Thursday, July 31, 2008

Traditional Chinese Medicine Week in London

It's Traditional Chinese Medicine Week in London, an event centered around an exhibition at the Royal Society of Medicine on Wimpole St.

If you're in London, stop in and take some pictures! Let me know how it is. We ought to have something like that here in America. There's already a World Taiji and Qigong Day. It would be a good opportunity to raise the profile of TCM, maybe get a decent feature in some mainstream press.

Ultimately I think we need a 5000 word New Yorker profile of a charismatic, highly effective Chinese medicine doctor who lives and practices in America. You know, maybe it's an immigrant from Fujian who waits tables by day and writes herbal prescriptions all night for the line of people who know he's got the touch. Something that people can connect with, that the writer can skillfully use as a jumping off point to explore the world of Chinese medicine in the U.S. That would be awesome. Atul Gawande is not allowed to get anywhere near it.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

The Gluten-Free Hippie

Today we have a quick link to a delicious recipe for strawberry-rhubarb compote. It's delicious on ice cream!!! This recipe is from my friend Lyra's blog, the Gluten-Free Hippie.

Strawberry-Rhubarb Compote

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

"Herbal" Soda Not Good For You Either

You've seen the energy drinks, probably at the gas station or the corner store, bright green tallboys with aggressive graphics and names like "Monster" and "Rock Star". Mostly sugar and caffeine, they also have herbal extracts of the latest and hottest energy herb. Guarana and ginseng are often-abused herbs in these sugar bombs.

For the vast majority of people who take these drinks, it will be the only contact they have with guarana or ginseng, and that's a shame. It would be like only knowing Marlon Brando from The Island of Dr. Moreau and never seeing On the Waterfront. Instead of experiencing these herbs in the context where they can do the most good - a spare, well-directed herbal formula - they see them only as fat, ineffective addons to an already disgusting product.

Now comes news that the Coca-Cola company has set up a huge research center in China, partnering with the prestigious China Academy of Chinese Medical Sciences in Beijing to (choose one):

a) Sponsor important research on eliminating epidemics in developing nations using low-cost, highly effective Chinese herbal formulas
b) Investigate the connection between soda drinking and childhood obesity, diabetes, ADHD and autism
c) Discover great new flavors for herbal Coke!

Answer (sort of) here.

See also:

Monday, July 28, 2008

Eating Your Way To Health

With all the diet fads and various nutritional guidelines floating around nowadays, it's hard to determine which advice to actually follow. Though some food choices may be considered healthier than others, there's also the matter of taste (which definitely influences my stomach!), not to mention the issues of cost and convenience that are factored into making decisions on what to eat. Picking the right foods for you is one of the best ways to stave off ill health and disease.

In Chinese Nutritional Therapy, dietary guidelines are not only given on the basis of the foods' intrinsic nutritional value, but also on the individual's needs according to their state of health. For instance, orange juice is a nice refreshing beverage, packed with vitamin C and universally known for its antioxidant properties. However, someone with a "cold phlegm" condition may actually get worse drinking a tall glass everyday. They would be better off drinking a warm tea of ginger steeped in hot water instead.

How food is prepared, and subsequently how it is eaten, is just as important as the food itself. Chinese Nutrition principles in regards to preparation are very simple: the more you warm the foods, the warmer they will behave in the body. Grilled meats, for example, will be the most warming of foods, whereas raw fruits in general will be the most cooling. Slow cooking methods like soups and braising will be more warming than steaming or blanching. It is generally recommended that foods are best lightly cooked; it is not recommended to eat foods directly out of the refrigerator as it is considered to be too cold and can injure your "digestive fire."

If you feel that you would like to eat healthier, but don't know where to begin, changing the way you eat your food could be the first step. Digestion is best done in a relaxed, well-lit environment, free of mental and physical distractions. If you eat lunch at your desk at work, try designating a different space separate from your work space in which to eat. Eat in the cafeteria or lounge, or take a walk outside and find some shade to sit in.

If you find yourself eating on-the-go, in your car, or standing over the sink, the best thing to do is stop, sit down, and don't do anything else but eat until you are done swallowing that last bite of food. Taking the time to eat a meal can reduce stomach discomfort and indigestion.

One of the best ways to maintain healthy digestion is to eat at regular intervals. In Chinese medicine, the Spleen is in charge of the digestive process, ensuring that the food we eat gets properly transformed into utilizable parts and sent out to be used by the body. According to Chinese medicine, the Spleen likes regularity, and works best when it knows when to do its job. Eating breakfast, lunch, and dinner at regular times everyday will automatically improve ones digestive health.

