When I was offered a chance to write about Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) for Alive Magazine, my answer was a resounding, “YES!” If we haven’t met, I’m a huge fan and supporter of TCM, its principles, and its treatments. After all, I’ve been practicing it for over 16 years. The more people who know about TCM and get a chance to try it in some format–TCM consultation, acupuncture, Chinese herbs, TCM food cures, cupping, or simple lifestyle changes based on TCM foundations–the happier I am!
One challenge about sharing information about Traditional Chinese Medicine is that it uses a different language than most of us from the West can comprehend. Yin, Yang, Qi, meridians, Damp-Cold, Liver attacking Spleen–say what?! The thing is, many systems and professionals use their own language, from “lawyerspeak” to medical jargon to tech terms. Understand that this is our way of explaining complex principles and diagnostics, and some of our words are not to be taken literally (for example, your liver is not actually attacking your spleen!).
It’s not easy to encapsulate all I want to say about TCM in just one article, but check out my link to Traditional Chinese Medicine: Deep, Historical Roots Offer New Medical Insights in June 2017’s issue of Alive. You’ll find a basic intro, my description of how TCM has been changing and evolving, and some info about how to find a qualified TCM in Canada.
Still working on it…my TCM nutrition book. One whole section of it will contain food suggestions for various health conditions. Because so many suffer from anxiety, I thought that would be a good section to share with all of you now.
Treating anxiety with food
Though there are several different types of anxiety—including panic disorder, social anxiety disorder, and phobias—and a wide range in severity of anxiety symptoms, the general symptoms include feeling panicked or uneasy, palpitations, shortness of breath, dry mouth, cold or sweaty hands or feet, muscle tension, dizziness, nausea, and problems sleeping.
TCM usually looks to the Water and Earth elements when addressing anxiety, as it is a combination of fear and worry. The Water element is related to the Kidneys and adrenal glands that pump out stress hormones. Some salty flavoured foods address this issue. The Earth element is fed by whole sweet foods, including complex carbohydrates. Unrefined complex carbohydrates maximize the presence of L-tryptophan in the brain which aids in the formation of the neurotransmitter serotonin. Serotonin is required for calming the mind and promoting sound sleep. L-tryptophan is found in most foods, but other amino acids in high-protein foods compete with its use in the formation of serotonin, so carbohydrates are your best source.
Of course you shouldn’t go overboard on the salty or sweet foods, and you may notice you crave these foods when you’re stressed, anxious, or depressed. But, look to find a healthy balance of whole foods that include these flavours.
Whole grains fit this category, as they are rich in B vitamins. They also contain some essential fatty acids, like the omega-3s you’ve probably heard about time and again as a thing you should make sure you eat. When the germ and bran of a grain is kept, you get these nutrients, and the bitter flavour of the whole grain supports the TCM Heart, helping to calm the mind. The interesting thing is that TCM and Ayurveda both use whole grains like wheat and barley (both gluten grains) as herbs and foods to help calm the mind and even improve digestion. That is, if your digestive system is not completely out of balance.
Foods rich in essential fatty acids and magnesium are also key to addressing anxiety. Essential fatty acids help improve brain function. Magnesium has been called “the original chill pill,” as it can help decrease an overactive stress response through a number of hormonal and brain mechanisms.
Put it all together, and these are foods that can help treat and decrease your anxiety.
- Chamomile tea is calming and ideal for the evening
- Cruciferous vegetables like broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, collard greens, kale, mustard greens
- Green tea contains L-theanine which helps release chemicals in the brain that promote a feeling of alertness with calmness during the day
- Magnesium-rich foods, including beans (black, kidney, lima, navy, pinto, white, etc.), halibut, tuna, artichoke, dates, figs, barley, oat bran, brown rice, almonds, pine nuts, brazil nuts, cashews, pumpkin seeds, chickpeas, lentils, broccoli, beet greens, okra, parsnips, peas, pumpkin, spinach, squash, sweet potatoes
- Omega-3 essential fatty acid foods, including wild salmon, sardines, mackerel, and herring; also chia seeds, flax seeds (ground), and walnuts
- Seaweeds such as dulse, kelp, kombu, nori, wakame
Foods that are best avoided or limited include stimulants like caffeine-containing food and beverages and processed or concentrated sugary foods.
