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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, Nutrition, Traditional Chinese Medicine

Winter Wellness

January 14, 2016
Winter Berries

Happy New Year everyone! January is flying by and with El Nino we definitely have colder “winter” weather here in So Cal. I want to start the new year off with tips to improve and sustain your health during the coldest of seasons. Anyone out there complaining of perpetual cold hands and feet? What about issues with chronic back pain, fear, low energy or infertility? If so, then your kidneys may be weaker and this is the best time to strengthen them, as your kidney energy is highest during the winter season. Winter is the most yin of all seasons. Remember, yin is darkness, cold, inward, and slow energy (review the principles of yin and yang here). It is the opposite of summer, the most yang time of the year, where things happen quickly and we tend to be more physically active.

To integrate with winter, we should be more receptive and introspective. This is the time to listen to others’ advice and ideas. You may find that someone has something useful to share with you. With the new year, it is also the best time to look at the goals we are setting for the year and how we can better reach them. The yin principle also emphasizes resting, storing and saving, physically, mentally, and even financially. Are you saving for a house? Are you training for a marathon? While slow yin processes predominate during winter, we should still stay active to keep these goals in motion.

Winter Basics

Here are basic concepts based on Chinese medicine/philosophy to remember about the winter season:

  • Five elements: Water
  • Organs: Kidneys and Bladder
  • Sense Organ: Ears/Hearing
  • Tissue: Bones
  • Emotion: Fear and fright
  • Voice Sound: Groaning
  • Fluid Emitted: Urine
  • Paramita (Way to correct imbalance): Keeping moral precepts
  • Enviromental Influence: Cold
  • Development: Storing
  • Color: Black/Dark
  • Taste: Salty
  • Direction: North

Winter and Our Kidneys

The number one thing to do to revitalize and energize our kidneys is to rest. The kidneys are the batteries to our bodies and we are born with a finite amount of energy (review the concept of kidneys and our jing/essence here). This is also why we see animals slowing down by hibernating through the winter. They rest, save, and store their energy so they have enough to work and gather during the warmer months. We can also “hibernate” by looking inward through meditating and writing (i.e. doing less physical exertion and using our mental skills more).

The kidney channel originates at the bottom of our feet so if you are prone to cold feet (literally and figuratively) wearing socks and or slippers to keep your feet warm will help strengthen your kidneys. Figuratively, those who lack motivation or get “cold feet” also have weaker kidneys as your kidneys dictate motivation and courage.

Our bones are most affected by the health of our kidneys, so it’s important to ensure we are getting enough Vitamin D (for absorption of calcium) and magnesium. Our jing and essence become depleted with prolonged stress, working long hours, poor sleep, and excessive drug and alcohol use. Warm soups and bone broths are great to eat during winter to ensure strong bones and to restore our energy.

Winter Foods and Preparation

Foods should be cooked longer, at lower temperatures and with less water during winter. This way, we are able to retain the nutrients in our foods. Warm soups, whole grains, and roasted nuts (especially almonds and walnuts – great for your cholesterol!) are perfect to eat on cold days. Avoid cold and raw salads as our goal is to warm the body’s core. Dried foods, dark beans, seaweeds, and steamed winter greens strengthen the kidneys in the winter.

Flavors for Winter

Salty and bitter foods are appropriate to eat during the winter (if you have high blood pressure then salty foods should be limited). Salty and bitter foods promote a sinking and centering quality which helps our body’s capacity to store nutrients. They help cool the outside of our body while warming the core.

Bitter foods are usually not completely bitter, but have a component of bitterness combined with other flavors (review the five flavors here). Bitter foods include lettuce, watercress, endive, turnip, celery, asparagus, alfalfa, carrot top, rye, oats, quinoa, and amaranth. Bitter flavors are protective on some foods such as citrus peels and the outermost leaves of cabbage.

Salty foods include miso, soy sauce, seaweeds, salt, millet, and barley. Salt is usually over-represented in the western diet while bitter flavors are under-used. I typically recommend less salt in foods as excess salt can actually harm the kidneys and bladder causing more internal coldness. For those who are still cold after eating salty and bitter flavors, I suggest adding warming foods to your diet. See the photo gallery below for common warming foods! Happy winter!

