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Many people will not try acupuncture because they are afraid that the needles will hurt or that the experience will be unpleasant. This is really a tragedy, as acupuncture has the capacity to effectively treat a variety of chronic health conditions that typically do not respond to other forms of intervention.
In my practice, I have used acupuncture to treat both children and adults. In fact, I have done full acupuncture treatments on kids as young as 4, including needling points on the face, scalp, hands, and feet. Even patients this age typically do not experience any discomfort that lasts for more than a second or two.
The truth of the matter is that nobody really likes needles. We are generally conditioned to have an aversion to them because of the trauma involved in getting shots and other procedures using hypodermic needles. It is always fun when a new patient comes in and confesses in a voice that suggests their situation is utterly unique, 'I don't like needles.' Most new patients make this confession-- and most are very surprised by how pleasant the treatment actually is, even though it involves needles.
There are times where you can feel an insertion prick with the needles that lasts for a couple of seconds. You can also feel a nervy sensation that radiates through the area being worked on for a brief period of time. Other sensations include a dull achiness or pressure around the needles.
Many traditional Chinese doctors use a more aggressive style of needling that involves strong stimulation and thick needles. I have found this to be a turnoff for many Westerners, as excellent results can be achieved without having to induce strong sensations around the needles.
If you are interested in acupuncture but are reluctant to try it because of the potential pain involved in treatment, I encourage you to move through that fear, as you will likely find acupuncture to be a pleasant, gentle, and very effective form of treatment for your health care needs.
I hope this helps you overcome any apprehension so you can get proactive about your health using this ancient and powerful form of medicine.
What is Acupuncture?
Acupuncture is an ancient form of healthcare that originated in China at least 2,500 years ago. It has been practiced throughout the Asian world for many centuries. Acupuncture has been accepted into the Western mainstream culture since the 1970’s and is currently soaring in popularity throughout many parts of the Western hemisphere. Through the use of extremely fine needles, acupuncture works by manipulating the flow of Qi in the body, which is the life force or energy force that is present in all living things. Acupuncture Needle Treatment Acupuncture theory suggests that there are 12 main meridians through which Qi flows. These meridians correspond to the major internal organs of the body. For instance, there is a liver meridian, a heart meridian, and so on. In each of these meridians, the Qi can become stagnant or deficient. Stagnant Qi means that there is a blockage or excess of energy, which can cause a variety of symptoms including pain, inflammation, headaches, high blood pressure, depression, and menstrual imbalances. Deficient Qi means that there isn’t enough functional energy within a given organ to perform its necessary duties. For instance, chronic diarrhea and fatigue can easily be caused by deficient Qi of the spleen.
Acupuncture therapy typically involves inserting needles into several acupoints, which are specific locations on the meridians where Qi is said to gather. By manipulating the flow of Qi on a given meridian, stagnant Qi can be dispersed and deficient Qi can be tonified. As a result, the symptoms that correspond to these underlying energetic imbalances should naturally improve. There are 365 acupoints on the 12 meridians, along with numerous ‘extra points’ that are located throughout the body. There are also microsystems such as the ear, eye, nose, and hand. Some acupuncturists will only use these specific areas regardless of the nature of the patient’s complaints.
From a Western biomedical perspective, acupuncture has been proven to release the neurotransmitter serotonin and beta-endorphins, opiate-like substances made by the brain. Serotonin balance is essential for emotional and mental health and has been linked to healthy eating patterns, sleeping patterns, and the degree of pain in the body. Beta-endorphins are analgesic and anti-inflammatory and are responsible for the ‘runner’s high’, which is why acupuncture can induce similar sensations.
Does Acupuncture hurt? What if I don't want needles?
Acupuncture should be a relatively pain-free experience. There are times where the initial insertion will be felt by the patient, but there is never an occasion where the patient should be in pain through the duration of the treatment. Acupuncture can cause dull achiness, heaviness, tingling, heat, and increased sensation around the area needled. Almost always, these sensations are accompanied by a deep quality of relaxation and tranquility. Acupuncture should be a relaxing experience. In fact, this is one of its therapeutic benefits. I have had many patients who felt so relaxed after treatment that they had to drink some water and ‘get their bearings’ before they were permitted to leave my office. This deep relaxation tends to stay with the patient longer through successive treatments. I look for this as a measurable sign of progress. If the patient seriously objects to needles, there are many alternatives that I can employ. I will use acupressure, energy work, nutrition, herbal medicine, etc. as back-up options. These therapies are often sufficiently powerful to replace the acupuncture. Many patients feel an initial apprehension, but are shocked by how little they feel upon needle insertion.
What should I look for in an acupuncturist?
Unfortunately there are many acupuncturists who only practice on a part-time basis and treat Chinese medicine like a hobby. You should seek out the services of someone who has extensive experience in treating your condition and your practitioner should have a deep commitment to continued education and practice. I have been practicing full-time, and am a teacher and seminar leader within the profession of Oriental medicine. I have also trained extensively under several internationally renowned acupuncturists.
What does a treatment plan entail?
Most patients that come to me for chronic health problems plan on committing to treatment once a week for 4-6 treatments. At this time, we will assess for progress and discuss where to go from there. Within that period of time, I expect that their symptoms are showing signs of definite improvement and that their general health is markedly better. If someone has extremely chronic and severe symptoms, it is not uncommon for me to see them weekly for 10 visits. I encourage the body to heal over a period of time, as excessively rapid progress can put the body into a state of shock. If something has accumulated over a period of years, it is only natural that it will take some time to unravel the condition and heal it at its foundation. While no therapy can help everyone, my clinical experience has been that approximately 80% of my patients undergo noticeably positive changes through their course of treatment. Compliancy is an important factor in treatment progress. Generally, patients that commit to my lifestyle suggestions will progress more rapidly.
What can acupuncture treat?
In my clinical practice, I have had great success in treating a variety of health concerns:
Anxiety and Depression
While I don’t claim to be a specialist in any one area, I have helped many people with anxiety and depression get off of antidepressants. I enjoy working with this population because many people with anxiety or depression simply aren’t aware that there are alternatives to drugs and talk therapy. Nutrition, exercise, mindfulness techniques, acupuncture, and herbs can offer an incredible support system for healing these conditions.
I have helped many women with PMS, menstrual cramps, irregular cycles, infertility, and menopausal symptoms such as hot flashes and night sweats.
I have successfully treated many for headaches, back pain, neck pain, sprains, strains, ect.
Constipation/Diarrhea/Irratable Bowel Syndrome
Acupuncture and herbs can work miracles for people suffering with these symptoms.
Acupuncture alone can be very effective. With herbs and stress reduction techniques, the healing process is even more powerful.
Other symptoms/disorders that I have successfully treated with acupuncture:
- High blood pressure
- High cholesterol
- Colds and flus
- Autoimmune conditions
- Type 2 Diabetes
Out of all the patients I have treated, I would say that about 50% of them (at least) are struggling with a pattern called adrenal exhaustion. This basically means that they have lost the ability to rest and rejuvenate. Instead, it’s as if the nervous system is always ‘on’ and the person has lost the ability to stop the incessant mental chatter, anxiety, worry, or stress.
The main symptoms of this pattern include: fatigue, irritability, restless sleep, low back pain, anxiety, depression, nervousness, feeling wiped out upon waking, many female hormonal problems, food cravings and various addictions, weight gain, sluggish metabolism, and so on.
The real question is, what is the cause of this pattern and, more importantly, what is the cure?
Well, in my experience most people have adrenal weakness because they are using excessive amounts of will power to get through life. It is like they are constantly swimming upstream, fighting against life. They work too hard, rest too little, and have a ‘to do’ list a mile long. These are some of the outward causes. The real cause is more of an inner dynamic. In this day and age, many people are disconnected from their true purpose for being alive. Because of this, they don’t know themselves on a deeply intimate level, which causes them to make decisions that lead to distress and distraction.
Generally speaking, adrenal weakness is as much of a spiritual issue as it is a mental one. If the root cause of purposelessness isn’t addressed, then the person can take all the supplements in the world or get acupuncture 3 times a week and it will only have a palliative effect. This is why I have been incorporating life coaching into my practice for increasing numbers of patients. This is also a big reason why I have written The Purpose Principle.
Now, this is not to say that certain forms of alternative care won’t help adrenal weakness. I have used acupuncture alone to kickstart someone’s adrenal function in a way that is very powerful for certain patients. But by far, the patients who make the most progress are the ones who are willing to do the work. They are compliant and they are motivated to make the lifestyle changes necessary to live in balance and awareness.
If you are concerned that you may have adrenal exhaustion, then call my office to discuss your situation.
Anti-aging medicine and nutrition is big business these days, as most baby boomers are trying anything and everything to look and feel younger. In my acupuncture practice, many of my patients have asked me if I do cosmetic acupuncture or if I know much about using food and herbs to take a few years off their appearance.
While there is nothing inherently wrong with wanting to look and feel younger, this desire can easily block us from the deeper issues that deserve our attention. The questions that I always come back to are, ‘What is causing you to look or feel older than your years in the first place?’ and ‘Is it fundamentally healthy to desire a more youthful appearance or is it a sign that we are denying the very natural process of birth, old age, and death?’
So, what is the real cause of premature aging?Why are so many people feeling worn out before their years? Why are so many women hitting perimenopause in their late 30’s instead of their late 40’s? Why are degenerative illnesses such as diabetes, arthritis, and osteoporosis increasing at astonishing rates?
Well, I believe that my health article on adrenal function addresses this isue quite sufficiently. Many people have lost the abiilty to rest and restore. They are always ‘on’– they can’t quiet their minds and their bodies are in a chronic state of contraction. They have forgotten to breathe deeply. As a result, some of the most fundamental inputs into health and longevity, such as diet and exercise, often go ignored. Why? Because something is missing on a foundational level.(The first 7 strategies of my book The Purpose Principle are all about laying this foundation).
Diet and exercise are of course important inputs into how we age. But there is something much more fundamental that ultimately determines how youthful we are and appear, which is the extent to which we spiritually inhabit our bodies and are conscious of the fact that the body is a vessel for our awareness. If we forget that we are spiritual beings having a human experience, then we won’t be fully awake and alive within our skin. We will overly identify with the body as who we are.We won’t see that we have a choice to bring more light, space, and energy into our bodies simply by heightening our awareness and anchoring our spirits more deeply into this physical dimension.
Yes, there are supplements, herbs, and treatments that can help us to look and feel younger. The real goal, however, is to actually become fully embodied as a human being. Awaken all of your senses and know that there is a deeply spiritual presence that is inhabiting your body. That is the basis of health and longevity. In fact, this aspect of who we are is eternal.It does not age. It was never born and it never dies.
A lot of people are turning to the anti-aging industry because they fear impermanence and death. Looking older is a reminder of their mortality. My interest is in helping people become liberated from this form of suffering rather than putting a bandage on their issues by taking a few wrinkles out of their face.
As a health practitioner, I believe it’s paramount to keep returning to the question, ‘What really matters?’ If you think about it, what this world needs more than anything is massive amounts of individuals choosing to wake up, open their hearts, and live with purpose. If it was really helpful to focus on appearances, I would be all for it.But our world needs a much deeper level of treatment than this if it is to sustain itself for much longer.
Approximately 38 million Americans suffer with chronic anxiety or depression. One out of eight adults are currently taking antidepressant medications. While these medications can offer support and benefit on certain occasions, there are indeed many people that do not respond well to this form of treatment. This can be due to a number of factors including:
- Various side effects that outweigh the benefits of the medication
- A developed tolerance to the medication that causes the benefits to diminish
- Excessive sensitivity to the concentrated nature of these medications
- A belief system that suggest that the anxiety is not due to a biochemical imbalance, or that this imbalance is the result of a deeper spiritual issue
Practiced for over 2,500 years, acupuncture is a branch of Chinese medicine that treats the energetic level of the human body/mind. As surprising as it is to most people, acupuncture is usually a profoundly relaxing experience that establishes a deep quality of restoration and balance to the central nervous system. Most people feel altered, floaty, dreamy, or sleepy after treatment. This feeling tends to stick around for a few hours after the treatment and becomes a more continuous experience with repetitive treatment. Acupuncture works by balancing the flow of Qi, or internal life force, in the body. Anxiety is typically a byproduct of weak Qi in the heart or kidneys. Other symptoms such as low back pain, heart palpitations, insomnia, irritability, or nightmares commonly accompany the anxiety.
There are a number of Chinese herbal formulas that can work wonders for anxiety disorders. Here is a brief list of formulas I commonly use in my practice to treat anxiety:
- peaceful spirit formula by Golden Flowwer
- salvia and amber by 7 Forests
- heavenly emperor's formula
- free and easy wanderer
- suan zao ren tang
- calm spirit by Health Concerns
Western herbs can also be helpful. Here is a brief list fo herbs that can be bought at the local health food store:
- lemon balm
One of the most important considerations here is to maintain stable blood sugar throughout the day. The majority of anxiety patients suffer from hypoglycemia. They tend to eat refined carbohydrates and/or drink coffee to start the day, only to experience the typical 'crash' around 2-4pm. To keep the blood sugar stable, begin the day with a high protein breakfast such as eggs, turkey bacon, whole oats, or smoothies with whey or goat protein in them. Eat a low glycemic snack every 2-3 hours. Avoid coffee and other forms of caffeine. It can also be revealing to avoid allergenic foods such as wheat, gluten, pasteurized dairy, and refined sugar for one month to see if the anxiety significantly improves.
