Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Call for Comments

My motivations for blogging are many, but one is to create a forum for the discussion of topics in alternative medicine and healthy living. As such, I would encourage those reading to make comments, pose questions, share their ideas and thoughts on the various posts. I am very interested in your thoughts and look forward to a dialogue on these issues.

Thanks for reading.

Off To Costa Rica

Heading back to Manuel Antonio, where there are "still more monkeys than people."

Be back in a week.

Monday, February 19, 2007

The will to change

In the previous post I mention how acupuncture and herbs spark the process of change by bringing awareness of the root of one's struggles. This awareness is a linking of our hearts with our kidneys (the storage house of our essence) to provide the impetus to change.

Often, without this connection/knowledge, we linger in samsara, creating an endless vicious cycle of making poor lifestyle decisions, or lack of good decisions. We struggle to find our way and lose perspective of the path. This taxes the liver and gallbladder, our planner and decision-maker. The liver and gallbladder sit between the heart and kidneys and is a mediator between our consciousness and our innate primordial self. When the connection is blocked, stagnation develops creating the sequelae of health problems that stem from stress, irritability, frustration, anger, and the like. Enhancing this connection is crucial to establishing a healthy bodymind. One of the many benefits of acupuncture and herbs is to regulate the smooth flow of qi and blood, a function typically under the auspices of the liver and gallbladder.

But there are many of us who despite this knowledge/awareness resulting from our linked heart and kidneys cannot make a fire of this spark. Why? The ability to tap into our essence depends on the health of our kidneys. In Chinese medicine, all of the organ systems have an inherent spirit motivating/animating it. For the kidneys, it is the zhi -- the willpower. Often what is required is to nourish the kidneys, thus bolstering the will to enact the changes that one seeks to make. This can be done in a multitude of ways, some of the best including: acupuncture, moxibustion, herbal medicines, qigong and taiji, proper rest and lifestyle modifications to prevent further depletion, etc.

What one is essentially looking to do is to provide the fuel for the alchemical process that must take place. Alchemy takes place in the kidneys and relies on the yang-fire to catalyze it. Stoking the fire of kidney yang provides the will with the power to see change through.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

How does one change?

None of us is spared pain in our lives, whether it be the pain of being born, the pain of losing a loved one, the pain that comes from illness, injury, old age and eventual death, or the pain from a deep discontentment in our lives. Many of my patients will come suffering from at least one, if not more, type of pain, and as my job requires, I strive to figure out the major source of that pain.

All too often we see the pain rooted in improper (based on what causes imbalance/pain/suffering/illness, not a judgment) lifestyles, traumatic events, conditioned emotional responses and wrongviews. Without going into the particulars of these causes, the thrust of true healing begins with bringing awareness of these issues to those suffering from them. Of course, this is not as easy as it would seem as most of us don't want to be informed that our belief systems or thought processes are causing us pain. Acupuncture and herbal medicines have a unique capacity to break through those barriers and give us a glimpse of our true nature, a connection between our hearts and minds with our truest essence.

So trying to bring that awareness is step one. In so doing, one moves past the appearances and recognizes the deeper truths. For example, one recognizes that despite the facade of anger and hostility, one is masking a deeper sadness; or one is feigning aggressiveness to cover insecurity and fear. This understanding is key to the second step of motivating people to make changes. Otherwise, one simply controls the anger or aggressiveness, but never is able to correct the sadness or insecurities.

The outward manifestation is the yang expression. The inner catalyst for the emotion is the yin state. Trying to change the yin state is the more difficult challenge. To do this requires more than just self-control, it requires adopting a new paradigm. Swapping one state for another. One needs another option. One that is appealing. One that offers a better future. Acupuncture and herbal medicines, by giving one the awareness, sparks the search for a new paradigm and gives one the capacity to make the necessary changes. It provides a deeper perspective and allows one to make choices based on our internal knowledge and helps guide us along our path in life to achieve what we are meant to: our destiny.

Friday, February 16, 2007

Organ Deprivation

Making assumptions and jumping to conclusions in medicine can be a dangerous thing. Without a proper diagnosis, how can one choose an appropriate treatment? But all too often, medical dogma overshadows clinical realities. Doctors can be quick to assume that a woman with a fibroid or cyst needs to have it removed, or that a man with gallstones should have surgery. But without understanding the mechanisms behind the formation of fibroids, cysts or gallstones, what can these procedures really accomplish except a temporary "solution" followed by iatrogenic side-effects such as scar tissue, blood loss and the sequelae of risks and symptoms post-surgeries?

