Archive for tag: tcm

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.

2015-04-16_3

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!

2015-04-16_5

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.

2015-04-16_6

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.

2015-03-25_world

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?

2015-03-25_arctic

"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.

2015-03-25_theory

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.

The Season Is Changing - So Should Your Dinner

Adiós, slow roasted sweet potatoes and beef. Hello, green onions! Although the calendar says spring doesn't officially start until March 20th on the Spring Equinox, we all felt the shift about a week ago. I'm not just talking about the temperature moving from 35º to 55º in two days, although that was awesome, too. When the seasons change, everything changes. If you are remotely in tune with your body, the earth, the energy of the universe, etc., then you felt it, too.

In Traditional Chinese Medicine, the concept of the Five Elements or Phases shows that each season is connected to one of the functional organ systems of the body. Winter is the kidney and spring is the liver. Easy enough, right? Well, there's more. The body needs to be prepared gently and thoroughly for the transition to a new season, and while acupuncture and herbal medicine certainly play their role, dietary therapy is really where it's at.

The winter was a time of hunkering down, tonifying the kidney and urinary bladder with salt and animal fats, thickening the blood, and conserving energy through the cold long season. Now that spring is upon us, it's time to lighten up -- literally. The Inner Classic teaches that we should reawaken the body and prepare for new beginnings by rising with the sun and taking brisk walks. Spring is the time to gather up stored energy and push upward, like a sprouting plant in the garden.

Spring is also a time for cleansing, and TCM focuses that cleansing on the organs that need it most this time of year -- the liver and gall bladder. After gorging on fatty steaks in the winter, the springtime requires a diet of small amounts of light food with yang qualities. Think sprouts, greens, young plants, and shoots. Heavy foods can clog the liver and gall bladder, leading to fevers and other springtime maladies.

Want specifics? Lay off the salt -- including soy sauce and miso -- and heavy meats. Instead, cook with something lighter, bringing in the pungent flavors of basil, fennel, marjoram, rosemary, caraway, dill, and bay leaf. Throw in some young garden pickings like small beets, carrots, and peas. Use more simple, raw foods instead of slow roasting or stewing. Both the Ayurvedic tradition and the ancient Chinese encouraged people to choose wind-like, airy foods during the springtime, to promote cleansing and new growth.

While the Chinese do not recommend eating raw foods in abundance or all year round, they do encourage more raw foods in the springtime. If a person is weak, frail, or deficient, then they might not do well with raw foods, even during the spring. If a person is hot and full of excesses, then bring on the plates full of raw celery and cucumbers. As with everything, dietary recommendations are guided by general principles, but are always customized to the individual.

In the United States, our climate is mostly temperate. Thus, we can apply most of the dietary suggestions from TCM, including the use of light, raw foods in the springtime. You can still cook some things -- just make it quick. A short, high-temperature sauté is appropriate, as is a brief steaming.

Why should you care to adjust your springtime diet? You don't have to. You can go on shoving your face full of rib eye and baked potatoes slathered in sour cream and butter (Ohh, I miss the winter diet already!), but tell me how you feel in about a month or two.

What's the risk? The liver-gall bladder duo can be quite a beast. The first sign of an imbalanced liver is angry outbursts, accompanied by frustration, dissatisfaction, and impulsiveness. Once the gall bladder gets bogged down, too, then add in indecisiveness and unclear thinking. You might experience eye or vision trouble or tendon stiffness and joint pain, or pain or discomfort anywhere along the Liver or Gall Bladder meridians of the body.

I know it's hard to change. I love salt, steak, and butter more than anyone I've ever met, but I've also learned my lesson. I've clogged my liver and gall bladder one too many times. I've had the blurry vision, sticky feeling in the eyes, bitter taste in the mouth, angry outbursts, and all of the other things the Chinese warned me about.

Photo of gallbladder cleanse text

This week, I'm doing this -- the TCM Gallbladder cleanse!

Milk - Should You Drink It?

