Archive for February 2013

Journalist Proves Himself Ignorant

Columnist Pete McMartin recently had his article, “Call the doctor–this government is making me sick” published in the Vancouver Sun newspaper. I first heard about the article through a patient who told me not to pick up that day’s paper as I wouldn’t like it. I laughed as it’s not the first time I’ve heard Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) and its practices criticized. I’ve been studying and practicing TCM for 16 years now, so none of this is new to me. I look at articles such as this as opportunities to set the record straight and clarify some myths.

There have been many responses from my colleagues on this one. Some are outraged. Some feel defensive. Some are on the attack. I understand those responses, but while it’s easy to state all the facts about where “western medicine” is weak, I’d rather show how TCM is strong because I believe that integration of care needs to happen. And this is best done with professionals from the various therapeutic practices working together, not smashing heads.

Back to McMartin’s article. Premier Christy Clark said, “An innovative health care system must respond to the changing needs of its citizens and embrace practices beyond traditional western medicine.” In response, McMartin writes, “An ancient Asian system of medicine based on dubious and folkloric treatments is suddenly innovative, while “western” medicine, the progress of which has been based solely on the application of rigorous scientific evidence, is suddenly ‘traditional.'”

If it is of McMartin’s opinion that TCM is based on “dubious and folkloric treatments,” that is his right to think that. But he is wrong. As the second largest medical practice in the world, TCM has 3000 plus years of observational study on vast numbers of people. This is the very foundation of science. But if you want modern science, just go to Google Scholar and type in “fMRI acupuncture studies,” “analgesic acupuncture,” or “Traditional Chinese Medicine herbs.” You will see a large number of studies that have been performed, many of them showing the benefits of the therapies we offer. And this is just a starting point.

McMartin goes on to state, “Doubtless, there are those who disagree with my characterization of traditional Chinese medicine. Cultural bias, and all that. (As if ‘culture’ could carry the same weight as science in this issue.).” This is not a cultural issue. I am not Chinese and was not raised with a Chinese cultural understanding. The same can be said for most of the classmates I graduated with. We studied and practice TCM because it works. My patients would agree that that’s also why they seek out TCM treatments.

He then states that in BC, many choose alternative treatments, “however ineffective their doctors might feel they are.” There are, in fact, a growing number of medical doctors (MDs) who recommend “alternative treatments,” including TCM and acupuncture, as they recognize the benefits of these therapies, especially in complex and chronic cases. In some of these cases, Western medicine simply does not have any solution. I get referrals of patients from MDs, both within the integrative clinic where I work as well as from MDs outside of my clinic. And an increasing number of MDs are taking courses to learn acupuncture and herbals. Of course there are some MDs who do not fall into this category. One of my friends told me that her MD said that she does not believe in the effectiveness of any alternative medicine. Wow! But, many–I’d like to think most–are at least open to the therapies, especially when they see their patients benefit.

Next, McMartin writes specifically against the government’s proposal to establish university degrees for TCM. He quotes the B.C. Medical Association president Dr. Shelley Ross as saying, “We have concerns (about the establishment of such a school) because we’re not sure there’s enough scientific evidence that traditional Chinese medicine is equal to western medicine.” I like what the TCMABC wrote about this: “Equal? Is a peach equal to an apple?” Once again, TCM has already proven its effectiveness, and continues to do so, both on clinical as well as academic platforms. TCM is different, but no less valid than western medicine. This is not a competition of us versus them. Or at least I would like it to not be.

Ross stated, “If (patients) delay their treatment by the use of Chinese medicine, we’re concerned they may miss the window of treatment with western medicine.” But my colleagues and I know that the majority of our patients are ones that have already been through months and even years of conventional testing and therapies. They come to us in pain, tired, depressed, sick, and frustrated because they haven’t been helped. They have tried the pharmaceuticals. They have gone through surgeries. They have waited in line for ages to get their testing. We see them, and sometimes they say, “You’re my last hope.” McMartin and Ross, I’d like to ask you, would you deny them this chance to receive TCM treatment? How about when they do improve with the help of my colleagues and me?

