Sunday, August 31, 2008

Acupuncture for Post-Op Pain Relief!

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Meet the Herbs: Yu Mi Xu

Chinese: 玉米须
Pin Yin: Yu Mi Xu
Pharmaceutical: Maydis Stigma
English: Cornsilk

According to Bensky's Materia Medica, Yu Mi Xu promotes urination, reduces edema, and unblocks painful urination. It also clears damp heat from the Liver and Gallbladder in connection with hepatitis, cholecystitis, or gallstones.

The Materia Medica of South Yunnan notes:
Eases the Intestines, directs qi downward, treats clumps in women's breasts, blocked lactation with redness, swelling, and pain, chills, and fever, headache, and heaviness in the body.

Records of Picking Herbs in Lingnan
Boiled in soup with pork, it treats diabetes. It also treats dribbling urination with gravel and stones leading to bitter, unbearable pain: boil into a soup and drink frequently.

What we've done in the picture above is simply put raw cornsilk, straight off a fresh ear of corn, into a jug and added filtered drinking water. Leave it overnight, and you've got yourself a cool, refreshing drink for the summertime that will not only drain dampness and clear heat, but also tastes good.

So if you're planning on grilling up some corn-on-the-cob this Labor Day weekend, save the cornsilk and make yourself a jug of cornsilk tea!

Friday, August 29, 2008

The Origin of This Picture is Unknown

Take a look at the first two characters of the third line. 阴 is romanized as "yin", as in yin and yang. Yin and Yang are a set of opposites that underlie all creation. In general, yin relates to the moon and things that are cold, dark, contracting, downward moving and female. In general, yang relates to the sun and things that are warm, bright, expansive, upward moving and male.

Everything (absolutely everything) in the universe has yin and yang within it. Although yin generally relates to the "female principle" and yang generally relates to the "male principle", it is an elementary mistake to equate everything female with yin and male with yang (see Charlotte Furth, "Blood, Body and Gender: Medical Images of the Female Condition in China, 1600-1850", 1986. Chinese Science 7: 43-66 and "Concepts of Pregnancy, Childbirth, and Infancy in Ch'ing Dynasty China", 1987, Journal of Asian Studies, Vol. 46, No. 1 for an example of this mistaken thinking).

The next character is 道, which is romanized as "dao". This is the Dao or (Tao) or Daoism, and can mean the Way, a road, a path. If your mind works a certain way, your next question is, path to where? Way of what? In regular Chinese grammar, 道 is usually preceded by another character - 武道 meaning the Way of martial arts or war, 茶道 meaning the Way of tea. Taken by itself, 道 becomes a subject for philosophical inquiry, meditation, contemplation.

In the case of our unfortunately translated picture above, the 阴道 is the pathway of yin - the vagina. The vagina can be thought of as a pathway to the ultimate physical expression of yin in the world of humans - the interior world of a woman. It should therefore be treated with respect and care by those fortunate enough to have one and by everyone who is fortunate enough to come in contact with one.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Chinese Medicine: Is It Totally Fake???

You might think that China is the place where Chinese medicine is most popular. That may be true in terms of absolute numbers, but the trend is opposite - so-called "alternative" treatments such as Chinese medicine are becoming more and more popular in the United States, while interest is rapidly declining in China.

You can read the full article here, but I'm going to repost in full (with links added) a good summary article on the subject from an English-language Chinese newspaper.

As traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) gains credibility in the West, the practice of this nearly 5,000-year-old medical system has been faced with major challenges in the country of its origin. In 2006, Zhang Gongyao, a professor of philosophy at Zhongnan University, collected 10,000 signatures calling for "the abolition of traditional Chinese medicine" on the grounds that it was not scientifically based.

The move spurred a great deal of debate throughout China. While most supporters and practitioners of TCM dismissed Zhang's petition as "absurd", Fang Zhouzi, an academic known for his opposition to "pseudoscience", supported Zhang. Fang called TCM medical theory outdated, and said that China should focus on controlling and inspecting TCM herbs.

The debate was put to rest in October 2006, when China's Ministry of Health came out strongly against the petition to abolish TCM, saying it showed "ignorance of China's history".

Nevertheless, Chinese TCM doctors and experts agree that there have been major challenges to the development of the Chinese traditional medical system in recent years. Only one-fifth of patients now turn to TCM. One-third of patients use a combination of Western medicine and TCM treatments.

China has just 270,000 TCM doctors today, compared to 800,000 in the early 20th century, and 500,000 in 1949 at the founding of New China. Of the 85,705 medical institutions in China, only 3,009 were listed as TCM institutes in 2006, a decrease of nearly 800 from 2002.

Meanwhile, more and more TCM hospitals use Western medical tools and medicines for diagnosis and treatment, and rely less on TCM practices, such as pulse-taking and treatment with herbal medicines.

A major cause of the decline is the present mode of educating TCM doctors. In the past, TCM practitioners learned through a long apprenticeship. In the past 30 years, however, TCM has adopted a system similar to Western medicine for training doctors: four years of medical school, followed by hospital internships.

Pessimists say that TCM practices will be lost after the older generation of traditionally trained doctors die off. But in fact, many young practitioners who finished school in the 1980s have recognized the challenges ahead, and have advocated practicing "pure TCM".

According to a recent Internet survey by, 74.37 percent of 55,690 Internet users "greatly support TCM" and 81.3 percent believe "TCM has its own advantages". But only 42.48 percent said they would visit a TCM doctor, leaving 57.52 percent who said they would prefer a Western medical doctor.

