Posts Tagged ‘Acupuncture treatment’

Why do we need dietary supplements?

Thursday, May 10th, 2012

Even if we eat pretty well?

whole food supplements1. We tend to eat based on what we prefer, and our preference is often based on flavor and convenience rather than on nutrient richness. Basically, this is a result of affluence; we have many choices to choose from, rather than just what’s available locally and seasonally. (It is one of our culture’s ironies that local seasonal food has become the most expensive, but greater demand is helping to make it more affordable.)

2. Grain-based (even whole-grain-based) diets are relatively low in nutrition. This is more pronounced when the primary grain has been refined. Bagels, pretzels, muffins, chips, bread, cereals, crackers, etc. are very filling, but provide relatively little nutrition. We are no longer eating high-nutrient foods in necessary quantities for optimum cell health. A tuna salad with 4 oz. of tuna is more nutrient-dense than a tuna sandwich.

3. Toxic exposure (sunscreen, fragrances, cosmetics, hair color, smog, cleaning products, outgassing from new carpets, paints, plastics, and construction materials, pesticides, etc.) requires specific nutrients, both to help the liver detoxify, and then to combine with the toxins to help them eliminate from the system.

At time of birth, babies born in the U.S. have an average of 200 foreign chemicals in their bodies. African-American babies can have up to 10 times that amount in their bodies.*

4. Pharmaceuticals and over-the-counter drugs such as Ibuprofin and antacids, disturb our acid/base balance, which reduces the break-down of food and absorption of nutrients. They also can cause inflammation of our intestinal lining, leading to malabsorption and food sensitivities. Antibiotics wipe out many species of “friendly” bacteria essential for digestion. With compromised digestion, fewer nutrients are absorbed.

5. Soil in the U.S. has been heavily depleted of nutrients due largely to the practices of agribusiness. Mineral content in 1992 was found to be 85% depleted from 100 years previously. Organic farming restores nutrients to the soil, and is one reason to buy organic whenever possible. But, most of us eat out at least two meals per week with the U.S. average five meals out per week. It’s rare that restaurants serve organic foods.

6. Fad diets such as low fat, and other restrictive diets like vegan and raw food diets, further challenge our intake of essential nutrients.

7. A body suffering from inflammation, which occurs in cases of all chronic pain or disease, requires more of many nutrients than a healthy body in order to regain complete health. We each create billions of new cells every day. What we choose to feed them, over time, has the power to make dramatic positive changes in our health.

8. We have forgotten the importance of organ meats and have almost entirely excluded them from our diet. Many of us also avoid fermented foods, and end up with dysbiosis (an imbalance of essential bacteria), which then puts extra nutritional burdens on us.
Even if we are eating well now (mostly organically grown single-ingredient food), exercising regularly, hydrating, thinking happy thoughts, and getting some exposure to sunlight, we might need extra nutrition for a time to correct for past actions and restore the body’s optimum health.

More things to consider

Resist buying inexpensive dietary supplements at discount outlets and drugstores! Most of these are synthesized in laboratories by pharmaceutical companies. They are not food. In the long run, they can do your body more harm than good. Please use only high quality whole food supplements.

Prolonged nutrient deficiencies can lead to a myriad of health conditions, such as fatigue, memory loss, migraines, and heart disease.

If you want to achieve or maintain optimum health, seek the advice of a nutrition-savvy health care provider who can help you before problems arise.

What is gluten and why do we care?

Wednesday, April 25th, 2012

glutenGluten includes several proteins that are common to grains. Wheat, barley and rye are the three main gluten-containing grains. The type of gluten in barley is hordein and the one in rye is secalin. The glutens in barley and rye are weaker than wheat gluten, and therefore easier to digest.

Sorghum, corn, buckwheat, oat, amaranth, and rice are some gluten-free grains. Beans and their flours are gluten-free. In the U.S., soy and oats are often processed in the same facility as wheat, so unless they are labeled “gluten-free” there is usually some gluten contamination.

Why has gluten recently become such a major problem in the U.S.?

If we are in good health, we should be able to completely digest these proteins in reasonable quantities. Recently in the U.S. there has been a dramatic rise in digestive complaints, often labeled IBS (Irritable Bowel Syndrome), food allergies, and celiac disease. This rise is correlated with a recent dramatic increase in the amount of gluten in our diet. This increase is largely caused by a snowball effect of the following four factors:

  1. We do not combine as many grains in our bread products as we have in the past. We now almost exclusively prefer wheat over barley, corn, oats, rye, amaranth or sorghum.
  2. In the U.S. we use almost entirely a single species of hybridized wheat (T. aestivum) and over the last 80 years, we have cultivated it for higher and higher gluten content.
  3. Almost all of the gluten in wheat is located in the endosperm, or center of the kernel. When we refine the wheat grain to create white flour (which is still referred to as “wheat”), we increase the gluten content per pound by eliminating the wheat germ and the wheat bran.
  4. Preparation methods (such as kneading and quick-rising yeast) further increase gluten content. Slow rising allows for more fermentation which produces protylitic enzymes, which are essential for digesting protein. This process is more common in Europe, which is partly why many gluten-sensitive people can eat bread in Europe without discomfort.

