Why Wear a Scarf in Winter Weather?

Traditional Chinese medicine identifies several external pathogens that can invade the body and cause illness. These pathogens are named after the characteristic symptoms they cause- cold, heat, dampness, dryness, wind and fire. The key is to manifest enough defensive qi (“wei qi”) to ward off the threat of the pathogen (a virus, bacteria, etc.) Wei qi can be likened to the immune system in modern medicine. The body may be vulnerable to invasion if the wei qi is weak or if the external pathogen is very strong and able to penetrate. The idea that one can “catch cold,” for instance, is explicit: there are several meridian pathways that traverse the neck. If the neck is exposed to frigid temperatures, or a combination of what we call a “wind-cold pathogenic factor,” these channels are more readily invaded. (The names given to some of the critical acupoints on the back of the head and neck include the word “wind” in translation.) These points, along with the orifices- including ears, nose, mouth and the pores of the skin may also leave the body exposed. (Sweating from exercise leaves the pores of the skin more open and may also create a vulnerable situation, so always bundle up after a gym workout in winter.) (more…)

Sinus Health & Chinese Medicine

Sinuses are a network of hollow cavities in the head that are lined with a thin layer of mucous. There are four of them- the frontal (behind the forehead), the ethmoid and sphenoid (between the eyes and behind the nose), and the maxillary sinuses (behind the cheeks). They moisten and filter the air we breathe and they add to vocal resonance. Their mucous drains into the nose. (more…)

The Risks of Self-Medicating

A few months ago, I received samples of an herbal supplement called kratom in the mail. Apparently, the company was hoping I would carry their product in my office and sell it to patients for pain-related conditions. I had never heard of this herbal remedy and I contacted the company and requested literature and research about it on two separate occasions. They never sent me anything, so when I did my homework, I learned that kratom interacts with the brain’s opioid receptors, is not approved by the FDA, and is quite controversial because of its potentially addictive qualities and other side effects (including nausea, itching, constipation, seizures, hallucinations and so on). Without even passing judgment on the herb itself, the fact that this company targets practitioners like me and expects us to dispense it without any background information is absurd, irresponsible, and completely unethical. It violates the established methodology of clinical trials and centuries of empirical research through which all accepted supplements and medications are investigated and approved. This reckless marketing approach made me think about how alluring the promise of a cure can be to suffering patients or gullible practitioners who desperately want to find a solution. (more…)

Balance and Your Diet

Chinese medicine theory strongly emphasizes balance and moderation in all things, including diet. Diet therapy is advocated in this tradition and is widely practiced culturally in China. A balance of flavors, eating regularly (not skipping meals or overeating), sitting and chewing food thoroughly, and eating seasonally and locally are all recommended practices (as well as proper hygiene with meal preparation). Food is divided into 5 basic categories of sweet, salty, sour, bitter and pungent and these flavors resonate with specific internal organs, respectively: Spleen, Kidney, Liver, Heart, and Lung. Food is further divided into yin and yang and hot, warm, neutral, cool and cold energies. Some foods may also affect the movement and direction of qi within the body. Consuming too much of any of these flavors or properties may compromise the linked organ, especially the Spleen and Stomach. The Spleen and Stomach are most involved in digestion because they transform the food into qi and blood for the rest of the body to utilize and help transport and transmit nutrients. Over-indulging a sweet tooth may cause the Spleen to become sluggish and lead to an imbalance called “dampness” which might affect other organs negatively. Symptoms of this situation can vary but may include poor appetite, diarrhea, distension, edema, weight gain, fatigue- and eventually lead to more chronic systemic symptoms. Specific dietary changes have therapeutic potential. For example, a person with a congested liver should consume more sour foods (such as lemons, plums, vinegar) and avoid greasy foods and alcohol to help their liver heal. Many of the dietary prescriptions for illnesses corroborate with what we know from western medicine and the nutritional value of various foods. (more…)

Modern Technoloy & Your Health

There has been much in the press lately about modern day technology’s toll on posture. In all walks of life, from children to working professionals to retirees- smartphones, smartwatches, ipads and so forth are ubiquitous in 2018 and will be for the foreseeable future. But the physical attachment we have to these devices is literally pulling our heads down. Looking down at a device causes one’s neck to lean forward unnaturally, holding the considerably heavy head in an awkward position for long periods of time and inevitably results in slouching. Shoulders roll forward and the torso collapses. Poor posture is known to cause many ill effects such as neck and back pain, headaches, poor circulation, increased stress/cortisol levels and allegedly contributes to depression. Maintaining good posture allows a person to breathe deeply, filling the lungs with oxygen, which thereby decreases stress levels and leads to more positive emotions. Slouching does the opposite. (more…)

