Monday, November 1, 2010

Study: Alcohol more lethal than heroin, cocaine

Alcohol does terrible things. David Hasselhoff does too.

A recent study in the British medical journal The Lancet (here's a link to a news story summary) shows that alcohol is more lethal and does more overall harm than heroin or cocaine.

According to Chinese medical theory, alcohol is hot, acrid and toxic. In small amounts it can be beneficial as it moves the blood and warms the channels. Alcohol tinctures are a big part of Chinese herbal medicine, although they're not used extensively in the U.S. In large amounts, however, it can create Damp Heat and cause one to "forget oneself".

Alcohol is processed by the liver. In Chinese medical theory, the Liver is the home of the 魂神 Hun Shen, or ethereal spirit (The Liver stores the ethereal soul - gan cang hun 肝藏魂 from Statements of Fact in Traditional Chinese Medicine by Bob Flaws). If the Liver is working properly qi flows easily in the body and you feel at ease.

("Liver qi stagnation" is a common translation, some would say mistranslation, of 肝氣郁 gan qi yu - Bob Flaws and Nigel Wiseman prefer Liver qi depression as the more accurate translation. "Depression" here does not mean the Western medical condition mental depression - rather it indicates a kind of improper or lower-level functioning of the Liver qi. It may or may not be "stagnated" in the sense of a blockage. With that caveat...)

If, however, Liver qi becomes depressed (see previous paragraph), a small amount of alcohol may help to move things along. This is why people drink in social situations - besides the ritual of engaging in a common activity, the substance itself, in this case alcohol, dissolves barriers and loosens tongues. The key is knowing when to stop... excessive alcohol can lead to ugly situations like this and this.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Is Physiologic Reserve the Biomedical Equivalent of Jing?

Tu Jin Sheng probably has a lot of Jing...

I just found out about this concept called "physiologic reserve." From the New York Times:

Physiologic reserve refers to excess capacity in organs and biological systems; we’re given this reserve at birth, and it tends to decrease over time. In an interview, Dr. Lachs said that as cells deteriorate or die with advancing age, that excess is lost at different rates in different systems.

The effects can sneak up on a person, he said, because even when most of the excess capacity is gone, we may experience little or no decline in function. A secret of successful aging is to slow down the loss of physiologic reserve.

“You can lose up to 90 percent of the kidney function you had as a child and never experience any symptoms whatsoever related to kidney function failure,” Dr. Lachs said. Likewise, we are born with billions of brain cells we’ll never use, and many if not most of them can be lost or diseased before a person experiences undeniable cognitive deficits.

Sounds a lot like Jing, right? Also similar to the function of the extraordinary vessels. Take a look at the full article here.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

I Am A Seaweed - Medical Qigong with Dr. Alex Feng

Take a look at Dr. Alex Feng's new instructional DVD, I Am A Seaweed Medical Qi Gong - An Introduction.

This DVD, an original work of Dr. Feng, is an accumulation of his study and teaching of Medical Qi Gong over 4 decades. Qi Gong is an ancient practice that combines mind, body, and awareness of energy to promote health. The first of a series, this DVD presents an introduction to Dr. Feng's classic teaching, I Am A Seaweed Medical Qi Gong. The form introduces the quintessential principles of Qi Gong that will help the practitioner continue to develop in all areas of Qi Gong practice - not limited to one particular style. Its magic lies in its simplicity and yet the depth of the teaching is utterly profound.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Today's Post By Gichin Funakoshi Sensei

This is taken directly from the preface to Gichin Funakoshi's autobiography Karate-Do: My Way of Life. Funakoshi Sensei systematized Shotokan karate from many different indigenous Okinawan martial arts styles - the very name Shotokan comes from the pen name he used when writing poetry. Here he gives us some excellent health advice.

As I look back over the nine decades of my life - from childhood to youth to maturity to (making use of an expression I dislike) old age - I realize that it is thanks to my devotion to Karate-do that I have never once had to consult a physician. I have never in my life taken any medicine: no pills, no elixirs, not even a single injection. In recent years my friends have accused me of being immortal; it is a joke to which I can only reply, seriously but simply, that my body has been so well trained that it repels all sickness and disease.

In my opinion, there are three kinds of ailments that afflict a human being: illnesses that cause fever, malfunctions of the gastrointestinal system and physical injuries. Almost invariably, the cause of a disability is rooted in an unwholesome life-style, in irregular habits, and in poor circulation. If a man who runs a temperature practices karate until the sweat begins to pour from his body, he will soon find that his temperature has dropped to normal, and that his illness has been cured. If a man with gastric troubles does the same, it will cause his blood to circulate more freely and so alleviate his distress. Physical injuries are, of course, another matter, but many of these too may be avoided by a well-trained man exercising proper care and caution. Karate-do is not merely a sport that teaches how to strike and kick; it is also a defense against illness and disease.

Bay Area Acupuncturists

Dr. Alex Feng
3824 Macarthur Boulevard
Oakland California 94619

Tina Chin-Kaplan
300 Brannan St., Suite 302
San Francisco California 94107

Susanna Puelles
568 Monterey Boulevard
San Francisco California 94127

Anne Park and Kirstin Lindquist
4341 Piedmont Ave 2nd Fl
(between Gleneden Ave & John St)
Oakland California 94611

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

"The Boards"

One year ago...

The California Acupuncture Licensing Exam is upon us once again! At this very moment hundreds of anxious test takers are hunched over their tables in a cold, cavernous convention center in Sacramento. Some might be done already.

I sincerely hope that in the future, acupuncture schools in the U.S. and worldwide will focus on transforming students into excellent Chinese medicine doctors, rather than teaching to pass the licensing exams. The exams, as anyone who has taken them will tell you, are in no way a measure of how good a doctor you are. It's a multiple choice test! Fill in the bubbles! All it does is ensure basic knowledge of theory and book learning - certainly an important milestone, but not at all something worth spending four years and tens of thousands of dollars preparing for.