If you're interested in what foods would be best for you according to Chinese nutrition, ask your acupuncturist or Chinese herbalist.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Barbed Skullcap for Cancer

Ban Zhi Lian (barbed skullcap) was recently found to have anti-cancer activity. This generated a lot of mainstream press - there was even an article in Time magazine about it.

There are in fact many herbs that are used to treat cancer in the Chinese pharmacopeia. In China, besides using the latest radiation and chemotherapy, herbs are used to directly treat cancer. Those herbs generally fall in the traditional Chinese categories of "move blood resolve stasis", "clear heat and relieve toxicity" and possibly "transform phlegm".

Here in the U.S., herbs are generally used to treat the side effects of conventional cancer treatments. Those herbs generally fall into the "tonic" category, meaning herbs that supplement and nourish the body rather than attacking and dispersing. Radiation and chemotherapy are extremely harsh, attacking and draining treatments, so Chinese herbs can be used to counteract the often vicious side effects.

As a side note, the verbs used above are translations of traditional Chinese terms for treatment principles. "Attacking", "draining", "supplementing" and "tonifying" are just a few of many ways that Chinese medicine describes how you can go about treatment. Part of the problem with modern Western medicine is that it is often too much on the attacking and draining side.

Another problem is that biomedical treatments tend to be either too exact or not exact enough. Antibiotics, for instance, kill all bacteria indiscriminately, and therefore significantly weaken the body if taken for long periods of time. I recommend all my patients to take a course of probiotics after taking antibiotics. Then again, some Western medicines get highly specific, blocking certain receptors but not others. I'm thinking here of selective serotonin re-uptake inhibitors (SSRIs) such as Prozac and other depression medications, which can actually increase the likelihood that someone might kill themselves.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

The Universe is Like a Hologram

  • Stuart Kim of Stanford University wants to know: "Why can't I live as long as a whale? How hard would it be?" Do your qigong everyday, Mr. Kim, eat very little, and keep your emotions flowing smoothly...
  • Electrical stimulation of the brain is an effective treatment for depression.
  • Another study has come out linking phytoestrogen (found in soy products) and low sperm count. I have my doubts about these studies. If that's true, then why are the Chinese so prolific? Last time I checked, even with the one-child policy, there are more than a billion and a half Chinese people in China alone. If you count all the overseas Chinese and other nations that consume a lot of soy, that's nearly half the world's population. The lead researcher, Dr. Jorge Chavarro of the Harvard School of Public Health, says: "It's way too early to say stop eating soy foods. It's not time to worry about whether you're eating too much soy. There's not enough information to conclusively say that."
  • What is the scientific explanation of the Northern Lights?
    Every so often, the Earth's magnetic field lines are stretched like rubber bands by solar energy, snap, are thrown back to Earth and reconnect, in effect creating a short circuit. This stored-up energy powers the northern and southern lights.

    This is fascinating stuff. Think about it - the Earth's magnetic field lines are stretched by solar energy so far that they SNAP, then they come back to Earth and reconnect.

Finally, I'd like to post a long quote from an interview with Leonard Susskind, the physicist who proved Stephen Hawking wrong about black holes.
What is the great resolution you referred to?

One result is something called Black Hole Complementarity. Let's say Alice falls into a black hole while Bob stays on the outside and watches. Nothing drastic happens to her when she crosses the event horizon [the point of no return around a black hole]. Of course she's eventually going to get it. On the other hand, there is another picture of the black hole, where every bit of information that you throw onto the horizon of a black hole gets sort of stuck on the horizon and builds up a soup of information bits. And this soup is hot, about a 100 billion billion billion degrees.

So Alice would get burned up?

We have a dilemma. One theory, based on general relativity, simply says Alice just floats past the horizon. That would be Alice's view of things. But Bob's view of things, if he believes in quantum mechanics, is that Alice falls into this soup of hot bits and her molecules are ripped apart. So, which one is correct? Alice can't both be killed at the horizon and not killed at the horizon. The answer is they are both correct.

How can that be?

These two ideas are not in conflict because to be in conflict, there has to be a contradiction. Well, nobody can see a contradiction for the simple reason that nobody can send a message from the inside of a black hole. Alice can't send a message saying, "Bob, I'm OK, don't worry about me," because the message can't get out of the black hole. Yet everything Bob sees is consistent with saying that Alice was thermalized.

It's difficult to see how both can be true.

We've had these things before in Einstein's thought experiments. Einstein, in the special theory of relativity, proved that different observers, in different states of motion, see different realities.

There's another strange theory that's come out of this battle, isn't there?

Yes, the Holographic Principle. A hologram is a two-dimensional sheet, such as film, which codes three-dimensional information. A simple way to say it is that the black hole horizon is like a hologram. The horizon of the black hole is like the film, and the image is the stuff that falls into the black hole. It's extremely unintuitive. According to this theory, the exact description of a region of space -- no matter how big -- is like a film on the boundary, where complicated and extremely scrambled versions of that space are going on. So in that sense, the universe is like a hologram.