I'm not going to say you should drink milk, and I'm not going to say you shouldn't drink milk, but I am going to say some things about drinking milk. In my house, we have to specify "cow's milk" for a discussion like this one, because we also stock a decent rotation of rice milk, almond milk, coconut milk, and even soy milk on occasion. I really don't like any of that stuff, but somewhere along the way my kids and husband took a shining to them. So, now I buy like five milks, most of which aren't milk at all, but "drinks" of sorts. OK.

2015-03-10_cowToday let's focus on the gold standard of milk -- cow's milk. You know, the good ole white jug. It's the perfect food...for calves. Is it also the perfect food, or even an acceptable food, for humans? Do we have a biological need for the nutritional profile that turns a newborn calf into a full-grown bull? Kind of sounds ridiculous when you think about it, doesn't it? When your cat has a baby, do you pump some extra human breast milk and give it to the kitten just for good measure? Oh, so now it sounds preposterous?

Drinking milk seems to be one of those things that people just do out of habit. Your mom gave you a glass of milk with dinner. (I know grown men who still want a glass of milk with Thanksgiving dinner.) Your elementary school plopped that cute little missing persons carton on your lunch tray every day. You pour it on your cereal, and you probably grew up to do the same when you had your own children. We're propagating a vicious cycle of humans drinking cow's milk here, people. If you're not part of the solution, you're part of the problem.

Have you ever asked yourself why? Why do we go from drinking human breast milk after a year or few to drinking a cow's breast milk? Do cows do it better? What is happening? Let's let the ancient Chinese take the wheel for a minute. What properties does milk have according to TCM?

  • 2015-03-10_glassTemperature: Neutral
  • Flavor: Sweet
  • Channels Entered: Lung, Stomach, and Heart
  • Action: Moistens dryness
  • Cautions: People with damp accumulation or phlegm-damp nodules

Hmmmm. The conclusion is, like almost every naturally occurring food, milk is good for some of the people some of the time. Chinese medicine doesn't usually make blanket statements like "X food is always good for you" or "Y food is always bad for everyone." Instead, TCM shows us that each food has a set of properties, making each food the right choice or the wrong choice for a given person at a given time, depending on that individual's condition. A dry, hot, thin person with a red tongue and rapid pulse might be well nourished and moistened by a cool glass of milk. On the other hand, a damp-retaining person with too much phlegm already might want to stay away from milk most of the time.

2015-03-10_article

What do I think? Again, I'm not here to tell anyone they should or should not drink cow's milk. I will go ahead and share some of the concerns that I find most important to consider when deciding whether or not to reach for the white jug.

First, why are you drinking milk? Are you looking for protein, calcium, Vitamin D or Vitamin A? Then I hope you're drinkingwholemilk. Skim or reduced-fat milk might show high daily values of these nutrients on the label, but without the naturally occurring fat still present, your body cannot effectively absorb and utilize the protein, calcium, Vitamin A or Vitamin D. You're drinking it in, and you're peeing it out. Congratulations on that very expensive urine.

2015-03-10_milk

Milk is certainly not the only place to obtain these nutrients, but if these are the reasons you're drinking the milk, and you're drinking skim milk, then do yourself a favor and don't bother! If you simply love the texture of white water, I mean skim milk, then go ahead and gulp it down. Just remember that you aren't netting those nutrients listed on the label. In case your mind isn't blown yet, go ahead and apply the same rules to all dairy. Low fat cheese? Fat free yogurt? I hope you're eating it because you love the taste, not because you're looking to effectively digest, absorb, and utilize those nutrients.

2015-03-10_coverDo I drink cow's milk? Not really. Door to Door Organics delivers a white jug of organic whole fat milk to my house every other week, and it gets used. My kids drink a glass every other day or so, and my husband pours it on his cereal -- not that we eat much cereal. Did anyone else see the cover of Bloomberg Business last week? Yum, my cereal is 55% GMO sugar! I always wanted to start my day with a piece of cake as a kid...little did I know, I was!

Sorry--my daughter took her red pen and told Tony what she thinks of his cereal. Drink cow's milk if you like it, but know what you're dealing with. Your choices matter in building the health and wellness that you see for your life.

Additional Reading

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 on...it "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.)

2015-02-27_mario

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.