Archive for tag: tcm

Ch-Ch-Ch-Chia

Or maybe I should say, "qi-qi-qi-chia!" Lately, my life has been full of chia seeds. I'm reading about them, I'm seeing recipes posted like hot cakes on Facebook, Pinterest, etc. I'm taken back to little ceramic sheep with scantily placed green sprouts growing on my dresser. I never could get a full coat on one of those things.

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Recently though, I've looked at the chia seed in a new light. I've upgraded from the packet at the toy store to the organic bag from my friendly neighborhood grocer. Why? I have ulterior, Traditional Chinese Medicine, motives. 

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What are the properties of these delicious, plump little seeds? What can they do for me? Why do I bother messing with these slippery little things that will 100% certainly get stuck in my teeth for hours? We know from the western world that chia seeds are anti-inflammatory and are recommended for adrenal fatigue. They contain zinc and magnesium, antioxidants, and omega 3s. Its name even means "strength," so it's no wonder the people "are loving it" these days.

Chia? Qi? Strength? Energy? Am I seeing a connection to Traditional Chinese Medicine here? I think yes. I'd love to give you the name of Salvia hispanica  in Chinese, but I can't. It's not in the TCM materia medica, because this seed is native to the Americas, not to Asia. What I can do is piece together the bits of insight on the TCM properties, actions, and indications of chia seeds based on the years of usage in patients and the similarities to related plants.

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Chia seeds come from a sage plant in the mint family. Thus, we infer that they are cooling in temperature. They are seeds, so we see them with lubricating properties, particularly in the Large Intestine. As a qi (energy) tonic, we know they enter the Kidney and tonify Kidney qi. The cooling nature also lends itself to a nourishing of Kidney yin as well.

In other words, it's all coming together. The western world's adrenal fatigue is akin to TCM's Kidney deficiency. When TCM lubricates the intestine, it's like an American doctor recommending more fiber. The chia seed is doing it all, no matter how we phrase it.

Here's how I'm taking my chia seeds:

Chia Pudding

  • 2015-06-24_pudding3 bananas
  • 2 large scoops peanut butter
  • ½ cup chia seed
  • ½ cup hemp seed
  • 2 cups almond milk
  • Dash of turmeric
  • Dash of cinnamon

Substitute anything you have a personal problem with. Add all ingredients into blender and mix well. Pour into small glasses and refrigerate overnight.

Enjoy the gelatinous texture in your mouth. Pick gooey chia seeds out of teeth for several hours. Top with fruit if you're so inclined. You're welcome.

Somebody Water that Fire

Water and fire must be balanced. Their corresponding organ systems in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) must be balanced, too. What happens if Heart and Kidney are not properly harmonized? You don't even want to know. Well, if you do, then read on.

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Here are some common Fire-Water imbalances, how they manifest, and how we harmonize them:

1.  Yin Deficiency with Empty Heat

What is it?
When Water is low, due to anything from congenital deficiency, long-term illnesses, overwork, etc., it cannot nourish the organ systems of the body. Because the Kidney controls water metabolism for the body, if it runs dry, then the rest of the body starts shriveling up. The Heart, symbolizing the Fire element, appears abundant by comparison, as heat signs appear in the body.

Signs/Symptoms:
dry mouth, red cheekbones, heat sensation in chest, palms, and soles, dry stool, scanty darker urine, rapid pulse, red tongue with no coat.

How to Harmonize:
Nourish yin, clear empty heat. Points may include KD3, KD6, LU9, LV3, SP3, SP6, PC7, HRT8.

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2.  Heart Fire Blazing

What is it?
When the watery, cold, refreshing part of the Water element (Kidney) runs dry, things start heating up - in a bad way. Heart Fire gets the word that it has free reign on the body, and before long it goes crazy. Raging crazy.

Signs/Symptoms:
Think "everything from pattern #1, plus" insomnia, heart palpitations, dizziness, and tinnitus. Maybe you'll have crazy vivid dreams, too, which can range from fun to terrifying. Your tongue is likely quite red with a yellow coat, with red prickles or a red tip. Your pulse is probably full and rapid.

How to Harmonize:
Nourish yin, sedate Heart fire, calm the Shen (spirit). Points may include: "everything from pattern #1, plus" HRT9, PC8, PC6.

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3.  Kidney Yang Deficiency with Water Overflowing

What is it?
While patterns #1 and #2 were conditions of too much Fire element and not enough Water, pattern #3 is exactly the opposite. Too much Water. You're flooding inside your own body. When there's not enough Fire to warm the body and burn off excess Water, then you just start packing on the water, particularly below the waist. Things are not warming and moving around the body. Circulation of fluids has been impaired.

