We are pleased to welcome the newest member of our team, Karissa McCallum, L.Ac.!
As a mom of two, licensed acupuncturist, essential oil educator and soon-to-be DONA certified doula, Karissa is a continuous learner and has a passion for working with families. Karissa offers expertise and support in infertility and conception; maintaining a health pregnancy; labor and birth support; postpartum support; and pediatric treatments.
Karissa also specializes in treating chronic neck and shoulder tension; headaches and migraines; and pain. Ms. McCallum has a bachelor's degree from Northwestern University where she majored in Human Development and Psychological Services. She is a NCCAOM board certified acupuncturist and herbologist. Ms. McCallum graduated from Pacific College of Oriental Medicine - Chicago with a master's degree in Traditional Oriental Medicine.
We are delighted to have Karissa joining our team!
One of our family's favorite ways to boost immunity, especially on dark, cold winter days, is to make a batch of homemade bone broth. Bone broth (technically "stock") has numerous health benefits. There's a reason our grandmother's told us to eat chicken soup to fight a cold.
The theory is that you can pull minerals, amino acids, and collagen out of the bones by boiling them. Of course no one is getting rich off of bone broth (it's nearly free to make), which means no one is throwing much money behind researching its health benefits. This doesn't mean there are no health benefits, just that there isn't much credible peer-reviewed research about it.
Some of the reputed health benefits of bone broth include:
Does it really do any or all of these things? No one really knows, and opinions are strong on both sides of this debate. But here's what we do know: getting in the kitchen and cooking homemade food out of whole ingredients is never a bad thing. So give it a try!
Bone Broth Recipe
This is so easy you won't believe it. First, roast a whole chicken either in the oven or crockpot. We prefer the slow cooker because it's so easy (rinse chicken, place in crockpot, dab some butter or oil on top, put an inch or two of water or broth in the bottom of the pan, add vegetables if desired). After you roast your chicken, remove and eat (and enjoy!) the meat. Save the bones.
When you're ready to make the bone broth, place the chicken bones in a large pot. Fill pot with water and set over a medium-high flame and bring to a simmer. As water is heating roughly chop up some carrots, potatoes, celery, and onions and add to the pan. Throw in some herbs - whatever you have on hand is fine - and some peeled garlic cloves.
Extra tip: If you eat cheese with a rind, freeze the rind to save it. Whenever you're making soup or broth, put the frozen rind into the pot for extra flavor.
Simmer this mixture for a few hours. Every 20 or 30 minutes check the pot and skim any foam or grease off the top. The longer you simmer the bones the more minerals that will seep out and into your stock. Beware, however, that increased cooking time can lead to a stronger flavor that some people (particularly children) don't like. And if no one likes the bone broth, they're not going to eat it and they're not going to get any of the benefits. A healthy balance seems to be a few hours of simmering.
After you remove the pan from the heat, strain the broth to remove the bones, vegetables, and large pieces of herbs. What you have left is your homemade bone broth. You can drink this as-is, or make it into a soup.
Chicken Soup Recipe
Heat your homemade bone broth over medium heat. Dice any meat and vegetables for your soup - carrots, garlic, celery are our favorites - and add them to the broth. Simmer for about 30 minutes or until vegetables are soft.
Taste the broth. If it's bland consider adding salt, herbs, or even some chicken boullion cubes. The health benefits come from the homemade bone stock not storebought broth our boullion. However, if store-bought boullion adds flavor making the dish more pallatable (especially to the kids) it's a worthwhile add.
Separately, cook either rice or pasta to add to the soup at the very end.
As you can see, this is one of our kids' favorite meals. In the winter we try to make it weekly, and it's become a family tradition to sit around the table and share the story of "Stone Soup" as we eat. We often make homemade bread to go with the meal. It's such an easy way to get whole, healthy, homemade foods (including vegetables) into their little tummies.
Recently, I was asked to do the honor of being the Medical Reviewer for an article on acupuncture for incontinence, through the nonprofit agency The Simon Foundation for Continence. This piece was recently published on their site, and I am happy to repost it on this blog, with permission. If you know anyone who suffers with the symptoms of an incontinent bladder or bowel, please refer them here. Enjoy!
Interest in acupuncture and acupressure are growing as people with incontinence (bowel or urinary) seek treatment options in complementary and alternative forms of medicine. Most people with incontinence would prefer not to have surgery or take drugs, if at all possible.
Acupuncture and acupressure for incontinence are based on ancient Chinese Medicine, which designates incontinence to be a deficiency of energy. In Chinese Medicine urinary incontinence is due to a deficiency of kidney or, occasionally, urinary bladder energy, so acupressure and acupuncture treatments work on nourishing and supporting these energetic pathways. The bladder and anal sphincters also need a lot of energy to perform correctly. Likewise with bowel incontinence, acupuncture attempts to restore strength to the anal sphincter.