The best teachers I had in school would give a nod towards the exam but focus their time on what they considered most important for the medicine. In California, for instance, that means studying more than the 63 herbal formulas that are on the test. Dr. John Pai once said "The exam is like an old stinky shoe. Use it once and throw it away." Which sums it up pretty well!

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Dangerous Supplements?

News story: some supplements are dangerous. But why? How much is dangerous? How do you ascertain purity?

Three of the supplements listed are used in Traditional Chinese Medicine: aconite (附子 Fu Zi), bitter orange (枳壳 Zhi Ke), and coltsfoot (款冬花 Kuan Dong Hua). When used in the framework of a Chinese medicine diagnosis, these herbs are very safe. A large part of the problem is when these plants become divorced from the traditional knowledge that governs their use. No one in the TCM world simply prescribes an aconite pill - it doesn't make any sense. This is what happened with 麻黄 Ma Huang (ephedra) - in TCM it's used sparingly for respiratory conditions. But some doofus discovered that it makes you sweat, and decided to put huge doses of it into pill form and market it as a weight-loss supplement. As a result, a man died, and professional Chinese medicine doctors very nearly lost the ability to use this important herb.

When you take something in pill or powder form, you're putting your faith in the company. You're trusting that the label is correct. Companies that have been around for years and years and only sell to health care professionals are a notch up, in my opinion, from those that sell in supermarkets. At Fat Turtle Herb Company, we do business only with industry leaders who carry the very best products. You can learn more about our suppliers here.

Nini Mai L.Ac has a great story from her college days at Berkeley - about a friend who took an ordinary aspirin to the lab and analyzed it to see what was really inside. Hopefully I can convince her to share the story here!

(Thanks to Karen Wright L.Ac for the link!)

Monday, August 2, 2010

Recommended Reading for Beginners

If you're new to Chinese medicine, I recommend the following books:

  • The Web That Has No Weaver An excellent introduction to Chinese medicine for Westerners.
  • Between Heaven and Earth A bit more emphasis on 五行学 Five Phase theory and constitutional types than the previous book.
  • Fundamentals of Chinese Medicine This is a translation of the first year textbook used by students in China studying TCM. More technical than the previous two books. In addition to systematically covering the basic theory, it includes names and functions for all acupuncture points. Also includes a list of the most common Chinese herbs with their names in pinyin, Chinese characters, Latin and English names, with functions and dosage.
  • Chinese Herbal Medicine: Materia Medica Probably a bit more money that most civilians will want to spend, but if you're interested in Chinese herbs, this is a great way to get started. Simply reading the introductory chapters will give you a good introduction to the world of Chinese herbology. The herb monographs also contain information on chemical composition of each herb. Also in this category: Chinese Medical Herbology & Pharmacology and Concise Chinese Materia Medica.

Also, the Blue Poppy blog is a great place for information on the internet. Blue Poppy is an herb company based in Colorado.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Wow, You Can Juice Anything

"Jews ear" is another name for 黑木耳 Hei Mu Er, or black wood ear fungus. Hei Mu Er is a strong yin tonic. You can just see the edges of the characters at the top of the picture. See the original page and some unfortunate misunderstandings in the comments section: Wow, You Can Juice Anything - Engrish Funny: Engrish Pictures That Is Your Funny Engrish

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Meet the Herbs: Sang Shen

Chinese: 桑甚
Pin Yin: Sang Shen
Pharmaceutical: Fructus Mori Albae
English: White Mulberry

Strongly tonifies Blood and enriches Yin, goes to the Heart, Liver, and Kidney, and treats constipation due to Blood deficiency in the elderly. What more could you ask for?

It does a handful of other things too, but more importantly, it tastes great! It's like having the satisfying mouth-feel of eating soft granola with the sweetness of dried berries and the texture of fibrous buds popping in my mouth. Did I make that sound appealing? Probably not. But really though, it's that good.

Sang Shen is known to contain high amounts of iron, calcium, potassium, magnesium, sodium, phosphorus, sulphur, and anthocyanins. It also contains resveratrol, a polyphenolic phytoalexin also found in grapes that has been shown to be an antioxidant, antimutagen, and anti-inflammatory. According to Wikipedia, the "unripe fruit and green parts of the plant have a white sap that is intoxicating and mildly hallucinogenic."

I bought a bag of them in NYC last weekend and have been munching on them everyday since.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Wu Zi Yan Zong Wan for Infertility

五子衍宗丸 Wu Zi Yan Zong Wan is an interesting formula I'd like to share. It's not found in either Bensky & Barolet or the Chen & Chen formula books, nor is it mentioned in Jiao Shu-De's formula book translated by Wiseman et al. (I don't have the 2nd edition of Formulas & Strategies so it may be in that book).

Wu Zi Yan Zong Wan consists of five herbs, all seeds:

菟丝子 Tu Si Zi
枸杞子 Gou Qi Zi
覆盆子 Fu Pen Zi
五味子 Wu Wei Zi
车前子 Che Qian Zi

I first encountered this formula in the Yosan clinic as an intern. My supervisor, Dr. Jin, used it as a base formula to treat infertility in a woman in her early 30's. The full formula had more than 18 herbs, but Wu Zi Yan Zong Wan was where we started. Without any English-language texts that I know of to go on, I'll take a stab at the functions of this formula.

Tu Si Zi tonifies Yang and is often used in fertility formulas. Gou Qi Zi tonifies the Liver and Kidney, Fu Pen Zi and Wu Wei Zi are both in the category of 固涩 gu se, translated as "stabilize and bind" or "astringe". Che Qian Zi is a draining herb but there are several interesting paragraphs in the 2nd edition of the Bensky et al Materia Medica on the use of Che Qian Zi as a Kidney tonic, particularly when used together with herbs that astringe. I won't retype it all here - it starts on page 278, take a look.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Beijing University of Traditional Chinese Medicine Clinic

This is a video I took in March 2010 at the Beijing University of Traditional Chinese Medicine clinic. Watch in awe as the pharmacist bangs out a prescription quickly and accurately using a traditional brass hand scale.