There’s so much going on in this book, The Spark in the Machine, that I feel I need to bite-size it. And it starts with one of the best chapters I’ve ever read in non-fiction. That’s because it is non-fiction, but reads like fiction. The author caught his thumb in a folding chair when he was three years old. Though it was reattached at the hospital, what I didn’t know (and many other medical people also don’t know) is that he would have been able to regenerate that tissue without surgical intervention!
Say whaaaaa? Yup. Though it seems like a super power,
amputations above the last joint in children under six left to heal naturally would regrow, the entire finger, without a scar or deformity.”
*Note, please don’t try this out on your neighbour’s kid, no matter how noisy they are!
My own notes on tissue regeneration
I knew that some animals have this ability. Lizards can regrow their tails, spiders can grow a new leg (glad to know that one, as I’ve accidentally amputated a few spiders in my attempts to catch and release them!), sharks replace lost teeth, starfish rebuild new arms, and animals with antlers shed and regrow them annually. Some animals are so good at regenerating that they can replace any part. Flatworms, sea cucumbers, and sponges can be cut into pieces, and each piece can become a new creature. Wouldn’t it be great to be able to duplicate yourself just once so you can be twice as productive?!
Even you can regenerate parts of yourself. We’ve known this for a long time. There’s even an ancient Greek myth about it. Prometheus was a Titan (a race of gods) that got himself into a bit of trouble with Zeus. Zeus was said to have a quick temper, so when Prometheus peeved him badly, Zeus had Prometheus chained to a rock to have his liver devoured every night by an eagle. Every day Prometheus’ liver would regenerate, only to be gnawed on each night. While we don’t have the ability to regrow our liver from nothing, it can regenerate its own tissue and function normally provided as little as a third of the tissue is present. This isn’t an excuse to abuse your poor liver, however!
Scientists have studied how animals are able to undertake this amazing task of regeneration and they’ve discovered that changes in electrical current and reversal of polarity actually causes the blood cells to become primitive stem cells again! Stem cells are unprogrammed cells that can repair and replace any tissue in the body. They can become a liver cell, a muscle cell, a skin cell, whatever the cell is needed. In other words, the valuable kind of cell that we’re researching for its potential to heal all!
One scientist, an orthopedic surgeon R.O. Becker, showed that
higher animals, such as rats, can sometimes regenerate limbs, especially if he provided the injury site with an extra boost of electricity.”
The problem for mammals, however, is that as we get older and as the injury becomes more severe, the weaker our “regenerative powers” become. Becker came to the conclusion that the more complex and bigger the brain of an animal, the more energy it spends on that brain, and the frailer its regenerative abilities.
But since we can repair and replace many of our damaged and old cells, we must have some sort of electrical energy driving that. And Becker found that it’s not the same as nerve impulses. So, what is it? Some call it Qi. In my next section, I’ll cover The Spark in the Machine‘s next chapters that dive into the meaning of Qi.
The Spark in the Machine: How the Science of Acupuncture Explains the Mysteries of Western Medicine
By Dr. Daniel Keown
Dr. Keown is both a medical doctor in the UK and a doctor of Traditional Chinese Medicine. “The book shows how the theories of western and Chinese medicine support each other, and how the integrated theory enlarges our understanding of how bodies work on every level. Full of good stories and surprising details, Dan Keown’s book is essential reading for anyone who has ever wanted to know how the body really works.”
Did you know that the average person sighs about 12 times an hour, or about every 5 minutes? You likely don’t even notice that you’re doing it, unless someone points it out, perhaps asking if you’re okay. So, why do we sigh?
In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), frequent sighing is a sign of what we call “Liver Qi stagnation.” We sigh because we are trying to release bound up energy in the chest that might be caused by frustration, irritation, depression, resentment, anxiety, or other emotional tension.
Why do we sigh?
If you hear someone sigh, what do you think is going on for them?
