Should a Veteran be Homeless?

I think not. Yet, there are around 50,000 homeless veterans in the U.S. on any given night -- despite a 33% drop since 2010! "The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) states that the nation's homeless veterans are predominantly male, with roughly 8% being female. The majority are single; live in urban areas; and suffer from mental illness, alcohol and/or substance abuse, or co-occurring disorders."

This is where acupuncture comes in, friends. The National Acupuncture Detoxification Association (NADA) protocol, specifically, is helping veterans with PTSD manage stress, addictions, difficulty sleeping, and other behavioral and mental health conditions. NADA uses a standard set of ear points -- Sympathetic, Shen Men, Kidney, Liver, and Lung -- stimulated either with needles or with ear seeds.

Since it was established in the Bronx in 1974, the NADA protocol has brought relief not only to veterans, but also others in need of assistance with addictions, from food to illegal drugs. How does it work? The acupuncturist -- or one of over 10,000 health care professionals trained specifically in NADA protocol -- inserts the five sterile, stainless steel, one-time use needles into the ear and lets them remain for up to 45 minutes. Then, we take them out. It's simple. It's fast. It's cheap. It's effective.

2015-07-10_nadaWhat are patients saying about the NADA protocol? "...improved program retention, a more optimistic and cooperative attitude toward the process of recovery, as well as reductions in cravings, anxiety, sleep disturbance and need for pharmaceuticals." 

On Friday, June 26, NUHS Chief AOM Clinician Dr. Hyundo Kim and a group of acupuncture and oriental medicine interns headed downtown to the Chicago National Guard Armory to offer free PTSD ear seed treatments to homeless veterans. That's right -- NADA can get even easier! When needles aren't appropriate or convenient, we can still stimulate the ear points of the NADA protocol with stick-on ear seeds. The added bonus is that the patient can essentially take the treatment "to go," and can squeeze the seeds, reactivating the points, for the next few days.

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At that Chicago Stand-Down event, held in June, homeless veterans are brought together in a single location to access community resources and supplies needed to begin addressing their individual problems and rebuilding their lives. Our group of volunteers provided ear seed treatments while other groups provided everything from a hot meal to a bag of clothing to an eye exam. I saw booths for flu shots, HIV tests, dental services, and Reiki. That day -- that one day -- those homeless veterans had a full-service experience.

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Representatives were on-site to match them with shelters, jobs, and the benefits they earned for their service to the United States of America. They were welcomed, they were appreciated, and they were valued.

Messy Poo?

2015-07-03_pic2Too bad. Did you know it's actually supposed to be clean when you wipe? Yes, a healthy poo is so nicely formed that even your first swipe should be a leave-no-trace expedition. Maybe that's how indigenous societies have all seemed to get along fine without rolls of toilet paper in their lives....

Unfortunately, many people upon wiping discover a messy poo situation. Perhaps you have to wipe a second time, or a third, or -- gasp -- a fourth time. Maybe you never even feel clean, despite seemingly endless wiping. Commercial products have actually adapted in response to the commonality of the messy poo -- flushable wet wipes for adults have hit the marketplace. Don't flush them, though. Free tip.

So why, according to Traditional Chinese Medicine, might an individual produce a messy poo? Naturally, there are several different potential trails of pathogenesis leading to a sticky, unformed deposit. Let's just cover one of the most common diagnoses - Spleen Qi Deficiency with Dampness. It's so common, yet so unpleasant.

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What is Spleen Qi Deficiency?

Well, let's start with what Spleen Qi is and what it's supposed to be doing when not deficient. The functional system called "Spleen" in TCM is responsible for these things and more:

  • Holding things up - We don't want your bladder or rectum or uterus prolapsing now, do we?
  • Containing blood - This is the guy who's keeping your blood neatly inside your vessels.
  • Thought - Spleen qi keeps your memory and concentration tip-top in the upstairs shop.
  • Muscles - Spleen nourishes your muscles. Serious, who wants to be described as "atrophied?"
  • Transformation & Transportation - The more liquid junk you throw down the pie hole, the harder the Spleen has to work to separate the clear from the turbid. In other words, "digestion."