No medicine is free from doctors jumping to conclusions. Acupuncturists and practitioners of Chinese medicine can fall prey to this as well should they not be diligently applying all the methods of diagnosis (i.e., Asking/Questioning, Looking, Listening and Smell, and of course, palpation of the pulse, abdomen, channels, etc.).

In the example of the woman with a cyst or fibroid, it is easy to jump to the conclusion that there is Qi and Blood stagnation as the primary cause (after all, there is a tumor). Trying to invigorate qi and blood circulation would logically follow as a treatment principle. But, often is the case that these women will not respond to this treatment, despite excellent acupuncture prescriptions and tailored herbal formulas. Why?

Dogma got in the way. Often these women actually suffer from fibroids as the body's way of attempting to counter a significant deficiency of Yin and fluids (which often has its root in the Kidneys, the controller of the reproductive organs amongst other things). The body, in its innate wisdom, attempts to hold on to its yin, and in so doing forms accumulations and stagnations which, over time, form cysts and tumors. So, what's the treatment? Nourish the yin. Correcting the circulation is more of a secondary consideration.

And what of the gallstone patient? Similar concerns. Why is the patient forming stones? Often, it is actually from a lack of healthy fat and cholesterol in the body. Once again, the innate wisdom tries to hold on to as much as it can. And, similarly, one needs to nourish the gall bladder, not cut it out. See this article for more.

It all starts and ends with a proper evaluation and diagnosis without preconceived notions about what a particular disease means. Every patient is a complex constellation of signs and symptoms that needs to be uncovered by a talented practitioner.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Fate vs. Destiny

Wondering what others think about fate and destiny. To me it's a very interesting concept. What are we meant to do, to become. So often these concepts are used interchangeably. I think of fate as something we have become resigned to. Destiny is more of what we are meant to achieve and become. What we are here for. Both seem to be out of our "control" in the sense that we either achieve our destiny by recognizing it, accepting it (surrendering), and then living up to our potential, or we either fail to recognize, accept or achieve it (fate).

I am open to others thoughts on this.

Chinese Medicine vs. Medical Acupuncture

It is not uncommon for prospective patients to call my office and ask whether or not I am a "medical doctor." Typically, this question stems from the fact that some medical insurance companies will only reimburse if acupuncture is performed by an MD, and the lack of understanding of the training of Chinese medicine practitioners and that of the medical doctor.

Practitioners of Chinese medicine train for approximately 4 years in medical school, just like medical doctors. The difference is that we spend 75% to 80% of our time training in the theories and practice of Chinese medicine, including extensive clinical internships and externships. The remainder of our training is in western medicine and sciences. Cognizant of the fact that we live in a world dominated by western science, the practitioner of Chinese medicine must be knowledgeable of western medicine.

During our time in medical school, we spend over 3,000 hours studying acupuncture (channels, acupoints, clinical techniques and applications), Chinese medical theories, physiology and pathophysiology, herbal medicines (including herb combinations, synergies, and formulations), classical Chinese medicine, and treating patients under the guidance of supervising acupuncturists and herbalists. Not to mention that many practitioners, like myself, have extensive post-graduate training with senior practitioners and masters in the field.

So, what training do MDs have in acupuncture? None. The one's who will advertise as "medical acupuncturists" have trained for approximately 200 hours, typically a weekend course and some "homework." This is the standard recommended by the World Health Organization (WHO) so that doctors know when to refer out to fully-trained acupuncturists. MDs, osteopaths, naturopaths and chiropractors only have this limited training. They are not practicing Chinese medicine, just using needles. Sticking needles in someone without knowledge of the underlying theories of Chinese medicine is not practicing acupuncture and is not recommended by this practitioner.

Acupuncture is strong medicine with the power to bring awareness of our imbalances to the body and mind and help correct them. Despite what you hear from an MD, its influence extends far beyond neural pathways and the release of endorphins. Improper training in and use of this sacred healing art is an affront to every skilled practitioner and to the majesty of Chinese medicine.