In health and wellness,

Dr Elain

References:

Healing with Whole Foods by Paul Pitchford

 

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Fall Season

November 30, 2015
Fall Season

Hi everyone! I hope that you all enjoyed your Thanksgiving weekend! The weather here in Southern California seemed to bypass the fall season and transition straight from summer to winter the past few weeks. I want to go over some pertinent information on the fall season and what foods to eat as the weather gets colder.

The fall season is the season of harvest and abundance. It is the time to reap the rewards of the efforts we put in during spring and summer. While the energy of spring and summer was yang, dispersing and highly energetic, fall is a yin season, where we pull inward and gather together on all levels. My previous post on Indian or Late Summer talked about the point of transition between summer and fall from yang to yin, where we go from the expansive growth of spring and summer to the inward, cooler, fall and winter seasons. During the fall and winter is when we should store up on fuel, food, and warm clothing. It is a time to study and plan for the stillness of winter. Even everything in nature contracts and moves inward and downward. We witness the leaves and fruit on trees fall, tree sap travels into their roots, and seeds dry. Grass loses their deep green color and turn into a lighter and drier shade.

Fall/Autumn Basics

Here are basic concepts based on Chinese medicine/philosophy to remember about the fall season:

  • Five elements: Metal
  • Organs: Lungs and Large Intestine
  • Sense Organ: Nose/Smell
  • Tissue: Skin and Hair
  • Emotion: Grief and Melancholy
  • Voice Sound: Weeping
  • Fluid Emitted: Mucus
  • Paramita (Way to correct imbalance): Vigor
  • Enviromental Influence: Dryness
  • Development: Harvest
  • Color: White
  • Taste: Pungent
  • Direction: West

Food Preparation

Food preparation in the autumn season should reflect the abundant but contracting nature of the season. Foods should be astringent (or more drying – examples coming up) but should also contain heartier flavors and foods to supply our bodies with more energy required by a cooler season. Gathering together to eat for Thanksgiving and the Holiday season is perfect for this time of year. There is focused preparation of heavier foods with thicker sauces so that we can assimilate and absorb all the nutrients to keep us warm. Baking and sauteeing is also great to do during this time as concentrated foods thicken the blood for cooler weather.

Fall is the time to organize the open and sometimes scattered energy of the previous spring and summer seasons. As the season contracts inward, our bodies should also contract inward physically and mentally, through focus and concentration, by adding more sour flavored foods. Sour foods include sourdough bread, sauerkraut, olives, pickles, leeks, vinegar, cheese, yogurt, lemons, limes, grapefruit and sour varieties of apples, plums, and grapes. Be careful with extremely sour foods, since small amounts can have a strong effect.

Add astringent foods such as white potatoes, any type of beans, green apples, grapes, dry red wine, black, white, and green tea, green bananas, coriander, pomegranate, cranberries, blueberries, raspberries, bay leaf, basil, rosemary and nutmeg. Use astringent foods with caution if you have a dry condition (see below).

Cook with less water, at lower heats, and for longer periods of time. Bitter and salty flavors also move energy inward and downward. These flavors should be gradually introduced as Fall transitions into Winter.

Dry Weather

The fall season is associated with dry weather and we are more susceptible to dry conditions in our bodies during this time. The organ that is most susceptible to dryness is our lungs as it is the only organ in contact with our exterior environment. Symptoms of dryness in the body include thirst, dryness of the skin, nose, lips, and throat, and itchiness as well. Those who are chronically dry tend to have a thin body type.

To combat the dry weather, we can treat dryness in the body during any season by eating foods that moisten our bodies such as spinach, barley, millet, pears, apples, persimmons, seaweed, almonds, pine nuts, peanuts, sesame seeds, almonds, peanuts, honey, barley malt, milk and dairy products, eggs, clam, crab, oyster, mussel, herring, and pork. Using salt sparingly in cooking also moistens dryness.

