Archive for tag: tcm

Does Wine = Exercise?

2014-11-21_wineCurious ladies are dying to know. Could the articles be true? Is drinking a glass of wine the health equivalent of working out at the gym? This. Is. Life-changing.

Here's the article: Resveratrol may be natural exercise performance enchancer - Science Daily. If you have a Facebook account, I'm sure you've at least seen the headline "Glass of Wine Equal to Hour at the Gym!" and the equally delighted personalized status updates by every woman and half the men you are "friends" with.

2014-11-21_chemSo, does the study actually prove this? Kind of. A team of researchers on the University of Alberta Faculty of Medicine and Dentistry found that resveratrol, a natural compound found in some fruits, nuts, and wine, mimics the effects of hard physical exercise on the human body. Although their conclusions leaned more towards creating a resveratrol supplement that could be given to patients that were unable to exercise -- such as a car accident victim with four broken limbs, I guess.

Naturally, the people did not stop there. Our lushy society has taken it upon ourselves to extrapolate the potential ways this could impact the average person. Can't make it to the gym tonight after all? No problem -- have a glass of wine! Don't feel like going for that run in the rain? Don't worry about it -- go back inside and drink wine!

2014-11-21_grapeWhat's the catch? There are a couple of details here. Again, their research was geared towards creating a performance-enhancing supplement, not a substitute for performance entirely. They said resveratrolmimicsthe results of endurance training...it's not quite as perfect in every way. Also, we are only talking about red wine here. "Why?" wonders the lady who only likes sweet dessert wines. The answer is that resveratrol -- the important part of the wine for this discussion -- is found primarily in the skin ofredgrapes. White wine just doesn't have the resveratrol levels that would make an impact in your big sea of body.

2014-11-21_glassWestern medicine always thinks it's discovering something new. Well...not this time, fellas! Chinese medicine has listed red wine as a therapeutic dietary choice for thousands of years. In TCM, red wine is dry and hot, so it expels dampness and warms the interior, expelling cold. Is that why I always crave a glass of Pinot Noir on a cold winter day?

The Chinese also use wine as a guiding element, directing other herbs or foods where the body needs those influences. They see wine as capable of moving blood and qi, which can help dispel not only cold but also stasis and stagnation of many types and manifestations. Both East and West recognize that red wine can improve circulation.

I'm not going to say that TCM wins again, but yes I basically am saying that TCM wins again. Let's compromise over a glass of red wine

Kidney 1 -- You're Grounded!

Or, at least you should be, because that's basically your job. According to Deadman--our go-to acupuncture manual--"Gushing Spring," as it's called in English, has the primary function of "returning the unrooted back to its source." Actions include "descends excess from the head," "calms the spirit," and "rescues yang to revive consciousness." Pull escaping things down; root them back to the earth. Sounds pretty important...and it is.

The only point on the sole of the foot, KD1, as we short-handers call it, is also the Jing-well and wood point of the Kidney meridian. It has a strong descending power, and it can clear excess from the upper parts of the body particularly well. It's just too bad that it also happens to be perhaps the most painful acupoint to needle in the clinic. I say "in the clinic," because although this is perhaps the most painful point that we use in practice, there are at least two very intimate points--Du1 and Ren1--that would certainly be more sensitive. We. Never. Use. Those. Two. Points. But please do take a moment and look them up for your reading pleasure....

See, KD1 hardly even sounds painful now! So, why would we select KD1 to needle? In practice, it's used mostly to treat severe cases of Liver Yang Rising, Liver Wind, or Liver Fire.

Imagine a stressed out, irritable, hypertensive patient with a red face, red "whites" of the eyes, ringing ears, and an explosive headache. You're watching him, waiting for him to stroke out at any minute. Oh yeh, he's getting KD1, and make it bilateral! The process of bilaterally needling KD1 on any one patient always seems tricky. Why would they ever let you approach the second foot when the memory of how the first one went down is still so painfully fresh?

Why? Because it works. Let's revisit an account from an old--very old--2nd century Chinese doctor named Hua Tuo. He sees a General. One minute, the General has "head wind, confused mind, and visual dizziness." One minute and two KD1 needles later, the General "was immediately cured." How, you might be asking, can aKidney point so effectively resolveLiver signs and symptoms? As you might suspect, there's a short answer, reminiscent of Daoist simplicity, and then there's the longer, more complex answer that is more representative of most of Chinese medical theory.