Friday, April 16, 2010

My herbal prescription from Bai Yun Guan

Watch this video in full-screen HD on youtube.

For more about 火神派 Huo Shen Pai, here is a link to Heiner Fruehauf's website (appears to be down for updates at the moment, but I'm sure it'll be back up soon). If you can read Chinese there is much more information available, as is always the case with Chinese medicine.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Mao Zedong's Gold Needle Treatment

Watch this video in full-screen HD on youtube

Apparently Mao Zedong was treated for some kind of eye condition with golden needles. The tour guide mentions "jin zhen (something something)" - the jin zhen is 金针, but all that means is that the needles used were made from or more likely coated with gold. The second part of the phrase probably describes what was being done with the needles. If anyone knows what she's talking about please let me know!

I took this video at some kind of "Chinese medicine center" which was way out in the middle of nowhere near the Ming Tombs, north of Beijing. I had exactly the experience of Acupuncture Carl - you can read his comment following Bob Flaw's post here. They wouldn't write me a prescription but said I should spend 350rmb for some pills, which is like US$50. No thanks! I never pay retail for herbs if I can help it.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Professional Diversity in the TCM Field

Pharmacy counter at the Beijing University of Traditional Chinese Medicine

Eric Brand makes a very important point in a recent blog about professional diversity in the U.S. TCM field. The recently-released NCCAOM survey says that over 93% of people in the field describe themselves as "practitioner" rather than educator, administrator, or funded researcher - "pharmacist" wasn't even an option, that's how few of us there are! Eric comments:

This stat is also very interesting because it appears that nearly 94% of the people in our profession essentially have the same job. In the Asian world, the profession is much more diverse. Many professionals in Asia are funded researchers, pharmacists, merchants, scholars, advisors, etc. In the NCAAOM survey, 91% of respondents said that they were self-employed, while 30% were both self-employed and employed by others.

Overall, these numbers suggest to me that we tend to focus too much on a single model of a professional identity and lifestyle. Over 35% of respondents said that they felt “poorly prepared” in terms of marketing and PR, and we constantly hear complaints that students find difficulty finding work after graduation. Perhaps we are too focused on the idea that private practice is the ultimate goal of all graduates. Many graduates like to work for other companies rather than fending for themselves, and there are many potential industry jobs available in areas such as herbal quality control. Unfortunately, our teaching programs rarely introduce students to career tracks and lifestyle models beyond private practice. We often have little training in areas such as research or advanced herbal pharmacy, and there is hardly any competition for the jobs in these sectors. Unfortunately for the academic community and industry, there are relatively few graduates that have the skills to fill these jobs.

Hear hear! This is exactly why Nini and I started Fat Turtle Herbs. As the TCM field grows in America, there will be a corresponding need for the specialized field of TCM pharmacy to grow as well. Successful Chinese medicine practitioners simply don't have the time to be their own pharmacist - on top of being your own secretary, business manager, insurance biller, janitor, and assistant, imagine assembling raw herbal formulas or granule formulas for every single patient. It's just not do-able. This time crunch leads many people to rely on pills or simply give up on herbs altogether, which besides being very sad is doing your patients a disservice.

That's where we come in. You might not have the capital or the space for a front office person or insurance biller, but you can always send your herbal formulas to us. In the L.A. area we have a convenient pickup location close to the 405 freeway, and we ship all over the United States (regular shipping arrives the next day in Southern California, two days to the Bay Area).

I was fortunate to have Tom Leung as my Herbs 3 teacher at my TCM school in New York - later I was able to work at his herbal pharmacy Kamwo, which is a traditional Chinatown herb store that's been modernized, upgraded and made friendly to non-Chinese speaking practitioners. That's when I looked around and realized I was surrounded by people who had deep knowledge of herbs, herbal formulas, over-the-counter herbal remedies, herbal preparation and TCM theory. They knew much much more than a new graduate of a typical acupuncture college, were involved in Chinese medicine every day of their working lives, and yet none of them ever touched a needle or treated a patient.

When I moved to Los Angeles to finish my TCM schooling, I looked around for a Kamwo equivalent. Surely there must be one, I thought, this kind of herbal pharmacy is so vital to the TCM community. Herb King in Santa Monica used to perform that role, but the owner unexpectedly died in a car crash and it was bought by the owners of a medical marijuana dispensary, who quickly started selling pot there. The owner of the building then booted them rather than risk having his property seized by the DEA, and that was the end of Herb King. Although they still sell Chinese herbs, it's truly a side line - the vast majority of their business comes from marijuana.

(I worked for a little more than a year at the successor to the Herb King, and I can tell you from personal experience that Chinese pharmacy service is little more than window dressing for them. There are certainly good, earnest L.Acs working there who will assemble an herbal formula for you, but without the support of upper management the Chinese herbs displayed are, as I say, window dressing. Fat Turtle is truly focused on professional Chinese herbal pharmacy services - we don't sell pot. I support medical marijuana and I'm glad it's available to those that need it, but it falls into a special category that L.Acs legally have absolutely no jurisdiction over, and associating ourselves with medical marijuana does nothing to advance the profession or help our patients.)

Whenever I tell L.Acs and TCM students what I do, and that I don't treat patients, I get one of two reactions. 1) The students and newer practitioners get a look on their face like they heard someone died, and say "Oh, wow. That's... I mean..." 2) The more experienced practitioners say "Wow, that's great! How do I order?"

The students and new practitioners are thinking of themselves - everyone is afraid of being "one of those" who doesn't end up practicing, who puts in four years of study and borrowed money and "doesn't use it." I'm here to tell you, don't worry about it! Yes, we need lots of wonderful doctors. But we also need teachers, administrators, researchers, and yes, pharmacists, all working in the TCM field. So if you're halfway through TCM school and are realizing that you don't want to be a doctor, come talk to me. I may have a job for you.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Widely Used Agricultural Pesticide Causes Sex Change

There is something strange in the water indeed!!