Dairy and animal products are usually more appropriate for those who are dry and also weak, frail, and with deficiency symptoms. Dry conditions are frequently a result of inadequate yin fluids in the body (review information on yin (body) fluids here), so remedies that nourish the yin will also treat dryness. If you are dry use bitter, aromatic, and/or warming foods with caution as these foods, which include a majority of spices and herbs, dry the body.

Next up, I will be talking about how to keep our Lungs healthy during the colder climates. Enjoy the holiday season!

In health and wellness,

Dr Elain

References:

Healing with Whole Foods by Paul Pitchford

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Tips to Strengthen and Stabilize Your Digestion (the Earth Element)

October 1, 2015
Pumpkin (Winter Squash) excellent for digestion@

Happy October! I hope everyone is having a great week! I’ve been focusing on our digestion and how the spleen-pancreas and stomach work together to digest and transform what we eat into usable energy (i.e., qi, blood, and fluids – read here and here to review these concepts). Our digestive systems thrive on an intricate balance between extremes. In order for plants to grow and thrive, the earth that nourishes them cannot be too wet or too dry, too hot or too cold. Our digestion works on the same principle. A healthy digestive system has just enough fluid and enzymes to digest properly (it is not too damp/wet or too dry). Our stomachs are the strongest when its internal environment is not too cold or too hot. Like the late summer season and the earth element, our digestion represents being balanced and centered. So what do we do when our digestion goes out of balance? Here are some tips to strengthen and stabilize your digestion.

1) Healthy eating habits = healthy digestion

Our digestive systems become weak with poor eating habits. Eating too quickly, skipping meals, eating too late at night, overeating, eating too many rich or sweet foods, eating when you are angry or stressed, and eating with people you don’t like, all contribute to poor digestion. If you are guilty of any of these habits, the best way to begin healthier eating habits is to first set regular times of the day to eat, make sure to chew your food enough for easier assimilation, and eat food that is at least moderately well-cooked (not too raw and too overcooked).

2) Eat warm foods (thermal nature and temperature wise)

Foods that strengthen digestion are generally either warming or neutral in thermal nature. Cold foods and food cold in temperature weaken digestion. The rule of thumb is to choose foods that are not too warming or too cooling but in between and balanced in nature. Are you getting the theme here? Balance, balance, balance!!!

The spleen-pancreas doesn’t like the cold. Foods that are cold in temperature (raw and chilled foods) weaken digestion (i.e., cold foods “extinguish [or put out] digestive fire”) requiring more digestive energy to secrete enzymes and absorb nutrients. The raw food diet is not for everyone. If your digestion is weak, it’s best to moderately warm/cook food to make digestion easier. Be careful not to overcook as this can leech out nutrients. Also, drinking iced drinks expands the stomach, and if done chronically, will injure the digestive system in the long run.

3) Eat sweet flavored foods

Foods with sweet flavor (review The Five Flavors here)  strengthen digestion. I am talking about full sweet (real whole foods) and not empty sweets (e.g, refined foods usually full of sugar like cookies, cake, ice cream, candy, etc). The sweet flavor is abundant in our foods because it is the core or central food for our bodies and digestion.

  • Begin with complex carbohydrates – Carbohydrate rich vegetables include winter squash (pumpkin, butternut, acorn, spaghetti to name a few), carrots, rutabaga, parsnip, turnips, garbanzo beans, black beans, peas, sweet potato, and yams. Avoid simple carbohydrates such as sugar, refined grains, flour, pasta, and white rice. Simple carbs are the carbs you want to “cut”, as they break down fast in the body, causing blood sugar spikes. The more complex the carb, the slower it takes the body to breakdown, which helps to stabilize blood sugar.
  • Whole grains all have a sweet flavor. Again, eat grains that are neutral or warming in thermal nature such as buckwheat, rice (long grain, short grain, black, brown, or red rice), quinoa, millet, spelt and amaranth.
  • Root vegetables are neutral to warming in nature and very sweet like beets, carrots, parsnips, yams, sweet potatoes, and potatoes. Some are also complex carbs also mentioned above.
  • Lentils and legumes (all beans and peas included) are sweet and complex carbohydrates.
  • Whole fruit are full sweets with varying degrees of sour and bitter (as opposed to fruit juices which tend to be more empty sweet without intact fiber). Most fruits are more cooling to neutral in nature. Peaches are slightly more warming. Berries tend to be sweet and sour (which is also good for the liver), while apples are sweet and slightly sour, and bananas are sweet.
  • Add small amounts of sweeteners and cooked fruits like barley malt, molasses, cherries, and dates to help stimulate digestion.
  • Meats, (yes meat!) are sweet and most have a warming thermal nature. Use beef chicken, turkey or lamb, with minimal seasoning in soup or congee (rice and water) especially if you are having GI issues (nausea, vomiting, diarrhea). This helps to soothe digestion. Always remember to chew meat more thoroughly to aid digestion. Seafood such as mackerel, tuna, halibut and anchovies are also good sweet sources of protein.
  • Nuts and seeds are all sweet and neutral to warming in nature. They are also very good for heart health (review here).

