Healthy Eating For Winter

Winter, in most places, is a time of colder, shorter days. So naturally, when there is less reason to be outdoors, the body tends to want to stay inside where it is warmer. The body’s metabolic rate will be slower, which means eating foods full of sugars can become detrimental over time. When the metabolic rate slows, the body naturally holds onto fat and we gain weight. Just as most animals hibernate throughout the colder winter months, so too should human beings take the information being given and use it accordingly.

According to Traditional Chinese Medicine, winter is a time of preservation and building up strength for the spring. Winter is a time when the kidneys are highly active. They have functions that help the body preserve energy. Foods loaded with salt can actually burden the kidneys and cause them to work overtime. This can lead to kidney disease or kidney failure when done for many years.

Tonics are what should be primarily eaten during the winter months according to TCM. Most tonics include warming herbs, fatty foods and meats. The human body is designed to absorb these rich foods especially well at this time of year. By tuning into nature, humans can be guided toward the proper nutrients. Since fruits are not usually abundant during the winter months, it makes sense we should not be eating large quantities of them. Foods such as fruits, salads and raw foods can deplete the immune system because it will have to work overtime to warm the body. If a person has a dislike of cold weather, joint aches and pains, sore low back or catches cold frequently, then there is too much of an imbalance and that person may be consuming too many cold foods.

It is recommended to eat warming foods during the winter months. Foods that will strengthen the kidneys, blood and Qi (pronounced “chee”), which is sometimes considered our inner form of energy.  Foods that would be best include beef, lamb, root vegetables, dark leafy greens, black beans, oats, quinoa, pumpkin, kidney beans and walnuts. Fruits can be warmed by adding spices like cinnamon, so they don’t tax the system too much. Herbs such as ginseng, garlic, onion, ginger, parsley and basil all have warming properties too that can be used when cooking.

Soups and stews are particularly good to eat at this time of year. Those that utilize bone broth as a base can be very tonifying. These types of foods help warm the body’s core and keep us fully nourished. Cooking should be for longer periods over low heat using less water. This will infuse the food with heat and lasting nourishment.

TCM nutritional therapy is a very important component of the medical system. The food consumed can have profound effects on the body that affect our health and well-being. Along with paying close attention to the foods that are abundant during the seasons, it is also recommended that locally grown foods be utilized. This may help decrease the possibility of allergic reactions.

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Are Your Eyes Red or Inflamed?

In the world of Traditional Chinese Medicine, the liver energy flows upward into the eyes. When this energy is flowing smoothly and working as it should, your vision is clear and sharp, you have efficient night vision and the eyes are bright and well-lubricated.

 

When out of balance, the liver can generate heat that rises upward. This heat can manifest in dry eyes, itchy eyes or eyes that are red and irritated. Think about how red one’s eyes can get after a night of drinking. Alcohol adds heat to the liver, which in turn rises upward and creates hot, red eyes. The facial flushing you see after a night of imbibing is also indicative of this heat.

 

When the liver blood is deficient, you will see symptoms of dryness throughout the body, particularly in the eyes. Dry, scratchy eyes are a sign of liver blood deficiency, and floaters (those little black spots that can appear in the periphery of your vision) are also indicative of this deficiency.

 

When liver blood deficiency becomes more pronounced, patients can develop something we acupuncturists refer to as “Internal Wind.” Wind manifests as symptoms of shaking, tics, tremors or issues such as rashes that move around from place to place within the body. You know that annoying eye twitch you get that you are convinced the world can see, even though everyone tells you they don’t notice it? Those tics are a sign the body is deficient in energy, and wind has developed to shake things up. Internal wind can also show up as issues that itch, such as dry, itchy eyes.

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Does Your Liver Need A Spring Tune Up?

 

In Traditional Chinese Medicine, each season is ruled by a particular organ system and spring is connected to the liver. What does this mean? Well, you probably notice changes in the way you feel, both physically and mentally, as the seasons change. I know I tend to feel a bit more contemplative and introspective during the winter months. Once spring hits, I’m ready to recharge and get things done. The liver energy is strong and assertive, the type of energy you need to create plans and then propel them into motion. However, if your liver is a little out of balance, you might notice you are more irritable or on edge than usual. Here are a few signs that your liver is in need of an acupuncture tune-up:

 

  1. You’ve noticed an increase in headaches lately, and these headaches seem to feel worse when you aren’t active. Generally these headaches tend to manifest at the vertex of your head.

 

  1. You might begin to feel constipated or bloated. Your bowel movements might become irregular, alternating between constipation and loose stools. Hard, difficult stools that appear pebbly are also a sign of liver imbalance.

 

  1. Your friends or coworkers are scared of you, because you are cranky, cranky, cranky. When liver energy is out of balance you might feel agitated, irritated and generally out of sorts. Sometimes irritation can expand into outright anger more easily than it would if this energy was flowing smoothly.

 

  1. Ladies, you may notice your PMS symptoms have been worse lately. Bloating, breast tenderness, sensitivity…you can blame all of the above on your liver. If your periods are more painful or clotted, this is also due to a stagnation of liver energy.

 

  1. Your eyes are red, itchy or irritated.

 

  1. Your shoulders, neck or jaw are uncomfortably tight. If the liver energy is out of balance, it can flow upward. This causes everything in your body to rise up: you might grind or clench your teeth, your shoulders will levitate up around your ears, and you might experience symptoms of TMJ.