In my previous life as a scientific researcher, I spent hours and hours conducting studies on atrazine and it's effects on the endocrine system. Last year the EPA approved of its continued use despite results from various laboratories throughout the country arguing that more stringent regulation may be necessary. This past Monday, the prestigious journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America published an article from my former laboratory called: "Atrazine induces complete feminization and chemical castration in male African clawed frogs (Xenopus laevis)"

From the title of the paper you can probably guess what they were able to find.

Male frogs not only showed signs of demasculinization, but actually became fully female and had the ability to lay viable eggs. Essentially, they had a chemical sex change through environmental exposure! If that isn't crazy enough, the levels at which these frogs were exposed to atrazine are thousands of times below the level currently allowable in drinking water.

Read the abstract from PNAS.

Here are some quotable quotes from around the news world:

About 75% of stream water samples and 40% of groundwater samples contain atrazine, according to the U.S. Geological Survey. The Natural Resources Defense Council, an environmental advocacy group, detected atrazine in 90% of tap water samples from 139 water systems. Inexpensive faucet-top water filters can remove the chemical" - USA Today, March 1, 2010

Atrazine can be transported more than 1,000 kilometers (620 miles) from the point of application via rainfall and, as a result, contaminates otherwise pristine habitats - AFP, March 1, 2010

Approximately 80 million pounds (36,287 tonnes) are applied annually in the United States alone, and atrazine is the most common pesticide contaminant of ground and surface water.

The negative impacts on wild amphibians is especially concerning given that the dose examined here (2.5 ppb) is in the range that animals experience year-round in areas where atrazine is used as well within levels found in rainfall, in which levels can exceed 100 ppb in the Midwestern United States - Reuters, March 2, 2010

Atrazine was banned in the European Union (EU) in 2004 because of its persistent groundwater contamination. In the United States, however, atrazine is one of the most widely used herbicides, with 76 million pounds of it applied each year, in spite of the restriction that used to be imposed. It is probably the most commonly used herbicide in the world, and is used in about 80 countries worldwide. Its endocrine disruptor effects, possible carcinogenic effect, and epidemiological connection to low sperm levels in men has led several researchers to call for banning it in the US. - Wikipedia

Men with higher levels of three commonly used farming pesticides—alachlor, atrazine, and diazinon—in their bodies were much more likely to have a low sperm count than men who showed low levels of the pesticides. - National Geographic, April 2005

Friday, February 26, 2010

9000 Needles

9000 Needles is the story of Devin Dearth, a champion bodybuilder and family man from Kentucky who suffers a devastating stroke. After a hospital stay and physical rehabilitation, he is sent home, still with limited mobility. Desperate for further treatment, Devin's family searches and somehow has the good fortune to find Dr. Shi Xuemin and the Tianjin acupuncture hospitals he is affiliated with. And then...? I don't know, all I've seen is the trailer above.

I admit that I am excited about the possibility that this film could bring greater awareness of how effective acupuncture is and can be. I'm also looking forward to watching interviews with the famous acupuncture doctor Shi Xuemin. However, the film also looks like an incredibly moving story about a family struggling through some tough times. The film was actually made by Devin's brother Doug Dearth.

It's coming to L.A. for two screenings in the next few weeks. One is a benefit screening in West Hollywood (tickets are $40), and the other is at Oasis Theater on Wilshire (tickets $10). I'll be going to one of them. If you're an acupuncturist, acupuncture student, acupuncture school administrator, or just enjoy a good movie, be sure to watch!

On the web:

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Huang Qi

Huang Qi (黄芪 astragalus) and Mi Zhi Huang Qi (蜜炙黄芪 honey-fried astragalus)

At Fat Turtle Herb Company, Huang Qi is one the most popular herbs. Because it's generally safe in dosages up to 30 grams, practitioners freely prescribe Huang Qi in many different formulas. Yu Ping Feng San (玉屏风散 Jade Windscreen Powder) and Bu Zhong Yi Qi Tang (补中益气汤 Tonify the Middle and Benefit the Qi Decoction) are two of the most popular base formulas that use Huang Qi.

According to an article in Hei Long Jiang Zhong Yi Yao (黑龙江中医药 Heilongjiang Chinese Medicine & Pharmacology), translated and abstracted by Bob Flaws and available for free at Blue Poppy's TCM Infoline, regular Huang Qi is used in Yu Ping Feng San to help secure the exterior, disinhibit water and disperse swelling. Mi Zhi Huang Qi is used in Bu Zhong Yi Qi Tang to "upbear yang & lift the fallen, secure the qi & restrain desertion."

Benksy, Clavey and Stoger's 3rd Edition Materia Medica says that honey-fried Huang Qi
induces the astragalus to travel internally, and to specifically tonify and raise the clear qi of the middle burner. It is also somewhat moistening and is therefore more appropriate when the pattern involves blood deficiency, or dryness of the Spleen.

Chen and Chen's Chinese Medical Herbology and Pharmacology says
unprocessed Huang Qi (fresh or dried) has qualities better suited to treat exterior disorders, as it tonifies wei (defensive) qi, stops perspiration, regulates circulation of water, reduces edema, and promotes generation of flesh. The honey-processed herb has an enhanced ability to treat imbalances of the interior, such as Spleen and Lung qi deficiencies and yang deficiency. It is also commonly used to treat chronic cases of fatigue, diarrhea, organ prolapse, and all cases of deficiency.

When writing prescriptions, make sure you're using the right type of Huang Qi for the condition. Fat Turtle Herb Company carries regular Huang Qi and Mi Zhi Huang Qi in both raw and granule powder format.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

More Discussion of Herbal Dosing

Carl Stimson, an American acupuncturist living and working in Tokyo, has some interesting observations on medicinal dosing - you can read part one and part two here.