3) Use pungent vegetables and spices moderately in your diet

Add onion, leek, black pepper, ginger, cinnamon, fennel, garlic, and nutmeg in your dishes. The pungent veggies all have a warming thermal nature that warms the stomach, strengthens digestion, and clears phlegm. You will see a lot of Chinese restaurants use garlic and ginger with their green vegetable dishes to balance out the cold of the veggies. The key word is use them moderately.

  • Warming pungents include onions, cabbage, brussel sprouts, mustard greens, bell peppers and spices like lavender, rosemary, oregano, basil, tarragon, and sage.
  • Some root veggies are neutral pungents like sweet potato, taro, and turnips.
  • Garlic and horseradish are hot so use sparingly as the stomach doesn’t like to be too hot or dry. Limit hot and spicy foods as well.

4) Avoid damp and phlegm forming foods

As mentioned before too much raw, cold, sweet, or mucus-forming foods cause dampness. Excess raw food including too much raw fruits, veggies, sprouts, and juices can cause a thin, watery mucus or dampness. Too much cold food (in temperature) will have a similar effect. Food should normally be room temp or warmer.

Other factors that increase dampness in the body:

  • Highly refined/processed or chemically treated foods
  • Too many ingredients in a meal (poor food combining)
  • Late-night eating and overeating
  • Foods that cause dampness and form phlegm include anything with refined sugar, refined carbohydrates, excess gluten, dairy products, cheese, greasy and fried foods. Damp foods cause the digestive system to be sluggish and slow. Too much dampness in the system also affects our minds, causing decreased mental clarity.

Foods that can dry dampness include rye, amaranth, corn, aduki beans, celery, lettuce, pumpkin, scallion, alfalfa, turnip, kolhrabi, white pepper, and raw honey. The one dairy product that will not usually contribute to dampness in the body is raw goat’s milk.

5) Exercise

The digestive system and earth element do not like to be inactive. In fact, inactivity will injure digestion in the long run. Keep active and moving so that your digestion keeps active and moving. Tailor your exercise regimen to fit your needs. Whether you like walking, jogging, swimming, kick-boxing, dancing, yoga, or sports, staying active will ensure your digestion is in good shape!

6) Supplement yourself

One of my must-have daily supplements is an effective pro-biotic to ensure the healthy flora (bacteria) of your digestive system is is not deficient. This is not only important for digestion but your immune health as well. Digestive enzymes may also be necessary for those who tend to have weaker digestive systems. I will focus more on digestive supplements in later posts.

Have a great weekend!

In health and wellness,

Dr Elain

References:

Healing with Whole Foods by Paul Pitchford
The New Whole Foods Encyclopedia by Rebecca Wood

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The Digestive System and the Earth Element

September 28, 2015
Earth Element

Happy Monday! Did everyone enjoy their weekend and get to see the super blood moon eclipse yesterday? It was quite a site. Last week, I started talking about our digestive systems, represented by our spleen-pancreas-stomach and the earth element. Our gastrointestinal systems are a central part of our overall health and well-being as this is the system that transforms what we take into our bodies into usable energy, namely qi. Our digestion equates to the earth element (e.g. the soil/earth absorbs nutrients, minerals, and water for plants to grow and thrive, as our digestive systems absorb and transform nutrients from food and water for our bodies to thrive). When our digestion does not function and absorb correctly, our physical bodies cannot be nourished, and as a result, our emotional and mental health also suffers. Let’s take a look at some of the things that affect our digestion and the earth element.