If your Spleen qi is strong, you are good to go. I likely will not find you passed out in an alley, hemorrhaging and passing uncomfortable gas. Luckily, life is not always so extreme, and neither are pathologies. More often, modern American people are simply suffering from a mild case of Spleen Qi Deficiency. What's that look like?

  • 2015-07-03_pic4Abdominal Complaints - Gassy, bloaty, nauseous? Check, check, check. Maybe even dull pain.
  • Poo Malfunction - Loose stool, undigested food in the stool,messy poo? Well hello there, fourth wipe!
  • General Wimpiness - Fatigued, weak? Sweating on the third step? Worrying obsessively? Overweight?
  • The Bleeding - Chronic bleeding, hemorrhoids, bruise easily? Yah, I know it sounds serious. Eek.
  • Inclinations - You have no empathy and you constantly crave sweets.

Why is this happening to you? What did you ever do to deserve messy poo and this horrid array of sad signs and symptoms? How did your Spleen Qi become deficient? Like many things in TCM, there could be many right answers, depending on the person. Likewise, there are multiple ways to try to rectify the situation. There's more than one way to skin a messy-poo cat.

Causes of Spleen Qi Deficiency

First, the causes. Think back. Which ones apply to you?

  • 2015-07-03_pic5Dietary Choices - Too much cold, raw produce. Do you juice or, more deliciously, make smoothies? Salad every day for lunch? Woops. You just overwhelmed your Spleen with cold and allowed its pathological partner in crime,dampness, to creep in. Now you're feeling heavy, groggy, fatigued, and possibly gaining weight.
  • Excessive Thinking - Do you worry all the time? Is your job constantly causing you to overanalyze everything? What about your personal life? Are you obsessive? All of this strain injures the Spleen Qi.
  • Chronic Disease -  If you've been battling a long illness, you can bet your Spleen Qi has taken a hit. Taken multiple courses of oral antibiotics? Your Spleen is paying the price.

Treatment Strategies

What can you do about it? Is there any hope for a one-wipe life? Happily, the answer is yes. You can change your poo. Here are your treatment strategies, of course individualized to each person's exact manifestations of Spleen Qi Deficiency (and its partner, the Damp).

  • Tonify the Spleen - Your friendly neighborhood acupuncturist can use a combination of needles, moxa, and herbs to bring that bad boy back up to speed.
  • Resolve the Dampness - Spleen qi deficiency doesn't necessarily lead to damp accumulation, but it basically does. So, you also need to get rid of the dampness.

While the treatment strategies and principles seem few in numbers, they are not necessarily simple to accomplish -- particularly once the dampness has accumulated. While acupuncture, herbs, and anything else your acupuncturist does to you at the visit will almost certainly help your condition improve, you also need to make some changes at home for lasting results.

Additional Strategies

  • 2015-07-03_pic6Dietary Changes - Nobody wants to hear that one, but it's unavoidable. Stop eating all raw, cold produce. Cook your vegetables. It's the ancient Chinese way. Add some warming foods into the plan, sprinkle some cinnamon on your breakfast, and limit the salads to a couple per week. If the dampness has set in, then also limit alcohol and fried foods.
  • Qi Gong - It's like yoga; relax. There are simple movements you can do at home each day to strengthen the Spleen and Stomach systems in TCM. Check out this video of spleen excercises.
  • Relax - Try not to worry so much. Don't overthink everything. Lessen the obsessions.

If all of this sounds too difficult, then just incorporate one suggestion at a time. As always, please consult your favorite acupuncture intern for more information on your individualized pattern diagnosis and treatment plan. You don't want messy poo for the rest of your life, do you?

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)