A strong foundation in the principles of Chinese medicine is prerequisite to being a good acupuncturist. But it is only the beginning. The simple act of inserting a needle requires significant cultivation on the part of the practitioner to feel for the arrival of Qi under the needle. According to Yanagiya Sorei and Shudo Denmei, two famous Japanese master acupuncturists, forcing an acupuncture needle into the skin of a patient is akin to rape. In 1980 Master Yanagiya stated:

Inserting needles and applying moxa, this is an art. Ours is a profession which requires a sense of adventure. Isn't it incredible how all manner of diseases can be cured with nothing more than a needle or a few pieces of moxa? Isn't it grand how needles and moxa can be used to create the effect of all manner of medicine?

Acupuncture is of the mind. This should be considered very carefully. One needle can be used to unlock the key to all manner of diseases. It is only natural, therefore, that one's technique needs to be perfected.

Which kind of acupuncturist will you go see?

New Blog Links

I just added a few new blog links. I haven't looked at them much yet, but they seem interesting. Let me know what you think.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Vitamin D

Interesting information on Vitamin D. Meant to be read in conjunction with the prior post and articles on cod liver oil.

The Miracle of Vitamin D

Cod Liver Oil

While I know that this may not be news to many of you, the health benefits of cod liver oil is staggering. After reading more about this superfood recently, I am compelled to link to some interesting articles on its uses and benefits. To name just a few conditions cod liver oil has been used for:

heart disease (and can actually repair damage to the lining of the arteries)
improving brain function for learning disabilities
bipolar disorder
skin health

Cod Liver Oil: The Number One Superfood
The Yin and Yang of Cod Liver Oil

How red do you like your meat?

I just came across this video. Take a look here.

Wednesday, February 7, 2007

Is there more to trauma than one's memory?

What would you make of a drug that aims to deal with traumas and shocks by reducing or eliminating one's memory of the traumatic event? Would forgetting the trauma negate the negative impact of it on the body and emotions?

Recently, I learned of a growing use of the beta blocker propranolol. In certain dosages it is being used to impair one's memory shortly after a trauma in order to negate the effects of trauma on one's emotions. At the end of this post are a few links to articles addressing this usage.

What we know of propranolol is that it is a beta blocker which blocks the action of the sympathetic nervous system, decreases the heart rate, the amount of oxygen required by the heart and the force of contraction. It is used to treat angina, migraines, tremors, tachycardia. Side effects include: abdominal cramps, constipation, diarrhea, fatigue, insomnia, nausea, depression, fever, light-headedness, depression, numbness, tingling, cold extremities, sore throat, shortness of breath, wheezing, low blood pressure, and of course, memory loss. It can aggravate symptoms of heart failure and cause dangerously slow heart rates.

The issue of how traumas and shocks affect us physiologically and emotionally has been detailed by Dr. Leon Hammer. (For more information on Dr. Hammer and Contemporary Chinese Pulse Diagnosis, explore the links "Dr. Leon Hammer" and "Dragon Rises Seminars.") Pathognomonic of a shock/trauma that is significant enough to affect the heart, and hence, the circulation is a rough vibration over the pulse. Typically, the initial result of such a shock/trauma will also be to elevate the heart rate. The pulse, especially in the heart position and at the Qi depth can also become tight, reflecting the consumption of Yin from the heart, and the tension in the nervous system respectively. If the shock is great enough, or occurs at an early age (i.e., in utero or during birth, infancy or early life) prior to the maturation of the organ systems, the kidney yang (akin to adrenals) will become depleted. As the kidneys govern the stages of development, growth and developmental delays/insults can become evident.

The effect of trauma on the heart as evidenced by the rough vibrations, elevated rate, tightness in the heart and nervous systems, predisposes one to a wide range of anxieties, emotional instabilities, post-traumatic stress disorders, sleep disturbances, and circulatory disorders which can affect one on a systemic level. Herbal formulas such as Yunnan Bai Yao and modifications of Sheng Mai San taken together can treat and correct the signs on the pulse, and as such, the emotional and physical ramifications of shock and trauma. Adding herbs to boost kidney yang/adrenals is common where that has been affected as a result of significant trauma or early life shocks.

One of the reasons that traumas affect us emotionally is due to the effect of the shock on the heart and circulation. In Chinese medicine we say that the spirit resides in the heart blood, and an abundance of blood and the smooth flow of the blood is crucial to providing a stable home for the spirit. By correcting the impact of shock on the circulation and the heart with herbs and acupuncture, one can also settle the spirit and make traumas less "traumatic." Stabilizing the mind and nervous system, correcting the circulation and strengthening the heart and kidneys negates the harmful impact of the trauma.