Signs/Symptoms:
Edema, scanty urine, low back pain, cold limbs, excessive white vaginal discharge, infertility. Swelling, even pitting edema, could be found in the legs. Your pulse is likely deep, weak, and slow. Your tongue is pale and swollen, moist with a white coat.

How to Harmonize:
Tonify Kidney Yang, Warm Ming Men, drain dampness. Points may include: KD3, KD7, SP9, SP6, UB10, DU4, UB23, SJ5, CV9, LU7.

Do these sound serious? They can be. The good news is that acupuncture, along with the other branches and modalities of Traditional Chinese Medicine (herbs, dietary therapy, tui na, qi gong, moxa) can be very effective for rebalancing and harmonizing Water and Fire. You don't want to be too cold, but you don't want to be too hot, either. You want to be juuuust right.

Phlegmy Fibroids and Other TCM and Infertility Concepts

One in four American couples struggle with infertility. Of those women who either cannot get pregnant after 12 months of trying or who cannot carry a baby to term, around 45% seek medical assistance. A study at the University of Maryland School of Medicine indicates that acupuncture may increase the success of IVF therapy by as much as 65%, but how is it working?

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Dr. David Bai and Dr. Linda Xu summarize that acupuncture has been shown to:

  • Balance elevated follicle stimulating hormones (FSH) and regulate the menstrual cycle
  • Improve ovary or testicle health resulting in better egg or sperm quality;
  • Increase blood supply to the uterus and build up the uterine lining;
  • Help implantation and reduce the risk of miscarriage and ectopic pregnancy;
  • Release the stress of infertility and its related treatments;
  • Increase the success rates of IVF and IUI.

That's the western world's attempt to explain an ancient Chinese practice. Now let's put it into our Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) terminology. Infertility can be caused by a variety of disharmonies in the body of the woman, the man, or both. Generally speaking, it can usually be traced to some sort of deficiency, stasis, or heat condition. That's too general for me. I need more specific information.

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Kidney Yang Deficiency, Ren and Chong Disharmony, Jing Deficiency, Kidney & Liver Yin Deficiency, Spleen Blood Deficiency, Spleen Qi Deficiency, Heart/Liver Blood Deficiency, Damp Retention, Phlegm Accumulation, Blood Stasis, Qi Stagnation, Heat in the Blood, and the list goes on seemingly indefinitely as you combine the abovementioned patterns in a horrid and unsatisfactory mix and match fashion.

Think that's a lot of patterns? Well, there's a lot of infertile couples out there. This array of options lends itself to several western presentations of infertility. It also explains why one treatment strategy, whether it be an herb, an exercise, or an acupuncture point prescription, can't work for everyone. There are indeed acupuncture points and herbal formulas that address each and every one of those patterns of disharmony, but each patient can expect a unique treatment strategy based on his or her presentation.

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While acupuncture appears to give the same result as Clomid (a 50% success rate for producing an egg in a given cycle), it also has a two-fold added bonus. First, acupuncture has no negative side-effects. Secondly, acupuncture will almost always produce seemingly unrelated positive benefits on health and wellness. Going in for irregular menstrual cycles? You'll probably also sleep better. Going in for low sperm count? You'll probably also feel relief from your chronic lower back pain.

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Many patients seeking acupuncture assistance for infertility will also be given herbs to assist in the balancing and overall wellness. These two modalities in combination often produce better results than either one alone, similar to the way that patients receiving acupuncture with IVF have better results than those undergoing IVF alone. No matter the high efficacy of TCM in infertility cases overall, it's still not magic. If you've ruptured a fallopian tube or lost an ovary and are working with only one, it's still harder to conceive. If there's a structural issue, it's more difficult for TCM to help; in these cases, surgical repair might be indicated.

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What's the conclusion? If you're struggling with infertility, give acupuncture (and herbs) a try! You could experience the improved menstrual regularity, ovulation, and conception that many others have. In the background, odds favor improved balance in other aspects of wellness from bowel movements to sleep quality. Our tip, as always, is to seek out a Licensed Acupuncturist to ensure you are working with someone who has been through the most rigorous and complete education and practical programs for Traditional Chinese Medicine in its entirety, rather than a provider from another field who has "added on" some hours in acupuncture training. Happy needling!

Further Reading: Treating Infertility with Traditional Chinese Medicine (Infertility Awareness Association of Canada)

Peanut Butter and Me

2015-04-16_1Yep, it's called "peanut butter and me," not "peanut butter and I," because it's about to be used as the object of the sentence -- not the subject of the sentence. Grammar geeks unite! The premise here today is that a line has to be drawn in the sand between peanut butter and me. If we keep our breakfast meeting love affair going much longer, an accumulation of pathogenic phlegm is bound to ruin my life.