(China Daily 08/27/2008 page 19)

p.s. Did you know you don't have to go to school to become an acupuncturist in the U.S.? Both California's Acupuncture Board and the NCCAOM have apprenticeship programs that allow you to sit for the national and California exams. Unfortunately, according the 2008 Candidate Handbook & Application Form, the apprenticeship route for national certification will be abolished in 2010.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Dao of the Day

Something looked for but not seen,
Or listened for, not heard
Or reached for, not found:
Call one "dim," one "faint," one "slight,"
Not for summons nor for challenge.
Combined these three make one -
The One, the foremost number,
When daylit sky and dark of night
Have yet to be.
Through this One all living forms coil forth
Helter-skelter - how else to name it? -
Only to go round home again
To their unbodied state:
Form before form,
Guises of the unbodied,
Or gleams in a dim void.
Who can engage them?
Who find the foremost?
Who can pursue them?
Who find the last?
Hold fast to the Way of ancient days
To guide us through our present world;
To know how things began of old
Is to be grounded in the Way

From Dao De Jing: The Book of the Way, translation and commentary by Moss Roberts.


Monday, August 25, 2008

Pineapple Express

This movie's hilarious. Just go see it. You'll laugh yourself silly.

There's been a lot of research into the value of laughter. There's even a form of laughing yoga which relieves stress, stimulates the cardiovascular system, and improves digestion. It can also help your sleep!

I just saw Pineapple Express and I feel like I had a workout. My sides ache. But more than that, I feel like I had an emotional workout - all positive emotions! You know how sometimes after a big yelling and screaming match, you feel all exhausted, but kind of drained in a good way, like all the angry is gone? It's like that, except with all positive emotions! I feel rejuvenated.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Turtles are Qigong Masters

Turtles can live to be over 250 years old. Why not humans too? Turtles spend long periods of time absolutely still - what do you suppose they're doing with all that time? They aren't going over the prime-time television they watched last night and thinking of bon mots to share around the office cooler, I'll tell you that much.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Let It Flow!

D'oh! In yet another example of the unintended consequences of modern medicine, new research has found that birth control pills may interfere with a woman's selection of a mate.

We all know the scent is a powerful factor in sexual attraction and breeding throughout the animal kingdom. Normally, women prefer the smell of men who have immune systems that differ substantially from theirs, thus giving their potential children the best mix of genes. When they start taking the pill, they prefer the smell of men who have immune systems that are similar to theirs. When they go off the pill, their preference returns to normal.

Here is a good article from the Times of London, and here's a much snarkier version from the L.A. Times. (This woman may or may not be on the pill - she seems somewhat indiscriminate when it comes to scent.)

Seriously though, the birth control pill is powerful medicine. Sometimes it is the best option, but keep in mind that if you're taking "the pill", you are voluntarily medicating yourself every day. That goes for both men and women - yes, there are male birth control pills in the works. (Beware of articles like this, which uncritically parrot the pharmaceutical industry's line that birth control pills are "safe, effective and reversible.")

Classical Daoist energy practices enable men and women to control their sexual energy in such a way that pregnancy can be avoided if desired. But this takes a lot of dedicated practice and study with an accomplished master. Please don't assume you can just read a book by Mantak Chia and use that as your contraception! Condoms are still an essential ingredient in safer sex - even if you're in a monogamous relationship, they may be the healthiest option.

(Thanks to DJ Lady Sha for the tip on this one)

Friday, August 22, 2008

Olympic Acupuncture

This guy seems like a bit of a nutjob, but hey, you can't argue with results!

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Meet the Herbs: Shi Jue Ming

Chinese: 石决明
Pin Yin: Shi Jue Ming
Pharmaceutical: Haliotidis Concha
English: Abalone shell
Vietnamese: Bào Ngư

If you ever get a Chinese herbal prescription, it's likely that it will be mostly plant matter - roots, leaves, stems, seeds, flowers, fruit, bark and so on. However, it's possible that your herbalist will add some minerals or animal parts (if you are a strict vegetarian, be sure to let your herbal doctor know!). One such animal part is abalone shell.

Abalone shell is classified as salty (like most animal parts) in taste and cool in temperature. It affects the Kidney and Liver systems and is most often used for headache, dizziness and visual obstructions or "flowery vision."

And it's really pretty.

When I went to Viet Nam in 2006, I picked up the materia medica, a two-volume compilation put together by 12 of Viet Nam's herbalists and scholars. In Volume I, the authors describe using not just the abalone shell as a medicinal, but also the meat. And the best part is, they also give some recipes and cooking instructions:

Cook 20-25 grams of dried abalone meat with cabbage until done. Eat every day to treat diabetes. Pretty simple, eh?

Here's another one:

50 g fresh abalone meat
5g onion
5g garlic
7.5 g coagulated pork blood
400 ml chicken broth

Cook together like a soup until the meat is done. This soup benefits the blood, and lowers blood pressure. The recipe also says to add 7.5 g of sơn tra, but I don't know what that is in English so I can't translate it for you just yet; I'll get back to you on that one.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Cạo Gió

Cạo gió in Vietnamese means "to scrape the wind." In Chinese it is known as gua sha 刮痧, or "to scrape sand." It is a method of healing used throughout East and Southeast Asia for a wide variety of maladies, such as the common cold, flu, abdominal discomfort, bronchitis, asthma, and any other kind of illnesses where there is a sensation of being "stuck." It is extremely effective for muscular pain of any kind, whether acute or chronic, and as you can see from the picture above, it worked wonders for me back in the summer of 2006.

Cạo gió is an adaptogenic treatment that is akin to myofascial release, though it does so much more. We learn this treatment method as part of our training in TCM school in the US. In Viet Nam, everyone in the family has had this done to them and/or has done it to someone else. It's like the equivalent of taking Tylenol when you've got a cold or headache; it's actually the first line of defense when you feel an illness coming on. As the Chinese medicine sayings go: "Wind is the chief of the hundreds of diseases," and "If there is damage, there must be wind." The treatment, therefore, would be to get the "wind" out.

Oil or ointment is first rubbed on the skin as a lubricant, usually on the neck, back, and upper shoulders, but occasionally on the limbs, upper chest, and abdomen. A coin, Asian ceramic soup spoon, carved water buffalo horn, or any other rounded blunt edge is then used to scrape the surface of the skin with an even amount of firm pressure that produces a redness that kind of looks like "sand" is coming to the surface. Collectively, the "sand" ends up looking like the person receiving cạo gió has just been beaten with a baseball bat, but, unlike a bruise, the marks are very superficial and disappear after 2-4 days. Also, unlike a bruise, the marks appear to be painful, but they are not.