The heart, according the Chinese medicine also has a strong connection to the memory. As the mind and spirit are controlled by the heart, and the spirit resides in the blood, our memories are stored in our blood. Keeping our blood circulating and our heart peaceful allows for a healthy perspective on our emotions and memories, painful and pleasureable ones alike.

So knowing all this, can such a drug reduce the signs of trauma/shock on the heart (rough vibration, tight pulse, rapid rate)? Can it bolster the kidney/adrenals? How exactly does it affect memory?

While I imagine I will see patients who have taken this drug to suppress traumas in the near future, for now I can only speculate. Patients on beta blockers typically have unnaturally slow heart rates. When we are talking about trauma patients, they typically have rapid rates resulting from the shock to the heart. Thus, at first glance, this seems to be beneficial. Unfortunately, understanding the energetic mechanisms behind these rate differences suggests otherwise. The reason for elevation of heart rate in the trauma patient is the quick depletion of heart yin, the anchoring, organizing substance of the heart itself. Propranolol doesn't work by nourishing heart yin, more by depleting heart qi. Reducing the amount of oxygen/energy available for the heart deprives it of its qi and weakens it rather quickly and significantly over time. Without a treatment that nourishes the heart yin, one will be predisposed to all sorts of anxieties and emotional lability.

In addition, symptoms such as fatigue, numbness, tingling, cold extremities are side effects of this medication suggesting the heart is not circulating the blood adequately. Understanding that trauma effects the circulation and part of the protocol for undoing its effects is to enhance/invigorate circulation, propranolol would most likely exacerbate the rough vibrations and circulatory stagnation. From this perspective, propanolol would be detrimental to the trauma patient.

Nothing about propranolol makes it suitable to treat the kidney yang/adrenals should they be impacted from severe trauma or early life events.

Then, what to make of the memory loss of a traumatic event. Is this beneficial? If we understand the premise that the memory is part of our connection to our spirit (which circulates in the blood), it would seem that the memory loss effect of propranolol serves as a disconnect with our spirit. Where enhancing circulation and pacifying the spirit help to make our spirit whole and contented, weakening the heart, negatively impacting circulation and creating additional stagnation of Qi and blood would almost "lock" the trauma away in areas of stagnant blood creating suppression and repression of these emotions.

To heal is to make one whole and a good therapy should be designed to promote healing and wholeness. Disconnecting ourselves from our memories and, hence, our spirit serves to further our imbalances and should, in my opinion, be counseled against.

ACF News

Science News

Monday, February 5, 2007

Living in Accord with Nature

One of the paramount lessons that Chinese medicine teaches is the importance of living in harmony with the cycles of nature. When one resists our ignores these cycles, imbalance sets in and illness is not far off. These discussions were taking place over 2500 years ago as recorded in one of the oldest classics of Chinese medicine, The Yellow Emperor's Classic of Medicine (The Huang Di Nei Jing, Su Wen), wherein the Yellow Emperor had the following conversation with his teacher:

Yellow Emperor asked: I have heard that in ancient times the people lived to over one hundred years, and yet they remained active and did not become decrepit in their activities. But nowadays, people only reach half that age, and yet become decrepit and failing. Is it because the world changes from generation to generation? Or is it that mankind is becoming negligent [of the laws of nature]?

Ch'i Po answered: There was temperance in eating and drinking. Their hours of rising and retiring were regular and not disorderly and wild. By these means the ancients kept their bodies united with their souls, so as to fulfill their allotted span completely, measuring unto a hundred years before they passed away.

In most ancient times, the teachings of the sages were followed by those beneath them; they said that weakness and noxious influences and injurious winds should be avoided at specific times. They were tranquilly content in nothingness, and the true vital force accompanied them always; their vital spirit was preserved within; thus, how could illness come to them? They exercised restraint of their wills and reduced their desires; their hearts were at peace and without any fear; their bodies toiled and yet did not become weary. Their spirit followed in harmony and obedience; everything was satisfactory to their wishes, and they could achieve whatever they wished. Any kind of clothing was satisfactory. They felt happy under any condition. To them it did not matter whether a man held a high or a low position in life. These men can be called pure at heart. No kind of desire can tempt the eyes of those pure people, and their minds cannot be misled by excessiveness and evil........they are without fear of anything, they are in harmony with the Dao, the Right Way. Thus, they can live more than one hundred years and remain active without becoming decrepit, because their virtue was perfect and never imperiled.

