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

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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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

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

Two aspects of Qi pertain to medicine.

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

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

The different forms of Qi:

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

Direction of Qi Movement

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

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

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

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

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

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

Qi Pathology

Qi pathology happens in four ways:

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

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

Foods that can correct Spleen Qi deficiency:

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

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

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

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

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

Foods and herbs for Kidney Qi deficiency:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In health and wellness,
Dr Elain

References:

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

Photo Credit: Pontus Edenburg www.edenburg.com

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