Here is a brief list of nutrional supplements that can be very helpful in treating anxiety:
- Fish oil
- B vitamin complex
Meditation and Yoga
Many people find meditation and yoga to be their most powerful allies in healing anxiety. With regular practice of various breathing techniques and yoga postures, people often feel that they have much more control over their anxiety and that it need not run their life anymore. These practices can be direct gateways to the rest and restore mode of the nervous system. On a deeper level, they can help us forge a spiritual connection with our lives that instills an unshakable sense of trust and safety in the workings of the universe.
From a holistive perspective, our symptoms are never random. There is always a reason why they creep up. In the case of anxiety, it is helpful to disengage from our personal feelings about it and look at the bigger picture. What is the anxiety telling us about ourselves and where we are at in life? Is it a warning sign that something is amiss and needs to be acknowledged or changed? In any regard, the practices mentioned here can offer a profound level of support in getting to the root of the problem and inducing a gentle course in a new direction of calmness and insight.
Approximately 44 million Americans have been diagnosed with arthritis. Many of these people are being treated with Western medications such as steroids and anti-inflammatories, while many others’ symptoms are left untreated, as they do not want to pursue conventional Western treatment options.
In my clinical practice, I have worked with people with all forms of arthritis and I have helped many of them get off of pain killers and steroids. This is possible by using a combination of acupuncture, herbs, nutritional supplements, and possibly techniques such as yoga or meditation. I am always pleased (as is the patient) when we can use natural therapies for pain management because they do not have any side effects, unlike most Western medications for pain relief, which can cause a host of complications. Many of these medications weaken the body over time, which, in my opinion, causes premature aging and general debility.
Below are several natural herbal and nutritional supplements that have proven effective in overcoming the pain and inflammation of arthritis. It is always best to seek out the services of a healthcare professional if you are interested in using these products.
- Fish Oil: Taking a high-quality essential fatty acid complex can be very helpful for reducing pain and inflammation and increasing synovial fluid in the joints. Fish oil can also help any depression that accompanies the chronic pain. Start with 3,000mg daily.
- SAMe: This is a naturally occurring metabolite found in the human body and plants. The active ingredient is methionine. SAMe has been shown to alleviate depression, reduce appetite, and improve neurotransmitter synthesis and receptor binding. I will often use SAMe when there is a combination of depression and chronic pain, as it reduces inflammation and regenerates joint tissue. It is excellent for both rheumatoid and osteoarthritis. Start with 200 mg early in the day on an empty stomach, increase to up to 1,000 mg over a period of a few weeks as needed.
- MSM: 2 grams daily prevent cartilage breakdown
- Vitamins and Minerals: Key nutrients that manufacture synovial fluid are vitamins A, B complex, C, D, and E. Calcium, selenium, magnesium, and zinc are also crucial. Vitamins C and D are most important for nourishing bones and connective tissue.
- Cetyl myristoleate: This is a form of fatty acid that has extraordinary qualities for joint lubrication. It needs to be taken constantly at a dosage of 500-1000mg/day. It is useful for both rheumatoid and osteoarthritis.
- Evening Primrose Oil: This wonderful herb has been found to reverse cases of mild to moderate arthritis.
- Shen Tong Zhu Yu Tang: This is a formula used for systemic blood stagnation characterized by sharp and severe pain throughout the body. It is useful for muscle spasm, inflammation, and pain that is fixed in nature.
- Juan Bi Tang: This is a classic formula for arthritis. In Chinese medicine, Bi is a syndrome that is characterized by certain elements such as wind, damp, or cold lodging in the body causing pain. This formula is helpful for achiness and stiffness primarily in the upper body.
- Du Huo Ji Sheng Tang: This formula is useful for Bi syndromes that affect the lower back, legs, and knees. It helps to relieve achiness and tension.
- SPZM: This is a Health Concerns formula that is useful for muscle spasm, particularly in the upper body.
- Channel Flow: This is a Health Concerns Formula that is useful for pain anywhere in the body. It can help with moderate or severe pain.
The following basic dietary tips will be very helpful for managing the symptoms of arthritis:
- Start eating an organic whole foods diet that is rich in fish, chicken, vegetables, fruit, and whole grains. This diet is rich in essential fatty acids, antioxidants, and fiber.
- Avoid refined sugars and carbohydrates: These foods promote inflammation and pain and weaken digestion and vitality.
- Avoid synthetic additives and sweeteners and genetically modified foods.
- Avoid coffee and alcohol: Both of these are irritants to the liver, colon, and stomach. They can exacerbate pain and emotional ups and downs.
Acupuncture is one of the greatest therapies available for healing arthritis. It has been clinically proven to reduce pain and inflammation, improve circulation, and trigger the rest and restore mode of the nervous system. Acupuncture should be painless and deeply relaxing. I recommend getting weekly treatment for 6-8 weeks for chronic arthritis, then assessing for progress.
Meditation and Yoga
Meditation and yoga have been practiced for thousands of years in many different cultures. They have stood the test of time because they have enormous healing benefits for the mind and body. If practiced appropriately, meditation and yoga can offer profound support for managing chronic pain, overcoming fatigue, and improving flexibility.
Asthma affects approximately 20 million Americans every year. Conventional treatment options are limited to steroid inhalers and bronchodilators. While these medications are effective in relieving the symptoms of asthma, the side effects of continuous long-term treatment can be severe. There are numerous natural strategies to consider for chronic asthma that can offer effective treatment without the side effects.
The following is a list of nutritional supplements and herbal formulas to consider for asthma:
Quercetin - Recognized as one of the superior flavonoids because of its marked antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. Quercetin is known for its ability to stabilize mast cells and help control allergies. If the asthma is directly related to allergic reactions, then quercetin is an excellent supplement to try.
Grape Seed extract - A strong antioxidant that is also very good at reducing inflammation and breaking the chronic pattern of allergy-induced asthma.
Cod liver oil - High in essential fatty acids, cod liver oil reduces inflammation, promotes healthy circulation, and is generally strengthening for immunity.
MSM - MSM is an organic sulfur-containing nutrient, a naturally occurring compound in the environment and in the human body. Sulfur is necessary for the structure of every cell in the body. Hormones, enzymes, antibodies, and antioxidants all depend on it. Because the body utilizes and expends it on a daily basis, sulfur must be continually replenished for optimal nutrition and health. MSM has anti-inflammatory properties. It boosts immunity and is helpful for allergies.
Ginseng and gecko: A Chinese herbal formula (ren shen ge jie san) that clears heat and phlegm from the lungs and strengthens both lung and spleen Qi
Ding chuan tang: The most widely used herbal formula for asthma, ding chuan tang can be applied to all kinds of asthma. In particular, if the asthma is exacerbated by the onset of a cold, this formula works well.
Jade Windscreen: A Chinese herbal formula (yu ping feng san) that can be combined with one of the above formulas to add another support in strengthening immunity and boosting lung function.
Practiced for over 2,500 years in various cultures throughout Asia, acupuncture has enjoyed a long history of treating internal medical conditions. Acupuncture can be very effective in the treatment of asthma. Acupuncture helps to reduce inflammation and balance the major organs that are contributing to one’s symptoms. In Chinese medicine, asthma can be caused by a variety of factors including stress, diet, allergies, candida infection and constitutional weakness. All of these factors are related to different internal organs that are causing the lungs to constrict. Acupuncture theory involves combining the patient’s symptoms with pulse and tongue diagnosis to get a clear picture of the body’s inner workings. Acupoints are used on the corresponding meridians that will balance any energetic or functional disharmonies. Adjunctive therapies are also very helpful for asthma, such as cupping and gua sha.
The main strategy for asthma sufferers is to avoid foods that provoke inflammation in the body. At the top of this list is the whole class of refined sugars and carbohydrates. Any food that converts into sugar very quickly in the body is going to cause inflammation. Many asthma patients report a marked improvement in their symptoms simply by taking this step. In Chinese medicine, the lungs share a close relationship with the large intestine. Intestinal toxicity can cause a whole slew of internal problems, including asthma and allergies. If there is a history of constipation, then a cleansing approach is useful to detoxify the colon, which will indirectly benefit the lungs. A high fiber diet that is rich in fruit and vegetables is the key. Flaxseed, prune, pear, ripe banana, and herbs such as rhubarb root are helpful colon cleansers.
Anytime the asthma is in remission, I recommend undertaking deep breathing exercises as much as possible. Ujayi breathing in yoga is a very helpful practice for building lung capacity and strength. This is a long, exaggerated breath that is coordinated with each asana (yoga posture). Many of the chest opening asanas are healing for the lungs as well. Pranayama exercises such as one-minute breath and alternate nasal breathing are beneficial, especially is done on a daily basis. The one-minute breath involves inhaling as slowly as possible for as long as possible, holding for as long as possible, then exhaling for as long as possible. Try to build up to a full minute of doing this. Alternate nasal breathing involves plugging one nostril, then inhaling deeply through the other, switching sides, then exhaling slowly and fully, inhaling deeply, then switching sides. This can be repeated several times. If your stress level is high, then I recommend learning how to meditate for 15-30 minutes per day. If you need help with this, please click here.
Acupuncture is perhaps best known for its treatment of chronic pain. According to Daniel Mazanec, M.D. "over a million Americans are treated with acupuncture annually for musculoskeletal disorders including back pain and Fibromyalgia." The most common conditions seen in most acupuncture offices are back pain, sciatica, headaches, arthritis, and fibromyalgia. The NIH stated that acupuncture was a reasonable treatment alternative for chronic back pain sufferers. Many M.D.'s refer patients for acupuncture. A recent survey reports 69% of pain specialists have referred patients for acupuncture.
There are many studies supporting the effectiveness of acupuncture for pain. Below are summaries of a few of the more recent studies.
- Dr. Richard Grew studied 74 patients with chronic pain. 75% of those who received acupuncture reported a greater than 50% reduction in pain
- The May 2004 edition of Acupuncture Today states "A new report published in the online version of the British Medical Journal has found that acupuncture is a useful, cost-effective treatment for chronic headaches, particularly migraines. The report found that over a 12 month period, headache patients who received regular acupuncture sessions reported fewer headaches, had a higher quality of life, missed fewer days from work, used less medication, and made fewer visits to a general practicioner than patients given standard treatment for headaches.
- The Hanover Medical School evaluated the effectiveness of acupuncture for tennis elbow. Patients were divided into two groups, one which received ten real acupuncture treatments and the other received ten sham acupuncture treatments. The study concluded that two weeks after the end of treatments the group that received real acupuncture treatments demonstrated significantly more improvement in strength, pain intensity, and arm function than the sham group. Feb. 2003 Journal of C.Medicine
- The U.K. Complementary Health Care Conference, Dec. 5, 2002, after reviewing the evidence concluded that acupuncture can help relieve a number of symptoms suffered by those with cancer. Treatments with acupuncture prior to surgery relieve the need to top-up anesthetics and reduce post-operative pain. Studies show that acupuncture can also relieve cancer pain, breathlessness and nausea, and vomiting.
Approximately 38 million Americans suffer with chronic anxiety or depression. One out of eight adults are currently taking antidepressant medications. While these medications can offer support and benefit on certain occasions, there are indeed many people that do not respond well to this form of treatment. This can be due to a number of factors including:
- Various side effects that outweigh the benefits of the medication
- A developed tolerance to the medication that causes the benefits to diminish
- Excessive sensitivty to the concentrated nature of these medications
- A belief system that suggests that the depression is not due to a biochemical imbalance, or that this imbalance is the result of a deeper spiritual issue
In my clinical practice, I have worked with a number of patients who were convinced that they had run out of options after finding medications and/or talk therapy to be ineffective for their needs. Many of these people try acupuncture as a last resort. Based on the experience I have had in working with numerous patients who suffer from chronic depression, I now firmly believe that Chinese medicine, nutritional supplemenation, meditation, and yoga can offer tremendously helpful support in healing the root causes of this epidemic. This approach is much more comprehensive and much less invasive to the brain than using SSRI medications. It accounts for not only biochemical factors, but also energetic, nutritional, and spiritual influences as well.
Practiced for over 2,500 years, acupuncture is a branch of Chinese medicine that treats the energetic level of the human body/mind. As surprising as it is to most people, acupuncture is usually a profoundly relaxing experience that establishes a deep quality of restoration and balance to the central nervous system. Most people feel altered, floaty, dreamy, or sleepy after treatment. This feeling tends to stick around for a few hours after the treatment and becomes a more continuous experience with repetitive treatment. Acupuncture works by balancing the flow of Qi, or internal life force, in the body. Anxiety is typically a byproduct of weak Qi in the heart or kidneys. Other symptoms such as low back pain, heart palpitations, insomnia, irritability, or nightmares commonly accompany the depression.
There are a number of Chinese herbal forumlas that can work wonders for depression. Here is a brief list of formilas I commonly use in my practice to treat this condition.