Enjoy your weekend...

Friday, July 25, 2008

Acupuncture and Flavor Enhancement

Now, the title of this post could suggest that getting an acupuncture treatment would improve one's sense of taste. There is no doubt that acupuncture has a wide range of therapeutic uses, and benefiting the taste buds is probably one of those things that can happen secondarily as the body is brought closer to a state of balance. However, this post is not about how you can improve your sense of taste by receiving acupuncture treatments. It is about how the food you eat can get acupuncture before it hits the packed ice at the market, and thereby taste better.

A fish company in Osaka has been performing acupuncture treatments on tuna. They claim that the treatments calm the fish, making them less likely to thrash around when they are in the throes of death. They also claim that the tuna that receive acupuncture don't have to be doused with chemicals to stay fresh.

Read the article here.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Herbs as Food, Food as Herbs

If you've ever taken Chinese herbs, particularly in the decoction or herbal tea form, you probably shudder and retch at the memory. No doubt it's effective, but sometimes it takes a little prayer and a spoonful of honey to get through your Chinese herbal therapy.

Well guess what - not all Chinese herbs taste like bitter dirt. Some are rather bland and neutral, and some are even sweet and downright tasty. These neutral and sweet herbs are generally milder in action and can be used on a daily basis, mixed with your food.

The thing is, every single natural substance in the world has a medicinal purpose. Some are milder, some are stronger, and some do things that we haven't discovered a purpose for yet. Chinese medicine regularly uses scorpions, centipedes, cockroaches, beetles, clam and abalone shells for medicinal purposes, as well as the usual leaves, stems, roots, seeds, fruits and berries. There is a whole branch of medicine that specializes in the use of different kinds of snakes. Ever seen those whole snakes floating in a yellowish liquid, possibly in Chinatown or Little Saigon? Those can be used for arthritis and impotence.

To put it in perspective, the great Chinese naturalist Li Shi-Zhen, in his encyclopedic 16th-century "herb" manual, the Ben Cao Gang Mu, divides the medicinal substances by type, rather than category of medicinal action. For instance, all the roots are in one section. All the salt water fish in one section, fresh water fish in another, and so on.

So the next time you put something in your mouth, ask yourself what the medicinal functions are. How does it make you feel? How much of it do you eat? What happens at the other end several hours later?

We'll end with a list of common Chinese herbs that are used as food.

  • Lu Dou - mung bean - cool and sweet, used in desserts and summertime drinks
  • Gou Qi Zi - goji berries - warm and sweet. Put a few in your tea.
  • Ju Hua - chrysanthemum flower - available at tea shops as a light, refreshing tea. Often used together with Gou Qi Zi.
  • Xia Ku Cao - prunella or self-heal - this herb is energetically very cold and is often made into a tea with sugar added for a cooling summer drink.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Dao of the Day

The Dao De Jing, also known as the Tao Teh Ching, is a short written work with a huge influence on Chinese thought, society, and the traditional Chinese sciences. Attributed to Laozi (aka Lao Tse, Lao Tzu, Lao Zi, et cetera) and about 3000 years old, the Dao De Jing is, like the 道 Dao (aka Tao) itself, almost impossible to describe accurately. You could call it the earliest surviving written work which talks about the Dao, or the Way.

It's important to remember that at the time the Dao De Jing was written, there was no such thing as "Daoism". Organized religion, temples, monasteries and state influence all came later.

One of many stories told about the genesis of the work goes like this: Laozi was a sage who became fed up with the artificiality of human society. He rode off on a donkey but was stopped by a border guard who recognized him and begged him to stay. Laozi refused. The guard asked him to at least write down his teachings so that future generations could benefit. Laozi relented, sat down and dashed off a quick 81 verses which we now know as the Dao De Jing. Then he got back on his donkey (sitting backwards, perhaps) and rode off over the mountains - some say to India, where he had the opportunity to teach a young man who later became the Buddha (yes that Buddha), then on to Persia, where he influenced the founders of Zorastrianism, and so on, seeding enlightenment wherever he went.

There are many many translations of and commentaries on the Dao De Jing. Today's selection is from Cheng-Man Ching's commentaries, titled Lao-Tzu: My Words Are Very Easy To Understand and translated by Tam Gibbs. Cheng Man Ching is also well known as a taijiquan teacher in the U.S. and Taiwan.

Chapter 22
Yield, and become whole.
Bend, and become straight.
Hollow out, and become filled.
Exhaust, and become renewed.
Small amounts are obtainable;
Large amounts are confusing.
Therefore the Sage embraces the Oneness of the Tao
And becomes a guide for the whole world.