(As a funny aside, when I was in kindergarten, my teacher asked me why I had bruises on my neck. I had to explain to her that I was sick, and that it helped me. There were two other Vietnamese kids in my class, and we all told her it was ok, so she was satisfied with the explanation. On the other hand, when my brother was in the first grade, his teacher thought he was being abused and immediately called my parents.)

So how does it work?

In biomedicine, the effects of cạo gió are largely attributed to the placebo effect. Since so many Asians have been using it as folk medicine for such a long time, the belief that it works for all kinds of health problems makes the person perceive that there really is a reduction in pain and symptoms. This placebo effect is an accepted explanation because there have not been studies conducted that can adequately explain why it works.

According to Chinese medicine, cạo gió works to release stagnation in the muscles, channels, and collaterals, bringing pathogenic qi to the surface and allowing it to release through the skin like sweating. Because stagnation is an excess condition that can be brought on by either a deficiency or excess of qi or blood, breaking up the stagnation can bring flow and balance that results in either tonification or sedation, depending on the problem. That makes cạo gió a very versatile modality, useful in both wind and pain conditions. Because the scraping is usually performed along the spine and ribs, it can be used to treat organic problems through the activation of the back Shu points as well. It is useful when large areas of the body require the breakup of stasis, as well as when smaller areas of the body like the neck, wrists, ankles, hands, and feet need myofascial release and cupping isn't possible or practical.

Just to give you an idea of what cạo gió is good for, I'll use myself as a case study. In 2006, I was hit by the door of a taxi cab while on my bicycle, commuting in Manhattan. I was knocked into traffic, and hit the asphalt on the left side of my body. I had been in a motorcycle accident just the year before, and had almost completely recovered from that when this happened. All of my symptoms came back: my back spasmed and seized, I had difficulty walking, my periods came every two weeks, and I was an emotional wreck. The first treatment I received involved needling of LI-14 Bi Nao 臂臑, LV-5 Li Gou 蠡遘, and cạo gió on my back as depicted above.

Bi Nao means "upper arm" and is the intersecting point of the hand tai yang, hand yang ming, and foot tai yang channels, and the yank linking vessel. Its alternate name is Tou Chong or "head thoroughfare." It is used as a point that helps one to "stop seeing ghosts." In my case, it was needled to disperse the qi and enable me to let go of the experience on both the physical, emotional, and psychological level.

Li Gou means "woodworm canal," connecting the two wood channels (LV/GB) together. Instead of tonifying or moving qi throughout the whole body, I believe the doctor was trying to divert the stagnant qi through the Luo point of the Liver channel specifically to affect qi and blood simultaneously.

The cạo gió unblocked the blood stasis from the traumatic injury, as well as the qi stagnation from emotional constraint that was causing the physical pain. My back was scraped all over, including my shoulders, upper, and lower back. However, as you can see from the picture, the marks appeared most noticeably in areas that gave me the most trouble: angry-red on the level of Heart Shu UB-15 to Liver Shu UB 18, more purple-red in the other areas, with no marks appearing at all on the tops of my shoulders and lower back.

After the treatment, there was a significant improvement in my physical condition. Even though my periods were still irregular, I no longer experienced any of the pain in my back and it didn't hurt to walk. I also felt less like a victim and more like "well, these things happen." The next time I received cạo gió, the color was lighter and the area affected was smaller. After a few more treatments with herbs and acupuncture, my periods were normal again and I was able to fully recuperate.

That, my friends, is the power of folk medicine.

Here's a good website if you want to read more on cạo gió, or gua sha.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Qu'est-ce que c'est, le EFT?

This is an intro video from the founders of Emotional Freedom Techniques (EFT). EFT is a relatively modern way of accessing the meridian system of acupuncture. In the video it's described as "acupuncture without needles", and that's a pretty good description, except that you may get much quicker results with EFT than with acupuncture.

How is that possible? First, understand that there are as many different styles of acupuncture as there are of cooking. To say that you practice acupuncture is the same thing as saying that you cook "Chinese food" - there really isn't any such thing. Yes, all acupuncture uses needles, but that's like saying all Chinese cooking uses heat. What is the theory behind where you put the needles? How big are the needles you use? Do you even break the skin at all? (Some styles don't.) What names do you have for the points? Do you needle symmetrically or asymmetrically? Every day or once a week? And on and on and on.

The style of acupuncture most people learn in Chinese medicine school in the U.S. is a kind of "herbal acupuncture" - the points themselves get stuck with specific functions that are always the same. But this is not how the points work. It was an herb teacher who told me that acupuncture is actually much more complex and harder to master than herbology, even though there are a limited number of points (about 400) and virtually limitless numbers of herbs (300-500 used in daily practice, but hundreds of thousands of natural substances - animal, vegetable, mineral - have documented medicinal effects in Chinese medicine). Once you learn what each specific herb does and how it combines with other herbs, you can rely on it to have more or less the same action every time you use it, adjusting for individual constitutional types.

Acupuncture points are much more mysterious. What happens when you put a needle into a person's body is influenced more than anything by the state of health of the acupuncturist - and secondarily by the meridian it is located on, how skillfully you locate it, how skillfully you manipulate it, if you get the qi, what you do with it once you get it, the time of day, the weather, geography, the doctor-patient relationship, and on and on. Acupuncture points don't necessarily do the same thing every time, and to pretend that they do is a little silly.

There are other schools or styles of acupuncture that have many followers. For instance, there is the Tung style, about which this website says:
Tung Style Acupuncture uses points different from those found in most present-day TCM acupuncture texts. While many of the Tung points are found on the twelve regular channels they are, however, in distinct locations from the 360+ points presented in the aforementioned TCM acupuncture texts. They are also largely distinct from the miscellaneous 'extra' or 'non-channel' points described in most contemporary TCM acupuncture texts.

