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Eastern Medicine & Natural Healing, Health for the Body, Herbs, Nutrition, Traditional Chinese Medicine

Ginger – The Root That Should Be In Everyone’s Fridge

April 25, 2016
Sliced Ginger Root

Happy Spring everyone! I hope that everyone is doing well and didn’t get too stressed out from tax season. I love spring because it is a time to start on new projects! (Review my post on nutritional and lifestyle tips for the spring season here.) Today’s post is the beginning of many food posts. I am a firm believer of using food as medicine, and today’s topic is no exception. Ginger has been touted for its many medicinal properties including stimulating digestion, treating colds and fevers, and alleviating nausea from chemotherapy.

Ginger is a root or rhizome, an enlarged underground stem that can be eaten fresh, dried, powdered, or as a juice. It is shaped like a palm with fingers and produced in tropical India, Jamaica, Fiji, Indonesia, and Australia. Part of the Zingiberaceae family, ginger’s siblings include cardamom and turmeric (two other important anti-inflammatory herbs).  The word ginger literally means “spirit” “liveliness” and “verve” (or vigor). And you will see that it does just that — it invigorates the body by increasing energy and circulation.

Here are some of the basic properties and functions to remember about ginger:

  • pungent flavor (review the five flavors here)
  • warming thermal nature (thermal nature review here)
  • stimulates digestion
  • boosts circulation and respiration
  • can treat colds and fevers
  • used for nausea from chemotherapy or morning sickness from pregnancy
  • anti-inflammatory by alleviating pain from arthritis
  • may normalize blood pressure
  • supports the liver and promotes bile release

Common Cold

Ginger is one of the first things you should reach for if you find yourself coming down with a cold or fever. It is a natural diaphoretic that stimulates perspiration, detoxifying the body and bringing our temperatures down. Its anti-inflammatory properties help to boost our immune systems and reduce pain or bodyaches. It also acts as an anti-histamine and decongestant, helping to ease cold symptoms. Add a slice of ginger, lemon, and honey to warm or room temp water as soon as you start feeling symptoms of a cold. Review my post on the common cold here.

Digestion Issues

The phenolic compounds found in this root help decrease gastric irritation by stimulating saliva and bile production. Studies have found that it can increase the rate of gastric emptying and stomach contractions in those with indigestion without affecting or decreasing their gut’s intrinsic peptides (proteins). It has also been found to inhibit H. pylori, which may help prevent ulcers as well as protect gastric mucosa.

Nausea

Research has shown that pregnancy related nausea and vomiting as well as morning sickness can be reduced by taking 1 gram of  ginger daily in short periods (up to 4 days), while several studies have found that ginger is better than placebo in relieving morning sickness. Pregnant women please consult your physician and do not take more than 1 gram/day.

Chemotherapy induced nausea can also be combated with ginger. This study showed that adult cancer patients on chemotherapy who took 0.5 – 1 g doses of ginger daily significantly aided in reduction of severity from acute chemotherapy-induced nausea.

Anti-inflammatory and pain reduction

Ginger has been known to be a great anti-inflammatory agent. A study in 2013 found that women athletes that took 3 grams of ginger or cinnamon daily had decreased their muscle soreness significantly. It has also been shown to be as effective as ibuprofen in relieving menstrual cramps.

Diabetes

The effects of ginger on diabetes may be simultaneously therapeutic and preventative. A comprehensive review of diabetic patients who took 3 grams of powdered ginger daily for 30 days have shown that it decreases blood glucose, triglycerides, total cholesterol, and LDL cholesterol. It has a positive effect on diabetes because it inhibits enzymes in carbohydrate metabolism and increases insulin release and sensitivity.

Cancer

Several studies on ginger in the last ten years have shown promising results with fighting cancer. In 2007, a study published by the BMC Complementary and Alternative medicine, found that “[it] inhibits growth and modulates secretion of angiogenic factors in ovarian cancer cells.” Another study from the University of Michigan Comprehensive Cancer Center discovered that ginger actually caused the death of ovarian cancer cells in a lab. Finally a study in 2012 published by the British Journal of Nutrition found that this versatile root “exerts significant growth-inhibitory and death-inductory effects in a spectrum of prostate cancer cells.” It seems that different cancers respond similarly to ginger and more studies need to be done to confirm this theory.

Using ginger in your diet

Ginger goes well with many types of food including seafood, sushi, meats, veggies, and fruits such as oranges, melons, and apples. Have you noticed that sushi is always paired with a stack of thinly sliced ginger? This is because it removes toxins from raw seafood. It adds flavor to pork and balances the coldness of veggies and fruits with its warming thermal nature. Add it to your next smoothie or juice, stir fry in veggies and meats, mix in raw with your salads, steep in water with lemon and honey to make tea, or add to any seafood recipe to not only spice things up but also detoxify.

When buying in the supermarket, the freshest root will have smooth and taut skin (without wrinkles) and a spicy, pungent aroma. The hands and fingers of the root should be firm and plump, and the flesh is juicy when fresh. To best preserve, store in a tightly wrapped plastic bag in the fridge or freezer. Ginger should be peeled and easiest to use in your dishes when grated but can also be thinly sliced.

Contraindications

Ginger is safe for most people and usually causes little side effects. Excessive use may cause digestive upset and can exacerbate acid reflux in some people so use sparingly if you are prone to this. Do not use if you have a gallstones.

Remember that when eating, balance is key and your diet should always contain a variety of different foods.

I hope you enjoyed this post on ginger. Feel free to leave questions in the comments section. Have a great week!

In health and wellness,

Dr. Elain

References:

Healing with Whole Foods by Paul Pitchford

The New Whole Foods Encyclopedia by Rebecca Woods

Ginger’s Many Evidenced-Based Health Benefits Revealed by Joseph Mercola

 

 

 

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Eastern Medicine & Natural Healing, Health for the Body, Herbs, Men's Health, Nutrition, Traditional Chinese Medicine, Women's Health

The Heart-Mind and Fire Element

June 26, 2015
The Fire Element

Happy Friday! I hope that everyone had a great week! A couple months ago, I talked about tips to stay heart healthy and how to prevent heart disease on a physical level (read the tips here). Today I want to focus on the heart on a mental level and as an emotional center. In Chinese medicine, the heart houses the mind and controls our consciousness, spirit, sleep, and memory. It is safe to say that our mental hearts and our minds are one and the same. When the heart-mind is harmonious and balanced we have mental clarity. We are able to solve problems easily where solutions come to mind (no pun intended) logically and quickly. When the heart-mind is imbalanced, we will see a whole host of problems ranging from depression, anxiety, and loss of memory to insomnia, palpitations and restless energy. To better understand this concept, we need to understand the fire element, the element associated with summer (read the basics of the summer season here).

The Fire Element

The fire element of the heart governs our ability to feel love and joy while dealing with all “matters of the heart” on an emotional level (read about the mind body connection and our emotions here). It also reflects our relationship with ourselves and others. The fire element is the spark that ignites our emotional hearts and inspires us to live our lives to the fullest. When our heart-mind is in balance, we are genuinely happy and we are able to feel and give love.

Imagine a bonfire at a summer party. When the fire is in balance, it is warm, glowing, radiant, and emitting the perfect amount of heat. People are naturally drawn to the warmth of the fire and congregate together. This resembles the positive qualities of the fire element, when we feel love, joy, connection, fun, and a sense of community and sharing.

What happens when the fire starts to die out? We see the remains of a fire, fading embers, and gray ashes. There is no longer a radiant flame. The people surrounding the fire become cold and leave. This is what happens when someone’s heart fire becomes deficient or depleted and they become lifeless, cold, isolated, depressed, and weak. This is especially apparent in the eyes, where they literally lose their sparkle. The sparkle in the eyes reflects our spirit or shen (one of the three treasures that I discussed about here).

On the opposite end of the spectrum, what if this fire starts blazing out of control? People start dispersing to protect themselves as the flames spill uncontrollably out of the firepit. This reflects people who have excessive heart fire and a difficult time controlling their emotions or are excessive attention seekers. They may laugh inappropriately or uncontrollably and drive others away with their lack of boundaries.

Heart-Mind Disharmony

Let’s review the different spectrum of heart-mind disharmony.

For those with deficient heart fire (i.e. those who have lost their spirit), we may see:

  • palpitations
  • irregular and weak pulses
  • lethargy and general body weakness
  • depression
  • memory loss
  • apathy or hopelessness
  • poor circulation
  • weak spirit
  • aversion to cold
  • general body weakness
  • chest pain
  • hardening and thickening of the arteries
  • nervous disorders such as anxiety with irrational fears and phobias

This is generally caused by a deficiency in qi energy and yang of the heart. The organs most related to a weak qi energy are the lungs and spleen-pancreas, as well as liver qi stagnation, or inability of the liver to smoothly circulate energy throughout the body. (To review the functions of qi energy, read here.)

For those with an unstable spirit, or excessive heart fire, we may see:

  • initially, incessant mind wandering
  • aversion to heat
  • insomnia or restless sleep
  • memory loss
  • lack of boundaries
  • attempt to control self or others
  • excessive or inappropriate laughter
  • a scattered or confused mind
  • speech problems such as stuttering, excess verbiage, or confused speech
  • restless, scattered, or explosive energy
  • irregular or racing heartbeat
  • excessive dreaming
  • irrational behavior
  • or in extreme cases insanity or mental illness

This is generally caused by deficiency in yin of the kidney or deficiency in blood (review the properties of blood here).