It’s interesting that in a study done on the perception of sighing, experimenters found that participants given different scenarios of people sighing guessed that it was out of sadness. But, the participants themselves felt they sighed mostly out of frustration. 1
It seems there is a mental/emotional purpose for sighing. It can be a bit of a reset. 2 People given puzzles to solve sighed when they took a short break from a challenging problem, though they often hadn’t even noticed the sigh.
Sighing is also essential to proper lung function. It’s amazing that for every type of breath you take—regular breathing, deep conscious breath, sigh, yawn, cough, etc.—a different neuron is activated in your brain’s breathing centre.
In our lungs are tiny balloon-like sacs where oxygen enters and carbon dioxides leaves. These are called alveoli. These delicate little balloons sometimes collapse, rendering it hard for the exchange of oxygen and carbon dioxide gases. When we sigh, we take in twice the amount of air as a normal breath, thus opening these collapsed alveoli. If we don’t sigh, our lungs will eventually fail. 3
So sigh away, it’s vital to your health!
However, if you notice the need to sigh more often and notice yourself feeling moodier (or maybe people are avoiding you!) and/or you are experiencing digestive issues or hormonal imbalance, then come in for acupuncture or herbs. While the sighing can help temporarily release some stress, unless it’s taken care of, it will continue to disrupt other aspects of your health.
IBD is short for Inflammatory Bowel Disease, and it includes chronic inflammation at any or all parts of the bowels. The most common types of inflammatory bowel disease are Crohn’s and ulcerative colitis, but inflammation of the rectum is also possible, and it’s called proctitis.
Few people want to talk about their challenges with an IBD. It simply isn’t accepted as a topic easily discussed in public. But, recently someone asked me to write about inflammatory bowel disease, in particular proctitis, as it’s something that she suffers from.
* If you want to read more about Crohn’s or ulcerative colitis, check out my blog Ulcerative Colitis and Crohn’s or my article in 24 Hours, Time to Get Gutsy.
Proctitis can be either acute (short-lived) or chronic (long lasting), and it can cause rectal pain, frequent or continuous sensation of needing to have a bowel movement, rectal bleeding, diarrhea, mucus in stool, and pain in the left side of the abdomen. Diagnosis can involve blood tests, stool tests, and a scope.
Causes of the Inflammatory Bowel Disease Proctitis
About a third of the people with Crohn’s or ulcerative colitis will have proctitis.
Sexually transmitted infections—including gonorrhea, chlamydia, genital herpes, and HIV—particularly from anal intercourse, is one of the risk factors for proctitis, so it’s important to use protection.
Other types of infection that can result in proctitis include foodborne infections like salmonella, campylobacter, and shigella. Antibiotic use may also make us more susceptible to infection as it destroys the good bacteria in our gut, allowing harmful bacteria to flourish. Probiotic supplementation and the consumption of naturally fermented foods rich in good bacteria can help diminish the risk by rebalancing our gut flora.
Radiation therapy for cancer treatment in areas close to the rectum (such as prostate or ovarian cancer) can also cause proctitis. This can happen during radiation therapy and last for months after, or even occur years after treatment.
Treatment of Proctitis
Obviously, if the cause of the proctitis is an infection, that will need to be treated. Antibiotics may be the appropriate course of treatment, but remember to take your probiotics as well. Time them away from when you take the antibiotics. Yogurt is not enough. Yogurt and other fermented foods are helpful for general promotion of good bacteria in the gut, but antibiotics are powerful drugs, so you’ll need to take a probiotic supplement to counter the destruction of all the good bacteria.
Probiotics are a good treatment option in general for digestive disorders, so talk with a health practitioner about your best choices.
If the infection is viral, like herpes, you may need to take an antiviral medication. One natural option for herpes treatment is the amino acid l-lysine. Again, it’s best to talk with the right health practitioner for assessment.
As the “itis” component of the word proctitis indicates, this is an inflammatory disease, so taking care of the inflammation is key. Natural anti-inflammatories include turmeric (curcumin), bromelain, and fish oils. It’s also important to avoid foods that are likely to trigger inflammation, including refined sugars, processed fats, chemically-laden foods, caffeine, alcohol, carbonated drinks, and too many animal meats. Spicy foods, seeds, popcorn, raw foods, and foods with sorbitol in it may also be triggers for proctitis and other IBDs.