The Tung Style Acupuncture points chosen for the treatment of any given malady are located mostly on the extremities and at a distance from the site of the lesion or pathology. Furthermore, the number of points required to successfully ameliorate any given ailment is fewer than that required in most current TCM acupuncture texts to treat the same malady.

The best acupuncturists, in my experience, are those that have a good "eye" for "seeing" blockages in various meridians. Information about blockages can be gathered in many ways - taking the pulse and palpating various body structures is one of the most reliable. When they find a blockage, they unblock it. That's it. Sometimes a diagnosis is not even necessary. Look for blockages, unblock them. Patient gets better.

EFT is a way for people to very quickly assess where the blockages are in their body. Through some admittedly funny-looking techniques (tapping yourself with your fingertips on the face being one of them) you can find blockages and release them.

If you read yesterday's post, you know that blockages can be caused by three things: the weather (traditionally called the six evil qi - wind, heat, cold, dryness, dampness, and something called summerheat), excessive emotion (that's your internal weather - anger, fear, joy, grief, worry, shock, melancholy) and external trauma caused by snake bite or kung fu battling.

With EFT, the cause of the blockage doesn't matter. With the help of an experienced EFT practitioner, you can find and eliminate the blockage very quickly.

Yosan alum Yang-chu Higgins is an EFT practitioner and is leading a workshop this Wednesday in Los Angeles called Enhancing Self-worth with Tapping. For more information, call 310-397-8523.

For more information on non-mainstream acupuncture, see these books:

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Remedy for Snake Bite

Chinese herbs can be taken long-term for chronic dis-eases such as diabetes, hepatitis, autoimmune diseases, and gastrointestinal disorders, either as palliative relief or as a preventative to a recurrence of symptoms. Herbs can also be taken for more acute problems, such as the common cold or allergic reactions, for more immediate relief. If you ever find yourself getting bit in the face by a snake, Chinese herbs can help!

According to TCM, there are three basic causes of disease:
  • external environment, most notably cold and wind
  • internal upset, from the stifling of emotions to improper diet and exercise
  • miscellaneous causes, like being thrown from a horse or bit by a rabid dog.
In the case of today's blog post, you've got a one in three chance of being bit by a venomous snake! (OK, so not really)

Unfortunately this formula was taken from a web site that doesn't give dosages or tell you how to take it - how much you should take, how soon after getting bitten, aftercare, et cetera. It may be an internal or external formula... we don't know. Nevertheless, it is an interesting formula and utilizes some less-common herbs.
  • 蒲公英 Pu Gong Ying - dandelion
  • 金银花 Jin Yin Hua - honeysuckle
  • 白芷 Bai Zhi - angelica dahurica
  • 半枝莲 Ban Zhi Lian - barbed skullcap
  • 连翘 Lian Qiao - forsythia fruit
  • 蜈蚣 Wu Gong - scorpion
  • 蟾酥 Chan Su - toad venom
  • 仙鹤草 Xian He Cao - agrimony
  • 白花蛇舌草 Bai Hua She She Cao - hedyotis/oldenlandia
You may have noticed that this snake bite remedy uses toad venom and dried scorpion. This may seem counter-intuitive but is an illustration of the Chinese medicine concept of fighting fire with fire - using toxins to lead out toxins.

See the source for this formula at this website, a Chinese medicine clinic in London.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Rootdown Bump

Rootdown is a fun website for acupuncturists, TCM students and TCM groupies. If you're an acupuncturist or in school, go ahead and put up a profile! It's like Myspace or Facebook for TCM, except there are also resources like herb info, acupuncture info, et cetera. The resource aspect is similar to Wikipedia, in that you can add new information to existing entries.

Professors at TCM schools also have profiles! Take a look at Dr. Yue-ying Li's profile. You can also post or buy online CEUs!

Friday, August 15, 2008

Book Review: Molecules of Emotion

I first read this book during my former life as a researcher in endocrinology. Back then it inspired me and gave me hope that unadulterated science and a sincere search for truth could really benefit the world and its inhabitants. After four years of early mornings, late nights, and weekends spent in a laboratory, I emerged from that valuable experience feeling like money, and the marriage of money to politics, will always win out in the end.

I just finished reading this book again, now in my final year of studies in a completely different paradigm, and I have to say that it remains a very inspirational book. It is accessible to those without prior knowledge of science, but still presents enough information to learn from it and understand the scientific community. If you can get past some of the writing in the first chapter (Jonah's a pretty harsh literary critic), this book on science turns into a really engaging story.

The author, Candace B. Pert, goes through several transformations in her career, from graduate student to Principal Investigator with tenure at the National Institutes Health to the private sector and back to a professorship at a university, all the while delving deeper into the world of holistic health care. She eventually becomes the token scientist at events like the annual National Wellness Conference, and explores her own health and healing through yogic breathing and stretches, meditation, touch therapies, and emotional release.

The most interesting part about the book is how science confirms everything we know in Chinese medicine about qi, emotions and health. The author doesn't talk much about Chinese medicine, but I think that if she learned more about the theory, she'd discover more connections between that understanding of the human body and her research.

For instance, I recently had a talk with my friend Prathap, a fellow science geek and current medical student, about how Chinese medicine views the human body and physiology versus the dominant allopathic biomedical design. One topic lead to another, and we got to talking about ADH or anti-diuretic hormone. ADH is released by the posterior pituitary and acts on the collecting ducts of the kidneys. The exact same molecule is also referred to as vasopressin. ADH is the moniker used in regards to the renal system, whereas vasopressin is used when discussing constriction of the arteries in the cardiovascular system, with the regulatory receptors in the brain. The two systems are rarely discussed together.

In Chinese medicine, the brain is considered a "sea of marrow," containing the thick yin essences of the body under the governance of the Kidney system. The Kidneys are also responsible for the movement and distribution of fluids in the body, serving as the "water" that controls the "fire" of the Heart. When blood pressure is low, or the fire of the Heart is relatively subdued, the Kidneys then control the reabsorption of fluids, thereby increasing blood pressure. The blood vessels also constrict in response to the same chemical signaling, and the fire of the Heart is relatively enhanced.

