Archive for tag: gallbladder

The Season Is Changing - So Should Your Dinner

Adiós, slow roasted sweet potatoes and beef. Hello, green onions! Although the calendar says spring doesn't officially start until March 20th on the Spring Equinox, we all felt the shift about a week ago. I'm not just talking about the temperature moving from 35º to 55º in two days, although that was awesome, too. When the seasons change, everything changes. If you are remotely in tune with your body, the earth, the energy of the universe, etc., then you felt it, too.

In Traditional Chinese Medicine, the concept of the Five Elements or Phases shows that each season is connected to one of the functional organ systems of the body. Winter is the kidney and spring is the liver. Easy enough, right? Well, there's more. The body needs to be prepared gently and thoroughly for the transition to a new season, and while acupuncture and herbal medicine certainly play their role, dietary therapy is really where it's at.

The winter was a time of hunkering down, tonifying the kidney and urinary bladder with salt and animal fats, thickening the blood, and conserving energy through the cold long season. Now that spring is upon us, it's time to lighten up -- literally. The Inner Classic teaches that we should reawaken the body and prepare for new beginnings by rising with the sun and taking brisk walks. Spring is the time to gather up stored energy and push upward, like a sprouting plant in the garden.

Spring is also a time for cleansing, and TCM focuses that cleansing on the organs that need it most this time of year -- the liver and gall bladder. After gorging on fatty steaks in the winter, the springtime requires a diet of small amounts of light food with yang qualities. Think sprouts, greens, young plants, and shoots. Heavy foods can clog the liver and gall bladder, leading to fevers and other springtime maladies.

Want specifics? Lay off the salt -- including soy sauce and miso -- and heavy meats. Instead, cook with something lighter, bringing in the pungent flavors of basil, fennel, marjoram, rosemary, caraway, dill, and bay leaf. Throw in some young garden pickings like small beets, carrots, and peas. Use more simple, raw foods instead of slow roasting or stewing. Both the Ayurvedic tradition and the ancient Chinese encouraged people to choose wind-like, airy foods during the springtime, to promote cleansing and new growth.

While the Chinese do not recommend eating raw foods in abundance or all year round, they do encourage more raw foods in the springtime. If a person is weak, frail, or deficient, then they might not do well with raw foods, even during the spring. If a person is hot and full of excesses, then bring on the plates full of raw celery and cucumbers. As with everything, dietary recommendations are guided by general principles, but are always customized to the individual.

In the United States, our climate is mostly temperate. Thus, we can apply most of the dietary suggestions from TCM, including the use of light, raw foods in the springtime. You can still cook some things -- just make it quick. A short, high-temperature sauté is appropriate, as is a brief steaming.

Why should you care to adjust your springtime diet? You don't have to. You can go on shoving your face full of rib eye and baked potatoes slathered in sour cream and butter (Ohh, I miss the winter diet already!), but tell me how you feel in about a month or two.

What's the risk? The liver-gall bladder duo can be quite a beast. The first sign of an imbalanced liver is angry outbursts, accompanied by frustration, dissatisfaction, and impulsiveness. Once the gall bladder gets bogged down, too, then add in indecisiveness and unclear thinking. You might experience eye or vision trouble or tendon stiffness and joint pain, or pain or discomfort anywhere along the Liver or Gall Bladder meridians of the body.

I know it's hard to change. I love salt, steak, and butter more than anyone I've ever met, but I've also learned my lesson. I've clogged my liver and gall bladder one too many times. I've had the blurry vision, sticky feeling in the eyes, bitter taste in the mouth, angry outbursts, and all of the other things the Chinese warned me about.

Photo of gallbladder cleanse text

This week, I'm doing this -- the TCM Gallbladder cleanse!

How to Use Chinese Herbs

Think it's too difficult for you? I think you're wrong. File this post away under the "if I can do it, you can do it" series. Unfortunately, this practical how-to post is the result of someone actually needing to use raw Chinese herbs to feel better--and that someone is me.

Remember that whole "damp-heat in the gall bladder" thing from a couple of weeks ago? Yep, me too. Turns out, I still have that going on. Yes, I self-diagnosed and self-treated in near silence. Did I say I was good at this? I'm sorry. No. I'm a student. I know close to nothing. In my defense, upon an actual visit to the NUHS AOM clinic to exercise my student-access-to-free-care privilege, I learned that I nailed my diagnosis and was only one off in my acupoints selection plan.

Ingredients for Treatment

I was indeed on my way towards getting back to normal, but not quite there yet. No. What I needed was a boost -- a big powerful boost in the health direction. I needed herbs from Dr. Cai. After showing my tongue and displaying my pulsating wrists to the masses of interns, I left the clinic with my trusty sack of Chinese herbs. At Dr. Cai's request, I also needed to add in a slice of fresh ginger and three red dates with each batch, which I happened to have on hand.

Many people would peer into this bag thinking, "What the heck do I do with this pile of roots, bark, mushrooms, berries, and other unidentifiables? Technically, there could be geckos and cicada shells in there...shudder. In fact I refuse to look up everything in the formula shown on my receipt just in case therearegeckos and cicada shells in there.... So, here it is--your pictorial step-by-step guide to using raw Chinese herbs in a decoction. This is the instruction sheet that goes home with the patient.

Instructions for Cooking Chinese Herbal Formula

What this is trying to say is dump one batch of the herbs into a pot, soak it, bring it to a boil, then simmer to reduce the liquid to a drinkable amount. Now, you'll want to find the perfect balance between "disgusting taste" and "effective dose," and that isnoteasy. You know you want to concentrate the liquid for potency, but you also know that you're increasing the taste by the same stroke.

