Monday, November 29, 2010

Stress and Anxiety

Holiday season is a supposed to filled with joy, peace, warmth and gratitude but that isn't always the case.   Often around this time people experience an increase in anxiety and stress.  This could be due to  difficult family visits, money worries, work demands or simply not enough rest from overbooked schedules.  If you are feeling the burden of the holidays take some time to reduce your stress and ease anxiety.

  • Maintain your health and fitness regime.  If the gym or walking 3 times a week has been part of your schedule keep it up.  If you don't have a regular exercise plan there is no need to wait until January 1st to start incorporating exercise into your daily life.  Instead of meeting co-workers for cocktails head up to the mountain for a night of snowshoeing.  
  • Avoid grabbing quick snacks and eating more processed, refined foods as they can exacerbate anxiety.  Instead take time to prepare a meal and enjoy it making sure to include high quality protein, whole grains and a variety of fresh vegetables which will help to calm nerves and ease the mind.  Even better invite friends over for a simple potluck so there is less prep, less stress and more time for fun and relaxation.
  • De-stress with an acupuncture session to help rejuvenate your body and mind.  Acupuncture can help you reach a deep state of relaxation to calm the nerves, quiet the mind as well as regain clarity and focus.  Auricular or ear acupuncture has also been shown to be effective in reducing preoperative anxiety.  Although the setting is different the same type of protocol could be used for other anxiety inducing situations.
  •  Incorporate calming activities such as yoga, walking meditation and deep breathing. 
  •  Try herbal teas or supplements for calming the nerves.  Valerian, passionflower, chamomile and even green tea all have calming properties.  I also recommend ling zhi tea and Bach Flower Remedies.  

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Warm Winter Beverages

The cold snowy weather in Vancouver has got me looking for ways to warm up.  I have always loved hot beverages in the winter, such as cocoa with Baileys, lattes with caramel, hot buttered rum, mulled wine......the list could go on, however this year since expecting my first child I am looking for yummy alternatives that also may have some health benefits.

There are many variations of the well known Indian tea but the basic recipe uses spices with many health benefits.  Clove, cardamom, cinnamon and fennel are part of the traditional recipe.  Peppercorns are also often added and some alternatives are nutmeg or orange rind.  In traditional Chinese medicine nutmeg is called rou dou kou,which has an effect on the spleen, stomach and large intestine organ systems. It has warming properties to strengthen the yang qi which is weaker in winter making it a great addition to most hot beverages.  Orange rind called chen pi has more of a regulating effect on the body aiding digestion and helping clear phlegm in the chest.  Fennel, clove, cinnamon and turmeric are all discussed in my ezine article Chinese Herbs Add Spice and Health.  In addition to containing antioxidants black tea leaves have the following healing properties reducing inflammation, enhancing immune function and improving arterial function.

Mulled Cranberry or Pomegranate Tea
Use cranberry or pomegranate juice ideally organic, fresh and unsweetened.  Also have berries and seeds for garnish.  Cranberries are often used to help with urinary tract infections due to proanthocyanidins which inhibit bacteria adhesion.  They also contain phytonutrients and antioxidants which are well known for preventing a host of diseases including cancer and heart disease.  Read about the benefits of pomegranates on my blog post.  Cloves and cinnamon are commonly used in mulled beverages along with lemon, which is high in vitamin C and as with other citrus rinds aids digestion.  Hot lemon water on it's own can even be a tasty drink which will also help flush out toxins, purify the blood and strengthen the immune system.

Hot Apple Cider
Ingredients include apple cider, maple syrup, allspice berries, clove, cinnamon, lemon and orange rind.  Benefits of clove, cinnamon and citrus peels are mentioned above.  Allspice berries contain potassium, iron, magnesium and copper plus vitamin A, C and some B vitamins.  They also have anti-inflammatory properties, stimulate digestion and contain eugenol oil which is a topical pain reliever.  Maple syrup contains zinc and manganese.  To get the most benefit from apple juice it is best to juice the skin as well since it contains the most vitamin A.  Apple juice has also shown to improve the mood of Alzheimer's patients.

Ginger-Turmeric Tea
For this tea you can use half a teaspoon each of powdered ginger and turmeric with 2 cups of water, 1 tablespoon of maple syrup and the juice of half a lemon.  Grated ginger, turmeric and lemon rind can also be used make sure to boil the raw herbs with the water.  Ginger is a common herb known to help with nausea and cold prevention.  The benefits of turmeric are discussed on my blog post on Chinese medicine spices

Common spices in all of these drinks are cinnamon, clove and citrus rind.  Experiment with your favourite tea or fruit juice and spice it up.  Some spices will probably taste better with certain teas and fruits than other.  Maybe pear with lemon, cinnamon or fennel.  Rooibos tea is often flavoured with vanilla instead of getting the flavoured type get organic loose leaf tea and brew with a vanilla bean pod, cinnamon, cardamom and nutmeg.  

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Pomegranates for Health

Pomegranates are a beautiful fall fruit with festive looking red seeds.  I love the colour of the deep red juice, the sweet-tart flavour and crunch.  They are a tricky fruit to eat but worth the effort in health benefits.  Like many bright fruits pomegranates are packed with antioxidants and vitamins, in particular vitamin C, with one serving containing almost half of your daily requirement.  You'll also find the B vitamins, vitamin K, iron, calcium, potassium and fiber.  The only downside is there are 25 grams of sugar per serving.

Antioxidants are important in preventing free radical damage which is thought to contribute to aging and diseases such as cancer.  In addition antioxidants help keep the immune system strong therefore pomegranates or the juice can help prevent colds.  If you do happen to catch a cold and have a sore throat pomegranate juice can help soothe it due to the anti-inflammatory action of vitamin C.  The high vitamin C content can also reduce wheezing in young children with asthma.

Another major health benefit of pomegranate is its effect on blood vessels and cholesterol.  The juice has been shown to reduce hardening of the arteries associated with high LDL cholesterol and help reverse blood vessel damage.

From a traditional Chinese medicine perspective we look at the colour of the fruit.  Pomegranates are a bright red, which is associated with the Heart organ system and blood.   Therefore pomegranates will have the action of strengthening the heart system and the blood, which is why the juice mixed with a bit of honey and cinnamon can be used to tonify the blood in cases of anemia or monthly blood loss.

The seeds are not the only medicinal part of the pomegranate in traditional Chinese medicine the rind can be used to help treat diarrhea and skin conditions such as eczema.  For diarrhea the rind is steamed with the seeds and salt then the decoction is taken 3 times a day.  For eczema the rind is simmered with water and then applied as a poultice to the affected area.

For more food cures check out my blog posts on spices, five flavoursfood cures or sign up for my newsletter which always has seasonal recipes.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

3 Benefits to Smiling

Heading into winter the days are becoming grey and dreary.  With darkness arriving earlier and earlier there is less to smile about, however there are health benefits to smiling.