"The Kidneys and Liver share the same origin." Well, OK then. There's our short answer. Or, for the longer version, we can go into detail about how Kidney is the mother of Liver, and water must nourish the wood to grow properly, and without the proper Kidney yin, the Liver yang cannot be held down. The way that Chinese medical theory has evolved, grown, changed, and revamped itself over the past couple of millennia is really impressive, because, as Dr. Kwon revealed to us in class, one right answer does not make the other answer wrong.

Our Western brains are trained to be logical at every turn. If energy comes from the external universe, then that's the right answer. If energy comes from within the human body, then that's the right answer. How can they both be the right answer at the same time? In Eastern philosophy, it just is. I sometimes have to remind myself that Chinese medicine isn't just a freak show of "everybody's right" or "anything goes." That would be completely ignorant of the intricacies of the system and the power of the medicine. But still, it's great that there's more than one way to the needle the patient.

To put this into action, consider some of the new ways that KD1 is treated in practice. Let's just be honest--nobody wants a needle in the bottom of the foot if they can help it. Recently, researchers have tested out the practice of making herbal plasters and applying them to the bottom of the foot over KD1, to treat such excess conditions as mouth ulcers and hypertension. Now that sounds good to me! You've turned a tortuous experience into a day at the spa.

And finally, let us not forget the power of acupressure on KD1, or as the laypeople call it--a foot massage!

Gold, Frankincense and Myrrh -- Minus the Gold

2014-10-07_1If it was good enough for the Christ Child, then it's good enough for me. That's my motto. I've been using a (gasp) commercially prepared skin care product for the past month or so, and these are two of the main ingredients -- frankincense and myrrh essential oils!

Once again I've found myself playing the "overlapping medical paradigm" game. You know the one -- you realize you're eating a vegetable that also happens to appear in a Materia Medica (giant book of medicinal herbs). Suddenly you second-guess yourself at every meal. "Should I add sautéed onions to my steak," "Does a cooked onion still hold the same medicinal properties as a raw one?" Who eats raw onions anyway? "Is the live peppermint growing in my backyard the same as the dried peppermint in my tea bags, the essential oil of peppermint in my cabinet, or the bo he (Mentha piperita) listed in my TCM Materia Medica?"

2014-10-07_2Now I'm having this same sense of wonderment about my facial products. As I'm rolling on and rubbing in this blend of ancient oils that smells distinctly like a special day in a Catholic church, I'm pondering the reach of these powerful substances. It's no secret that frankincense can run $100 per bottle of essential oil, and myrrh comes in around $70.This is good stuff, people. But why? What properties do they carry that have made them, along with the missing "gold" in my formulation, so heavily sought after for millennia? Myrrh was not only presented to the baby Jesus but also used to anoint his body after death. Egyptian pharaohs were also doused in the stuff.

2014-10-07_3          2014-10-07_4
Myrrh on the left, frankincense on the right

Myrhh (mo yao) has been a documented herb in TCM since the Kaibao Era circa 975 AD. Frankincense (ru xiang) has been on the books since 500 AD. How are they used in Chinese medicine? Both come from small shrub-like trees in the Arabian Peninsula and Northeast Africa, and both are used in resin form to invigorate blood, treating a variety of "stasis" issues, from traumas to tumors. Specific entries might look like this:

2014-10-07_5Myrrh: neutral, bitter, downward draining; enters the Liver meridian; moves blood, dispels stasis, disperses phlegm nodules.

Frankincense: warm, acrid, aromatic; enters the Heart and Lung meridians; moves blood, relaxes sinews, freecourses qi, and removes obstruction from the channels.

Together, they have complementary properties of healing weeping sores and engendering new flesh. Well, there we have it. Now I see why this blend (which also includes lavender, Hawaiian sandalwood, helichrysum, and rose oils) would be used as a facial formula of the anti-aging variety. Hey, I'm 31. I might as well be prepared.

Qi Li Sanis the name of the formula utilizing the highly effective complementary herbsmo yao(myrrh) and ru xiang (frankincense). Technically they are resins, but we call every substance in our Materia Medica an "herb." This traditional formula combines our frankincense and myrrh with dragon's blood (spoiler alert: not really the blood of a dragon), catechu (another resin), carthamus (flower), cinnabar (ooh, an illegal one!), musk (illegal plus you'd smell like a deer), and borneol (one more resin for good measure).

2014-10-07_6Ayurvedic medicine, native to India, also uses frankincense and myrrh, now sometimes in nutraceutical forms like guggulsterones and bowsellic acids, respectively, for high cholesterol and joint pain.

So, what am I putting on my face? Sure, an essential oil is not exactly the same as a resin or a neutraceutical, or a Chinese decoction for that matter, but that's not what matters. What's important here is another step in the direction towards integrated medicine. Maybe western and eastern are both right this time. As one of my favorite patients helped me realize recently, you'll kill yourself trying to figure out which is the one right answer. There isn't one. Open your eyes, open your ears, and open your heart to acknowledge the truth in each tradition.