- gui pi tang
- jin gui shen qi wan
- bu zhong yi qi tang
- cyperus 18 by 7 Forests
- polygaga far reaching by Health Concerns
Western herbs can also be helpful. Here is a brief list of herbs that can be bought at the local health food store:
- St. John's wort
- gingko biloba
- rhodiola rosea
- siberian ginseng
One of the most important considerations here is to maintain stable blood sugar throughout the day. The majority of anxiety patients suffer from hypoglycemia. They tend to eat refined carbohydrates and/or drink coffee to start the day, only to experience the typical 'crash' around 2-4 pm. To keep the blood sugar stable, begin the day with a high-protein breakfast such as eggs, turkey bacon, whole oats, or smoothies with whey or goat protein in them. Eat a low glycemic snack every 2-3 hours. Avoid coffee and other forms of caffeine. It can also be revealing to avoid allergenic foods such as wheat, gluten, pasteurized dairy, and refined sugar for one month to see if the depression significantly improves. Here is a brief list of nutritional supplements that can be very helpful in treating depression:
- Fish Oil
- B vitamin complex
Meditation and Yoga
Many people find meditation and yoga to be their most powerful allies in healing depression. With regular practice of various breathing techniques and yoga postures, people often feel that they have much more control over the depression and that it need not run their life anymore. These practices can be direct gateways to the rest and restore mode of the nervous system. On a deeper level, they can help us forge a spiritual connection with our lives that instills an unshakable sense of trust and safety in the workings of the universe.
From a holistive perspective, our symptoms are never random. There is always a reason why they creep up. In the case of depression, it is helpful to disengage from our personal feelings about it and look at the bigger picture. What is the depression telling us about ourselves and where we are at in life? Is it a warning sign that something is amiss and needs to be acknowledged or changed? In any regard, the practices mentioned here can offer a profound level of support in getting to the root of the problem and inducing a gentle course in a new direction of inspiration and insight.
It is estimated that approximately 62 million Americans experience digestive problems on an ongoing basis. This is due to the harmful repercussions of the standard American diet on our oppulation coupled with the high level of stress that the average American experiences. Digestive problems can range from minor annoyances, such as gas and bloating, to life-threatening illnesses, such as crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis, unremitting diarrhea, and various cancers that target digestive organs. Whatever the case, it is always worth being proactive about our digestive health. The information contained in this article on acupuncture and natural therapies should definitely get you going in the right direction, not only with your digestion but also with your health in general. Let’s take a look at a few common disorders and what can be done about them.
The standard American diet can easily lead to chronic constipation. This diet is low in fiber and antioxidants and high in difficult-to-digest additives and refined ingredients. Many, many people are constipated and they don’t even know it. They may have regular bowel movements, but they are still not flushing their systems thoroughly, which creates intestinal toxicity. Intestinal cleansing is often a top priority in healing numerous chronic health problems. There are several natural herbal remedies and nutritional supplements that can relieve constipation and heal the underlying imbalances.
- Chinese herbal formulas such as ma zi ren wan and run chang wan are gentle laxatives that are not habit forming.
- Aloe vera juice reduces inflammation and promotes peristalsis (smooth muscle contraction in the bowel).
- Triphala is an Ayurvedic herbal complex that gently eases constipation and removes stagnant waste from the intestines.
- Psyllium husk is a high fiber product that alleviates constipation.
- Flax meal and seed are excellent high fiber sources for constipation.
- Senna leaf is useful for severe constipation.
Bloating and gas:
These symptoms tend to arise from eating too much or too fast, excessive stress, refined foods, coffee and alcohol, and sugar. Aside from slowing down and eating less of these foods, here are a few herbal suggestions:
- Chai hu shu gan wan -- the quintessential Chinese formula for the combination of stress and gas.
- Xiao yao wan -- Excellent for digestive problems that arise during menses and excessive stress.
- Liu jun zi tang -- Strengthens the spleen and takes phlegm out of the gut, which is often related to gas and bloating.
- Acidophilus and bifidus -- Bloating and gas can be related to candida overgrowth, which is a pathological yeast that causes an array of physical and emotional imbalances.
Irritable Bowel Syndrome:
IBS is a very common problem that affects millions of Americans. Doctors will often diagnose IBS when the patient’s symptoms don’t seem to match up with anything else, so they call it irritable bowel. This disorder is characterized by bowels fluctuating from constipation to diarrhea with intermittent abdominal pain or distention. People with IBS tend to be sensitive to a variety of foods including high fiber foods, refined sugar, wheat, and gluten products. Symptoms can continue indefinitely and can be resistant to conventional treatments. I have treated several patients with IBS, usually with very positive results. Acupuncture theory asserts that IBS typically involves a disharmony between the liver and the spleen. The liver becomes hyperactive due to stress, anger, and frustration, which causes it to weaken the spleen, causing loose bowels and fatigue. Treatment involves relaxing the liver and strengthening the spleen.
- Herbal formulas such as Irritease by K’An Herbals and Isatis Cooling by Health Concerns have proven helpful. In general, I recommend committing to weekly acupuncture and herbal treatment for 4-8 visits, depending upon the severity and duration of your symptoms.
- Acidophilus and bifidus cand be helpful, as many people with IBS also have candida
- Chamomile and peppermint have a soothing effect on the gut and can reduce irritation
Most digestive disorders respond very well to consistent acupuncture and herbal treatment. Making dietary changes that restore and detoxify the gut also enhances treatment progress. Digestion is one of the main reference points for gauging one’s overall health. If there are weaknesses or imbalances here, it is likely that one’s overall health is compromised. Maintaining healthy digestion is an essential component in our quest for optimal health.
I should mention that for those of you suffering from crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis, or colon cancer, it is definitely best to seek out professional alternative and allopathic medical treatment. These diseases are simply too involved to offer blanket solutions in this article. There are many powerful natural remedies for these diseases, but their application is specific to your unique needs.
Acupuncture and Chinese herbal medicine are some of the few natural treatment options that can be profoundly helpful for women suffering from endometriosis. This condition, which occurs when the tissue that lines the endometrium is found to be growing outside the uterus, is a painful and sometimes debilitating condition that affects 10 to 20% of American women of childbearing age. The typical symptoms are severe menstrual cramping, irregular menstrual bleeding, lower back pain, pain after intercourse, fatigue, and occasionally difficulty in conception.
Endometriosis is seen as a sign of blood stagnation in Chinese medicine. This can be due to blood deficiency, kidney deficiency, or excessive internal cold. Each specific pattern tends to respond very well to treatment. There are some cases of endometrial growth, however, that are so pronounced that surgical intervention is necessary. Most mild to moderate cases can be treated with Chinese medicine.
The typical course of treatment for endometriosis is acupuncture once a week for 6-8 visits, at which time we will assess for progress and discuss future treatment. The process tends to be condensed if the patient is willing to take Chinese herbs and make some dietary changes. The following herbal formulas have proven to be effective in the treatment of endometriosis:
- shao fu zhy yu tang: treats blood stagnation and cold in the lower abdominal region
- crampbark plus: A formula by Health Concerns that regulates the blood
- gui zhi fu ling wan: Perhaps the most popular herbal formula for cysts, fibroid and enodmetriosis
Along with acupuncture and herbs, it’s also important to make the following dietary changes:
- avoid refined sugar
- minimize refined carbs
- minimize coffee
- eat plenty of organic fruits and vegetables
- take flax oil dialy
- get plently of essential fats: fish, nuts, seeds, legumes
- make sure meat selections are free range / organic
It is also important to exercise 3-4 times a week to maintain the proper circulation of Qi and blood throughout the body.
Pursuing acupuncture and herbal treatment for endometriosis can be a life-changing decision for many women. When combined with proper diet and exercise, the root cause of this condition can often be healed.
It is estimated that over 50% of the American population experiences chronic fatigue. The most common causes are stress, overwork, insomnia, depression, and various malfunctions in the major systems of the body (endocrine, cardiovascular, digestive, etc.) Western medicine is decidedly lacking in safe and effective treatment options for fatigue. Quite commonly, the first step is to use a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI), such as Prozac, Paxil, or Wellbutrin, as fatigue is commonly associated with depression. Although trends are changing among the newer generation of doctors, it is still quite rare that the patient is offered lifestyle counseling that focuses on nutrition, exercise, and sleep. There are many wonderful alternative treatment options that include acupuncture, herbs, nutrition, and exercise. Acupuncture tops the list because it tends to be so effective is supplementing the body’s energy.
The majority of patients who complain of fatigue suffer from a deficiency of vital energy (Qi). Qi is the basic energy that creates optimal physiological and neurological function. Aside from fatigue, other signs of Qi deficiency are diarrhea, pallor, easy bruising, excessive sleep (more than 9 hrs. a night), scanty menses or amenorrhea, frequent urination, low libido, and shortness of breath. The strategy of Chinese medicine is to identify a pattern of disharmony that reflects the entirety of one’s symptoms, pulse qualities, and tongue appearance. Moxibustion, a topical warming therapy, is typically used as a nourishing adjunct to the needles. This entails burning mugwort on top of the needles or directly on the skin to induce a stronger supplementing effect. I recommend weekly acupuncture and moxa treatments for 4-6 weeks, then assessing for progress.
Qi deficiency primarily affects 4 different organs: the spleen, kidney, heart, and lungs. Here are symptoms and herbal treatment options for each pattern:
Spleen: diarrhea, loose stools, bloating, bruising, fatigue, prolapse, laconic speech, internal cold
Herbal Formula: Bu zhong yi qi tang
Kidney: low back pain, low libido, fatigue, internal cold, frequent urination
Herbal Formula: Jin gui shen qi wan
Heart: restless sleep, worry, fatigue, heart palpitations, shortness of breath
Herbal Formula: Gui pi tang
Lung: chronic cough, weak immunity, allergies, fatigue, shortness of breath, asthma
Herbal formula: Bu fei tang
Adaptogenic herbs such as rhodiola rosea, ashwaganda, and ginseng may be helpful adjuncts .
B Complex: B vitamins are warming and energizing. They build Qi and blood.
Tyrosine: Precursor to norepinephrine (often deficient in chronic fatigue)
5HTP: Precursor to serotonin, for deeper sleep, weight loss, anxiety
Adrenosen by Health Concerns and Adrenotone by Designs for Health are both effective adrenal tonics for fatigue due to adrenal burnout.
I recommend getting 20-30 minutes of exercise 4-5 times a week. At first, this may feel forced and difficult because you won’t want to exercise when you feel tired. After a few days, however, your body will begin to love the endorphin release and serotonin boost that exercise provides. Exercise alone can be a wonderful cure for fatigue. Your program should be a combination of cardiovascular and restorative exercise. Cardiovascular exercise involves running, biking, swimming, hiking, etc. Restorative exercise involves yoga, tai chi, or qi gong.
Identifying Where you Leak Your Energy
Many people with chronic fatigue can attribute this pattern to a central theme that is stealing their energy. Perhaps you are in a marriage that is not working or a job that feels stagnant. Maybe you have set your life up so that you never have time for yourself because you are too busy caring for others. Or maybe you have financial problems that make life feel burdensome. Low energy is often a sign that we are not in control of our life, whether it is in relationships, work, our health, or with our money. Set an intention to heal any area of your life that is spiraling out of control and that feels toxic to you.
Is There a Payoff for the Fatigue
Strangely enough, many people are chronically tired because it allows them to get attention from others. Fatigue becomes a way to soak up the well wishes of others, all the while avoiding our personal responsibility to show up to life and offer something helpful. It can be a tough question to ask, but I encourage you to contemplate whether or not you are being a victim to the fatigue. What is your belief system around it? Do you have an internal dialogue that supports and sustains the fatigue? What would your life look like if the fatigue wasn’t an issue? I don’t bring this up to undermine the validity of this very common health concern. In my clinical experience, however, I have noticed a rather common theme of victimization and relinquishing personal power in cases of chronic fatigue.
There are many wonderful treatment options for chronic fatigue. This article is not intended to cover this issue in its entirety, as there can certainly be other factors involved in fatigue (immune dysfunction, low-level pathogenic influences, etc.) The key is to be proactive in treating this condition.
Fibromyalgia is escalating to epidemic proportions, yet there is much about this condition that remains a mystery to allopathic physicians. After working with many patients who suffer from fibromyalgia, I have concluded that their causes and, thus, their treatments are multi-factorial. There simply isn’t one major reason why people are suffering with fibromyalgia. Instead, a variety of emotional, constitutional, and nutritional factors combine to influence the onset and duration of this condition.
Western medicine can offer little to patients with fibromyalgia. Even alternative practitioners often struggle in effectively treating this condition. I recommend a comprehensive treatment of fibromyalgia that includes acupuncture, herbs, nutritional supplementation, and therapeutic exercises such as yoga. Since the condition is caused by a variety of factors, its treatment must be multi-layered.
My clinical experience has shown that many fibromyalgia patients are the victims of previous abuse of a sexual, emotional or verbal nature. The betrayal of intimacy and the severing of trust that occur in abusive situations can have a variety of physical and emotional repercussions. In Chinese medicine, this betrayal causes deep imbalances between the fire and earth elements. Fire corresponds to the heart and pericardium, earth to the spleen and stomach. Fire is related to intimacy, trust, and connection. Earth is related to the health of our musculature, worry, obsession, and nourishment. One way to look at the symptoms of fibromyalgia is that excessive heat is generated in the heart as a result of betrayal and abuse. This heat is sent into the spleen and stomach, which control our muscles. This causes inflammation, pain, and fatigue (earth) along with anxiety and sleep problems (fire). The end result is that the victim of such abuse is in a state of shock; all major system of the body shut down and fatigue, pain, and anxiety prevail. This state of shock can go on indefinitely until it is directly treated. There are powerful acupuncture and herbal protocols to clear shock, which is typically the first priority in healing fibromyalgia. One of the most challenging things about working with this population is that they tend to become overly identified with their symptoms. They easily attach to the label of fibromyalgia, which makes them feel justified in being victimized by their pain. Perhaps this is because the initial insult of being a victim of abuse has carried over into their relationship with the fibromyalgia. If this theme is occurring, then an essential aspect of healing involves helping the patient detach from the ‘victim mindset’. Each case is certainly unique and it is not my intent to overgeneralize, but this theme has been prevalent through the many patients of fibromyalgia that I have worked with.