Traditional Chinese Medicine and Proctitis
TCM always assesses each person individually. The best TCM is not a “cookie cutter” treatment with the same acupuncture points, herbal formula, or nutritional advice being doled out to every person with the same medical diagnosis. In fact, treatment plans can vary quite widely for the same disease because the people suffering are all quite different.
Nevertheless, there are some patterns that we do commonly see. For example, inflammatory issues, especially when acute or in a flare, often show signs of Heat, so we recommend avoiding hot spices, stimulants, alcohol, and excessive exercise (light and moderate are still recommended, depending on the severity). Those who’ve been struggling with a digestive disorder (or most any chronic health issue, really) for a long time, probably have a number of deficiencies–areas of weakness. For those, we may recommend herbs that help strengthen the body, including ginseng and reishi or cordyceps mushrooms. Juicing may be appropriate for those with more Heat signs, while soups and stews and slow cooked meals may be recommended for those with more Cold. Both are more easily digested than simple raw foods.
Acupuncture can help reduce inflammation, relieve pain, and calm the nervous system to support healing. And, don’t worry, the needles are not done locally.
If you or someone you know has proctitis or any other IBD or digestive disorder, contact me if you have questions on how to treat it. No need to suffer in silence.
Here I’m going to start with the bad, so I can illustrate the power of something you could call a natural medicine. A study in the 1950s by Dr. Carl Richter involved taking rats and putting them through a forced swim test. Rats can swim, and the rats they used were, as far as they could tell, equally healthy. The rats gave up swimming and sunk (we’ll pretend they ended up ok), fairly quickly–some in mere minutes, some up to 15 minutes. But, if they were removed from the water for a short amount of time before that, and allowed a brief rest while they were held, they could then be put back in the water and swim for up to 60 hours! From 15 minutes max to 60 HOURS!
What?! How could they somehow bring about a Herculean effort to keep swimming for 240 times longer when they would otherwise have given up?
A Natural Medicine
They had hope that they might again be rescued. Hope is a powerful natural medicine. It helps us try more, push harder, and persist longer. And, often, eventually succeed.
So, when I hear from patients that they’ve been told there’s nothing further that can be done–to manage their pain, help them sleep, improve or cure their illness, or simply function and feel better–I’m disturbed by that. Why
That’s why I love Traditional Chinese Medicine and most natural medicine practices. The goal is to discover what combination of imbalances have lead to the health issue at hand, and to help strengthen the body, and thus allow healing. There isn’t always cure. There isn’t always a fast fix. But improvement is possible. I don’t know how many times I’ve been told that I’m someone’s last resort. At the very least, I aim to offer hope and support while the body begins the process of healing.
I recently wrote an article, Sweet in the Modern World (pages 7-9), for Medicinal Roots Magazine. As a result, Michael Max, an acupuncturist in the US, contacted me to ask me to join him to talk about sugar’s health effects on his podcast channel, Everyday Acupuncture.
In this podcast, Michael and I discuss a number of issues that come up with sugar.
Show highlights on sugar’s health effects
2:27 How I discovered sugar was affecting my health
5:24 Sugar’s health effects: health issues that may be caused by or aggravated by too much sugar
8:06 Planning ahead helps you manage your sugar cravings
10:42 Your taste buds can change to become more sensitive to smaller amounts of sweet
14:46 Be mindful about your food choices
19:50 Is it stomach hunger or are your bored, lonely, or other?
20:27 Traditional Chinese Medicine can help you get off sugar
26:20 Some simple tips to reduce sugar intake
29:48 Your menstrual cycle and sugar cravings
31:22 What else can you eat that’s healthier and still tasty?
37:43 Have you considered a food diary?
41:35 Quick tips to get your own attention around food and eating
Here’s the podcast:
Check out more of Everyday Acupuncture podcasts by clicking on the image below.