Don't go throwing out your peanut butter just yet. It might be fine for you to gobble down a Tablespoon of that rich creamy goodness every hour on the hour. Not for me, though. It's not good for me. One of my favorite parts of Traditional Chinese Medicine is the individualization for each person. It makes me feel special. Even though I'm really put off by the idea that I should not be eating my life-long companion, peanut butter, I still appreciate that the recommendation is personalized for my exact condition of body-mind-spirit.

2015-04-16_2I thought I was good to go. A couple of years ago I honed in on what I thought were the most important concerns encircling peanut butter and me. I knew I wanted to avoid pesticides, so I found an organic peanut butter. In my continued pursuit to ditch all things plastic and sub in glass containers, I found an organic peanut butter in a glass jar. Just peanuts and sea salt. Mmmmm, salt. Bonus points for how reasonably priced it was and how the USDA organic seal means the peanuts were not of the genetically modified variety. Grand.

Then I went on with my life, pleased with my research and findings. I smeared my glorious peanut butter on my hearty slice of organic sprouted grains bread every morning. Starting my day off right, oh yah! Sometimes I'd add a few slices of bananas and really pat myself on the back -- three food groups represented, once you count the liberal pour of cream into my coffee. I should have been feeling awesome...but I wasn't.

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What was happening? I was getting damper and phlegmier by the day. It couldn't be my precious breakfast turning on me... could it? I whip out my trusty TCM-friendly food resource, Healing Whole Foods: Asian Traditions and Modern Nutrition, which I highly recommend, and I flip to the peanut butter section. It wasn't fantastic. Tears may have been shed. Here's a summary:

2015-04-16_4Peanuts are warming and sweet, affecting the Lung and Spleen systems in TCM; peanuts lubricate the intestines and harmonize the Stomach. OK, fine so far. Peanuts can increase the milk supply of nursing mothers, clear blood from the urine, treat deafness, and lower blood pressure. Great, but not applicable; moving on. Then the book takes a turn for the worst. Peanuts "greatly slow the metabolism of the Liver. Therefore they should be avoided by overweight, damp, sluggish, yeast-infected, or cancerous persons."

SCREEEEEEEECH, went my brain. I definitely have the damp, sometimes feel sluggish, and of course lose sleep at night wondering if I have every cancer under the sun. Maybe I shouldn't eat the peanut butter? What about moderation? I'm usually on board with everything in moderation. Even the book says peanuts can be helpful sometimes, for some people. "Peanuts can benefit the person with fast metabolism such as the thin, nervous person who digests large amounts of food rapidly." Well, crap. That's not the loophole I was hoping to see.

I scan the book quickly, going through the introduction in the chapter, "Nuts and Seeds," hoping to see any type of justification for me continuing to scarf peanut butter every morning. What's the general guideline they give before branching out to discuss each specific nut? "Nuts all follow a pattern of being rich in fat and protein and therefore should be used ... to tonify thedeficientperson; avoid them in cases ofexcess and dampness." Game over. I, like most overfed, over-stressed, and under-exercised Americans, am a ball of excess patterns. Stasis, stagnation, damp-heat, phlegm. Check, check, check, check!

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The only passage I liked in the entire section on peanuts was the justification for eating organic peanut butter. The author notes "Peanuts are often heavily sprayed with chemicals and grown on land saturated with synthetic fertilizers. In addition, they are subject to the carcinogenic fungus aflatoxin. Organic peanuts should therefore be used -- they contain fewer chemical residues, and are less subject to aflatoxin."

Suggestions abound in this section. Nuts are serious. It states to only buy nuts in the shell, because nuts lose their nutrients after being hulled or shelled. Yikes, who's doing that? "Store hulled seeds in dark bottles in cold places... Do not store in plastic. Oil-rich food combines with plastic to form plasticides." Eww. "Toxins tend to accumulate in all seeds, so it is important to buy organic non-sprayed ones." Got it.

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What's the conclusion today? Is it a.) Never eat seeds, nuts, or nut butters ever again? No, thankfully, I'm not saying that -- to you or to myself. The better answer is b.) Take your condition into account and eat smaller, less frequent amounts of organic, non-GMO options. Balance it out with other foods that drain damp and transform phlegm. Hint: it's not a banana, unfortunately. Wamp, wamp.

