Lose It: Weight Loss And Traditional Chinese Medicine

Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) can help with weight loss by evaluating the root of the problem. Acupuncture and herbs, along with changes in diet and an exercise plan, can help curb appetite, assist the digestive system, transform and transport food throughout the body and encourage regular elimination.

Here are three main contributors to weight gain and how TCM addresses them.

Hormones: Testosterone and estrogen imbalance can be likened to yin and yang. Yin is more feminine, still, dark, quiet, inward and moistening (our fluids are yin) and is likened to estrogen. Yang is more masculine, loud, outward, moving, hot and bright. It is likened to testosterone. The body continually achieves balance between these two elements. As we age, the hormone levels of testosterone and estrogen adjust and can create changes in the body such as weight gain. For example, women with higher estrogen develop increased fat storage, and women prescribed estrogen may be prone to weight gain. Treatment would include an herbal formula designed to adjust the hormones and a diet recommendation that would include foods that nourish yin, such as yams.

Dampness: In TCM the term dampness refers to water retention combined with fat stores due to overstimulation of insulin from poor diet and overeating. If this happens chronically, it weakens the spleen system (which is in charge of transformation and transportation of food in TCM, a different definition than that of the Western-medicine spleen).

Long-term depletion causes blockage of organs and channels leading to serious health risks for the kidney, spleen, heart and lungs. This happens in stages as acute damp retention becomes chronic and leads to deficiencies in the spleen and kidney, which leads to more chronic phlegm retention. An obese person would experience health issues such as diabetes and heart disease in this case. Treatment is best in the early, acute stages where dampness is still primarily middle-heavy. Herbs and acupuncture would drain the damp and a new diet would be implemented to prevent future issues. Foods such as barley, and soups to warm the spleen are benecial.

Eating habits and lifestyle: Overeating, eating quickly, indulging in processed foods and foods too cold, such as iced drinks and raw vegetables, impair the smooth function of the digestive system. Stress and irregular eating habits also can cause weight gain, as well as eating sugar to boost sagging energy or to calm emotions. In addition, eating heavily at night is not advisable because the body burns at a slower rate at night as it replenishes the yin cycle. Treatment in this case would include an adjustment in lifestyle and acupuncture for stress relief and appetite control.

TCM does not just see food biochemically. Food has qualities including temperature, taste, shape and color, which benefit specific organs and encourage their smooth function. For example, sour and green foods benefit the liver, bitter and red foods benefit the heart, and pungent, white foods benefit the lungs. If one has too much yang energy, there is too much heat and therefore cooling foods such as watermelon and cucumber would help achieve balance. In the case of a decline in yang, one would feel cold, so warmer foods like lamb and ginger would benefit. If one has too little yin, heat signs are present because the yang has become more exuberant. You would nourish the yin in this case with foods like yams or goji berries. Not only will the weight gain be addressed but the root of the issue as well. Ask me if you’re interested in learning more about TCM for your weight loss goals.

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Gua Sha for Healthy Skin

There are many elements to keeping our skin healthy and vibrant. For instance, are we giving our bodies enough water each day? Are we eating healthy, organic, whole foods?  Are we getting enough sleep? Are we dealing with our daily stressors? All of these things can affect how we feel on the inside and how we look on the outside. But in today’s busy society, many rarely take the time to care for themselves. This can show on our faces in the form of wrinkles, dry lackluster skin and even discoloration.

There is hope to fix this, and it’s called Gua Sha. Gua Sha may be just what the doctor ordered for attaining healthy skin.

Gua Sha is a technique that involves the quick, repetitive scraping of a flat jade, natural horn, ceramic or metal tool across the skin to relieve tension and pain and stimulate lymphatic drainage. It can be used anywhere on the body, but is frequently used as a part of facial acupuncture treatments.

Facial Gua Sha is gentler than when it is utilized in other areas of the body. When performing Gua Sha on the face, the tool is pulled along the skin instead of the deep scraping used on other areas. Also the tools used on the face are usually made of jade, rose quartz or porcelain, which provides a cooling sensation on the skin surface. The purpose of Gua Sha on the face is to increase lymph drainage and release facial muscle tension.

The lymphatic system relies on movement. We tend to get this vital movement through exercise or massage. But if you’re not engaging in regular exercise, the lymphatic system can become sluggish and clogged. This means that it doesn’t perform optimally.  When lymph fluid is circulating and draining properly, added Gua Sha can reduce inflammation and increase the body’s ability to remove toxins and dirt that have built up in the skin. This means less facial puffiness, clearer sinuses and less acne.