Running a Chinese pharmacy, I see all different levels of dosing. Some of our practitioners use 12-15 different herbs for each prescription, with 9-15 grams for each herb. Others use as little as 4 herbs and doses of 3-9 grams maximum. Some want their patients to take one bag of raw herbs per day, others one bag every other day. If you're not getting results, dosage might be one aspect of your treatment to consider (obviously a correct diagnosis is number one).

In previous posts, I've recommended using one bag of raw herbs per day, or its equivalent in granule form. While I still feel this is the best option, I have seen many practitioners get results with varied dosage forms, and results are what matter most. Heiner Fruehauf, a member of the Fire Spirit school of Chinese medicine, uses Fu Zi in almost every formula, and in this article cites his teachers in the Fire Spirit school as saying that if a patient feels palpitations and dizziness after taking Fu Zi it's most likely because the dose was too small rather than too high (he's also very specific on the type of Fu Zi used - it must be from Jiangyou County in Sichuan province).

Here's Carl:

When I was a student I remember reading a debate on dosages between several practitioners on a TCM internet discussion group. The argument that American patients did not need as much herbs as Chinese patients because they had not developed any tolerance to herbs was being discussed. One practitioner countered that if a doctor traveled to an isolated island where the inhabitants had never been treated with aspirin or antibiotics, the doctor wouldn't reduce his dosage because of this, he would continue to dose based on weight and severity of the illness. At the time I thought this was a wonderful argument. It illustrated the fact that we are all humans with the same biology and chemistry. I still think the point is an important one, but now I wonder about a related question. I think there is no doubt that a foreign doctor arriving in a new country / culture would continue to dose using the standards he was trained in. However, if the local doctors were given this new medicine, would they continue to follow the same dosage standards after many years of practical experience? It seems, based on what we have seen with acupuncture and pain medication, that there is no guarantee the local doctors would not develop different dosage standards.

So why does this happen? After all, the human body is the human body, no matter if it is American, Chinese, or any culture. It is subject to the laws of science no matter what national borders the body is living in. I believe that differences in dosage standards across cultural lines has very little to do with science, and mostly involves differences in each culture's relationship to health and medicine. In China, many patients will not be satisfied with an acupuncture treatment that is not painful, while in the US and Japan, a practitioner is unlikely to be in practice very long if his/her treatments cause much pain. Perhaps the Chinese have more faith in the "No pain, no gain" principle. The difference in pain medication dosages between the US and Japan probably reveals the fact that being able to withstand suffering without complaint is highly valued (and expected) in Japanese society. I have also heard that US doctors start to give medication for blood pressure and cholesterol at lower levels than Japan. This could reflect a tendency of Americans to be more proactive in using outside means to control nature. It could also reflect the pervasive paranoia about liability in America.

While it is true that we are all human beings and subject to the laws of science, let's remember that the laws of science are essentially a crude way of describing the laws of nature. The Daoist tradition has a much more elegant, somewhat less exact but much more complete way of describing nature, based on the the concepts of Wu Ji, Tai Ji (yin and yang), the five phases, ba gua and so on. When you look at humans from this perspective, it helps you remember that people get sick in different ways all over the world. So when the hypothetical doctors arrive on the island, why are they giving out aspirin and antibiotics in the first place? What criteria are they using to evaluate local people and their illnesses, and are those criteria valid?

There is a trope in Chinese medicine that Northerners (northern Chinese) come from a cold climate and therefore need higher doses, take to warming tonics better, and when they catch wind (cold) need stronger exterior-releasing herbs. Southerners (southern Chinese) come from a warmer climate and therefore usually need lower doses, and when they catch wind need a different treatment strategy. So of course people in places as different as China, Japan and the U.S. need different dosages.

In a heterogeneous society like the U.S., you'll treat all different body types and all different ethnicities. Some of your patients were born in faraway places, some were born around the corner from your office. Don't get caught up in dogma, whether it relates to dosing, diagnosing, or anything else. Evaluate each patient individually and decide what's appropriate for their situation.

See also: How much is in a qian? by Eric Brand

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Roasted Vegetable Stew

Over the past few months, I've been prescribing slow-cooked root vegetables as an addition to many of my patients' diets. Root vegetables, particularly yams and sweet potatoes, are very nourishing and tonifying of Spleen energy. The Spleen in Chinese medicine falls under the domain of the Earth element, creating the foundation for the production of new, utilizable energy and all of the physiological processes in the body.

I realized today that all this time I have failed to provide any good recipes to go with my advice!

Here's a delicious and simple recipe for a Roasted Vegetable Stew that I've adapted from a recipe I found in a book on soups:

4 Parsnips, cut lengthwise into 4 pieces and then quartered
2 Red Onions, cut into thin wedges
3 Garnet Yams, cut into chunks
1 Large Leek, cut thickly
1 Fennel Bulb, cut into chunks
3 Celery Stalks, cut into diagonal slices
1 Butternut Squash, skinned, seeds removed, and cubed
2 Whole Heads of Garlic
4 Tablespoons Olive Oil
Herbs du Provence (or just Thyme), Salt, and Pepper for seasoning
4 Cups Vegetable Broth
Handful of Cherry Tomatoes

Pre-heat oven to 400 F. Put all of the cut veggies into a large roasting pan (I need to use two separate 9" x 13" pans for this recipe, but that's only because I don't have a bigger pan!). Drizzle 3 tablespoons of the Olive Oil over the veggies and toss to cover evenly. Put the last tablespoon of olive oil in a little bowl or mug and dip each whole head of garlic into it, being sure to entirely coat it. Place the two oiled heads of garlic on top of the pan of veggies, and moderately sprinkle Herbs du Provence over everything. Place the pan in the oven for at least 45 mins, or until the veggies are roasty browned and tender.

While you're waiting for the veggies to cook, you can make some delicious bread to go with your stew!