Other aggravating factors of poor protein digestion include a deficiency or excess of hydrochloric acid in the stomach, stress (physical, emotional, environmental), deficient chewing (chewing stimulates digestive enzymes), overeating, excess sugar and carbohydrates in the diet, and nutritional deficiencies. In addition, almost all of us living the United States have some degree of dysbiosis, an imbalance of natural, beneficial bacteria which aid our digestion. Gluten is a large protein strand that is relatively difficult to completely digest. If, due to the effects of dysbiosis, we are not digesting it completely, but keep eating more and more of it, the problem can cascade into serious digestive distress and a generally compromised immune system. All of these digestive problems are commonly treated and corrected in my clinic.

For more information on dysbiosis, read my article ‘Friendly’ bacteria and probiotics.

If weak gluten digestion continues over time, it can lead to celiac disease. Celiac disease is a serious condition (believed to be autoimmune) when even tiny amounts of gluten damage the digestive tract and cause sometime extreme discomfort.  Researchers at the Mayo Clinic tested blood samples taken from 9,133 young Air Force recruits in the 1950s and found that only one in 700 had undiagnosed celiac disease at that time. Tests on subjects exactly the same age in a 2009 study led by Mayo gastroenterologist Joseph Murray, found that the rate was nearly five times as high today.

I don’t recommend any diet that is heavily based on grains, but lowering the levels of refined flour and gluten in our diets is a helpful step to make if we wish to enjoy prolonged health.

‘Friendly’ bacteria and probiotics

Wednesday, April 25th, 2012

Friendly bacteriaWe have over 500 species (strains) of beneficial bacteria in our body. We actually have more bacteria cells in our body than human cells! Most of these bacteria help us digest food and fight off pathogens. They also protect parts of our body from our own secretions (for example the intestinal membrane from caustic bile). Probiotics and prebiotics are substances which stimulate the growth of these microorganisms.

Dysbiosis, or disbacteriosis, refers to an imbalance of beneficial bacteria in (or on) the body, particularly in the digestive tract.

If, due to dysbiosis, we digest some foods incompletely, digestive distress and inflammation will result. Left untreated, the problem can develop into serious digestive distress and a generally compromised immune system.

Common causes of dysbiosis

Common causes of bacterial imbalance include antibiotics (even ingested many years previously or indirectly consumed through meat and dairy), insecticides, excess sugar or caffeine intake, nutritional deficiencies, parasites, an absence of fermented foods in the diet, alcohol misuse, and over-the-counter medications such as aspirin, ibuprofin, and antacids.

Possible effects of dysbiosis

Dysbiosis can cause food sensitivities. The resulting inflamed intestinal membrane allows incompletely digested protein strands to leak into the bloodstream. The body perceives these strands as foreign substances and attacks them. This repeated effort of the immune system over time can weaken the general immune response. Dysbiosis also leads to yeast overgrowth, toxic overload and nutritional depletion. These problems can result in many health complaints including abdominal pain and bloating, IBS (Irritable Bowel Syndrome), diarrhea, frequent flus and colds, sinus infections, and chronic fatigue.

How to heal

Complete recovery might take 9–12 months. I design individual programs best suited to each person’s needs and life style. In addition to acupuncture, this might include:

  • Eliminating foods you are sensitive to. (You will be able to slowly reincorporate them.)
  • Incorporating fermented foods into your diet.
  • Taking food supplements such as prebiotics, probiotics and digestive enzymes.
  • Using soothing herbs such as okra, marshmallow and slippery elm to heal the gut lining.
  • Minimizing  sugar, refined carbohydrates, alcohol, anti-inflammatories.
  • Eating smaller meals, chewing thoroughly, and not combining caffeine with meals.
  • I also offer an easy to do, high quality 3-week cleanse, which is highly recommended to clear the liver and digestive tract of toxins. This helps jump start the healing process.

Fermented foods

As a society, we have moved away from including fermented foods in our diet. Fermented food provide essential probiotics and digestive enzymes. Here are many fermented foods which contain viable (live) bacteria. Including them in your diet will help maintain optimum intestinal flora.