Why You Should Never, Ever Shame a Kid for Peeing the Bed

This is going to be one of those "stories with a lesson" posts. The story is about people freezing to death in Antarctica, and the lesson is about the power of the Kidney in Traditional Chinese Medicine. Here goes.

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Last night as I put my four-year-old son to bed, he pointed up to one the maps hanging in his room (we're big map people at my house) and said, "What's that big one at the bottom called again?" "Antarctica," I answered. "It's really cold there, and people really don't go to that continent." His eyes grew wide and as he tried to gauge my seriousness. "Ever?" he asked? "Well," I said, trying to tuck him in and get on with the bedtime process, "a group of men did go there to explore, but they all died."

As soon as the words left my lips, the following stream of thoughts flew through my head: Why would I tell my four-year-old a scary story as he's drifting off to sleep? OMG, he's totally going to have nightmares about explorers dying on an icy island now. He's going to be so scared that he'll pee the bed. No, he never pees the bed. He's been potty trained for almost two full years and he's almost never had an accident since. He'll be fine. It'll be fine. OMG what if he has nightmares and pees the bed?

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"How'd they die?" He interrupts my runaway train of thought with a valid question. "Um, well, they froze to death after they reached the South Pole." "THEY ALL FROZE TO DEATH?" He was clearly perturbed by this, and there again went my self-chastising mental barrage of silent promises never to start a scary historical account with a child at bedtime. "Yes, but that was a long time ago and now people know what to pack and wear when they go exploring there so that they can make it back out. We're never going to go there, and you will never be that cold, OK buddy?" He honestly didn't seem worried, so I changed the subject, chatted it up about wondering what the new child of the week was going to bring for snack at school tomorrow.

I went to bed truly thinking he wasn't too scared and would probably get through the night fine. He's not prone to nightmares, he never wakes up during the night, and everything will be fine. OK. In the middle of the night, I hear the thing every parent dreads, "Mommy... I peed the bed." Now, pay attention. Here's where the real lesson of the day starts. "It's OK, buddy, I'm coming," I said in a totally calm and nice voice. I walk into his room, and he's standing on his bed, already taking off his jammies. I did the distinguishing but true parent move next, which is where you cautiously run your hand over the sheet to see how bad the damage was. "It was just a little," he said. True story. So I sent him into the bathroom to pee out the rest of what he still had in the bladder, while I did the presto chango with his bedding.

Five minutes later, we're both back in bed, calm, and headed off to dream land. I start mentally processing what just happened. I told a story about a group of explorers freezing to death in a faraway land to a kid who never pees the bed, and that kid peed the bed. Just a few drops, mind you, but he peed the bed. What happened? I scared the pee out of him. In mainstream western society, there's one way of looking at peeing the bed. In TCM, there's a different way of looking at things.

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I'm going to lay some heavy TCM theory on you, but just for a minute. The Kidney controls the Urinary Bladder, and the Kidney is most impacted by the emotions of Fear and Fright. When an adult is truly and thoroughly scared (Think: getting held up by gunpoint in an alley), it's not unheard of for said adult to pee his pants, right? Well, when a kid is afraid, he's much more likely to pee the bed at night. There's more to the theory, of course, because TCM is always simple but complex, complex but simple; however, you get the basic mechanism.

2015-03-25_coversMy son was briefly scared by a torturous historically accurate bedtime story; he peed. He's a healthy, well-adjusted kid, and I'm almost positive that he'll be fully recovered from this mini-trauma and we won't be in the same urine boat tonight. On the other hand, kids who live in fear often pee the bed on and off for years. This makes complete sense in TCM, although it leaves many westerners in the dark. In fact, many people tend to make this situation much worse by shaming the child, yelling and insulting him when it happens.

"What are you, a baby?" "What would your friends think if I told them you peed the bed?" Etc., etc., etc. This happens. My heart is pulled back to a story in the Peoria newspaper a couple of years back, covering a boy about eight years old who died of dehydration because his parents wouldn't let him drink anything for over three days, to try to prevent him from peeing the bed anymore. Any doubt in your mind that he lived in fear almost constantly, from that situation and likely many other abuses going on?

In case it's not clear yet, the lesson today is to never, ever shame a kid for peeing the bed. If that kid is afraid that you'll be disappointed, angry, irritated, or ashamed of him for peeing the bed, then he's stuck in the unfortunate cycle of fear perpetuating the problem. I know it sucks to get out of your warm bed at 3 a.m. to change sheets and pajamas and wipe down a peed-up kid, but please just do it with a smile on your face. Give the kid a cuddle, and tell them it's OK and that everyone has an accident from time to time. Trust me, you're doing you both a favor.