Clarification of the Spleen-Pancreas as our Digestive System

Before I move any further, I need to clarify the “spleen” as part of the digestive system. This was mistranslated in the Chinese texts as the spleen actually refers to the pancreas in digestion. The texts have continued to use the term Spleen and Stomach to represent the digestive system for continuity, but the spleen as we define it in modern physiology is a part of liver function since, like the liver, it deals with blood-storage. Our actual spleen is seen as a separate lobe of the liver in Chinese Medicine, as it was traditionally thought that the liver was on both sides of our bodies. So when I ever talk about the Spleen in a Chinese medicine context, I am referring to the pancreas. While the Liver, in Chinese medicine, is the liver and spleen. Make sense?

The spleen-pancreas is in charge of extracting qi energy and other nourishment from food in our digestive tract. Most intestinal herbal remedies are directed towards the spleen-pancreas since the pancreas secretes digestive enzymes into the intestines for proper nutrient absorption. The healthier the pancreas, the better the quantity and strength of the enzymes, which directly affects how well nutrients are absorbed in our small intestines.

Spleen-Pancreas Syndromes – Spleen Qi Deficiency, Spleen Yang Deficiency or Deficient Digestive Fire

The most common digestive syndrome is Spleen Qi Deficiency. When our Spleen Qi (or Pancreas Qi) is weak, we generally see symptoms of loose stools, general weakness, fatigue, and a pale tongue with a thin white coating. Spleen Qi deficiency can cause food sensitivities (allergies), indigestion, anemia, chronic diarrhea, ulcers, and pain in the upper abdomen.

Additionally, those with weak spleen qi may also suffer from weak limbs and muscles, as spleen qi, also called “middle Qi”, moves to the periphery of the body to nourish our arms and legs. The stronger our spleen qi, the stronger our arms, legs, and muscles are. The middle qi also holds our internal organs in place, so prolapses like hemorrhoids, prolapsed uterus, kidney, stomach or intestines are often caused by inadequate amounts of middle qi.

If spleen qi deficiency continues to worsen, it can progress into Spleen Yang Deficiency or “deficient digestive fire”. Deficient digestive fire will manifest as coldness or cold symptoms such as watery stools (rather than loose), aversion to cold weather, cold hands and feet (sound familiar?), clear urine, weight gain, prolapse of organs, a pale complexion, and a pale tongue that is swollen, wet, with teeth marks on the sides (teeth marks on the tongue are very common especially in women or those who think or worry too much).

Dampness, Mucus, and Bacteria

Dampness is a yin disorder defined by overly wet or moist conditions in the body. This concept consolidates many separate mucous, bacterial, viral, and yeast imbalances in the body. It may be caused by the environment we are in or due to poor diet or internal organ weakness. Excess dampness in any of our body systems manifest as:

1) Mucoid deposits or moist accumulations like edema, cysts, tumors, and cancers.

2) An overgrowth of yeasts, viruses, putrefactive bacteria, amoebas, or parasites.

The two conditions above are related since almost all chronic mucous conditions are a result of over-proliferation of microorganisms. Dampness can invade the joints and our acupuncture meridians. When this happens, it is difficult to move, numbness may appear, and when there is pain, it is localized in a one position (i.e., arthritis).

When dampness invades the spleen-pancreas or the intestines and digestive system in general, you will see feelings of heaviness (especially in the head), no appetite, abdominal bloating, watery stools with a thick tongue coating (yellow or white). Digestive dampness is caused by the deficient qi, yang, and fire syndromes discussed above.

The earth element hates dampness/wetness and coldness as this bogs us down (hence the feeling of heaviness) making us slow and sluggish hindering our focus and concentration. This is why you may see excessive weight gain in those with too much dampness in their bodies, digestive problems, or sugar imbalances (as seen in diabetes). Dampness manifests on a spectrum from mild dampness such as water retention to more extreme dampness such as phlegm, cysts, and in severe cases masses and tumors. Damp syndromes include edema, cough with phlegm, rheumatic conditions or arthritis, diabetes, sinus infections, yeast, ADD/ADHD, and chronic pain conditions.

