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

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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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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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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