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Nutrition

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

The Heart-Mind and Fire Element

June 26, 2015
The Fire Element

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

The Fire Element

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

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

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

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

Heart-Mind Disharmony

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Healing the Heart – Calming and Focusing the Mind

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

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

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

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

In health and wellness,
Dr Elain

References:

Healing with Whole Foods by Paul Pitchford

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

The Mind-Body Connection and Our Emotions

May 13, 2015
The Mind Body Connection and our Emotions

While Western medicine usually sees emotions as a secondary factor or an effect resulting from physical disease, Chinese Medicine views the emotions as an integral part of our internal organ’s interactions and oftentimes as the primary cause of disease. Emotions are not “good” or “bad”, but reflections of how we interact with life experiences as well as ourselves. It is important for us to express different emotions at appropriate times. For example, when a loved one passes away, one should feel grief and sadness. In fact, it is abnormal not to, and detrimental to our physical health if we ignore or suppress these emotions as they will manifest physically in our bodies. Our emotions also become the cause of disease if they are extreme and especially if they are prolonged over time. The inseparable connection between the mind and body shows that emotions are not only the cause of disease, but that they can also be caused by disease. For example, having prolonged fear and anxiety, the emotions associated with the Kidneys, can cause Kidney weakness. On the same token, weak or deficient Kidneys, which can happen after having too many children in a short period of time, may cause fear and anxiety.

Suppressing appropriate emotions or having prolonged emotions will cause emotional blockages in our meridians and may ultimately lead to physical disease. Each emotion is connected to a different organ system in our bodies. It is important to find out the underlying emotional component and treat the appropriate organ system and its corresponding meridian (I will discuss meridians and acupuncture points in more detail later). These emotions are then processed and released, so that we do not become “stuck” with the emotions, resulting in physical problems. This is the intricate connection between the mind and body. There are seven major emotions in Chinese medicine. Let’s take a look at each of these emotions.

Anger

Anger is the one emotion that will include several other related emotional states. It is probably the emotion that most of us deal with on a day to day basis from stress (road rage anyone?). It can also be expressed as:

  • resentment
  • repressed anger
  • irritability or annoyance
  • frustration, (internalized anger)
  • rage
  • indignation (anger or annoyance provoked by what is perceived as unfair treatment)
  • animosity
  • bitterness
  • impatience
  • violence or belligerence
  • arrogance
  • stubborness
  • aggression
  • impulsive or explosive personality

These emotional states will mainly affect the Liver and if they persist can cause Liver Qi or blood stagnation (review Qi and Blood pathology here and here). Anger can also cause Qi (energy) to rise in our body causing signs and symptoms to show up in our head and neck such as headaches, tinnitus, dizziness, a red face, red tongue, or thirst. Headaches are one of the most common symptoms caused by anger. Who hasn’t gotten a headache after being really angry?

Repressed anger and resentment, usually towards a family member, can also develop into depression. In this case, someone can appear subdued, depressed, and pale. The way to determine whether the depression is due to anger or sadness is to look at the tongue color. Depression due to anger will manifest a red or dark-red tongue and wiry pulse.

Anger can also affect the Stomach and Spleen (digestive system). The interaction between our Liver and Spleen/Stomach (digestive system) will become clear when we discuss The Five Element Theory. The take home lesson of this is not to get angry while you are eating, which can easily cause digestive problems.

Nutritional Guidelines to Treat and Heal the Liver

– When liver qi stagnates, the best thing to do is eat less (unless you are malnourished). It is also important to eliminate foods that further damage the liver, such as foods high in saturated fats (meat, cream, cheese, and eggs).
– Foods that get rid of liver qi stagnation are moderately pungent foods, herbs, and spices (review the Five Flavors here) : watercress, all members of the onion family (chives, garlic, leeks, scallions), mustard greens, turmeric, basil, bay leaf, cardamom, marjoram, fennel, dill, ginger, horseradish, rosemary, mint, and lemon.

Joy

Joy is only a cause of disease when we experience excessive excitement or continuous mental stimulation (no matter how pleasurable), which will affect the Heart and cause Heart Yin deficiency. For example, a migraine attack can be triggered by sudden excitement from good news. Have you ever been so happy and excited about something that caused a headache or your heart to flutter and skip a beat?

Nutritional Guidelines to Treat and Heal the Heart

In order to enrich the body’s yin, the Heart will usually rely on Kidney Yin for replenishment. Foods that strengthen Kidney Yin will also strengthen Heart Yin. These foods include parsley, wheat berry (sourdough bread), and sweet rice. Herbs that strengthen Kidney Yin include: rose hips, oyster shell (in supplement form), clam shell, schisandra fruit, raspberry and blackberry leaves.