Your Lung Meat

2014-10-02_lung1No, not your lunchmeat. Today I want to talk about your "lung meat." This is how my children and I refer to their lungs. Got a cough? Well let's massage some eucalyptus oil on your lung meats. They understand that I don't have to reach my arm down the throat to physically touch the lungs themselves. My 7- and 4-year-old children are already hip to the Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) concept of the internal and external functional system known simply as the "Lung."

My children are wise. Maybe they -- like most children -- are simply intuitive creatures. They haven't yet been shoved inside the box, led to believe that there is only one right answer, or that they must operate fully and submissively within the parameters drawn by the institution. Wow, I really sound like an old-school hippie on that one.

2014-10-02_lung2I had to take graduate-level TCM courses to grasp the concept of the Lung as an entire system of physiological interplay involving both internal organs and external pathogens. Sometimes in TCM, "organs" line up perfectly with their western paradigm counterparts. The Large Intestine is largely the same thing in TCM and in the western understanding. A medical doctor and an acupuncturist would agree that the Large Intestine functions to absorb some nutrients from food, reabsorb some fluid, and pass along the remaining waste in the form of stool. See? Everyone's getting along.

Unfortunately, some western organs do not line up exactly with their corresponding TCM "zang fu." Some translations are more abstract, although still meaningful. Take the Heart for example. While westerners know that your consciousness (mind/thoughts) originates in the brain, we can stretch ourselves to accept the TCM function of the Heart as the storage place for the Shen (mind/spirit).

2014-10-02_umbrellaThe Lung falls somewhere in between. TCM describes the Lung as a delicate white umbrella in the upper jiao (we'll call that the "chest" for today), misting the entire body with the perfect amount of moisture. Not too much fluid, mind you, or you'll have a phlegmy cough. Not too little either, or you'll have a dry cough.

In TCM, the Lung is responsible for so many processes and conditions in the body. Again, some will be more easily accessible to the logic of a western brain, such as how the Lung rules respiration, opens to the nose, and governs the voice. We can probably stretch again to accept the function of the Lung in TCM as working with the Heart to control the blood vessels -- if you have any idea about how the heart circulates the blood through the lungs to oxygenate it before distributing it through the body. As you feared, though, some of the Lung functions in TCM are unclear to the western mind. Did you know that the Lung regulates qi (energy) of the body? It regulates the water passages, controls the skin, sweat glands, and body hair, and controls "descending and dispersing" throughout the body.

2014-10-02_heartWhat? That final function describes the way that the Lung should work to descend qi in your body. You shouldn't cough; if you are coughing, then that is explained as "rebellious Lung qi" that needs to be more adequately descended. When you catch a cold, TCM explains that this happened because your Lung qi may have been wimpy. The Lung is the first line of defense from our body to its surrounding exterior environment, and we need strong Lung function to beat down any bad guys who try to sneak in.

As Dr. Zhu illustrated in a recent Advanced Seminar class, it's easier to push an intruder back outside when he's just stepped through your door. Sure, you can fight him down in your dining room, but by then he's already broken your furniture and dumped out your drawers in his path. What a great example. Dr. Zhu is brilliant, but we already knew that.

2014-10-02_chartGuess what? It's time to protect your Lung meat. Right now -- today. In TCM, the Lung is the organ connected to the season of fall/autumn. While some interpret this to mean that the Lung is the strongest at this time of year, many of us experience the opposite -- excessive or frequent Lung pathologies -- wind-cold invasions and wind-heat invasions (the common cold and flu). These pathogens are attacking through our (often deficient) wei qi (protective energy layer), which again is regulated by the Lung. If the Lung is weak, then the wei qi is weak; thus, more colds for you.

What can you do to tonify your Lung? You can visit your favorite clinician or intern to assess your wei qi and see how much tonification you might need. Acupuncture is often appropriate, as may be cupping, gua sha, tui na, or moxa. Even food therapy (a branch of TCM) could be applied here. Pears are very moisturizing and specifically target the Lung and Stomach meridian (think: colds and flu).

2014-10-02_pearFor some people, a Lung excess pattern could exist. Instead of basic tonification, a sedation technique might be the appropriate method. Who wants more hot yellow phlegm in the lung meat? Not me. This is why self-diagnosis and treatment can be dangerous. Not every head cold is a wind-cold invasion. Many are wind-heat invasions. While ginger or garlic might be great to release the exterior wind-coldinvasion, it will probably exacerbate a wind-heat condition, where peppermint would likely be the answer.