Healing the Heart – Calming and Focusing the Mind

The heart truly depends on other organs of the body, namely the kidneys, lungs, spleen-pancreas, and/or liver for its nourishment and energy. Once these organs are restored to balance, heart fire balance will follow suit. Also, a general rule of thumb is to eat less mucus and phlegm producing foods as they can physically clog the heart and arteries.

To calm and focus the mind, a simple diet is best. Avoid foods that scatter the mind or overheat the body such as spicy and rich foods, refined sugar, alcohol, coffee, or late night eating and eating large heavy evening meals. The following foods help decrease nervousness, treat insomnia, and improve mental clarity:

  • Minerals, such as calcium and magnesium help to build the yin of the heart, hence calming the mind. Green veggies are generally rich in magnesium since magnesium is usually at the center of every chlorophyll molecule. Magnesium also facilitates calcium to function properly in heart and nerve tissues. (Review the many healing properties of calcium and magnesium here.)
  • Grains like whole wheat, brown rice, and oats can gently but significantly calm the mind.
  • Mushrooms all have very cerebral effects. I have talked about how Reishi mushroom can calm the mind, improve memory, sharpen concentration and focus, increase willpower, and build wisdom.
  • Silicon containing foods such as barley, cucumber, celery, lettuce, and celery/lettuce juice improve calcium metabolism and enhance nerve and heart tissue.
  • Fruits such as mulberries and lemons calm the mind (mulberries being the stronger of the two).
  • Jujube seeds are widely used as a Chinese herbal remedy to calm the spirit.
  • Spices such as dill and basil can be eaten with food or added to teas to calm the mind.
  • Bitter flavored foods also affect and heal the heart. They can cleanse the physical heart and deposits in the arteries while also cooling an overheated heart.

I hope you have a better understanding now of our heart-mind as an emotional unit. Be happy and have a great weekend!

In health and wellness,
Dr Elain

References:

Healing with Whole Foods by Paul Pitchford

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Eastern Medicine & Natural Healing, Health for the Body, Herbs, Supplements, Traditional Chinese Medicine, Women's Health

White Peony Root – Radix Paeoniae Alba

June 3, 2015
White Peony

It’s no secret that the peony is one of my favorite flowers and I’m sure a favorite for many of you! I used it as my logo for several reasons. Peonies are actually perennial plants that can live for many years. If healthy and cared for properly, they survive the winter season without needing any special treatment and blossom every spring.  Peonies are beautiful and fragrant, and their roots have been used for years as an herbal remedy for anti-aging and regulating the female hormone cycle. This flower is essentially a low-maintenance hearty plant, that produces gorgeous blooms during spring, but also possesses powerful properties in its roots for your health. What is not to love about the peony?! Let’s take a look at the White Peony Root and its medicinal properties.

White Peony Root Properties

  • White peony root’s pharmaceutical name is Radix Paeoniae Alba.
  • It is a tonic herb that builds and cleanses your blood.
  • It has a slightly cold thermal nature.
  • It has a bitter and sour taste which is associated with the heart and liver. Review the Five Flavors here.
  • It affects and enters the Liver and Spleen channels. (Remember from last week’s post on Spring – the Liver is the organ most affected during this season).

White Peony Root Functions

White peony root is a blood tonic. It not only nourishes but cleanses and purifies our blood. It is used to regulate menstruation and the female hormonal cycle, and is commonly used to treat women’s disorders with symptoms like menstrual cramps, abnormal vaginal discharge, and uterine bleeding.

It also has the ability to relax both smooth and striated muscles, which help to alleviate cramps and spasms throughout the body. Most notably it is known for its effectiveness in relieving menstrual cramps as well as leg and foot cramps. It contains a pain-reducing agent and has a calming effect. In women, it works effectively as an emotional stabilizer. PMS anyone?

White peony root also soothes and calms an overactive Liver (too much Liver yang) and alleviates pain, especially in the flank, chest, or abdomen. Pain in these areas usually point towards Liver Qi stagnation or a disharmony between the Liver and Spleen. It has been used for headache and dizziness also due to imbalanced ascending Liver yang (to review the Qi direction and pathology of the Liver, read here).

This herb has the ability to preserve the yin in our bodies, which is helpful in anyone with yin deficiency symptoms (e.g., symptoms seen especially as we get older such as dry and cracked skin/lips, insomnia with night sweats, dry mouth, dry and brittle hair, and low back soreness). It can also help stop continuous sweating seen with wind-cold problems (review wind patterns here). Hence it has a nurturing and protective function. In fact, white peony root is considered to be a premium anti-aging herb in China and used to promote beauty. Since it purifies blood, it also purifies the skin (your skin and hair are indicators of how healthy your blood is – review properties of blood here). If used over time, it should make your skin smoother and softer.

White Peony Root Combinations

Usually white peony root is used in conjunction with other herbs for optimal effects. It is actually known more as a supporting cast member, rather than the star of the show.

1) Blood Tonic – White peony root is usually combined with Dang Gui (a well known Chinese blood tonic and gynecological regulator) and Rehmannia (a yin, jing, Kidney, and blood tonic. This combination helps dizziness, blurred vision, and dysmenorrhea (painful periods). For these combos, I like to use these formulations from Dragon Herbs:

  • Women’s Jing contains Dang Gui, Rehmannia, and White Peony Root, among other herbs that help support a healthy female reproductive system, improve pelvic circulation, while also benefiting the Liver and Kidney.
  • Magu’s Secret has Dang Gui, White Peony Root, as well as Schizandra Berry, Longan Fruit, and Goji Berry, all combined as a women’s tonic and essence/jing tonic. This formula is mildly yin.
  • Magu’s Treasure has the same herb formulation as Magu’s Secret above plus additional herbs from Deer Antler, Placenta, Royal Jelly, and Pearl. The addition of Deer Antler, Placenta, and Royal Jelly make this more yang, but in general is a balanced formula especially good for anti-aging and post-partum conditions.
  • Profound Essence has Dang Gui, Rehmannia, and White Peony Root, plus herbs that tonify Kidney Essence (yin and yang).

2) Liver tension, Liver Qi Stagnation, overactive Liver Yang – For these conditions, white peony root is usually combined with Bupleurum Root. Bupleurum root, although not a tonic herb, is extremely useful for its ability to relieve Liver tension, digestive problems, and associated flank and abdominal pain. It also has detoxifying and anti-microbial properties. Bupleurum, in combination with other herbs, has the ability to clear stagnation anywhere in the body. This combination can relieve spasms, muscle tension, lumps, bleeding from heat, and menstrual irregularity. Together, these two herbs are cold and detoxifying. I like to use these formulations from Dragon Herbs:

  • Bupleurum and Peony – This formulation helps balance hormones and treat PMS, menstrual cramps, and water retention seen with the menstrual cycle. It also nurtures the blood and supports the Kidney.
  • Easy Qi – This formulation contains bupleurum and peony as well as cinnamon twig and pueraria, which help to increase circulation and ease tension in the upper neck and shoulders. It is great as an “anti-tension” remedy and for those with increased stress and trouble sleeping.

Contraindications of White Peony Root: This herb is on the colder side so use with caution if you are excessively cold or are yang deficient.

I hope that you now have a better understanding of the healing properties of this herb! Use in good health!

In health and wellness,
Dr Elain

References:

The Ancient Wisdom of the Chinese Tonic Herbs by Ron Teeguarden
Chinese Herbal Medicine Materia Medica by Dan Bensky and Andrew Gamble

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Flavors of Spring – Pungent and Sweet

May 29, 2015
Cabbage - Pungent and Sweet

Happy Friday! We talked earlier this week about basic lifestyle, nutritional and cooking tips for the Spring season. Spring is also the best time to cook with pungent and sweet flavored foods. Both these flavors are yang in nature and energizing, qualities that reflect the active nature of spring. Cabbage, in the featured image above, have both a pungent and sweet flavor.

Pungent Flavor

The pungent flavor is a yang flavor, expansive, and dispersive. It tends to have a warming thermal nature and stimulates circulation of energy and blood, by moving this energy upwards and outwards to the periphery of the body. Pungent herbs can stimulate digestion and disperse mucus caused by mucus forming foods like dairy products and meat. It protects against mucus forming conditions like the common cold. The pungent flavor also lightens the effects of grains, legumes, nuts, and seeds, which have a tendency to build mucus in the body.

In general, the pungent flavor has these effects on the organs:

1) Enters and clears the lungs of mucus conditions.
2) Improves digestion and rids gas from the intestines.
3) Moistens the kidneys, which affect fluids throughout your body (eg ginger increases saliva and sweat in the body).
4) Stimulates blood circulation and strengthens the heart.
5) Clears obstruction and improves a sluggish liver function.