  • buttermilk
  • craft beer (“bottle conditioned” and unpasteurized)
  • keefir
  • kimchee
  • kombucha
  • miso
  • pickles (brine-cured, without vinegar)
  • sauerkraut
  • soy sauce (Look for “fermented” or “traditional brewed” on the label)
  • tempeh
  • yoghurt

Maintain your health during long-term antibiotic use

Thursday, October 13th, 2011

This article contains suggestions for reducing the side effects of long-term antibiotic use. It is not a recommendation for alternative treatment of dangerous infections.

Long-term antibiotic useBefore 2005, my only patients on long-term antibiotics were HIV patients. Recently, I have noticed more common use of long-term antibiotics. We have increasing numbers of infectious diseases that are resistant to conventional antibiotic treatment. Lyme disease, Cat-scratch disease and other infectious diseases are on the rise. The precautions I recommend here are for my Lyme disease patients who are on long-term antibiotics. If you have been prescribed long-term use of antibiotics for any reason, it is my hope that this article will inspire you to consider taking additional precautions to maintain your health.

Bacterial flora

Humans have over 500 species of beneficial bacteria, essential for our digestion and for a healthy immune system. In fact, we have more bacterial cells in our bodies than ‘human’ cells. Sadly, the science behind antibiotics is still in a primitive state. When we take antibiotics, not only are the infectious bacteria killed, but most of our essential ‘friendly’ bacteria are destroyed as well.

Someday, (I have been telling my patients for 20 years now) your doctor will routinely prescribe potent probiotics to follow all courses of antibiotics. It seems like a no-brainer, yes? In the meantime, go to a supplement store or health food store for probiotics. Yogurt is NOT the answer. Remember there are over 500 species of helpful bacteria being killed. I would suggest choosing a probiotic with a high number of species of bacteria (20+), and at least 20 billion viable organisms. Be sure to check the expiration date. High quality probiotics will usually be refrigerated.

If you are taking antibiotics twice daily, it does seem like a losing battle, but naturopaths recommend taking probiotics concurrently if you are taking the antibiotics long-term. N.D.s I’ve spoken to  recommend a daily dose of 100 billion organisms, and waiting 2+ hours after taking antibiotics.

Yeast

When your natural flora is disturbed, unhealthy imbalances occur, such as overgrowth of candida yeast. Antibiotic use not followed by probiotic use is a common cause of yeast infections. Check the coating on your tongue. Thick and greenish? This can be an indication of candida yeast overgrowth. Women often have a more unpleasant symptom—vaginal itching and burning. Sacchromyces boulardii yeast can be purchased on-line. Taking this yeast will help keep the candida down, and the antibiotics won’t kill this yeast.

You can google “candida natural health” for many other recommendations and special diets for controlling yeast.

Nausea

Some antibiotics, notoriously Flagyl (metronidazole), can cause nausea and/or loss of appetite. I have found that a common Chinese patent herb is excellent for keeping tummies happy. “Pill Curing” is available in most shops that sell medicinal herbs, in many natural food stores, as well as on-line. Take this along with your antibiotics or a few minutes before. And be sure not to take Flagyl on an empty stomach.

Protect your liver

Alcohol is not the only cause of liver disease. Our total toxic load may include smog, pesticides, smoke, alcohol, outgassing from new construction materials and carpets, plastics, chemicals in shampoo, cosmetics, nail polish, hair dye and lotions, household cleaners, and pharmaceuticals. These toxics go into our liver, which works full-time to break them down into harmless substances.

When we are taking in more toxins than our liver can process, this is a situation of ‘toxic overload.’ If this continues, it can lead to liver disease. If you are on long-term antibiotics, no matter how healthy a diet you have, your liver will feel the stress. Regular, simple blood tests will show whether your liver enzymes are increasing, which indicates an over-stressed liver.

There are several herbs I have used to keep the liver healthy, including dandelion and milk thistle. The most effective supplement I have found for lowering liver enzymes is Livaplex from Standard Process. Standard Process products are only available through qualified health care professionals. You can call and obtain what you need through me, or visit their website to find a practicioner near you.

Wind-cold, wind-heat

Wednesday, March 23rd, 2011

Cold prevention and treatment from the Chinese medical perspective

There are two major types of common colds, and in the Chinese medical language, two names: wind-cold and wind-heat. Wind, cold and heat are three common pathogens which can enter the body from the exterior. Chills, aversion to cold, stiffness (especially of the neck), headache, and white or clear-colored phlegm are signs of wind-cold. Sore throat, feeling warm and/or agitated (whether or not there is a fever), yellow or green-colored phlegm, and aversion to heat are some indications of wind-heat. A third type of cold, which usually occurs in the autumn, is wind dryness. There may be a combination of fever and chills with a dry throat and dry cough.