ADH is currently being studied for its role in social behavior. ADH is increased in the body during sexual activity, and is thought to induce male-on-male aggression in response to the threat of another encroaching upon "his" female. In Chinese medicine, the Kidneys govern both the yin and yang of sex: the sexual fluids, eggs/sperm, libido and activity. The Kidneys are also the house of Will, the drive to live, and is associated with the emotion of fear. The same chemical messenger that regulates water and blood pressure is also involved in sexuality and survival, and the emotion of fear is a direct stimulus for aggression and possessiveness. It is possible to see the connections between the emotions, sexuality, and survival in the context of the biochemical reactions going on in the body when viewed under the Chinese medical metaphor. All of these processes belong to different departments of science under the allopathic model, but in Chinese medicine they all belong to one system that is unified with all the other systems of the body to create one functioning vessel.

Since the overwhelming majority of scientific experiments require the formation of a provable hypothesis, study of the Chinese medical theory may give the new-era science researchers some insight as to how to direct their holistic medical research. New "discoveries" can then be made to further elucidate just how much Chinese medicine makes sense.

Going back to Molecules of Emotion, the take home message that I got from Candace Pert was that free flow of emotions is the most important aspect of wellness, and that expression of emotions is the key to healing: be it anger, fear or sadness; joy, courage or hope.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Pre-Menstrual Syndrome aka Hostage to The Rages

I am fortunate enough to say that I have been largely unaffected by the scourge known as PMS. On a month to month basis, I rarely feel the hormonal changes that turn some of my friends into beasts, nor do I experience the cycle of cramps that can knock a girl out and render her debilitated for the day or week. HOWEVER, every now and again, some kind of ugly rears its head in my direction, and I have to lock myself away to avoid the potential of carrying out the homicidal urges that overcome me.

Why, I ask? WHY???

One of my best friends would have fits of vomiting right before her periods, another would have to take two to three days off to do nothing but lie down in fetal position with a hot pad, and yet another one of my friends would have the overwhelming urge to cry about anything and everything only during the week before. I always thought that PMS must be a fluke of poor design. Why would nature program into our bodies this pseudo-self-destruct mode? I don't buy into the whole "it reminds us that we are women" bit, because there are plenty of reminders in our day to day that don't require bringing on the pain.

I'm guessing that 70% of our readers understand what I'm talking about, and the other 30% have been and will remain clueless for eternity. Anyway, what I'm saying is, how can we work with this in order to benefit all of humanity?

Like almost any other state of dis-ease, the best way to alleviate the symptoms of PMS is through diet and exercise. If you find yourself already in the thick of it, meditation and stress management will help to relax all the muscles in your body, including the ones that are cramping, and will increase the proper flow of qi and blood throughout the body. If you are too debilitated to do anything yourself, enlist the help of a friend and try this:
  • Massage SP6 三阴交 San Yin Jiao, on the inside of the lower leg about 3 inches above the ankle
  • Massage SP10 血海 Xue Hai, at the meatiest part of the thigh, right above the kneecap on the inside of the leg
  • You can also massage anywhere along the lower leg, pinching both sides of the shin bone as you go up and down
If you have an acupuncturist handy, s/he can provide a more complete treatment for your particular needs. S/he can also provide you with moxa, which is a processed form of the herb Ai Ye 艾叶 used to regulate the blood. A moxa stick is burned like incense and held a few inches above the skin. Treatment with a moxa stick over the abdomen for at least 15 minutes can alleviate some of the most monster of cramps. You can get a moxa stick from your acupuncturist and, with easy instructions, do this yourself at home when needed!

Of course, sometimes nothing works, and you just have to resort to telling your loved ones to take cover.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Fast Food Moratorium in South L.A.

For the past month or so, there has been a ban on new fast-food restaurants opening in South Los Angeles. In combination with incentives and tax breaks for grocery stores and restaurants with table service, the idea is to give people healthier eating options.

I think this is a great idea. Fast food is essentially junk food, empty calories that will make you feel full for awhile but lack important nutrients that your body needs. On top of that, fast food restaurants often serve the cheapest meat, which can be loaded with contaminants, unfriendly bacteria and filler. When you eat a lot of junk food, your body can only make junk energy. It's no surprise that diabetes is at epidemic levels among poor people (see the New York Times series from 2006).

This is a great first step in fighting obesity and all its related illnesses: diabetes chief among them, followed quickly by heart disease and high blood pressure. If we can get new grocery stores to open, or farmers markets to set up (click here for a list of farmer's markets in Los Angeles County), that will be a good next step.

Recommended Reading:
Fast Food Nation by Eric Schlosser
Fat Land: How Americans Became the Fattest People in the World by Greg Critser

Monday, August 11, 2008

Eating Your Way to Health: Soup

One of the easiest ways to incorporate Chinese herbs into your life is by adding them to soup. Here are a few tasty herbs that you can add to any soup - some of them may already be familiar to you.
  • Da Zao - chinese dates. Tonifies qi, sweet flavor.
  • Sheng Jiang - fresh ginger. Aids digestion.
  • Huang Qi - astragalus. Tonifies qi.
  • Gan Cao - licorice root. Tonifies qi, harmonizes the spleen and stomach.
  • Yi Yi Ren - pearl barley. Strengthen the stomach, and also has anti-viral properties.
  • Shan Yao - chinese yam. Tonifies qi and yin.
  • Gou Qi Zi - goji berries. Sweet and warming, gou qi zi tonifies blood and is good for the eyes. It's also been recently "discovered" by American supplement companies, so you can find lots of different "Himalayan goji berries" and "Tibetan goji berries" products on the market - pills, extracts, juices. Don't be fooled - the best gou qi zi is from Ningxia province in China, and "Tibetan" goji berries are probably from there too.
Here are a few herbs that are good to use in the winter. They are all very warming.
  • Ding Xiang - cloves. Disperses cold, warms the interior.
  • Rou Gui - cinnamon bark. Similar to above.
  • Du Zhong - eucommia bark. Tonifies yang, strengthens the lower back.
  • Gan Jiang - dried ginger. Warms the interior, expels cold. Has a spicier taste than fresh ginger.
These are just a few ideas. If you're not a vegetarian, soup is a great way to eat meat. Because it's a wet cooking method, the meat gets very tender - which is both delicious and easy to digest. It's much easier on your digestive system than roasted, fried or grilled meat.

