One of the diagnostics we use in Chinese medicine is looking at the tongue. After a decade or so of looking at many tongues a day (and first having been trained by Chinese doctors) you get pretty good at learning from the condition of the tongue. As an aside: It is interesting that when I was a kid my western doc always looked at my tongue. I'm not sure what he was looking for, and I'm not sure if this is still done in a regular western medical practice. What I am getting at in this post is that I can tell if a kid or young person has been taking ADD or ADDHD drugs for an extended time by looking at their tongue. The reason is that these pharmaceuticals are forms of speed! And speed dries out the body, producing inflammation and a red or even crimson red tongue. Inflammation contributes to so many acute and chronic health problems. Of course we would never allow our kids to take speed bought on the street. But these drugs are literally legalized speed. So, probably not a good idea. And, another problem is that these drugs are often abused because they can help students stay up for days studying for exams or writing a paper for instance. I have treated patients that abuse these drugs and are essentially drug addicts. And there are studies that show that kids who are raised on Ritalin or Adderall are more likely to abuse other drugs later in life. There must be a better way.
Shoulder issues are on the rise lately it seems. In our practice we see this more frequent in women than men. After women get into their 40's and later their estrogen levels drop and one effect of this is a gradual lessening of the fluids nourishing the connective tissues. The shoulder, perhaps because this joint consists mainly of muscle and connective tissue and not strictly ball and socket, the shoulder seems especially prone to injury after this age. One of the best treatments for shoulder issues is acupuncture followed by cupping. I usually recommend the 3 treatment pain package we offer. Usually we want to do the 3 treatments fairly quickly, usually within a week and a half or so. Also, Chinese herbs can be used in the short-term to help the shoulder heal from the acute injury, and in the long term we can suggest a tonic that will help nourish the joints allowing them to remain healthier through menopause and beyond.
Many people eat a lot of salads. And in Chinese medicine we kinda have an issue with that. Let me clarify. Chinese medicine is really big on the health of the digestion because this is where we get all the nutrients we need to be healthy (Chinese medicine also believes this is where we generate our Qi (energy) and blood). If the digestion is weak than our overall health suffers. In our medicine we think that raw foods, including salad greens, are tough on the digestion. This is because cooking is the start of digestion in humans (not so much for chimps who have smaller brains and larger guts and should not even be allowed to cook). So especially in Winter we want to eat less salad and raw food and more cooked food like stews and soups. In the Spring our digestive energy is greater and a few salads will cause less damage. In winter our energy goes inward, similar to an animal in hibernation. Our body goes into storage and rejuvenation mode to get ready for the coming of Spring and the awakening of our energy. So we do recommend to many of our patients to go easy on salads. I personally use tongue diagnosis to tell how your digestion is doing. It's accurate and I can tell in a glance if you in particular need to reduce or eliminate salads for a while.
The holiday season is over and how many of us did not put on a few pounds? I find that most of my patients do not want to give up the foods they love, even if these foods are not so good for them. Fasting can help you take off a few holiday pounds while letting you eat like you want to (within reason) the remainder of the time. And fasting has pretty much been established through many studies to be extremely good for us. And since I recommend that you try it and add it to your health regimen, I want to give you some of the more well know benefits. Here are some of my favorites with a brief explanation:
1. Reduces insulin sensitivity. Insulin sensitivity is a measure of how responsive your cells are to insulin. Improving it can reduce your chances of getting several diseases including diabetes.
2. Raises growth hormone levels (hGH). This is basically the anti-aging hormone. Yes, this can make you age more slowly.
3. Helps you lose weight. It effectively does this by reducing overall calories and also by teaching your body to burn fat again.
4. May increase your life span. Many studies on rats show that rats that fast live much longer and are healthier in general.
5. Reduces inflammation. Reducing this one thing in your body can reduce your chances of getting a whole host of chronic illnesses as well as pain.
6. Improve brain function and help prevent neurodegenerative diseases. Everyone is looking for a cure for Alzheimer's and this might be the best, or one of the best preventatives.
7. Improve heart health. It does this by reducing blood pressure, triglycerides, cholesterol.
Sounds pretty good to me.
As many of my patients know, I am interested in intermittent fasting and often suggest it to my patients. Not many of my patients know that I have been doing differing types of fasting for over fifteen years. To many people the idea of fasting is kinda 'out there' or something they think they could never do. But people have been fasting for literally thousands of years. Many religions incorporate fasting as a means of devotion. And more and more scientists are studying fasting. To be honest I have never seen a study find anything but positive results. I often recommend patients first watch a BBC documentary on fasting that you can find by searching youtube called Eat, Fast and Live Longer. An interesting thing that this documentary opens with is that during the Depression in the 1930s, epidemiologists expected that the life expectancy in the US would fall due to a reduction of available nutritious food. They were surprised to find however that the life expectancy actually went up over this period! So, we know from movies like 'Supersize Me' that eating large portions is bad for us. But maybe eating very small portions, or fasting might do the opposite, make us really healthy. This seems to be the case. I like to eat, so I rarely do an all day fast. One type of fasting that I do often (around 4 or 5 days a week) is the popular 8/16 fast. The way this works is that you limit your eating to an 8 hour window of time. For instance I will usually eat my first meal around 11 and finish eating for the day by 7pm. Pretty easy and the benefits for that 16 hours of fasting are vast. More on the benefits in the next blog.