Pungent flavored foods benefit those who are sluggish, dull, lethargic, or overweight. Those who are overweight from overeating should choose cooling pungents. Those with cold signs will benefit from warming pungents. Warming pungents should be used with caution if you have heat signs. This flavor also helps those who are thin (with dry condition – more on dryness later) or those who tend to be nervous and restless (wind condition – review the properties of wind here). The seed pungents relax the nervous system and improve digestion. These include fennel, dill, caraway, anise, coriander, and cumin. Pungent roots are stimulants but also help stabilize and increase circulation. These include ginger, cooked onion, and horseradish.

Contraindications of pungents: some pungents will actually worsen those who are “dry” or “windy” (above). Sage, raw onion, and all hot peppers (especially cayenne), worsen these conditions. In general, those with deficiency in qi or stagnant qi (seen with liver problems) should avoid these foods.

Examples of different pungents:

Warming pungents : spearmint, rosemary, scallion, garlic and all onion family members, cinnamon bark and branch, cloves, fresh and dried ginger root, black pepper, all hot peppers, cayenne, fennel, anise, dill, mustard greens, horseradish, basil, bay leaf, nd nutmeg.

Cooling pungents: peppermint, marjoram, elder flowers, white pepper, and radish and its leaves.

Diaphoretic pungent herbs that induce sweating for the common cold: ginger, mint, cayenne, elderflower, scallions, garlic, and chamomile.

Neutral pungents: taro, turnip, and kohlrabi

(Note: For those with cold signs or coldness, the best warming pungent herbs to use are dried ginger and cinnamon. They are deeply warming for a relatively long period of time and gentle on the system. This is opposed to cayenne and other hot peppers, which are also warming, but so extreme that they quickly change to a cooling effect. Also, for the full effect of pungent flavored foods, it’s best to eat them raw or pickled as simmering and steaming can diminish the pungent properties. Leafy herbs such as mints should be steeped, and barks and roots like ginger and cinnamon should be simmered.)

Sweet Flavored Foods

Sweet flavored foods like grains, legumes, seeds, and sweet starchy vegetables like young beets and carrots are also best eaten during the spring. The sweet flavor, which is also yang in nature, increases energy, especially in combination with warming foods. Sweet foods also build the yin of the body (building and nourishing fluids in the body), and strengthen weakness and deficiency symptoms.

Sweet foods, in the form of complex carbohydrates, are usually the foundation of most traditional diets. They energize but also relax the body, nerves, and brain. Complex carbs, such as grains, vegetables, and legumes, that are more warming can also treat cold signs and deficiency symptoms.

Sweet flavored foods have these effects on our organs:

1) Enters and strengthens the spleen-pancreas, or digestive system.
2) Appropriate for the liver as it soothes aggressive liver emotions such as anger and impatience. Sweet foods have been traditionally used to calm acute liver attacks.
3) Sweet foods also reverse dry conditions of the lungs through a lubricating action on the lungs and calms an overactive heart and mind.

Examples of Sweet Flavored Foods

Warming sweet foods help to acclimate to springtime. These include: spearmint (also pungent), sweet rice, sweet potato, mochi, rice syrup, molasses, sunflower seeds, pinenuts, walnuts, and cherries.

Neutral sweet foods: cabbage, carrots, shiitake mushrooms, figs, yams, and peas.

Sweet flavored foods benefit those who are dry, cold, nervous, thin, and weak. The sweet flavor will help increase their energy and strength. They are contraindicated in those who are sluggish, overweight, obese, or those who tend to have increased mucus in their systems. Eating sweet flavored foods will exacerbate these conditions. Also, in Chinese medicine, eating too much sweet flavored foods can damage the kidneys and spleen/pancreas (digestive system), weaken our bones and may cause hair loss (from the head). As I have always emphasized, balance and moderation is key!

Have a great weekend and happy eating!

In health and wellness,
Dr Elain

References:
Healing with Whole Foods by Paul Pitchford

 

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Ayurvedic Medicine, Eastern Medicine & Natural Healing, Health for the Body, Herbs, Nutrition, Traditional Chinese Medicine

Nutritional and Lifestyle Tips for the Spring Season

May 27, 2015
Spring Flowers

I hope everyone is having a great week! The year is flying by and before summer creeps up on us, I wanted to go over some nutritional and lifestyle tips for the Spring season. The Chinese believed that the seasons have a cyclical influence on human growth, development, and well-being. Climatic changes occur with each season and the best way to stay healthy is to live in harmony with these changes.

Spring Basics

Spring represents new beginnings, cleansing, and rejuvenation. This is when seeds sprout into plants, flowers bloom, and the sun shines brightly. It is the time of year to wake up early with the sun and take walks in the morning. It is a time to be active and expend energy. These are all yang activities that reflect the “ascending and active nature of spring.” If you look at plants and vegetation in the spring, their actions mimic this yang action. Plants and flowers grow upwards towards the sun after a time of hibernation during the winter.

The five elements of Chinese medicine are wood, fire, earth, metal, and water (more on this fundamental concept soon). Spring is represented by the Wood element. Wood symbolizes plants, nature, and new growth, all seen during the spring season. The internal organ associated with spring is the liver and gallbladder. If you recall my post from last month on the external pathogenic factors and spring wind, the liver is the organ that is most affected during the spring (read more here), which is why we should pay close attention to the liver and gallbladder during this time.

Usually during spring, we should eat less, and even occasionally fast, to cleanse the body of the fats and heavy foods eaten during winter. Have you noticed that during the holiday season you may eat more heavy and fatty foods, feeling the need to go on that healthy detox diet after the new year? The Spring diet should be the lightest and the foods should represent the yang, ascending, and expansive qualities of spring. These foods include young plants, fresh greens, and sprouts. It is best to avoid salty and heavy or fattier foods which have a more sinking and descending energy. These types of foods stagnate the liver which can lead to indigestion and other liver problems.

Here are some basic concepts to remember about the Spring season:

  • Five elements: Wood
  • Organs: Liver and Gallbladder
  • Sense Organ: Eyes/Sight
  • Tissue: Tendons and sinews (ligaments)
  • Emotion: Anger and impatience
  • Voice Sound: Shouting
  • Fluid Emitted: Tears
  • Paramita (Way to correct imbalance): Patience
  • Enviromental Influence: Wind
  • Development: Birth
  • Color: Green
  • Taste: Sour
  • Direction: East

“Spring” into Spring

1) Eat your Greens – The color green is associated with springtime and the liver. As I mentioned above, this is the time to eat, fresh leafy greens, sprouts, young plants, and raw foods. This will ultimately strengthen your liver and improve it’s overall function, which is to control the overall smooth movement of Qi in our bodies (review the function of Qi here).

2) Stretch, stretch, and stretch! – The liver controls our tendons and ligaments. When we are at rest, the liver stores our blood and releases blood to our tendons during activity, which helps to maintain flexibility and tendon health. When we are stressed, angry, and impatient, this tightens our tendons making us less flexible physically. When we are less flexible physically, we also become less flexible emotionally which leads to more anger and impatience as well as other aggressive emotions (review the emotions associated with the liver here). Take time to stretch a little every morning. In general, it is important to stretch every day, all year round.

3) Protect your Eyes – Our eyes are a reflection of our liver health and vice versa (i.e., if your liver is healthy, your eyes are also healthy). Make sure you wear sunglasses with UV protection when you are outdoors and rest your eyes after long periods of time in front of the computer. Supplement with Omega-3’s which contain DHA crucial for eye health (review Omega-3’s here). Lutein and zeaxanthin supplements may also be helpful for those with more serious eye issues (more on these supplements later).

4) Eat Sour Foods – The flavor associated with the liver is sour (review The Five Flavors here). Sour flavored foods can stimulate and strengthen the liver. An easy way to do this is add slices of lemon into your water, which will also help to stimulate digestion. Squeezing lime onto beef or chicken is a great way to brighten flavors. Using oil and vinegar in your salad dressing is also a simple way to add “sour” to your diet.

5) Increase Outdoor Activities – Outdoor activities are yang in nature and will also help move stagnant liver qi. Hiking, swimming, and biking are all great outdoor activities that will easily stimulate and circulate energy.

Raw Food During Spring

Spring, which is the first season of the year, also represents youth, vitality and raw energy. Because of this, raw and sprouted foods can be eaten more during the springtime, which reflect the young and early stages of food. Raw foods are cleansing and cooling. According to Ayurvedic medicine, raw foods are vatic (vata) or “wind-like” which encourages quickness, rapid movements, and outward activity, much like yang energy.

Raw foods should be consumed more in those with heat signs, those living in warmer climates, and during times of greater physical activity. A little bit of raw food daily is cleansing for the body, and should be consumed more during spring and summertime. However, be careful not to overdo it with raw foods as it can also weaken digestion and may cause excessive detoxification of your system, resulting in fatigue and stomach symptoms like indigestion and diarrhea. Do not eat raw foods if you have bowel inflammation or weakness and deficiency symptoms.

Spring Cooking

Finally, when you’re cooking during the spring, it’s best to cook food for shorter periods of time, but at higher temperatures. This way, your food is not thoroughly cooked, especially the inner part of the food, preserving some of the raw energy of the food. Also if using oil, quick high temperature sauteing or stir frying is the best way to go.

Happy spring eating!