Common painkillers such as aspirin, acetaminophen, and ibuprofen are not usually effective at relieving the pain of fibromyalgia. Other approaches, including acupuncture, herbal medicine, dietary counseling, exercise, and nutritional supplementation, are more likely to be of benefit. Many different disorders can cause symptoms similar to those of fibromyalgia, including anemia, depression, hepatitis, and Lyme disease, among others. Anyone who experiences muscular pain and/ or fatigue that persists for longer than a week or two should consult a health care provider. There may be an underlying medical disorder that requires treatment.
Acupuncture is an excellent treatment method for reducing pain and inflammation, improving energy, and harmonizing emotional imbalances. For fibromyalgia, I recommend committing to treatment once a week for 6-8 weeks, then assessing the progress. If practiced skillfully, acupuncture can be very helpful for fibromyalgia patients.
Treating fibromyalgia with herbs tends to be so specific to the patient’s constitution that listing off a few formulas is not all that helpful. One Chinese herbal formula, however, is used extensively for fibromyalgia. It is called shen tong zhu yu tang. This formula promotes blood circulation and reduces inflammation. It is used for systemic pain.
Because malabsorption problems are common in fibromyalgia, all nutrients are needed in greater than normal amounts, and a proper diet is essential. Colon cleansing is recommended to rid the gastrointestinal tract of mucus and debris, and so improve nutrient absorption. Food allergies can exacerbate the discomfort of many disorders. Determine hidden food or chemical hypersensitivities by appropriate tests. Many fibromyalgia sufferers also have irritable bowel syndrome. It is recommended that a comprehensive digestive and stool analysis be done for parasites.
The daily diet should include milled flaxseed, 3 or more tbsp., or cold-pressed, unrefined flax seed oil. Flaxseed and its oil contain the essential fatty acid omega-3 alpha-linolenic acid, which the body converts into hormone-like substances called prostaglandins. Prostaglandins help relieve the inflammation of fibromyalgia. The oils of fatty fish such as trout, cod, halibut, mackerel, and salmon also contain omega-3 fatty acids and therefore work as anti-inflammatory agents.
Alfalfa can be used for pain control. It contains saponins, sterols, flavonoids, coumarins, alkaloids, vitamins, amino acids, minerals, and trace elements.
Eat a high-fiber diet that includes plentiful servings of raw and steamed vegetables. Maximize your intake of greens. Eat four to five small meals daily rather than three larger ones. This will ensure that you have a steady supply of nutrients available for proper muscle function.
Avoid processed foods and foods that are high in saturated or hydrogenated fats, such as dairy products, meat, and margarine. Saturated fats interfere with circulation, increasing inflammation and pain.
Avoid caffeine, alcohol, and sugar. These substances enhance fatigue, increase muscle pain, and can interfere with normal sleep patterns. Drink eight glasses of pure water daily. Fresh juices and herbal teas are also good choices. A plentiful intake of liquids is important for flushing out toxins.
Investigate the possibility that food allergies and/ or sensitivities may be contributing to the problem.
Treating fibromyalgia with nutritional supplements is best done on a one-on-one basis with a professional health care provider. With that said, here are a few recommendations to consider if you would like to start working with natural methods.
Magnesium and Calcium
Chronic pain sufferers, especially those with fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue syndrome, tend to be deficient in magnesium. Magnesium supplementation has produced very good results in treating fibromyalgia. The combination of magnesium and malic acid helps to increase energy. These nutrients are precursors to the Krebs cycle, a series of enzyme reactions that are a key part of the production of energy on the cellular level. Take 100 to 200 milligrams of magnesium and 400 to 800 milligrams of malic acid three times a day, twenty minutes before each meal. (Some professionals recommend up to 500 milligrams of magnesium and 2,000 milligrams of malic acid.) With the extra malic acid and magnesium, fibromyalgia sufferers can handle exercise and still get out and about the next day. The combination of magnesium and malic acid may also be helping the bodies handle physiologic stress better. (Caution: People with heart or kidney problems should check with their doctors before taking supplemental magnesium.)
Many professionals believe that the central cause of the pain of fibromyalgia is a low level of serotonin. Thus, it is beneficial to raise serotonin levels and improve sleep quality along with providing adequate nutrition. 5-HTP has shown considerable benefit in treating fibromyalgia in double-blind studies. Although 5-HTP can be effective on its own, a combination therapy involving a combination of 5-HTP (100 mg), St. John's wort extract (300 mg, 0.3-percent hypericin content), and magnesium (150 to 250 mg) three times per day maybe even more effective.
Antioxidants help reduce free-radical damage and fight inflammation. Take a good antioxidant formula that provides daily:
5,000 to 10,000 International Units of vitamin A Up to 10,000 milligrams of buffered vitamin C 400 to 800 international units of vitamin E 200 micrograms of selenium.
This is called ACES therapy and is a very good combination of vitamins and nutrients. Vitamins A, C, and E are called antioxidants. They are useful to combat free-radical damage at the cellular level. Vitamin E, in particular, improves circulation and reduces muscle pain.
Note: If you are pregnant, or intend to get pregnant, or if you have liver disease, consult your doctor before taking supplemental vitamin A. If you have high blood pressure, limit your intake of supplemental vitamin E to a total of 400 International Units daily, and if you are taking an anticoagulant (blood thinner), consult your physician before taking supplemental vitamin E.
S-adenosylmethionine (SAM or SAM-e) is an amino acid derivative that has been shown in clinical trials to reduce the number of trigger points and areas of pain, lessen pain and fatigue, and improve mood. Take 400 milligrams two or three times daily. Be patient. It can take up to six weeks to see results.
- Evening primrose oil is an excellent source of essential fatty acids, which act as natural anti-inflammatories in the body. By dealing with the inflammation, pain is reduced.
- If emotional or physical stress is a source of problems, taking extra B vitamins will help the nerves and improve energy.
- If fatigue is a problem, bee pollen or royal jelly supplements are safe and effective sources of energy that will not deplete the adrenal glands but are building and supporting. Also consider Chinese herbal formulas such as liu jun zi tang that strengthen digestion, build energy, and drain phlegm.
- Whey protein and creatine monohydrate support the musculoskeletal system in its repair process.
- Bromelain helps reduce inflammation. Take 400 milligrams three times daily, between meals.
- Coenzyme Q10 is also an antioxidant and helps deliver oxygen to cells. Take 60 milligrams twice daily, between meals.
- Lipoic acid is very useful for enhancing the body's utilization of carbohydrates and enhancing energy. Take 100 milligrams three times daily.
- Nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide hydrogen (NADH) is an antioxidant enzyme that occurs in all living cells. It facilitates the production of neurotransmitters such as dopamine and noradrenaline. Low levels of neurotransmitters are often associated with fibromyalgia. Taking 15 milligrams a one-half hour before breakfast and dinner often improves concentration, stamina, and energy.
- Phosphatidylserine, a type of lipid, can be helpful if memory problems accompany fibromyalgia. It often yields rapid and impressive improvement in memory and mental alertness. Unfortunately, it is relatively expensive. Take 75 to 100 milligrams three times daily. (Gingko Biloba is a cheaper alternative.)
Summary of Nutrient Recommendations
Coenzyme Q10 Acidophilus Lecithin Malic acid and magnesium Manganese Proteolytic enzymes Vitamin A and vitamin E Vitamin C with bioflavonoids Vitamin B complex injections plus extra vitamin B6 (pyridoxine) and vitamin B12 or vitamin B complex Dimethylglycine (DMG) Free-form amino acid complex Grape seed extract Garlic (Kyolic)
Calcium and magnesium plus potassium and selenium and zinc DL-phenylalanine (DLPA) Essential fatty acids (black currant seed oil, flaxseed oil, and primrose oil are good sources) Gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) L-Leucine plus L-isoleucine and L -valine L- Tyrosine Melatonin Multivitamin and mineral complex plus natural carotenoids
Balancing Sleep Cycles
Treating sleep deprivation is a top priority for patients with fibromyalgia. Neurotransmitters are regulated in delta sleep. Fibromyalgia patients don’t get enough of this, as they are jolted awake by intrusive alpha waves many times a night. They often wake feeling like they have been hit by a truck because cellular repair and neurotransmitter balancing hasn’t happened. Chamomile, valerian, and 5 http can be helpful for getting more delta sleep. The Chinese herbal formula suan zao ren tang is also a safe, effective choice for improving sleep.
As you can see, there are many natural treatment options for healing fibromyalgia. The treatment process can take a few weeks or months, but it is certainly worth pursuing. Do the best you can to commit to an organic whole foods diet, regular exercise, yoga, nutritional supplementation, and acupuncture. This should provide you with a vast framework of resources for healing yourself.
Headaches are one of the most common medical complaints in America. This is due to a variety of causes, but the primary factor involved in chronic headaches is stress. Stress headaches (also called tension headaches) are reaching epidemic proportions in the modern world. Migraine and cluster headaches are also becoming more prevalent. Most people will either suck it up and live with the pain or will turn to conventional medicine to find some pain relief. While medications do seem to help with the pain of certain patterns, many people would prefer to avoid this route because of the cost and possibility of side effects.
Fortunately there are a great number of natural treatment options for headaches that can effectively eradicate the cause of the headaches or, at the very least, reduce the pain to a more tolerable level. Identifying the cause of headaches is one of the central challenges that all practitioners face. In particular, migraine patterns can be mysterious and spontaneous. They can be due to food allergies, stress, hormonal imbalances, emotional issues, dehydration, trauma, genetic factors, heavy metal poisoning, or intestinal toxicity.
One of the most intriguing aspects of Chinese medicine is that it looks for a unifying theme through the patient’s entire presentation, not just their distinct symptoms. We can’t simply say, ‘OK, here is the herbal magic bullet for headaches.’ What we can do is identify a pattern of disharmony that is based on all of the patient’s symptoms, along with their pulse and tongue diagnosis. This helps us to get a deeper picture of what is occurring. In Chinese medicine, we want to see everything improve, not just the presenting complaint. For instance, if a patient comes in with temporal headaches (pain in the side of the head), constipation and irritability, and they have tense pulses and swollen sides to the tongue, the Chinese medical diagnosis would be liver qi stagnation. This means that the liver isn’t functioning optimally and that the circulatory function of this vital organ is impaired. By regulating the liver qi, all of these symptoms are expected to improve.
In Chinese medicine, it isn’t necessarily important what kinds of headaches are occurring. As long as the correct pattern is identified, the headaches should be treatable. Below are a few common headache patterns along with their herbal treatments.
Liver Qi stagnation: Temporal headaches, worse with the menses, PMS, irritability, menstrual cramps, gas, muscle tension and stiffness, red eyes, ear ringing.
Herbal formula: Xiao yao wan
Liver Heat: Temporal headaches, red eyes, ear ringing, rage, high blood pressure, jaw tension, subcostal pain, consistent agitation, dream disturbed sleep, more severe symptoms.
Herbal formula: Long dan xie gan tang
Liver Wind: Migrating headache, high blood pressure, dizziness, tremors, memory impairment, slurred speech
Herbal formula: Tian ma gou teng yin
Wind cold pathogen: Pain at the nape of the neck, occipital headache, ongoing cold/flu, dizziness
Herbal formula: Ge gen tang
Headache due to digestive weakness: diarrhea, constipation, headache behind the eyes, bloating, fatigue, sluggish after eating, food allergies
Herbal formulas: with diarrhea—Liu jun zi tang / With constipation—Ma zi ren wan
Blood deficiency: scanty menses, fatigue, empty feeling in the head with dull achiness, pale, coldness, listlessness
Herbal formula: Ba zhen tang
A strategy that I commonly employ is combining a formula for specific patterns with a more general headache formula that works for headaches of all etiologies. Formulas such as Head Q by Health Concerns and Head Relief by Golden Flower are examples of excellent empirical headache formulas.
Butterbur and feverfew are among the most researched Western herbs that have proven to be effective in the treatment of headaches.
The acupuncture point Large Intestine 4 is an excellent area to apply pressure to when you have a headache. The point is located just off the second metacarpal bone between the thumb and ring finger. This area is usually tender with most headache patterns. In general, I consider acupuncture to be an incredibly effective and safe option for people with chronic headaches of all kinds. I recommend committing to treatment once a week for 4-6 weeks for chronic headaches, then assessing for progress.
The following supplements are also worth considering:
5HTP: Some headaches are due to a serotonin deficiency. This is a natural precursor to serotonin that is also useful for insomnia, depression, and anxiety. Start with 50 mg per day, then add 50 mg per week up to 300 mg.
B vitamin complex: B vitamins are essential for maintaining a healthy mental and emotional balance and forwarding off excessive stress. Take the recommended dosage of a comprehensive B complex.
Calcium and Magnesium: these are natural relaxing agents for the central nervous system. Many headache sufferers are deficient in these essential minerals. Supplement with 500mg daily of each.
Fish Oil: Essential fatty acids have been clinically proven to reduce all kinds of pain and inflammation in the body. Take 3-4,000mg daily with food.
- Avoid foods that cause inflammation in the body, such as sugar, refined carbohydrates, caffeine, and alcohol.
- Avoid synthetic sweeteners such as aspartame.
- Drink 6-9 glasses of filtered water daily
- Another Therapy to consider is Chiropractic care: Some headaches are due to cervical subluxations and mechanical joint irritation that can be treated with adjustments
Massage: Excellent for tension headaches with stiff shoulders
Meditation: Induces the relaxation response to promote deep tranquility and balance and engages the rest and restores the parasympathetic nervous system.