A certified acupuncturist will select key points to improve strength, such as Kidney 3 between the inner ankle bone and Achilles tendon, to improve kidney strength. Other complementary points will be selected based on the differential diagnosis developed during the patient’s initial health history intake. There are several other points that are also used, depending on the type of incontinence.
Electroacupuncture is being studied and researched for chronic bowel and bladder problems. Percutaneous tibial nerve stimulation(PTNS) is considered to be a variation of the electroacupuncture technique because it uses an acupuncture needle and is derived from the ancient practice of acupuncture. The stimulation site used in PTNS is the Spleen 6 acupuncture point. There are many clinical studies on PTNS showing promising results.
Currently, the use of acupuncture and acupressure as a proven incontinence therapy lacks rigorous randomized clinical trials (RCTs) to show their effectiveness. In other words, does acupuncture really work and if so, how well and why? One of the major problems in trying to answer this question is that most of the studies done through 2013 do not show that acupuncture worked any better than the other therapy being studied. The studies also did not indicate the depth of the needle placement or indicate a standard measurement for needle placement, which can vary between acupuncturists. Past studies have shown some positive results on overactive bladder symptoms (OAB) and quality of life. But we need further large, well-controlled studies to show that acupuncture and acupressure really work better than other therapies or in combination with other treatment strategies, and provide real relief from incontinence symptoms.
A new RCT was published in November 2014 that demonstrated that acupuncture is safe with significant improvements in patient assessment of OAB symptoms and may be considered as a clinical alternative treatment for OAB in the female adult. This may be the first of some much needed information to help us all know more about the potential and positive effects of this alternative therapy. (Yuan Z, et al, World J Urol2014).
If you are interested in trying acupuncture, discuss it with your healthcare provider and only seek a certified acupuncturist after your provider’s approval to proceed. When choosing an acupuncturist, be sure to only enlist the resources of a licensed acupuncturist (they will have the initials LAc. after their names), and not chiropractors, medical doctors, or physical therapists that offer similar services.
NOTE: Each form of incontinence treatment you have should be thoroughly discussed and tried under your physician’s care. This is so a complete record of all incontinence management methods that are tried are recorded with your provider, and a complete medical record is maintained. If there are any contraindications (medical reasons that you should not try certain therapies), your healthcare provider will let you know. Be sure you let your healthcare provider know the success (or failure) of each therapy you try.
You can find a certified acupuncturist using this link: http://mx.nccaom.org/FindAPractitioner.aspx
So how can we strengthen this Spleen/Stomach system and avoid the symptoms covered in part 1? In Chinese medicine we say that "hot, dry" foods injure the stomach, while "cold, damp" foods weaken the spleen. In terms of stomach health in this context, it is important to avoid very spicy foods, fried foods, coffee, alcohol, and vegetable oils heated to high temperatures. These can cause stomach heat, an overproduction of stomach acid, and give rise to symptoms like heartburn. In order to optimize the overall health of the spleen, one should avoid eating excessive amounts of cold or raw food. This includes strictly raw food diets, raw salads, cold or iced drinks, unfermented soy products, many dairy products, and - gasp! - ice cream. In order to digest cold or raw food, the body uses a great deal of yang energy to heat it before it can break it down into something usable by the body. This process seriously taxes the energy of the spleen, which in turn results in formation of "dampness" and phlegm in the body. As the dampness or phlegm accumulates, it generates heat (due to restricted energy flow - essentially, a friction reaction), which can lead to various inflammatory syndromes.
Most western medications such as prescription and over the counter drugs, antibiotics, and vaccinations are harmful to the Spleen. While critically life-saving in the face of acute infectious disease, they are often extremely cold energetically. If you have to take a western medication, it is advisable to work concomitantly with an acupuncturist or other holistic health practitioner to mitigate damage to your digestive system.
Overconsumption of sweets (hello, American diet!) also weakens the spleen and results in the production of excess phlegm. To a lesser extent, processed carbohydrates (think: foods from white flower) are cold in nature and, eaten in excess, can deplete the spleen.
Other factors that damage the spleen and stomach system include eating at irregular times (especially too close to bedtime), overeating, and eating too little or not eating enough protein. Excessive anxiety or worry, excessive use of the mind in the case of studying, and not getting enough rest also tax the spleen. Finally, any chronic disease tends to weaken the spleen.
Common Physical Symptoms of Spleen Weakness Include:
The energy of the Spleen is said to hold blood in its vessels. Some types of bleeding, such as excess uterine bleeding, as well as varicose veins and easy bruising, relate to Spleen weakness.