In health and wellness,
Dr. Elain

References:

Healing with Whole Foods by Paul Pitchford

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Health for the Body, Herbs, Supplements

7 Herbs That Boost Brain Health

May 20, 2015
Periwinkle Vinpocetine May Boost Memory and Brain Health

If you’ve been following my instagram feed, you will see that there are a lot of common fruits and veggies that can help boost brain health and function. I’ve compiled a list of herbs and spices that are also good for brain health, memory and may even help prevent against Alzheimer’s disease. Let’s take a look at what makes them so great for your brain!

Periwinkle Flower
Periwinkle Flower
Vincopetine, derived from periwinkle seeds contain neuroprotective properties.
« 1 of 7 »

 

1) Periwinkle – This flower, which comes in a lovely shade of violet or blue, contains a substance called vinpocetine derived from periwinkle seeds. With the rising number of people developing Alzheimer’s disease, the interest and research in vinpocetine has also increased. A study on stroke patients found that vinpocetine increases blood flow to the brain by inhibiting phosphodiesterase type 1 (PDE1) as well as reducing levels of intracellular calcium (read more about the actions of calicum here). PDE1 and calcium cause contraction of blood vessels. By inhibiting their actions, vinpocetine relaxes the vessels and increases blood flow. Vinpocetine also has antioxidant properties that may protect brain and nerve cells where blood flow may be decreased, by blocking sodium channels in our cells. A recent study on subjects taking a 5mg vincopetine supplement twice daily also showed improved memory and concentration in cognitively impaired patients.

2) Ginseng – This is one of the more recognizable herbs resembling a human body with a large head, body and multiple limbs. American ginseng root (aka Radix Panax Quinquefolium) has a cooling thermal nature with sweet and slightly bitter flavor. It contains a substance called RB1 saponin. Studies in Canada and Australia found that RB1 saponin could restore memory in rats by stimulating the release of acetylcholine (the brain neurotransmitter responsible for memory and mental clarity) from the hippocampus (our brain’s memory center) and increasing the uptake of choline. Choline then stimulates the production of more acetylcholine. (Many pharmaceutical drugs for Alzheimer’s disease work using the same mechanism). A randomized, double-blinded, placebo controlled study in Australia tested 32 healthy men and women and found that those who took supplements of ginseng (100 mg, 200 mg, or 400 mg) had improved memory and mental performance as well as faster decision making skills. Researchers in Japan also found that RB1 saponin can restore damaged nerve cells in mice chemically induced with Alzheimer’s, thereby protecting their memories.

3) Tumeric – This plant, native to South India and Indonesia, is better known as the brilliant yellow colored powder used in curries and yellow mustard, and has a hot thermal nature. The extract curcumin, taken from tumeric root, has long been studied for its effect on Alzheimer’s disease. An overview of studies done on curcumin has shown that it may help macrophages (large scavenger cells in our bodies) clear the amyloid plaques found in Alzheimer’s. Curcumin also has anti-inflammatory and anti-oxidant properties that may dissipate the inflammation of nerve cells and inhibit the formation of free radicals that cause damage to neurons seen in Alzheimer’s. Finally, the lipophilic nature of curcumin allows it to cross the blood brain barrier and bind to the characteristic Alzheimer beta-amyloid plaques, inhibiting its metabolism in the brain. It’s no wonder that residents in India, who use large amounts of turmeric in their diets, have the lowest rates of Alzheimer’s disease, according to the World Health Organization.

4) Sage – This herb is a member of the mint family and has a cooling thermal nature. This is great to use for those who tend to run more hot. In a British study, 44 healthy adults were given capsules of 50-150mg of sage oil as well as a dummy capsule. The study participants took a word recall test between 1 and 6 hours later. All those who took the sage oil, did better, averaging recalling 8% more words than those who took the dummy capsule. Sage was found in studies to inhibit acetylcholinesterase inhibitors (which break down acetylcholine), thereby increasing acetylcholine in the brain. Another study conducted the same year showed that compounds in Chinese sage could offer an alternative to pharmaceutical treatment of Alzheimer’s. I think sage is one of my favorite herbs and I should really cook more with it. It can be easily added to omelettes, tomato sauce, and roasted chicken, pork, or lamb. For therapeutic uses, steep 2 teaspoons dried sage in boiling water, and drink as a tea.

5) Garlic – This pungent herb has a hot thermal nature and is great to cook with your veggies as it balances out the cooling thermal nature found in most greens. A study where garlic was continually given to rats, found enhanced memory function by increasing serotonin levels in the brain, also improving cognitive performance. Garlic has also been shown to have neuroprotective effects, protecting neuronal cells against beta-amyloid toxicity seen with Alzheimer’s. Garlic thins the blood and prevents blood clots (use with caution if you are on a blood thinner).

6) Rosemary – Rosemary is a warming herb and has been associated with memory enhancement since ancient times. It was also referred to as the “herb of remembrance” and used symbolically in weddings, war commemorations, and funerals. An interesting study found that sniffing rosemary can increase memory by up to 75% in humans. Researchers had 66 adults enter one of two rooms, one room with no scent and another room infused with rosemary scent for 5 minutes beforehand. Participants in the rosemary scented room did better on prospective memory tasks than those who were in the room without a scent. How can that even happen from smelling something you ask? Researchers explain that the compound found in rosemary, 1,8-cineole, enters the bloodstream in mammals after inhalation or ingestion. Blood analysis of the participants’ blood found a significantly greater amount of 1,8-cineole in the plasma of those in the rosemary scented room.

7) Gingko Biloba – One of the oldest tree species on earth, gingko biloba has continued to survive even after major extinction events and possess unique qualities such as growing over 130ft and living for over 1000 years. The medicinal properties come from the extract of the leaves on the trees. Studies have shown gingko to improve cognitive function (i.e., thinking, memory, and social behavior) in dementia patients. A placebo controlled, double blind, randomized study concluded that gingko extract was safe to use and could stabilize and improve cognitive performance and social function in mildly to severely demented Alzheimer outpatients for 6 months to a year. Another double blind placebo controlled study found that healthy adults taking a combination supplement of gingko biloba and ginseng had enhanced memory function.

I hope you will be able to use some of these herbs and spices in your daily routine to improve brain health!

In health and wellness,
Dr Elain

References:

Healing with Whole Foods by Paul Pitchford
The Ancient Wisdom of the Chinese Tonic Herbs by Ron Teeguarden

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Reishi Mushroom – Ganoderma

May 5, 2015
Reishi Mushroom - Ganoderma

Today’s post is about Reishi Mushroom (pronounced ray-as in stingray, shi-as in she), one of the most powerful, widely used tonic herbs and medicinal mushrooms in Asia. I wanted to start with this herb because of its wide range of health benefits. Known to the ancients as the “mushroom of immortality,” it promotes health and longevity, boosts the immune system, combats cardiovascular issues, and has been used to treat cancer and side effects from cancer treatment. It also supports all Three Treasures (Qi, Jing, and Shen – the Mind or Spirit), which I discussed in detail last week (read about Qi and Jing). As a Jing tonic, it strengthens our mind and mental health as well. Because Reishi is such a balanced herb, almost anyone can use it safely!

Reishi Properties

  • Reishi’s pharmaceutical name is Ganoderma
  • It supports all three treasures: Qi, Jing, and Shen
  • It has a neutral or slightly warming thermal nature; almost anyone can use it (review thermal nature of foods here)
  • It has a bitter taste which is associated with the fire element and the heart (read more about the Five Flavors here)
  • It affects the Heart, Liver, Lungs, and Kidneys (almost all 5 organs of The Five Element Theory – more on this soon)

Reishi’s Functions

1) Immune Benefits

Reishi is best known for its immune boosting qualities. It improves our immune function whether our system is in a “deficient” or “excess” state. Deficient and excess are Chinese medical terms to describe the state of a disease.  An overactive immune system is considered an “excess” condition such as autoimmune diseases (e.g. Lupus, Rheumatoid Arthritis, Multiple Sclerosis, Grave’s disease, Hashimoto’s thyroiditis) or allergies. The immune system is on overdrive so much that it attacks itself.  A “deficient” immune system is what we traditionally see with someone who gets frequent colds and infections or more severe infections such as HIV, hepatitis, or cancer. The immune system is not strong enough to fight the bacteria, virus, or cancer cells.

Reishi is an immune modulator as it not only stimulates our immune system to fight infection (i.e. in a deficient state), but it also regulates it when necessary (i.e. in an excess state). Reishi is the only known source of ganoderic acid, which acts like a natural steroid. Japanese research has found that Reishi extract can inhibit histamine release from most cells. It is potentially helpful in treating Type I allergies such as anaphylactic shock, dermatitis, hay fever, hives, drug allergies, and asthma. The extract was also shown to enhance steroid drug effects. That is, consuming Reishi along with steroid medication will decrease the steroid dosage needed as well as the side effects from steroids.

2) Cardiovascular Benefits

Reishi has been used in Asia to improve the cardiovascular system. It treats cholesterol by lowering LDL and excess fatty acids. Studies have shown that it can prevent hardening of arteries and treat symptoms of chest pain and shortness of breath associated with heart disease. In a study with 92 patients with myocardial infarction and chest pain treated with Ganoderma, it was found that 72% felt symptom relief.

