The Crud, AKA, the Common Cold

Let’s face it; we all get it. Some more often than others, with children getting it the most. It’s the common cold. It’s a nuisance, a drag, it slows us down, and gets in our way. Sometimes it passes quickly, other times it lingers and gets caught in the chest, the sinuses, or the ears.

Cold viruses are constantly around us. Luckily we do not contract each virus that we come into contact with. This is due to our immune system, which is known as our defensive Qi in Chinese medicine. This is our body’s protection from external influences. If our defensive Qi (wei qi) is sufficient, we can walk directly through a viral cloud and not be bothered. However, during times of defensive Qi deficiency, we are most likely to become ill.

Now for a little Chinese medical anatomy lesson. The Lung is responsible for maintaining our defensive Qi. If the Lung is weakened, through improper diet (too much cold, damp foods–yes, there is a relationship between the Spleen and Lung), poor sleep, insufficient or excessive exercise, our defensive Qi becomes weakened. While most of the time we can get away with washing our hands and avoiding the common cold, if the Lung is not able to keep our defenses strong, no amount of diligent hand washing will be enough.

As a rule of thumb, at the first sign of a cold, a pre-sign, even, such as a faint scratchy feeling in the back of the throat, a little extra sinus congestion, a sneeze that has nothing to do with the dust mop, stop, sit down, drink a large cup of water. It may not have gripped you yet. If you have some echinacea or vitamin C, dose up. Even better, if you have some Chinese herbs (my favorite being Cold Away or Gan Mao Ling), it’s time to dose up. Acupuncture is also helpful. If the cold has set in, acupuncture may help to express it faster, meaning the duration of the illness may be shortened.

Indeed, the best way to boost your defensive Qi is to keep your Lung energy happy. Drink plenty of water every day, eat a balanced diet, get plenty of sleep, and of course, keep your hands clean and away from your face. In addition, regular acupuncture treatments can increase your defensive Qi and increase your general immunity. If it’s been more than 4 weeks since your last treatment, get in before the winter winds blow in.

Happy Thanksgiving!

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The Splendid Spleen

In my last post I wrote about how digestion is viewed in Chinese medicine. Today I will delve a bit further into the spleen and how to keep it happy.

In order to discuss the spleen I must first say something about how organs are viewed in Chinese medicine. While there is quite a bit of overlap between western and Chinese medical anatomy and physiology, the ancient Chinese had a broader view of the internal organs. Not only do organs perform their physiological functions within the body, they also have specific elements associated with each one.

As I mentioned last time, the western role of the spleen is to filter out white blood cells. However, in Chinese anatomy and physiology, it is likely the most important organ in the body. Not only does it, along with the stomach, create all of our Qi and blood, it also works hard to spread water throughout the body. The elements associated with the spleen are the color yellow, the earth, and, if out of balance, we may become overly worried or obsessive.

What does this mean in modern/plain language? Take care of your spleen! Overthinking and overeating can damage the spleen. One of the cardinal sins that many of us engage in is to read while eating. The eastern wisdom is that if we engage our brains while we eat it diverts energy away from the spleen, thus slowing our digestion.  So, first things first, put down the book, the newspaper, and step away from the computer at mealtime. Next, take a look at the food that you are eating. Remember that the spleen needs to stay warm so that it can help the stomach break down the food. Therefore, salads and cold sandwiches, ice water, and excessive sweets all have a deleterious effect on the spleen. But enough of what not to eat. Here’s how you can eat to support your spleen: plenty of warm food and drinks!

More specifically, here are some common spleen-supportive foods and spices you might try incorporating into your daily diet:

barley, basil, carrot, chicken, cinnamon bark, clove, coriander, cucumber, eggplant, garlic, ginger, green & red pepper, honey, licorice, nutmeg, peanuts, rice, squash, soybeans.

If this sounds complicated, I’ll make it simple: all you really need to do is balance out the foods that you eat. If you still want to eat a salad, make sure it’s not your main course. Have it as a side with some soup. Instead of putting ice in your water, drink it at room temperature or enjoy a warm cup of tea with your meal.

The most important thing, however, is to take a few moments to enjoy the food that you are eating. It is, after all, the fuel that will propel you through your day.