Sadness

Sadness or grief directly weakens Lung Qi but also affects the Heart. Prolonged sadness and grief can lead to symptoms like breathlessness, fatigue, depression, or crying. This is most common after the death of a close family member. In cases of severe grief, this can lead to more devastating diseases. A poignant example is when Christopher Reeve’s wife, Dana Reeve was diagnosed with lung cancer at age 44, despite never smoking, less than a year after his death. Sadly, she also passed within 7 months of her diagnosis.

Foods that support Lung Qi

– Foods and herbs that strengthen lung qi include rice, sweet rice, oats, carrot, mustard greens, sweet potatos, yams, potatoes, ginger, garlic, molasses, barley malt, and herring.
– Cooling and mucus forming foods should be restricted (citrus fruits, milk and dairy products, spinach, chard, and seaweed).

Worry and Pensiveness

Anyone out there who thinks or studies too much? If so, your Spleen and Stomach, or digestive system will directly be affected causing symptoms of fatigue, loss of appetite, and loose stools. This is most commonly seen in those in school, graduate studies requiring excessive mental work, or those with demanding intellectual occupations. Spleen weakness and deficiency will cause accumulation of mucus and phlegm in our bodies and is further aggravated by a person who doesn’t eat on time, eats too fast, or discusses work while eating. Sound familiar?

Chronic worry will not only injure the digestive system, but also the Lungs. The most common causes of worry are financial, employment, and family problems. Weak Lung Qi will lead to anxiety, shortness of breath, and stiffness in the shoulders and neck. Instead of worrying about your problems, do something about it, since worrying will only make you sick and do nothing to resolve the situation.

Foods that strengthen Digestion/Spleen and Stomach Qi (previously discussed here)

– Foods that help Spleen Qi deficiency are sweet and/or pungent.
– This includes complex carbohydrates: rice (in the form of congee), oats, spelt, sweet rice
– Carbohydrate-rich vegetables: winter squash, carrot, rutabaga, parsnip, trurnip, garbanzo beans, black beans, peas, sweet potato, yam, and pumpkin
– Pungent veggies and spices: onion, leek, black pepper, ginger, cinnamon, fennel, garlic, nutmeg
– Severe deficiency will require small amounts of animal products in congee: mackerel, tuna, halibut, anchovy, beef, chicken, turkey, or lamb.

Fear

As I discussed above, fear and anxiety are the emotions associated with the Kidneys. An easy way to remember is when someone is scared, they pee in their pants. Good analogy? Fear drains Kidney Qi and makes it descend. It also drains our Essence (read more about Essence here). Fear in children causes descending Qi and nocturnal enuresis, usually from insecurity. In adults, fear and chronic anxiety will deplete the Kidney’s Yin, or cooling power, and cause heat in the face, night sweats, palpitations, dry mouth and throat.

Foods that Nourish Kidney Yin and Essence/Jing (previously discussed here)

In general, foods that nourish the Kidney will also nourish Jing. However, choosing the appropriate foods and herbs to strengthen our Kidneys 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)

Shock

Mental shock affects the Heart and Kidney. It will suddenly deplete Heart Qi leading to palpitations and insomnia. It also affects the Kidneys since our bodies must use Essence to replenish the sudden exhaustion of energy. This can cause night sweats, dry mouth, dizziness, and tinnitus.

What you need to know:

  • Chinese Medicine views the emotions as an integral part of our internal organ’s interactions. This is the mind body connection.
  • If emotions are suppressed or prolonged, physical disease may manifest in the associated organ. Weak organs can also cause the emotions to appear.
  • The seven major emotions are anger (liver), joy (heart), sadness (lungs), pensiveness and worry (stomach and spleen), fear (kidneys) and shock (heart and kidneys).

Which emotion do you think you are most affected by?

In health and wellness,
Dr. Elain

References:

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

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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

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

References:

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

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The Four Vital Substances Part 1 – Qi (Energy)

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

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

Qi

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

Two aspects of Qi pertain to medicine.

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

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

The different forms of Qi:

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

Direction of Qi Movement

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

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

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

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

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

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

Qi Pathology

Qi pathology happens in four ways:

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

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

Foods that can correct Spleen Qi deficiency:

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

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

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

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

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

Foods and herbs for Kidney Qi deficiency:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In health and wellness,
Dr Elain

References:

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

Photo Credit: Pontus Edenburg www.edenburg.com

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10 Fruits and Vegetables That Can Help Prevent and Treat Diabetes

March 30, 2015
Rainbow Carrots

In Loving Memory of Cher Lee

With a prevalence of over 30 million people with diabetes and 86 million people living with prediabetes in the United States(1), most of us will be affected by this disease, whether you have diabetes yourself or know of someone who has it. It is the 7th leading cause of death in the world, but if not kept in check can lead to even more devastating ailments, such as heart disease, which is the leading cause of death in the world(2). I compiled a list of common fruits and vegetables you should include in your diet to help prevent diabetes.