Prevention, the best approach

Cold enters the body through the bottoms of the feet and through the top of the thoracic spine. Wind enters at the back of the neck, just under the occiput. It is important to keep ones feet warm, and to wear a scarf on windy days. If you notice that your feet are cold, take a few minutes to soak them in hot water, and put on clean, dry socks. The times when we are most susceptible to catching colds are at the turns of the seasons, particularly when winter is turning to spring, and summer is turning to fall.

Some other factors that make us more susceptible to catching colds are lack of sleep, poor nutrition or a “damp” diet (continue for diet information), high emotional stress, overwork, air travel, over-consumption of alcohol, tobacco or marijuana, and exposure to others who are sick. Stress reduction techniques, adequate sleep, and a balanced diet cannot be overemphasized as effective preventive care. If you are working around others who are sick, frequent hand washing is also important. If you know that you are at risk for getting sick—taking a long flight for instance—you can do more than passively wait for a cold to hit; many treatments discussed below are also effective preventive measures.

Symptoms and cold care

We already know how to treat ourselves when we get sick: drink lots of fluid and get plenty of rest. Unfortunately, few of us take these maxims to heart. We ignore early symptoms of illness, and push on—going to work, hoping that what we ignore will go away. This approach has two drawbacks: we are exposing workmates to cold viruses when we are in our most contagious state, and we are prolonging our own illness.

It is helpful to become familiar with your earliest symptoms of a cold, and to take appropriate measures, depending on whether it is cold or heat. The earlier the treatment, the more effective it will be.

Wind-cold Usually, the original pathogen is wind-cold. The symptoms can be as subtle as a little extra phlegm in the morning and/or a slight stiffness in the neck. You may remember feeling chilled the previous day, or sneezing several times in a row, or perhaps only having very cold feet.

Acupuncture at this stage can be effective in stopping the cold in its tracks. If the cold has already invaded the body, acupuncture can help it run its course in a shorter period of time. In addition to needles, you may also receive cupping or guasha, both old home remedies for early stage colds. Your acupuncturist may also do warming therapy or show you helpful breathing/movement exercises.

Whether or not you are able to receive acupuncture, do watch your diet and give yourself plenty of time for extra rest. If there is no sweating, having one good sweat can help chase the pathogen out via the pores. (Continue for information on diet and sweating.)
If your nose or sinuses are affected, rinsing with warm saline helps clear the mucus and virus out and is a first-line defense.

Wind-heat If early care is insufficient, the cold may develop into heat. This usually takes one to two days, but some people are so warm internally, they will turn cold into heat in just a couple of hours. A feeling of being warm or flushed, a fever, and/or a painful, sore throat are the most definite signs of early wind-heat. If phlegm is present, it may have a yellow or greenish tinge. It is important to try to clear this heat from your body as early as possible. Pay attention to your appetite, and only eat if you are truly hungry. Otherwise, just focus on drinking as much fluid as you comfortably can: dilute juices, herbal teas, weak miso broth, and plenty of water (continue for diet information). A day of taking in only liquids can be very helpful in reducing your recovery time. Most important, give yourself permission to sleep and rest all you want.

At an early stage of wind-heat, acupuncture can still be very helpful in shortening your course of illness. If you suddenly feel flushed, you can immediately do guasha (continue to learn self-guasha).

Whether your symptoms are cold or heat, be sure to expel any phlegm that you may cough up. Researchers have determined that women tend to get more frequent and longer colds than men because women tend to swallow their phlegm, recycling the very pathogen that the body is trying to get rid of. And whether you are feeling chilled or warm, if you have a scratchy/itchy throat with a cough, use cough drops, spray, or syrup. Coughing can irritate your throat and either cause it to be sore or prolong its healing.

Allow any potential sneezes to express themselves fully. Keep your neck and head warm. You can drape a scarf over the top of your head when you go to sleep. If you are a little familiar with Chinese medicine, doing moxa at Stomach 36 daily for 10 minutes (or 5–7 rice cones) can help prevent illness during stressful times.

Chinese dietary therapy

At the earliest signs of a cold, it is very helpful to make some dietary adjustments. All dairy products (even nonfat), orange and tomato juices, beer, sugar and cold drinks are considered to be “damp” foods. They tend to cause mucus buildup, which easily turns to phlegm, and provides a friendly environment for viral and bacterial growth. Wheat, bananas, and oats also have damp properties. Although avoiding these foods can be challenging, it is extremely helpful for shortening the length of your illness. Fluids should be warm or room temperature.
Alcohol, marijuana, and sugar all temporarily weaken the immune system. It is best to stay away from these when you are feeling “on the edge” or even if you are just exposed to others who are sick.

Chinese-style chicken soup is most effective for preventing sickness—when one is feeling stressed or run-down. Add to your favorite chicken soup: shitake mushrooms (fresh or dried), astragalus (found in natural food or Chinese groceries, also known as huang qi), and a small amount of seaweed such a kelp or kombu. Garlic and ginger can also be added.
Steamed pears help to resolve phlegm and cough. Asian pears are particularly moistening for cases of dryness. Kelp and other seaweeds also help to resolve phlegm.

