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

The Heart-Mind and Fire Element

June 26, 2015
The Fire Element

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

The Fire Element

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

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

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

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

Heart-Mind Disharmony

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Healing the Heart – Calming and Focusing the Mind

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

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

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

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

In health and wellness,
Dr Elain

References:

Healing with Whole Foods by Paul Pitchford

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

Reishi Mushroom – Ganoderma

May 5, 2015
Reishi Mushroom - Ganoderma

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

Reishi Properties

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

Reishi’s Functions

1) Immune Benefits

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

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

2) Cardiovascular Benefits

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

3) Cancer Fighting Benefits

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

4)  Stress, Emotional, and Mental Acuity Benefits

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

The Science Behind It

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Have you ever tried Reishi before?

In health and wellness,
Dr Elain

References:

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

Photo Credits: @real_mushrooms realmushrooms.com

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

The Four Vital Substances Part 2 – Essence (Jing)

May 1, 2015
Walnuts nourish Essence and Jing

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

Essence

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

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

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

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

The difference between Essence and Qi:

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

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

Essence Functions

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

Factors that Deplete Essence (Jing)

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

Foods that Nourish Jing

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Three Treasures

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

In health and wellness,
Dr. Elain

References:

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

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