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Chinese Medicine

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


Healing with Whole Foods by Paul Pitchford


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

Autumn and the Metal Element

December 17, 2015
The Metal Element

Happy Holidays! I want to continue our discussion on the fall season and how the energy of this time should guide you in your everyday lives. Autumn is represented by the metal element. Precious metals such as gold and silver reflect the pure and valuable substances, whether physical or emotional, in our lives. The metal element symbolizes order, organization, setting limits, and protecting boundaries. It’s a time to finish those projects you started during the spring and summer and harvest the rewards (or “medals”) of your hard work. While spring and summer was a time to be outdoors and play in an external environment, we should turn inwards and inside during the fall and winter seasons. The organs most affected during this season are our lungs and large intestine, or colon. The energy of the lung and large intestine are also at its peak during autumn.

Why the lungs and large intestine?

The lungs and large intestine may seem like two arbitrary organs to pair together. However, the rationale behind this is quite logical. The lungs are associated with clear thinking and communication (since we use our lungs to speak), openness to new ideas, and the ability to let go and experience happiness. The lungs are responsible for taking in the new and pure. This is physically represented by breathing in the crisp clean autumn air, filling it with the oxygen we need to think clearly and for our bodies to function properly. On the other end, the large intestine or colon is in charge of getting rid of waste. It is the last cycle of digestion that “lets go” of what our bodies don’t need, releasing it out of our system and keeping only what is vital for us to function. But we not only need to get rid of the physical garbage in our body, but our mental and emotional garbage as well. When we are mentally and emotionally constipated, there is no room to take in the new and pure experiences that surround us. Does it make sense now?

Holding on to or letting go of things can be expressed in terms of emotional attachment. Emotionally, autumn is a good time to internally reflect on what we may be hanging on to physically and mentally that we don’t need in our lives anymore. Are you still holding a grudge from years ago that you can’t seem to let go? Are you still grieving over the loss of a loved one or a failed relationship? Are you keeping those clothes and shoes in your closet that you haven’t worn in years?  This is the best time to let go of any past negativity or sadness in your life and donate the things in your home that you haven’t used in years. We can only absorb and receive what is new and useful (the pure) if we make room by letting go of the old or donating to others more in need.

Resolving Grief and Sadness

The emotion associated with autumn and the metal element is grief and sadness. Grief that is properly expressed and resolved actually strengthens us physically and emotionally while repressed grief and sadness injures our lungs, interfering with their function of dispersing nutrients and energy throughout our bodies. Those with healthy lungs have a balanced sense of holding onto their principles and keeping commitments while also knowing when to let go of something, whether it be a physical possession or emotional attachment. In relationships, if your lungs are healthy, you will know when you need to let go (if the relationship is not healthy for you) and process the associated grief and sadness appropriately. On the other hand, those with weak lungs have a difficult time processing grief and attempt to stifle it, which results in never completely letting go. Simultaneously, they can also be unorganized and either lose their things easily or hold on their belongings with unreasonable attachment. Those who have lung and colon problems such as bronchitis, shortness of breath, cough, allergies, nasal congestion, emphysema, frequent colds and sore throat, constipation, diarrhea, spastic colon, and abdominal pain usually have unresolved sadness that needs to be cleared. Recognizing and sharing these feelings with others is a good way to start dissipating these emotions.  So the key is not to ignore your sadness, but deal with it in a healthy way to maintain emotional balance.

Restoring your metal and keeping your lungs healthy

Here’s what you need to do to keep your metal element and lungs healthy this fall and winter season.

1) Breathe deep – The best way to strengthen your lungs is to breathe deeply. When our brains and bodies don’t get the oxygen it needs, our energy, memory, and immune system are affected.

2) Let go of negativity or any past grudges – It’s always good to let go of negativity, but the fall season is the best time to process and deal with it since the lung and large intestine energy is high during this time.

3) Clean, reorganize, and donate – The fall season is a time to de-clutter your home and get rid of things you don’t need. Letting go of the old allows room for the new, whether it be physical possessions or emotional experiences.

4) Keep your neck and chest warm – The weather during this season is cold and windy, so the lungs will be especially susceptible to this climate and getting sick. It is the only organ in our bodies that is directly in contact with our outside environment so it’s important to keep them strong during the cold weather. I always keep an extra scarf in my car to keep my neck warm.