3) Cancer Fighting Benefits

Reishi has been used in Japan as anti-cancer therapy and in conjunction with chemotherapy and radiation. It reduces the side effects of chemo and radiation but also aids in rebuilding the immune system. It was found that Ganoderma stimulates interferon and interleukin 1 and 2, crucial immune mediating cells in our bodies. Studies in Japan and China have found that Ganoderma also reverses leukopenia, or white blood cell death, which is why it is used with chemotherapy to protect white blood cells.

4)  Stress, Emotional, and Mental Acuity Benefits

Reishi is also an adaptogen, which strengthens our adrenals helping us to manage and adapt to stress. It was also considered to be the premiere shen tonic of Chinese herbalism. It has been called the “mushroom of spiritual potency” and was used in ancient times to calm the mind, improve memory, sharpen concentration and focus, increase willpower, and build wisdom. It can treat different emotions such as anger, frustration, depression, grief, and sadness by changing the way we perceive things and helping us process and release those emotions.

The Science Behind It

The primary constituent responsible for the medicinal actions of Reishi mushroom is called triterpenes. Ganoderic acid is a triterpene produced by Reishi and more than a hundred different triterpene molecules have been isolated in Reishi. Studies have found that ganoderic acid suppresses growth and invasive behavior of breast cancer cells (here and here). There has also been evidence that it may be beneficial in treating advanced prostate cancer as well as leukemia and lymphoma. Out of the mycelium, stem, spores and caps of the fruiting body, the caps provide the richest source of triterpene acids. Wild Reishi also contains organic germanium, which is thought to have strong immune boosting and anti-cancer properties in Japan, although studies in the states have been inconclusive.

Immunostimulant polysaccharides have also been isolated from Reishi. These polysaccharides are thought to activate macrophages and T lymphocytes (white blood cells), enhancing the cell-mediated immune response.

As stated above Reishi also has a natural steroid affect, by inhibiting histamine release; it stimulates interferon and interleukin 1 and 2, which mediate our immune response; inhibits white blood cell death, activates natural killer-cell activity, and improve liver function. They are also powerful antioxidant free radical scavengers.

What should I look for in my Reishi supplement or extract?

Analysis of three strains of Reishi, (red, purple, and black), have found that red and purple strains have similar triterpenoid patterns, while black Reishi had little triterpenoid material. The Reishi extract should come from the red or purple caps or fruiting bodies of the mushroom, which contain the highest concentration of triterpenes and polysaccharides.

The mycelium of Reishi, which is the fungus without the fruiting body that grows on wood, was not traditionally used as a tonic herb by the Chinese and Japanese. It is also not a shen tonic like the actual mushroom. While the mycelium has been discovered to be rich in the same polysaccharides, it does not contain triterpenes and is regarded as an inferior product.

The extract, whether in powder or liquid form, should be bitter from the triterpenes. If it isn’t bitter, the triterpene concentration is not high enough!

Reishi Spores, which are the seed of the mushroom are believed to contain an abundance of Jing and also considered an antiaging substance. The spores must be purified and go through a process called “cracking,”  where special enzymes are utilized to break down the cell wall of the spores making their nutrients bioavailable. Reishi spores are much more expensive than Reishi mushroom extract, but a good value.

The sources I recommend to get your Reishi product is either through Dragon Herbs or Real Mushrooms (dragonherbs.com or realmushrooms.com) Dragon Herbs have Reishi in drops, capsule, or spore form while Real Mushrooms sell a concentrated powder extract that can be mixed with coffee or tea.

Have you ever tried Reishi before?

In health and wellness,
Dr Elain

References:

The Ancient Wisdom of the Chinese Tonic Herbs by Ron Teeguarden
The New Whole Foods Encyclopedia by Rebecca Wood

Photo Credits: @real_mushrooms realmushrooms.com

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The Four Vital Substances Part 1 – Qi (Energy)

April 28, 2015
Qi and Energy one of the Vital Substances

In Chinese Medicine, our bodies contain four vital substances: Qi, Blood, Essence or (Jing), and Body Fluids. Our lives depend on these four vital substances to exist. I will focus on the first vital substance, Qi, and then talk about the other three in a subsequent post.

Qi

Qi, pronouced chee, can be translated as our “energy”, “life-force”, “vital force”, “moving power”, “material force”, or “matter”. It is a fundamental principle in Chinese medicine and the energetic force that circulates through our physical body enabling it to function. It is yang in nature (to review basic yin and yang principle, read here) and its functions are transforming, transporting, holding, raising, protecting, and warming (see in bold below regarding the functions of different forms of Qi).

Two aspects of Qi pertain to medicine.

1) Qi is an energy that can manifest simultaneously on a physical and energetic (or spiritual) level. The components of the Chinese character Qi (氣) define that it is both material and immaterial. The top part of the character means “vapor, steam, or gas” while the bottom part of the character means “uncooked rice” (i.e., a subtle substance such as steam can be produced from a more tangible substance such as uncooked rice) and hence why I featured an image of steamed rice! =)

2) Qi is also in a constant state of flux and can manifest itself in different forms. When it condenses, Qi can transform into a physical shape. In Chinese medicine there are different forms of human Qi, but it is important to remember that there is only one Qi energy that assumes these different forms of energy.

The different forms of Qi:

  • Original Qi – This is Essence (another vital substance), but in the form of Qi. It originates between our two kidneys from “Pre-Heaven Essence” and is continually replenished by “Post-Heaven Essence.” Original Qi is Essence that has transformed into Qi. We will discuss the significance of Essence in a subsequent post.
  • Food Qi – This is the first step in transformation of the food we eat into Qi (energy). Food first enters the stomach where it is processed and then transformed into “Food Qi” by the Qi of the Spleen. Spleen Qi then transports Food Qi to the lungs and heart. In the lungs it is combined with air to form Gathering Qi, and in the heart it is transformed into blood. (Spleen Qi holds the blood in the blood vessels, Kidney-Qi and Bladder-Qi hold urine, and Lung-Qi holds sweat. Spleen Qi also raises the organs by keeping them in our body cavities).
  • Gathering Qi – This Qi nourishes the heart and lungs, controlling respiration, blood, and blood vessels. It controls our speech and the strength of our voices. It sends blood circulation to our extremities. Hence, poor circulation to the extremities and a weak voice signify weak Gathering Qi.
  • True Qi – This is the last step of Qi transformation. Gathering Qi is turned into True Qi by Original Qi. True Qi originates in the lungs like Gathering Qi and is the energy that circulates all through our meridians (or channels) and nourishes all our organs. There are two different forms of True Qi – Nutritive Qi and Defensive Qi.
  • Nutritive Qi or Nourishing Qi nourishes and moistens our internal organs. It flows in our blood vessels and meridians. This Qi is extracted from food and water to regulate and moisten our internal organs. It is yin relative to Defensive Qi because it is nourishing and travels in the interior of our bodies.
  • Defensive Qi – We discussed this last week on my post on The Six External Pathogenic Factors. This Qi protects and defends. It is more yang than Nutritive Qi since it flows in the outer layers of the body, outside our channels. It warms and protects our bodies from exterior pathogenic factors such as Wind, Cold, Heat, and Damp. It warms, moistens and nourishes our skin and muscles, controls the opening and closing of our pores and regulates our body temperature through sweating. Our lungs control Defensive Qi. Those with weak lungs will have weak Defensive Qi, weak immunity and be more susceptible to colds.

Direction of Qi Movement

The Qi of our internal organs move in specific directions in order to function correctly. When Qi is flowing in the right direction, our organs work properly. When Qi moves in the wrong direction, we will see symptoms and even pathology in those specific organs.

Lungs – Our lungs inhale clear Qi (air) and exhale impure Qi (impurities). Lung Qi descends. It directs Qi downwards towards the kidney and bladder. When Lung Qi is rebellious and ascends, this can result in coughing.

Liver – The Liver controls the overall smooth flow of qi in all directions of our body. In general, Liver Qi ascends and counterbalances the descending action of Lung Qi.

Kidneys – Kidneys control transformation of Water. Impure fluids move down while clear Qi (air) moves up. The Lungs and Kidneys also balance each other as Kidney Qi ascends, while Lung Qi descends.

Spleen and Stomach – Spleen Qi ascends to the lungs and heart, while the Stomach sends impure Qi downwards. These two organs balance each other. When Spleen Qi rebels and descends, the resulting symptoms are diarrhea or in more severe cases organ prolapse. When Stomach Qi rebels and ascends, this can result in nausea, belching, or vomiting.

Heart-Kidneys – The Heart Qi, associated with the Fire Element, flows down to meet Kidney Qi, associated with the Water Element. Kidney-Water rises to meet Heart-Fire.

Qi Pathology

Qi pathology happens in four ways:

1) Qi deficient – Spleen, Lung, and Kidney Qi are especially susceptible to Qi deficiency.

Spleen Qi deficiency signs and symptoms: This is caused by poor diet or malnourishment, stress, worry, thinking too much, overeating or overeating sweets. Symptoms include loose stools, fatigue, generalized weakness, pale tongue with a thin white coating, and a weak pulse. Spleen Qi deficiency can cause food sensitivities, indigestion, diarrhea, dysentery, anemia, ulcers, and upper abdominal pain. In more severe cases of Spleen Qi deficiency, we will see prolapse of organs such as hemorrhoids and prolapsed uterus or bladder (see #2 below – Qi Sinking).

