face, scanty and/or red urine, dry smelly mouth; may occur in heavier kids with less BMs due to lack of exercise.
  • Deficiency in older patients and weaker constitutions with diminished Yin essence from over-consumption of spicy food and irregular toilet habits. There may be weakness, no power to pass stool, might not be dry, may even be soft; sweaty, pale complexion, shortness of breath and/or fatigue. This is also common in women after giving birth due to blood loss.
  • Cold, in chronic conditions and older patients. Stools may not be dry, but difficult to pass or the patient may have no power to pass stool and present with a sallow or pale complexion, cold in the four limbs and lower abdomen and an aversion to cold with clear urine.

Acupuncture and Herbs seek to alleviate symptoms, address the cause and restore balance to the entire person by being highly modifiable based on patient presentation.  Some acupuncture points are near areas of discomfort while others are found on distal aspects of the body. Herbs are a way to safely treat the body internally.

Nutritional considerations follow an energetic standpoint that is synonymous with the TCM diagnosis. Foods are recommended that nourish and balance the body without aggravating the gut.

Both Western and Eastern medicine agree it is necessary to address the whole body to alleviate the IBS presentation. After being diagnosed it is imperative that consistent lifestyle changes are made to maintain and prevent reoccurrence of symptoms.

Oriental Medicine & Spring Expansion

~ Spring Dreams ~

Image by ViaMoi via Flickr

In spring, all creatures take advantage of energy that was stored during the fall and winter months. New growth can be seen moving upward and outward, both emotionally and physically, via the reappearance of plants and animals, as well as our own emerging perspectives on life.

Spring is the season linked to the Wood element, and the Liver and Gall Bladder organ system. The energetic Liver should be soothed, nourished or regulated. Its function according to Oriental Medicine (OM) is to circulate Qi (energy) upward and outward in the body as well as control the other organs. The Wood element is characterized by growth and wind, which tend to be found more often in the spring. Wind can strengthen the Liver, but too much can cause it to overact on the Stomach and Spleen. This can lead to a disharmony that may manifest as stomach upset and/or digestive disturbances, acid regurgitation, and possibly diarrhea. For those that may have overworked themselves the previous season, their immune systems may be compromised.

Spring allergens from grass and trees are blown through the air into our bodies. Theses allergens can affect a person, particularly if they are overstressed by life or emotionally overloaded. This, in turn, will weaken their digestive function and wei qi/immune system. An unbalanced Liver energy may result in mood swings, depression or irritability, and occasional outbursts of emotion.

To assist the Liver Qi to flow, incorporate activities that both enliven and relax the body. Exercise should be calm and fluid. Try breathing exercises, stretching, Qi gong, Tai Qi, light weights, and/or yoga. Joint support is important, as the tendons and ligaments are a manifestation of the Liver energies and is well covered by the aforementioned modalities. Rest and recovery, as for every season, are imperative to good health. In this season, going to bed somewhat later in the evening and waking up earlier are applicable.

Springtime foods should be sweet in flavor to nourish the spleen, with some pungentness (spicy) and warmth to help soothe and regulate the Liver’s functions, such as black sesame, quail or Chinese yams. Include some fresh greens like kale and spinach as well as young plants or sprouts. Foods that help soothe the Liver if it is out of balance include chive, onion, peppermint, beans, sea vegetables, vinegars, lime, & animal liver. Although sour flavored foods are good to have at this time, more is not necessarily better. Foods that clog the Liver, such as processed, sugary foods, excessively fatty and hydrogenated fats, are devoid of life and should be kept to a minimum. Other foods to avoid include salty, cold in temperature, excessive raw foods, or difficult to digest foods, accompanied by a decrease in calories to reduce the load placed on the Liver.

Acupuncture and Tuina should be utilized frequently to boost the immune system, alleviate sinus pressure & headaches associated with allergies, assist in digestion, moderate mood swings, and assist in recovery from exercise.

“In the spring and summer when food is plentiful and humans tend to become lazy and slothful, finger pressure is used to increase digestion, fire and restore vigor.” Qi Bo – Yellow Emperor’s Classic

By incorporating regular self care practices via mindfulness, nutrition, exercise, acupuncture and bodywork, one can best retain and improve their own health during this season of growth.

Read about the coming Summer

Allergy Relief Through Oriental Medicine

With the multitude of seasonal allergens to choose from, it’s no wonder that allergies tend to be a large topic of conversation.

Air born allergens include seasonal pollens such as cedar trees, grass, and weeds. As an added bonus year round allergens such as molds, vehicle exhaust, dust mites, pet dander, and insect parts can be added to the list.

Seasonal allergies can cause a great deal of discomfort with non-native plants and trees, temperature changes, and winds carrying pollen.

As far back as the 2nd century BC, Oriental medicine (OM) techniques such as acupuncture, herbs, and dietary recommendations have been used to provide relief from the environment and create balance in the body. Today we know that acupuncture can modulate levels of cytokines and anti-inflammatory mediators as well as regulate the immune system’s overall response when too weak or overly active.

BIOMEDICINE

In conventional medicine, allergies are an increased response to an antigen or substances that can enter the body and stimulate it to create antibodies called IgE which bind to allergens. Mast cells then release histamine which cause symptoms (heat, pain, swelling, redness, itchiness, etc).

