Unless you've been under a rock for the past several days, you have undoubtedly noticed the summer-like weather conditions in Chicagoland. While it's not technically summer quite yet, it's never too early to start benefiting from the increased dosages of vitamin D with which the sun is happy to provide us.
A recent study in Archives of Internal Medicine shows that you are more than twice as likely to die from heart disease or attack if you have sub-optimal vitamin D levels. According to the authors, this deficiency is due to a decrease in outdoor activity. So, yes, it is important to get outside when the sun is shining.
Unfortunately, it's not always shining. In the winter in Chicago, it is not possible to produce vitamin D from the sun because the it never gets high enough in the sky for its ultraviolet B rays to penetrate the atmosphere. Luckily, summer - and let's be honest, especially summer in Chicago - is a great time to stock up on the nutrient. When the summer sun's UV-B rays hit the skin, it generates a reaction that enables skin cells to make vitamin D. It is estimated that if you're fair skinned, you only need about 10 minutes in the midday sun (shorts and T-shirt, no sunscreen) to give you enough radiation to produce about 10,000 international units (IUs) of the vitamin. Dark-skinned and elderly individuals also produce less vitamin D, and many people don't get enough of the nutrient from dietary sources like fatty fish - more of this to come in a future blog post.
The FDA's recommendations for vitamin D intake are 200 IUs a day up to age 50, 400 IUs up to 70, and 600 IUs over 70. Unfortunately, the consensus among most experts is that these recommendations are far too low to maintain healthful vitamin D levels. They advocate for supplementation in the winter of about 2,000 IUs per day (whether through supplement or food source) and a dose of daily sunshine in the summer.
The sunshine vitamin may protect against a wide array of diseases including osteoporosis, heart disease, and cancers of the breast, prostate, and colon. Furthermore, sunlight has additional fringe benefits such as protecting against depression, insomnia, and an overactive immune system (think allergies and asthma).
As with most everything, direct sun bathing is best done in moderation. If you are going to be out in the sun for a prolonged period of time, it is still advisable to apply sunscreen at regular intervals and stay well hydrated. So get out there and enjoy our early summer sun in the greatest summer city of all!
In addition to looking at your tongue for diagnostic purposes (see previous post for details), acupuncturists are also fond of feeling your pulses. By palpating three separate pulses just below the wrist crease on either hand, your acupuncturist can help derive a TCM diagnosis for your condition which can be used to plan your treatment.
During this time, your acupuncturist is examining the depth, rate, and quality of your pulse in general, as well as the specifics of the six individual pulses, each of which corresponds to an internal organ system. Taken together, more can be learned about how blood and qi (or energy) is moving systemically and how best to address any imbalance and/or stagnation.
Chinese medicine employs a holistic approach to healthcare - not only do treatments focus on addressing your symptoms, but also the underlying causes that precipitate those symptoms. For this reason, we acupuncturists like to look at your tongues. Sounds weird, right? Luckily, there is a lot of information we can decipher from this diagnostic technique.
Your tongue tells the story of whether your internal organs, the energetic pathways to which they correspond, blood, and fluids are healthy or harboring pathogens. Acupuncturists look at their patients’ tongues to get a good idea of whether there are excesses or deficiencies in strength of the qi, blood, and other body fluids. Along with a pulse and overall visual diagnosis, and discussing symptoms with the patient, we acupuncturists can formulate which organ system(s) need to be balanced through needling or addressed through other accessory techniques.
I often describe the top of the tongue as a "road map" for the internal organ systems in your body - in this sense, discoloration in one area can indicate deficiency in a specific area of the body. For example, redness near the tip can mean heart issues or inflammation. A thick, white coating near the back can indicate sluggish digestion and toxins in the colon.
In a tongue diagnosis, the size, shape, color, coating (texture), and movement are observed to understand what’s happening in the body. Signs of good health are a pale red tongue with a thin and white coating that is moist, but not too wet.
Here are some common symptoms and their meanings: Size and shape
- Large and puffy or scalloped: dampness, excess fluids
- Small and short: dryness, deficiency in fluids
- Red: excess heat
- Pale: deficiency in qi and blood
- Purple: stagnant qi and/or blood
- Thick: excess heat
- Yellow and thick: damp heat
- Dry and yellow: excess heat
- Peeled or absent: deficient yin
During the course of acupuncture treatments, the characteristics of your tongue should change week to week. For this reason, tongue diagnosis serves as a great barometer for how treatment is progressing. Given time, a consistent treatment schedule, and amendments in diet and lifestyle, your tongue should progress in appearance to reflect your good health.
Bell’s palsy is a unique condition that freezes one side of the face. Often people who experience this condition feel as if half their face is cold and numb; as if they have gotten anesthesia from the dentist. With one side paralyzed, they can only smile or frown using half their face. To make matters worse, it may be impossible to shut their eye or that side of their mouth. It is disfiguring, may cause anxiety, and seems to strike when you least expect it.