For wind-cold symptoms, ginger, cinnamon, garlic, cayenne pepper and onions are all warming foods with detoxifying properties. For wind-heat symptoms, peppermint tea is cooling, and also helps to release the pathogen. Avoid hot-spicy foods and use ginger and garlic with caution (the exception below, for causing a sweat). Ginger can help to kick out an early wind-cold, but it is warming and is therefore recommended only if there are no heat signs. Tea bags are not, generally, effective medicinally. Dried or fresh mint should be simmered only five minutes; ginger root should be simmered at least 15 minutes to make an effective tea. Your acupuncturist or herbalist can make specific recommendations for your condition.

The sweat

If you have very early signs of a wind-heat or wind-cold, and are NOT sweating, it can be helpful to make yourself sweat. Make a strong cup of ginger tea while you run a hot bath. Drink the tea, then get in the tub. Stay in until you feel your entire body begin to sweat, then stay in just another five minutes. Dry off, bundle up and get into bed for a nap or long night’s sleep.

Guasha

In other cultures, this is called coining, or scraping technique. Guasha in all its forms is a common home remedy world-wide. Guasha is quite effective at the earliest stage of a cold. It helps to have a friend, but you can do this to yourself in a pinch. First I will describe how I do guasha on a patient.

A Chinese soup spoon is the ideal tool for guasha, but a large coin can be used, or anything with a plastic or ceramic edge, that can easily fit in the hand. I have the patient sit comfortably, with their upper back exposed. Standing behind them, using the edge of the spoon, I begin stroking (or scraping) along the back of the neck, from an inch above the hairline down to the shoulders. I am using enough force to bring up some color, but not enough to be irritating or painful. I also stroke along the tops of the shoulders, and down the sides of the spine, to the level of the scapulae. Then I will move to the front of the neck and guasha down the promonent SCM muscle which is usually visible from behind the earlobe down to the collarbone. I periodically dip the spoon into a bowl of water to make it more comfortable for the patient. (Use cool water if they are warm, warm water if they are chilled.)
Particularly if the patient has a wind-heat, redness will appear along the guasha lines. Sometimes, with a lot of heat, areas may become purplish. This is normal. This discoloration may last a couple of days. The patient will usually feel an immediate sense of relief—of
heat release.

You can do guasha to yourself. Hold the spoon by the handle, and reach with it bowl-down, to the appropriate areas. Recently, I was on a road trip when I suddenly felt my warning signs of neck stiffness and tightness in the throat. I simply used my fingernails to do self-guasha, and my symptoms disappeared.

Common supplements

Not every supplement is for everyone. Several common non-prescription cold medications, herbs, and supplements are suggested here. It may take some experimentation to find the ones you are comfortable with. Many natural food stores have an herbalist or naturopath on staff to answer questions.

Homeopathic cold remedies are commonly found in grocery stores and drug stores. Natural food stores, in addition to a knowledgeable staff, often offer reference books or software with information on the various remedies. With most homeopathic remedies, it is important to avoid drinking coffee concurrently (even decaf) and also to avoid strong aromatics, such as camphor, mint, and menthol.

Ascorbic acid (which many people consider to be Vitamin C) is popular as a treatment for colds, taken at high doses in early stages. Individual level of tolerance is considered to be just before the stools become loose. Buffered, time-release vitamin C is gentler on the stomach. I am a proponent of whole food nutrition, which includes the entire vitamin C complex. There is some evidence that calcium lactate or citrate will eliminate fever in early stage.
Echinacea and goldenseal are Western herbs, cooling in nature, which have anti-viral and anti-bacterial properties. They can be taken individually, but can be more effective in combination. Goldenseal is particularly cool, and is recommended only when heat symptoms are present, such as yellow or green phlegm, sore throat or fever. Tinctures are more easily absorbed, more effective, and easier on the stomach than capsules. At early signs of illness, one teaspoon, 3 to 4 times a day is a common recommended dose, but check the label. Add tinctures to warm water or tea in order to evaporate the alcohol and soften the flavor. Some people take echinacea preventively, daily.

Zinc lozenges are currently another popular early-stage cold treatment, especially for sore throat. A recommended dose is one lozenge every couple of hours while symptoms are present. To avoid possible nausea, take care not to take any mineral (such as zinc) on an empty stomach.

Medicinal mushrooms have also become a favorite for building the immune system. Reishi-shitake combinations are available as tinctures. Medicinal mushrooms are also available in granular form. Several mushrooms have long been revered in Chinese medicine as strong qi tonics. In Western terms, they contain concentrated amounts of polysaccharides, which have been shown to boost t-cell populations. These are effective, but recommended more for long-term immune support, than for treatment.