Foods that can correct Spleen Qi deficiency:

  • complex carbohydrates such as oats, spelt, and sweet rice, and foods that are sweet and/or pungent (see my post on The Five Flavors for review)
  • carbohydrate-rich vegetables: winter squash, carrots, parsnip, turnip, garbanzo beans, black beans, peas, sweet potatoes, yams, and pumpkin
  • pungent vegetables and spices: onions, leeks, black pepper, ginger, cinnamon, fennel, garlic, nutmeg
  • sweeteners or cooked fruits in small quantities: barley malt, molasses, cherries, and dates
  • with severe deficiency, small quantities of animal products prepared in soup or congee: mackerel, tuna, halibut, beef, beef liver or kidney, chicken, turkey, or lamb. No dairy products except for butter, as dairy products are phlegm producing and further weaken the spleen.

Lung Qi Deficiency Signs and Symptoms: This is usually a chronic problem resulting from chronic long-term lung disease, over-all lack of body Qi, and long-term grief or sorrow (the emotions associated with the lungs). Symptoms are weakness, fatigue, weak voice and limited speech, coughing, and shortness of breath. You may see spontaneous sweating with any kind of physical activity and poor immunity if Defensive Qi is weakened.

Foods that treat Lung Qi deficiency include foods that tonify and support Lung Qi as well as improve the absorption of Food Qi:

  • rice, sweet rice, oats, carrots, mustard greens, sweet potatoes, yams, potatoes, fresh ginger, garlic, molasses, rice syrup, barley malt, and herring; herbs like licorice root
  • foods should be cooked warm; avoid cooling foods or phlegm producing foods like citrus fruits, salt, milk, dairy products, spinach, chard, or seaweed.

Kidney Qi Deficiency Signs and Symptoms: When Kidney Qi is deficient, the kidneys do not have enough energy to control urine and semen. This is caused by either a congenital defect, too much sexual activity, sexual activity at an early age, or uncontrolled fear and anxiety (the emotions associated with the kidney). Typical symptoms are low back pain, weak knees, pale tongue, weak radial pulse, minor cold signs (aversion to cold weather, wanting to drink warm food and drinks, clear urine, watery stools, or thin watery mucus), frequent urination, incontinence, inability to urinate, dribbling urine, and other problems with urinary or seminal control (involuntary emission).

Foods and herbs for Kidney Qi deficiency:

  • parsley, wheat berry, sweet rice; herbs such as rose hips, oyster shell, clam shell, schisandra fruit, and raspberry

2) Qi sinking – Qi that is deficient can sink, resulting in prolapse of organs. As mentioned above, this is mostly from Spleen Qi deficiency, where a severe deficiency will cause prolapse of organs such as the uterus, bladder, and rectum. Since Spleen Qi sinking is a direct result of Spleen Qi deficiency, foods that treat Spleen Qi deficiency will also treat Spleen Qi sinking.

3) Qi stagnant – This happens when Qi does not move and becomes stagnant in your body. Liver Qi stagnates the most. (Liver syndromes which include Liver Qi stagnation require a post of its own which I will discuss soon).

4) Qi rebellious – This is when qi flows in the opposite or wrong direction (e.g. rebellious ascending Stomach Qi results in nausea, belching, and vomiting.)

Ok, here’s what you need to know about Qi:

  • Qi is one of the four Vital Substances in our body and essential to our body’s function. Qi is the substance that gives us life and we cannot live without it!
  • Qi manifests simultaneously on a physical and energetic level, and can manifest in many different forms.
  • Qi transforms, transports, holds, raises, warms, and protects.
  • The different forms of Qi are Original, Food, Gathering, True, Nutritive, and Defensive Qi.
  • Each form of organ Qi moves in a specific direction. When the organ Qi goes against its natural direction, this causes disharmony and disease in that organ.
  • Pathologic Qi is deficient, sinking, stagnant, and rebellious.

I presented a lot of information on Qi today because I would like you to have a solid and thorough understanding of what it is, and why it is essential for life! I will be talking about Qi frequently, so feel free to reference back to this post if you need a refresher. And please don’t hesitate to ask any questions for clarification!

In health and wellness,
Dr Elain

References:

The Foundations of Chinese Medicine by Giovanni Maciocia
Healing with Whole Foods by Paul Pitchford

Photo Credit: Pontus Edenburg www.edenburg.com

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The Six External Pathogenic Factors and Spring Wind

April 21, 2015
Spring Wind

I hope everyone is enjoying their Spring so far! I want to introduce another concept in Chinese medicine that we are all affected by. The six external pathogenic factors refer to environmental or climatic factors that may cause internal disease in our bodies. We are especially susceptible to these climatic changes if they are stronger than usual or if our body’s qi or immune system, is weak compared to the climatic change.

What are the six external pathogenic factors?

The six external causes of disease are:

  • Wind
  • Cold
  • Heat
  • Dampness
  • Dryness
  • Fire

Usually, weather should not have a pathological effect on the body, as our bodies are designed to withstand these changes in weather and protect against them. The exterior of the body, which includes the skin, muscles, nose, and mouth, function to defend the body from these pathogenic factors. The weather causes disease only when our bodies and Defensive Qi are relatively weak compared to the climatic factor. I say “relatively” weak since you don’t have to be extremely weak for the pathogenic factor to invade your body. These exterior factors can invade a relatively strong and healthy person if it is stronger than that person’s body energy at that point in time. Make sense?

A person’s basic constitutional make-up, which is different in everyone, will also determine which exterior pathogenic factor will affect them the most. Someone who is born with a hotter constitution (heat intolerant) will tend to be more affected by heat and dryness, while someone who is more cold intolerant will be more affected by wind and cold.

Each pathogenic factor is also associated with a season during which it is more prevalent. However, pathogenic factors can occur during any season.

  • Wind – Spring
  • Heat – Summer
  • Dryness – Autumn
  • Cold – Winter
  • Dampness – Late Summer
  • Fire – Summer

While these pathogenic factors invade the exterior first, the internal organs may also be affected if there is already weakness and disharmony in that organ system. Once it invades the body, they can easily change their nature. Wind-Cold can easily turn into Heat. Dampness can also generate Heat. Extreme Heat can turn into Wind.

The climatic factors will trigger certain clinical symptoms indicative of that climate. That is, the symptoms your body experiences mimics the pattern and behavior of the pathogenic factor. So not only is the pathogenic factor a “cause” of the disease, but the behavior of it becomes clinically relevant as “patterns of disharmony” in the body that need to be treated. I will give examples to make this easier to understand.

Spring External Wind

Since we are in the heart of spring, I will focus on Wind and its clinical manifestations of the body. Wind is yang in nature and tends to injure the blood and yin of our bodies. Wind can carry other pathogenic factors into the body (i.e., cold can enter the body as Wind-Cold and heat can enter the body as Wind-Heat). Like wind, the symptoms happen quickly and can change rapidly.

The behavior of wind include:

  • rapid onset
  • causes rapid changes in signs and symptoms
  • causes signs and symptoms to move from one area to another area of the body
  • can cause tremors, convulsions, as well as stiffness and paralysis (extreme cases: Parkinson’s and stroke)
  • affects the top part of the body (especially the head and neck)
  • attacks the lungs first
  • affects the skin
  • can cause itching

Wind-Cold Signs and Symptoms – aversion to cold or wind, shivering, sneezing and cough, runny nose with white-watery mucus, no fever or slight fever (seen more with Wind-Heat), severe occipital stiffness and aching, itchy throat, possible sweating (Wind-Cold with a stronger cold component will have no sweating as cold contracts pores, while Wind-Cold with a stronger wind component will have slight sweating, since the pores are open), no thirst. Tongue body color – no change with thin-white coating. Floating-tight pulse.

Wind-Heat Signs and Symptoms – aversion to cold, shivering, sneezing, cough, runny nose with yellow mucus, fever, occipital stiffness and aching, slight sweating, sore throat, swollen tonsils, thirst. Tongue body color – red on the tips or sides, thin-white coating. Floating-rapid pulse.

(Note: Chinese Medicine uses the tongue and pulse to diagnose diseases. Tongue diagnosis is based on the color, shape, coating, and moisture of the tongue while pulse diagnosis is more complex. These subjects will require their own posts!)

Do the signs and symptoms of Wind-Cold and Wind-Heat sound familiar? Yes, it’s the common cold or flu. When these symptoms are not promptly addressed or your body’s constitution and defenses are too weak to fight them, the symptoms can invade deeper into the body and cause more severe respiratory problems such as bronchitis, upper respiratory infections, and pneumonia. From a Western medicine perspective, the common cold is caused by viruses, not bacteria, which is why antibiotics don’t work on a cold.  We have viruses and bacteria in our bodies all the time. It is not until our defenses (“Defensive Qi” or immune system) are compromised that our bodies cannot handle them and we get sick.