Now, let’s talk about cost. McMartin argues that the cost of developing the degree program would be better spent on more doctors and physios; shorter surgical wait times; more efficient models of delivery; and a new St. Paul’s Hospital. How much money does he really think will go into this potential degree program? There are already 3 programs and 3 provincial licensing exams, along with a provincial regulatory body (CTCMA) in place for TCM. The programs are a 3-year acupuncture or herbology program, a 4-year TCM Practitioner (both herbs and acupuncture) program, and a 5-year Dr.TCM program. In addition, prior to writing the licensing examinations (note that all 3 provincial licensing exams, each with both a written and a practical component, need to be passed for the Dr.TCM registration), applicants must complete at least 2 years of post-secondary schooling. So, to transition the programs from diploma to degree is not a start-from-scratch issue. In addition, TCM is a far less expensive medical model than western medicine. If you want the science to support that, again, go to Google Scholar and search “cost effectiveness acupuncture.” We’re looking for long-term solutions to our economic woes. But maybe McMartin is so stuck on the pill-popping quick fix idea that he has forgotten that there is no magic pill for this, and that creating more opportunities to study TCM in a university setting can help us financially as well as medically. Surgeries, pharmaceuticals, tests. These are all expensive! Acupuncture needles, herbs, food. Relatively inexpensive. Both medical models are needed.

Shouldn’t we be praising those who have made the move to try “alternative therapies?” When they see qualified, good TCM practitioners, they are taught how to play an active role in their own health. They are taught about wellness, not just disease. They are saving our province money. Many of my patients pay completely out-of-pocket for their treatments. They do so because they find the treatments of value. This, at no cost to the government coffers.

Finally, and the part that baffles me the most, as it is an argument that I had not yet heard, McMartin writes, “Let’s identify this idea for what it really is: It is a nod to B.C.’s sizable Chinese community, and a cheap, and I hope empty, ploy from a desperate government that will do anything to win votes.” Really?!

McMartin implies here that those of Chinese descent are the majority of practitioners and recipients of TCM therapies, so the government’s move here is to suck up for votes. I don’t have the stats, but I am in the field. I don’t classify my patients into categories of Chinese and non-Chinese, but I could confidently state that my patients come from a variety of cultural backgrounds and Chinese is not in the majority. I know a number of my colleagues could say the same.

This is clearly a topic that I could go on and on about. But to complete my rebuttal of McMartin’s article, I will address my title, Journalist Proves Himself Ignorant. I chose this title specifically as it seems that what gets published and draws attention is sadly often not what is the full truth. It is a bold statement that provides the opening for controversy. I’m sure that McMartin is not ignorant in all respects. But in this case, he would better serve his readers by getting his facts straight and perhaps interviewing someone who actually knows about TCM. I would love to invite Pete McMartin to my clinic for a TCM treatment!


Lessons from the Snow Grind

Last summer I wrote a blog about my life lessons from doing the Grouse Grind. As it is now February, the regular Grind is currently closed. But this weekend I got to do the Grouse Snowshoe Grind. Twice. Once again, I learned a few more lessons I can relate to regular life, and in particular to setting goals.

Lesson 1–Be prepared

health goals

My first showshoe opportunity this year was a few weeks ago on Mount Seymour. As a last minute thought, I called my friend to ask if he was going. Once decided, I had just 15 minutes to get myself ready. It was then that I realized that I have no snow gear. I threw on some running tights; I figured they were designed for winter running, so they should be okay. I put on layers of breathable tops and added a last layer of a sweatshirt with a hood. I grabbed a knitted hat, a scarf, and mitts. I put on my waterproof running shoes. Good enough, I thought. For a wet snow day, I was not prepared, though I did ultimately end up being fine.

I was much more prepared for the Grind Snowshoeing outings and that resulted in my feeling more skilled and confident, with less energy spent on worrying about whether I was going to be cold and wet.

In life, some goals we set for ourselves require preparation. If I want to eat healthy, I need to buy healthy food. If I want to exercise more, I may need to consider the appropriate gear. I may be able to get by without being organized, but the level of commitment to a goal is much higher when I have the added boost of confidence that I am prepared.