1 Loaf crusty bread, I would recommend Ciabatta or Thick Baguette
3 Tablespoons butter or butter substitute (I use Earth Balance)
2 Cloves Raw Garlic, chopped
4 Pieces Sun-dried Tomato
Paprika, Parsley, or in my case Mexican Spiced Chili Seasoning for taste and color

Take your loaf of crusty bread and cut diagonal slits into the bread without cutting all the way through. Mix 3 Tablespoons of butter stuff with the chopped garlic and sun-dried tomatoes. Use a butter knife to stuff and spread the mixture into the slices of the bread. When you're done, sprinkle some seasoning across the top of the loaf and put the bread back together, wrapping the whole thing in foil. When you're ready to bake, put the foiled loaf in the oven at 400F for 10 mins covered so that it can get flavorfully buttery infused, and then uncovered for 5 minutes so that it can get golden brown. I would recommend waiting until the stew is done to toast the bread so that you can serve it up immediately all warm and delicious and whatnot.

Once the veggies are done and you've removed them from the oven, take one head of garlic and squeeze the roasted cloves out. Save the other head for serving with your meal. Take half of the roasted veggies with the squeezed garlic and mash it all up with the 4 cups of vegetable broth with either a food processor or blender until it is almost smooth. Mix the rest of the roasted veggies into this stew and heat on the stove until boiling. Add salt and pepper to taste. When ready to serve, place a few cherry tomatoes on top and garnish with some herby green things (like thyme or rosemary sprigs) for looks and aroma.

It's plenty meal for 4-6 people when served with toasty bread and roasted garlic. What's more, when made with Earth Balance this recipe is vegan!

Tonight we complemented our meal with peach champagne avec fresh strawberries for a fun and tasty beverage. Bon apetit!

Monday, February 8, 2010

Dr. Chao's Herbal Drink

Just got a sample of this from a neighbor. No sugar, no calories, made with Chinese herbs, and no, it's not disgusting. It's actually quite sweet. I'm guessing that's because of the Luo Han Guo (罗汉果 Fructus Momordicae). From Chen's Materia Medica entry on Luo Han Guo, page 722:
Because mogroside VI is approximately 256 to 344 times sweeter than cane sugar, it is commonly used as a sweetening agent in drinks. It is also used as a sugar substitute by obese individuals or those with diabetes mellitus.

Hmm, I guess it's only a matter of time before someone patents a chemical copy of mogroside and markets it as a sugar substitute, eh? Anyway, back to the drink.

Ingredients: Water, Cordyceps, Saffron, Fructus Momordicae, Herba Hyperici Japonici, Herba Houttuyniae, Rubus Suavissmus, Lavender, Citric Acid.

Cordyceps (冬虫夏草 Dong Chong Xia Cao) is a parasitic fungus that grows out of the body of an insect which it infects and eventually kills. Bad for the insect, good for us! The wild product is unimaginably expensive, but cultivated cordyceps is available. Cordyceps is used as a general tonic herb that is good for the lungs and the immune system and has very few side effects.

Saffron is the common name of 红花 Hong Hua, which in Chinese medicine is considered a blood-mover. I've never heard of it being used for stress, but blood stasis could certainly contribute to stress, so... Fructus Momordicae, besides having that magical sweetening effect, is good for coughs. Hypericum (贯叶连翘 Guan Ye Lian Qiao) is the Chinese name for St. Johns Wort. Chen puts it in the category of Clear Heat Eliminate Toxin and notes:
Historically in China, this herb was used as a heat-clearing agent, to treat various types of infectious and inflammatory conditions. In Europe, it was used more as a nerve tonic, to address anxiety, depression, and restlessness.

Now we get to an odd one: Herba Houttuynia, or 鱼腥草 Yu Xing Cao. I have no idea what this herb is doing in a stress formula. It's also a Clear Heat Eliminate Toxin herb, generally used for infections. It also promotes urination and drains pus.

Rubus Suavissmus is a new one on me. It's not in my herbal medicine books, but googling it turns up a variety of research studies. Apparently its common name is Chinese sweet tea.

Lavender is a western herb used for relaxation. Citric acid is a preservative.

Well, I drank it, and I'm not dead. I don't know how much it retails for, but I probably wouldn't pay for it. I'm not much into exotic drinks. I stick with the basics: Chinese tea, Vietnamese coffee, water, beer, wine.

Dr. Chao also has some other drinks: Adult Drink, an aphrodisiac type of drink; Lady Drink, for the ladies; and 21, for the drinkers.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Ling Zhi

My former roommate with some Ling Zhi

Eric Brand has a good blog post about about Ling Zhi (灵芝 ganoderma, aka reishi mushroom). Some key points are that although Ling Zhi is mentioned from way back as a very important herb, it does not appear in a single classical formula. Does that mean it was meant to be taken only by itself? Only on special occasions? Who knows?

The modern TCM functions, covered in Eric's blog post, suggest that it could be a useful addition to Tian Wang Bu Xin Dan or Yu Ping Feng San. Many people swear by it to prevent and/or as an adjunct therapy for cancer (see what Wikipedia has to say about it), but beware of the internet - it's full of shady sites that will claim to cure your cancer/AIDS/etc. with their special blend of super-extracted reishi mushroom (this blog post may automatically generate Google ads for some of these same sites). As always, the best way to determine how to use Chinese herbs is by visiting a trusted herbal doctor, or at the very least very careful and thorough self-directed research from authoritative sources.