1.) Carrots have a neutral thermal nature (read about the thermal nature of foods here) and sweet flavor (read about the five flavors of food here). It is a chi or (qi) tonic and benefits almost every organ system, but especially the liver, lungs, and stomach. It is a blood sugar stabilizer, treats indigestion associated with heartburn and increased stomach acid, and can prevent constipation. In addition, carrots are the most abundant source of beta-carotene, the pre-cursor of Vitamin A, which improves night vision and prevents cataracts.

Caution: Carrot juice is sweet and overconsumption may weaken kidneys. Don’t drink more than four cups of juice daily.

2) Sweet potatoes and yams have a cooling thermal nature, sweet flavor, and strengthen the spleen-pancreas and digestive system. It strengthens the kidneys and is also a good source of Vitamin A, with the darkest orange flesh colored yams having the highest amount of beta-carotene. They help stabilize blood sugar levels, like the carrot, but also improve our body’s response to insulin. It tonifies your chi, blood, and yin (read about the basics of yin and yang theory here).

Caution: Overeating sweet potato can lead to indigestion and abdominal swelling.

3) Artichokes have a sweet flavor and are an excellent source of inulin, reducing the body’s need for insulin. It is a blood and yin tonic, making them helpful in anemia, and also strengthen the liver and gallbladder. It contains the phytochemical cynarin, increasing bile production and aiding digestive diseases caused by inadequate fat assimilation. Cynarin also lowers blood cholesterol levels and improves blood-clotting time. Artichokes are also a good source of Vitamin C.

4) Asparagus have a slightly cooling thermal nature and bitter, mildly pungent flavor. It is good for the kidneys, lungs, and spleen. Asparagus clear excess heat, toxins, and water in your body, hence also making it a great diuretic since it has asparagine in it, which gives it its characteristic urine odor. Like artichokes, asparagus also contain inulin. It is also helpful in cardiovascular issues such as high cholesterol, high blood pressure and arteriosclerosis.

Caution: Too much asparagus can also irritate the kidneys.

5) Green beans, or haricot vert have a neutral thermal nature with a sweet flavor, supporting the spleen and kidneys. They increase the yin of the body (e.g., fluids and hormones). They have diuretic properties and help treat diabetes. Fresh beans have Vitamin A, B-complex, calcium and potassium.

6) Pears have a cooling thermal nature with sweet and slightly sour flavor. It nourishes the lungs, eliminating mucus and can quench thirst. Pears have been used to treat diabetes, cough, and constipation.

Caution: Don’t eat pears when you feel internally cold or have diarrhea.

7) Purple plums are slightly cooling, while yellow plums are neutral. They have a sweet and sour flavor and support the bladder, liver, large intestine, stomach, and spleen. They are helpful in digestion, quench thirst, and relieve constipation and dehydration.

Caution: Eat with caution if you have sensitive digestion, stomach ulcers, or inflammation. They have a high content of oxalic acid, so eat in moderation to prevent depleting calcium in your body.

8) Coconuts have a warming thermal nature, sweet flavor, and eliminate wind (one of the external pathogenic factors that I will discuss later). It is hemostatic (stops bleeding) and strengthens the heart. It greatly quenches thirst and builds yin fluids in the body. It is helpful in eliminating edema from diabetes and heart problems. It is fairly high in iron, phosphorus, and zinc.

9) Lemons and limes have a cooling thermal nature and very sour flavor. It helps the liver and can increase bile formation, increase mineral absorption, promote weight loss, and treat high blood pressure. It increases fluid production in the body, thereby treating the fluid deficiency seen in cramps and diabetes. Lemons are high in Vitamin C, Vitamin B1, and potassium. I will have to dedicate a post to lemons and limes later because of its many healing properties.

Caution: Use with caution if you have too much stomach acid or ulcers.

10) Blueberries are cooling and support the lung, spleen, and stomach. They are an excellent antioxidant helping to slow cell deterioration. I included blueberries in this list because it supports eye function and protects against macular degeneration. Ocular issues are common sequelae seen in diabetics, a microvasular disease. Blueberries also nurture the kidney’s yin function, which is often depleted in diabetics.

Start eating more of these fruits and veggies!

In health and wellness,
Dr Elain

References:

(1) Current Diabetes Statistics
(2) World Health Organization (WHO) – The top 10 causes of death
Healing with Whole Foods by Paul Pitchford
The New Whole Foods Encyclopedia by Rebecca Wood

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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

References*
Healing with Whole Foods by Paul Pitchford

Contact Dr. Elain
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