Lesson 2–Choose and plan a path

health goals

For the Grouse Snowshoe Grind, this is a no-brainer. The path is set and all I had to do was follow the markers.

In life, this isn’t always that easy. If eating healthy, it’s easier to do if I have a basic meal plan and recipes. If I just stock up my fridge and cupboards with healthy foods without knowing what I’m going to do with them, chances are that I may fall into lazy habits of opting for processed packaged foods or eating out. When exercising more is the goal, I need to know what I plan to do, how to start it out, where I will do that, and when. Without that, it’s easier to just skip out on the workouts when life gets busy.

Lesson 3–Look for signs you are on the right track

health goals

I was told to follow the little orange “SSG” signs on the Grind, so I knew I was on the right path with every sign I passed.

Life generally isn’t like that, but there are often signs if we pay attention. Though you may still be aways away from your ultimate goal, you can look for signs like more energy, less bloating, feeling stronger, sleep feeling more restful, and so forth. For some goals, you may find it helpful to keep a diary. Chances are that you won’t really remember how you felt at the beginning of your goal journey. If you’ve written it down, however, you can go back and see how far you’ve progressed. As a health professional, I find I get to remind my patients of how far along they have progressed. For example, I might say, “Are you still having problems falling asleep?” And my patients often say, “Oh, I forgot that was a problem. Yes, no problem now.”

Lesson 4–Enjoy the moments along the way

health goal

In addition to knowing that I was on the SSG track, it was nice to stop every once in awhile to look around at areas outside of my path. Looking around to enjoy the surroundings will help me to come back again next time.

When you set health goals for yourself, allow yourself to continue to appreciate other areas of your life. It is probably not long-term healthy to say no to every event you are invited to attend because you are trying to avoid eating unhealthy foods. Taking time to chat for a few minutes with a friend at the gym, instead of plugging away non stop, may help you to want to return to the gym again the next day.

Lesson 5–Be encouraged by the success of others

health goalAs I stood at the base of the last incline on the Snowshoe Grind, I was tired and that last slope looked steee-eeep! But seeing the imprints of footsteps from people that had already climbed that part of the path encouraged me. After all, if someone else was able to do it, I could too.

Do you know someone who has achieved some of the same goals that you are working toward? Even if you can’t find someone in person, you may find these type of people in books, articles, documentaries, online, or via social media. You may also find similar people in support groups. We are social creatures, so using the powerful energy of finding like minded others can help make your journey easier.

Lesson 6–Celebrate success

health goal

Yay! I made it to the top and took a picture. Not that the sign was exciting. And unfortunately, what might otherwise be a beautiful view was just fog. But, it was worth a mini celebration.

Sometimes we achieve a goal and forget to celebrate. No matter the size of the goal, celebrations help us to keep up the positive progress with more success in future goals. If you have been eating really healthy and feeling the benefits, perhaps choose a reward other than food. If you had successfully quit smoking, a cigarette reward may not be the best option. What other ways can you congratulate yourself? Maybe time off with a friend or time to read a book or buy a fancy dish to serve your healthy meals?

Lesson 7–Be adventurous

health goal

I made it to the top of the Snowshoe Grind. But I noticed that I could keep going and though I had no idea where it would take me, I was curious. It was snowing heavily, so I was the only one there. And what a beautiful view!

When you reach your goal, are you motivated to stretch a little further? Why not?



A Second Chance; Year of the Snake

It’s just over a month into the New Year. Do you already wish you had a do-over for your New Year’s Resolutions?

If so, you’re in luck. You do.

February 10th is the Chinese lunar New Year. The celebration of the New Year is China’s longest and most important holiday. Because it is based on a different calendar, it falls on a different date between January 21 and February 20 every year.

In China, there are many New Year’s traditions during the 15-day Spring Festival. Many people clean their homes to sweep away the past year and usher in the next. Family members often travel home for a visit. Children receive red envelopes filled with money from their relatives. Red lanterns are hung outside their homes to bring happiness and good luck. On Chinese New Year’s Eve, families gather for a huge meal and enjoy “lucky” foods together. And, of course, there are fireworks.