A few years ago I took a trip to Chinatown and bought one of the large whole mushrooms, about a foot in diameter (that's it in the picture above). I took it home and looked at it for awhile, took pictures of it. Then I tried slicing it - very difficult. It turned out that the easiest way for me to decoct it was to break off pieces in chunks. I didn't bother weighing it since it was for personal use. I cooked it as do most tonics - low and slow with plenty of water, about 2 hours in all. It was late afternoon when it was done. I drank a mug. It was certainly bitter, but something about the taste appealed to me, like clean spicy dirt. About twenty minutes later I fell into a deep, dreamless sleep right there on the couch and woke up feeling slightly drugged but also very very refreshed.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Pao Zhi Herbs

Bai Shao and Chao Bai Shao. For more pictures of pao zhi herbs, follow the #paozhi tag on twitter

Pao Zhi 炮制 refers to the preparation of Chinese medicinal herbs. All herbs are prepared in one way or another by the time they appear in your local Chinese herb pharmacy. Some are simply washed, cut in a particular way and dried. Others undergo a more intensive preparation process to reduce toxicity and enhance medicinal effect.

Ban Xia 半夏, for instance, is prepared with either lime (calcium oxide) or ginger juice for several days before it takes on the appearance we're used to seeing. Turning Sheng Di Huang 生地黄 into Shu Di Huang 熟地黄 involves steaming the cut pieces over wine for several hours until they become much darker and deeper black (if you have an I.D. test, don't fret over Sheng Di vs. Shu Di - Sheng Di usually always has a little bit of brown somewhere on it. Shu Di will be deep black all over).

Other herbs can be processed with liquid adjuvants. The most obvious example is Gan Cao 甘草 and 炙甘草 Zhi Gan Cao. Zhi Gan Cao, of course, is prepared with honey, making it much sweeter and a stronger qi tonic than regular Gan Cao (or Sheng Gan Cao 生甘草, as it's sometimes called, to distinguish it from its honeyfied cousin). Cu Chao Chai Hu 醋炒柴胡, or vinegar-fried bupleurum, is used to direct the action of the herb to the Liver channel (because vinegar is sour and sour is the flavor associated with the Wood phase) and according to Bensky enhances the ability of Chai Hu "to soothe the Liver, harmonize the blood, and stop pain." I would guess that it also warms the herb considerably (regular Chai Hu is cool to cold).

Fat Turtle Herb Company makes many of these herbs available for your use as practitioners. Below is a short summary of the major differences between the processed and unprocessed versions of some of these herbs. For more information in English take a look at Philippe Sionneau's pao zhi book, translated by the ubiquitous Bob Flaws. The end section of each herb monograph of the third edition of the Materia Medica by Bensky et al also has good information on different herb preparations. I haven't had a chance to look at it yet, but I would be surprised if Eric Brand and Nigel Wiseman's Concise Materia Medica didn't have some excellent info on pao zhi as well.

  • Bai Shao: Bitter and sour, slightly cold. Settles the Liver, downbears yang, nourishes the Liver, restrains yin.
  • Chao Bai Shao: Bitter, sour, astringent, neutral temperature. Soothes the Liver, harmonizes the Spleen, stops diarrhea.

  • Bai Zhu: Sweet, bitter, warm. Fortifies the Spleen, dries dampness, disinhibits urination, disperses swelling. Better at drying dampness.
  • Chao Bai Zhu: Sweet, bitter, warm. Fortifies the Spleen, supplements the qi. This is a better Spleen qi tonic.

  • Huang Qi: Sweet, slightly warm. Secures the exterior, stops perspiration, disinhibits urination, disperses swelling, outthrusts pus and toxins.
  • Mi Zhi Huang Qi: Sweet, slightly warm, slightly moistening. Supplements Lung qi, tends to moisten dampness, supplements vacuity.

There are many more pao zhi preparation available. Licensed acupuncturists and students at TCM colleges call 310-691-5226 or email to check if the herb you want is available.

Note: granule practitioners don't feel left out! We have many pao zhi preparations available in granule format as well.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Wildcrafted Gan Cao and Dan Shen

Let's face it: plants don't naturally grow in rows. We put them there because it's easier to harvest and can maximize yield. A licorice plant sitting in a field among thousands of other licorice plants is like a lion in a zoo - it's still a lion, but does it behave like a lion would in the wild? Of course not. While it's much easier to observe animal behavior than it is to see what's going on with the chemical constituents of a plant, you can bet that a plant you pick from the wild is going to be much more robust than a plant you grow on a farm.

Wildcrafting is an intermediate step between farming and simply gathering. Standards vary from place to place, but essentially you put the plants in their natural environment and do as little to them as possible. No chemicals, no weeding, no grow lights, no animal traps. When they're ready, you harvest some and leave the rest to keep growing. Take a look at this ginseng company in Western Maryland for a good explanation of how they wildcraft their American ginseng.

Fat Turtle Herb Company currently carries wildcrafted Gan Cao and wildcrafted Dan Shen as our normal everyday inventory. No need to ask for the good stuff - it's in every order!

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

The Story of Kam Wah Chung

We've posted about Kam Wah Chung before, but this video is much better. It's more detailed and is much better quality. Take a look and learn about Chinese medicine in 1850's Oregon!

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Stress and pH

Today on the radio I heard an interview with Marcelle Pick, a nurse practitioner who has a new book out. She was talking about managing yeast overgrowth in the body. Yeast overgrowth can manifest in many different ways - skin rashes, gas, bloating, a general sense of unease. In TCM yeast corresponds to Dampness and is usually accompanied by Spleen Qi Deficiency.

She went through some excellent dietary advice, such as avoiding vinegar and sugars both added and naturally-occurring. Ms. Pick also noted that it's important to stick with a yeast-elimination diet for at least a few months to give it a chance to work.

At the very end of the interview she threw in this bonus - stress plays a huge role in yeast, because increased stress can lead to increased pH, which is a breeding ground for yeast. If you reduce your stress (by changing how you react to stressful situations), you can literally affect the chemistry of your body. How cool is that? No need for pills, or even herbs. Just take a deep breath, try some meditation, exercise - all these things are proven to reduce stress. You might enjoy one more than the other, so try them until you find something you can stick with. Then, enjoy the benefits of alchemical control over your internal body processes...