This condition is caused by damage to nerves that paralyzes half the face. Other symptoms include excessive tearing of the eyes and possibly drooling from the side of the mouth that can’t be moved. It can also be accompanied by distortions of taste and a tingling feeling around the lips.
According to Western medicine, the cause of Bell's palsy is nerve damage to the peripheral nervous system (in other words, not the central nervous system). This damage is typically caused by hemorrhage, hypertension, injury, or stress. Many people mistakenly believe it is caused by a stroke because of its similar symptoms. It is most common among pregnant women and those who suffer from diabetes. Bell’s Palsy strikes 1 in 5,000 Americans.
Traditional Chinese medicine looks at the whole organism and formulates its diagnosis accordingly. The cause of Bell's palsy, according to TCM, is an invasion of ‘cold wind’ and the pathology referred to as zhong feng, which means, “wind attack.” In Chinese medical theory, wind carries diseases and pathogens, and may invade superficial (nearer the surface of the skin) energy channels, causing a variety of symptoms.
Clinically, acupuncture is very successful in treating Bell's palsy; in fact, it is one of the only consistently successful methods of treatment. As with most conditions, it is especially effective when treatments begin soon after the onset of symptoms. Generally, acupuncturists employ acupuncture, massage, mild electric stimulation, therapeutic exercises, and/or a heat source to stimulate acupuncture points, thus freeing up energetic flow, alleviating pain, and reducing swelling. Compared to other ailments, acupuncture induces incremental improvements and, therefore, will benefit more from a longer course of treatment - usually 1 to 2 treatments per week for up to 10 weeks.
Patients who experience Bell's palsy are advised to avoid contact with wind - to make sure windows are closed at night, not sleep with a fan in the room, and to avoid air conditioners and drafty rooms.
About this time of year, those who suffer with seasonal allergies usually experience their first wave of symptoms. Before you reach for the Zyrtec, 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.
We all get a little stressed out from time to time and unfortunately, stress affects the body in all kinds of ways. Some people experience headaches, others feel tired or depressed, while still others have gastrointestinal upset.
One really nice aspect of acupuncture is that it can help the body cope with stress more efficiently. Now, that doesn't mean it can get rid of stressors or stressful situations in your life - if I could do that for my patients, I would be quite famous. However, by balancing the body's natural energy pathways, acupuncture can allow the body to process stress in such a way that it won't cause as many physical symptoms.
Acupuncture for stress has been in the news a lot lately. If you are interested in learning more about this, here are a couple handy links:
According to the National Center for Health Statistics, approximately 26 million Americans endure chronic seasonal allergies, while the number of people with milder symptoms may be as high as 40 million.
Seasonal allergies are caused by the body’s hypersensitivity to substances in the environment. Symptoms primarily involve the membrane lining the nose, causing allergic rhinitis, or the membrane lining the eyelids and covering the whites of the eyes, causing allergic conjunctivitis.
While there are many Western medications to treat the symptoms of seasonal allergies, these treatments can cause unwanted side effects such as drowsiness and immune system suppression as well as an over-reliance on medications. These side effects have motivated many people to search for alternative approaches like acupuncture and Oriental medicine to manage their allergies.
According to Oriental Medicine, allergic rhinitis is related to Wind and a deficiency of the protective Wei Qi. Wei Qi is the energy that flows at the surface of the body as a protective barrier and is responsible for resistance to colds and other respiratory infections. People with a deficiency of Wei Qi catch colds easily and are more susceptible to allergens.
When treating with acupuncture, underlying imbalances within the body are addressed and a treatment plan is developed to relieve the acute symptoms of allergic rhinitis while also treating the root problems that are contributing to the body’s reaction to allergens. Treatments often include dietary modification, the use of specifically chosen herbal formulas, and acupuncture.
Seasonal acupuncture treatments just four times a year also serve to tonify the inner organ systems and can correct minor imbalances before they become serious problems. If you experience seasonal allergies, March is an ideal time to schedule an appointment.
In our previous blog post about the anti-inflammatory food pyramid I mentioned that the one item that I would personally add would be good, old-fashioned water. People sometimes look at me like I'm crazy for suggesting that water has anti-inflammatory properties - and they are not exactly wrong in doing so. Water does not prevent inflammation the same way as, say, the spice turmeric does. Rather, water has an indirect (but very important) impact on reducing inflammation. Let me explain why water is so wonderful:
Drinking water is one of the most important things we can do for ourselves on a daily basis. Our bodies are roughly comprised of 70-75% water and are in constant need of replenishment. Throughout the course of the day as we carry out various physiological activities, our cells generate a metabolic waste product which, if left unchecked, will accumulate in our tissues and result in inflammation. What's the best way to clear this waste junk out of your system, you ask? Why, it's water! Think of it as an oil change, but on a much more regular basis - you're clearing out old, "dirty" liquid and replacing it with a new, fresh stock.