The Chinese zodiac has 12 years in its cycle, each one represented by an animal. 2013 is the Year of the Snake. Astrologers say that people born in the Year of the Snake are wise and enigmatic. They are very intuitive and size up situations well, but say little. Snakes are refined; they like to dress well and are usually financially secure. They are intense and passionate in relationships, but can become jealous and suspicious. Snakes prefer a calm, stress-free environment (who doesn’t?).

Recommit to Your New Year’s Resolutions

The Chinese do not traditionally make New Year’s Resolutions like we do in the west; however this is a good time to reflect on the goals you set a month ago. Are you keeping your New Year’s resolutions?

If you’re having trouble, maybe it’s time to take a lesson from the Snakes. Take a quiet moment to reflect on what is stopping you. Do you need to get serious? Do you need additional support? Are your goals genuine – do you want to do them or do you just think you should do them? Why haven’t you kept your New Year’s Resolutions?

If your resolutions include improving your health in 2013, I can help you with that. Email me or call the clinic and we can create a health plan that will support your goals. This year I’ve started a “TCM Health Through the Year” package with this very thing in mind.

If you need to make a deeper commitment to your resolutions, take a moment and think about what you need to do to keep them. Write down 3 easy action steps.

…and do them. Now.

Use the Chinese lunar New Year as a do-over. Commit to your New Year’s resolutions.

Gong Xi Fa Cái. Happy New Year.


Which feathery herb improves digestion?

This aromatic herb’s main health benefit is helping with digestion by reducing flatulence and bloating. Because it can kill bacteria, viruses, and fungus, it can also help fight infections.

Guessed it yet?

The answer is dill. One of dill’s most compelling components is something called monoterpene. Monoterpenes help activate the liver enzyme glutathione-S-transferase, an enzyme that allows the antioxidant molecule glutathione to attach to toxins. This action is how dill helps neutralize some potential toxic carcinogens, such as charcoal grill smoke and cigarette smoke. If that weren’t enough, dill may also support a restful sleep, relieve cramps, stimulate lactation, and act as a breath freshener.

Dill chips don’t count as healthy! Dill pickles are mildly beneficial. So for the next recipe, add extra of the actual herb.

I was asked to post more healthy, easy soup recipes. This one is quite unique, but if you like dill pickles, it may be your new fave soup. If not, sorry, maybe the next recipe posting will fit the bill. 🙂

This soup is thick and very much a comfort food, provided you like the taste of pickles. It is very dill pickly tasting!

Dill Pickle Soup

This one is from “Wheat-Free Meat-Free” website with my modifications/notes in italics

Serves 4

1 1/2 pounds starchy or all-purpose potatoes (4 medium sized), peeled and cubed–I didn’t bother with the peeling; I kept the peel, but just washed them well
1/2 medium onion, diced
2-3 cloves of garlic, minced
1-2 teaspoons olive oil
2 1/2 cups vegetable broth or water; I always choose vegetable broth for more flavour
1/2 cup pickle brine
8 ounces dill pickle spears (7-8 spears), diced
1/2 ounce fresh dill (1/2 cup), de-stemmed and coarsely chopped

Heat oil in a pot over medium heat. Add diced onions and cook for 4-5 minutes, until softened. Add garlic and cook for an additional 30 seconds to 1 minute.

Add potatoes, broth, and pickle brine. Cover and bring to a boil.

Reduce to a simmer and cook 10 to 15 minutes, until potatoes are tender.

Transfer soup to a blender (or use an immersion blender; I use the immersion blender) to blend until smooth. If using a standing blender, remove the middle piece from the lid and cover with a towel to allow steam to escape while blending. If you do use a standing blender, take this advice to remove the middle piece and use a towel to cover as otherwise the hot steam make cause the lid to pop off.

Return pureed soup to the pot. Add in pickles and dill. Cook until heated through, about 5 minutes, and serve. Garnish with extra pickles or dill if desired. Like I wrote previously, adding more dill is a healthy option.

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