It can't be overemphasized that the Spleen is, in many ways, the foundation of the body's energy and health on a day-to-day basis. By "transforming and transporting" nutrients throughout the body, the Spleen ensures the integrity of each cell and organ. Weakness of the Spleen can lead to weakness of other organs. It is frequently an aspect of many, many conditions seen in the acupuncture clinic. There is increasing consensus, in eastern and western medicine, that digestive issues lie at the heart of many health concerns. Some that I've seen in my clinic recently include: eczema, psoriasis, autoimmune conditions, reproductive health, asthma, lowered immunity/frequent colds, chronic sinusitis, irritable bowel syndrome, and mental/emotional health concerns. Of course, all of these conditions require specific treatment protocols based on individual presentation; however, in each case, improving the function of the Earth organs was an important element of treatment.
Welcome to the end of August! The classical Chinese calendar has a name for this time of year: "late summer". This additional season starts in August and lasts for about a month. It is actually at the very center of the year, considering that the Chinese calendar begins in February, at the beginning of spring. As such, late summer marks the transition between the yang part of the year (the growing, expansive, active energies of spring and summer) and the yin part of the year (the retracting, receptive, inwardly-focused qualities of autumn and winter).
In the five-element system of Chinese philosophy, the period of late summer (and seasonal transitions) corresponds to the earth element; the spleen and stomach are the organs of the body associated with late summer and the earth element.
From a Chinese medical perspective, the spleen and stomach system can be thought of as encompassing and controlling the whole digestive system. Together they are responsible for the breaking down of food and assimilation of nutrients. Among the functions of the healthy spleen and stomach are:
However, when spleen and stomach health is compromised (sadly, not uncommon given the typical "American diet" and high levels of daily stress present in our lives), late summer can be a time when health problems crop up. As an acupuncturist, I generally notice - and expect - more patients coming in at this time of year with imbalances of the spleen and stomach system: digestive upset; fatigue or malaise; exacerbation of chronic health conditions; or complex emotional issues.
Stay tuned for part 2 of this blog post, which will detail how you can help insure your spleen and stomach system is working as effectively as possible during late summer.
If the body - and, specifically, the gastrointestinal system - is too acidic, one may begin to experience feelings of imbalance including acid reflux (see our previous post for more info), gas, constipation, bloating, acne, heartburn, indigestion, mild headaches, gastritis, candida, and a weakened immune system. Chronic acidic gastrointestinal pH may even contribute to more serious issues such as Crohn’s disease, asthma and allergies, type II diabetes, fibromyalgia, and many forms of cancer.
The good news is that we can avoid many of these unwanted symptoms by modifying our diets. If the adage "food is medicine" is true (and we happen to think it certainly is!), then the cleaner your diet, the more readily your symptoms will dissipate. Sure, acupuncture is great at speeding this process along, but an alkaline diet is the foundation for that highway in many cases. The trick, then, is to avoid acidifying (or inflammatory) foods. And - lucky us - the typical "American diet" is loaded with these and generally consists of: greasy foods, starches/refined grains (rice and those made with white flour, in particular), dairy, caffeine, alcohol, sugar (the main culprit, and also in the form of artificial sweeteners), and processed foods.
Please understand: this does not mean you need to completely cut any of these foods out of your diet. Have a cookie once in a while (you deserve it!); just don't have six in one sitting. Moderation, as always, is key.
So which foods are most alkalizing in nature? Glad you asked; here's a list:
1) Root vegetables (like radishes, beets, carrots, turnips) and bulb vegetables (onions, garlic, and ginger) have a healing yang quality in Chinese medicine, and are also great alkalizers.
2) Cruciferous vegetables (think broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, and cabbage) and green leafy vegetables (kale, spinach, chard, and turnip greens).
3) Spices: cayenne pepper and turmeric are great anti-inflammatory agents, and by extension are also strong alkalizers.
4) Liquids: apple cider vinegar (which deserves its own blog post) and lemon juice.
Acid reflux is a condition we see in practice frequently; thankfully, it responds very well to acupuncture and dietary therapy.
Gastrointestinal Reflux Disease (GERD) occurs when stomach acid inappropriately flows backward into the esophagus. Most of us will experience this symptom at one time or another in our lifetimes. However, for about 25 to 40 percent of the people in this country, this may become a chronic condition that can dramatically impact their general comfort level. The western medical treatment for GERD is the administration of pharmaceuticals which either neutralize excessive stomach acid or decrease its secretion. In the short term, this can be very useful and for occassional heartburn, relatively safe. On the other hand, over the longer term, side effects can become quite problematic. Antacids are generally composed of calcium; aluminum hydroxide; sodium compounds; and/or magnesium hydroxide. Side effects from these compounds may include:
Traditional Oriental Medicine always views the physical organs, along with their corresponding energy meridian pathways, as an integrated whole. Because of this, when Eastern medicine talks about an organ, it is referring to the entire system which often includes other associated parts of the body, not just the local area of the physical organ.
