Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Spotlight on TCM Pediatrics: Inherent Characteristics of Children



Most authoritative discussions of traditional Chinese pediatric medicine always begins with a list of fundamental inherent characteristics of children.

It's kind of a mouthful -- and phrased differently in different texts -- but the idea is that children are, by nature, different from adults anatomically and physiologically, and - by extension - mentally, emotionally and spiritually. Chinese medicine practitioners have, over the millenia, through medical practice & observation, teased out some of the factors that set children apart from adults.

I think these "inherent characteristics" are fun to think about --- and, of course, they have implications for clinical treatment & lifelong health. Discussion of TCM pediatrics in popular forums is sparse, so, I thought I'd hash out some of these "characteristics" over a series of blogposts.

Let me start by saying that Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) is a highly effective option in the treatment of children. In fact, children typically respond more quickly to the subtle influences of TCM treatment than adults do because they are growing and changing so rapidly. However, children can not simply be treated as mini-versions of adults. To treat children effectively, a TCM practitioner must consider the inherent characteristics of children, which necessarily inform diagnosis and treatment.

The classical Chinese medical texts, which were written by many different physician-authors over the course of several thousand years and form the basis for modern TCM, abound with sayings or proverbs. These proverbs are usually four or five Chinese characters long. The inherent characteristics of children lists also come from these classical texts and follow this format. Some examples are:

"Children's Spleen is often insufficient."

"Children's Yin is often insufficient."

"Children's organs are fragile and soft, Qi easily leaves its path."

"Children easily become ill, and their illness quickly becomes serious."

"Yin & yang organs are clear & spirited. They easily & quickly regain their health."

Lists of the characteristics of children vary somewhat among the different TCM source texts available in the English language. My presentation will draw on various sources, but is ultimately my own summary.

Who Counts as a Kid in Chinese Medicine?

From the perspective of traditional Chinese medicine, the kidneys control developmental cycles in human life. Women are thought to follow seven-year cycles and men eight year cycles (the end of the first cycle characterized by the loss of baby teeth & the growth of permanent teeth at ages 7 & 8, and the end of the second cycle marked by the onset of puberty and maturation of reproductive capacities at ages 14 & 16, for girls and boys respectively) -- this according to the first chapter of the Yellow Emperor's Classic of Internal Medicine, the fundamental text of traditional Chinese medicine, compiled between 400 and 200 BCE, roughly.

The principles and considerations of Chinese medicine pediatrics apply to children during the first 7- or 8-year life cycle and, to a lesser extent, during the second cycle. The same Chinese medicine diagnostic and treatment principles that are applied to adults can mostly be applied to teenagers after they've hit through puberty. However, the first life transition at 7/8 years and, more importantly perhaps, the transition of puberty can be viewed through a Chinese medicine lens, and Chinese medicine can be useful in easing challenges that arise during these transitions. Maybe this is material for another blogpost.

Stay tuned for more discussion on the Fundamental Inherent Characteristics of Children in future posts.

A few sources:

Julian Scott & Teresa Barlow. Acupuncture in the Treatment of Children. Seattle: Eastland Press, 1991.

Bob Flaws. A Practitioner's Guide to the Care & Treatment of Common Childhood Diseases, Boulder: Blue Poppy Press, 1997.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Common Chinese Patent Herbal Formulas for Allergic Rhinitis

For Acute Symptoms:

There are two patent formulas that are worth having in your home-remedy kit for the relief of acute allergic symptoms, particularly allergic rhinitis and headaches:

"Bi Yan Pian,or "Nose Inflammation Tablets," disperses wind, clears heat, expels toxins and transforms phlegm to unblock the sinuses, treat sinus congestion and pain and sinus headaches and relieve red, itchy or watery eyes.


"Xin Yi Wan," or "Magnolia Flower Teapills," dispel wind-cold and eliminate dampness to relieve nasal congestion, sinus pain, post-nasal drip, sneezing, runny nose, headache, stiff & achy upper back & neck.


Both of these formulas consist of herbs that expel wind from the exterior of the body, like Japanese catnip, or Schizonepeta tenuifolie (jing jie) and Siler divaricata (fang feng). They also contain herbs to clear the nasal passages, like magnolia buds (xin yi hua) and xanthium fuit (cang er zi). 


What is the difference between these two formulas?



Basically, bi yan pian is for allergies characterized by wind-heat and phlegm signs (which might include thick, sticky, yellow nasal discharge; red, itchy eyes; feeling of warmth, fever or agitation or avoidance of warmth.)


Xin Yin Wan is for allergies characterized by wind-cold and dampness signs (copious, clear, runny nasal discharge; stiff upper back & neck; feeling of heaviness or foggy-headedness; sneezing; feeling of chilliness or avoidance of cold.)




For Allergy Prevention:

As your acute symptoms decrease, your herbalist will work with you to address underlying physiological imbalances and regulate your immune system to reduce overall occurrence of allergic reactions.

Typically, an underlying weakness, often a deficiency of Lung and Spleen Qi, is what makes people susceptible to allergies. Lung Qi is responsible for the proper function of the entire respiratory tract, including the nasal passages. Spleen Qi controls the transport of fluids in the body. When the Spleen is impaired, weakening digestive function, it can lead to an overproduction of mucous, which tends to collect in the lungs. Weakness of Kidney Qi sometimes plays a role in long-term chronic allergies and asthma.

