Archive for tag: tcm

Yours, Mine, and Our Herbs

Or, alternative title: Touché, Mito2Max. I just realized why you work.

Let's start at the beginning. Once Dr. Cai taught us about the medicinal properties of coffee, I realized I should probably try to stop drinking so much of it. Like every other food, spice, or antler in the TCM materia medica, coffee has a temperature, a flavor, and a set of therapeutic actions.

2015-02-27_coffee     2015-02-27_beans

I'm not saying coffee is bad or that you or I should stop drinking it, although I will add here that I've heard Dr. Cai suggest that to many patients in the clinic. Slow down, I'm not ready. Mama needs her coffee in the morning. Why should I cut down? Well, according to TCM, coffee has the following properties:

Flavor: Bitter, slightly sweet

Temperature: Warm

Actions: Freecourses stagnated qi, particularly liver qi. Purges the gallbladder. Warms and moves blood. Opens heart orifices. Tonifies qi, particularly spleen qi. Drains damp.

2015-02-27_redKeep in mind these properties are referring to the roasted coffee bean; the green bean and the red berry have distinct characteristics and actions. Also, the general dosage of coffee as an herb in traditional Chinese medicine is around 1-3 cups of prepared coffee. Not giant mugs, people...actual measurement cups. One of the principles of TCM is to treat the individual at the time, meaning that there are almost no blanket statements such as, "Coffee is bad for everyone," or "I can have 3 cups of coffee daily and that's fine."

Instead, we see the person as a unique manifestation of qi and blood at a given moment. Your condition or diagnosis is likely to change from day to day or year to year, meaning that your acupuncture, herbal, and dietary treatments should change accordingly. If I'm cold, irritable, and retaining dampness, then bring on the coffee! But if, in the next month, I have constrained heat from liver qi stagnation, yin deficiency, and my fluids are drying up, then keep that coffee out of my shriveled hands.

2015-02-27_mitoWhat's an addicted girl to do? Well, I have to find something else to fill the void of coffee every day, or at least on the days or weeks when I know I need the extra energy and stamina boost. Enter, Mito2Max, a supplement that is described as an "energy and stamina complex," and "a healthy long-term alternative to caffeinated drinks and supplements for increased energy and vitality." Well, all right. Now we're talking. I read "supports healthy mitochondrial function and aerobic capacity and improves stamina naturally without the use of harmful stimulants."

That's good enough for me to give it a try. I start popping two in the morning and two in the afternoon. On the second day, I'm practically bouncing around my house, talking nonstop. OK, let's cut down to one a day. That's better. I don't know what's happening yet -- I'm just loving my "plant extracts and metabolic cofactors," without really thinking about it too hard. Who has time to analyze the ingredients in a supplement when you're jumping around like Mario on the Super Nintendo Game Genie (remember those awesome cheat codes)?

This week I decided I should probably read the label and see what's happening here. What do you know? Mito2Max is basically a bunch of Chinese herbs! The blend contains dong chong xia cao (cordyceps sinensis), ren shen (Panax ginseng), bai guo (Gingko biloba), and ashwagandha (Withania somnifera). Yes, I realize these are "other people's" herbs, too, but this is an Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine blog, so I'm claiming them today. (Other ingredients include: Acetyl-l carnitine HCI, Alpha-Lipoic acid, Coenzyme Q10, and Quercetin dihydrate, but we're not talking about them today.)


Let's look at the properties of these herbs and see why I'm bouncing off the walls.

  1. Dong chong xia cao: Sweet, neutral, tonifies kidney yang, nourishes kidney essence, tonifies lung qi, stops bleeding, resolves phlegm, and relieves cough and dyspnea.
  2. Ren shen: Sweet, slightly bitter, slightly warm, strongly tonifies yuan qi, tonifies stomach qi and spleen qi, tonifies the lungs, generates fluids and relieves thirst, calms the shen, tonifies kidney yang and qi.
  3. Bai guo: Sweet, bitter, astringent, neutral, relieves cough and dyspnea, astringes lungs and resolves phlegm, stops leukorrhagia, reduces urination.
  4. Ashwagandha: Warm, pungent, bitter, strongly tonifies kidney yang, calms the shen, dispels wind.
  5. There you have it. I've been popping a massive qi tonic, strengthening my kidney yang, primal qi, stomach, spleen, lungs, and most importantly, still calming my shen in the process. Conclusion: I've found my new afternoon coffee, and it's better for me than coffee. Score! Mario just found the castle.

Celery and Needles

What could the two possibly have in common? No, you guess first. Something to do with swords? Nope. OK, I'll tell you.

2015-02-20_1I was cooking dinner last night, and the recipe did not call for celery. I had a flash memory of a friend on Facebook posting that she added a bunch of random things to the granola she was making that day, because she wanted to clean out her pantry. I've been there. Two handfuls of raisins kicking around in the bottom of the snack pantry (in a container - I'm not that gross)...about a tablespoon of crushed pecans that I'll save for years rather than throw out -- come on, those things are expensive! Into the granola they go....

There I am, cooking dinner, the dinner that did not call for celery. This is about to relate to acupuncture, just wait for it. I look into the fridge and notice I have two giant packs of celery from the previous two weeks. My son had been on a celery kick for months, inhaling several stalks per day, and of course he suddenly hated it as soon as I stocked up. "I'll just chop some up and toss it into the pan with the onions and garlic I'm sautéing for the stuffed peppers recipe." Boom. In it goes.

2015-02-20_2No harm done, right? Maybe.... In the Traditional Chinese Medicine branch called Dietary Therapy, we learn the nature and properties of foods from kelp to congee and oats to oranges. Here's the medicinal profile for celery according to TCM: cooling, sweet, slightly bitter, benefitting the stomach and spleen, calming an irritated liver, improving digestion, drying dampness, purifying the blood, reducing nervousness and vertigo, clearing heat from the eyes, urine and mouth, and relieving headaches caused by stomach heat and stagnated liver qi (Pitchford, 2002, p. 539).

That would have been fine. Even if you didn't understand most of that, trust me, it would have been fine. Who doesn't have some stomach heat and stagnated liver qi these days! Then, as quickly as I tossed the chopped celery into the recipe that didn't call for it, I heard Dr. Zhu's voice in my head, reminding us that we cannot just throw in some extra needles just because we opened a 10-pack!

2015-02-20_3What's the big deal about haphazardly adding things in after the recipe (yes, we could call an acupuncture point prescription a "recipe")?

As Dr. Zhu explained, the point prescription is just that -- a prescription. You should take it seriously and respect the balance and harmony of the points that are working together. There are master-couple points in there; I saw a guest-host thing going on. I know she's tonifying the mother and sedating the child on the Lung channel. Someone said "extraordinary." Seems like it's getting crazy, but really it's not. It's very calculated...complete and perfect.

2015-02-20_5needles _smallNext time you find yourself in the kitchen with some extra celery to use up, are you going to throw it into the pan when the recipe doesn't call for it? Maybe... But, the next time you acupuncture interns find yourselves in rooms full of open packs of needles, I hope you do the right thing and leave them on the clean field instead of just adding in the 3 extra opened needles. Just don't tell Dr. Kim--he does not like wasted needles!'

Pitchford, P. (1996). Healing with whole foods: Oriental traditions and modern nutrition. Berkeley, Calif: North Atlantic Books.

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'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.

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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.