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
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.
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"
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.
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
Here's how I'm taking my chia seeds:
Substitute anything you have a personal problem with. Add all
ingredients into blender and mix well. Pour into small glasses and
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
3. Kidney Yang Deficiency with Water
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.
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.
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?
Dr. David Bai and Dr. Linda Xu summarize that acupuncture has
been shown to:
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
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
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.
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.
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)
Yep, 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
I 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.
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:
Peanuts 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!
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.
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,
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.
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?
"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.
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
My 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.
• So What Is Chinese Medicine?
• Jabbing Nerves with Needles
• Mission in Nicaragua
To read older blog posts, scroll to the bottom and click the "Older Posts" button.