My patients often ask me how much water they need on any given day. The simple answer is that if you feel thirsty or your urine is dark, yellow, or cloudy, you need to be drinking a larger volume of water. The more complicated answer is: it depends. It depends on how physically active you are on that given day (if you have had an intense workout, you will need to drink more water), what kinds of foods you're eating (if you're eating salty foods, you need more water), your general physiological makeup (some people just need more water than others), and even the temperature and relative humidity (warmer and dryer = need more water). So that whole eight-glasses-of-water-a-day thing? It simply does not apply to everyone.
Finally, the water that you drink should generally be room temperature (read: NOT cold). There is absolutely no truth to the theory that cold water increases your metabolism because it requires the body to "work hard" to warm it up. Because room temperature water is closer to your physiological body temperature, it is more easily absorbed into your system than cold water - your body can use it more efficiently than it can cold water. Because of the large discrepancy in temperature between cold water (around 40°F, say) and 98.6°F, our bodies are unable to effectively hold onto and process cold water. It is for this reason that you will urinate more if you drink cold water in comparison to an equal volume of room temp water. Energetically speaking - and because acupuncture is an energetic medicine, after all - cold water inhibits the smooth flow of qi (or energy) in our bodies. Acupuncture is very interested in promoting this smooth, systemic, unobstructed flow. Room temperature water achieves this; cold water does not.
“Following an anti-inflammatory diet can help counteract the chronic inflammation that is a root cause of many serious diseases, including those that become more frequent as people age. It is a way of selecting and preparing foods based on science that can help people achieve and maintain optimum health over their lifetime.” - Dr. Andrew Weil, M.D.Couldn't have said it any better myself. I love to recommend a good anti-inflammatory diet to my patients. Inflammation, generally speaking, is at the heart (pardon the pun) of most of the conditions
that I see in my practice. Dr. Weil's revised food pyramid (see link at the end of the post) provides a great outline of foods that have anti-inflammatory properties. The only thing that I would add to this pyramid would be room temperature water - more on this in a later post, I promise. Of course in order to get the optimum dietary benefit from an anti-inflammatory diet, I usually recommend my patients also limit their intake of
inflammatory foods and drinks. This means taking it easy on the typical "American diet" - greasy and fatty foods (think fast food), sweets (artificial or otherwise), dairy, processed foods, foods containing white flour (starches and carbohydrates), salty foods, caffeine, and alcohol. This does not mean you need to cut anything out of your diet altogether. Have a cup of coffee every morning if you so choose - just don't have four. Feel like a cheeseburger? Treat yourself, but don't make it a regular habit. You get the picture - moderation is truly the name of the game. And because food is indeed medicine, this is a really, really good way to self-medicate.
To your health!Here's the link to Dr. Weil's food pyramid - check it out!
Cosmetic acupuncture, or acupuncture for facial rejuvenation, is a centuries-old technique that can improve your physical appearance. This safe and effective form of therapy is a great natural alternative to conventional cosmetic procedures such as Botox and plastic surgery. While the effects are often not as immediate or dramatic as these more invasive techniques, results of cosmetic acupuncture tend to be much more natural in appearance, produce none of the side effects or downtime that comes with surgery, and are more holistic in nature. Additionally, these results are achieved at a fraction of the cost of cosmetic surgery.
Each patient requires a different treatment approach depending on specific skin condition, overall health, and treatment goals. For example, one individual may wish to use cosmetic acupuncture to promote overall radiance and youthfulness of the face, while another may want to more specifically target problem areas such as jowls, smile lines, and eye bags. In general, facial acupuncture not only brings more energy and blood flow to the face, but can also stimulate the production of collagen and elastin in the skin.
A cosmetic acupuncture treatment always consists of acupuncture points on the body as well as on the face. An individualized treatment of acupuncture points on the body target internal imbalances that may be contributing to the signs of aging on the face as well as help promote deep relaxation. As such, acupuncture for facial rejuvenation not only brings more natural youthfulness to the face, but also promotes beauty and health from within.
In general, patients tend to see noticeable changes between 4 and 6 sessions; however, many patients notice benefits after just 1 or 2 treatments. Between 10 and 15 sessions is the recommended course of treatment, but this depends on lifestyle, age, and constitution.
Visible benefits of cosmetic acupuncture include:
- Elimination or reduction of fine lines and wrinkles
- Smoothing out of deeper wrinkles
- Improvement of facial skin and muscle tone
- Improvement in skin color and complexion
- Reduction of puffiness and "eye bags"
- Relaxation of facial tension that can cause frown lines, smile lines, and forehead wrinkles
- Improvement in sagging skin and jowls
- Improvement of skin conditions such as acne or rosacea