Friday, January 15, 2010

Fat Turtle Herb Company: We're Just Like Google

Fat Turtle Herb Company is under cyberattack from China! Or is it?

Last night I got this email:

from: Robert Meng
date: Thu, Jan 14, 2010 at 9:24 PM
subject: Urgently-fatturtleherbs Domain names Announcement

(If you are not the person who is in charge of this, please forward to the right person/ department, this is urgent, thank you.)

Dear CEO,

We are the department of registration service in China. we have something need to confirm with you. We formally received an application on Jan.14, 2010, One company which is called " Tatief Trading Co.,LTD. " is applying to register "fatturtleherbs" as brand name and domain names as below :

After our initial checking, we found the brand name and these domain names being applied are as same as your company's, so we need to confirm with your company. If the aforesaid company is your business partner or your subsidiary company, please DO NOT reply us, we will approve the application automatically. If you have no any relationship with this company, please contact us within 7 workdays. If out of the deadline, we will approve the application submitted by " Tatief Trading Co.,LTD ." unconditionally.

Best Regards,

Robert Meng
Senior consultant

A range of thoughts and emotions went through me, in roughly this order:
1. Okay, is this spam?
2. Wait, it looks pretty real. Shit!
3. What's the difference between a copyright and a trademark?
4. Damn the Chinese!
5. Man, we're so big that someone wants to cybersquat on some associated domain names. Oh yeah....

I looked up Tatief Trading Co. Nothing. I looked up FoWa, the company where the email originated from - it seems to be a domain-registration company based in Shanghai. I noticed that the email from Robert Meng came from a .com address, whereas FoWa has a .org address. So I sent an email to the general inquiries desk at FoWa, rather than replying to Robert (what if, by replying, I install some sort of weird virus or tracking software on my computer?). Of course I told them that we are NOT affiliated in any way with the aforementioned company.

After about a half hour, I calmed down. Who cares if someone takes those domain names in Taiwan and China? We're not planning on opening up operations overseas. Pharmacy is a very local business - patients need herbs, now. And I'm not about to pay to reserve "fatturtleherbs.whatever" for every single country, because there are a zillion of them.

So, in closing, remember that is the only legitimate web address for Fat Turtle Herb Company. Thanks!

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Eating GMO Corn Proven To Be Hazardous To Your Health

A new study published in the International Journal of Biological Sciences showed that three different varieties of genetically modified corn from Monsanto are toxic to the liver and kidneys.

The difference between their study and the ones conducted by Monsanto? Monsanto manipulated the results of their experiment by using statistical analyses that would favor the safety of their product, as opposed to utilizing all tools available to them to fully analyze the data to determine whether or not there were signs of toxicity.

Another difference? Any sign of toxicity should have elicited a need to continue collecting data past the 90 days Monsanto had designated for the length of their study, since 90 days is no where near long enough to determine long-term effects and chronic illness. The authors of this recently published paper, on the other hand, are extending their experiment for up to two years in light of their results.

Makes me wanna smash things.

The thing that gets me is that these products have been deemed safe for human consumption based on the powerful truth that is science. However, the research itself is up for sale, whereby some laboratories have been paid to produce specific data and, conversely, paid to stop experiments when the data conflicts with what the agropharma companies want to see. It makes me angry.

Anyway, I'm done with my ranting. Just don't eat any GMO foods if you can help it, ok?

Monday, January 4, 2010

Small Changes Lead to Big Changes in Preventing Diabetes

Tim and Paul Daly, identical twins. One has diabetes, one does not.

Here's an inspirational story about beating diabetes. Tim and Paul Daly are identical twins who were inseparable up through young adulthood - they even joined the Army together. Later they took different paths, and while Tim kept playing basketball every week with friends on Tuesday night, his brother didn't do any exercise at all.

In 1996 Paul was diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes. His identical twin Tim was pre-diabetic. Then...

Tim volunteered to take part in a huge national research study aimed at determining exactly what it takes to prevent or delay the onset of Type 2 diabetes.

Like him, all of the 3,234 volunteers in the study were at high risk of developing the disease. The volunteers were broken down into three groups.

Tim was randomly assigned to the "lifestyle intervention" group. He received intensive counseling from a dietitian and motivational coach who helped him develop a plan to eat less and exercise more.

A second group of participants took a diabetes medicine called Metformin twice a day. These volunteers received information about diet and exercise, but they didn't get motivational counseling. A third group received placebo pills instead of Metformin.

Researchers wanted to know which intervention would work best to prevent diabetes and all of the complications that can develop as a result: loss of vision, kidney failure, amputations and a substantial increase in risk of heart disease and stroke.

As it turns out, the study found lifestyle changes to be twice as affective as the medicine.

Twice as effective!! Keep that in mind when you read the possible side effects of Metformin:

Metformin may cause side effects. Tell your doctor if any of these symptoms are severe, do not go away, go away and come back, or do not begin for some time after you begin taking metformin:
  • diarrhea
  • bloating
  • stomach pain
  • gas
  • constipation
  • unpleasant metallic taste in mouth
  • heartburn
  • headache
  • sneezing
  • cough
  • runny nose
  • flushing of the skin
  • nail changes
  • muscle pain

Some side effects can be serious. The following symptoms are uncommon, but if you experience any of them or those listed in the IMPORTANT WARNING section, call your doctor immediately:
  • chest pain
  • rash

Some female laboratory animals given high doses of metformin developed non-cancerous polyps (abnormal growths of tissue) in the uterus (womb). It is not known if metformin increases the risk of polyps in humans. Talk to your doctor about the risks of taking this medication.

Metformin may cause other side effects. Call your doctor if you have any unusual problems while taking this medication.

Just more evidence that exercise is good for nearly everything. The audio version of this story, available for free on the NPR website, has more detail than the printed version.

Preventing Diabetes: Small Changes Have Big Payoff by Allison Aubrey
Diabetes Prevention Program Study Repository
Medline Plus: Metformin