The weakness of Qi underlying seasonal allergies is treated with herbs that bolster Lung and Spleen function, such as codonopsis (dang shen), atractylodes (bai zhu), and honey-roasted licorice (zhi gan cao).

A classic formula for toning the immune system is Jade Windscreen Powder (in Chinese, yu ping feng san), containing two herbs to bolster Lung and Spleen--astragalus root (huang qi) and atractylodes (bai zhu)-- and one herb to repel wind--siler (fang feng).



Another useful formula for allergy prevention is Six Gentlemen Decocotion (liu jun zi tang). This formula bolsters the Spleen and Lung AND contains to medicinals, pinellia (ban xia) and aged citrus peel (chen pi), which enhance the base formula's ability to clear mucous and dry dampness.


There are many other Chinese herbal patent formulations on the market besides those mentioned here. Consult with your herbalist to learn which products are safe and from reputable companies, as well as which formulations might best meet your needs. 
Furthermore, an herbalist who mixes formulas from individual herbs has a much wider range of options to draw from in customizing a formula that meets your specific needs.


Related Articles:

Relieve Allergies Naturally with Chinese Medicine

Research: Acupuncture & Chinese Herbs Effective in Relieving Seasonal Allergies

Featured Acupuncture Point: Gallbladder 20 "Wind Pool" for Allergies, Headache & Sinusitis


The acupuncture point gallbladder 20, or feng chi, translated as "Wind Pool," is located bilaterally, in the tender hollows at the base of the skull, between the origins of the steromastoid and trapezius muscles.

The point is relevant to themes of allergy relief and springtime Liver health. It is commonly used by acupuncturist to treat sinus congestion, headaches, and red, itchy eyes, as well as to address certain Liver pathologies.

Gallbladder 20 is called "Wind Pool," first, because the depression in which it is located resembles a pool on the body's landscape. Second, and more significantly, it is used to treat all kinds of "wind patterns."

Wind, in Chinese medicine, is one of six climactic factors (along with cold, dampness, dryness, heat & fire) that cause disease.

Characteristics of wind-diseases include:
  • rapid onset
  • rapid changes in symptoms
  • moving from place to place in the body
  • affect the top part of the body.

Wind-diseases are divided into external and internal patterns:

Allergies and the common cold are common examples of external wind-invasion. In these cases, wind invades the Lungs and penetrating the body's surface/defensive Qi. An acupuncturist differentiates between patterns of wind-cold (chills, runny nose, stiff-achy neck & back, etc.); wind-heat ( fever, thick-yellow mucous, congestion, red eyes, etc.); and wind-dampness (congestion, runny nose, feeling of heaviness and foggy-headedness). 

External wind can also invade the channels of the face, causing facial paralysis or Bell's Palsy; the joints, causing arthritic pain; or the liver, causing itching.

Internal wind, by contrast, is always related to Liver disharmony, and manifests as tremors, tics, dizziness, vertigo, numbness, and in severe cases, convulsions, unconsciousness and stroke.

In terms of Yin & Yang, wind is a Yang pathogen. Gallbladder 20 is a crossing point of several important Yang channels of the body. It is supremely important in treating wind conditions. Located at a pivotal position between the head and the body, it is one of the most important points to treat diseases of the brain, the head and the sensory organs, especially the eyes.

In biomedical terms, stimulation of gallbladder 20 can support the function of the vagus nerve, which plays an important role in the innervation of the parasympathetic nervous system.

The therapeutic actions of gallbladder 20, in Chinese medicine terms, are:
  • eliminates wind
  • benefits the head and eyes
  • clears the sense organs
  • activates the Yang channels of the body and alleviates pain.

Gallbladder 20 is often stimulated with acupuncture or massage to treat:
  • headache
  • dizziness
  • hypertension
  • sequelae of stroke
  • epilepsy
  • insomnia
  • dementia
  • hives
  • common cold
  • sinusitis
  • nasal congestion/runniness
  • redness and pain of the eyes
  • vision problems
  • nosebleed
  • deafness
  • tinnitus
  • stiffness and pain of the neck and low back.
Gallbladder 20 can alleviate pain on the back, as well as on the sides of the body. The sides of the body are the domain of the gallbladder channel.

Self-Treatment

Massage this gallbladder to alleviate headaches (particularly sinus or one-sided headaches), sinusitis or insomnia.

With the thenar eminences of the palms of both hands (the thick pad nearest the thumb), massage gallbladder 20 in a rapid circular motion, 20-50 small, rapid circles, until the area becomes warm.

Follow this by massaging Kidney 1, the bubbling wellspring point, on the bottoms of the feet with the palms of the hand in rapid circular motions, in order to bring energy down out of the head.



Gallbladder 20 is just one of many tools in the acupuncturist's toolkit.

If you or someone you care about suffers from allergies, sinusitis, vision problems, headaches, etc.,
call 510-495-5752 or email stephanie@stephaniedoucette.com,
to learn more about how acupuncture and Traditional Chinese Medicine can help.



References:

Andrew Ellis, et al. Grasping the Wind: An Exploration into the Meaning of Chinese acupuncture point names.

Giovanni Maciocia. The Foundations of Chinese Medicine: A Comprehensive Text for Acupuncturists and Herbalists.

Peter Deadman et al. A Manual of Acupuncture

Friday, April 19, 2013

Recipe: Raw Sauerkraut for Gut Health


I recommend including a bit of naturally-fermented food with every meal.

Naturally-fermented food enhances the digestibility of the meal it's eaten with. Benefits of fermented foods include:

  • increased vitamin levels
  • a wealth of beneficial enzymes
  • antibiotic and anticarcinogenic properties
  • promotion of healthy gut flora throughout the intestines.