5) Take walks outside – Walking outside during the fall season is a great way for our lungs to take in the clean air as well as get exercise.

6) I talked a lot about what types of foods to eat during the fall season in my last post (read more about it here.) To recap, eat more warming foods and less cooling or raw foods to combat the cold weather. Our digestive and immune systems need to be strong for the colder months so warming foods help strengthen both the stomach and lungs. Because it is dry and windy, soups and stews, cooked over long periods of time on medium heat are nourishing and easier to digest. Foods that are good for the lungs such as rice, sweet rice, oats, carrots, mustard greens, sweet potatoes, yams, potatoes, fresh ginger, garlic, molasses, rice syrup, barley malt, and herring are also great to eat during the fall season.

I hope everyone is enjoying the holiday season and spending quality time with their family and friends!

In health and wellness,

Dr Elain


Healing with Whole Foods by Paul Pitchford






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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 Four Vital Substances Part 3 – Blood and Body Fluids

May 8, 2015
Swiss Chard Builds Blood and Stops Bleeding

I hope everyone had a great week! I’m finishing off my discussion on the four Vital Substances today with Blood and Body Fluids. I have been focusing a lot on theory the past couple of weeks and I promise I will be writing more on the practical application of these theories. It is important to have a basic understanding of the fundamentals, and if you forget, you can always refer back to these posts!


Blood in Chinese Medicine is slightly different from what we recognize in Western Medicine. Blood itself is a form of Qi, but a dense and material form. Qi and blood have an interconnected relationship. Blood is inseparable from Qi. Without Qi, blood is inert. That is, Qi moves blood. In Western medicine, this is equivalent to our cardiovascular system where blood moves through our arteries and veins. Qi is more yang relative to blood (it is more insubstantial) and blood is more yin relative to Qi (it is more dense). Its main function is to nourish the body and nourish Qi. It also has a moistening function, which Qi does not possess and ensures that our tissues stay hydrated. Finally our blood provides the material foundation for the Mind. It houses and anchors the Mind or Spirit.

Blood Pathology

There are three basic cases of Blood pathology:

1) Blood deficiency – Blood becomes deficient when not enough is made. This is usually caused by Spleen Qi deficiency (or weak digestion), since Spleen Qi is the catalyst of transforming Food Qi into Blood (review the foods that correct Spleen Qi deficiency here). It is also caused by inadequate intake of nutrients, inability to absorb those nutrients, and loss of blood through gastro-intestinal bleeding or heavy menstrual flow.

Signs of blood deficiency include pale lips, nailbeds, tongue, and complexion, thinness, spots in the field of vision, unusual hair loss, premature graying and thinning hair, dry hair, dry skin, and numbness in the arms or hands. Disorders of blood deficiency are anemia, nervousness, low back pain, headaches, painful periods, or amenorrhea (absence of periods).

  • Iron, folic acid, and vitamin B12 are the nutrients most often needed to reverse blood deficiency, where iron is the most common cause of anemia. Copper, B vitamins, and vitamin C aid in absorption of iron. Protein intake is also important.
  • Iron sources: dark leafy greens like spinach and swiss chard, legumes, nuts, and seeds.
  • Folic acid sources: dark leafy greens and sprouts, should be eaten either raw or lightly steamed.
  • Vitamin C sources: cabbage, bell peppers, broccoli, sprouts, parsley, and rose hip tea.
  • Cooling Vitamin C sources: Tomatoes, citrus fruits, and most other fruits are cooling sources of vitamin C. Use with caution by those with cold signs or deficiency symptoms.
  • Other Blood Builders: blackberries, grapes, protein (beef, lamb, mussel, pork liver), mulberry, raspberry, turnips, and watercress.

Note: Our hair is an indicator of blood quality and is considered an extension of blood in Chinese medicine. Healthy hair has a shine and thickness to it. Hair loss and premature graying is a sign of deficient blood as well as weak spleen and kidneys. (Hair is directly affected by the kidneys, which I will discuss later).

2) Bleeding – In Western medicine, bleeding is caused by weak blood vessels and poor clotting function while Chinese medicine views bleeding as the failure of the spleen to hold the blood in the vessels. (Remember from last week’s post on Qi – Spleen Qi holds blood in the vessels.) This makes sense as Spleen Qi extracts nutrients from our food to maintain the integrity of our blood and blood vessels.