“Airborne” is a popular formula which includes many of the ingredients mentioned here. I would recommend this more for prevention.

Chinese herbs

The two most common patent herbs for the treatment of early stage colds are “Yin Qiao” and “Gan Mao Ling.” Yin Qiao contains some very cooling herbs, such as forsythia and honeysuckle, and therefore should only be taken for wind-heat. You can take up to 12 per day. Spacing the pills out evenly throughout the day is gentler on the stomach. Sucking them will have stronger effect, especially with a sore throat. Watermelon Frost is an additional formula, which comes as a powder, and is sprayed directly into the throat, to cool the pain.
Gan Mao Ling is neutral in temperature, and can be taken for wind-cold, wind-heat, or preventively, two or three at a time, when you are feeling vulnerable. Any shop that carries a few Chinese patent formulas will usually carry these formulas. Since it is difficult to be certain of the ingredients in Chinese-manufactured formulas, you may prefer to buy brands that have been packaged in the U.S.

Could it be something more serious?

A general rule of thumb is that a viral infection should resolve in 7 to 10 days. If a sore throat persists for a week, or your illness persists for longer than 10 days, see your doctor for advice. Strep throat can now be confirmed or ruled out in just a few minutes.

Insomnia: Tips for easier, peaceful sleep

Thursday, October 28th, 2010

Observe your sleeps patternsMany people who come see me are hoping to improve their energy. In addition to suggesting dietary changes (see Easy stress-free diet on this site), I often find that these patients are regularly getting less that seven hours of sleep.

Perhaps we could get away with that when we were 20, but most of us need at least seven hours of good sleep. Many of us are sleep-deprived, and I believe that this is a common reason for complaints of low energy.

If I suggest to patients that they go to bed at an earlier hour, they often respond “But Iʼm not sleepy then!” Many other patients get to bed early, but toss and turn, wake frequently, and rarely feel rested in the morning.

Finding the reason(s) for your insomnia often involves a bit of detective work.

Chinese Medicine acknowledges three general patterns of insomnia

First, there is the inability to initially fall asleep. The mind wonʼt shut up. We canʼt stop fretting about all we need to do, or all the things we could have done better. Sometimes, it feels physical—our body just wonʼt relax. Secondly, although we might fall asleep easily initially, we wake up many times during the night and rarely feel we achieve deep REM sleep.

Some people do sleep soundly, but wake very early in the morning, 4 or 5 a.m., and are not able to fall back to sleep. This is the third pattern. The three patterns of insomnia often occur in combination.

For all types of insomnia, it is helpful not to eat within 2½ hours of going to bed

That goes for anything, even light snacks. Water and herbal tea should not be consumed after 1½ hours before bed. Limit caffeine (coffee, tea, chocolate) to morning hours. Naturally, everyone is different, so these time limits are somewhat flexible. Pay some attention to what, how much, and when you eat and drink, and how this might be affecting your sleep.

Make your bedroom as dark and quiet as possible. If it is noisy, consider using soft ear plugs, a white noise machine or quiet air filter to block the sounds. Make your bedroom a computer, music, and TV-free zone.

Pay attention to the amount and time of day you exercise each day, and how well you slept that night. There is almost always a correlation. Try to get at least a half hour of moderate exercise each day (but not right before bed!)

Insomnia of any type can be helped with some combination of acupuncture, nutrition, and Chinese herbs. In addition, there are some things that you, the patient, can do to improve your sleep. These are described below, under each pattern. The more you learn about your patterns, the easier it will be for an acupuncturist to help you achieve restful sleep.

First pattern

You go to bed, but lie awake fretting. You mind wonʼt shut down, your body wonʼt rest.

If your diet largely consists of simple carbohydrates (bread, pretzels, beer, sweets, etc.), consider shifting towards a diet higher in fresh vegetables and protein. Your acupuncturist can explain how diet is related to insomnia, and can help you make easy, gradual, healthy shifts in your diet.

Donʼt use the bed as a worrying place. Before you lie down, sit in a chair and entirely indulge in all of your concerns. These might include making plans for the next day, or fretting over a past conversation, Use a notepad if there are things you want to remember the next day.

Second pattern

You fall asleep easily enough, but wake frequently during the night, for either short or long periods, and rarely feel you experience deep sleep.

The next several times you wake in the middle of the night, ask yourself what it is that woke you up. You might find that you have to get up to pee, but is that what woke you? Possibilities include noise, stress, feeling a bit too warm, bad dreams, not breathing clearly, or an old uncomfortable mattress. A clear sense of what the problem is will make it much easier for your acupuncturist to quickly help you achieve peaceful sleep.