All sorts of benefits from eating naturally-fermented foods have been demonstrated in research studies. Just one example: In a 2013 review of studies on probiotics in pregnancy: "Results demonstrated that probiotic use in pregnancy could significantly reduce maternal fasting glucose, incidence of GDM (gestational diabetes) and pre-eclampsia rates and levels of C-reactive protein (a marker of inflammation)." Pretty amazing!

What is Lacto-Fermentation?

Lacto-fermentation originated as a means of preserving vegetables for long periods of time without the use of freezers or canning technology. Lactic acid is a natural preservative that inhibits putrefying bacteria. Sugars and starches in vegetables & fruits are converted to lactic acid by the many species of lactic-acid producing bacteria, or lactobacilli. Lactobacilli re on the surface of all living things, especially leaves and roots of plants living in or near the ground. People around the world have developed techniques for controlling and encouraging the lacto-fermentation process. From them, we inherit all sorts of recipes for naturally-fermented fruits & veggies: pickles, relishes, chutneys, kimchees, etc.

In Europe, the principle fermented food was sauerkraut. Sauerkraut is an easy first project if you want to begin making your own ferments at home.

Here is a recipe from Sally Fallon's book Nourishing Traditions. I bring home a cabbage every week or two, make a big jar of kraut & serve a little bit as a garnish for almost every meal.

Ingredients:

1 medium cabbage, cored & shredded
1 tablespoon caraway seeds 
(you can experiment with other herbs & spices. I like to use juniper berries, rosemary, bay leaves, or toasted mustard seeds.)
1 tablespoon sea salt
4 tablespoons whey*

*If you don't have whey, don't worry. Just use an additional 1 tablespoon of salt.

(Whey is the fluid part that results when dairy products like milk or yogurt separate. It's obviously a great source of lactobacilli, and can be used in pickle recipes to enhance the fermentation process. In the absence of whey, the lactobacilli occurring naturally on the cabbage leaves is sufficient. Here's a link to information on how to make/where to obtain whey.)


To make:

In a bowl, mix cabbage with caraway seeds, sea salt and whey. Pound with a wooden pounder or a meat hammer for about 10 minutes to release juices. Place in a quart-sized, wide-mouth mason jar and press down firmly with a pounder or meat hammer until juices come to the top of the cabbage. The top of the cabbage should be at least 1 inch below the top of the jar. Cover tightly and keep at room temperature for 2-3 days before transferring to cold storage. The sauerkraut may be eaten immediately after jarring, but it improves with age.



Reference:

Sally Fallon Morrell with Mary G. Enig, PhD. Nourishing Traditions:  The Cookbook that Challenges Politically Correct Nutrition and the Diet Dictocrats.




Thursday, April 18, 2013

Allergy Self-Help: 12 Tips for Relieving & Preventing Seasonal Allergies



Allergies can range from unpleasant to disabling. 

Allopathic medicines, such as antihistamines or cortico-steroids, can provide effective, short-term relief. However, they frequently have side effects such as drowsiness, immune-system suppression, and over-reliance. 


Fortunately, there are a range of holistic remedies worth trying for relief and prevention of allergy symptoms.


A few basic points to keep in mind  ---  Allergies are an overreaction of the immune system, involving inflammatory processes. To eliminate allergy symptoms, we want to decrease inflammation and regulate immunity and metabolic processes. 


In Chinese medicine terms, we want to expel pathogenic factors (particularly phlegm, dampness and wind) and support the proper function of the Spleen, Lung and Kidney systems.

(For a more comprehensive look at allergies from western and Chinese medical perspectives, please see my article Relieve Allergies Naturally with Chinese Medicine.)

Here's a list of self-help tips beginning with general diet and lifestyle suggestions and moving on to specific medicinal remedies.




1. Simple Diet:



If you're struggling with allergies, it's a good idea to simplify your diet.

Cut out foods that weaken your immunity, increase inflammation or build phlegm. These include sugar, sweets, carbs, wheat, excessive grains, orange juice, excessively spicy, rich or salty foods, and deep-fried foods. Pasteurized milk products may increase phlegm and worsen allergies and asthma. 

Consider the fats and oils you use. Eating poor quality fat compromises the structural integrity of your cells, making them more susceptible to inflammation and damage. Eliminate trans fats, hydrogenated oils, partially hydrogenated oils, margarine, shortening, fast food and cottonseed, canola and corn oils which are not stable at high temperatures.

High quality fats build healthy cells that aren’t as susceptible to becoming inflamed. These include olive oil, avocados, coconut oil, and ghee.

A German study, published in the journal Allergy, found that participants who ate foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids were less likely to suffer allergy symptoms than those who didn't eat these foods regularly. (Source) Omega 3 fatty acids are plentiful in grass-fed meat and eggs from pasture-raised foul. Also, consider taking an Essential Fatty Acid (EFA) supplement that is high in Omega 3 oils to reduce inflammation in the body. (One of my current favorite EFA products is fermented cod liver oil from Green Pastures, available through Radiant Life Company.) 

Avoid processed foods. Eliminate nitrates, sulfites, MSG, dyes, corn syrup, high fructose corn syrup, genetically engineered foods, preservatives and pesticides. All of these substances can increase your susceptibility to being more inflamed and allergic. Choose organic as much as possible.