Bleeding can be caused by heat in the Blood or deficiency of yin (our cooling power). Blood becomes hot when heat in our system invades deeply into the body, disrupting blood and increasing the potential to hemorrhage.  Signs of blood heat include scarlet tongue, skin rashes, fever, thirst, and fast pulse. Bleeding from heat is bright red. Chronic bleeding from heat in the blood is treated by increasing cooling foods and minimizing foods that may increase heat (meat, alcohol, tobacco, coffee, hot spices, and warming foods).

Cooling food remedies for bleeding from Heat in the Blood should be eaten raw or lightly cooked by simmering or steaming.

  • spinach and swiss chard have hemostatic properties (stops bleeding)
  • raspberry leaf can specifically treat excessive menstrual bleeding
  • eggplant for anal and urinary tract bleeding
  • persimmon for urinary bleeding and vomiting blood
  • celery and lettuce treat blood in the urine, but don’t have other hemostatic properties

Signs of deficient yin include a red tongue, night sweats, and fast thin pulse. This is treated with yin strengthening foods such as millet, mung bean, seaweed, tofu, barley, beets, persimmon, grapes, blackberry, raspberry, mulberry, banana, and watermelon.

Bleeding can also be caused by deficiency with cold signs or deficiency symptoms. Blood is pale or dark-colored. The blood and its vessels are malnourished and weak, allowing blood to leak out of the vessels. This needs to be treated with warming or neutral foods.

Neutral or warming food remedies for Deficiency Bleeding can be moderately cooked. (Note: Neutral rememdies, marked with * may be used for bleeding from Heat in the blood as well.

  • *olives treat hematemesis (coughing up of blood)
  • leeks and guava have hemostatic properites
  • cayenne pepper is a good first-aid remedy for internal or external bleeding from injuries. It can be directly applied to an external wound or taken internally as well. (Internal use: 1 teaspoon cayenne with 1 cup boiling water or 400-500mg capsules)
  • chestnut is helpful for vomiting blood, nosebleed, and blood in the stool

3) Stagnant Blood or Blood stasis – Stagnant blood is blood that coagulates or congeals and is caused by either tissue injury or insufficient Qi energy (usually Liver Qi) to push blood through the vessels (i.e. the blood doesn’t move). Signs of stagnant blood include stabbing pain that is fixed in location, frequent bleeding, bleeding dark purple clots (especially with menstruation), dark purple tongue with red spots, and an unnaturally dark complexion. Stagnant blood will also tend to develop clots and chronic stagnation develops tumors, cysts, nodules, and hard immobile lumps.

Gynecological problems are related to stagnant blood. Diseases caused by stagnant blood include amenorrhea (absence of menstruation), dysmenorrhea (painful menstruation), uterine hemmorhage, uterine tumors (fibroids and cancer), and ovarian cysts. , it will stagnate, which is mainly caused by Qi stagnation (mainly Liver), Heat, or Cold.

Foods and spices that disperse and move Stagnant Blood include:

  • warming foods – turmeric, chives, garlic, vinegar, basil, scallion, leek, ginger, chestnut, rosemary, cayenne, nutmeg, kohlrabi, sweet rice, spearmint, butter
  • cooling foods – eggplant, white pepper (eggplant especially relieves stagnant blood in the uterus)
  • neutral foods – aduki beans, peach seed

Body Fluids

Finally, the fourth Vital Substance is Body Fluids. Body Fluids originate from food and drink. Once they enter our bodies, they are separated into “clean or pure fluids” and “dirty or impure fluids.” The pure fluids are transported by the Spleen to the Lungs, through the skin and down to the kidneys. The impure fluids are taken to the Small Intestine where they are separated again into pure and impure parts (pure parts going to Bladder and impure parts going to the Large Intestine where some of the water is reabsorbed). The Bladder further separates into pure and impure (pure part going to the exterior of the body to form sweat and impure part downward to form urine).

