Autumn and Traditional Chinese Medicine

Image: Kara B via Flickr


Just as the leaves on trees begin to dry and fall, the environment all around us is dry.


In traditional Just as the leaves on trees begin to dry and fall, the environment all around us is dry. Chinese medicine (TCM), dryness is the governing factor of autumn. Your hair becomes more prone to static, and the skin is less plump and vibrant than it was during the summer. When things manifest dryness, wrinkles and lines appear, and in extreme cases cracks open and there is roughness. The moisturiser and lotion you used during the summer may not be enough. Although more layers of clothing are worn, do not forget to moisturise your elbows, knees and heels.


At the beginning of autumn the moistening residue of summer can still be felt, but as we go deeper into autumn and the weather turns cool we start to feel the effects of dry-cold coinciding with flu season. In TCM, the lungs are considered to be most susceptible to dryness. When they lack moisture their functions are impaired and hence there is dry cough or a cough that causes pain in the chest. A warm mug of lemon and honey water every morning during autumn will benefit your system.


After a season of growth the time has come for harvesting. How we prepare during this time helps us during the harsher, colder months.


Now is the time for a two-pronged approach: eat to moisten and to warm. Honey is a marvellous yin tonic and therefore perfect to combat dryness. Be sensible and have only a teaspoon or two at most. Pears and peanuts are also wonderfully moistening. Try pu-erh tea, which can be found in Chinese supermarkets. It’s a dark tea (very dark) and the  flavour is strong but still clean and refreshing.


Have your fill of tomatoes before the winter, and include tofu, pine nuts, peanuts and pork. As the weather turns cooler add some warming foods that you had avoided all summer such as leeks, oats, cauliflower, beef and lamb. Deeper into autumn add garlic, cinnamon, chilli, ginger and onions to help stimulate the circulation of qi and bring the defensive energy to the surface which is important during a time when more people are sneezing on the packed underground.


No matter what season, damp can affect the spleen’s functions, so move away from cold or uncooked food and towards soups and stews


This is a time of nurturing and supporting.Make sure to have a scarf with you in case the wind picks up. Wrap yourself up well, especially around the occipital, the area at the base of your head and neck. If you get caught in the rain a nice, hot cup of chai with some honey can be incredibly warming. Have it with a splash of milk.


As in nature with trees shedding their leaves, autumn is characterised by a gradual decline in yang qi as it ebbs towards stillness.


Enjoy the spectacle of autumn, take in the gorgeous colours of the trees, the red and orange and browns. Soak up the rest of the sunlight during your lunch break. This is the perfect time to start a new activity – health and wellness resolutions are much easier to keep now than in the cold, dark winter months. The start of the shorter days and earlier darkness can affect some people. Try to focus and reflect, and don’t dwell on negative issues. Let go and breathe.


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Are you taking care of your eyes? 8 ways for good eye health

Image: D Sharon Pruitt via Flickr


Your eyes are with you from the day you were born, so it’s only fair that you take care of them.


At the computer

A big cause for eye strain in most people is the computer. It’s become such a big part of our lives now that it really is important to remember to take little breaks often and a longer break every hour or so. Our eyes like to change focus often, and it’s never good to be staring at something for too long. They say that you need to repeat something 100 times to become a habit, so make it a habit to have a 30 second daydream. Not only are you refocusing your eyes, you’re also collecting your thoughts.


Walking

Take the time to soak in your surroundings when you’re out and about. It’s best to get yourself back in nature even if it’s just a quick stroll through the park. Be conscious of the birds or the squirrels or the dogs, and notice the twigs and branches and veins on the leaves. Breathe in the air and hear the sounds immediately around you.

Take time out from your book or newspaper when you’re on the train or the bus. Look out the window and let your eyes wander over the many colours and shapes of people, shop windows and street furniture. If I had kept my head down instead of looking around, I would have missed this charity shop’s great window display:


Play

Go out and throw a frisbee or play catch. A few summers ago I tried juggling, and although I never did manage to juggle three balls for more than four seconds, it did get me to use my eyes in a new range of motion Some people bounce a ball against a wall to help them think and it’s a great way to enhance your hand-eye coordination.