It's hard to imagine that the Yellow Emperor and Ch'i Po could in their wildest dreams (or nightmares) ever predict the extent to which our society ignores the rhythms of nature and how far removed we are from living in accord with nature. If 2500 years ago this was an issue, can you fathom what the industrial revolution, capitalism, the stresses that people are subjected to, the state of the earth, crops, preserved and denatured nutrition, microwaves, forced air etc. have done to our generations health?

In a previous post I have brought up the issues of toxicity and neoplastic conditions (which is epidemic as revealed through the pulse), as well as shock and trauma, of which birthing practices are a significant cause. In December, an article in the New York Times uncovered a significant trend of doctors and parents unnecessarily inducing childbirth for convenience and monetary gain. If living contrary to the cycles of nature negatively impacts adults in significant ways, can you imagine the profound detriment that infants will experience and the health concerns they will encounter from such practices. The impact of trauma on an infant who has immature organ and nervous systems can be potentially life threatening, and at its best a significant challenge to one's health (emotional and physical alike). Such patients often present in the clinic with profound illnesses and lifelong struggles.

I suggest that we all evaluate how closely our lives conform to that of the sages above, and perhaps modify certain aspects of our lifestyle to attain even just a sampling of the peace and contentment they achieved.

You can access the New York Times article referenced above here.

Cultivating Qi

In the latest issue of Buddhadharma, Zen Master Harada Roshi was asked about the concept of Qi (ki in Japanese). He states that one can cultivate Qi doing yoga, qigong and tai chi, but that the best way is through meditation. Specifically discussing zazen meditation, he mentions that we develop Qi by "physically experiencing our essential oneness with the very existence of the universe," and that the most important thing is that we "partake of [Qi] in its universal expression."

There are numerous definitions of Qi, ranging from "energy", to "matter on the verge of becoming energy/energy on the verge of becoming matter", to "life-force," etc. None of these really give the flavor of what exactly Qi is. Daoist priest and Chinese medicine expert, Jeffrey Yuen describes Qi as essentially the relationship between things. Qi, as a catalyzing force, cannot exist by itself. It only exists or serves a function between things.

I see this idea consistent with Master Roshi's description above. The ability to "experience oneself not as a separate, limited body but as a body of the entire universe" to a large degree depends on the purity of the relationship, mediated by the purity of one's Qi. Experiencing this oneness is akin to purifying our obscurations and realizing our buddhanature. During this process, while meditating, one calms the body, the breath and the mind and allows Qi to fill and permeate our being, overflow and eventually connect with and expand into our surroundings and eventually the entire universe.

Having this direct relationship with our bodies, environment and universe is the process of cultivation. In order to move beyond our own ego and self, one must cultivate and purify one's own Qi.

Sunday, February 4, 2007

Reduce your calories and live longer!

The relationship between calorie restriction and longevity is a sound one. My friend, Dr. Stickley, has posted on this subject. You can access his article here. Also read my comment and check out the links to some interesting articles and facts behind this practice.

Saturday, February 3, 2007

Splenda far from Splendid

The amount of food products containing Splenda and other sugar substitutes like aspartame and the sugar alcohols is increasing exponentially. Being marketed as a "healthy" alternative to refined sugars is, yet another example, of the vast amounts of misinformation out there. And while refined sugars are a significant problem ubiquitous in our culture, Splenda, aspartame and the like are equally problematic and toxic. Please see the following links for some of the facts regarding these chemicals.

But yet, they continue to be ever-present in a vast number of foods at our local groceries. Even companies like Weight Watchers recommend these products as weight loss, low calorie substitutes. But can we really be surprised about that when this company gives the following recipe for a fruit cobbler.

1 bag frozen blueberries
1 bag frozen raspberries
sprinkle yellow cake batter on top
1 bottle of diet sprite/pepsi/7-up

Very scary, indeed.

Thursday, February 1, 2007

The Skinny on Butterfat and Raw Milk

So many natural health foods have been co-opted, denatured and 'preserved' for the profit of the large food conglomerates. They have even manipulated some of the labeling (organic) that allows health-minded individuals to identify those healthy foods. One of the most egregious examples is raw milk, which has been villainized over the past 75 years and claimed to be a health threat. Nothing could be further from the truth. For some facts on the health benefits of this food, see the following links.