There are two types of body fluids in Chinese Medicine:

Jin is Fluids in Chinese
Ye is Liquids in Chinese

Jin fluids are clear, light, thin-watery and circulate with our Defensive Qi and the Exterior (skin and muscles). These fluids move quickly and are controlled by our Lungs, which spread the fluids to the skin. Jin fluids hydrate, moisten, and partially nourish our skin and muscles. This is not part of our sweat, but is a part of our tears, saliva and mucus. Jin fluids are also a component of the fluid part of Blood. They thin the Blood to prevent stasis (stagnation) of Blood.

Ye liquids are heavier and denser. They move with our Nutritive Qi in the Interior, moving slowly (compared to Jin fluids. They are controlled by our Spleen and Kidneys and hydrate and moisten our joints, spine, brain, and bone marrow. Our sense organs (eyes, ears, nose, and mouth) are lubricated by Ye liquids.

The pathology associated with Body Fluids are either Deficiency in Body Fluids or Accumulation of Body Fluids (edema or excess phlegm) in the body. We will talk more about pathology of body fluids especially related to Qi in later posts.

The Take Home Messageeat enough dark leafy greens and fruits (at least 5-7 servings per day), which most people do not! Dark leafy greens build, tonify, strengthen our blood, and potentially stop bleeding. The fluids from fruits keep us hydrated and the Vitamin C from citrus fruits aid in iron absorption. Win-win!

Have a great weekend!

In health and wellness,
Dr Elain


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

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

The Four Vital Substances Part 2 – Essence (Jing)

May 1, 2015
Walnuts nourish Essence and Jing

May is Mental Health Awareness month and couldn’t come at a better time since the Vital Substance I am talking about today is closely associated with our mental vitality. Earlier this week, I introduced the concept of Qi (energy) as one of the four Vital Substances in our bodies (read about it here). The next Vital Substance, Essence, also known as “Jing” in Chinese Medicine, is essential to life and one of the foundations of mental health.


Essence in Chinese is “Jing” (精). The Chinese character defines it as “something derived (or extracted) from a process of refinement of a larger crude substance.” For example, the essence of a perfume is extracted from raw materials such as flowers, grass, spices, fruit, or wood. Hence, Essence is a concentrated and precious substance. It is associated with our genetic potential and the aging process. The quantity of Essence we have dictates our lifespan and vitality.

1) Prenatal Essence or Original Jing – At conception, the combination of the mother and father’s refined Essence forms Prenatal Essence. This blended Essence develops an energy that is the basis of new human life.  Before birth, the fetus relies on the mother to protect and nourish its Prenatal Essence. After birth, Prenatal Essence becomes active and helps in transformation of food to energy.  A small amount of Prenatal Essence is constantly released which is used by our bodies to maintain function. Prenatal Essence determines our constitutional make-up, how long we live, and our individual vitality. This largely depends on the age and health of the parents at conception, and especially the age and health of the mother. This is also what makes each of us unique. Original Jing is fixed in quantity and quality, meaning once it’s used up, it cannot be replenished and we die.

2) Postnatal Essence or Postnatal Jing – Formed after birth, this Essence is extracted and refined by the Stomach and Spleen (the digestive system) from food and fluids. When Postnatal Essence is maintained at sufficient levels, our Prenatal Essence is used more slowly, which in turn slows the aging process. This is why people take Jing tonic herbs, to maintain Postnatal Jing levels.

3) The Essence (Jing) – This Essence, used for the entire body, is stored in our Kidneys and derived from both Prenatal and Postnatal Essence. It is also a hereditary energy that determines our constitutional make-up, but can be replenished through interaction with Postnatal Essence. It is the root of our vitality and a very concentrated energy. Strong Jing energy will lead to a long and healthful life, whereas loss of Jing will cause physical and mental deterioration, leading to a shortened life.