Yoga: A virtual panacea for many stress-related health problems. Many people have found permanent relief from their headaches through regular yoga practice.
Exercise: People who suffer from headaches are generally more sedentary. I recommend exercising 20-30 minutes a day, 4-5 days per week.
Many people are not aware that acupuncture and Oriental medicine have enjoyed a rich and extensive history in treating the gamut of female health concerns, from PMS to dysmenorrhea to postpartum issues. Menopause is another dimension of female health that can be extremely difficult for women, as hot flashes and night sweats can cause unbearable discomfort. Fortunately, acupuncture and herbs are excellent options for menopausal women, as they offer safe, non-invasive, and effective treatment for these often debilitating symptoms. Menopause is a time where many women become yin deficient, meaning that the cooling, moistening, and calming aspects of their physiology are weakening. As a result, they often get hot, irritated, anxious, and can’t sleep as well. The main treatment principle for menopausal women involves nourishing yin with acupuncture and herbs.
Acupuncture is considered to be a cooling therapy. The stainless steel needles that are used during treatment are said to disperse Qi. This means that they are unblocking energy that has become blocked or stuck. When energy gets blocked for too long, it generates heat which will burn yin and lead to yin deficiency. I have heard many women say that they felt cooler right after the needles were put in. The needles are actually deflating certain areas that have become overheated and compressed. Certain points are also used that have a direct effect on nourishing yin, thereby rejuvenating the cooling aspects of one’s physiology.
Chinese herbs work synergistically with acupuncture to create a state of continuity in clearing heat and nourishing yin between treatments. I would highly recommend committing to this approach before using hormone therapy, as these natural options are free of side effects. Hormone therapy is quite controversial in terms of its long-term effects. While it has worked wonders for many women in the short term, when I hear references to increased incidence of ovarian cancer, fibrocystic breasts, and emotional fluctuations, I cannot give it a raving endorsement. Below is a list of several Chinese herbal formulas that are used to treat hot flashes and night sweats:
Zhi bai di huang wan/temper fire: This is probably the most popular Chinese herbal formula for hot flashes. It is considered a kidney yin tonic that clears fire from the kidneys. Other symptoms would be low back pain, scanty dark urine, and low energy. It is safe, gentle, and can work miracles if it matches well with the patient’s constitution.
Jia wei xiao yao wan/free and easy wanderer plus: This formula addresses hot flashes that are due to a liver depressive heat pattern which would include symptoms such as irritability, high stress, red eyes, headaches, and indigestion.
Da bu yin wan: This formula is for a pattern called ‘steaming bone syndrome’ in which the hot flashes feel as if they are penetrating into the depths of one’s bones. It is a kidney yin tonic that utilizes herbs that penetrate deep into the body to clear heat.
Tian wan bu xin dan/celestial emperor’s teapill: This formula is for a combination of heart and kidney yin deficiency, which will manifest with symptoms such as insomnia, anxiety, irritability, thirst, and malar flush.
Er xian tang: This formula is for a mixed pattern of kidney yin and yang deficiency. Symptoms include a history of feeling cold with recent onset of hot flashes, low libido, fatigue, and low back pain.
Hot flashes and night sweats tend to respond very well to treatment with acupuncture and herbs. It is important to keep in mind that these symptoms often have an underlying emotional component that needs to be addressed before they will disappear. It is natural to feel heightened emotions as you go about healing this condition with acupuncture and herbs. I highly recommend seeking out the help of a qualified healthcare professional if you are interested in using herbs for hot flashes and night sweats. Many patients have said things like, ‘I heard that black cohosh is good for hot flashes, but it never worked for me.’ It is important to keep in mind that herbs will only work if they address your specific constitutional needs. These needs are assessed by examining the tongue, palpating the pulse, and matching these findings with one’s symptoms. In this way, a much more specific and accurate diagnosis and treatment is formulated that will more likely optimize the benefits for the patient.
Perhaps one of the greatest strengths of natural therapies is their ability to optimize immune function and prevent illness and disease. In particular, Chinese and naturopathic medicine has a tremendous arsenal of natural remedies that can effectively heighten immunity and greatly reduce the chance of serious pathology from occurring. Immune weakness is certainly a ubiquitous concern in the modern world, as cancer, AIDS, autoimmune disease (multiple sclerosis, fibromyalgia, etc.), and pandemics such as the Avian bird flu constitute major health hazards for the global population. Although Western medicine can be miraculous in its ability to save lives, it is notably vacuous in its repertoire of natural agents to bolster immunity and balance one’s physiology. Therefore, it is imperative that the health benefits of natural therapies such as acupuncture, herbs, nutritional supplements, and dietary strategies be made available to as many people as possible. Let’s examine the main approaches of each of these therapies.
Practiced for over 2,500 years in various Asian cultures, acupuncture has finally made its way to the Western world. In my clinical practice, many patients have sought treatment for weak immunity. A typical pattern includes frequent colds and flu, recurring sinus infections, fatigue, stress, and insomnia. For this constellation of symptoms, acupuncture can be an effective way to break the cycle of chronic vulnerability to the elements. Acupuncture works by regulating the flow of Qi (life force) through 14 major meridians on the body. Immune weakness is typically due to deficient Qi of the lungs and spleen. When these organs are weak, symptoms such as allergies, diarrhea, fatigue, cough, and recurring infections are commonplace. For these issues, acupuncture points are chosen on the lung and spleen meridians to supplement the Qi, thereby strengthening immune function.
Moxibustion is also a powerful tool in the acupuncture repertoire. Moxibustion is a heat therapy that involves the use of mugwort, an herb that is applied topically on acupuncture points. Moxibustion has been shown in studies to increase white blood cell count in chemotherapy patients and other cases of immune weakness. For patiens with recurring infections and colds, moxibustion is an excellent technique for naturally bolstering immunity.
There is one Chinese herbal formula that has gained international recognition for its ability to immediately strengthen immunity. The formula is called Jade Windscreen or Yu Ping Feng San. It has been used in China for many centuries as a natural preventative against environmental pathogens. Jade Windscreen is a simple formula that consists of three herbs: huang qi/astragalus, fang feng/siler, and bai zhu/atractylodes. Astragalus is considered one of the most renowned immune strengthening herbs on the planet. It is very helpful for chronic cycles of infection and illness.
Another class of herbs that are used for a variety of immunity issues is medicinal mushrooms. This class of herbs is frequently used for immune regulation in serious patterns of cancer and AIDS. Mushrooms such as shitake, reishi, ganoderma, maitake, and poria have numerous health benefits that are beyond the scope of this article. If you have serious immune dysfunction, I recommend learning more about these amazing medicinals.
Echinacea is probably the most commonly applied herb for the prevention of colds and flu. Recent research suggests that this herb is not as effective as many have been led to believe. A recent major study concluded that Echinacea is no more effective than a placebo in warding off and treating colds and flu.
The food we eat is one of the most important determinants in not only our immune function but our overall health. Many people have weak immune systems because they are eating processed, refined, and rich diets that are devoid of the essential nutrients that the body needs for optimal health. Here are a few simple steps you can take right now to greatly strengthen immunity:
- Start eating organic foods
- Drink 6-9 glasses of filtered water daily
- Drink green tea instead of coffee
- Reduce intake of refined sugar and carbohydrates
- Eat 5 servings a day of fruits and vegetables
- Minimize pasteurized dairy
- Eat a diet rich in essential fats and low in trans fats and saturated fats
Supplements such as zinc, vitamin C, and green tea extract can be helpful adjuncts to ward off illness.
Healing the Stress Response
Stress can be a major cause of immune weakness. Many studies from the field of psychoneuroimmunology have clearly demonstrated the link between stress and immunity. Along with acupuncture and herbs, two of the most powerful practices you can undertake for overcoming chronic stress are yoga and meditation. I recommend practicing each for about 1/2 hour per day. This can profoundly heighten your quality of life and health.
Sleep disorders plague millions of Americans and can be attributed to a variety of causes. Perhaps the main cause of insomnia and restless sleep is the whirlwind pace that most modern people live with day in and day out. Our society emphasizes ‘doing’ much more than ‘being’. From the perspective of acupuncture, the yin aspect of life is quite depleted for the average modern American. In case you have never heard of yin and yang, these are the polar forces that are reflected in everything in the natural world. Yin is related to stillness, tranquility, and contemplation. Yang is related to movement, accomplishment, and function. We need yin and yang to be in balance within ourselves in order to experience true health and wellbeing. When we are yin deficient, we easily become restless, irritable, and excessively busy. Our ability to rest and restore is compromised, as we never seem to get a break from the constant activity in our minds and our lives.
This is one of the main dilemmas that we face in terms of experiencing deep states of continuous sleep. We have forgotten how to turn our minds off due to the frantic speed of everything around us and we have become yin deficient. The common word is stress, but there is a lot more to this picture than is implied. Another way to look at this is that the sympathetic nervous system is on overdrive. We are stuck in fight or flight mode, as we are trying to keep up with our hectic schedules and myriad responsibilities. We have excessive amounts of cortisol and adrenaline in our systems, which keep us feeling amped up and unable to rest. With the pattern of yin deficiency and a hyperactive sympathetic nervous system, we often feel too warm, excessively thirsty, dried out, and anxious. This pattern is extremely common in menopausal women. Due to the fact that we are in fight or flight, we sometimes can’t tell if we are tired. We often feel wired or manic. Yet other times a deep-seated exhaustion is felt that penetrates into our bones.
There are many other factors that contribute to insomnia, but this is the primary issue that many people are facing. Other potential inputs are nutritional imbalances, suppressed emotions, relationship troubles, hormonal imbalances, and energetic imbalances. Let’s take a look at a few of the top natural treatment options for insomnia:
Acupuncture: All of the major organs of the body are related to specific kinds of insomnia. For instance, there is a liver/gall bladder insomnia in which one is kept awake strategizing, planning, and scheduling their lives at night. This person often can’t turn their minds off unless they read or watch TV before bed. Likewise, there are kidney, heart, lung, and spleen forms of insomnia that all have specific manifestations. Acupuncture is an excellent treatment option for insomnia, regardless of its etiology. For chronic insomnia, I generally recommend receiving acupuncture once a week for 4-6 weeks, then we can assess for progress. Acupuncture helps to restore balance to the central nervous system and harmonize Qi, the functional energy that underlies our general state of health. Qi can either become stagnant, meaning that too much energy is locked up in a certain area or organ, or it can become deficient, meaning that there is not enough energy in an area or organ. Either pattern can cause insomnia and both are treatable with acupuncture.
Herbs: There are many Chinese and Western herbs that can be very helpful for insomnia. Chinese herbs are typically used in combination to create formulas that treat specific patterns of disharmony. Western herbs are frequently used on their own. The great thing about the herbs listed here is that they don’t cause the drowsiness and disorientation that many of the Western sedative drugs do.
Valerian: Has mild sedative properties that help to relax the nervous system and calm the mind.
Kava: A highly prized medicine that is used to alleviate anxiety and induce deeper sleeping patterns.
Gui pi tang: A Chinese formula that nourishes the heart and spleen, for insomnia with low energy, nightmares, anxiety, depression, and possibly night sweats.
Tian wan bu xin dan: A Chinese formula that balances the relationship between the heart and kidneys, for symptoms such as insomnia, low back pain, anxiety, feeling of heat, thirst, and night sweats.
Suan zao ren tang: A Chinese formula that nourishes the heart and liver, for insomnia irritability.
An mian pian: A Chinese formula translated as peaceful sleep, for insomnia due to heart blood deficiency.
Meditation and Deep Breathing: Meditation is a deeply restorative practice and can replicate many of the benefits of sleep. In fact, meditation is often considered to be even more beneficial because it can lead to a state of non-thought, which is said by many spiritual traditions to be the deepest state of relaxation and healing possible for human beings. In sleep, our minds are still processing and dreaming. Spend 15 minutes before bed meditating and it will quite likely allow you to fall asleep faster and to sleep more peacefully.
Yoga: Practiced for many centuries throughout the Eastern world, yoga has finally made its way to the West with unprecedented popularity. There are many different styles of yoga; I encourage you to experiment until you find a style that meets your needs. I recommend doing 15-20 minutes of restorative poses (child pose, shoulder stand, plow pose, corpse pose, standing forward bend, etc.) before bed. Combine this with your sitting meditation practice and you will take a significant step toward healing your nervous system.
Caffeine: One of the obvious substances in terms of its effect on insomnia is caffeine. If you are drinking coffee, I recommend either cutting it out altogether for a period of time or switching to green tea. Coffee tends to irritate the nervous system, colon, and liver. It is very healing and stimulating and can be a major obstacle in healing insomnia. Green tea, on the other hand, is soothing to the gut and nervous system. It is cooling in nature and is loaded with antioxidants. While it does have some caffeine, it is still a much better choice than coffee.
Sugar: Another culprit in sleep disturbance is refined sugar. Regularly eating sugar causes increasing problems with the regulation of insulin and glucose, which will lead to hypoglycemia and possibly pre-diabetic symptoms. It has been clinically proven that blood sugar has a profound impact on the health of the nervous system. In order to keep blood sugar balanced, white sugar should be avoided or, at the very least, should be coupled with adequate protein intake. Sugar also causes inflammation in the body, which can adversely affect our ability to relax, rest and restore.