Eat

The same healthy diet that’s good for your heart and arteries can also help preserve your eyes and vision. After all, vision depends on tiny capillaries to supply the retina and other parts of the eye with nutrients and oxygen. Studies have shown that there are several key nutrientsthat may help ward off age-related vision problems such as macular degeneration and cataracts. Regularly eating these foods can help lead to good eye health:

  • Lutein and Zeaxanthin may help protect against retinal damage and the onset of cataracts and age-related macular degeneration - Green leafy vegetables such as kale, spinach, turnip greens, romaine lettuce, broccoli, and Brussels sprouts
  • Omega-3 fatty acids may reduce inflammation and therefore protect against cell damage and age-related eye diseases - Salmon, tuna, and other oily fish, walnuts and flaxseed
  • Zinc helps with night vision and cataract prevention – Good sources include kidney beans, beef, seafood, poultry and pumpkin seeds
  • Vitamin C helps support blood vessels in the eye and may reduce the risk of cataracts – Fruit and vegetables like oranges, peaches, strawberries, tomatoes, and red bell peppers
  • Vitamin E protects the eyes from free radicals – Nuts such as peanuts, almonds, sunflower seeds, and hazelnuts


Emotions

In Chinese medicine, the liver is linked to the eye, so it’s no coincidence that when you’ve had an angry outburst or a particularly annoying day you tend to get headaches that creep in behind the eyes. Some people who are especially angry or irritable may notice that they have red eyes. Acupuncture can smooth liver qi to remove stagnation and allow it to flow nicely and evenly again or to rebalance the liver and remove excesses.

De-stressing is important: you may find exercise or a physical activity helps or that a softer approach such as meditation or even getting a massage. Start a hobby, practice mindfulness or just go out for a walk (remembering of course, to drink in your surroundings with your eyes).


Acupressure

There are certain acupressure points on the body that you can do yourself.

  • On the foot: press down on the spot between your big toe and the 2nd toe. Press down and hold, you should feel a slight ache or soreness. Don’t press so hard you leave fingerprint marks.
  • On your hand: locate the spot between your thumb and index finger, it’s the “meatier” part. As with the foot, rub and hold down, making sure you don’t press so hard you leave fingerprint marks.
  • On your face: Using your eyebrows as a guide, locate the area outside the bony rim (so between your eyebrow and your eye) and press gently along from the beginning of your eyebrow to the end.


Wear sunglasses

Protect your eyes from UVA and UVB rays to minimise the risk of macular degeneration and cataracts. Choose sunglasses that offer UV protection, and polarised lenses help reduce the glare, very handy when you’re driving. Sunglasses may be associated with summer months but they should be with you even in the winter if it’s a particularly bright day -there’s a reason skiers wear shades. Not only will you be protecting your eyes, it will stop you from squinting and getting those furrows between your eyebrows.


Get annual checkups

Even if your vision is fine, you should still have a check up every year with an ophthalmologist or optometrist. And should you suddenly get blurred vision, blind spots, floaters or flashing lights go to A&E immediately.

 
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August Bank Holiday: Healthy ways to make the most of it

Photo credit: Martin Abegglen/twicepix via Flickr


It’s a rare gift to have a day off work, especially for those who are connected 24/7 to the office via emails and smartphones. The August bank holiday is an ideal day to recharge your batteries, as there are no family meals or religious rites to observe. So, if you have the bank holiday off, here are some wellness tips to make the most of it.


1. Unplug
Rewind the clock back 10 years before the advent of smartphones and all-day virtual connection to work. Put your phone away for a few hours and don’t check your emails. Instead, pick up a book or listen to some classical music (try Pachelbel). Take a bubble bath if that’s your thing or just look out the window and watch the colourful scenes unfold.


2. Sleep
Many people suffer from a lack of sleep, whether it’s not having enough hours in the day, or not being able to unwind at the end of the day and staying up awake half the night. Besides being detrimental to our health – research has shown that a lack of sleep can lead us to make unhealthy food choices – it is terrible walking around with the grogginess of a stuffy helmet. Most people agree that a short nap (no more than one hour) is ideal for catching up on a lack of sleep but still allowing you to fall asleep at bedtime. However, if you need to sleep 15 hours, then don’t force yourself to do otherwise. It may seem like a shame to spend half the day in bed (especially if it’s a nice day) but if your body is screaming for it, allow yourself this little bit of decadence.


3. Reconnect
It’s ironic isn’t it that, with all the Facebook and Twitter and online news and cats on Youtube, we don’t make enough time to reconnect with relatives and friends. Loneliness could have negative impacts beyond depression, according to the Mental Health Foundation it could also lead to excessive drinking, unhealthy eating and less motivation to exercise. So meet up with friends, or call them on Skype. Have that chat and a giggle and enjoy each other’s company.


4. Explore
Use your day off to try something new. Join that pottery class you’ve always thought about but never had the time to or try Zumba instead of your usual spinning. Learn a new language or visit that new restaurant. Exploring the things around you create an exhilarating sense of satisfaction that children take for granted. It doesn’t even have to take dedication; I sometimes pop in the Curzon Soho in Central London to see the next available movie. Yes, I’ve been bored to death on occasion but most likely I saw a brilliant movie I would never have thought to watch.