Stomach Syndromes

While the spleen-pancreas deals with proper absorption of nutrients, the Stomach digests our food or literally “rots and ripens” what we eat. Our stomachs need Yin energy in the form of enzymes and fluids in order to digest. The stomach does not like to be hot or dry (as the earth also does not like to be hot or dry), and this happens when we eat too many hot and spicy foods causing us to become dehydrated. At the same time, it is important not to overwhelm the stomach with too much fluids either as this will dilute the gastric enzymes needed to churn and digest food. (Remember how I talked about late summer and the earth element last week as a time and element of balance? This is the same concept. The earth cannot be too wet or too dry otherwise the roots of vegetation will either rot from too much water or dry up from insufficient water. The same holds for our digestive systems. There has to be a proper balance of fluids and enzymes for our bodies to digest and be healthy.)

The stomach syndromes most commonly seen are:

Stomach Yin deficiency – This will manifest as GERD (gastro-esophageal reflux disease), ulcers, or heartburn. When there are insufficient enzymes to digest, our food regurgitates back up our esophagus.

Stomach Qi deficiency – This manifests as slow digestion, gas, bloating, and a full sensation in the epigastric or upper stomach region. Those who have weak digestion will often feel bloated and pre-maturely full in the stomach. Anyone have this issue?

Phlegm fire – This is a more severe stomach condition seen in those with prolonged or chronic stomach qi and yin deficiency. Without enough qi to digest, phlegm forms. With insufficient yin or fluids, fire or dryness results. One will see more mental and emotional problems like manic personalities (similarly seen in Heart-Fire conditions – review Heart Fire here).

What you need to know:

  • Our digestive system comprises of the spleen-pancreas (or pancreas) and stomach.
  • The earth element represents our digestion and needs to be in constant balance in order to work properly. Too much wetness/fluids will bog digestion down, while too much dryness will prevent digestion of foods.
  • The spleen-pancreas does not like the dampness or coldness.
  • The stomach does not like heat or dryness.
  • Spleen-pancreas syndromes include qi deficiency, yang deficiency, and deficient fire.
  • Stomach syndromes include qi deficiency, yin deficiency, and phlegm fire.

Up next, I’ll talk about tips on how to keep our digestive systems healthy and happy!

In health and wellness,

Dr Elain

References:

Healing with Whole Foods by Paul Pitchford

Contact Dr. Elain
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Eastern Medicine & Natural Healing, Health for the Body, Nutrition, Traditional Chinese Medicine

Summer to Fall Transition – Late Summer

September 23, 2015
Late Summer

Hi everyone! I hope that you all had a fantastic summer! I think I might have enjoyed my summer a little too much, putting this blog on a little vacation =). Well, I’m back! Today technically marks the first day of fall, but the weather is still quite hot and humid in a lot of areas. What we are experiencing are the effects of “late summer” or “Indian summer”. Some Chinese texts say that late summer is the last month of summer from August to September. Other definitions of Indian summer state it is a period of unseasonably warm, sometimes dry, weather that occurs in autumn especially in the Northern Hemisphere (from late September to mid-November).

The important thing to remember about this time is that it is a point of transition from yang to yin, where we go from the expansive growth of spring and summer to the inward, cooler, fall and winter seasons. This season also represents the interchange of ALL seasons –  the week before and after the equinox and solstice of each of the four main seasons. It is a time of balance which buffers the shift from one season to the next (i.e., the transition from spring – summer, summer – fall, fall – winter, winter – spring, are all referred to as “late summer”). Each seasonal transition is an important time to center and balance ourselves. Nothing in extremes should be done during this time (e.g. in your foods – don’t eat foods that are too hot or too cold but just enough cooling or heating foods to balance our bodies out). Your energy should be focused on unity, harmony, moderation, and finding common ground between extremes (not only in the foods you eat, but in every aspect of your life – work, family, projects etc). It is a time of self-reflection and calmness in the midst of the hustle and bustle of life.