Also, avoid foods that elicit negative reactions (phlegm production, bloating, abdominal discomfort, gas, etc.) for you. Decreasing the burden on your body's metabolic functions can reduce inflammation and allergic responses.

Remember that Spring is the time of year to lighten our diets. A diet consisting of lots of lightly steamed veggies, broth and stock, and small amounts of high-quality meat will reduce inflammation, build strong cells, tone your tissues and improve your metabolism, making you less prone to allergies. Ginger and turmeric both possess anti-inflammatory properties and make tasty garnishes. A garnish of horseradish may help as a temporary decongestant by virtue of its spiciness.

For more food ideas, please see my article Spring Food & Cooking Tips from Traditional Chinese Medicine.


2. Stay Hydrated:


If they body is not getting enough water, it creates mucous to counteract dryness. Getting enough water is an important first step in preventing or eliminating allergies.

One recommendation is to drink "1/2 your weight" in water daily. I.e., if you weigh 120 pounds, drink 60 oz water. Consider using a water bottle that shows the quantity of water it holds in ounces. Pay attention to how much you drink daily, and increasing that amount if necessary.



3. Avoid Exposure to Toxins:


Consider that your liver helps mediate the inflammatory responses in your body, including responding to allergens. Among the liver's many jobs is filtering chemical toxins in your body. If the liver is backed up and bogged down with daily toxic exposures, it is less able to help you with your allergic reactions. (For more on the liver from Chinese & western medicine perspectives, please see my article The Liver in Traditional Chinese Medicine.)

This can be discouraging due to the amount of inevitable toxic exposure we face in our daily lives. Read the labels on all your body care products, soaps, detergents, make up, hair care products, and household cleaning products and make a commitment to using all natural personal and household care items.

A useful theory to consider in relation to food, cleaning products and environmental toxins is the Total Load Theory. This theory states that for some people exposure to a single allergen may not be enough to trigger a symptomatic response; however, exposure to several allergens around the same time elicits an allergic response. A simple example is, say, that a person is allergic to cow's milk and to a particular tree pollen. That person may drink milk without any noticeable allergic response. But when certain pollens are present, she suffers from allergic symptoms. By avoiding dairy products during pollen season, she maybe able to lessen her "allergic load" and reduce her symptoms. Similarly, avoiding environmental toxins or foods to which you have sensitivities as much as possible may help reduce seasonal allergy symptoms.


4. Gut Health / Beneficial Bacteria


The beneficial bacteria in your gastrointestinal tract play an important role in your inflammatory response. You can reduce the severity of allergic reactions by increasing the integrity of your gastrointestinal tract. Beneficial bacteria are destroyed by anti-biotics, medications, stress, birth control pills, chemical toxins and excess coffee and sugar consumption. Consider nourishing the beneficial bacteria in your gastrointestinal tract by eating naturally-fermented foods such as raw sauerkraut, kim chee, whey, kefir and plain yogurt.

Here's an easy recipe for naturally-fermented sauerkraut.

Half of the immune cells in your body are found in the digestive tract. Supporting your gut will improve your immunity and decrease your allergy symptoms.

In a 2008 study, researchers discovered that people who took probiotics throughout allergy season had lower levels of an antibody that triggered allergy symptoms. They also had higher levels of a different antibody (IgG), thought to play a protective role against allergic reactions. (Source.)


5. Tea Instead of Coffee


The caffeine in coffee tends to deplete your adrenals and weaken your immune system. Tea does not have this affect. Green tea is rich catechins, including a powerful antioxidant phytonutrient called epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG) that blocks histamine and IgE, which are linked to allergies. Drink two or three cups of green tea daily for best results.

Peppermint tea is another great choice. The essential oils in peppermint have decongestant, anti-inflammatory and mildly anti-bacterial properties.



6. Chinese Patent Formulas:


Moving on to more specific medicinal remedies, there are two patent formulas that are worth having in your home-remedy kit for the relief of acute allergic symptoms, particularly allergic rhinitis and headaches:

"Bi Yan Pian," or "Nose Inflammation Tablets," disperses wind, clears heat, expels toxins and transforms phlegm to unblock the sinuses, treat sinus congestion and pain and sinus headaches and relieve red, itchy or watery eyes.


"Xin Yi Wan," or "Magnolia Flower Teapills," dispel wind-cold and eliminate dampness to relieve nasal congestion, sinus pain, post-nasal drip, sneezing, runny nose, headache, stiff & achy upper back & neck.



What is the difference between these two formulas?



Basically, bi yan pian is for allergies characterized by wind-heat  and phlegm signs (which might include thick, sticky, yellow nasal discharge; red, itchy eyes; feeling of warmth or agitation or avoidance of warmth.)


Xin Yin Wan is for allergies characterized by wind-cold and dampness signs (copious, clear, runny nasal discharge; stiff upper back & neck; feeling of heaviness or foggy-headedness; sneezing; feeling of chilliness or avoidance of cold.)


It is also worth consulting with a licensed Chinese herbalist who draws from several hundred herbs to customize a formula for your specific needs. As your acute symptoms decrease, your herbalist will also work with you to address underlying physiological imbalances and regulate your immune system to reduce overall occurrence of allergic reactions.


Also, there are many Chinese herbal patent formulations on the market. Consult with your herbalist to learn which products are safe and from reputable companies, as well as which formulations might best meet your needs.