If you wake up with a dry cough, you are likely allergic to something in the room, possibly your pillow. If changing your pillow doesnʼt help, mold or dust mites might be bothering you. There are many online resources for eliminating these from your bedroom. You can toss the pillows into the dryer for 20 minutes to eliminate dust mites. You might need to have a HEPA filter in your bedroom.

Chinese Medicine equates restlessness with heat. Often, people are unaware that their restlessness is caused by being too warm. Try removing a blanket. Have a few sips of water. Limit consumption of hot spicy foods. Do not do invigorating exercise right before bedtime.

If it is your own or a partnerʼs snoring that wakes you, I recommend the homeopathic “SnoreStop Extinguisher,” available in any drug stores (Bartell Drugs in Seattle). Try not to let pets disturb your sleep. A line of sticky tape next to the bed can dissuade some pets from jumping up. Better yet, keep pets outside the bedroom if possible, while you work on improving your sleep.

Third pattern

You fall sleep easily, sleep most the night, but wake at 4 or 5 a.m., unable to fall back to sleep.

As with the second type above, pay attention to what was going on when you woke up. Limit your intake of fatty foods and alcohol. Determine whether there is a correlation between eating fatty or fried foods, drinking alcohol, and waking early.

This is also often caused by some kind of stress. Acupuncture is wonderful at reducing stress, and might be all you need.

Yet more reasons for insomnia include muscle cramps, restless leg syndrome, and side effects of pharmeceuticals. Acupuncture with nutrition counseling can help relieve all these symptoms. Usually, just a few sessions will make a difference. If insomnia is listed as a side-effect of your medication, ask you doctor to make a change.

I wish all of you a good nightʼs sleep.

Easy, stress-free diet

Wednesday, October 20th, 2010

Take control of your own healthBy ‘stress-free’ I am referring both to the stress we feel trying to decide how to eat, and also to the stress we experience that results from an imbalanced diet.

The U.S. is undergoing a collective eating disorder. Food has been frozen, freeze-dried, canned, fried, genetically modified, sugared, salted, stripped of nutrients, dyed, preserved, sprayed, radiated, and transported long distances. And much of it this food is labeled ‘natural,’ ‘organic,’ and marketed to us by national corporations who are taking advantage of the fact that most of us are so bewildered by the myriad of choices, misinformation, and doctors’ warnings, that we haven’t a clue anymore about what to have for breakfast.

If you are interested in this topic, and in how our country reached this point, I highly recommend reading The Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollan. According to Pollan, one of the reasons we are so susceptible to unhealthy marketing influences is because we are a country of very diverse peoples, lacking a cohesive food tradition.

Eating well is really quite simple

The hard part is letting go of some of the unhealthy habits we have become addicted to. In a nutshell, focus on local, fresh vegetables, fish, eggs, meats and legumes, and buy organic whenever possible. Shop at your local co-op, farmers markets, and/or have weekly fresh produce delivered directly to your home from local farms. Limit carbohydrates, especially refined. (See ‘Notes on Carbohydrates,’ below.) And don’t forget to drink water.

If you can afford just a few organic foods, you can refer to the Environmental Working Group’s ‘Dirty Dozen’ list to prioritize: Organic foods are pricier, but this is an investment in your health, and in the health of our agricultural practices for future generations. Cooking more often at home, buying grains, lentils and spices in bulk, planning meals so you buy only what you need, and saying ‘no’ to the muffin at the coffee shop, will all help to keep costs down.

If you are concerned about genetically modified foods, purchase only organically grown corn, soy and potatoes and products made from these foods. If the ethical treatment of farm animals is a priority for you and your family, talk to the meat purchaser at your local health food store, research the farms and ranches they contract with, and definitely purchase eggs from small, local farmers.

If you wish to support small, local food producers in general, here is an interesting reference www.organicconsumers.org

Minimize stress by understanding how to eat

  • Eat only when you are hungry.
  • Give your brain time to recognize and respond to your food—CHEW and BREATHE. A crucial part of proper digestion is one we have complete control of—that’s the part that takes place in the mouth. (If you often forget to chew, ask me to tell you a story that will help you remember.)
  • You can not digest food under stress. Do not eat under stress, such as at a business meeting, while working at your desk, while watching a suspenseful or gory TV show, while talking on the phone or listening to the news. Do not eat in a hurry. Try not to eat while standing. Sit with your food, and consider all the work it took to create this food and bring it to your plate.
  • Eat some raw, fresh food with each meal and incorporate fermented foods.
  • Eat nuts raw (soak almonds overnight) and limit or avoid peanuts.
  • Limit caffeine to the morning.
  • Limit the following: hot pepper, deep-fried and oily foods, grains, especially refined.
  • Stay hydrated.