Children’s Acupuncture, a.k.a. shonishin

You might be wondering if acupuncture might benefit the youngest among us. The short answer is absolutely! We even have a name for children’s acupuncture: shonishin, a word borrowed from Japanese. One of the most common questions I receive is how a baby or a child would sit still for an acupuncture treatment. Until they are about 8 or 9 years old, their treatments look a little different from what you might be used to.

As a seasoned acupuncturist who has treated children from 6 weeks old through the teenage years, I have several tools at my disposal. The most important tool I have, aside from the parents themselves (something I’ll go into further detail in a bit), is a small gold-plated instrument. One end of the tool is slightly rounded for brushing the skin and the other end is a blunted tip for light pressure.

Children have energy (Qi) as adults do, but because they are younger, their Qi is more available on the surface, rather than deeper like ours. It is for this reason that actual acupuncture is optional in shonishin. A typical treatment of a young child or baby lasts between 15-20 minutes, and involves a combination of gentle finger pressure, brushing of the skin with my specialized pediatric tools, light massage, and if appropriate, inserting needles and immediately removing them. There is no physical discomfort experienced by the child (or the parents!). In fact, I often get giggles from ticklish toddlers.

Anther important tool is the parents. Because treatment is most effective when administered on a regular basis, I often show parents how to massage their children in specific areas to treat their ailment. For example, my home remedy for allergies is to have the parents gently stroke their child’s third eye area and down the sides of the nose. If a child is old enough for self-care, I show him or her how to apply pressure on specific meridians.

While I leave more serious conditions to be treated by western physicians, there are many ailments that respond very well to shonishin. My most common ailments include gastric reflux in infants, allergies, colds and flu, digestive disorders, anxiety and concentration issues.

In addition to shonishin I often make recommendations for western and eastern herbs, vitamins, and supplements. Most children respond very quickly to a combination of shonishin and supplements.  And parents, you know that when your child is healthy, you sleep better at night! You owe it to yourselves, so consider shonishin the next time your child is ill!

World Series and what it might mean for your health

Tonight is Game 1 of the 2010 World Series–the San Francisco Giants against the Texas Rangers!

I know that not everyone reading this is a baseball fan, but keep reading to see how similar we are to all of the Giants and Rangers players.  Professional baseball players have gotten where they are for a variety of reasons: raw talent, sheer luck, and physical conditioning, among other things. You may think that you have nothing in common with  professional athletes, but you do. One of the key components to their success is that each athlete has a team of health care providers both on and off the ball field. Without this team of medical professionals, these athletes would not be where they are today.

What does this mean for the rest of us? We all have our own team of professionals. Look around you; who are the ones who keep you going on a daily basis? Who helps you out when you’re hurt or ill? More importantly, who helps keep you going when you are well? Wellness care is equally essential, if not more, than intervention during illness. In fact, in ancient China, doctors were often fired when their patients became ill.

Western medicine is designed to treat illness, and in a lot of ways it excels in its endeavor. However, can you imagine a life with minimal pain or illness? While we all hold a different key to our own health, here are some ways to bring your health back to your consciousness:

1) Sleep. It can be as simple as knowing your natural circadian rhythm. As much as you can, allow yourself to fall asleep naturally, then see what time you wake up, without help from an alarm. You’ll learn a lot about your internal clock, and may not have to fight the pillow as much if you can keep to your natural rhythm.

2) Exercise. This doesn’t necessarily mean you need to work out 5 times per week in a gym. Look at your day-to-day patterns. Are you sitting for 9 hours at work and then another 4 -6 at home? Stand up more, walk the halls, get outside at lunch, and take the breaks that are provided to you.

3) Gather your friends. Keep up your friendships, be active with them, make meals together, enjoy cups of coffee or glasses of wine, and be sure to laugh on a regular basis.

4) Gather your health team. Keep up on your regular dental appointments, get acupuncture monthly even when you feel fine, see a great chiropractor or pilates instructor to keep up your physical alignment. If money is a concern, stagger your appointments so that you have something every other week. The bottom line is that health is cheaper than illness.

And, for those Giants fans, go team!