For more ideas on cooking with Chinese herbs, take a look at this book - Traditional Soup and Herbal Tea (which is tri-lingual in Chinese, English and Indonesian) and this website, for some herbal soup recipes.


Sunday, August 10, 2008

TCM Remedy for Athlete's Foot

If you've ever gotten a Chinese-style foot massage, you probably soaked your feet in a warm herbal tea for awhile before the foot massage started. It's very relaxing and improves circulation. It also ensures that the massage technician doesn't have to massage dirty, smelly feet.

Here's a foot soak you can make at home specifically for athlete's foot (tinea pedis). Athlete's foot comes in three different varieties, according to TCM - blistering, erosive, and keratinized, all of which have the tell-tale itching and smell.

Blistering obviously means there are blisters. The erosive type is whitish with exudate, generally between the toes, and turns red after scratching. Keratinized is generally dry and characterized by peeling skin. These types may be present all at the same time or occur one after another. This particular recipe is for the the erosive type and consists of two parts: a soak followed by a dry powder dusted onto the affected areas.

  • Yi Yi Ren - pearl barley 30g
  • Gan Cao - licorice root 30g

Soak the two herbs in water for one hour, bring to a boil, then turn down and simmer for another 15 minutes. When the herbal tea has cooled but is still warm, soak your foot or apply the liquid with a wet compress for about 20 minutes. Let the foot dry and dust it with a powder made of the following:

  • Liu Yi San* - Six to One powder 15g
  • Ku Fan - alum 10g
  • Huang Bai - phellodendron bark 10g
  • Bing Pian - synthetic borneol 1g
  • Bai Zhi - dahurian angelica 10g

*Note: Liu Yi San is a powder consisting of six parts Shi Gao (talcum) and one part Gan Cao (licorice).

Repeat 2-3 times a day until symptoms subside. In the meantime, do not drink alcohol, and stay away from shellfish and greasy, fatty foods. This will help prevent the internal accumulation of dampness and help the athlete's foot subside quickly. And remember to change your socks frequently.

p.s. If you can't get your hands on Chinese herbs, try wiping your feet down with vinegar. Vinegar can also help kill the fungus.

Saturday, August 9, 2008

Veterinary Acupuncture

In an earlier post we told you about how a company in Japan is using acupuncture on fish to soften them up before they die. Did you know that acupuncture has other animal uses besides fish hospice care?

Acupuncture has been practiced in both animals and human beings for thousands of years in China. The earliest equine acupuncture book, “bo le zhen jing” (Bo Le's Canon of Veterinary Acupuncture) is believed to have been written by Dr. Bo Le in Qin-mu-gong period (659 B.C. to 621 B.C.). Equine treatment protocols using acupuncture were well documented in this textbook. Since then, acupuncture remains a significant part of mainstream veterinary medical care in China. (Chi Institute)

Modern American TCM students will tell you they feed their cats and dogs herbal remedies for diarrhea, vomiting and anxiety with great results.

Veterinary acupuncture has been around for years in the United States (see the seminal work in English, Four Paws, Five Directions), but Huisheng Xie, pictured above doing acupuncture on a horse, seems to be taking it to the next level. His Chi Institute in central Florida offers a Masters Degree in Traditional Chinese Veterinary Medicine to licensed veterinarians, in addition to the CEU's he already offers.

Ask your veterinarian if they've been trained to practice acupuncture on animals. It might save your little one lots of pain and suffering, and save you a lot of money in medications and surgery bills.

Update: take a look at this discussion board thread about a dog getting acupuncture.

Friday, August 8, 2008

Eating Your Way to Health: Curry

姜黃 Jiang Huang, commonly known as turmeric, is not only an herb known in Chinese Medicine to increase blood circulation and reduce pain, it is also a delicious spice used in many curries of South and Southeast Asia. Jiang Huang translates as "yellow ginger," but is not a ginger at all; it is part of the family of curcumin, which give curries containing turmeric its yellow color.

Jiang Huang has been shown to have anti-tumor, anti-oxidant, anti-arthritic, anti-amyloid, and anti-inflammatory properties. There have been studies conducted that it can block the development of melanoma and other cancers by blocking the biological pathway necessary for development, and had stopped laboratory strains of melanoma from proliferating, promoting cell death.

One of the most recent studies, presented at the annual meeting of The Endocrine Society in 2008, shows that Jiang Huang significantly reduces inflammation in both fat tissue and the liver. The researchers speculate that it lessens insulin resistance and prevents Type 2 diabetes by dampening the inflammatory response provoked by obesity.

Jiang Huang has been known in Chinese medicine to affect the Spleen and the Liver systems, and reduce pain and inflammation. The Spleen plays a fundamental role in transforming the foods we eat into utilizable parts, and then transporting them to the parts of the body that need them. The Liver is in charge of the free flow of qi in the body, ensuring that all the materials we consume and make get put into good use. If both the Liver and the Spleen are working in harmony, the body will not develop such pathologies as Xiao Ke, a disease condition in Chinese Internal Medicine that is comparable to Diabetes.

The researchers at the Naomi Berrie Diabetes Center at Columbia University Medical Center gave turmeric to fat mice and showed statistically that they were less likely to develop Type 2 Diabetes. You can feed yourself some delicious yellow curry whether or not you have Type 2 Diabetes, and know that you are eating your way to health with Chinese herbs!