1.  Smiling can prevent wrinkles.
Some types of lines around the eyes and mouth are associated with smiling, but smiling can actually help prevent wrinkles because smiling activates the muscles of the face.  There are also facial exercises which can tone these muscles thereby slowing down the development of wrinkles.  

2.  Smiling can improve your mood.
People associate feeling happy with the desire to smile, however if you aren't feeling your best you can change your mood just by lifting the corners of your mouth and creating a twinkle in your eye.  The action of smiling releases endorphins and serotonin, which regulates mood and sleep, will make one feel better.   In addition stress and anxiety shows up on our faces and by changing our facial expression from a frown to a smile the stress hormones cortisol, adrenaline and noradrenaline are reduced.

3. Smiling can boost your health
Smiling has also been shown to lower blood pressure and improve immune function through activation of T-cells thereby reducing colds or the flu.  Smiling, especially combined with laughter, can also help regulate sugar levels after a meal if you have type II diabetes.  

Tuesday, November 9, 2010


Better sex?  Longer life?  Less stress?  More sleep?

I don't know but I'm sure that like women it depends on the guy and what makes them feel good.  What I do know is that acupuncture and traditional Chinese medicine can help with it all.

Let's talk about sex.

First it is an important component to overall health according to TCM philosophy.  Too little or too much sex can cause imbalances in the body and lead to certain conditions over time.  A common example is excessive sexual activity uses up Kidney energy.  The Kidney organ system is related to the low back and knees therefore if you are experiencing pain in these areas  don't be surprised if your TCM doctor asks you about your sexual activity.

A recent study shows that an active sex life has the following health benefits improved cardiovascular health, less depression, less prostrate problems and improved metabolism.  Not bad for an activity that can be for pure pleasure.

Unless one suffers from low libido or erectile dysfunction then sex may cause more stress than it alleviates.  Chinese medicine views dysfunction of the male sex organs as an imbalance in the Kidney organ system most commonly it is a deficiency of the Kidney Yang Qi, sometimes referred to as the ming men fire.  This is often treated with acupuncture to "stoke the fire" as it were or herbs that will strengthen the Kidney Yang energy.  Ideally an individual formula will be prescribed to address the individual's diagnosis.

Men's Health magazine has an online article discussing 5 benefits of acupuncture, which include treating neck and back pain, sports injuries, gastrointestinal issues plus anxiety and depression.

Addressing health concerns as they arise is key to a long healthy life, which may explain why men's life expectancy is increasing according to a recent article in the Globe and Mail.  TCM principles of longevity apply to everyone but change as one ages.  Ideally a person is living in harmony within their environment, following seasonal changes with activity and diet as well as striving for a balance between work and rest.    Work can refer to one's job or physical activity.

Sleep is one aspect of rest and an important one at that since it is the time when the body rejuvenates.  Good quality sleep can increase life expectancy and alleviate stress.  Chinese medicine can provide solutions to sleep problems through herbs or acupuncture.  Acupuncture allows the body to enter into a deep relaxed state which calms and regulates the nervous system.  Many people actually get caught up on lost hours during acupuncture where it is easy for them to enter a deep restful sleep.  Herbs can help with insomnia or frequent waking however they differ from pharmaceuticals in the way they work.  Sleeping medication is often used as a quick fix unfortunately it can be easy to rely on them as the body loses it's ability to recognize sleep signals.    Herbal formulas on the other hand work well when taken consistently to regulate the organ systems that are out of balance.

As always it is recommended that you see a registered Doctor of Traditional Chinese Medicine (DrTCM) or licenced practitioner to obtain a proper diagnosis before starting any treatment.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Mo' Men's Health

In the spirit of Movember I am focusing on men's health this month.  Movember has been great at creating  prostate cancer awareness, which is one of the top 5 causes of death for men.  The other four, heart disease, stroke, suicide and lung cancer, are all preventable diseases and treatable if found early.  Other common conditions are diabetes, liver disease, erectile dysfunction, kidney stones, urinary urgency/frequency and hair loss.  

Women typically live longer than men, however that gap is closing as more men are taking an interest in their health by eating healthier, exercising, stopping smoking and getting regular check-ups.

Over the next month I'll be posting links to recent studies in men's health as well as articles on how acupuncture and traditional Chinese medicine can treat or prevent some common conditions.  The only thing I won't be doing create awareness of men's health is sporting a moustache.

If you have any specific questions related to your health or someone you know please email

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

The Five Flavours of Traditional Chinese Medicine

In traditional Chinese medicine there are certain flavours associated with each organ system pair.  Bitter is associated with the Heart/Small Intestine, sour with the Liver/Gallbladder, sweet/bland pairs with the Spleen/Stomach, pungent and spicy with the Lungs/Large Intestine and salty with Kidney/Bladder.

Flavours are also assigned to foods and herbs some of which may be surprising.  There are the obvious ones such as lemon, lime and pickles are sour, clam shells and kelp are salty being from the sea.   Herbs that are frequently used in cooking such as rosemary, scallion, garlic, cinnamon, clove, ginger, basil nutmeg, dill and peppers are all pungent.  Some are cooling, others are warm/hot.  Many common fruits, vegetables and nuts are sweet including apple, date, apricot, beets, carrots, potato, squash, almond, coconut and walnut.  Bitter flavour food is difficult to find and often not appealing alfalfa, bitter melon, romaine lettuce and rye are some common examples.  Many Chinese herbal formulas have a bitter quality to them as most people will get adequate sour, pungent flavours, probably too much sweet and salty and not enough bitter.  It is important to get a variety of flavours in the diet to ensure the organ systems remain in harmony.

Flavours can be used therapeutically as well.  Pungent flavour stimulates digestion, disperse mucus, induce sweating, disperse blood stagnation and promote the circulation of Qi.  Salty flavour is used to soften lumps, knots, stools and hardened parts of the body as well as counter toxins, purify the blood.  One word of caution though using table salt therapeutically is not advised as it usually poor quality and the food sources will have other nutrients to help regulate the body.  Bitter flavour can reduce inflammation, infection and is beneficial for moist/damp conditions.  This may explain a recent study which showed the lungs had receptors for bitter taste causing the airways to open.  From a Chinese medicine perspective conditions such as asthma and COPD have a damp component to them and although it would appear pungent flavours would be beneficial for the lung system it appears that bitter may be even more beneficial as it can provide the greatest opening of the airways.  Sour flavour is astringent therefore used to restrain excessive sweating, urinary dripping, diarrhea, flaccid tissues and prolapse.  Sweet flavour is very common and is used to energize and calm the body, nerves and brain.  It can also moderate the harsh taste of bitter foods and is often used in a small amount in herbal prescriptions to harmonize the formula and make it more palatable.    