7. Nettles



Stinging nettles are a western herb known to reduce sneezing and runny nose due to seasonal allergies. In a 1990 double-blind study, 58 percent of people reported nettles to be effective in treating allergic rhintis and 48 percent said 300mg of freeze-dried herb was equally or more effective as other allergy medications. A 2009 study demonstrated in the laboratory that the leaf of the stinging nettle plant blocks at least three chemical reactions essential to our body's inflammatory process, making it a potent anti-allergy medicine.

Freeze-dried stinging nettle extract (available in capsules, from the health food store) may be the most effective formulation, because the freeze-drying preserves certain biological activity. Tinctures are available, as well. I'd recommend steeping the dried leaves and sipping the tea throughout the day. If you're adventurous, you can eat fresh nettles (available in farmer's markets or for springtime wildcrafting.) Be sure to wear gloves when harvesting and preparing them because they do sting. Cooking eliminates the enzymes that cause the sting. Here is a link to a recipe for nettle soup.


8. Medicinal Mushrooms



A regular dose of medicine mushrooms may build your immune system and reduce inflammation. Reishi and cordyceps have been shown to reduce systemic inflammation and allergic reactions. These can be found in capsule and tincture forms. Source.



9. Nasal Rinsing/Neti-Pot


Many people find it helpful to irrigate the sinuses with warm saline water in order to wash away mucous  and environmental debris. You can use a neti-pot to do this or a simple bulb syringe.

Here's a recipe:
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
8 oz. slightly warm tap water

Using a bulb syringe or nasal rinse bottle, 3 squirts in each nostril while making a harsh "K" sound. Blow nose between squirts and do 2-3 times per day.

Always use clean equipment for to spray inside the nasal cavity. Sterile, distilled or boiled (be sure to cool first!) is recommended to avoid dangerous contaminents.

Along this line, a nasal spray containing xylitol might be helpful. Xylitol is a sugar alcohol which breaks up the biofilm protecting bacteria and viruses and trapping environmental debris in the sinus cavity. An OTC nasal spray like Xlear can be helpful in clearing the sinuses, while also helping to keep them slightly lubricated and less susceptible to invasion by pathogens. For sinus infections or acute allergy symptoms, add a few drops of goldenseal tincture to the rinse solution. Goldenseal has astringent and anti-bacterial properties that are healing and soothing to the nasal passages.


10. Herbal Steams


These are a wonderful, relaxing way of clearing sinus congestion. Put some fresh aromatic herbs (like rosemary, thyme or eucalyptus, sage, cedar, juniper berries, even mint) in a medium to large pot. Cover with water. Bring to a boil & let simmer for 5 minutes (Do not boil for more than five minutes or you'll lose the aromatic quality of the herbs.) (Alternatively heat water and add a few drops of aromatic essential oils.) Remove the pot from heat. Be sure to allow the water to cool sufficiently that you don't burn your face! Sit at a table with your head over the steaming pot. Cover your head with a towel. Breathe the warm vapors into your nose & lungs for up to 20 minutes. Enjoy.

The Chinese pharmacopoeia has lots of wonderful aromatic herbs that are great for steaming, including schizonepeta (jing jie), siler (fang feng), Chinese angelica root (bai zhi), magnolia buds (xin yi hua), xanthium buds (cang er zi), and more. These herbs clear the sinuses, clear the bronchioles and relax & tone the lungs. Other herbs can be added to address specific symptoms (ear pain, coughing, etc.) I love prescribing steaming formulas for my patients.



11. Quercetin


Quercetin is a natural chemical, a plant-derived antioxidant flavenoid, found in many foods. Quercetin has been shown to stabilize mast cells, thus slowing the release of histamine and other chemicals related to allergic symptoms. Quercetin may be taken as a supplement. Also, consider increasing your intake of quercetin-rich foods (such as citrus fruits, apples, onions, parsley, broccoli, lettuce and black/green tea.) Quercetin is absorbed better when taken in combination with bromelain, a natural, protein-digesting enzyme with anti-inflammatory properties, derived from pineapples.


12. Acupuncture


Research shows that acupuncture reduces allergy symptoms.

I've seen acupuncture provide immediate symptomatic relief in one session. I recently gave a quick, simple acupuncture treatment to a woman who'd been suffering from pretty significant allergies. When I saw her a month later, she told me that her allergies had gone away during the treatment and had not recurred since then.


Treatment plans for allergies vary, and the possible results range from temporary relief to complete remission. Gentle manipulation of points around the nose, such as Yintang, Bitong and Large Intestine 20, with massage or very fine needles, usually relieve nasal congestion and sneezing as soon as the needles are inserted. Points on the chest can open the bronchioles, alleviate chest tightness, wheezing, coughing and postnasal drip. Points on the arms and legs are often used to bolster Spleen and Lung Qi, addressing weaknesses underlying propensity to allergies.



Link to further reading:

Relieve Allergies Naturally with Chinese Medicine

Sinusitis: Acupuncture, Herbs & Self-Treatment Tips


For allergy relief, call 510-495-5752 or email stephanie@stephaniedoucette.com, to learn more about how Chinese medicine can help.


References:

Western herbalist Kami McBride's "Ten Steps to Reducing Your Allergies."
Dr. Mercola's article "How to Reduce Allergy and Asthma Symptoms."

Monday, April 15, 2013

Relieve Allergies Naturally with Chinese Medicine


There's nothing like seasonal allergies to dampen your enjoyment of springtime. Fortunately, research has shown, acupuncture and Chinese herbal medicine can safely and effectively prevent and relieve allergy symptoms.

What Are Allergies?