Finally, the internal organ that is most affected by Wind in the body is your liver. According to the Five Element Theory, Wind is associated with the season of Spring, the Wood element, and the Liver (more about this later). Exterior Wind can aggravate an already weakened Liver disharmony in the body which can cause stiff neck and headaches. It can also “stir” Blood (since wind moves) stored in the Liver manifesting symptoms of skin rashes that will start suddenly and move all over the body (e.g. urticaria and hives).

Note: I have been talking about “external” wind, from climatic changes. Internal wind, can also cause disease. Some of the clinical manifestations may be similar to external wind, but it is mainly caused by Liver weakness and disharmony (i.e., Liver issues will cause internal wind in your body).

What are practical ways to prevent and treat the common cold?

Wind usually enters the back of the neck under the occiput, while cold enters the bottoms of the feet or the base of the neck. If you are already cold intolerant, it’s important to keep your feet warm on colder days and wear a scarf to protect your neck on windier days. We are most vulnerable to catching colds during season changes, especially winter into spring, or summer into fall. Poor nutrition, lack of sleep, too much alcohol, overwork, and increased stress will also make us more susceptible to getting sick.

When we get sick, supportive care is usually the best way to get through a cold. Increase your fluid intake (water is best) and get plenty of rest and sleep. Adding lemon, ginger, and honey to warm or room temp water can also help wind-cold symptoms, as lemon strengthens your liver, ginger can clear wind and is slightly warming, while honey is soothing to your throat. Try to stay away from cold or iced drinks which can increase phlegm and mucus in your body, aggravating symptoms. It is important to spit out any phlegm (whether you have cold or heat symptoms) since swallowing it back into your system will keep the pathogen in your body longer.

If you are more internally hot, a cold can quickly turn into Wind-Heat in your body. Feeling warm or flushed, fever, sore throat, and yellow mucus are early signs of Wind-Heat in your body. Focus on drinking fluids only (water, dilute juices, and herbal teas such as green or peppermint tea, which can clear heat symptoms – green tea and peppermint have a cooling thermal nature). Eat only if you are truly hungry as fasting for a day can clear heat from your body quickly.

If you are not sweating, it may be helpful to induce sweating to release the pathogen (in both wind-cold and wind-heat). In this case, drink a strong cup of ginger tea followed by a hot bath until your entire body is sweating. Once this happens, stay in for another 5 minutes, dry off completely, cloth yourself completely to avoid exposure to cold, and then take a long nap.

Food, herbs, and supplements for the common cold

For Wind-Cold:

Anti-wind herbs  – ginger, fennel, basil, anise, and valerian – can also use cinnamon, garlic, and onions (which all have detoxifying properties)
Wind-cold reducers: oats, pine nuts, shrimp

For Wind-Heat:

Anti-wind herbs – peppermint and peony root
Wind-heat reducers: celery, mulberry, strawberry

For both Wind-Cold and Wind-Heat:

Wind reducers with a neutral thermal nature – black soybeans, back sesame seed, fresh flax oil, herbs – sage and chamomile
Pears, especially Asian pears, are good for cough and help to moisten the lungs.

Foods to avoid:

Wind aggravators : eggs, crabmeat, and buckwheat

Phlegm producing foods: all dairy products, bananas, sugar, cold drinks, alcohol, rich and heavy foods (phlegm and mucus are perfect breeding grounds for virus and bacteria)

Supplements and Herbs

Vitamin C – A meta-analysis of 29 trials in a total of 11,306 participants found that supplementing with 200mg Vitamin C daily did not reduce the frequency of colds, but did reduce the severity and duration of colds.

Echinacea – Lab and animal studies suggest that echinacea contains substances that enhance our immune systems, relieve pain, reduce inflammation and may have anti-viral and anti-oxidant effects. One study found that of 95 people with early symptoms of cold and flu, those who drank several cups of echinacea tea every day for 5 days felt better sooner than those who drank tea without echinacea. Echinacea has been found to work well with Vitamin C.

Tinctures are the best way to take echinacea since they are better absorbed and easier on the stomach than taking capsules. Drink 1-3ml or (20-90 drops) of a 1:5 tincture, added to warm water or tea, 3-4 times a day.

Goldenseal – This is also used in conjunction with echinacea to treat colds, but because it is cooling, it should only be used with symptoms of wind-heat. The National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH) is currently funding studies on possible anti-bacterial mechanisms and cholesterol lowering effects of goldenseal.

Reishi – This medicinal mushroom has long been known for its immune boosting properties. It should be used more for long-term immune building and prevention rather than treatment of acute colds. (More on this soon.)

Your cold should generally resolve in 7-10 days and you shouldn’t need to take supplements and herbs for longer than this. If your symptoms don’t improve, go see your doctor!

What do you do when you catch a cold?

In health and wellness,
Dr. Elain

References:

The Foundations of Chinese Medicine by Giovanni Maciocia
Healing with Whole Foods by Paul Pitchford

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Fitness, Health for the Body, Herbs, Men's Health, Nutrition, Supplements, Women's Health

10 Things To Do To Stay Heart Healthy and Prevent Heart Disease

April 9, 2015
Avocados to prevent heart disease

The follow-up post to our discussion on cholesterol and heart disease is here! To sum up what we last talked about, cholesterol and saturated fats are not the “bad guys” that they have been portrayed to be in the 80’s and 90’s. In fact, it plays a number of essential roles in our bodies. Low cholesterol levels would not only prevent our bodies from functioning properly, but we could potentially get very sick. Sadly, it has also been used as the scapegoat for heart disease, the leading cause of death in the world. Now, more and more research on people taking statins to lower their cholesterol has refuted this “lipid hypothesis” where dietary fat and cholesterol are the culprit of heart disease. There has already been a movement in Sweden (which started several years ago), where people were getting healthier (and more fit) by stopping their statins and eating high fat and low carbohydrate diets. It is time to relearn what we know about preventing heart disease! Here’s what you need to do to.

1) Eat a heart healthy diet. 

a) A heart healthy diet is high in healthful fats and low in processed carbohydrates and sugars. Healthful fats include:

  • monounsaturated fats like olives and olive oil, avocados, nuts and seeds (macadamia nuts, hazelnuts, pecans, almonds and almond butter, cashews and cashew butter, pistachios). Food fact: Adding one avocado per day to a moderate fat diet lowers LDL more than a moderate fat diet without the avocado.
  • polyunsaturated fats which include omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids. Omega-3’s are turned into anti-inflammatory hormones in our bodies to decrease inflammation. Foods with high levels of omega-3’s include salmon, mackerel, herring, sardines, anchovies, flaxseed, chia seeds, butternut, and walnuts. Food fact: Eating four walnuts a day raises α-Linolenic acid, or ALA, and improves your lipid profile.

A note on omega-6 fatty acids: The essential omega-6 fatty acid that our bodies need in small amounts is linoleic acid, or LA, (not to be confused with α-Linolenic acid, or ALA, the omega-3 precursor of DHA and EPA). I know, I get confused with these terms too. Omega-6’s are turned into pro-inflammatory hormones in our bodies to increase inflammation when we catch a cold or sprain an ankle. This acute inflammatory process is basically turning our immune systems on to fix a problem. So inflammation is necessary! However, problems occur when our bodies are out of balance and our immune systems cannot shut off, resulting in chronic inflammation and autoimmune disease. Ideally, we should be eating an omega-6:omega-3 ratio range of 1:1 to 5:1, but the American diet’s ratio range is more like 20:1 or 50:1. This is because processed and deep-fried foods are rampant with omega-6 fatty acids so we will rarely be deficient in omega 6’s.

Food fact: Nuts, such as walnuts and pine nuts, also contain high concentrations of omega-6 fatty acids. Potato chips contain omega-6’s because they are fried in vegetable oil. You want to eat more of the nuts and less of the chips, because the omega-6 oils from the potato chips have been oxidized and damaged in the frying process, while nuts contain their own antioxidants that protect the oils from damage. Think of oxidation when you peel an apple and it starts to turn brown from being exposed to the air. Make sense?

b) The low-down on saturated fats:

  • Saturated fats or cholesterol laden foods such as egg yolks, fatty meats (including red meat), poultry (chicken with skin), full-fat dairy products (milk, yogurt, cheese), butter, coconuts, coconut oil, and palm oil are not bad for you. In fact, including them in your diet can decrease the risk of heart disease by lowering lipoprotein a, Lp(a), which correlates with a strong risk for heart disease.  Some research has even concluded that it may be to our advantage to include fats in as much as 50% of our diets. (Not ready for that yet? It’s ok, baby steps). It’s not a far-fetched notion since breast milk, the ideal diet for developing infants, has been found to average anywhere from 41-46% saturated fats, based on mothers from different cultures.
  • The saturated fats you do want to stay away from are those produced through hydrogenation of vegetable oils. If the label says “hydrogenated,” then steer clear.