Using TCM to Treat Anxiety

Anxiety can be a normal reaction to stress which helps people cope with isolated situations such as an exam, new job or activity, however according to the National Institute of Mental Health there are roughly 40 million American adults over the age of 18 that have an anxiety disorder in any given year.  This means approximately 18% of the adult population suffers from some type of anxiety disorder whether it be post traumatic stress disorder, generalized anxiety, obsessive compulsive disorder, panic disorder or phobias.

Pharmaceuticals and psychotherapy are mainstream treatments for anxiety however some people look to more natural therapies for treating anxiety conditions.   A recent study confirmed there are natural therapies that are effective.  Some specific herbs such as passionflower and kava along with nutritional supplements have shown positive effects for anxiety or anxiety related disorders.

Herbs such as passionflower are different than the herbs used in traditional Chinese medicine. In TCM herbal prescriptions are created based on symptom analysis and the resulting diagnosis.  Herbs are combined to maximize the efficacy and minimize side-effects and toxicity.  There are some common herbs used in prescriptions based on which organ systems are involved.  According to Chinese medicine theory anxiety is primarily related to imbalances in the Heart, Kidney and Lung organ systems.  Herbs such as, dan shen (salvia), hu po (amber), he huan pi (mimosa tree bark), fu xiao mai (wheat), long yan rou (dragon eye flesh fruit), fu ling pi or fu shen (poria fungus skin or around root), wu wei zi (schizandra fruit) and lian zi (lotus seed) are frequently used in formulas used to treat anxiety.  As mentioned previously they are usually taken in combination with other herbs according to the individual's diagnosis.

Acupuncture is also very effective for treating anxiety often people coming in for other conditions will report they feel calmer, more centred and able to cope with stressful situations better.  Acupuncture treatment like Chinese herbal medicine is based on an individual's diagnosis and a point prescription will be formulated accordingly.  There have been some studies that show both body and ear acupuncture have some benefit for reducing anxiety symptoms.

Other alternative treatments such as Reiki, massage, music and binaural sound have also shown to be effective therapies for anxiety.  As with any condition it is recommended to consult your healthcare practitioner to assess which therapy will be most beneficial for your condition

Friday, October 22, 2010

Healthy Brain

There is lots of talk these days about how to keep your brain healthy and functioning optimally into old age.  People worry that our constant twittering, texting and computer time will have a negative impact on memory, concentration and long term brain function hence the development of new games and products such as nintendo ds brain age and the new found popularity of classics like crossword puzzles to stimulate brain activity.  

It is recommended to learn new skills to create neural pathways in the brain to keep it healthy over time.  Language and dance are often touted as good activities for the brain and recent research on bilingual children confirms it.  Multilingual children were found to adapt to changes easier and focus better in confusing environments.  In one study bilingualism helped to slow the onset of dementia, including Alzheimer's by about 4 years.

Diet plays an important role in overall health including brain health.  The nutrient luteolin which is found in vegetables and herbs such as carrots, peppers, celery, rosemary, peppermint and olive oil has been found to decrease inflammation in the brain which can be responsible for decreased memory and cognitive function.

A Finnish study analyzed the link between B12 and Alzheimer's.  Two components related to B12 were monitored in Finnish seniors aged 65 to 79.  Homocysteine, which is and amino acid related to mental decline, heart disease and stroke and holotranscobalamin, the marker for B12 in the body were tested.  Those with higher levels of homocysteine had a greater chance of developing Alzeheimer's over a seven year period, while each unit increase of holotranscobalamin reduced the risk of developing Alzheimer's by 2%.  

There are many approaches to helping prevent or delay the onset of dementia or Alzheimer's.  Although leisure activities can be beneficial to brain function it is important to protect your brain from injury.  Trauma to the head from bike accidents, contact sports, skiing and skating increase the chance of developing Alzheimer's later in life.  It is also important to get regular restful sleep, manage stress and find time for relaxation where the brain has a chance to recharge.  Activities such as yoga, meditation, tai chi and breathing exercises are all beneficial.

From a traditional Chinese medicine perspective acupuncture is a great way to reduce stress, improve sleep and allow the body to enter deep relaxation to enhance rejuvenation.  There are even certain acupuncture points which can impact the brain.  Although the terminology in TCM for enhancing brain function is different, we talk about strengthening Kidney Essence, nourishing Heart Blood and tonifying Marrow, which is the spinal cord, brain, bones and bone marrow.   Acupuncture is just one of a few modalities that can help brain function, herbal and dietary therapies are also beneficial.

Herbs and food can be used to help balance out organ systems which may contribute to declining brain function later in life or they can be directly used to promote cognitive function.  Certain foods are considered to be brain tonics, such as walnuts, blueberries, kiwi, kidney beans and supplements like vitamin D and omega 3 fatty acids which can be found in salmon, tuna, halibut as well as some nuts and plant sources.

There are many herbs used to prevent mental decline some well known such as gingko biloba, ling zhi, ginseng, gou ji berries and others used more in traditional Chinese medicine formulas to strengthen the Kidney essence such as he shou wu, rou cong rong and wu wei zi.  

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Breast Cancer Awareness Month

October is breast cancer awareness month according to the NCCAM, which is part of the National Institute of Health in the states.  Awareness for different types of cancer primarily focuses on raising money for finding a cure.  This post will cover more complementary therapies and how they can help people cope with the side effects of cancer treatment both physical and emotional.  The site covers several types of alternative therapies which can be used in conjunction with standard medical treatment. 

Acupuncture has been shown in some studies to help with various symptoms related to cancer treatment such as fatigue, nausea, anxiety, depression, hot flashes and insomnia.  With regards to breast cancer and acupuncture a recent study has reported that acupuncture has some benefit for relieving vasomotor symptoms such as hot flashes in women receiving antiestrogen treatment.  In addition to relieving the hot flashes participants reported increased libido, improved mental clarity and energy.  Another study found that joint pain and stiffness, which is a side-effect of aromatase inhibitor therapy for breast cancer can be improved with acupuncture treatment.  The National Cancer Institute provides a summary of acupuncture, results of studies using acupuncture as a modality for various types of cancer, including breast cancer

Traditional Chinese medicine, which includes acupuncture, herbal medicine, qi gong and meditation is discussed in a three part series.  Part one discusses herbal therapy in the prevention of breast cysts, while part two has a special focus on pre and post operative acupuncture, post operative herbal perscriptions and radiation.  Part three discusses acupuncture and herbal remedies to manage side-effects of conventional treatment such as nausea and vomiting, depressed immune function and peripheral neuropathy.

Chronic Pain - types, treatments and self care

  • pain continuous for more than 3 months
  • pain has persisted after a condition or injury has healed
  • pain frequently recurs 

  • low back pain
  • headaches/migraines
  • arthritis
  • nerve pain
  • pain associated with long term illness such as cancer
How pain becomes chronic varies depending on the condition.  In the case of low back pain it may have started out as an injury which may have never completely healed.  Osteoarthritis on the other hand is a condition that progresses over time due to deterioration of the cartilage which provides cushioning for the joint.  Nerve pain may develop from a long term condition such as diabetes whereas headaches may be due to long standing stress or tension.