Horror Films & the Kidneys

It’s that time of year again: horror movie season! While costumes, Jack O’Lanterns and tricks or treats are fine for most people, there seem to be strong feelings- love them or hate them- about haunted houses and scary movies. Fear causes physical reactions such as muscle tension, increased heart rate and eye movement, sweating, elevated cortisol levels, and a rush of both dopamine and adrenaline. These changes are adaptive and normal reactions to perceived threats as they enable us to move quickly and efficiently away from any danger. Of course, even though we know it’s just a fictional depiction we are watching onscreen, the physiological reactions happen just as though we are experiencing the horror in real life. Why do some people seek out these thrills while others avoid them at all cost? I have read several articles about people’s reactions to horror films. Some suggest that your response is partly genetic. Both dopamine and adrenaline may cause sensations of pleasure in some, but on the other hand, viewing scary images may even reignite PTSD or traumatic memories in others. Some articles caution that the fright experience may make you susceptible to a heart attack or stroke, while others suggest that if you watch enough of these flicks, you will become desensitized and thereby lower your overall anxiety levels! Pay attention to your reaction as you watch your next scary film, and notice how your body reacts. Do you jump out of your seat? Do you scream when something unexpected happens? Do you feel very tense physically? Can you sleep well afterwards? Was it overall a good or fun experience for you, or did you feel disturbed by it? (more…)

Preparing for Surgery: How Acupuncture Can Help

Patients commonly experience pain, fatigue and nausea after surgery. Acupuncture is a great remedy for these types of symptoms, and even skimpy insurance plans may cover the treatment for such post-operative conditions. But not many people think of doing acupuncture before a surgical procedure. Surgeons often prescribe physical therapy to patients prior to arthroscopic musculoskeletal surgeries, or even full joint replacements. The idea is to prepare them for the best possible outcome by strengthening their muscles and reducing any inflammation so that the recovery and healing can happen more smoothly. Since acupuncture helps not only with pain management but also with inflammation reduction, immune system stimulation and blood circulation, it is an excellent preparatory therapy. Another reason it is helpful prior to surgery is because of its calming effect. Anticipating an upcoming operation can be a nerve-wracking experience that fills patients with dread. Even for a simple oral surgery, I typically schedule patients the day prior to procedure. They report feeling significantly less anxious after treatment, which is always a good thing!

A Brief Glimpse at Chinese Medicine and the Mind-Body Connection

In Chinese medicine, there is no separation between physical and emotional well-being. They are simply differing aspects of a whole, like yin and yang. Symptoms may manifest in either dimension because of imbalance, and sometimes in both simultaneously. You need look no further than a case of “butterflies” in the stomach, in which anxiety directly causes a very real sensation, if not full blown digestive symptoms. Tension headaches are another obvious example of emotional stress directly causing acute physical pain. (more…)

Fitness in Late Winter

Recently, I have heard so many patients despair over their lack of energy and motivation around fitness and healthy eating. This time of year is challenging for most of us in the northeastern US. The weather is gloomy, the sun isn’t shining so brightly, and cold and flu viruses run rampant in schools and workplaces. It’s difficult to stay motivated to exercise when it’s dark and cold outdoors and sedentary lifestyles seem so much more appealing. Partly, we can blame low vitamin D levels, post holiday weight gain and unpredictable weather for this general malaise- but what is practical in terms of change? I just read an article by an author who documented her health after drinking 2 cups of lemon water per day for 2 weeks. The jist was that it seemed to help, but moreover it jumpstarted her motivation to address her other lifestyle habits. (more…)

The Pumpkin, in All Its Glory

The pumpkin is native to North America like other winter squash varieties. And while it’s celebrated here during the fall with traditional Halloween Jack O’Lanterns, Thanksgiving pumpkin pies, and seasonal pumpkin spiced lattes, it is now a food enjoyed across the globe. Many parts of the plant are edible: the stems, flowers, flesh and seeds. Most people are familiar with the fleshy part of the fruit which is pureed and used in soups or pies, especially during autumn when it is harvested. The seeds, also known as pepitas, are quite nutritious and are enjoyed year round as a snack or as an addition to salads, granolas and other dishes, both with the shell (white) or hulled (usually green). (more…)