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Sleep: The forgotten key to health and wellness

Image: Hugh Buzacott/HBuzacott via Flickr


Do you know the difference between sleep deprivation and insomnia? Not getting enough sleep doesn’t only mean you’ll feel cranky and sluggish. It has profound effects on your physiology and therefore your health and wellbeing.


I see quite a few people in my acupuncture practice with sleep disorders. Our hectic lifestyles today mean that there is more stress leading to lots of over-thinking. How many times have you gone to bed and your mind is still whirring away? Others fall asleep fine but they have difficulty staying asleep or they wake up early. The common factor is that all of this results in a sense of drowsiness when you wake up. Waking up feeling refreshed really is a gift you don’t notice until it disappears.


This is a very informative talk given by Dr. Ellen Hughes at The University of California, San Francisco (UCSF).


Be warned, it’s not a short ten minute clip; in fact it’s practically a movie but Dr Hughes’s enthusiasm makes the hour and the half fly by. The Q&A section at the end is quite interesting too.


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Rethinking disease with systems medicine

Image: Hartwig HKD/h.koppdelaney via Flickr


There’s an insightful and ironic quote about medicine from an unknown author which goes like this:

A Short History of Medicine.

2000 B.C.  “Here, eat this root.”

1000 B.C.  “That root is heathen, say this prayer.”

1850 A.D.  “That prayer is superstition, drink this potion.”

1940 A.D.  “That potion is snake oil, swallow this pill.”

1985 A.D.  “That pill is ineffective, take this antibiotic.”

2000 A.D.  “That antibiotic is artificial. Here, eat this root.”


It got a few chuckles out of me but it does show you how healthcare and medicine have come full-circle and we are slowly but surely understanding the importance of (w)holistic medicine.


As an acupuncturist, it comes with the territory that I don’t see a symptom as an isolated case separate from the rest of the body and the person. Why does this person have insomnia? Is it because of a back pain or frequent urination keeping them awake at night? Or is it because of stress at work so the overthinking makes it hard for them to fall asleep? Rarely does a health problem arise without other accompanying symptoms. They may seem unrelated but in traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) these are all clues just waiting to be noticed by the detective.


So it was with great delight that I saw a short video by Dr. Mark Hyman where he talks about “systems medicine”. Hardly revolutionary in the TCM and acupuncture world, his idea is that “historically we just try to find a drug for the bug or a pill for the ill, instead of really finding out how to treat the body as a system.”


Dr Hyman goes on to say:

“We’re moving from the idea that diseases are things, like bacteria that need to be treated with a drug, like an antibiotic, which was a wonderful paradigm for 20th century illness, but it’s not a good paradigm for chronic lifestyle-driven diseases. We’re looking to choose drugs over lifestyle to treat diseases that are really lifestyle-driven illnesses… The future of medicine is systems medicine. It’s predictive, preventative, it’s participatory and it’s personalised.”


It certainly sounds very familiar to TCM theory, doesn’t it?


Click here to watch the full video.


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Sitting too much really is bad for you

Image: comicpie via Flickr


Being a couch potato isn’t an ideal way to spend the day (which is probably why we curl up on the sofa in the evening-curling isn’t really sitting, is it?) and we all know that exercise is really good for us, mentally and physically. Did you know though that prolonged sitting is actually really, really bad for you?


A study of more than 200,000 Australians showed that the more people sat, the higher the risk of death. This study took into account age, gender, weight, general health status and exercise which would all affect the death risk.


The interesting finding was that although exercise did reduce the risk of prolonged sitting, it doesn’t completely cancel it out. What does this mean? It means that a person sitting 11 hours a day and works out 3 times a week is probably not any better off than a person who does minimal exercise but is on their feet most of the day. Surprising, huh?


Exercise is important, and the more you can incorporate it into your lifestyle the better. However these findings suggest that if you couldn’t make it to the gym this week then it’s not the end of the world but you can benefit your health in other easy ways:


1.  Stand on public transport.

I can often be found standing in an almost empty train carriage. It’s just a habit of mine, but after reading about this research, there is even more reason to stay away from sitting on the commute.


2.  Get up when you’re thinking.

Unfortunately most of us are tied to the desk in some way or another. But when you’re not physically using the computer, stand up. I read my newspapers standing up at the kitchen counter, because I have a really nice view of the duck pond from the kitchen window. Some people are investing in “standing desks”, or you could just get up when you have a brainstorming session or talking on the phone.