  • loss of appetite
  • sleep disturbances
  • depression
  • decreased energy
  • acupuncture
  • herbal remedies or supplements
  • massage/tui-na
  • tai chi
  • qi gong
  • meditation
Acupuncture needles are inserted into specific areas of the body to regulate the flow of Qi.  When Qi is blocked there will be pain.  Qi can become blocked through various mechanisms such as trauma or injury to the body, long term emotional distress, internal imbalances such as digestive, circulatory, respiratory and gynecological disorders will all disrupt the flow of energy or Qi in the body.  Specific points are chosen for their pain relieving quality as well as to balance the body.  

From a more Western perspective acupuncture has been shown to affect areas in the brain that are related to pain control.  As well acupuncture has been shown reduce pain transmission by overloading nerve gates with impulses.  Acupuncture also affects blood vessels by causing constriction or dilation through the release of vasodilators.  Endorphins, serotonin and noradrenaline are also released during acupuncture.  Although they may not directly affect pain they do have the affect of promoting a sense of well being.

Several studies on acupuncture and different types of pain have been done.  Below are links to a few.
Osteoarthritis of the knee
Low back pain
As well studies have been done on pain and other complementary therapies
Tai chi and osteoarthritis
Yoga and back pain
Meditation and pain

Please check with your health care provider to ensure a particular therapy is appropriate for your condition

Sunday, September 12, 2010

The Miracles of Vitamin D

It seems everywhere I turn there is an article expounding the benefits of vitamin D.  Living in Vancouver makes it challenging to get enough vitamin D all year round but I have just come to realize the far reaching impact too little of this vitamin may have on a persons health.  Recent studies have shown the following

  • Deficiency in vitamin D is related to increased muscle fat, decreased muscle strength and overall health problems
  • Supplementation of vitamin D has shown to help prevent common cold and flu as well as ease asthma symptoms
  • Vitamin D deficiency predisposes a person to developing Type I or II diabetes 
  • Autoimmune diseases and some cancers have also recently been linked to insufficient blood levels of vitamin D
  • Vitamin D has been shown to influence our DNA through the vitamin D receptor (VDR) which influences more than 200 genes.  

Ways to increase vitamin D
  • increasing exposure to sunlight as 15 minutes of summer sun can produce 20,000 IU of vitamin D
  • dietary sources of fatty fish such as salmon and mackerel, fish liver oil, eggs, fortified milk
  • supplements

Saturday, September 11, 2010


What are the health benefits of common spices fennel, clove, turmeric and cinnamon?  How are they applied in Chinese Medicine?


Fennel is commonly used for it's digestive properties helping to ease gas, constipation, diarrhea, indigestion, bad breath and colic.  It can also be used for anemia as it contains iron and the amino acid histidine which is involved in the production of hemoglobin and other blood components.  Fennel ease menstrual cramps by regulating hormone function in the body.  In addition fennel can help remove toxins from the body and ease rheumatism and through its diuretic action.  It also enhances lactation and can help with bronchitis and cough as it contains an expectorant.

According to Traditional Chinese Medicine Xiao Hui Xiang, which is the seed of the fennel plant is warm and acrid thereby used to warm the interior and expel cold.  It enters the channels of the Liver, Kidney, Spleen and Stomach.

What are the actions and indications of xiao hui xiang?

  • Spreads liver qi, warms the kidneys, expels cold and alleviates pain thereby treating lower abdominal pain.  May also be combined with cinnamon bark or litchi nut.
  • Regulates qi and harmonizes the stomach to treat indigestion, abdominal pain, reduced appetite and vomiting due to cold.  Combine with ginger for stronger effect. 
Ways to prepare fennel
  • the bulb may be chopped up to be grilled, roasted or sauted.  
  • it can be added to stock, soups, sauces and dips
  • steeped for tea
  • seeds can be chewed after meals to aid digestion

Clove has many health benefits due to its high nutrient content.  It contains calcium, phosphorous, iron, vitamin A, vitamin C, sodium and potassium.  Clove oil is frequently used for dental care as a gargle or to relieve pain and mouth sores.  Clove oil also has antiseptic and anti-inflammatory properties therefore it can be used for cuts, bruises, acne, fungal infections and insect bites.  Clove has also been shown to help with nausea, indigestion, premature ejaculation and strengthening the immune system.  These actions are closer to the Chinese Medicine uses of clove.  According to TCM clove enters the kidney, spleen and stomach channels.  Clove can be used to regulate the spleen and stomach systems, dispel cold and warm kidney yang energy as it is acrid and warm.  

What are the actions and indications for ding xiang? 
  • Warms the middle burner ie. the spleen and stomach, directs rebellious qi downward to treat hiccups, cough and vomiting due to cold.  Also used for abdominal pain, diarrhea, lack of appetite also due to spleen and stomach cold.
  • Warms kidneys and strengthens the yang qi which is the warming energy.  Therefore ding xiang can be used to treat impotence, clear vaginal discharge often with weakness in the legs.  
Ways to prepare clove
  • Use in cooking curries, vegetables, soups, breads and fruit dishes
  • Use oil for topical application


Turmeric is used to treat a variety of inflammatory conditions including irritable bowel disease, toothache, menstrual irregularities, chest pain and arthritis.  With antioxidant properties it has also been used in cancer studies and shown promise for preventing the formation of tumours.  

In Traditional Chinese Medicine jiang huang is the rhizome of curcumae longae while yu jin is the tuber of curcumae therefore both can sometimes be referred to turmeric.  Jiang huang is the herb discussed below and it is warm with bitter and acrid flavours.  It enters the spleen, stomach and liver channels.  Therefore has the general action of invigorating blood, promoting qi movement, alleviating pain and expelling wind.

What are the actions and indications for jiang huang?
  • Invigorates blood and promotes menstruation to treat chest or abdominal pain, amenorrhea or dysmenorrhea due to blood stasis or deficient cold.
  • Promotes qi movement and alleviates pain especially epigastric and abdominal pain due to stagnant qi.
  • Expels wind and promotes blood circulation to treat arthritis known in TCM as wind-damp bi, especially good to treat painful obstruction of the shoulders.
Ways to prepare turmeric
  • use in curries, chutneys, rice and vegetable dishes
  • tea made with ginger, maple syrup and lemon to help fight off colds
  • tea with milk and honey for muscle aches and skin conditions
  • mask for acne - mix 1tbsp sesame or coconut oil with 1tsp turmeric apply to acne areas for 20 min

Cinnamon is anti-microbial which helps to inhibit bacterial and fungal growth, thereby making it an natural preservative.  It also has anti-clotting properties which can help with arthritic pain.  Studies have also shown it can lower LDL cholesterol and regulate blood sugar.  Cinnamon contains manganese, fiber, calcium and iron which can help regulate bowel function.  It also has anti-clotting properties and reduces the proliferation of cancer cells.  Another study has also shown the scent of cinnamon can improve brain function and memory.