The difference between Essence and Qi:

– Essence comes from our parents, while Qi is formed after birth
– Essence is fluid-like, Qi is energy-like
– Essence is stored in the kidneys, Qi is everywhere
– Essence is difficult to replenish, while Qi can be restored daily
– Essence changes slowly and gradually, whereas Qi moves quickly

So is Essence more yin or yang relative to Qi?? If you’ve been following, the answer is easy. =)

Essence Functions

  • determines growth and development – Essence controls growth of bones, teeth, hair, brain development, sexual maturation, reproductive function and fertility, which are all part of the Kidney’s function in Chinese medicine. Deficiency results in stunted growth, poor bone growth, infertility, frequent miscarriages, mental retardation in children, loose teeth, and premature graying hair.
  • forms the foundation for Kidney Qi (Kidney energy) – Deficiency of Kidney Qi results in poor sexual function, impotence, weak knees, tinnitus (ringing in the ears), and deafness.
  • produces Marrow – This Marrow is not the same as the bone marrow recognized in Western Medicine but a broader term. Marrow not only produces bone marrow but also constitutes the brain and spinal cord, nourishing these areas. This means that Kidney Essence plays a crucial role in brain function and mental health. Weak Kidney Essence may lead to lack of concentration, poor memory, dizziness, and more serious mental problems if severely depleted.
  • determines constitutional strength and our resistance to exterior or external pathogenic factors. Our Defensive Qi draws from Kidney Essence. Weak Kidney Essence results in frequent colds, influenza, susceptibility to exterior pathogenic factors, chronic rhinitis, and allergies.

Factors that Deplete Essence (Jing)

  • chronic and acute stress, chronic pain and illness
  • excessive behavior such as overwork, excessive emotions (especially fear, anxiety and shock, emotions which weaken the Kidney), substance abuse, sexual excess (especially in men and old age)
  • excessive menstrual patterns (heavy periods) and too many pregnancies (more than one’s constitution can adequately support, which is different for everyone)

Foods that Nourish Jing

In general, foods that nourish the Kidney will also nourish Jing. However, choosing the appropriate foods and herbs to use as Jing tonics largely depend on each individual’s constitution and condition.

Cooling Jing Foods – for those who tend to have heat signs and symptoms, yin deficiency, or excess

– chlorella, spirulina, black beans, seaweed, wheat grass, blue-green microalgae, almonds, and bone marrow soup

Warming Jing Foods – for those who tend to have cold signs or deficiency symptoms

– royal jelly, bee pollen, milk, clarified butter, placenta, dear antler, walnuts, animal products (chicken, liver, beef or lamb kidney) and warming seafood (especially mussels; also trout, salmon, anchovy)

For children with severe Jing deficiency, there will be stunted growth, learning disabilities, mental retardation, skeletal weakness and deformities, and failure of the fontanel (skull bones) to close. Deer antler is specifically used for these conditions as well as tortoise shell in failure of fontanel closure.

Note: Did you notice that walnuts and salmon are included in this list? They are both high in Omega-3 fatty acids making them good for the brain which also means it strengthens Essence. See how everything is coming together?

The Three Treasures

A final note on Essence and mental health. Essence and Qi form the foundation of the Mind also known as Shen (神), which is the most immaterial substance in our bodies. Together they form the “Three Treasures” which are the three fundamental physical and psychic substances of human beings. The Chinese word “Jing Shen” 精神 collectively means spirit. The strength of our spirit and mental health ultimately depend on the strength of our Essence (Jing). Coming soon, I will discuss some major Jing tonics that help strengthen and stabilize our mind and spirits keeping us mentally sharp and strong!

In health and wellness,
Dr. Elain


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

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

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, 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


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

Photo Credit: Pontus Edenburg

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

Intro to Yin Yang Theory

March 23, 2015
Yin and Yang Crystals

A fundamental principle of Chinese Medicine is Yin and Yang Theory. In Chinese, yin (陰) literally means shade, while yang (陽) means the sun. Yin and Yang, in an essence, are pairs of opposites. Here are some examples*:

Yang                                    Yin

Active                                  Passive

Function                              Substance

Outside                                Inside

Mind                                    Body

Masculine                            Feminine

Light                                     Dark

Heat                                      Cold

Excess                                   Deficiency

Exterior                                 Interior

Expansion                             Contraction


Yin and Yang, Black and White

If we apply this to our foods and their thermal nature, yin foods will cool us down while yang foods will tend to warm us. Yang is energizing while yin is nourishing by building blood and fluids in our bodies. Yang contains ascending energy while yin contains descending energy.




