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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…)

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…)

Healthy Skin & Hair

The skin is considered the largest organ in the body. It doesn’t seem like an organ in the conventional sense, but it functions like one. It is comprised of a few layers that contain hair, skin cells, sweat and sebaceous glands, collagen, blood vessels, nerves and fat. It protects our insides, cools, warms and insulates, and provides important sensory information to the rest of the body. The sweat excreted from the skin helps rid the body of waste as well. (more…)

Spring Detoxification??

Many people look towards the spring with a sense of hope. After wintertime, as the earth comes alive again, we often attempt to re-evaluate and renew our lives as well. It can be a good period for “spring cleaning,” making dietary changes, starting an exercise regimen, setting goals, and planning ahead for the rest of the year. It is no coincidence that in Chinese medicine, the liver, an organ known for removing toxins from the body, is specifically connected with this season of revival. So-called detoxification diets and associated products have become very trendy of late, and are especially popular in springtime. Many claim to be able to thoroughly rid the body of waste and restore health. As I have written before and as I explain to my patients, there is no real evidence that any such radical cleanse does that. Furthermore, the body is constantly detoxifying itself in many ways. It is an ongoing process. But I personally feel that a ritual “periodic cleanse” is a nice way to jumpstart healthier habits and to help motivate you to take better care of your body. (By cleanse, I don’t mean fasting or consuming only juice for a month! I mean eating a clean diet: as much organic as possible, with no processed foods or sugar, caffeine, dairy, alcohol and so forth for a set period of time. Certain supplements for liver support and colon health might also be a nice addition during such a phase. Again, this is not a magical cure, it is more of an assist, and one that might help you to rethink and change your daily habits.) (more…)

Post-Holiday Malaise and Winter Blues

Since the holiday season is over and winter has finally arrived with single digit temperatures and snow here in the Big Apple, I have noticed many patients reporting not only common cold and respiratory illnesses, but feeling “blue.” This doesn’t surprise me, given the shorter daylight hours and the dismal climate. Some patients are also attributing holiday-related stress with their outlook. Again, no surprise. Holidays pose a unique combination of stress for some folks, whether due to family dynamics, financial strain or unsatisfying life assessments brought on by a new calendar year. Overeating and drinking- always in abundance during holidays- and irregular schedules of sleeping and working can lead to feeling off-balance. Leftover food and alcohol can lead to poor choices just at the stage when you want to start afresh and begin the year with healthier habits. It is hard to find the motivation to exercise and eat right when you’ve been on an unhealthy trajectory for several weeks and when it’s below freezing outside. All in all, this time of year is a challenge for many. (more…)

Staying Cool As a Cucumber in Summer

Cucumbers belong to the Cucurbitaceae family, related to pumpkins, watermelons and other squash. Technically a fruit, they grow on a vine along the ground and come in hundreds of varieties, among them the common slicing and the popular pickle types. Gherkins are actually immature cucumbers that have been pickled in a brine. (more…)

Watermelon (Citrullus lanatus), a Great Summer Food

Watermelons supposedly originated in Africa. The Moors introduced them to Europe and trade routes eventually lead them as far as China, now the world’s top watermelon producer. There are many varieties of this colorful summer fruit, which is related to squash and cucumbers, the family Cucurbitaceae. Every part of the watermelon is edible, including the rind, which is customarily pickled in some cultures. (more…)

Vitamin D

Vitamin D has gotten a lot of press in the past decade. It is a fat soluble vitamin that has the properties of a hormone as well. Some of its complex functions in the body include: a role in the absorption and use of phosphorus and calcium, development of bones and teeth (especially in children), regulation of heart rate, maintenance of muscle mass, reducing inflammation, regulation of blood sugar, immune function, thyroid function and normal blood clotting. Because of its extensive role, maintaining normal levels of vitamin D is important in preventing diseases like osteoporosis, osteoarthritis, heart disease, and possibly diabetes. Recent research suggests that insufficient levels of this vitamin can even increase the risk for certain cancers and autoimmune diseases. People with medical conditions may be prone to vitamin D deficiencies: those with kidney disease, those with absorption disorders (like Crohn’s disease), and the obese. (more…)

Winter and the Kidneys

The kidneys are thought to be the “mother of all the organs” in traditional Chinese medicine (TCM). Among the many important functions of the kidneys according to TCM are: storing the body’s energy, affecting water metabolism and inspiration, relating to the bones, hair, and ears, just to name a few. The kidneys are also thought to be associated with the season winter, cold temperatures, the color blue/black, the taste salty. (more…)