He does not focus on himself and so is brilliant.
He does not seek self-justification and so becomes his own evidence.
He does not make claims and hence is given the credit.
He does not compete with anyone, and hence no one in the world can compete with him.
How can that which the ancients expressed as "yield, and become whole" be meaningless?
If wholly sincere, you will return to them.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Chinese Herbs For Sports Performance

I came across this story in the New York Times today about asthma medications being used by some athletes who don't have asthma in the hopes of increasing performance. The last time I heard of this was high school, when the rumor was that taking a shot of inhaled asthma medication would give one a boost right before a competition.

Fools! Why aggravate your body with harsh chemicals when nature has provided you with the most wonderful sports-enhancements possible? Put down your EPO, throw away your carefully packaged high-oxygen blood supplements! Here is a short, incomplete list of Chinese herbs with documented cardiovascular effects:

  • Huang Qi - astragalus
  • Ci Wu Jia - eleuthero/acanthopanax, formerly known as "siberian ginseng."
  • Ren Shen - ginseng
  • Xi Yang Shen / Hua Qi Shen - american ginseng
  • San Qi - pseudoginseng

Now, don't go out and start downing these herbs indiscriminately. If you are interested in using herbs to supplement your athletic performance, talk to your acupuncturist or Chinese herbalist. One of the basic tenets of Chinese medicine is individualized treatments, so what might be right for you might not be right for some...

Monday, July 21, 2008

Everyday Health - Now Everyday!

Today marks the beginning of a new chapter in this blog's short life. From now on there will be piping hot new content every day. Check back daily for interesting tidbits about Chinese medicine, food, herbs, exercise and everything else health-related.

There's also an email feature - share any blog entry by clicking on the image of an envelope at the bottom of each post.

TCM Remedy for Conjunctivitis

Many of us have experienced pink-eye - you wake up in the morning, and all of a sudden one eye opens. What about the other one? It's glued shut with dried, crusty mucus which has been exudating and drying all night long.

You go to the bathroom, wash your face carefully, and take a look. The white of your affected eye looks bloodshot. It may be itchy. You try and resist, but eventually you forget, touch your bad eye, then touch the other one. Congratulations! Now you have bacterial conjunctivitis in both eyes. (If there is no mucus, you probably have viral conjunctivitis.)

If you wash carefully, rinse with saline solution and avoid touching your eyes, pink-eye usually goes away within two weeks, without lasting damage. But suppose it doesn't go away. Or suppose you want it to go away faster. Today I'd like to share with you a Chinese herbal remedy for conjunctivitis, from Complete External Therapies of Chinese Drugs, by Xu Xiangcai.

  • Jin Yin Hua - honeysuckle flower - 12 grams
  • Da Qing Ye - isatis leaf - 10 grams
  • Ban Lan Gen - isatis root - 6 grams
  • Ye Ju Hua - wild chrysanthemum flower - 6 grams
  • Pu Gong Ying - dandelion - 10 grams
  • Bo He - field mint - 6 grams
  • Qian Li Guang - ragwort - 6 grams

The ingredients above are soaked in half a liter of water in an earthenware pot for about 20 minutes. Then turn the fire on high until it comes to a high boil. Then turn down to a simmer and cook for another 15 minutes. Then filter the dregs using a fine strainer or cheesecloth. Wait until the liquid has cooled slightly but is still warm. Soak a clean cloth or piece of absorbent cotton and wash the outside of the eye slowly and carefully. Don't worry if some of the herbal tea gets in your eye, it's not dangerous. But don't try and pour the liquid directly into the eye - the main therapeutic benefit is from washing the external surface.

Too close for comfort? Here's another recipe that is even more indirect. It's prepared the same way, but all you do is steam the eye over the hot herbal tea for about 20 minutes each time - no dipping, no washing.

  • Long Dan Cao - gentian root - 10 grams
  • Ju Hua - chrysanthemum flower - 10 grams
  • Xia Ku Cao - prunella or self-heal spike - 10 grams
  • Chan Tui - cicada husk - 10 grams
  • Di Gu Pi - lycium root bark - 10 grams
  • Shi Jue Ming - abalone shell - 10 grams
  • Mi Meng Hua - buddlejae flower - 10 grams
  • Xuan Shen - scrophularia root - 15 grams
  • Bai Ji Li - tribulus fruit - 10 grams
  • Sang Ye - mulberry leaf - 10 grams

Whether steaming or washing, use the herbal tea warm for best effect. You can reuse the same herbs 3-4 times a day. The next day make a fresh batch.

You can ask your acupuncturist or Chinese herbalist to order this formula for you.