Yin and Yang Theory can also be used to describe human personality and physiology*:

Yang                                              Yin

Warmer body and personality        Cooler body and personality

Dry skin/less body fluid                  Moist skin/more body fluid

Outgoing                                          Introverted

Active                                               Passive

Positive                                            Negative

Focused mind                                  Serene

Hyperactive mentality                     Unclear, dreamy

Aggressive                                        Timid

Angry, impatient                              Fearful, insecure

Loud voice                                       Soft voice

Urgent                                              Tardy

Logical                                              Intuitive

Quick                                                Slow

Motivated                                          Complacent

Red Complexion                               Pale complexion

In general, for someone who possesses a more characteristically yang constitution, both physically and mentally, it is best to avoid or limit foods that tend to warm and heat the body, such as spicy foods, garlic, and cayenne pepper. On the flip side, one with a more yin constitution should eat more warming foods and limit cooling foods such as raw lettuce, cucumber, and celery. The main goal is to maintain a constant balance between yin and yang in order to achieve physical and emotional health.  So balance and moderation is key as eating too much of anything, can put you from one extreme to the other.

What you need to know:

  • Yin and Yang Theory is used to describe pairs of opposites.
  • This principle can be extrapolated to describe food, physical attributes, as well as personality traits.
  • Balancing your body’s yin and yang is key to establishing and maintaining health.

Do you think you are more yin or yang?

In health and wellness,
Dr. Elain

Healing with Whole Foods by Paul Pitchford

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Thermal Nature of Food

March 21, 2015
Tomatoes and Cauliflower - Thermal Nature of Food

Hello universe and happy Spring! Welcome to my health and wellness blog!  I am so excited to share this project that I have been working on.  When I was practicing medicine, I found that my patients had many practical questions for me regarding nutrition, herbs, supplements, fitness, and stress management as well as more theoretical questions regarding Eastern medicine and philosophies, and how it affects them physically and emotionally. I am formally organizing this information and hope you will find it easy to understand and useful in your everyday lives.

I want to begin by talking about something that is important for everyone: the food you eat! More importantly I want to introduce a concept that not many people may be aware of, which is the thermal nature of food. This is a fundamental concept in Traditional Chinese Medicine and using food as medicine to heal. The three qualities that any food possesses are whether it is cooling/cold, warming/hot, or neutral in nature. When I say “hot” and “cold”, I am not only referring to the temperature of the food, but the actual property of the food and its ability to warm or cool your physical body. For example, we eat watermelon on a hot summer day, because it cools us down. We add ginger to our cooking, especially during the colder months because ginger contains a lasting warming property.

Summer Watermelon  Ginger





Click on the following links to see examples of common cooling, warming, and neutral foods.

So what determines whether a food is hot or cold? There are several theories that explain this*:

  1. Foods that take longer to grow (carrots, cabbage, ginseng) tend to be more warming than those that grow faster (lettuce, summer squash, cucumber).
  2. Eating cooked food is more warming than eating it raw.
  3. Warm or room-temperature food is more warming than cold or chilled food.
  4. Red, orange, or yellow colored foods are more warming than similar foods that are blue, green, or purple. (i.e. a red apple is more warming than a green apple, a lime is more cooling than a lemon)
  5. Cooking a food with more time, higher temperatures, greater pressure, more fat and oil, or less water will make it more warming.
  6. Manipulating food in various ways will have a more warming effect.  Finer cutting, pounding, grinding, pressing, stirring, and chewing breaks the food down and releases more energy and heat.
  7. Using gas or wood heat to cook a food creates more warmth than using electricity.  Microwaved food conveys the least amount of warmth to a food.
  8. Foods grown in temperate zones are more warming than foods in tropical or subtropical climates.

Cooking probably has the highest influence on the property of food. In general, moderate cooking (shorter cooking times and lower temperatures) makes it easier for the body to assimilate the nutrients of a food without destroying them. Raw foods, on the other hand, require a stronger digestive system to best assimilate its nutrients. So those who suffer from fatigue or low energy, allergies, and a weak digestive system will assimilate cooked foods better.

Here’s what you need to know:

  • Most foods tend to have either a cooling, warming, or neutral effect on our bodies.
  • The way a food grows, its color, and the way it is prepared greatly affects its thermal nature.
  • Moderate cooking (shorter cooking times and lower temperatures) is the best way to assimilate a food’s nutrients.

I will discuss next when you should choose warming or cooling foods.

In health and wellness,
Dr. Elain

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

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