Allergies are overreactions of the immune system to normally harmless substances in the environment, such as dust, pollen, animal dander and foods. When an allergic person's immune system is triggered by an allergen, it causes inflammation, which is the body's attempt to eject this substance from the system. The severity of an allergic reaction can vary from simple eye itching, sneezing, and runny nose; to skin reactions such as eczema or hives; to even life-threatening constriction of the airways.

Increasing numbers of people suffer from allergies. The prevalence of allergic rhinitis, for example, is now estimated to be between 10 and 20% in developed countries. Allergic rhinitis and mild allergy symptoms are usually treated with antihistamine or decongestant medicines and sometimes with steroid medicines. These often cause unwanted and even harmful side effects, and do not address the root causes of the condition.

How & Why Do Allergies Develop?

Allergies are your body's reaction to allergens (particle your body considers foreign), a sign that your immune system is working overtime. The first time your body encounters an allergen, your plasma cells release IgE (immunoglobulin E), an antibody specific to that allergen. IgE attaches to the surface of your mast cells.

Mast cells are found in great numbers in your surface tissues (i.e., those with close proximity to the external environment, such as in your skin and in the mucous membranes of your nose) and in the digestive tract, where they help mediate inflammatory responses. Mast cells release a number of important chemical mediators, one of which is histamine.

So, the second time your body encounters a particular allergen, within a few minutes, your mast cells become activated and release a powerful cocktail of histamine, leukotrienes, and prostaglandins, which trigger the entire cascade of symptoms you associate with allergies: sneezing, runny nose, scratchy throat, cough, itchy eyes, etc.

Histamine can cause your airways to constrict, like asthma, or cause blood vessels to become more permeable, leading to fluid leakage or hives. Leukotrienes cause hypersecretion of mucous, which you commonly experience as a runny nose or increased phlegm. 

Pollen is an extremely common mast cell activator, but other agents can trigger these processes as well. Mold spores, dust, airborne contaminants  dust mites, pet dander, cockroaches, environmental chemicals, cleaning products, personal care products and foods can all cause allergic reactions. Every person is different in what he or she reacts to. And, just because you haven't reacted to something in the past doesn't mean you won't react to it in the future --- you can become desensitized at any point in time.

Traditional Chinese Medicine View of Allergies

Acute Symptoms:
Several Chinese medicine patterns of disharmony may be involved in cases of allergies. Wind is always part of the diagnosis. Typical of patterns involving wind, allergy symptoms often occur without warning. Wind usually combines with another pathogenic influence in wind-dampness, wind-cold, or wind-heat. Wind-dampness produces symptoms like sneezing, itching sensation in eyes and throat, a heavy sensation in the head and copious mucous. If cold is involved as a pathogenic factor, there maybe runny nose, clear mucous, headache and stiff neck and back. Heat involvement will produce red, itchy eyes; thick, yellow mucous; and maybe a headache.

Underlying Imbalances:
Typically, an underlying weakness, often a deficiency of Lung and Spleen Qi, makes people with allergies susceptible to allergic reactions. Lung Qi is responsible for the proper function of the entire respiratory tract, including the nasal passages. Spleen Qi controls the transport of fluids in the body. When the Spleen is impaired, weakening digestive function, it can lead to an overproduction of mucous, which tends to collect in the lungs.

The goal of the acupuncturist is to develop a plan which relieves the patient's acute symptoms, while addressing the immune system imbalance at the root of the person's allergy problems.

Treatment with Chinese Herbs

Acute Symptoms:
The primary treatment strategy to alleviate allergy symptoms is to repel wind with herbs that are spicy and dispersing in nature. Some of the most popular wind-herbs are Japanese catnip, or Schizonepeta tenuifolie (jing jie) and Siler divaricata (fang feng.) Household herbs like scallions & ginger root (for wind-cold) and peppermint leaf and chrysanthemum flower (for wind-heat) also help repel wind from the body, but not as effectively as fang feng & jing jie.

A TCM herbalist will customize each formula to meet each patient's individual needs. For example, magnolia buds (xin yi hua) and xanthium fuit (cang er zi) are common herbs used to open stuffed nasal passages. Chrysanthemum flowers (ju hua) and cassia seeds (jue ming zi) can be added to sooth itchy eyes. Perilla seeds (zi su zi) or platycodon (jie geng) can alleviate chest tightness, open the bronchioles, alleviate cough and wheezing and clear phlegm from the lungs.

Prevention:
The weakness of Qi underlying seasonal allergies is treated with herbs that bolster Lung and Spleen function, such as codonopsis (dang shen), atractylodes (bai zhu), and honey-roasted licorice (zhi gan cao).

A classic formula for toning the immune system is Jade Windscreen (yu ping feng san), containing two herbs to bolster Lung and Spleen--astragalus root (huang qi) and atractylodes (bai zhu)-- and one herb to repel wind--siler (fang feng).

Another useful formula for allergy prevention is Six Gentlemen Decocotion (liu jun zi tang). This formula bolsters the Spleen and Lung AND contains to medicinals, pinellia (ban xia) and aged citrus peel (chen pi), which enhance the base formula's ability to clear mucous and dry dampness.

Again, a TCM herbalist will customize each formula to meet a patient's individual needs.