About half of our training as acupuncturists is actually in western medicine. I like to keep up with the latest in western medicine and I pass on what I have learned to my patients. I just want them to get well and be healthier and no single type of medicine has all the answers. One thing that I think is important especially this time of year is to take vitamin D. Many of us are low on this vitamin which is essential for a healthy immune system. In the winter our D levels drop even more. Some experts think that this is why we get sick more in the winter. Regardless if this is true or not, many ailments have been linked to vitamin D deficiency. I will never forget a patient I had who was in her early thirties and had been diagnosed with MS. I was wondering how she got this diagnosis at her age. The first question I asked her was if she takes vitamin D. She said that her level had been found to be so low that they were injecting mega-doses of the vitamin weekly. I was not surprised. Some chronic ailments like MS actually occur more in northern latitudes. Fascinating, and such an easy thing to prevent.
On a personal note, I had a cold this winter, then a week later I got another cold. It's very unusually for me to get sick but realized that switching to cod liver oil several months before (which has varying amounts of vitamin D) probably left me deficient enough to weaken my immune system. I started taking liquid D at 2000 IU a day and so far no more colds. Coincidence? Maybe. But more and more studies are showing this connection between vitamin D and the immune system.
I see a lot of patients that have heart burn or acid reflux. I'm not exactly sure why this is such a problem in our current society but of course, I have a few ideas and hopeful solutions. First of all like so many other issue we need to look at our diets. Some foods are known to exacerbate this condition like spicy foods, garlic and alcohol. One of the tenants of Chinese medicine is that we should not eat large meals and that we should not eat late at night, two suggestions that I give my patients with these issues. As our portion sizes have crept up over the last 20 years so have the prescriptions for protein pump inhibitors such as Prilosec and Nexium. This class of drugs might help the condition but their side effects can be deadly, including kidney failure and higher risk of dementia. And another issue with this class of drugs is that it is very hard to stop taking them once you have been on them for a while. Another possible issue leading to this condition that is often overlooked is stress. So all of these issues can be treated using acupuncture. And there are several Chinese herbal formulas that we carry that can be a more gentle but effective alternatives.
We have more than one acupuncturist at the Acupuncture Center. We do not all charge the same prices and we do not offer the same specials. Because of this we do not publish our prices on our website. Please call us for prices and also to answer any questions you might have. Often prospective patients will want to have a consultation before starting treatment and we offer this for free. You can sit down with us for 20 minutes or so and tell us in detail what is going on and ask us for our opinion as to whether acupuncture would be a good fit or not. A consultation also gives you the chance to meet us and make sure we are on the same page regarding your goals with acupuncture and Chinese medicine. At the Acupuncture Center we always want our patients to feel at home and taken care of. Our patients, literally, come first.
Hardly a day goes by without someone asking me if I think they can get off some or all of their meds. By meds I mean of course pharmaceutics. Most people do not want to be on meds, maybe because of cost, but usually because of the short and long-term side effects and the unnatural way they make them feel. This says something important about our current health care system, which is mostly drug (and surgery) centered. As far as getting off of your meds that is always between you and your doctor. We are not legally allowed to tell anyone to stop taking their medicines, nor would we want to. However, I do believe that health can be created, and our main goal is to make you healthier, to help you not need any artificial means to keep you healthy. Of course this starts with basic things like diet and exercise and reducing stress. All of these things we can help you with. Also, the main supplier of our Chinese herbs, Dr. John Chen, is a Chinese herbalist who also has a PhD in pharmacology. Dr Chen owns Evergreen Herbs, and his specialty is developing herbal substitutes for pharmaceuticals. So, it is possible to get off all or some of your meds when the right steps are taken first.
It seems that the holiday season starts earlier every year. And the level of stress this time of year at least for many people is some of the highest of the year. Acupuncture can help cut your anxiety and stress level. If you have ever had an acupuncture treatment you know of the deep relaxation that results. If you haven't had a treatment before it just takes one to start the effects. There is a reason for this effect of course and, from a Chinese medicine perspective, has to do with acupuncture causing the energy in our body, the Qi, to move more smoothly. This smooth flow of Qi reduces stressful and anxious feelings in our body and as an added benefit it boosts our immune system (similarly stress and anxiety can lead to illness). Many of my patients tell me that they become healthier overall after doing acupuncture for a while. I find this to be true of myself as well.
Monte Jackson, owner Acupuncture Center of Richmond