Emotions in general are said to be controlled by the liver meridian, but anger and frustration in particular are closely related to the liver. As we covered in our previous blog post, spring is the seasonal in which energy is most abundant in the liver meridian; many of the symptoms covered in this post are more likely to be exhibited during this time of year.
In the case of an angry, irritable person, the liver energy is too active and is described as a fire that rises up towards the top of the body. The normal direction of liver energy flow, upward and outward, has been taken to an extreme, and this can become evident as the voice becomes loud, the body movements become agitated, the blood pressure rises as blood rushes upwards to the head, the face turns red and the eyes become bloodshot, and veins in the forehead become distended.
At the other extreme of the emotional spectrum would be someone who suffers from depression. Instead of the liver energy traveling upward and outward, it begins to stagnate and turn inward on itself, causing symptoms such as pent-up emotions, frustration, depression, and an inability to express feelings.
Common pathologies related to liver meridian dysfunction include migraine headaches, neck and shoulder tension, and sciatica pain. Body parts associated with the liver system include connective tissue, tendons, and the eyes.
Finally, in Traditional Chinese Medicine, one major function of the liver is to store and regulate the blood. Because of this close association with blood, the liver meridian is also extremely important when treating women’s health issues.
Some gynecological issues like menorrhagia or amenorrhea are related to blood flow (too much or too little blood flow, respectively), while other problems such as dysmenorrhea (painful periods) and PMS are more commonly associated with dysfunctional energy (or Qi) flow of the meridians. In all cases, regulating the liver pathway is an important aspect of treatment.
Spring has (finally) sprung. As we transition into this new season, it is important to understand how our health relates to the seasons - this idea is central to acupuncture and Chinese medicine.
The foundation of Chinese medical philosophy is the concept that we as humans are a part of this universe and integral to the dynamic flow of nature, the same as are plants and animals. For this reason, living in harmony with the seasons is a key component to health. According to TCM theory, the universe is forever changing; to be at our best we must continually adapt to these changes. In Chinese Medicine, the season of spring is associated with the wood element.
Wood exemplifies the energy of growth, change, and perservering through obstacles. It represents a very active energy that allows for a lot of movement and progress, both internally and externally. When constrained, it is also the energy that contributes to frustration, anger, and stress.
Like the wood element, anger can make us hard and unbendable - like a tree that snaps in a strong wind instead of swaying.
So what can we learn from the wood element?
The key is flexibility. Think of our tree analogy: stand tall, plant your roots deeply, and remain flexible rather than rigid so you don’t snap.
You can also consider the emotion of anger - it is often the feeling of "snapping" that occurs when frustration and obstacles thwart us. Use the new energy of spring to get moving on projects, because spring is a time of action, change and rebirth.
Stay tuned for our next blog post, which will explain the ins and outs of the liver meridian, the internal organ system that is associated with the wood element and the spring season.
About this time of year, those who suffer with seasonal allergies usually experience their first wave of symptoms. Before you reach for the Zyrtec/Allegra/OTC med of your choice, however, it might be worth your while to change your approach and use food as a form of medicine.
The following foods can help with seasonal allergies:
Ginger: Ginger is a natural antihistamine and decongestant. It may provide some relief from allergy symptoms by dilating constricted bronchial tubes.
Apples: Some foods contain the flavonoid quercetin that can cross-react with tree pollen. Quercetin can reduce allergic reactions by having an antihistamine effect. It also decreases inflammation. Quercetin occurs naturally in certain foods, such as apples (with the skin on), berries, red grapes, red onions, capers, and black tea.
Carrots: Carotenoids are a family of plant pigments that include beta-carotene. A lack of carotenoids in the diet is thought to promote inflammation in your airways. Good sources of carotenoids include apricots, carrots, pumpkin, sweet potato, spinach, kale, butternut squash, and collard greens.
Omega-3: Omega-3 essential fatty acids can counter the formation of chemicals that cause inflammation of the air passages. Good natural sources include flaxseed oil, heavy fish (salmon, mackerel, herring, sardines, etc.), avocado, and walnuts.
Yogurt: Food sensitivities seem to be connected with seasonal allergies. In a study conducted at the University of California, San Diego School of Medicine, patients who consumed 18 to 24 ounces of yogurt a day experienced a decline in their environmental allergic symptoms by 90 percent.
Fiber: A healthy and active colon can decrease food sensitivity, which, in turn, can lighten the burden on your immune system and may reduce the impact of seasonal allergies. For maximum colon health, increase the fiber in your diet,
Please feel free to contact us regarding any additional dietary questions or concerns. In combination with a series of acupuncture treatments, our patients vastly improve their outcomes by following these simple recommendations.
Michael A. Sassack is a licensed and board certified acupuncturist serving the northwest suburbs of Chicago.