Treatment with Acupuncture

Acupuncture frequently relieves allergy symptoms immediately. Treatment plans for allergies vary, and the possible results range from temporary relief to complete remission. Gentle manipulation of points around the nose, such as Yintang, Bitong and Large Intestine 20, with massage or very fine needles, usually relieve nasal congestion and sneezing as soon as the needles are inserted. Points on the chest can open the bronchioles, alleviate chest tightness, wheezing, coughing and postnasal drip. Points on the arms and legs are often used to bolster Spleen and Lung Qi, addressing weaknesses underlying propensity to allergies.


Links to Related Articles:


Friday, April 12, 2013

Research: Acupuncture & Chinese Herbs Effective in Relieving Allergies


A 2004 study published in the journal Allergy was the first to scientifically evaluate the combined effect of both acupuncture and Chinese herbal medicine on people with allergic rhinitis. The results of this study suggest that a Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) protocol involving both acupuncture and Chinese herbal medicine can benefit people with allergic rhinitis.

In this study, 52 people with allergic rhinitis were randomly assigned to receive either weekly acupuncture sessions and Chinese herbal medicine three times per day or placebo (sham acupuncture --insertion of needles into nonspecific points and nonspecific herbs) for six weeks. The people receiving treatment were given two herbal medicine formulas: one was a basic formula for allergies and the other was created for each individual, based on the person's Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) diagnosis.

TCM More Effective than Placebo in Alleviating Allergy Symptoms:

At the end of the study, allergy severity in people receiving treatment was significantly lower than in those receiving placebo. Nearly 85% of those in the TCM group improved while improvement was noted in only 40% of those getting placebo. By the end of the study period, the severity of hay fever was "significantly less pronounced in the TCM group" than in the control patients. Instances of remission (where patients reported no or very low symptoms) occurred twice as often in the TCM patients compared to patients in the control group.

Lifestyle Improvements & Need for Less Meds with TCM:

The 2004 study also found that the TCM patients experienced higher levels of physical activity and improved psychological conditions compared to patients in the control group. Moreover, intake of anti-allergy drugs dropped dramatically among the TCM patients, compared to only a slight decrease in the control group.


Links:

Source: Allergy (2004; 59: 953-60).

Article from Bastyr Center for Natural Health.




A study of 422 seasonal allergy sufferers, conducted in Berlin, Germany and published in the Annals of Internal Medicine earlier this year (2013), showed that 71% of people who received acupuncture reported an improvement in their allergy symptoms after eight weeks of treatment. Study participants who used antihistamine medications as needed and did not receive acupuncture experienced markedly less improvement of symptoms. The study concluded, "Acupuncture led to statistically significant improvements in disease-specific quality of life and antihistamine use measures after 8 weeks of treatment compared with sham acupuncture and with RM [rescue medicine] alone..."



Links:


Source: Annals of Internal Medicine, February 19, 2013.

News Story in The Columbus Dispatch, March 31, 2013.

Report in Reuters, February 18, 2013.


Spring Food & Cooking Tips from Traditional Chinese Medicine



Spring is the time when the Yang energy of the year begins its ascent after the dormant Yin of winter. In the traditional Chinese calendar, Spring begins in early February. Early Spring is a time of quickening. The first pulses of life are felt as the ground thaws and signs of new green life appear. Spring peaks at the equinox (March 21), with an abundance of blossoming trees, and finally ushers in Summer, the apex of Yang energy, in June.

In classical Chinese philosophy, Spring is associated with the element wood, meaning growing plants. The nature of plants is to grow, expand and ascend in a quest for sunlight. All plant life, though, begins with the sprouting of tender seeds in dark soil.

We humans tend to experience feelings of restlessness and heightened energy in the springtime. Our activity levels increase with the growing daylight hours. However, it's important to realize that our energy, like that of the new sprout, is still tender and delicate. For optimal health, the transition from Yin to Yang should be made gradually. Activity levels should be increased gradually; dietary changes made gradually. We should continue to keep ourselves warm and get adequate rest, especially in early spring.

Here are some food and cooking tips from Traditional Chinese Medicine to help our bodies transition healthfully from the dormancy of Winter, through the expansive energy of Springtime, and into Summer.

1. Lighter Appetite:

Most popular Spring dietary advice centers on cleansing. Cleansing certainly has its place. Springtime rituals of fasting, self-abnegation, purgation exist in some form in most, if not all, traditional cultures and religions. Fasting or cleansing can certainly have health benefits, i.e. giving the digestive system (Liver, pancreas, etc.) a break. Perhaps I'll write more about cleansing regimens in future blogposts. But I'm also concerned that spring cleansing can be faddish and must, at best, be approached with thoughtfulness and caution.

What I can say for sure is that our appetites naturally decrease as the spring season progresses. It is good to follow these instincts when you experience them. Spring is a great time to eat less in order to cleanse the body of the heavier, richer and fattier foods of winter. In my experience, it may take some time for our dietary instincts to lighten up. We are still naturally sluggish in early spring. As the weather warms, it becomes easier and more natural to lighten our diets.

East Bay acupuncturist & food writer, Nishanga Bliss, L.Ac. adds these helpful thoughts: "Rather than embarking on a formal spring cleanse, simply incorporating spring foods into the diet cleanses gently and gets us in the mood for the rapid growth and movement of the warmer seasons."

As you incorporate more spring foods, also decrease the proportion of heavy foods in your meals. Don't abandon fat, by any means, but you can eat less meat, fewer heavy sauces. Spring is a good time to avoid fried foods and alcohol as these are particularly warming. Also, eat less salty foods (that includes miso, soy sauce, tamari), as the salty flavor has a descending energetic quality.