Alcohol: While some people claim that alcohol helps them sleep better if they have chronic insomnia and drink regularly, it is certainly worth giving it up for a period of several weeks and sees if your sleep improves. Alcohol also has an adverse effect on blood sugar and can easily irritate the liver, heart, and nervous system. Many people are sensitive to alcohol but haven’t identified it as a problem.
The Ideal Diet: Simply put, the best thing you can do to heal nutritionally from most chronic health conditions, including insomnia, is to eat an organic whole foods diet that is rich in antioxidants, essential fatty acids, and fiber and to minimize processed foods, sugars, and refined carbohydrates.
Melatonin: Has been proven to help people fall asleep, still controversial as to whether it helps with staying asleep.
Fish Oil: Essential fatty acids have numerous health benefits. They are often used in the treatment of emotional and mental imbalances. As such, they tend to complement other treatments that are being used for insomnia.
5HTP: A precursor to serotonin, 5HTP is used for anxiety, depression, carbohydrate cravings, and insomnia.
I should reiterate that it is extremely rare that any of these natural options cause the side effects seen in Western sedatives such as drowsiness, moodiness, or dream disturbed sleep. I commonly notice that the patient’s overall health improves while using one or more of these protocols. Insomnia is quite treatable using this combination of therapies. In particular, I would highly recommend acupuncture if you have never tried it before. It should also be noted that there is a wide disparity in the quality of nutritional products available to the consumer. I only use pharmaceutical-grade products that have performed thorough clinical testing on their products. It is definitely worth it to pay more for higher quality products and to be diagnosed by a qualified healthcare professional in order to achieve maximum benefit.
Couples struggling with infertility often feel they are riding an emotional roller coaster. If you add hormone treatments to the already emotionally charged situation of wanting, hoping, and waiting for a baby you often make a difficult situation even more intense. Recent scientific research concludes that acupuncture increases the chances of becoming pregnant.
One of the benefits of using acupuncture for infertility is that it allows you to avoid or minimize the undesired side effects of drugs and invasive procedures. Couples use acupuncture and herbs alone and also in combination with western medicine. The best approach varies depending on the individual. Chinese medicine treats the whole body not just the symptoms. In strengthening a person's general health it can make IVF, ZIFT, GIFT, AHT, IUI, and TET procedures more effective.
Acupuncture is thousands of years old. It is the oldest form of continuously practiced medicine in the world. In Chinese medical literature, it was recognized as early as 11 AD, that acupuncture and herbs were effective in treating infertility.
Recently, Dr. Raymond Chang of Cornell University concluded after reviewing the research that acupuncture helps to regulate ovulation, reduce stress, and improve blood flow to the reproductive organs, all of which should increase the chances of conception. Better blood flow to the uterus imporves the lining and provides better nourishment. Dr. Chang uses the analogy of using good soil in your garden in order to help things grow.
Other Studies support his conclusions:
Gerhard et al. 1992: Infertility-auricular acupuncture, looked at 90 women with infertility due to hormonal disorders. 45 women received acupuncture and 45 received traditional hormone treatment. Women who received only acupuncture had the same pregnancy rate as those who received hormone treatment. The women who received acupuncture, however, had a lower rate of miscarriage and a lower rate of side effects.
Andrologia, 32(1):31-9 2000 concluded that acupuncture may imporve sperm density in men with low sperm counts.
Xiaoming et al. 1993: Undefined anovulation,
Chen et al. 1991: Anovulation-polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) and Stener-Victorin et al. 2000: EA-Anovulation-PCOS, these three studies all support acupuncture as potentially beneficial to women with PCOS and anovulation.
Stener-Victorin et al 1996": EA and uterine artery blood flow impedance concludes that acupuncture improves uterine blood flow.
How do you determine how many treatments are needed?
The factors you look at in evaluating how many treatments a person may need to include: age, structural vs functional intertility, whether the partner is a co-factor in the cause of infertility, timing, and consistency of treatments, willingness to modify diet, and excercise routines, whether Chinese herbs or vitamin supplements are applicable and taken, whether combining conventional reproductive techniques and the overall health of the indivudual.
How long should I stay in treatment?
A healthy (from a traditional eastern medical perspective) person should expect to be in treatment for 6-9 months. Between the 6-9th month of consistent treatment, it is appropriate to evaluate. As a wise person once said to me "No hurry, worry. Advise the patient to be patient".
Acupuncture and Chinese medicine have enjoyed a long and successful history of treating a wide variety of headache patterns. Migraine headaches currently affect around 5 million Americans. The cause of migraines eludes many of its sufferers. Certain foods have been identified as triggers. Stress, anxiety, and hormonal imbalances have also been found to play a role. Many people with migraines feel hopeless, as they have tried conventional medications such as imitrex without good effect.
In Chinese medicine, migraines have a few different causes. The number one pattern underlying migraines is liver qi stagnation. This means that the functional energy of the liver becomes stuck and hyperactive. This is usually due to pent-up anger or a chronic inability to express one’s emotions. Liver-related headaches tend to run along with the temples, as the gall bladder meridian, which is closely connected with the liver, travels through this area.
Another cause of migraine headaches is kidney deficiency which is synonymous with adrenal fatigue. This pattern is due to overwork, excessive willpower, and the misuse of one’s ambition. When this is the predominant pattern, one will experience migraines when they are resting. They work hard all week and run on adrenaline, then collapse on the weekend and get a migraine. The bladder meridian, which is closely associated with the kidney meridian, runs along the nape of the neck. This is the primary origin of headaches due to a kidney deficient pattern.
Acupuncture is certainly worth pursuing as a powerful treatment option for migraines. The typical course of treatment in my practice is once a week for 6-8 visits, at which time we will assess where to go from there. Acupuncture is usually a deeply relaxing experience that optimizes one’s overall level of health. It has no side effects.
Chinese herbs are typically used in conjunction with acupuncture. The following herbal formulas can be considered in the treatment of migraines:
- xiao yao wan: for migraines that occur around the menstrual cycle. This is the best formula for regulating the liver and underlying hormonal imbalances in women.
- cnidium 9: This is a formula by 7 Forests that utilizes a variety of blood vitalizing herbs that have been clinically proven to be effective in the treatment of headaches.
- Head Q: This is a formula by Health Concerns that provides strong analgesic, anti-inflammatory, and anti-spasmodic effects in the treatment of migraines.
- Ge gen tang: This formula is typically used for neck tension and headache at the onset of a cold. It can also be used for chronic neck tension and occipital headaches.
Other Treaments Options
For most migraine sufferers, reducing stress plays a crucial role in healing this condition. Yoga and meditation can be incredibly helpful practices in this regard. These practices help to restore circulation through movement, awareness, and deep breathing. Many people with chronic pain have been able to heal their symptoms using these techniques alone.
Basic dietary considerations:
- Give up caffeine and alcohol for 2 months and look for improvement in symptoms
- Drink 8 glasses of filtered water daily. Dehydration plays an integral role in many headache patterns
- Avoid inflammatory foods: sugars, refined carbs
- Eat plenty of organic fruits and vegetables
- Eliminate high trigger foods such as chocolate, avocado, coffee, and peanuts for a period of time
With the right combination of treatments and a strong commitment to improved health, most patients respond very well to the Chinese medical treatment of migraines.
Neck pain is one of the most common reasons for doctor visits. It is estimated that approximately a Million people currently suffer from chronic neck pain. Acupuncture is one of the most widely used treatment options for neck pain, as it has a proven history of effectively treating this condition.
In Acupuncture theory, pain is said to be caused by the stagnation of either Qi (energy or life force) or blood in the body. When energy gets stuck, pain results. Pain that is due to qi stagnation tends to be rather mild or achy in nature, whereas pain due to blood stagnation is more severe, sharp, fixed, or stabbing. Acupuncture is often effective in either case, as it has the unique ability to regulate the circulation of Qi and restore blood flow through painful areas.
Acupuncture works by regulating the flow of Qi in meridians, which can be seen as networks that distribute Qi through the body. The meridians correspond to the major organs of the body. The bladder meridian runs along the nape of the neck and is, therefore, primarily implicated in the treatment of neck pain. The energy of the bladder meridian relates to fear, anxiety, ambition, willpower, and urgency. Therefore, many people with neck pain also have deeper layers of fear that need to be released, either from whiplash as occurs in a car accident, or in relating to the daily life circumstances of work, money, and survival. The Qi tends to get stuck around the point Bladder 10 at the nape of the neck, which is a central point for clearing fear and anxiety.
Acupuncture should be a relaxing, gentle treatment approach, even if the painful area is being stimulated. There are occasions where the neck won’t be touched at all, as the treatment will be more effective by stimulating distal points that correspond to the imbalanced meridian.
While acupuncture is an excellent treatment option for all kinds of neck pain, Chinese herbs are used frequently as well. The following formulas are used regularly for this purpose:
- Neck Formula by Plum Flower: This formula has been found to be 92% effective in Chinese hospitals for treating all kinds of neck pain.
- Ease Plus by Health Concerns: Helps with neck and upper back tension due to excessive stress and worry
- Ge gen tang: Often used for neck pain due to the onset of a cold, but has been applied for many types of chronic neck pain as well. This formula has also been found to be useful for helping chiropractic adjustments hold for longer periods of time.
Regular yoga practice is also of great benefit for most kinds of chronic neck pain. The following poses all have a direct action on creating space between the cervical discs and relieving muscle tension through the upper back into the occipital region:
- standing forward bend
- downward facing dog
- shoulder stand
Meditation and deep breathing exercises can also be helpful, as most people with chronic neck and upper back pain tend to breathe quite superficially. Training yourself to breathe more deeply oxygenates the muscle tissue and provides an internal massage for the deepest layers of your musculature.
Most of my patients with chronic neck pain commit to acupuncture once a week for 4-6 visits, at which time we reassess for progress. Most patients find that they feel much better after each treatment, not only in relation to the neck pain but in their overall sense of health and well-being.
Optimal health. We all want to have it, but very few of us are anywhere close to achieving it. This is because, unfortunately, health is not a high priority for most of us. Even more so, most of us don’t even know how to define optimal health. Our medical model teaches us that health is the absence of disease. I can guarantee you that health is much more than this. There are millions of people who don’t have a diagnosable disease but are still in poor or mediocre health.
Interestingly, there are also many people who do have a disease but are in good to excellent health. How could this be? Because I define health in a much different way than our medical model does. I define health as the absence of addiction, not disease. Health is about living spontaneously. In Chinese medicine, the character ziran symbolizes both health and spontaneity.
Now, this may seem strange to you. But think about it. People who are free of harmful habits and addictions generally exude peace and contentment. I am referring to both inner and outer habits here. For instance, coffee, sex, gambling, food, cocaine, etc. are external habits. Inner habits include belief systems and perceptions that are habitual, rote, and stuck. We get lost in what we think we know about ourselves and our lives. To achieve optimal health, we must be free of addictions of all kinds. The daily habits are what get us in trouble.
We can see here that optimal health has a strong spiritual component, as it is largely based on seeing through limiting thoughts and beliefs and living with a fresh perspective every day. The byproduct of a spiritually, emotionally, and physically balanced life is tremendous energy and vitality and a heightened experience of general wellness. If this is one end of the spectrum and death is at the other, I would argue that most of us are somewhere in the middle. We may not have a ‘disease’, but we don’t feel that great either. We may have chronic pain, stress, emotional ups and downs, fatigue, etc.
Sometimes we wonder if there really is something wrong with us. Symptoms such as these show us that the wind is blowing in the wrong direction, especially if there is a family history of degenerative illness or cardiovascular disease. If we look at the following statistics, it is obvious that, as a society, we have a ways to go before most of us are optimally healthy.
- 16 million people in the USA have diabetes
- Over 30% of America is obese
- 4 million Americans carry over 300 pounds
- We each have a 1 in 3-lifetime risk of getting some form of cancer
- 23 million Americans have some kind of heart disease (1 in 12), 44 million have arthritis (1 in 6)
- 38 million have anxiety and depression
- 5 million have Alzheimer's
The following five foundations of optimal health have become apparent to me after working with such a diverse array of people and health concerns. These five foundations have spiritual, emotional, and physical connotations, each of which is an integral part of healing. Each of these must be met with this quality of spontaneity that optimal health depends upon.
Mindfulness, Passion, and Purpose: For most of us, embarking on the path to optimal health will entail making some lifestyle changes that are conducive to this pursuit. To do this authentically, we have to start with a healthy psychological orientation toward making changes. This means that we initiate our healing without using willpower. Instead, we use mindfulness, passion, and purpose to guide us through change. We identify with the deepest part of ourselves that is already complete and we set an unwavering intention to allow this to the surface as we embark on healthy living. We are not making changes out of guilt or ‘should’. This will always backfire because willpower comes in a limited supply. Contrarily, we have a burning desire to discover who we are and to fulfill our potential. Our health is crucial to and inseparable from this process. This is the most important foundation because it is crucial for the success of any of these other foundations.
Nutrition: Ok, now that we have identified what we are seeking out to do, we need to eat a certain way to be healthy. Food is an extremely important influence on our mood, attitude, energy level, and how comfortable we feel in our skin. The key is to strip away what you have been taught about food through your upbringing, the media, or what you see around you. Food is either poison or medicine and we have to start working w/ it medicinally if we wish to use it as a gateway to optimal health. Eating an organic whole foods diet is a wonderful first step to take in this regard.
Exercise: We have all heard that it is essential to exercise regularly, but so many of us haven’t made a commitment to it. This is because exercise feels like a burden, it is uncomfortable and we have to use willpower to do it. Sometimes we use exercise to beat ourselves up, or we exercise out of guilt. And for some of us, it just isn’t on our radar screen at all. Exercise can only be done long-term if it is enjoyable.