 

  1. Your allergies are in full force, complete with itchy, red, watery eyes.

 

If you are suffering from any of these issues, your body is crying out for a visit to your acupuncturist!

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Valentine’s Day, TCM and Heart Health

Every February men all over the world flock to the local flower shops and jewelry stores in search of the perfect bouquet or piece of jewelry to express their undying love to their significant other. Why?  Nobody knows for certain, but there are at least a couple of theories.

 

One theory is a Catholic priest, Valentine, was imprisoned for helping Christians escape Roman prisons.  While he imprisoned himself, Valentine fell in love with a young girl who visited him. Allegedly, before his death, Valentine wrote a letter and signed it, “From your Valentine.”  Thus, the first Valentine’s Day card was created, or so it is reported.

 

However, like many contemporary holidays, Valentine’s Day probably has pagan roots. The pagan celebration of Lupercalia, celebrated at the ides of February, was a fertility festival dedicated to Faunus.  Faunus was the Roman god of agriculture. So it can be derived that from the pagan fertility festival, this was later watered down by the Church and turned into a festival of love. By the 1800s it had become common for friends and lovers to exchange gifts as tokens of affection. Shortly after that, the holiday became commercialized.

 

Where does Traditional Chinese Medicine fit in?  Well, it really doesn’t. However, in TCM, the heart houses the Shen. The Shen is sometimes described as the spirit, but it also includes the mind. During the winter months, when the hours of sunlight are short, the weather is typically colder and very little is growing; many people develop something known as seasonal affective disorder or SAD. So perhaps, celebrating Valentine’s Day in the middle of winter is a way to keep our hearts healthy and our Shen lively. The feeling of love can permeate every cell of the body and mind. This can bring healing to those who are experiencing SAD, while helping to keep the heart healthy.

 

Heart health is extremely important. Without a healthy heart, the body does not function properly.  Just as equally important is the state of the mind. This is where TCM can be extremely beneficial.  Acupuncture, the main modality of TCM has been shown to help lower blood pressure, decrease heart rate and calm the mind. There are specific acupuncture points and point prescriptions that can help the mind and the heart, which can strengthen the mind-body connection.

 

The emotion associated with the heart in TCM is joy. The heart is also the center of perception.  Valentine’s Day is a wonderful time to experience joy, and it doesn’t have to be from a significant other.  Sharing special moments with those who are closest to us, friends, family, etc., helps to keep the heart full of joy. Even acts of “selfishness” can have profound effects on the mind, body and soul. Spending time alone can also keep the heart healthy, as it gives us time to reflect, relax and take in the beauty all around us.

 

So this year, when Valentine’s Day rolls around, don’t fret over trying to find the perfect card or gift.  Instead, try focusing attention on the people, places and things that bring joy to your life. Your heart will beat a little slower and your mind will be a little calmer.

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Fighting Flu Season With Acupuncture

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While the flu is actually not a season, we have become programmed to think of it as the months of November through March. On average, the flu hospitalizes thousands every year, especially the young and elderly. There are also a number of deaths related to the flu, mostly due to people already having compromised immune systems.

 

The flu, also known as influenza, is a highly contagious respiratory infection that is caused by a number of viruses. To date, there are approximately 26 to 30 different known strains of the flu virus. This is one of the reasons the flu vaccine has only mild efficacy. The flu vaccine itself, typically only covers five to seven strains of the flu.  Symptoms of the flu include fever, coughing, a sore throat, fatigue, muscle aches, pains, runny nose and watery eyes.

 

The good news is we can avoid the flu by implementing healthy habits and taking care of ourselves throughout the year. The best way to treat a disease is to avoid it.  Traditional Chinese Medicine is a great tool to have in the toolbox for preventing the flu.  Utilizing botanical Chinese formulas and acupuncture treatments can be very beneficial in keeping the flu at bay.

 

Regular acupuncture treatments help boost immunity, while balancing and regulating the body’s energy or Qi (pronounced “chee”). Several studies have shown acupuncture can reduce the incidence of upper respiratory tract infections and shorten the length of time that somebody is ill.

 

TCM botanicals or herbs are also a great way to ward off the flu bug. Two herbs in particular are specified for strengthening Qi and boosting the immune system. The first is huang qi or astragalus and the other is dang shen or codonopsis. There are a couple of other herbs commonly used as antivirals too. These are ban lan gen (isatis root) and da qing ye (isatis leaf).

 

 

Along with TCM, there are other things we can utilize to avoid catching the flu. Regular exercise, ample sleep and a proper healthy diet are two of the best things anybody can use to stay disease-free. Exercising enough to break a sweat without overdoing it has been shown to reduce the incidence of the flu. So incorporating practices like tai chi, qi gong and yoga can actually reduce physical and emotional stress, while strengthening the immune system and preventing disease.

 

Eating a healthy diet is essential for preventing any disease, not just the flu. This includes eating a very balanced diet rich in vitamins, minerals and antioxidants. Foods that contain beta-carotene are especially helpful at boosting the immune system.  Carrots, broccoli, sweet potatoes and garlic are good examples of beta-carotene rich foods. Also drinking at least 64 ounces of water on a daily basis is highly recommended.  Ample fluid intake helps the body flush out invaders and toxins, while keeping the mucus membranes and upper respiratory tract healthy enough to fight off the virus.

 

Taking advantage of what TCM can offer, while incorporating healthy daily habits will insure this upcoming flu season passes by without wreaking havoc on any of us.

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