According to Chinese medicine rou gui enters the spleen, stomach and kidney channels.  It is a warming sweet and pungent herb which promotes circulation, relieves spasms and aids digestion.

What are the actions and indications for rou gui?

  • Warms the kidneys and strengthens the yang energy especially of spleen and kidney.  Symptoms include cold limbs, weak back, impotence and frequent urination for kidney deficiency.  Combined with spleen yang deficiency there will be abdominal pain, reduced appetite and diarrhea.
  • Disperses cold, warms and unblocks channels and vessels to alleviate pain associated with dysmenorrhea, amenorrhea, damp-cold painful obstruction which is similar to arthritis.  Also used for chronic sores and abscesses which are slow to heal or ooze clear fluid.
  • Can also encourage generation of qi and blood when combined with appropriate herbs.

Ways to prepare cinnamon

  • add to hot beverages such at coffee, tea or hot chocolate
  • add to greens to help reduce bitterness
  • add to root vegetables such as squash for added flavour
  • use as tea
Chinese Herbal Medicine Materia Medica by Dan Bensky and Andrew Gamble

Monday, August 23, 2010

Meditation & Health

In Traditional Chinese medicine theory regulating emotions is an important part of health. Certain conditions can lead to emotional changes just as easily as emotions can cause illness. One way to be aware of emotions without letting them get out of control is through meditation.

The many types of meditation use specific postures, focused attention possibly on breath, mantra or movement. Meditation is used for relaxation, mental calmness, psychological balance and overall wellbeing. Previous studies have shown the longer someone has been meditating the greater the effect is on the brain.  A new study has shown there can be changes with as little as 11 hours of meditating using a Chinese meditation technique.

A recent study of meditators found a shift in their brain activity from the stress-prone right frontal cortex to the left which is calmer thereby helping to reduce anxiety, stress and depression. They also found there is decreased activity in the amygdala which processes fear. Researchers monitored brain activity through MRI technology and found increased alpha waves as well as activation of the autonomic nervous system which regulates bodily functions we don't have control over such as digestion and blood pressure. Often these systems are compromised by stress which can result in disease therefore managing stress through meditation or meditative activities such as Tai Chi, Qi Gong or Yoga can have numerous health benefits.

Fibromyalgia & TCM

Fibromyalgia has become a common diagnosis in recent years to explain symptoms of fatigue, all over body pain, difficulty in concentrating and retaining new information, sleep disturbances, exercise difficulties, digestive disturbances and headaches. There are many other symptoms that are common among those with FM.

Traditional Chinese medicine views fibromyalgia as a blockage of qi and blood in the channels that circulate through the body. Blockages can occur due to stress or emotional changes affecting the liver system which has the responsibility of regulating the smooth flow of qi in the body. Therefore if the Liver system is out of balance qi and blood will not flow smoothly causing blockages. Also if there is insufficient qi or blood flowing through the meridians there won't be enough nourishment to muscles, organs, bones and brain.  Deficiency in qi and blood can result from being overworked mentally and physically, poor digestion or improper eating and sleeping habits.

Acupuncture has been shown to improve fatigue and anxiety associated with fibromyalgia.  Pain may also be reduced through acupuncture although greater improvement is associated with more frequent sessions 3/week compared to 1/week.  Cupping may also be beneficial as it stimulates the flow of qi and blood targeting specific muscle groups.

A recent study on Tai Chi reported improved sleep, mood and quality of life for those with fibromyalgia.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Tai Ji Chuan - Interview with Michael Blackburn

How would you describe Taiji?

Taijiquan ("tai chi," see Note below) is a Chinese internal martial art that is practiced for health and self-defense. The taijiquan solo form is a graceful sequence of smooth and continuous movements which is often described as meditation in motion. Taijiquan study also includes standing meditation, qigong, push hands (which describes a wide range of training done with a partner), and weapons study.

What style to do you teach?

I practice the traditional Yang and Chen styles. Most of my teaching is in the Yang style.

What interested you about Taiji initially?

I was originally drawn to taijiquan as a teenager through an interest in Eastern philosophy and culture, including daoism. I enjoy physical activity but have never been drawn to team sports, so the more introspective and non-competitive nature of taijiquan resonated for me.

How long have you been teaching for?

I have been practicing taijiquan for 22 years, and have been teaching for about half that time.

What are the benefits of a regular practice?

Before taijiquan's introduction to Western students, its health benefits were largely explained through the lens of traditional Chinese medicine, which is based on a view of the body and healing mechanisms not always studied or supported by modern science. Today, taijiquan is in the process of being subjected to rigorous scientific studies in the West. Researchers have found that intensive taijiquan practice shows favorable effects on the promotion of balance control, flexibility, cardiovascular fitness and reduced the risk of falls, and has shown to help students who are recovering from chronic stroke, heart failure, high blood pressure, heart attacks, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson's, and Alzheimer's. Taijiquan's gentle, low impact movements burn more calories than surfing and nearly as many as downhill
skiing. There have also been indications that taijiquan might have an effect on noradrenaline and cortisol production, with a positive effect on mood and heart rate.

How frequently do people need to practice?

As with any activity, benefits increase with more regular practice. I strongly encourage my students to make a commitment to practice on a regular basis, at least a few times every week, and those that do so learn more quickly, take more satisfaction from lessons and enjoy much greater health benefits. Even doing a little taijiquan offers substantial benefits, and the more one practices the more they will enjoy it!

Are there any contraindications?

One of the special things about taijiquan is that it can easily be modified by a qualified teacher to suit students with various health challenges. Although there are high-level taijiquan practices which are contraindicated for certain conditions, a beginner student would not be exposed to such training until the teacher was confident it was safe for that individual.

Do you have any upcoming classes/workshops?

Regular classes are held Tuesday evenings at the Dunbar Community Centre (7- 9 pm) and Sunday mornings at the Kitsilano Neighbourhood House (9 - 11 am). A special tui shou ("push hands") intensive class will also be offered this summer on Tuesday evenings at the Dunbar Community Centre.


NOTE: There are many ways to write Chinese characters in roman script. A popular, older style is called Wade Giles. in Wade Giles, the capital of China is written "Peiking," internal energy is "c'hi," and the art I practice is "t'ai chi ch'uan." The international standard format for writing Chinese characters in roman script is called pinyin, and today most Chinese terms are written using this format. In pinyin, the capital city of China is "Beijing," internal energy is "qi," and the art I practice is "taijiquan." In other words, "taijiquan," "Tai chi," and "t'ai chi ch'uan" are all the exact same thing.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Tai Chi & Qi Gong

Tai Chi and Qi Gong exercises balance the body and mind. Both work at regulating the body's Qi which according to traditional Chinese medicine is cornerstone to health. Therefore if Qi is stagnant, weak or excessive disease will ensue.