2. Spring Foods:

So, what are "spring foods"? The energy of Spring is light, ascending, and expansive, like young plants. At least some of the foods we eat in Spring should embody these qualities. Here are some examples:

Begin including lots of tender fresh greens into your diet. These include arugula, beet, daikon and turnip greens; dandelion greens; kale and collard greens; mustard greens; Swiss chard; spinach and lettuce of all types. By April, Bay Area farmers' markets are bursting with leafy greens.

Early spring is a great time to begin incorporating sprouts into your diet. Sprouting seeds or legumes in your kitchen is pretty easy. Here's a link to basic sprouting instructions on Nishanga Bliss' gastronicity blog. Helpful sprouting starter kits can be found in health food stores.

If you're especially hardy and adventurous, consider incorporating wild green edibles like chickweed, dandelion, miner's lettuce, plantain and nettles that are growing in the East Bay hills and on the margins of our gardens right now.  Here's a recipe for nettle soup.

Look out for fresh green garlic, spring onions, scallions and young leeks as these shoots are are full of spring energy. These make great garnishes for any dish, either sprinkled on raw or sauteed in butter or olive oil. Speaking of delicious garnishes, don't forget to sprinkle lots of fresh green herbs over your meals and into your sautes: rosemary, thyme, marjoram, peppermint, dill, fennel, etc. Not only do the fresh, spicy, green shoots and herbs match the energy of the season; they are anti-microbial and cleansing to the body as well.

3. Don't abandon the root veggies just yet!

Remember that in traditional agrarian societies, until quite recently, in fact, fresh fruits and vegetables were in short supply (usually unattainable) in winter. Households depended on root vegetables from last fall's harvest, along with pickles and preserves and a few fresh sprouts, to get them through early spring. Root veggies are abundant in our early spring farmers' markets: turnips, rutabagas, beets, carrots, parsnips, celery root, kohlrabi. They are high in minerals and tend to alkalinize the body and have a lower glycemic index than starches. Eat root vegetables, boiled and pureed with butter, or lightly roasted, in place of grains. Grate raw root veggies over salad greens and season with apple cider vinegar or lemon juice.



4. Fermented Foods

Along with stored root vegetables, traditional agrarian households also depended, during the early Spring months, on vegetables that had been preserved for storage through fermentation processes.

Fermented foods like raw sauerkraut or lacto-fermented pickles are full of health benefits and a traditional part of spring diets. It's great to eat a bit of fermented food at every meal. Because they're so beneficial to digestion--they're full of enzymes and beneficial bactera-- they'll lighten the load on your digestive organs, facilitating your body's natural spring cleaning process.

If you'd like to start making your own fermented food at home, raw sauerkraut is a great way to start experimenting. Here's an easy sauerkraut recipe.

5. The Flavors of Spring


Classical Chinese philosophy associates the flavor sour with the Spring season and the Liver organ. Indeed, sourness is said to guide food to the Liver where it counteracts the effects of rich, greasy food, functioning as a solvent and breaking down fats and protein. Sourness helps in digestion to dissolve minerals for improved assimilation. At the same time, an excess of sour foods is said to weaken the Liver. Some great ways to incorporate a helpful (small) amount of sour food into your springtime diet is to garnish your greens with a bit of unpasteurized apple cider vinegar or lemon juice.

Revered sixteenth-century Chinese herbalist Li Shi Zhen (best known for his writings on digestion and assimilation in relation to health and healing) recommended using sweet and pungent (mildly spicy) foods and medicinals to attune one's body to the spring season. Indeed, mildly sweet and pungent food possess those yang-natured light, ascending and expansive qualities. And indeed, all those spring garnish foods --- sprouts, root vegies, garlic shoots, fresh herbs possess combine sweetness and pungency. A perfect spring drink is peppermint tea with a bit honey. Or mix a bit of honey and fresh green herbs into your cider vinegar or lemon juice-based salad garnish.


6. Shorter Cooking Times

Traditional Chinese Medicine recommends less intensively-warming cooking methods during the warmer seasons. Try light steaming, minimal simmering and minimal sauteeing, as opposed to baking, roasting, and frying --- cooking techniques advised for the winter months. Nutritionist Paul Pitchford adds, "In the Spring, food is best cooked for a shorter time but at higher temperatures; in this way the food is not as thoroughly cooked, especially the inner part."

Some folks begin incorporating more raw food into their springtime diets. Chinese medicine cautions against eating a lot of raw food because it taxes the digestive system. Small amounts of raw food can be light and cooling, especially beneficial if your constitution is hot. I recommend incorporating raw food only as the weather warms significantly, in late spring and summer, but not if you're sick or weak; only in small amounts; and always balanced with something warming -- i.e. warm bone broth; a garnish of grated raw ginger, sauteed garlic or onions; and/or some fermented food to aid digestion.

May all your springtime meals match the delicate sweetness of these spring months!




Links to more articles by Stephanie on Spring Health:

Ten Lifestyles Tips for Spring Wellness

Eight Easy Herbal Teas for Spring

The Liver in Traditional Chinese Medicine

Spring Recipe: Nettle Soup



Sources:

Nishanga Bliss, L.Ac. website: http://gastronicity.blogspot.com

Paul Pitchford. Healing with Whole Foods: Asian Traditions & Modern Nutrition.

Penelope Ody. The Chinese Herbal Cookbook: Healing Foods from East & West.

Elson M. Haas, M.D. Staying Healthy with the Seasons.

Lectures by Liu Ming, Oakland, CA. www.dayuancircle.org.