What's the lesson here today? Care for your lung meat. Don't smoke. Do drink water. These are the basics according to western medicine, and TCM agrees. However, if you'd like to do more -- the TCM way -- then see what an AOM intern has to say.

So What Is Chinese Medicine

With the start of a new trimester here at NUHS, and -- for many -- the start of a new school year, it's the perfect time to break it down. Just what is Traditional Chinese Medicine? How does acupuncture fit into the picture? Do you have to use herbs, too? What about tui na, qi gong, and tai chi? Let's not forget about my personal favorite -- dietary therapy!

Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) has arguably five branches, and I'm going to give it to you as I understand it. After two full years in the Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine Program, a first professional master of science degree program, I think I'm finally scratching the surface of what the ancient Chinese had to offer.

Acupuncture

photo of woman receiving acupunctureThis is the big guy, right? Acupuncture is the most well-known branch of TCM today in the U.S., involving the insertion of needles into specific points on the body. While some other fields offer an abbreviated, "stick it where it hurts" method, we TCM acupuncturists take the entire body, its functional organ systems, and each person's general constitution into consideration when deciding where to stick the needles. I know it's confusing when you say your back hurts and I put needles in your legs, ears, and hands, but just trust me. It's all connected through energy meridians. This is also why we ask you about your poop when you come in for knee pain.

Moxibustion

photo of Chinese herbYes, it smells just like marijuana, but it's actually a different herb called ai ye in Chinese pinyin, artemesia argyi in Latin, or Mugwort in plain old English. It does come in a tightly rolled stick form, we do light the end, but instead of smoking it we hold it near an acupoint on the body. After a few minutes of pecking the moxa stick close enough to provide penetrating heat but never burning you -- I promise -- you will reap the benefits of not only pain relief but tonification of certain organ systems and the freecoursing of energy through particular meridians. It feels great, but you will have to explain to people for the rest of the day why you smell like marijuana.

Herbs

photo of Chinese herbsLike many medical systems, from western naturopathy to Indian Ayurveda, TCM has a unique Materia Medica, or giant book of herbs, their properties, and their medicinal uses. While you don't have to "do herbs," most students at NUHS work towards the full MS of Oriental Medicine (which includes the herbal coursework in addition to the acupuncture work). Interesting fact: not all "Chinese herbs" are plant-derived. Many are actually minerals, such as salt or arsenic, or animal-derived, such as deer penis or flying squirrel feces. Just seeing if you're paying attention (but yes, those are really all in the Materia Medica).

TCM­

photo of garlic and onionsLumps dietary therapy, or food therapy, into the same branch as herbal therapy above. Because I love the application of common foods and nutritional principles so much, I'm awarding it half status as its own category. Some items that we'd call "food," such as garlic or onions, are also included in the Materia Medica as medicinal herbs. They're working together -- that's the point. Who doesn't love the ancient Greek saying, "Let food be thy medicine and medicine thy food?" Thanks, Hippocrates, thy father of western medicine. The Chinese happen to agree!

Tui Na

photo of woman receive a massageCan you pronounce it? Try this: twee nah. Good job. This is most easily compared to the practice of massage. Often called "Asian Body Work," these pushing and pulling movements applied by the TCM provider to the patient's body accomplishes many of the goals of general massage, such as relaxation and improved circulation of blood and energy.

Cupping

photo of cupping treatmentThis is also where we are going to mention the practice ofcupping. Stick a fire into a glass cup to create a vacuum that pulls toxins out of the blood and releases the exterior in a "wind-cold invasion" and you have a happy patient. In my admittedly limited clinical experience, everyone loves cupping, but mind your manners. The clinic is not an a la carte menu for your pleasure. Let the intern and the clinician decide which modalities are best for your condition each day.

Qi Gong

photo of qi gong practitionerAnother new phrase for the day. Practice: chee gong. Not so bad, is it? Qi gong offers the practitioner a chance to step back, relax, and renew his or her own energy and well being. Maybe you've seen images of elderly Chinese individuals at the park, wondering why they are punching the air in slow motion. That was a group of people cultivating their qi. As Dr. Yurasek tells us interns, "You can't give it if you don't have it!" Thus, practice your qi gong postures and movements before you head in for your clinic shift.

So, there it is--most of Traditional Chinese Medicine. We could also tie in tai chi or talk about gua sha, but I have to save something for next time! If you haven't tried TCM, now is a great time. Interns are fresh off a nice two-week break, white lab coats are pristine, and everybody's anxious to try out their skills. See you in clinic!