Studies have shown Tai chi and qigong provide many health benefits through balancing the body and mind. One study showed that falls were reduced in older adults along with a reduction in the fear of falling, improved balance and physical performance. Other trials have shown Tai Chi may benefit those with knee osteoarthritis through improved function, reduced pain and stiffness.

Qigong helps manage stress as one trial showed blood levels of the stress related hormone cortisol is lowered by short term practice, whereas Tai Chi has shown to help with hypertension by reducing both systolic and diastolic blood pressure along with serum cholesterol levels and anxiety. A recent study also showed that Tai Chi may help patients with heart failure sleep better.

With so many potential benefits why not check out a class. Next post will feature local instructor Michael Blackburn. Please check back for his interview and demo.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Healthy Lifestyle - Yoga Part II

To continue with the series on healthy living I interviewed local yoga teacher Tomas Hicks on his practice.

How would you describe Yoga?
Yoga is a way of living, a way of seeing the world, based on the first step of Classical Ashtanga Yoga, Ahimsa or non-violence in mind, body and spirit or breath. How we treat ourselves on the mat is a reflection of how we treat ourselves, others and the world in our every day life; where the real work is. Yoga means Union, we are all inter-connected, we are one, so the only way to be, to live harmoniously is to embrace Ahimsa, particularly in the golden moments when we dont practice Ahimsa, there is the magic.

What style to do teach?

My main method or style of teaching is Ahimsa, which I employ when I teach Hatha, Flow/Vinyasa/Power, Yin, Restorative or Meditation. Ahimsa is the most profound practice of life.

What interested you about yoga initially?

I was initially drawn to the Spiritual side of Yoga due to the death of my Mother and to the Asana or postures of Yoga to increase my physical flexibility.

How long have you been teaching for?

I taught my first year as an apprentice and just completed my first year as a 320 Hour Certified Yoga teacher. It has been an amazing journey.

What are the benefits of a regular practice?

The benefits of a regular and varied Yoga practice, particularly broadening the Yoga practice to more than Asana, are limitless. I have experienced physical, emotional and spiritual well-being I never felt could be possible. I have a deep sense of support from the world and have become a much more open, brave and loving person.

How frequently do people need to practice?

It is good to start of slow and steady and practice once a week on the same day and time and increase over time to once a day with at least one day of a week from Asana. Resting is Yoga as well. We live in a very driven and busy society so we wish to have Yoga reflect a calmer way of life, rather than reflect the hectic society. The peace cultivated from within during Yoga will then flow naturally outwards and calm the world. It is also essential to keep Ahimsa at the front of the mind as much as possbile throughout the day. All beings want Love, even those that annoy you! Be brave and love. As MLK said, "Hate is too great a burden to bear." When your mind calms and becomes peaceful, so will your body and your Asana practice will change profoundly.

Are there any contraindications?

A very important mantra is the Sikh mantra Ong Namo Guru Dev Namo, which simply means listen to your inner teacher, your body, your wisdom. There are many contraindications for people with health concerns such as blood pressure issues, back pain and also during menstruation. Please consult a well-trained Yoga teacher before starting your Asana practice. Always err on the side of caution.

Upcoming classes/workshops?

Please visit for my schedule of classes. I am involved in two Summer Retreats, July 16 - 18 through and August 1 - 6 with on Denman Island. I also teach in various studios around Vancouver and take on individuals for personal Yoga Life Coaching.

To Sit comfortably one has to follow these recommendations:
1. Start with a strong foundation in the feet and ankles. To ensure a strong and well protected ankle and consequently a well protected knee, engage the ankle by flexing the ankle and foot such that the toes point straight up to the knee (dorsal flexion) or point straight away from the knee (plantar flexion). Check the inside of the heel on both feet, which should be smooth and free of wrinkles, to guarantee that there is no sickling of the ankle. 2. The knees need to be lower then the hips to maintain a strong and tall spine free of rounding and collapse. Do this by sitting on enough height underneath the buttocks. 3. Check your low back for its inward curvature. If you do not have enough height under the buttocks or the knees are higher than the hips the low back will 'bubble' outwards, resulting in back pain Place your hand on the low back and notice small ridges of muscles on each side of the inwardly curving spine. 4. Slightly hug the belly-button up and in towards your heart. 5. Move the head slightly backwards and bow the chin towards the heart without moving your head forward. 5. Eh voila!

Healthy Lifestyle - Yoga Part I

Exercise is an important part of a healthy lifestyle as is has been shown to improve cardiovascular health, reduce blood pressure, reduce osteoporosis, increase energy, reduce depression plus much more, but does the type of exercise matter? According to TCM it does. Since TCM involves bringing balance to the body mind and spirit is important to think of exercise as a medicine to achieve equilibrium in the body. Yoga is the focus of this week's activity as it affects the body and mind by incorporating physical postures, breath work and meditation .

There are many health benefits to yoga with studies on low back pain, depression, insomnia, migraines and irritable bowel syndrome showing there are a wide range of benefits and effects yoga can have on the body.

On more of a personal note I have found yoga has improved my ability to deal with stress through releasing tension and calming my mind. Over the last few years in particular yoga helped me focus through the preparation and writing of my licencing exams as well as adapt to the ups and downs of starting my own business.

Please check back for more posts on yoga and health this week. Tomorrow features yoga instructor Tomas Hicks

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Food Cures

Dietary therapy is a component of traditional Chinese medicine which sometimes gets forgotten about even though common herbal formula prescriptions contain everyday foodstuff such as ginger, licorice, citrus peels, mint, turmeric, cinnamon plus many more spices, seeds and flowers.
When we move away from eating whole natural foods diseases develop. Dietary therapy means using food as medicine not as a way to lose weight. The old adage an apple a day keeps the doctor away actually holds some truth. All foods have nutritional components - vitamins, minerals, enzymes and antioxidants. Now we have the technology to determine which foods are best at helping prevent or fight specific diseases. A recent study on hypertension found that beetroot juice can help lower blood pressure due to the nitrate content. Another study shows that a diet rich in fruit, vegetables and low fat dairy also helps with hypertension. A common recommendation for people with high blood pressure is the DASH diet.

From a TCM perspective celery juice is good to treat hypertension with high cholesterol, while hawthorn tea is good if hypertension is combined with heart disease. Other foods that may help are apples, black sesame, chrysanthemum, carrot, persimmon, seaweed, tomato, spinach and watermelon. Ideally the TCM diagnosis you receive from your Doctor of Traditional Chinese Medicine will determine the most appropriate foods as they all have certain properties and actions on the body.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Instant Gratification & The Un-Sustainable Lifestyle

A recent article in the New York Times Dysregulation Nation highlights the obstacles we all face on a daily basis with regards to overconsumption, over stimulation and general excess. As a doctor of traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) I am always striving for balance in my personal and professional life as well as encouraging the same in my clients.

