Archive for tag: tcm

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 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.