Facial Gua Sha can be beneficial for reducing tension held in the face and neck areas too. This may lead to fewer headaches, less jaw tightness and decreased neck pain.  For people who clench their teeth, Gua Sha can be a game changer because it releases the tension built up in the muscles.

One more thing that facial Gua Sha provides is exfoliation. The action of gentle scraping on the face improves blood flow and allows for the dead skin cells to slough off more easily and frequently. This can even out facial skin tone, creating a radiant, healthy complexion.

If you are concerned about your skin tone, fine lines and wrinkles or you are experiencing neck and jaw pain, facial Gua Sha might be the extra tool you need.

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Acupuncture for Carpal Tunnel

As the weather warms, so too does the desire to be more active and spend time outside with friends and family. If you’re someone who spends a lot of the day on the computer, or in a job that requires other repetitive motions in your wrists and hands, you might be walking into summer in pain and wary of any upcoming bocce ball tournaments.

In some cases, repetitive movements of the wrist and fingers, including typing, can lead to carpal tunnel syndrome. Characterized by pain in the wrist and hand, carpal tunnel syndrome means the median nerve, which runs from the forearm to the wrist to the hand, has been compressed. This compression causes pain, numbness, tingling and occasional weakness of the wrist, arm and hand.

Conventional medicine treats true carpal tunnel syndrome with splints, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications and cortisone shots. If none of these work, then surgery is recommended. Carpal tunnel surgery is the second most common type of surgery in the United States, following back surgery.

However, many people who develop wrist pain are misdiagnosed with carpal tunnel syndrome and sent to surgery when it isn’t needed. This can lead to further, more serious complications. It’s important to find out if  your discomfort is being caused by true carpal tunnel syndrome or just inflamed trigger points that need attention. When trigger points are “upset,” the pain can actually mimic the symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome.

Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) utilizes acupuncture, as well as many other modalities, to treat pain associated with carpal tunnel syndrome. Acupuncture and electroacupuncture can be extremely beneficial for those suffering from this condition.  A study conducted by Massachusetts General Hospital demonstrated acupuncture and electroacupuncture not only decrease pain, but also remap the brain. Before and after MRIs showed the carpal tunnel-related damage to the somatosensory cortex was repaired in participants who received acupuncture. This means those subjects actually showed continued improvement over time and their ability to function improved, too. 

Acupuncture is a safer alternative to NSAIDs, cortisone shots and surgery. Studies confirm acupuncture decreases inflammation and restores function to tight muscles and tendons. Many studies show acupuncture eliminates the pain source rather than just masking the symptoms. Acupuncture is cheaper, less invasive and has a much higher probability of providing permanent relief. But in order to do this, the proper diagnosis must be made.

As mentioned before, angry trigger points can mimic carpal tunnel pain. Acupuncture can also be very beneficial for those experiencing trigger-point pain. Any one of the many muscles in the arms can become angry from repetitive motion. By stimulating painful trigger points with acupuncture needles, the muscles fire and release. This allows the muscle fibers to return to a relaxed state, relieving pain.

Wrist pain can be a serious burden for those who suffer from it, but before writing off the possibility of all summer lawn games this year, consider giving acupuncture a try.

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Research Update: New research might help explain how acupuncture works

One of the theories scientists have held for many years as to why acupuncture works to alleviate chronic pain and other ailments is called the Vascular-Interstitial Theory. This theory describes the idea that acupuncture works by affecting the electrical system of the body, the network of currents conducted by our cells. Electricity is vital for sending information through the body to the brain and vice versa, as well as in order to conduct currents to the heart, which allows it to pump at the right times.

A disruption to any of these electrical currents can cause illness. The Vascular-Interstitial Theory of acupuncture suggests stimulating acupoints affects these electrical currents in our bodies, facilitating healing by allowing the transfer of blood, organic matter and electrical energy between healthy and injured tissues.

Research published in March 2018 in Scientific Reports offered a significant contribution to our understanding of the interstitium, and therefore sheds new light on the Vascular-Interstitial Theory.

Previous research on the interstitium suggested it was a layer of densely packed connective tissue lining the digestive tract, lungs, urinary systems and surrounding veins and fascia between the muscles. New and increasingly powerful microscopes now allow scientists to look inside living tissues. In this case, the authors of the research were able to look inside the interstitium for the first time, and rather than a web of densely packed connective tissue, they found the space is a network of interconnected, fluid-filled compartments. This finding may help to explain why placing acupuncture needles at specific points on the body creates healing elsewhere in the body.