If you have chronic digestive distress, and/or low energy, also try the following:

  • Eat smaller, more frequent meals.
  • Eat desserts, fruit and starches (carbohydrates) alone, or 30 minutes before, or 2 hours after a meal. The fewer of these you eat, especially refined carbohydrates (bagels, bread, muffins, pretzels, cake, cookies…) the more energy you will have. You digestion will probably also improve. (See ‘Notes on Carbohydrates,’ below.)
  • Eliminate iced drinks and cold foods (like ice cream).
  • Common over-the-counter herbal remedies for indigestion include DGL (licorice extract), fennel, digestive bitters, and digestive enzymes derived from pineapple or papaya.
  • The pH levels of our entire digestive track are often at unhealthy levels when chronic digestive problems are present. This situation is exacerbated by antacids. Your natural health practitioner or nutritionist can help you restore proper pH levels, which are essential for healthy digestion. They can also check for parasites.
  • If you have a hiatal hernia, in addition to all the above, there are certain herbs to avoid (such as peppermint), and simple exercises that can help.
  • Be sure you do see your doctor to rule out any serious problem, or if the above steps do not improve your condition.

A note on food allergies

Many food allergies are not true allergies, but sensitivities brought on by an inflamed colon. Often, the colon has become inflamed by courses of antibiotics and/or non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medicine, such as ibuprofen. In an inflamed condition, protein strands that normally are further broken down by the gut, leak out into the bloodstream. The immune system reacts to these as foreign particles. This condition is referred to as ‘Leaky Gut Syndrome,’ Your natural health practitioner can help you heal from LGS. Click here to read Dr. Andrew Weil giving introductory information about LGS.

Notes on carbohydrates, oils and supplements

Carbs: Reduce or eliminate simple, processed, and fried carbs. These include sugar (‘organic cane juice’), pizza, most cereals, pastas, bread, muffins and baked goods, fries, pretzels, soda, chips. Gradually shift your carbs to favor root vegetables such as sweet potatoes, winter squash, and whole grains such as brown and wild rice, quinoa, millet, kasha, steel cut oats, and bulghar wheat. Incorporate some lentils and beans. You can try mixing these in combo, such as a little quinoa in with the rice. Cook rice in broth instead of water to increase flavor. Rice and lentil salads are great in summer.  Try to eat twice as many vegetables as fruits. Use dried fruit, barley malt, stevia, raw honey, xylitol and raw agave syrup sparingly as sweeteners.

Avoid anything that lists “sugar” as an ingredient.  “Sugar” is now entirely GMO beet sugar.

Cooking Oils: Use butter, ghee, cold processed grape seed or coconut oil for cooking, or another oil with a high burning temperature (smoke point). Virgin olive oil is best used raw, although it does not break down at gentle cooking temperatures. Avoid canola oil. The name comes from CANadian Oil Low Acid, a low-erucic acid (a suspected carcinogen) oil extracted from genetically modified rapeseed. (According to: www.annieappleseedproject.org/ Rape (Brassica napus), a member of the mustard family, is listed in the Encyclopedia Britannica as a poisonous plant with toxic effects which include pulmonary emphysema, respiratory distress, anemia, constipation, irritability and blindness in cattle.)

Foods balanced in EFAs, or essential fatty acids or that are highest in Omega 3 fatty acids include sardines, wild salmon (avoid farmed), black cod, walnuts, avocados, eggs, extra-virgin olive oil, and flax seed.

Supplements: Another quagmire of misleading and misinformed marketing ploys. My strongest suggestion is that if you do self-prescribe nutritional supplementation, be sure that the primary ingredients are concentrated whole food sources (words you recognize), an opposed to fractionated vitamin isolates or synthetic vitamins (mostly made by pharmaceutical companies, with chemical-sounding names like “ascorbic acid”). If you live in Seattle or the Northwest, the next time you get a blood test, ask for a vitamin D assay. If you are taking a salmon oil supplement that does not specifically state that the source is wild, it is most likely from farmed salmon.

After all those guidelines, my strongest suggestion is for you not to get overly-concerned by what you are eating! There are times for celebrating, where the focus of a meal is on enjoyment and friendship. Other times, such as while traveling, your food choices can be limited. And we can’t always afford the highest quality foods. Guilt is bad for the digestion!

Be gentle to yourself and to others.

The rock of Chinese Medicine dietary advice is All things in moderation. The most we can aim for is being conscious of all the choices we make. If you are motivated to read about recommended foods for specific health issues, here are two good books which are great resources with helpful indexes:

Healing With Whole Foods by Paul Pitchford incorporates Eastern medical philosophy.

The Truth about Vitamins and Minerals by Judith deCava

Illustration by Denise Anderson as featured originally in the Odiyan Country Cookbook.