Perhaps you’ve been told to cut back on salt, to limit your intake of saturated fats, and to eat more fibre. But, I think that the most common dietary mistake in our modern world is, for many of us, too much sugar. The problem is that we’re designed to like the sweet stuff–wired to like it. Many of my patients ask me, “is sugar bad for me?”
In a recent article I wrote for my TCM colleagues, I talk about the history of sugar, how it affects our brains, the problem with too much (especially processed sugars), and how Traditional Chinese Medicine addresses sugar and the sweet flavour.
Is Sugar Bad For Me?
Maybe not. Not if you don’t have too much. It’s necessary. But, I can tell you, no one has health problems from a lack of cookies, cream puffs, or pop. Check out my article on sugar here: Sugar article in Medicinal Roots Magazine. There’s a discount code there if you’d like to take my short online course on sugar, if you want to learn more. You may also want to check out the whole TCM magazine: Medicinal Roots Spring 2016.
When patients come in to address particular organ health, they most often mention their heart, their liver, their lungs, or the various organs of their digestive system and reproductive system, but rarely does someone ask me about their kidneys. Your kidneys do a lot of work for you, but I doubt you think much about them, unless you have kidney health issues. This month is National Kidney Month, so I ask you to think about this hard working duo, and consider how you can keep them healthy.
What do your kidneys do?
Your kidneys filter about 200 litres of blood daily. You know that the kidneys help eliminate waste products and excess fluid from your body, but did you also know that your kidneys are needed to:
- Regulate your blood pressure
- Produce an active form of vitamin D
- Control the production of red blood cells
In Traditional Chinese Medicine, we look to the TCM Kidney system when issues arise for bone and joint health, low back pain, issues with fear and anxiety, fatigue, edema, reproductive health, menopausal symptoms, and more. If you’ve experienced trauma, ongoing chronic stress, or have been told you have adrenal issues, we consider the Kidneys for that too, as the adrenal glands sit atop the kidneys.
How do kidneys malfunction?
There are many reasons why your kidneys could find themselves in trouble. Things that can increase your risk include smoking, diabetes, high blood pressure, urinary tract infections that travel to the kidneys, a family history of kidney disease, and aging. Some are just born with congenital issues affecting the kidneys, and those of Aboriginal, Asian, South Asian, Pacific Island, African/Caribbean, and Hispanic descent are at higher risk.
Though most aren’t aware of it, estimates are that up to two million Canadians have chronic kidney disease (CKD) or are at risk for it.
How do you know if your kidneys are struggling? One simple blood test you can get is called estimated glomerular filtration rate (eGFR). Check out this risk assessment online tool for National Kidney Month to see if you should ask your doctor for this blood test.
How do I keep my kidneys healthy?
- Hydrate. You don’t have to go overboard, but I find many of my patients are chronically dehydrated. Unless you are taking B vitamins (including in a multi)–in which case your urine is likely to be bright yellow–your urine can help you determine if you are sufficiently hydrated. It should be a very pale yellow. If it’s a dark yellow, you may be dehydrated. Keep in mind that diuretics, like some blood pressure medications and caffeinated beverages, can make you have to pee much more often, as can overactive bladder and prostate problems.
- Keep healthy eating and exercise habits. Both will help manage your blood pressure, diabetes, stress, and weight. Watch your salt intake. Yes, salt is important for our health, but many take in too much salt, as it’s found in so many processed foods. You can also overdo the “good salt” like sea salt and Himalayan salt, especially if you have high blood pressure.
- Stop smoking. So many reasons to quit. Smoking damages your blood vessels, raises blood pressure, and increases your risk for kidney cancer. Acupuncture can help you quit smoking.
- Don’t overdo pain medications like Advil and Motrin (ibuprofen) and Aleve (naproxen). These non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) can cause kidney damage if taken too often. Acupuncture is best known for its ability to help treat and manage pain. Check out TCM for pain management options.
- Treat your diabetes, high blood pressure (click me), and urinary tract infections. Because these all increase your risk of kidney disease, it’s vital that you treat these health issues appropriately. Did you know that Traditional Chinese Medicine can help you not just treat the symptoms of these problems, but also work on getting to the source?