Late Summer Basics

The following are basic concepts to remember about the Late Summer Season:

  • Five elements: Earth
  • Organs: Spleen-Pancreas and Stomach
  • Sense Organ: Mouth/Taste
  • Tissue: Muscles and Flesh
  • Emotion: Worry and Anxiety
  • Voice Sound: Singing
  • Fluid Emitted: Saliva
  • Paramita (Way to correct imbalance): Giving
  • Enviromental Influence: Dampness
  • Development: Transformation
  • Color: Yellow
  • Taste: Sweet
  • Direction: Middle

Food Preparation

To acclimate to the changes in seasons, we should choose foods that harmonize and strengthen our core center, or our digestive systems represented by our stomach and spleen in Chinese medicine (review stomach and spleen qi function here). These foods include mildly sweet foods, foods that are yellow or golden color, round shaped foods, or foods that harmonize our digestion. They include millet, corn, carrots, cabbage, garbanzo beans, squash, potatoes, string beans, yams, tofu, sweet potatoes, sweet rice, rice, amaranth, peas, chestnuts, apricots, and cantaloupe. These are all great foods to eat when you are having GI symptoms/upset, stomach issues or problems digesting in general.

To reflect this time of moderation, prepare foods simply with minimal amounts of seasonings and mild taste. Meals can be simple without too many ingredients. It is a time to really purify and cleanse our bodies from over-eating, over-drinking, or over doing anything.

Our Digestive System and Earth Element

The element associated with late summer is the Earth Element (remember Spring is associated with Wind while Summer is associated with Fire). The Earth Element is intrinsically connected to our digestive systems or the spleen-pancreas and stomach. These organs are responsible for the digestion and distribution of food and nutrients to our bodies. Our digestion represents the core and center of our bodies because it literally IS in the center of our bodies. When these organs are balanced and healthy we are also balanced and healthy. We will also tend to be more hard-working, practical, and responsible. Our appetites are healthy and digestion is good. Emotionally, we are able to give and receive appropriately (i.e. we are not overly stingly or overly generous). Our muscles will be strong and we have the ability to think clearly.

When the earth element and our digestion is out of balance then we will see chronic fatigue, physical and mental stagnation, as well as “stuck” behavior which inhibits our creativity. We will tend to worry and have more anxiety than usual. Digestion will be weak along with nausea, poor appetite, abdominal bloating, and loose stools. Those with poor digestion also tend to have weight problems as well (either underweight or overweight – since the center is not balanced). Common diseases seen with weak digestion include diabetes, candida, fibromyalgia, IBS (Irritable Bowel Syndrome), MS, and organ prolapse. I will be focusing more on our stomach and digestion and how to keep our guts healthy. We will see how important a healthy digestive system is for not only overall health but our immune systems as well.

For now, remember to focus on balance, centering yourselves, and staying grounded physically, mentally, and emotionally!

In health and wellness,

Dr. Elain

References: Healing with Whole Foods by Paul Pitchford

 

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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, Nutrition, Traditional Chinese Medicine

Tips to Stay Healthy During Summer

June 22, 2015
Bright Summer Day

Happy summer everyone! I apologize for the lack of blog posts lately. Work has been super busy, which hasn’t allowed me any time to blog, but I promise I have a lot of practical and useful information coming your way! Summer is finally here and I wanted to share some tips on how to stay healthy during the summer season.

Summer Basics

Summer, like spring, is also a yang season and represents tremendous abundance, energy, and growth. It is a time for activity, movement, expansion and creativity. Nature also reflects this activity where plants continue to grow from the spring season and flowers are blooming more than ever. It is a light and bright season. To keep in harmony with the summer season, it is still important to wake early, but it is also a season where you can go to bed later. The days are longer, giving us more time to get things done. It is really a time to work, play, travel, and be happy!