Before Cooking and After Cooking

Most herbal decoctions do not taste good. Face it. Most of us are damp. We eat dairy and fried foods (mmmm...fried dairy), and we end up with damp-heat. Thus, we need bitter herbs much of the time. Who's the lucky fella who gets a simple Spleen Qi deficiency diagnosis that results in a sweet licorice and berries formula to take home? Not this guy!

So, I soak my bitter herbs, I boil my bitter herbs, I simmer my bitter herbs. I drink my powerful decoction, and I go to sleep to let my body do its thing. I wake up a little better, and I know I have five more nights of chugging down my "bedtime tea" before my tongue can register just how gross it really tastes.

"Bedtime Tea"

I could avoid much of the "hard work" in this process by requesting my herbs in granule form (like a dusty powder that you stir in warm water to dissolve). But then I'd lose a little potency. I could avoid all the work and the taste by requesting a patent pill formula, but then I'd lose even more potency. No thanks, weak sauce. I need the most full-strength option known to man -- ancient Chinese man, specifically. I need to decoct my raw herbs!

Damp-Heat in the Gall Bladder and Liver Blood Stasis

Of course this just happened. It's springtime. Spring correlates with the Liver and its interior-exterior partner in crime -- the Gall Bladder. I'm unfortunately already prone to the ridiculously difficult to eradicate pathogen known in TCM as "Damp-Heat." My protective wei qi was still struggling to recover from the exotic array of assailants it managed to fend off in Central America last month. "Oh, Juli, did you get Dengue Fever again this year?" "Well, not that I know of..."


The pathogenic stars had aligned. The signs and symptoms appeared over the course of 2-3 days. First, it was just a seemingly innocent wiry Liver pulse. OK, OK, it's springtime; I'm irritable and I know it. No big deal. A quick tongue check in the mirror confirmed that yes, of course, I'm teeming with damp heat in the lower jiao. What would I be without my characteristic tongue coat? (A healthier person, for one!)

I go about my day only to realize that by afternoon I'm starting to feel weird. Really weird. There's no valid excuse for the sudden and growing nausea, accompanied by an intermittent, unilateral shooting headache that jumped around as if someone was sprinkling headache pop rocks all over my temples, vertex, forehead, OWW! I usually don't get headaches, and I'm not usually nauseous. I wanted to vomit and get further down the road towards recovery. Then the blurry vision started in, and I noticed I'd been ignoring a hypochondrial pain all day. And, oh MAN, what is that strong bitter taste in the back of my mouth? Did I just crack a filling and let the poison ooze out? Gross. I'm getting dizzy and don't feel like lifting the phone to call the dentist.

2014-05-30_tongueAaaaaand it finally dawns on me. It's all over me, from head to toe. I have Damp-Heat in the Gall Bladder. As I run to the mirror for a tongue progress report, I get all the confirmation I could ever dream of. There's the Damp-Heat coating, yep, and now it's grown in size and had two long greasy arms on display down the sides of my tongue. But, oh no, what…?! You have to be kidding me. Are thosepurple spotsall over the sides of my tongue, too? I mentally scanned the other symptoms I'd noticed over the week, and realized it was true. I also had Liver Blood Stasis. Great. Hey, it's not like I had anything else planned for the next few days.

Why do I always get the stubborn pathogenic scenarios? At my first visit with a doctor of oriental medicine, she struggled a bit with my diagnosis. Was it yang deficiency? Or, was it yin deficiency? Maybe it's both. She said I had Spleen deficiency and Kidney deficiency. Don't forget the Liver Qi Stagnation! Seriously? I know this is a first-time appointment, but isn't that almost too thorough?

So, here's when TCM swoops in and saves my holiday weekend. After doing the dangerous deed of self-diagnosing (never recommended) on Thursday afternoon, I started in on an individualized acupuncture treatment plan. Then I repeated it the next day, too. What points did I use? Don't try this at home, but I did: LV3, GB43, GB41, GB40, GB34, SP9, LI4, and LI11. Is that right? Sure, in my limited opinion. Of course, there were more difficult-to-reach points that I should have added in, but hey, I'm needling myself here! And judging by the fact that I felt almost normal again by Friday afternoon, I'm calling it awesome. Sure, I also made some dietary changes to balance the Damp Heat and give my overloaded Liver and Gall Bladder a rest from the constant inundation of delicious fatty foods.

Yes, whole-fat dairy and meat is good for me, generally speaking, but when my Liver boss and Gall Bladder assistant are under siege, I have to abstain from the delights of my life. That's right -- no buttery popcorn this week. Instead, I emphasized the cooling foods like celery and watermelon, some beverages like green tea, and I focused on eating really light for a couple of days. That went surprisingly well, considering I had completely lost my appetite from the Damp-Heat in the Gall Bladder thing. Western natural medicine has noticeably compatible suggestions for altering your diet during the spring to help cleanse and support the Liver and Gall Bladder. They emphasize a diet of light, sprouty and shooty foods; must avoid those heavy, greasy foods for a while!

Gall Bladder Springtime Renewal






Heavy Meats



By Saturday, the greasy coated arms of the Damp-Heat beast that lives on the back of my tongue had receded, as did almost all other symptoms. I beat you, Springtime. You got me good -- but this time I was prepared to fight back. Sorry, Spring -- maybe next year!