- Manage your stress. Stress can be a catalyst for disease. When the body is in chronic stress, it has a hard time healing. It doesn’t do a good job of simultaneously defending and repairing the body–often picking defending as its preferential course of action. There are many ways to cope with stress and support your adrenal glands. For more on adrenal fatigue click here.
- Come in for a Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) consultation. While I won’t be able to detect your GFR levels without lab results, your body may be giving clues that your kidneys need to be addressed. Plus, it’s better to work preventively than in response to organ failure.
National Kidney Month
I have a friend who has a kidney transplant. He knows the challenges that come with dialysis, organ transplant, and ongoing health issues. I urge you to remember to pay attention to the health of your kidneys this National Kidney Month and beyond, and to register for organ donation. It’s easy to do. Simply start with clicking here.
This is a leap year, so February 29th is kind of like a bonus day.
Do you often think that you don’t have enough time to do the things you need to do or want to do? Well, this year you have an extra 24 hours, so what will you do? Here are some healthy things to do in Vancouver on “bonus day” (or any day, if today’s already booked up).
5 Healthy Things to Do in Vancouver
Take a hike. Sometimes when we’re stressed to the point of wanting to tell someone to “take a hike,” the best thing we can do is take our own advice and take that hike ourselves. Of course Vancouver is close to many wonderful hikes, including those on Cypress, Seymour, and Grouse mountains. If those seem too challenging or you just don’t have the time for those ones, there are several more local (and flatter) walking options, including of course the Stanley Park seawall, Pacific Spirit Park, Lighthouse Park, Burnaby Mountain trails, and one of my fave nearby ones, the False Creek seawall. Some of those are also great cycling options.
Shop for healthy ingredients. If you want to be healthy–and really, why wouldn’t you want that–then you’ll need to make some healthy food choices. First, you’ll need to figure out what you want to make. For some healthy recipes, check out my blog (search “recipe” when you go to my blog) or recipe page, my chef friend’s blog Cooking Journeys, web search what type of nutritious food you’d like to make, or dig out your recipe books or magazines. Right now I love my slow cooker. Doesn’t take too long to make delicious food, and I usually have lots of leftovers. We have so many places in Vancouver to buy healthy food, from Choices and Whole Foods to small markets and local stores like Greens Market and Pomme Market. Even our big chain grocery stores are recognizing our wish for organic, local, and healthy food options. And then there are the farmers markets–gotta love those!
Eat out right. Don’t have time to make a healthy meal? No problem, there are a ton of healthy eat-out food options. I don’t eat out much, so perhaps you can chime in via the comments section to list your faves. I like Heirloom, Nuba, and The Naam. I also like to get a pick-me-up from The Juicery Co.
Do something helpful. If you’ve volunteered for a worthy cause, you know that you feel good about it. But did you know that the benefits may go beyond a simple temporary “I done good” sensation? Studies have shown that donating our time through volunteering helps us ward off loneliness and depression, allowing us to feel more socially connected. Another potential benefit is a lower likelihood of having high blood pressure. That’s huge because hypertension contribute to heart disease, stroke, and premature death. So, giving your time away actually may help you have more time! There are many worthy causes in Vancouver and surrounding areas. I love animals, so I volunteer for Furbearer Defenders. I’ve worked with my friend’s wonderful organization, Beauty Night. And, I’ve done talks for the David Suzuki Foundation. If you’re not sure what you would like to do or how to find out how you can help, check out this online resource Go Volunteer.
Treat yourself well. Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) is based on the foundation of wellness care and illness prevention. If you are not well, it’s important to address those aspects of your health to get to the source, not just mask them with medications or ignore them. If you are well, it’s important to do what you can to stay well. I recommend seasonal tune-up treatments or monthly treatments (depending on your particular needs) to help you limit the amount of time you spend in pain, tired, depressed or anxious, bloated, or struggling with other health issues. Come in for a TCM and acupuncture tune-up!
What do you recommend for healthy things to do in Vancouver (or anywhere, for that matter)?