With regards to the five elements (wood, fire, earth, metal, and water), summer is represented by the fire element. Do you remember which element pairs with Spring? (Read here to review Spring basics.) The fire element governs the heart and small intestine. It also controls our ability to feel love and joy. When the heart is in harmony and our emotions are in balance, this joy should translate to an overall enthusiasm for life. However, an excess of the fire element and an excess of joy can cause restlessness and hyperexcitability, while a deficiency in fire may cause decreased joy and even apathy or depression. In Chinese medicine, the heart not only regulates blood circulation but controls our consciousness, spirit, sleep, memory, and houses the mind. Hence, it is also very much related to the nervous system and brain. We will talk more about how to tell if your fire element and heart is in balance.

The following are basic concepts to remember about the Summer Season:

  • Five elements: Fire
  • Organs: Heart/Mind and Small Intestine
  • Sense Organ: Tongue/Speech
  • Tissue: Blood vessels
  • Emotion: Joy
  • Voice Sound: Laughing
  • Fluid Emitted: Sweat
  • Paramita (Way to correct imbalance): Wisdom and Concentration
  • Enviromental Influence: Heat*
  • Development: Growth
  • Color: Red
  • Taste: Bitter
  • Direction: South

*Note: We have discussed the external pathogenic factor of wind associated with Spring here, but we have not talked about Summer heat yet. Summer heat in the body is caused by extreme heat during this season that can later manifest into heat signs and symptoms in the body.

Summer Foods and Preparation

Foods to cook during summer should be brightly colored fruits and veggies. Cooking should be light and short while regularly adding a small amount of spicy and pungent flavors to the food. Spices and pungent flavors can induce sweating, which help to cool the body, especially if you are prone to being hot. The key is not to overdo it with the spicy foods. In the same vein, don’t eat too many cold foods either as it weakens the digestive organs and causes contraction which can hold in sweat and heat. Similar to spring, foods should be sauteed as quickly as possible and also steamed and simmered in a short amount of time.

When it is really hot, the best cooling fresh foods to eat are salads, sprouts, fruit, and cucumber. Cooling teas include chrysanthemum, mint, and chamomile, while common cooling fruits are watermelon, apples, lemons, and limes. As I mentioned above, dispersing hot-flavored spices are also considered appropriate for hot weather, as long as you don’t overdo it. While the initial effect is to increase warmth in the body, the spices should ultimately bring body heat to the surface (our skin) to disperse as sweat. Examples of dispersing hot foods to include in the diet are red and green chili peppers, cayenne red pepper, fresh (and not dried) ginger, horseradish, and black pepper. Again, I can’t stress enough, eating too many dispersing foods will result in body weakness and actually a loss of yang, decreasing your ability to stay warm during the cooler seasons. This is why hot and spicy foods should usually be added in smaller quantities.

It’s best to minimize or avoid heavy foods during hot summer days as this can cause sluggishness. These foods include excess meats, eggs, nuts, seeds, and grains. In general eating less and eating light on a hot, bright summer day will keep you healthy and energized through the season.

Cooling fruits, veggies, and herbs to keep in mind during the summer:

  • Apples
  • Apricot
  • Cantaloupe
  • Lemons/LImes
  • Orange
  • Peach
  • Watermelon
  • Asparagus
  • Bamboo
  • Bok choy
  • Broccoli
  • Chinese cabbage
  • Corn
  • Cucumber
  • Mung Beans
  • Seaweed
  • Snow peas
  • Spinach
  • Sprouts
  • Summer squash
  • Watercress
  • White Mushroom
  • Cilantro
  • Dill
  • Mint
  • Peppermint

Summary of tips for the summer season:

  • Wake up early.
  • Rest in the middle of the day.
  • Go to bed later in the evening.
  • Stay hydrated with water. Drinking water infused with lemon and cucumber throughout the day will keep you cool.
  • Add pungent flavors to your diet.
  • Eat in moderation as overeating, especially during the hot weather can cause indigestion and sluggishness.
  • Avoid heavy, greasy foods such as dairy and fried foods.
  • Try not to get angry or irritated over things and instead stay calm and even-tempered. (Anger and frustration can also increase heat and stagnation in your body).

Enjoy your summer!

In health and wellness,
Dr Elain

References:

Healing with Whole Foods by Paul Pitchford

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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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