Sleep: Most of us need 7-9 hours of sleep per night to get the rest we need for our busy lives. When we are living with mindfulness, passion, and purpose, we can get away with much less sleep, perhaps even 4-5 hours per night. If you suffer from insomnia or restless sleep, then healing this one of the first priorities for your health. We need time to rest and restore, or else our waking hours will be compromised.
Chinese medicine: So, how does alternative medicine fit into achieving optimal health? Well, I think it plays a big role even if we aren’t suffering from explicit health problems. In China, acupuncture is considered to be a primary part of the average person’s lifestyle. It keeps the internal workings of the body balanced and often improves one’s mental well-being as well. The truth is that, unless you are already optimally healthy, acupuncture and herbs can take you very far in that direction. Other forms of medicine such as Ayurveda can also be included in this category, as can the skillful application of drugs and surgery in Western medicine.
In order to initiate the lifestyle choices that reflect a high degree of wellness, it is important that you take action NOW. We are incredibly clever when it comes to putting off things of this nature. We convince ourselves that it’s simply not a good time to even think about this. Each of us has a passion for self-care and optimal living that is buried within us. How are you going to find it at this moment? Perhaps the first step is making a personal commitment to living in accordance with health and balance rather than stress, drama, and denial. Yes, it’s easier said than done, but it certainly can be done. The choice is yours.
Premenstrual Syndrome (PMS)
In my private practice, PMS and dysmenorrhea (menstrual cramps) are certainly common reasons for seeking treatment with acupuncture with herbs, as these holistic methods tend to be very effective and safe options for most women. Chinese medicine and acupuncture have enjoyed a rich history in treating gynecological issues. Even today, many women turn to this style of treatment for numerous female health concerns. PMS and cramping usually respond very well to treatment. The key is to give it sufficient time before discerning if it is working for you. My experience has been that women younger than 25 typically respond very quickly to acupuncture and herbs, while women in their 30’s and 40’s may need to be a bit more patient. This is because the time frame of progress is usually based on how long one’s symptoms have been present. The longer they have been there, the longer treatment tends to take. Even in worst-case scenarios (long-term and severe symptoms), I still expect that the woman’s overall health should improve greatly within 2 months of weekly treatment.
Both PMS and cramping are generally attributed to an underlying liver imbalance that is based on qi (energy) and blood stagnation. The liver is responsible for balanced circulation throughout the body; cramping pain and PMS are signs that the blood has congealed and qi has become stuck. The primary cause of liver qi and blood stagnation is emotional in nature and is specifically related to the suppression of anger and frustration. When you feel stuck in your life and your creative resources are thwarted, the natural byproducts are anger and frustration. The continued attachment to these emotions makes us feel stuck on all levels. Thus, the body will mirror to us this stagnation by impairing the circulation of qi and blood through the liver meridian. This, in turn, causes pain, mood swings, and further emotional upset.
Liver blood stagnation that causes cramping can also be caused by abuse at the onset of menses. Whether it is sexual, physical, or verbal abuse, such external reinforcements can easily cause our blood circulation to shut down as a protective mechanism against injurious circumstances. In my practice, many women with severe and prolonged cramping have confided in me that they were once abused. When I tell them that their menstrual imbalances are probably related to this, many of them intuitively recognize this as true, which is the first step in initiating the healing process.
Many women have resigned themselves to simply putting up with these uncomfortable symptoms every month. They simply think that this is normal and that there is no treatment available for it. When I tell women that acupuncture and herbs work very well, many do not believe me until they start to see miraculous changes in their cycles. They no longer feel like the world is ending and they are no longer doubled over in pain for 3 days; How could this be? Well, this is actually one of the easier conditions to treat since acupuncture excels at moving stuck qi and blood. Needles disperse energy and promote circulation. That is their primary function. By harmonizing the flow of qi in the liver meridian, the order is restored to the woman’s body and mind. Along with acupuncture, here are a few herbs and supplements that I recommend. It is always best to pursue natural treatments under the guidance of a skilled practitioner. With that said, consider the following:
Xiao Yao Wan: Also called Free and Easy Wanderer, this is the quintessential gynecological formula in Chinese herbal medicine and one of the most popular herbal formulas throughout history. This formula combines a variety of herbs that regulate liver qi and strengthen the spleen. Therefore, it is good for PMS, mild to moderate cramping, mood swings, fatigue, and bloating during menses.
Jia Wei Xiao Yao Wan: This is Free and Easy Wanderer Plus, which adds heat-clearing herbs to the original formula. This makes it suitable for more severe symptoms of irritability, headaches, cramping, and possibly elevated body temperature.
Shao Fu Zhu Yu Tang: This formula promotes the circulation of liver blood and warms the lower abdominal organs, which makes it suitable for more severe cramping that is alleviated by the application of heat.
Crampbark Plus: This is a formula by Health Concerns that combines a variety of blood-moving herbs for menstrual cramps and irregularity.
Women’s Chamber: This is a variation of a Chinese herbal formula called gui zhi fu ling wan that is used for fibroids, cysts, endometriosis, and cramping. This formula moves liver blood, warms the uterus, and dissipates phlegm accumulations (cysts and fibroids).
Krill Oil: This is an essential fatty acid complex that is rich in phospholipids which makes it ideal for female health. If krill oil isn’t available or is too expensive, take standard fish oil, starting at 3,000mg daily. Essential fatty acids are excellent for stabilizing the mood, reducing inflammation and pain, and aiding in the regulation of estrogen and progesterone (especially krill oil).
Phosphatidyl Choline: This is a phospholipid that has been shown to help in balancing estrogen and progesterone. It has a positive effect on PMS and cramping. <br/ >Antioxidant Complex: Taking a high-quality antioxidant ensures that you are getting adequate vitamins and minerals for healthy blood and hormonal balance. Vitamins B12 and folic acid are commonly deficient in women and can lead to blood imbalances from the perspective of Chinese medicine.
5HTP: This is a natural precursor to serotonin that is helpful for stabilizing moods and reducing cravings. It is also useful for fatigue and poor sleep.
Calcium: 1000-1336 mg/day has been proven to improve mood and reduce water retention.
Magnesium: deficiency is strongly implicated as a causative factor in PMS (use 360mg 3x/day)
Vitamin E: 100-400 IU/day has been clinically shown to reduce PMS symptoms
Vitamin B6: promotes healthy levels of neurotransmitters and endorphins for emotional stability
Nutritional therapy can go a long way toward healing PMS and cramping. The standard American diet is certainly enough to create a host of problems for female health, including hormonal imbalances, various side effects of holding excess weight, low serotonin levels, and poor metabolism. Here are a few basic tips to consider if you want to use food to heal yourself:
Avoid refined sugar: Refined products, in general, should be avoided in order to heal PMS and cramping. Sugar in particular is harmful to all systems of the body.
Switch to eating an organic whole foods diet: Eating organic means that the food is free from added hormones and other synthetic agents. This one step should profoundly benefit your health.
Drink a lot of water.
Avoid coffee: Coffee is one of the main inputs into fibrocystic conditions. It is an irritant to the colon and liver and can cause blood stagnation over time. Switch to green tea if you need the caffeine.
Lastly, make sure you get plenty of exercises. This is an important consideration for healing ourselves in general. Try to get at least 20 minutes a day, 5 days a week. Find ways to manage your stress level. Yoga and meditation are incredibly helpful for this purpose (along with many others). Hopefully, after reading this brief article, you feel more encouraged that there are steps you can take for PMS and cramping that you might not have known about. Don’t forget, it is common that natural therapies take time, as they have a cumulative effect over a few weeks. Be consistent and accurate in your treatment (which is difficult without some professional guidance) and you should make vast improvements.
Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, or PTSD, is a commonly misunderstood condition that currently affects around 5 million Americans. Acupuncture, along with a variety of natural treatment approaches, can often offer profound benefit to people diagnosed with PTSD or share a similar constellation of symptoms.
Acupuncture can treat PTSD by harmonizing the underlying energetic imbalances that cause the condition. In acupuncture theory, PTSD is treated as a state of shock that must be cleared out of one ’s nervous system and body. Shock can linger long after the triggering event occurred, often for several years. There are a number of acupuncture treatment strategies that effectively take someone out of a state of shock. This is accomplished by clearing the underlying energetic imbalance that is causing the shock to persist. Another important factor is to stabilize the pulse, as almost all patients in shock exhibit unstable pulses that show continuous deviation in rate, rhythm, intensity, or amplitude.
Acupuncture works by regulating the flow of Qi or life force in the body. In the case of PTSD, there is often what is called a Qi wild condition, in which one’s life force/vital energy has become chaotic, disturbed, or grossly inconsistent. Acupuncture is a powerful way to settle such energetic disturbances and return the body and mind to a state of balance and peace.
Chinese herbs can also offer a deep level of support in treating PTSD. The herbal formulas yunnan paiyao and sheng mai san are the first line of defense in clearing shock and trauma, as they are primarily indicated to stabilize the pulse. These formulas are typically taken for one month, at which time noticeable changes are often detected in pattern of the PTSD. After this initial course of treatment, there are a variety of other herbal formulas that can be chosen depending on the patient’s unique needs. Listed here are a few examples:
- Calm Spirit by Health Concerns: Used for anxiety, stress, irritability, emotional fluctuations, and worry
- Peaceful Spirit by Golden Flower: Same indications as Calm Spirit
- Bupleurum and Dragon Bone: Helps with chronic anger issues, nervous tension, addictions, and bipolar tendencies
- Tian Wan Bu xin Dan: Useful for restless sleep, irritability, sadness, excessive stress
Along with Chinese herbs, it is also important to implement the following nutritional strategies:
- Eliminate caffeine, refined sugar, and alcohol
- Eat plenty of organic fruits and vegetables every day
- Drink 8 glasses of water daily
- Supplement with phosphatidylserine, B complex, fish and flax oil
Many of my patients who have had PTSD have also benefited from a technique called EFT, which stands for Emotional Freedom Techniques. This is considered an emotional form of acupuncture that involves tapping on specific acupuncture points while specific phrases are repeated. This is a powerful technique to recondition the nervous system and reroute the neural patterning that perpetuates trauma. It is simple to learn and easy to implement into one’s life. Many people find that this simple technique offers much more immediate benefits than medications or therapy. Watch the video on EFT available on this website for more information.
Meditation, yoga, and a variety of deep breathing exercises can also be extremely helpful, especially if they are practiced on a daily basis.
PTSD can be a debilitating and difficult condition to treat. This is why I recommend a combination of therapies. Acupuncture, herbs, EFT, meditation, and nutrition offer a tremendous collection of resources that can substantially reduce or eliminate many of the symptoms of PTSD.
Treatment for most patients is once a week for 4-6 visits, at which time we will assess for progress. Many patients find it helpful to commit to more long-term care for this condition.
Acupuncture and Chinese medicine have proven to be effective for many people who suffer from sciatica. This condition, which is characterized by nervy and gnawing pain that radiates from the low back down one or both legs, can be debilitating and frustrating. Many patients have tried conventional therapies such as pain medications, physical therapy, and chiropractic but still struggle with the condition.
In acupuncture theory, pain is believed to be due to stuck energy and blood in the body. It is always a result of the impeded circulation, which can lead to inflammation or degeneration. In the case of sciatica, the gall bladder meridian is typically in need of energetic balancing. This meridian runs from the piriformus muscle in the buttocks down the lateral side of the legs, which is the pathway of the sciatic nerve. Qi stagnation (stuck energy) occurs in this meridian due to suppressed anger and stress. Because of this, a common dynamic amongst sciatica patients is that they tend to hold onto anger or express it inappropriately.
Acupuncture is a gentle treatment that is intended to be very relaxing, restorative, and balancing. As the primary goal is to regulate the flow of Qi in the gall bladder meridian, one often notices that their entire sense of health is boosted from the treatment: physically, emotionally, and mentally. Most of my sciatic patients come for treatment 1-2 times per week for 4 weeks, at which time we assess for progress. The treatment plan depends upon the severity of the pain and how long it has been there.
Chinese herbal medicine can also play an important role in treating this condition. The following herbal formulas have all been proven to be useful in the treatment of sciatica:
- du huo ji sheng tang: One of the main formulas for treating pain and spasm from the waist down
- you gui wan: A kidney tonic formula that treats low back pain due to internal cold and deficiency
- channel flow: A formula by Health Concerns that treats pain anywhere in the body
- yao tong pian: One of the main formulas for all kinds of low back pain
Other people have found the following supplements to be helpful for sciatica:
- bromelain: anti-inflammatory enzyme
- fish oil: 3,000 mg daily
- 5HTP: (a natural precursor to serotonin; many people with chronic pain are serotonin deficient)
There is also a specific yoga posture that is helpful for both preventions and for active flare-ups. These poses are best learned from a yoga instructor, as it is fairly easy to exacerbate this condition with stretching.
With the right combination of therapies, sciatica typically responds very well to treatment. I recommend combining acupuncture with Chinese herbs for a few weeks and possibly adding some targeted stretches. This should go a long way in your recovery from this painful condition.
Many people turn to acupuncture when they want to quit smoking. This is because acupuncture can be a gentle and effective way to reduce cravings, detoxify the lungs, and stabilize one’s emotions as they are quitting. Is it a magic bullet? Usually not. The patient has to be ready to quit. They have to be willing to shift to the identity of being a non-smoker. This often means giving up activities/rituals that promoted the smoking habit, such as going out to bars, drinking the morning cup of coffee, or looking forward to the smoke break at the office. Sometimes it is also important to step back from others who continue to smoke.