Here's a delicious recipe you can try! It's a Vietnamese version of yellow curry, usually eaten with a nice loaf of fresh baguette bread:

3 Tablespoons curry powder or garam masala
1 Tablespoon ground turmeric
1 pound of chicken pieces or tofu
1 Tablespoon raw sugar
2 Tablespoons sesame oil
2 shallots, chopped
2 garlic cloves, chopped
1 inch of fresh ginger, peeled and chopped
2 stalks of lemongrass (not necessary if you can't find it), chopped
2 teaspoons of chili paste or chili flakes
2 medium sweet potatoes, skinned and cubed
3 Tablespoons fish sauce (you can try Bragg's or soy sauce mixed with a lime if you can't find it)
2.5 cups of coconut milk
small bunch of basil and cilantro, stalks removed

Mix the curry powder and turmeric in a small bowl. In a separate bowl, coat the chicken or tofu with half of the spices. (If using tofu, add just a dash of vegetable oil to coat).

Caramalize the sugar in a small pan with about 2 teaspoons of water until the sugar dissolves and turns golden.

In a wok or pan, add a little oil and stir fry the shallots, garlic, ginger, and lemon grass. Stir in the rest of the spices with the chili paste (or flakes). Add the chicken and stir fry for about 5 minutes. Add the sweet potatoes, fish sauce, caramel sauce, and coconut milk. Also add about 2/3 cup of water and mix well.

Bring the pan to a boil, reduce the heat, and cook for about 15 minutes or until the chicken is cooked through and the potatoes fall off the fork when poked. Stir in half of the basil and coriander, and use the rest of it as garnish when you're ready to serve and eat!

Thursday, August 7, 2008

White Coat Syndrome

Today's entry comes to us from Jason Moskovitz, a fellow intern at Yosan University of Traditional Chinese Medicine. He's also a medical qigong intern, herbologist, and certified qigong instructor. Jason lives in Los Angeles with his wife Breanna and son Bohdan. You can email jason at jason.moskovitz (at)

In the short time I've worn a white coat as a clinician I've encountered many patients who've been intimidated or even frightened by the message it sends. Most people, myself included, grew up with doctors in white coats, doling out scary news or dogmatic orders regarding our life and health. No wonder the people I'm seeing so automatically put themselves in an inferior, docile position.

"I know I should be getting some exercise."

"But I just love my nightly glass of wine."

"I realize smoking is wrong."

These are the things I hear from people who are so clearly uncomfortable saying them. You might be surprised to know, as are my patients, that I and many of my TCM colleagues don't hold our patients to our suggestions. We communicate information and if it's not well received because a lifestyle, behavior pattern, or addiction is too well engrained; then we take a step back and ensure the patient that we, in these white coats, are not here to keep people from doing what they want. If people want to smoke themselves to death, they have that choice. But for those that are clear they want change, they'll find themselves in a supportive union with the TCM physician. Either way, the white coat eventually gets stripped of its power and the patient sees they'll find support no matter how they decide to live. Engendering that deep level of trust sets the foundation from which progressive life-altering steps can be taken.

It's too bad not many people know the history of the white coat. It's current pristine symbol of superiority couldn't be further from its roots. Yes, its use was primarily to communicate an antiseptic practice, despite many physicians noting their tendency to spread infection due to the lack of regular laundering. But one reason they were white was to display the blood they'd been working with. More blood meant more experience. Ironically, today you might only find that image in the local butcher shop.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Why 32% of American Children are Overweight

Dao of the Day

Today's selection comes to us from The Complete Works of Lao Tzu by Hua-Ching Ni.

Thirty spokes together make a wheel for a cart
It is the empty space in the center
which enables it to be used.
Mold clay into a vessel;
it is the emptiness within
that creates the usefulness of the vessel.
Cut out doors and windows in a house;
it is the empty space inside
that creates the usefulness of the house.
Thus, what we have may be something unsubstantial,
But its usefulness lies in the unoccupied, empty space.
The substance of your body is enlivened
by maintaining the part of you that is unoccupied.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Frankincense for Pain

A recent study by UC Davis researchers finds that an extract of frankincense can reduce arthritis pain. This is old news to Chinese medicine doctors, who have used frankincense for hundreds of years for many kinds of pain and stagnation.

Frankincense (Ru Xiang in Chinese) is the resin of the boswellia tree and falls in the category of blood movers, a term that generally describes the active, invigorating, circulating qualities of herbs in this category.

Frankincense is used in combination with other herbs, particularly myrrh (Mo Yao), for menstrual pain, stomach pain, external trauma such as sports injuries or car accidents, and stubborn pain like arthritis. It also reduces swelling and has "promotes the generation of flesh", a translation of a Chinese term which means that it is good for non-healing sores and ulcers on both the exterior and interior of the body. For example, it can be powdered and applied topically for skin lesions, but it is also good in internal formulas for intestinal abscess.

Monday, August 4, 2008

Acupuncture Video

This is a demonstration video showing some very deep needling, as well as through-and-through acupuncture, where the needle goes in one side of the body and comes out the other. Most American acupuncturists aren't trained to do this kind of acupuncture.

If you've never had acupuncture, please don't be alarmed. I would bet big monies that no acupuncturist in the U.S. would use such long needles. Most of us use 1-inch or 1.5-inch needles and get great results. For very fleshy areas we may use a 3-inch or 5-inch needle.

Unfortunately the video quality is not great, and there is no sound.

The points are:

  • 太沖 Taichong LV3 - or 行閒 Xingjian LV2
  • 足三里Zusanli ST36 --> 承山 Chengshan UB57
  • 申脈 Shenmai UB62 --> 太溪 Taixi KI3
  • 環跳 Huantiao GB30 or thereabouts
  • Threading the inguinal canal
  • 肩髃 Jianyu LI15
  • 肩貞 Jianzhen SI9 or Naoshu SI10 --> 肩前 Jianqian
  • 曲池 Quchi LI11
  • 合谷 Hegu LI4
  • 翳風 Yifeng SJ17 or possibly 完骨 Wangu GB12

Other TCM Blogs

There aren't many good ones, but here are a few...

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Yosan Bump

If you've read the sidebar, you know that I and my co-blogger Nini Mai are clinic interns at Yosan University of Traditional Chinese Medicine. Yosan is in Los Angeles at 13315 West Washington Boulevard, near the border of Culver City, Venice and Marina Del Rey.