Note on meat and dairy: you want to choose grass-fed beef that is not injected with added hormones or antibiotics rather than corn-fed beef. If you’re going to eat bacon (one of my favorites =) choose bacon that is nitrate free (uncured). And sorry for those of you who love Popeye’s chicken (my husband included), deep frying chicken in trans-fat oils will negate the effects of saturated fats. Also, eating too much dairy has been linked to allergies as well as increased dampness (phlegm and mucus) in your body. Dampness is one of the external pathogenic factors in Chinese medicine that I will discuss soon. If you are someone who tends to have more phlegm and mucus, or is more allergy prone, I would minimize dairy products in your diet.

c) Trans-fats are what you want to avoid:

  • Trans-fats found in partially hydrogenated vegetable oils, shortening, and margarine were previously used by companies in processed and fast foods (for deep frying and re-frying) because they were easy to use, inexpensive to produce, and had long shelf lives. A study published in 2009 found that “in 87,000 U.S. women followed over 26 years, trans-fat intake was linked to increased risk of sudden cardiac death among those who had underlying coronary heart disease. In this group, the women eating the most trans fats were three times more likely to die of cardiac arrest!” Yikes!

d) Increase the amount of organic or locally grown fresh vegetables. A great way to do this is visit your local farmer’s market at least once a week. A recent study done in 2014 showed that eating 5-7 servings of fruits and vegetables per day had a 36% lower risk of dying from any cause.

e) Eat organic foods as much as possible to avoid exposure to harmful agricultural chemicals such as glyphosphate.

f) Avoid genetically modified ingredients (GMO’s) that are detrimental to your health and have been linked to chronic inflammation, heart disease, cancer, and infertility.

g) Decrease sugar and eliminate processed foods. Diets high in sugar and processed foods increase insulin resistance and the risk of diabetes. This is a hard one for me too! I have trouble strictly adhering to this and have been known to eat the occasional Krispy Kreme donut or Egg McMuffin and hashbrowns for breakfast (it just brings back childhood memories for me =).

h) Avoid food or sugary and/or diet drinks loaded with artificial sweeteners such as Equal, Nutrasweet, Splenda, Sweet N Low, and high fructose corn syrup. Opt instead for the stuff nature intended – cane sugar, raw sugar, or raw honey. (Diet drinks have also been known to cause severe neurologic problems).

i) Try eating one third of your food raw and avoid cooking foods at hot temperatures to maintain nutritional integrity of the food for absorption (read more about how the different ways of cooking affect foods here).

j) Drink plenty of water. This article explains very well how to tell if you are not drinking enough water. Signs and symptoms include:

  • Fatigue and/or mood swings
  • Hunger even though you’ve recently eaten
  • Back or joint aches
  • Dull, dry skin and/or pronounced wrinkles
  • Infrequent urination; dark, concentrated urine, and/or constipation

2) Supplement yourself to bridge the nutritional gaps

  • Omega-3 lower triglyceride levels and raise HDL levels. Find a high quality fish, krill, or algae oil (for vegetarians) with high concentrations of DHA (at least 300mg) and EPA (read more on Omega-3’s here).
  • Vitamin D – A recent study in 2014 has shown that supplementing with only 400 I.U.’s of Vitamin D improves serum 25-hydroxyvitamin D levels in menopausal women which improved their lipid profiles (increased HDL, decreased LDL and triglycerides). Supplement with enough Vitamin D to get your levels between 40-60ng/ml (read more on Vitamin D here). See how everything is coming together?
  • Multi-vitamin mineral use has been found to reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease in women. In the study, women, but not men (sorry gentlemen), who took a multi-vitamin mineral supplement for at least three years had a 35% lower risk of dying from heart disease. (This doesn’t mean that men should not be taking one either.) Look for a whole food based multi-vitamin rather than synthetic, for obvious reasons. The brand I like to take is MegaFood. Whatever you choose, make sure your multi-vitamin does not contain sodium selenite or selenate, which have been found to be carcinogenic and genotoxic.
  • Magnesium is a mineral that is important because calcium depends on it to function correctly. In addition, magnesium deficiency may result in many cardiac symptoms such as angina, arrhythmia, and hypertension. I will talk more on how to determine whether you are magnesium deficient and what to do about it.
  • Herbs – Chinese herbs that have been found to improve lipid profiles include Reishi Mushroom and Gynostemma which I will also discuss in more detail later.

3) Exercise Regularly –  Exercising is beneficial for heart disease and diabetes because it can help normalize your blood sugar, insulin, and leptin levels. It releases endorphins, which gives you that high afterwards and is a great stress reliever. It also helps you sleep better, maintain a healthy weight if done correctly, and optimizes brain function.

If you are not used to exercising regularly or are overweight, the best exercise to start with is walking. It is recommended to take 10,000 steps per day, which can easily be tracked using a pedometer. Start slow and begin walking 5-10 min per day if you are out of shape. The key is to be consistent and listen to your body. Don’t push yourself beyond your limitations. As you build endurance you can increase length and intensity of training. Incorporate strength and resistance training with weights. Again, start with lighter weights and increase as you improve your strength. A study has shown that doing 1 set of repetitions (or reps – the number of times any muscle or group of muscles is used) is just as effective as doing 3 sets of reps. Building core strength to prevent back injuries and stretching are also important aspects to add to your fitness program.

Note: Studies show that endurance type exercise, such as marathon running, may damage your heart and increase your cardiac risk. This is because running long distances may increase inflammation and trigger a cardiac event. For those with documented heart disease or heart failure, it is imperative not to overdo it and add extra stress on the heart, as it is already decompensated and weakened.

4) Don’t Smoke – Smoking is all-in-all a bad habit for your health. It can lead to so many devastating diseases such as cancer, heart disease and stroke, which you won’t see until many packs per day later. If you smoke, try to quit and make sure that your diet is in good shape before you quit as health problems from poor diet may actually be worse than smoking.

5) Alcohol in Moderation – This means 1-2 drinks/day for men and 1 drink/day for women. There have been studies done on mice that show the antioxidants from polyphenols, called resveratrol, found in red wine may benefit the heart by protecting them from obesity and diabetes as well as lower LDL. But to get the same dose of resveratrol used in mice in these studies, a person would have to drink 1000 liters of wine every day. Ahem, this is not advisable. My thinking is if you don’t have alcoholic tendencies or liver disease, and a glass of wine a day makes you happy and helps you wind down, do it. (See #10 below)

6) Avoid Statins and also Diabetic Medications – I discussed this in my previous post. If you must take statins, make sure you add at least 100mg (if not 200-300mg) of CoQ-10 to your supplement regimen. Anyone over 40, take the ubiquinol (most reduced form) of Co-Q10 as your body’s ability to convert CoQ-10 to ubiquinol decreases with age. The ubiquinol form is also more bioavailable.

A recent study published in Lancet Diabetes and Endocrinology showed that patients who manage diabetes with drugs that lower glucose or blood sugar, may be at higher risk for heart failure. The study was also presented in March 2015 at the 64th Annual Scientific Session of the American College of Cardiology in San Diego, CA. What?! Looks like I will have to dedicate a different post to this subject.

7) Get enough sleep – I mentioned in the previous post that our brains make cholesterol when we sleep. Sleep is so important to recharge your brain and give your body the rest it needs to replenish itself. A recent study showed that poor sleep may lead to brain shrinkage and may even accelerate Alzheimer’s onset. Here is the most recent recommended sleep guide from the National Sleep Foundation:

Age GroupRecommended # of hours of sleep needed
Newborns (0-3 months)14-17 hours
Infants (4-11 months)12-15 hours
Toddlers (1-2 years)11-14 hours
Preschoolers (3-5)10-13 hours
School-age children (6-13)9-11 hours
Teenagers (14-17)8-10 hours
Young adults (18-25)7-9 hours
Adults (26-64)7-9 hours
Seniors (65 and older)7-8 hours

8) Manage your stress – There is not doubt that emotional stress affects you physically. I have not expounded too much on the mind-body connection yet, but there is a clear correlation between emotional stress and physical disease. This is actually one of the tenets of Chinese Medicine. We are spiritual souls connected to a physical body. Emotional stress from anger, frustration, depression, grief, worry, fear, and anxiety cause mind-body blockages, a disconnect between our spirit and our bodies which can lead to physical disease if not promptly addressed. So besides exercising to relieve stress, what else can you do? See #9

9) Get regular body tune-ups – If you take your car in for tune-ups and oil changes every few thousand miles, why would we think that our bodies don’t need the same maintenance? The tune-ups I get are the treatments that my father and I give to our patients on a regular basis. The treatment we do is a powerful form of acupuncture, which my father coined Neuro-BioEnergetics Treatment or NBE. In short, we combine the Chinese Medicine principle of acupuncture with Western anesthetic injections or trigger point injections. We inject acupuncture points with a diluted solution of anesthetic and clear these mind-body blockages that occur in your body from stress in your life, emotional or physical trauma, eating wrong, not exercising, not sleeping enough, drinking too much, smoking…the list goes on. I will expound on this more in future posts, but you can check out what we do on drtong.com

10) Do something every day that makes you happy or makes you laugh – Finally, to be heart healthy, you have to be happy. Why is this? The emotion associated with the heart in Chinese medicine is love, joy, and happiness. A blockage in these emotions, can also cause blockages in your physical heart. Whatever makes you happy, whether it is watching a comedy, taking a dance class, cooking, or reading a book, try to do it daily. There is something to be said about laughter being the best medicine.

What makes you happy?

In health and wellness,
Dr. Elain

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