3.  Walk, walk, walk.

The recent weather (“the wettest drought since records began”) doesn’t make it fun but if it’s practical, resist the urge to be dropped off door-to-door. I have a friend who gets into her car to drive down the road and around the corner to the local shop. She’s a dear girl, but don’t be like her.


The key point to remember is that while we should all strive for physical activity, we should also be focusing on just simply getting up and moving about.


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Pain relief with PAP injections may last 100 times longer than a traditional acupuncture treatment

Image: D Sharon Pruitt via Flickr


Last week I blogged about the newest research showing that acupuncture can improve skeletal muscle atrophy in mice. Well these are exciting times as researchers around the world are looking at the mechanisms of acupuncture (which unfortunately are still unknown) and applying them in a whole new way.


Traditionally acupuncture uses the concepts of qi and blood (which is basically oxygen and nutrients) in the channels (or vessels) and helping direct them to where they are needed most. If you are deficient in either qi or blood, then the acupuncturist will use the tonifying method and point selection. Likewise if there is a blood stasis (think back to the nightmare traffic jam) then the acupuncture method chosen would be of the moving variety, to help remove the blockage, or stagnation, and get the traffic going again.


Recent studies have looked at these concepts from outside the box. Researchers still don’t know how acupuncture works exactly but that hasn’t stopped them from applying them in new and wonderful ways.


Take this new finding from scientists at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill who have identified a new way to deliver long-lasting pain relief through acupuncture.


Injecting prostatic acid phosphatise (PAP) into the spine of rodents eased chronic pain for up to three days. Unfortunately the method of delivery, spinal injections, are invasive and must be performed in a clinical setting meaning they are typically reserved for patients with excruciating pain.


Mark J. Zylka, PhD, associate professor in the Department of Cell and Molecular Physiology and the UNC Neuroscience Center, explains:


“When an acupuncture needle is inserted into an acupuncture point and stimulated, nucleotides are released. These nucleotides are then converted into adenosine. Adenosine has antinociceptive properties, meaning adenosine can decrease the body’s sensitivity to pain.”


Zylka and his team injected PAP in the soft tissue behind the knee (the acupuncture point, Weizhong) and found that pain relief lasted 100 times longer than a traditional acupuncture treatment. Also, by avoiding the spine the researchers could increase the dose of PAP. A single injection was also effective at reducing symptoms associated with inflammatory pain and neuropathic pain.


In the eyes of traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) this is still masking the symptom and not treating the root of the illness (in this case, the cause of the severe pain). However possibilities like these mean that more research will be done into acupuncture and the mechanics involved, both molecularly and neurologically. This can only be a good thing.



Reference:

Pain relief with PAP injections may last 100 times longer than a traditional acupuncture treatment.  ScienceDaily.  Retrieved April 24, 2012, from http://www.sciencedaily.com /releases/2012/04/120423103715.htm



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Japanese researchers show that acupuncture can improve skeletal muscle atrophy


Japanese researchers have revealed study results that show how acupuncture therapy mitigates skeletal muscle loss and holds promise for those seeking improved mobility through muscle rejuvenation.


Akiko Onda, an acupuncturist and graduate student at the Waseda University School of Sport Sciences presented the findings at the American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology annual meeting, part of Experimental Biology 2012. She said, “It is my hope that this study will demonstrate acupuncture’s feasibility with regard to improving health among the elderly and medical patients. Our findings could identify acupuncture as the primary nonpharmacological treatment to prevent skeletal muscle atrophy in the future.”


Skeletal muscle atrophy is the loss of skeletal muscle, more common amongst the elderly and the sick. The usual recommendations to stave off muscle atrophy are exercise, improved nutrition and mechanical stimulation, but this can be difficult for the frail or those who have severe medical conditions.


Onda insists an alternative nonpharmacological intervention is urgently required, and so she and her collaborators in two labs at Waseda University decided to explore how acupuncture affects skeletal muscle at the molecular level. Her  team found that decreases in muscle mass in mice can be significantly reversed by acupuncture.


“Our results have uncovered one molecular mechanism responsible for the efficacy of acupuncture treatment and clarified its usefulness in preventing skeletal muscle atrophy in mice,” Onda said. “We hope to introduce acupuncture as a new strategy for preventing skeletal muscle atrophy in the future. Further investigations into its molecular mechanisms will help to decrease the medical community’s suspicion of acupuncture and provide us with a better understanding of how acupuncture treatment prevents skeletal muscle atrophy.”


Reference:

Japanese Researchers Show that Acupuncture can Improve Skeletal Muscle Atrophy.  Newswise.  Retrieved April 24, 2012, from http://www.newswise.com/articles/japanese-researchers-show-that-acupuncture-can-improve-skeletal-muscle-atrophy


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