The two areas where I find the most the resistance are treatment time and lifestyle changes. One of the first questions people will ask is how long until I feel better? In our age of fast acting medicine, where you can take a pill and in half an hour feel relief it can be frustrating to learn that although Chinese medicine is effective for many common conditions it may take several weeks to several months of consistent acupuncture and/or herbal treatment before lasting and significant results are seen. TCM therapies take longer because the primary aim is to balance the body, not trick it into thinking it is healthy.

The pill popping instant relief way of treating illness has become unsustainable for many people as they no longer respond to or become dependent on medication. TCM takes a wholistic viewpoint by assessing current symptoms, constitution, diet and lifestyle.

Diet and lifestyle are key components to health and as people start to embrace more sustainable living by eating local seasonal food, riding bikes or walking for transportation they are already incorporating TCM into their lives. Chinese medicine has strong roots in disease prevention through exercise, diet and regulating emotional stress. Somehow this way of living has been lost and is now being rediscovered with exercise being touted as "new medicine" according to the American Surgeon General.

Over the next several weeks I will be profiling activities such as tai chi, yoga and meditation with the hope of inspiring people to take steps to a healthier lifestyle. For each activity I will be interviewing a local instructor on how people can incorporate these activities into their lives and what benefits may be experienced. A video demo of the activity and links to relative research will be included. Check back next week for the first instalment - Tai Ji

Wednesday, June 9, 2010



One item I have been recommending to my clients for many months now is the neti pot. To be honest I actually started recommending it before I had even tried it out. Having read several articles on it I believed it would help with my occasional nasal congestion and allergy flare ups.

Last fall I finally got up the courage to try it out and loved it.....after a few awkward attempts. It is an odd sensation pouring saline solution in one nostril and watching it flow out the other. It took a few tries to get the right concentration of salt and the proper angle of the pot, but once you get the right combination it is effortless. The neti pot has helped me tremendously with allergies, general congestion or to clear out my nasal passages after working in dusty, polluted environments, I even take it when I travel as it soothes my nose after a long flight. If you have seasonal allergies or suffer with chronic congestion I suggest giving it a try. Neti pot and salts are available from Meridian Flow's online store as an inexpensive, natural solution to a very common condition.

Monday, May 31, 2010

American Ginseng

Possibly one of the most well known Chinese herbs Ren Shen comes in several varieties depending on where it is grown. As a rule herbs grown in a particular climate or region have health benefits for people in that region and are usually used to treat conditions prevalent in that area.

In general ginseng strengthens the immune system, fortifies the body's resistance to stress and promotes homeostasis. Many studies have been done on Ginseng to determine which properties contribute to it's multitude of health benefits. American Ginseng has shown promise for treating both non-insulin dependant diabetes and type two diabetes, preventing upper respiratory infections and colorectal cancer. It's anti-cancer properties have been shown to aid in treatment of pancreatic, liver, breast, stomach and pharynx cancers.

Now even mainstream pharmaceutical companies are producing cold and flu remedies that are based on ginseng extracts, ever heard of Cold FX? Instead of manufactured pills why not try a natural, local product? BC grown American Ginseng in tea, wine tonic and honey form are all available at Meridian Flow Acupuncture. American ginseng has a cooler nature than other types making it more appropriate for the average North American prone to heat conditions due to diet and lifestyle.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Ling Zhi - TCM's 'magic' mushroom

Ling Zhi is considered to be a 'magic mushroom' for its mysterious power of healing the body and calming the mind. Also known as Reishi it has been used as a valuable medicine in ancient China until present day for promoting longevity.

In current Traditional Chinese Medicine ling zhi is used for its immune boosting properties. It nourishes the Heart and Spleen by tonifying blood and qi, which can help treat insomnia, forgetfulness, weak digestion and fatigue. Ling zhi is also used to treat asthma by stopping coughing and wheezing.

Research on ling zhi has shown benefits for neurasthenia, hypertension, high cholesterol and cardiovascular disease. In addition ling zhi has positive effects for different types of cancer such as prostate, lung and breast, which is contrary to what early investigators imagined.

Mushrooms appear to have similar characteristics to cancer, ie they are parasitic, fungus-like and fast growing, which is exactly why they are good for treating cancer. According to Chinese medicine theories on food remedies characteristics of the food usually represent what organs, conditions or symptoms it is used to treat. Obvious examples are animal livers, used to strengthen the liver and therefore blood production and regulation. Kidney beans strengthen the kidney especially the yin energy. Walnuts look like miniature brains and are good for memory. Tomatoes, which have different chambers like a heart, have shown to prevent heart disease due to the antioxidant lycopene.

Ling zhi tea is now available at Meridian Flow Acupuncture. The tea is locally grown and packaged in Prince Rupert. Tea is sold by the bag, tins of 5 or 10 bags. Each tea bag can be used to make 1 - 2 litres of tea. Ling zhi tea is mild enough to drink throughout the day.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Culture & Medicine

A recent article in the New York Times got me thinking about the role of cultural beliefs in medicine. Although I am a Western practitioner of an Eastern medicine I became familiar with certain cultural aspects of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) from years of living in Taiwan which helped prepare me for studying TCM. Now in my clinical practice I encourage clients to take an active interest in their health and treatments. In order to do that one needs to understand the medicine they are receiving, therefore TCM concepts are often "translated" into a Western medical model that makes sense to my clientele, which is why I began the series of TCM terminology.

Often people need some way to link their beliefs and new concepts. The article A Doctor for Disease, a Shaman for the Soul looks at how one hospital in Merced California is trying to bridge the gap between Western medicine treatments and the traditional beliefs of the Hmong people. It is an interesting article for me as it is a continuation of a book I read a few years ago called The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down by Anne Fadiman. The book chronicles the medical treatment of a Hmong child with epilepsy and how cultural differences led to conflicts in her treatment.

Now at the Merced hospital shamans are allowed to perform certain rituals to help in the healing process. They are also educated in Western-style medical treatments in order to better bridge the cultural gap. People's belief and support systems are important factors in healing as demonstrated by the following excerpt from the NYT article
A turning point in the skepticism of staff members occurred a decade ago, when a major Hmong clan leader was hospitalized here with a gangrenous bowel. Dr. Jim McDiarmid, a clinical psychologist and director of the residency program, said that in deference hundreds of well-wishers, a shaman was allowed to perform rituals, including placing a long sword at the door to ward off evil spirits. The man miraculously recovered. “That made a big impression, especially on the residents,” Dr. McDiarmid said.
For those of us accustomed to allopathic medicine often it is the placebo effect and not our belief in shamans which will play a part in recovery. The placebo effect has been studied with regard to cancer treatment and the use of anti-depressants. In both cases researchers felt belief in the medicine, whether it was a sugar pill or prescribed pharmaceutical, had an impact on the effectiveness of treatment. On BBC2 alternative health program the placebo effect is examined with regards to complementary and alternative medicine. Many Therefore I believe incorporating rituals that are an important part of a person's belief system can only have beneficial results.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Rheumatoid Arthritis

Arthritis, Acupuncture and Traditional Chinese Medicine - Part Two

Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) occurs when the immune system attacks the lining of the joints causing inflammation. This inflammation may involve other organs and tissues often the heart, lungs, eyes, and in about 20% lumps may form under the skin.