Alergies - Nasal CavityIt is important to note that air born allergens are a localized immune system (wei qi) blockage that tends to cause symptoms in the head such as itchy, watery eyes, sneezing, runny nose, post nasal drip, headaches, ear congestion, throat irritation and/or occasional body fatigue. While the common cold (gan mao) tends to include most of the head symptoms but will also carry on to body aches, chills, fever, and for some digestive disturbances.

On top of these already uncomfortable symptoms, underlying factors can also contribute to this immune system burden (e.g. food sensitivities, chemical additives to foods, tobacco smoke, chemicals in the home or workplace, medications, or even hormonal fluctuations).

If left untreated or ignored, air born allergies can progress to more serious conditions such as:

  • Allergic rhinitis is the body’s immune system over-responding to non-infectious particles in the air. Symptoms include the development of sinusitis, eustachian tube dysfunction, chronic otitis media, and anosmia (inability to smell).
  • Sinusitis, which is inflammation or swelling of the sinuses, typically happens after having allergic rhinitis. This happens when sinuses become blocked and fill with mucous that can harbor bacteria, viruses, or mold causing an infection.
  • Both rhinitis and sinusitis can lead to less productivity at work and more doctor visits.
  • Some people may exhibit increased allergy sensitivities. For example, people who have fibromyalgia are more aware and some pregnant women in their second trimester may experience increased allergic symptoms and hypersensitivity to their environment and medications.

Allopathic medications can help in acute conditions, but tends to mask symptoms and come with a slew of side effects. Many patients turn to antihistamine relief at the first sign of allergies and are quickly prescribed antibiotics for nasal rhinitis.

Antihistamines are designed to treat allergies and relieve respiratory symptoms by blocking the effects of histamine, which is a not a natural process, as they affect ALL mucous membranes and can dry them out. Common antihistamines, such as Benadryl, tend to dry up body fluids (jin ye).

Other medication side effects include drowsiness, epistaxis (nose bleeds), and nasal dryness in addition to normal allergy symptoms. Steroids (oral, topical, inhaled) can reduce inflammation but foster overgrowth of yeast. Prolonged or inappropriate use of antibiotics can lead to immune deficiencies, digestive disturbances, and chronic fatigue.

ORIENTAL MEDICINE TCM Allergy Relief

The cause (pathogenic factors) of allergies is a relative idea.  OM pays considerable attention to the symptoms of pathogenic factors (allergens), which are related to body constitution and lifestyle factors.

Food sensitivities or allergies, blood sugar fluctuations and stress can tax the kidneys (adrenals) and create a cortisol imbalance. This depletion leads to inflammation in the body which may manifest as pain, tightness, fatigue, and water retention leading to poor digestion and lowered immunity.

Compromised digestion and immunity invite our external environment and seasonal allergens to easily allow for viral and bacterial infections to take hold.

Seasonal symptoms can be predictable:

  • Spring
  • Fall – ragweed whose symptoms are characterized as Wind Dryness
  • Winter – cedar, cedar fever is clearly Wind Heat
  • Year round allergies have a Wind component
  • Mold is considered Wind Dampness

Acupuncture Treatments help to moderate the body’s response to allergens and help create a healthy immune response. Although an appropriate diagnosis of a person’s presenting pattern is important, there are specific allergy points located in the ears and important points on the hand, feet, head & face. In addition to needles cupping, moxibustion and herbs play a strong role in improving the way you feel.

Herbal Treatments, which are easily modifiable, also support the immune response and continue to help as a daily therapy to compliment acupuncture treatments.

A common Chinese formula, Jade Wind Screen Yu Ping Feng San, is helpful for year round allergy sufferers who tend to have a weakened immune response, characteristically tend to catch cold easily and are sick longer than normal. It can be administered two months before specific seasons as well as during.

For more acute allergies non-sedating antihistamine formulas such as Nose Inflammation Formula Bi Yan Pian, Magnolia Flower Powder Xin Yi San and Pe Me Kan Wan are very helpful. When made into a tea the steam can be inhaled from the cup to get an immediate effect before drinking

Allergy Prevention

  • If you are aware of a seasonal allergy don’t wait until symptoms occur to start receiving acupuncture and herbal treatments. Starting treatments at least two months prior will prepare and support the immune system for the season to come.
  • Check daily pollen counts before leaving your home.
  • Whenever possible exercise *indoors in moderate temperatures, esp. in the afternoon when pollen counts are highest. Also avoid haze and smog, weather changes and exhaust fumes from vehicles.
  • All mucosal membranes are affected by eating foods that create an immune response. Avoid phlegm producing foods (dairy, wheat and soy which are also common food allergens)
  • Reduce processed sugars – sugar decreases immune function and increases inflammation.
  • Reduce your internal load: In your home and work spaces use non-toxic, low residue paint and household cleaners. When looking for body products buy aluminum free, low in chemical and perfume additives.
  • Moderate emotional factors – crying, yelling and distress – all cause increases in cortisol, which in excess decreases immune function.
  • An additional, a natural approach is a nasal saline lavage. It has minor decongestant benefits and improves mucociliary function in both allergic and non-allergic rhinitis. To avoid contamination from faucets, try distilled water.

*Note: mold spores are found indoors too.

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