In an article for The Cut, reporter Katie Heaney interviewed one of the authors of this new research, Neil Theise, a clinician and professor of pathology at NYU Langone Health and a proponent of alternative medicine. While the research paper itself did not discuss acupuncture, Heaney asked Theise to weigh in on the possible connections. Theise posited it was possible the research had implications for understanding acupuncture. The layer of skin into which acupuncture needles are inserted is the interstitium, Theise explained.

“There’s fluid in there,” he told Heaney. “When you put the needle [into an accu-point], maybe the collagen bundles are arranged into a channel through which fluid can flow.”

The research shows the interstitium is a structured and organized system in the body. It may be that stimulating true acupoints allows interstitial fluid to travel throughout the body, explaining why acupuncture has far-reaching effects, not just offering pain relief at the site where the needles are inserted. Channels of interstitial fluid may be responsible for facilitating the transfer of blood, organic matter and electricity between healthy and injured parts of the body. These findings also offer a possible explanation as to why other research has shown sham acupuncture points have some pain-relieving effects where the needles are inserted, but true acupoints go a lot further in offering system-wide relief.

As always, this research is inconclusive on its own. It will require more research to further explore the connection between the interstitium and acupuncture, but it is undoubtedly an interesting idea.

https://www.thecut.com/2018/03/dowefinallyunderstandhowacupunctureworks.html

https://www.nature.com/articles/s41598-018-23062-6

https://www.graduate.umaryland.edu/gsa/gazette/February-2016/Howthehumanbodyuseselectricity/

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5 myths about acupuncture you should stop believing right now

Acupuncture is part of a medical system known as Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) that has been around for nearly 3,000 years. The practice uses hair-thin needles to stimulate acupressure points, specific points on the body that regulate the flow of energy through pathways called meridians. The free and balanced flow of this energy, or Qi, dispels pain and illness from the body, according to TCM. For many years in the Western world, in fact for most of the 3,000 years acupuncture has existed, people have been sceptical about placing their faith in a medical system that looks at energy pathways instead of veins.

Today, a growing body of research on acupuncture is going a long way to prove the efficacy of acupuncture for a variety of afflictions, and the practice is growing in popularity. If you’re one of those people still on the fence, take a closer look at these five prevailing myths about acupuncture before deciding it’s not for you.

Myth one: Acupuncture is painful.

It’s understandable to think being pricked with multiple needles will be painful or at least uncomfortable. In the West, our experience with needles is primarily through getting shots with hypodermic needles. Those needs are significantly larger than acupuncture needles, which are only about twice the diameter of a human hair. Acupuncture needles are also extremely flexible and can bend to a 90-degree angle without breaking. Rather than pain, most patients report a vague numbness, heaviness, tingling or dull ache around where the needles are inserted.

Myth two: Acupuncture only works to treat pain.

This couldn’t be further from the truth. In Asia, acupuncture is used to treat just about everything, and stateside, research is showing it alleviates a multitude of ailments. Acupuncture has been shown to help everything from allergies to arthritis. Some hospitals are now offering acupuncture to help alleviate stress and anxiety in the emergency room, and the U.S. military is using acupuncture on the battlefield to help with PTSD.

Myth three: Acupuncture doesn’t really work: it’s just a placebo effect

Over the past decade, scientific studies have come a long way in disproving this claim. Most studies today test the efficacy of acupuncture treatments by performing true acupuncture on a portion of the study participants and sham acupuncture on another group. The sham acupuncture, placing needles in people at random points rather than known acupoints, is meant to test the strength of the placebo effect in acupuncture. Several studies have found that while people in both groups report some change (pain relief, less nausea etc. depending on the study), the group that receives true acupuncture consistently reports more significant change, for a longer period of time, and system-wide change rather than just localized effects where the needles are inserted. In May 2018, the Journal of Pain published a study that looked at acupuncture and chronic pain using data from nearly 21,000 patients. In their study, patients who received sham acupuncture did not see significant changes in their pain whereas the group that received true acupuncture did, adding to the body of evidence showing acupuncture cannot be explained away by the placebo effect.

Myth four: Acupuncture works miracles: it only takes a couple needles to cure you

The truth is that acupuncture works on a cumulative basis, just like building muscle or losing fat by going to the gym. You can’t expect to go to the gym once and look like Dwayne Johnson. It takes time. And depending on how long you’ve been dealing with your ailment, it may take quite a bit of time and multiple treatments. There are no instant fixes when it comes to health.

Myth five: Acupuncture is expensive

This all depends on the practitioner, the type of acupuncture being performed and whether or not you use insurance. Practitioners sometimes offer sliding scale pricing. Community style acupuncture, typically performed in an open setting with the practitioner treating multiple people at once, is quite affordable. And, as more and more insurance policies start to cover acupuncture, it is becoming more accessible to more people.

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