Acupuncture has enjoyed a long history of helping people with a variety of addictive behaviors. To this end, people have turned to acupuncture for alcoholism, drug abuse, food cravings, and even other addictions such as gambling, sex, or shopping. Acupuncture works by balancing the flow of Qi in the body and mind. In acupuncture theory, addictions are due to a number of potential imbalances in the way that energy flows through the body. In particular, people who exhibit highly addictive behavior tend to have problems in their heart Qi, which is due to a history of emotional or sexual abuse or a betrayal of trust. As their core emotional response to life is based on a sense that life isn’t safe, they turn to external solutions to provide a sense of comfort and security.
Every addiction offers something upfront that it eventually takes away down the road. In the case of cigarettes, the smoker is filled with an immediate sense of fire and fullness that often compensates for inner feelings of chronic dissatisfaction and emptiness. After a period of time, the smoker cannot access an innate feeling of being OK without smoking. So, there is more to nicotene than the physical craving. Many smokers are trying to fill a void in their lives through cigarettes that have rather deep psychological and/or spiritual undertones.
On a biochemical level, addictions to substances such as cigarettes create an imbalance in the way that serotonin and dopamine are regulated in the brain. The addict needs a constant fix of the substance in order to keep a relative balance in their neurotransmitter levels. When the substance is removed, then serotonin levels plummet which causes irritability, fatigue, anxiety, or depression. Acupuncture has been clinically shown to regulate these vital brain chemicals without causing unwanted side effects.
Most of the patients I have seen to quit smoking come in 2 times per week for 3 weeks and take Chinese herbs throughout the process. Included here is a list of my favorite herbal formulas and supplements to help one through the withdrawal period:
- Bupleurum D: A formula by Golden Flower based on the classic formula bupleurum and dragon bone. This combination of herbs is well suited to helping people through a variety of addictions. It is the first line of defense against smoking. It soothes irritability, reduces cravings, and stabilizes emotions.
- Crave Arrest: A combination of nutraceuticals by Designs For Health that has been shown to help up to 50% of people who have used it to quit smoking.
- 5HTP: Keeps serotonin levels balanced which helps with mood, cravings, and general well-being.
- Calm Spirit: A formula by Health Concerns that helps with excessive anxiety, stress, and emotional disturbance.
Along with acupuncture, herbs, and supplements, I also recommend a technique called EFT which stands for Emotional Freedom Techniques. This is considered to be an emotional form of acupuncture that involves tapping on specific acupuncture points while repeating specific phrases to oneself. This technique breaks the neural patterning that perpetuates addictions. It can be a miracle for people who have struggled to quit smoking. It is easy to learn and can be useful in a variety of ways.
Meditation can also be a profound resource for people trying to quit. Mindfulness exercises help with developing space around the cravings and observing them in a neutral state of awareness. This helps to take a lot of the momentum out of the energy of addiction. It gives one a deep inner resource to draw upon when difficulties arise.
Most of us can attest to the fact that stress is reaching epidemic proportions in modern society. Balancing work, family, health, money, etc. is a challenge that many of us feel ill equipped to face. Eighty percent of the doctor visits in our country are stress-related. Our quality of life and health is largely determined by how we adapt and relate to daily stressors. Excessive stress not only takes its toll on our bodies but strips the joy out of life and suppresses our creative instincts. Without physical health, joy, and creativity, life is scarcely worth living. Dissolving stress is certainly possible, but takes a commitment to make lifestyle choices that create balance throughout our lives. Here are a few ancient techniques for eliminating stress, increasing energy, and creating emotional balance. These are some of the most powerful tools we have for achieving optimal health and preventing future disease.
Meditation: Practiced for thousands of years in many Asian cultures, meditation has long been recognized as one of the most powerful tools we have for cultivating peace of mind and balance. Numerous studies have proven the incredibly positive effect that meditation has on stress reduction. There are literally hundreds of meditation techniques taught around the world. For beginners, the most helpful approach is to start with basic mindfulness techniques that develop both relaxation and alertness. Once a basic ground of awareness has been stabilized, then more advanced meditation practices can be undertaken. Meditation is a practice that helps us identify with stillness and silence. It cultivates intuition and surrender. It can deeply help just about anybody but is truly a miraculous practice for reducing stress and anxiety.
Yoga: This ancient practice has also been utilized by millions of people throughout history. Yoga is typically considered a form of meditation that involves putting the body into a variety of poses in combination with deep breathing to induce mental clarity, increased energy, and physical strength and flexibility. The healing benefits of yoga have been repeatedly documented by a variety of clinical studies. There are many forms of yoga and it is best to experiment to determine which form feels the most helpful for your needs. I highly recommend combining yoga with sitting meditation, as they work synergistically to induce deep states of relaxation.
Acupuncture: One of the pillars of traditional Chinese medicine, acupuncture has been practiced for at least 2,500 years. Perhaps one of the last truly holistic forms of healthcare remaining on the planet, acupuncture works with the Qi (life force ) of the body in order to induce a variety of therapeutic effects. The safety and efficacy of this practice are well documented which accounts for its incredible surge in popularity in the Western world. Acupuncture is considered one of the most powerful treatment options for stress reduction. Only seek acupuncture treatment from licensed acupuncturists ( as opposed to chiropractors or MDs who practice acupuncture).
Herbal medicine: There is a variety of both Chinese and Western herbal formulas that have been clinically proven to reduce stress and create emotional balance. Herbs are much less concentrated than pharmaceuticals, which is why they have far fewer side effects (but can still be as effective). If you are interested in this treatment option, many acupuncturists can skillfully prescribe herbal formulas. This is recommended over buying herbs over the counter with little knowledge of their intended usage.
Nutrition: Eating a diet high in antioxidants, essential fatty acids, and low glycemic carbohydrates can go a long way toward healing stress. The standard American diet (high in processed foods, saturated fat, sugar, and transfats) has been linked to anxiety, depression, and increased stress in numerous studies. Change your diet to an organic, whole foods approach and both your body and mind will reward you beyond measure. Poor adaptability to stress is often a sign that our brains are starving for nutrients that we aren’t getting from our standard American diets.
Making these lifestyle changes may not be easy in the initial phases. It is often helpful to seek out the support of a health care practitioner to guide you through these transitions. Once you start feeling the enormous payoff of making such changes, there truly is no turning back. Your stress will dissolve, your weight will decrease, and your energy will skyrocket, not to mention the preventative measures you are taking for heart health. Isn’t that enough to warrant making a few changes?
Approximately 70 million Americans are overweight. 34% of our country is obese, which means that one is over 20 pounds his or her optimal weight. The vast majority of overweight people have been on a variety of diets and regimens. It is quite common to experience initial success on diets. Unfortunately, the good results are usually temporary and eventually spiral into the same or higher weight than we were at prior to the diet. This cycle can continue through life, which leaves many people feeling disempowered, cynical, and depressed about their ability to maintain optimal weight. In my practice, I have helped many people lose weight and keep it off. This is because I educate my patients that they are NEVER to diet again. Instead, what they need to do is find a healthy way to eat that truly works for them and then stick with it as long as they live.
The problem with dieting is that we think it’s OK to revert to the way we were eating after the diet is over. Dieting implies a short period of time in which we use willpower to shed weight, only to return to our old ways sooner or later. At the end of the diet we usually say, ‘phew, I’m glad that’s over!’ This mindset is undoubtedly a form of self-sabotage. As our bodies become accustomed to losing weight and eating different foods on the diet, they easily go into a state of shock once the old foods are reintroduced. Our metabolism will eventually shut down altogether if we abuse ourselves by repeatedly gaining and losing large amounts of weight.
I also tell my patients that there simply is no magic bullet for losing weight. There is no pill that will effortlessly make the weight melt off. Having a healthy body takes work; there is no way around that. The key is to have a healthy relationship with ourselves so we can make changes that are not based on willpower. We have to learn how to enjoy taking care of ourselves. We have to find the balance between immediate gratification and harsh discipline. This means that we are proactive about our health; we aren’t using food to beat ourselves up or to take away the pain in our lives. Instead, our food choices reflect a very strong commitment that we have made to ourselves to heal our bodies and minds with nutrition. Every one of us is entitled to this relationship with food and it is definitely possible. We can actually enjoy the hard work it takes to live well.
The truth is that we will never have the body we want until we are educated about making the right choices with food, healing the underlying emotional imbalances that make us crave unhealthy foods, and generally make a commitment to achieving optimal health. Let’s take a look at each of these in closer detail:
Making the right choices with food: This means becoming informed about nutrition. There has to be a basic understanding of the effects of various foods on our health if we are to use food as medicine. (And that is what we are getting at, using food to heal ourselves rather than as poison). Our knowledge of food must go beyond, ‘eat your fruits and vegetables.’ Here are a few basic guidelines for getting you on track with your food choices. This advice is simple to follow and will drastically change your food choices:
- Eat organic foods: If you aren’t already doing so, start shopping at your local health food store for the majority of your daily meals. Yes, it is a bit more expensive, but you have to look at this as an investment in your health. 95% of the foods that you buy over the counter at regular grocery stores have no nutritional value whatsoever. Instead, many conventional foods are pumped with additives, refined sugar, herbicides and pesticides, genetically modified ingredients, transfats, and hormones. Do you really want these kinds of things in your body? Shopping at your health food store will drastically reduce your intake of these unhelpful additives. Organic foods have much more nutritional value.
- Try to eat mostly whole foods: Eat foods in their natural state. Fresh vegetables, fruits, fish, chicken, grains, etc. are all examples of whole foods.
- Reduce your intake of refined sugar and carbohydrates: These are the foods that will make the weight pile on. Muffins, pasta, cereal, white rice, candy, soda, bread, bagels, etc. are the culprits in weight gain and water retention.
- Drink 6-9 glasses of filtered water daily: Hunger pangs are often a sign of dehydration. Reach for water before you reach for food.
- Eat a big breakfast and a small dinner: Eat whole food snacks every 2-3 hours throughout the day.
Healing Our Emotions and Food Cravings: Food is definitely a drug for many of us. To make it worse, it is a socially accepted drug, which means that it seems OK because everyone around us is indulging, so why shouldn’t we? We are surrounded by images of food all around us. The marketing gurus for major food corporations are masters at making us feel deprived if we don’t indulge our desires for immediate gratification. Many of us are overweight because we use food to fill an emotional void. Our deeper needs in life are not being satisfied and we don’t know how to nourish ourselves appropriately. Healing our relationship with food is often dependent upon our ability to satisfy ourselves in our work and relationships, many people turn to food when their sexual life is either non-existent or dissatisfying. When we are engaged with our lives and know how to handle the various stresses that come with adult responsibilities, then we will not turn to food compulsively. We will discuss how to go about healing ourselves in these ways in a bit.
Making a Commitment to Optimal Health: Most of us are conditioned into believing that other things in life are more of a priority than our health. We only make our health a priority when we experience symptoms that alert us to the fact that something is wrong. Committing to optimal health means that our health becomes one of the top priorities in our lives right NOW, even if we feel fine. This means taking the time to eat nutritious foods, exercise, and keep stress at bay with techniques such as meditation or yoga. When we make this commitment and truly live by it, our weight will naturally be more balanced. This commitment is can only be genuine if we deeply respect and value ourselves.
Achieving optimal health and a balanced weight entails having the same relationship with exercise as we do with food. Both nutrition and exercise must be key elements of our daily lifestyle. I recommend exercising 20 minutes a day, 5 days per week for those of you just starting out. Just as there is a way to eat that is both healthy and enjoyable, there is also a way to exercise that we can commit to for the long term. Your main strategy should be to experiment with all forms of exercise until you find something you really like. This doesn’t mean that it will be easy, but it certainly can be enjoyable. If we don’t have a basic enjoyment for exercise, then the only way to get through it is by using willpower, which will run out sooner or later. Many people find that exercising in the community is much better for them than exercising alone. I prefer tennis and yoga. I have been doing both for years and I know that they will be in my life forever, simply because I love both of them. Everybody loves something, you just have to find what it is and do it regularly.
Herbs and Supplements
As I said, there are no magic bullets for weight loss. There are, however, very helpful adjuncts to weight loss that can certainly speed the process along. Below are a few products I use in my practice (these can only be purchased through licensed professionals):
- Bojenmi Tea: Chinese slimming tea that has a variety of herbs that strengthen digestion and quicken metabolism.
- Shen Chu 16 and Alisma 16: These are herbal formulas by 7 Forests that are often used in combination to strengthen digestion, reduce water retention, and optimize metabolism.
- Lotus Leaf Tablets: Also by 7 Forests, this is a strong herbal formula for weight loss.
- EndoTrim: Made by Designs for Health, combines a variety of antioxidants and extracts to help convert fat into muscle and stabilize blood sugar.
- Crave Arrest: Also by Designs for Health, this product is excellent for sugar and carbohydrate cravings.
- 5HTP: A natural precursor to serotonin, 5 htp is used for anxiety, depression, insomnia, and carbohydrate cravings.
- There are also many acupuncture points and protocols that reduce cravings, stimulate metabolism, reduce water retention, and optimize digestion.
It may take 1-2 years to lose all the weight you’d like, but the odds are that you will keep it off if you do it in a gradual and balanced way. My goal is to give you the tools to lose weight so you can use them forever. This is not a diet; it is living and being healthy forever.