Rheumatoid arthritis commonly affects people between the ages of 25 and 50, although it can occur at any age. In RA joints affected are symmetrical with the most common being the wrist and hand except the most distal finger joints although elbows, shoulders, neck, jaw, feet, ankles, knees, and hips can also be affected.

Studies on using acupuncture to help RA symptoms show that electro acupuncture has the best results with a significant reduction in the number of tender joints and measurable reduction on pain, swelling and mobility. The traditional acupuncture group experienced benefits but at a slower rate. To read the evaluation click here

Arthritis in general falls into the category of Bi syndrome which translates to joint pain due to wind, cold, heat and damp. The pain characteristics will vary according to the cause
  • Wind causes pain to come on suddenly and move around
  • Cold will cause local or general pain and stiffness which improves with warmth
  • Heat will result is hot, inflamed joints with local redness, swelling, excruciating pain and limited movement
  • Dampness leads to heavy sensations with swelling, numbness and is often worse in damp weather
With regards to RA, as in OA an assessment is done to determine which joints are involved, severity of pain, quality of pain, duration of condition, changes in condition, as well as general body condition.

For dietary guidelines for RA can be found here

Monday, May 3, 2010

May is Arthritis Awareness Month

Looking at Arthritis, Acupuncture & Traditional Chinese Medicine - Part One
Arthritis comes in several forms, the most prevalent being osteoarthritis (OA), affecting approximately 10% of the adult population. Below are some quick facts on OA plus links to well known studies. The traditional Chinese medicine viewpoint will be discussed along with the benefits of acupuncture and herbal therapy.

  • symptoms include pain and stiffness of the joint with the possibility of locking
  • due to degeneration of the joint cartilage, frequently in hands, feet, knees, hips and spine
  • risk factors include old age, previous injury, obesity and hereditary factors
  • treatment includes medications, physiotherapy, exercise and weight loss
  • acupuncture may be used to reduce pain and increase mobility
One well known study looked at the effect of acupuncture on osteoarthritis of the knee and found that by the end of the study those that received acupuncture had a 40% reduction in pain and almost a 40% improvement in function compared to baseline levels. The course of treatment consisted of 24 sessions during a 26 week period. By the 8th week there was a marked improvement in pain. Read the press release for more details.

In TCM assessment of the joint function and pain is important including which factors aggravate or improve the condition. The overall body condition including sleep patterns, energy, digestion and mood will also be taken into consideration when developing a treatment strategy.

In OA age is often a factor and as we age our kidney qi starts to decline, the kidney energy is also related to the back and the knees, therefore acupuncture points or herbs to strengthen this energy may be used.

If a previous injury has predisposed a person to arthritis there may be residual blood stasis or swelling. Acupuncture or herbs may be used to reduce swelling, reduce pain and heal injuries by improving blood circulation in the body.

Often a person is limited in the amount and type of exercise due to pain and mobility of the joint either from the arthritis or a prior injury. Exercise can be beneficial to maintain range of motion, joint stability through strengthen the surrounding muscles. Physical activity has the added benefit of keeping weight at a healthy level thereby taking pressure off of joints especially knees and hips.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010


Cupping is an adjunct therapy in TCM which has been used for thousands of years in Asia and Europe. There are several styles of cups and ways to apply them. Glass cups of varying size are the most common in clinics today. A vacuum is created inside the cup by rapidly swirling a lighted alcohol swab inside the cup which draws out the oxygen allowing it to suction on to the skin.

Cups may be stationary, being retained over specific muscles or areas of tension or they may be sliding, where massage oil is applied to the body allowing the cups to move over larger areas. Flashing cupping is the rapid suction and removal of the cup creating a popping noise.

Cupping can be used for many common complaints and has become an acceptable treatment among athletes, such as Chinese swimmer Wang Qun, uses cupping and of course who doesn't remember Gwyneth Paltrow at a New York film premiere.

What are the therapeutic benefits of cupping?
  • increases blood circulation to the area
  • decreases swelling
  • clears heat from the body
What conditions can be treated with cupping?
  • bi syndromes which corresponds to joint pain, especially that which is worse in cold, damp weather
  • muscle tension or pain
  • cough, common cold, stomachache
  • numbness, weakened function
What are the side-effects?
Depending on the intensity of the suction and amount of tension in an area there may be a bruise-like mark left varying from light red to dark purple. There is no pain or discomfort associated with this and often the darker the mark the more relief is felt.

Do you know where your Dan Tian is? Part II of TCM Terminology

The Dan Tian is an area in the lower abdomen a bit more than an inch below the navel between the spine and navel. It is the area where jing is stored represented by the uterus in women and the chamber of essence (sperm) in men.

Ancient Taoist texts often mention three dan tian, the first being the lower dan tian mentioned above, the second is the middle dan tian which stores qi at the level of the heart. The brain is considered the third or upper dan tian which is said to be the sea of marrow.

There are actually "four seas" in TCM called Si Hai. Often referred to a group of acupuncture points where the qi gathers as if converging like water in the sea. The Si Hai are as follows

Sui Hai - sui refers to marrow therefore sui hai is sea of marrow and as mentioned above refers to the brain.
Xue Hai - xue means blood, the sea of blood may refer to the liver where blood is stored, the chong meridian where the blood of all channels is seen to converge or an acupuncture point on the spleen meridian above the knee.
Qi Hai - qi as discussed in Part I has many translations, the sea of qi is represented by the centre of the chest as mentioned above, as well as an acupuncture point on the ren meridian located just below the navel.
Shui Gu Zhi Hai - shui translates as water and gu as grain. Therefore shui gu zhi hai is the sea of grain and water which refers to the stomach where food is received and stored.

Ming Men is another an important area of the body often referred to as the gate of life. Ming translates as life, fate, destiny, order, command and Men means door or gate. The life gate or Ming Men is located on the back between the two kidneys and is considered to store a person's jing or essence and therefore the source of qi and root of yin and yang.

Wu Xin translates as five hearts, wu means five and xin can be translated as heart, the mind, feeling, intention, centre. Wu Xin actually refers to the palms, soles of the feet and centre of the chest and plays an important diagnostic role in certain conditions.