We both transferred from Pacific College of Oriental Medicine in New York City, where we began our Chinese medicine careers. While there are great things about Pacific, in the end the negatives outweighed the positives and we made the move to the West Coast.

Part of what attracted us to Yosan was the fact that it is a nonprofit institution. It may surprise you to learn that most of the acupuncture schools in the United States are for-profit companies. I can really feel the difference - while no school is perfect, I can tell that at the end of the day, the people in charge at Yosan have our best interests at heart and want us to get the best education possible.

Yosan has an interesting history - it was founded by two brothers, Drs. Daoshing and Maoshing Ni. Dr. Dao and Dr. Mao, as they're known around school, are the sons of OmNi (nee Hua-Ching Ni) who is a well known master in the Daoist tradition. In addition to the standard TCM curriculum, Yosan has an extensive series of qi-development courses, most of which overlap with the forms taught at their Chi Health Institute.

Yosan is named for Hua-Ching Ni's father, Yo San Ni.

Saturday, August 2, 2008

Medical Music

In traditional Chinese natural science, one way of explaining the universe is through a dynamic cycle of five phases - wood, fire, earth, metal and water. Everything in the universe (and therefore everything in your body) is a manifestation of the interrelationship of these five elements. As TCM students, we memorize certain associations to help us get a grasp of this concept. For instance, the fire element is associated with the Heart and Small Intestine organs, the emotion joy, the direction south, the color red, and so on.

One of the more neglected aspects of our medicine is using the power of these traditional associations as an adjunct to acupuncture and herbal therapy. For instance, if someone is suffering from Liver issues, you might advise them to face west or even take a walk heading west for a certain amount of time each day. More commonly, you might prescribe your patients a CD of traditional Chinese music that balances one or more organ systems via the five phase system. In the Yosan clinic, there is a CD floating around that helps balance the Wood element, but there are also CDs for the other four phases, as well as music that balances all five elements.

Today I caught the end of a story on the radio about music that is patterned after one's own brain waves. From what I heard, it is extremely helpful for people with insomnia, as effective as Ambien without all the scary side effects. The process goes like this: they take a scan of your brain waves and then make a custom designed CD with music composed specifically for you. I wouldn't be surprised if there was some overlap with traditional Chinese music therapy - maybe the brain wave scan is a way of determining your five element disharmonies, and the music a way of setting them right.

If you're in New York City, go get your own brain CD!

The Value of Tapeworms

Today I heard a fascinating story on the radio about the medical value (or, writ large, the evolutionary purpose) of intestinal worms. Dr. Joel Weinstock was interviewed on a local Los Angeles food show about his work with patients suffering from inflammatory bowel diseases such as colitis and Crohn's disease. When he gives his patients worms on purpose, they get better. Why?

In our germophobic, antibacterial society, intestinal worms have been nearly eliminated. For the most part, American food is dipped in chemicals, irradiated, sprayed within an inch of its life before getting to the supermarket. So it's highly unlikely that we'll see little critters crawling out of our lettuce (as a child I had this experience, and, horrified, showed my father. He explained that meant we had a delicious head of lettuce).

From a medical point of view, Dr. Weinstock explains that our immune systems have two aspects: one which protects us from bad bacteria, viruses, and whatever else might invade our bodies. The second aspect protects us from the first - it regulates our immune system response so that we don't injure ourselves. People with autoimmune disease such as lupus, Crohn's disease and others have lost that regulatory capacity.

So how do worms help? Through many thousands of years, worms evolved the ability to regulate the immune systems of their hosts. That way the immune system won't kick them out. In effect, the worms are an immunosuppressant. For someone with no regulatory capacity of their own, that can be extremely valuable.

The value of clean food and water can't be denied. No one suffering from bacterial dysentery, as many children do in developing countries, will deny that. I don't suggest rubbing your food in the dirt before eating. As in so many areas, it's about balance. Worms, bacteria, and other creepy-crawlies give our immune systems a chance to grow and develop. As I learned from my martial arts teacher, solo practice is well and good, but partnered practice makes your skills increase faster, and competition will grow your understanding and skills by leaps and bounds. So our immune systems, in a sense, are like the guy who has a black belt in karate but has never been in a real fight.

Asked for his opinion on how to keep immune systems healthy, Dr. Weinstock said
Let your children play in the dirt. They don't have to wash their hands all the time. And get two dogs and a cat.

You listen to the full interview by downloading or streaming the program at Scroll down for the program for August 2nd. Dr. Weinstock's interview is in roughly the middle of the program. You can also read this New York Times article on the same subject.

Friday, August 1, 2008

Acupuncture Detox - The NADA Protocol

You may know someone who has gotten acupuncture to help them quit smoking or overeating or any other type of habitual or obsessive behavior. But did you know that acupuncture is also highly effective in helping people get off serious drugs like heroin, cocaine, morphine and more?

Obviously, acupuncture alone won't do the trick for serious drug abusers. Medical care, sometimes in an inpatient setting, is often required, with talk therapy in a group and one-on-one setting as an important part of full recovery. Acupuncture, specifically ear acupuncture, has been used in such settings to help those in recovery to settle their nerves, calm their spirits, and subdue the mental and physical cravings. I have seen the therapeutic effects first hand as an intern at St. John's Riverside Hospital in Yonkers, New York. The patients in the 28-day program received the NADA protocol ear acupuncture daily, and were offered full acupuncture treatments once a week by our visiting team of interns and supervisor.

The National Acupuncture Detox Association (NADA) trains people to put five needles in each ear in points that affect the Spirit, Sympathetic Nervous System, Kidneys, Liver, and Lungs. Because all of the points are in the ear, the treatment can be provided anywhere where a group of people can sit comfortably. In fact, there have been studies done that show the effect of the treatment for each individual is heightened when they are in a room full of people also receiving treatment.

If you or someone you know is struggling with addiction of any kind, the NADA protocol is a very useful tool that can benefit you in recovery.