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Your journey to better health

Treating Insomnia with Holistic Medicine

One of the most common complaints seen in most health clinics by practitioners and doctors of all kinds is sleeplessness.  Insomnia is a condition that can negatively affect our well being on many levels if it is not treated right away, as it can turn into a chronic problem.  If you have only experienced restlessness randomly a few times in your life you might not be as aware of the health implications it has on your body the way a person who has suffered from it for weeks, months or years.
 
Unfortunately, many of the pharmaceutical drugs used for insomnia have side effects that can be quite dangerous. This makes holistic health options for insomnia a very attractive alternative for those who do not want to use pharmaceuticals as a first line of treatment, and also for those that have experienced bad side effects from the pharmaceuticals and no longer want to depend on them as the only option for better quality sleep.
 
Here at Stepping Stone we have many services that positively impact one’s sleep. Sleeplessness can have many causes at its root, so depending on the root cause the recommended combination of modalities and results may vary. It is a good idea to first set up an appointment with one of our acupuncturists to get a full assessment so we can come up with a Chinese medicine diagnosis to inform us of what the cause may be in order to create an appropriate treatment plan and to recommend the best modalities in your case.
 
Acupuncture,aromatherapy, Chinese herbs, cupping, ear seeds, craniosacral therapy, and massage are all potentially beneficial treatment options for insomnia, in my experience. As clinicians, we get to hear from our clients and patients how these modalities have helped them through times when they are trying to function and be productive while being sleep deprived. Once we get to the root cause and make progress, it is not uncommon to quickly hear how symptoms can quickly start to disappear.
 
Some of the benefits for insomnia received from these modalities include: clearer thinking, better memory, mood enhancement, increased energy, greater desire for sex, improved immunity, no nodding off in the day or need for naps, and less bags under the eyes with all around better skin complexion. And this is only a short list of things that can improve with better quality sleep. In fact, it is not uncommon for new acupuncture patients to first comment on how acupuncture impacted their sleep in a positive way. It is not uncommon for patients to say, “I slept like a baby for a couple days after my first treatment” or “I don’t think I have slept straight through the night without waking for years until the night of my first acupuncture session!”
 

 

Adaptogens: Ancient herbs to help you tolerate modern stress

Adaptogens are a category of herbs that exert a normalizing effect on body processes and help the body to better tolerate stress. They have been shown to increase the body’s resistance to myriad types of stress, including physical, emotional, chemical, and biological. Furthermore, they are able to counteract, reduce, or negate the negative body processes that can normally result from these stressors. This means while we can’t always change the source of your stress, these herbs have been shown to change how your body reacts to it.

Most herbs that are considered to be adaptogens come from forms of traditional medicine that have been practiced for thousands of years. These herbs have been used medicinally since long before we knew about their myriad biochemical effects in the body. Many of the most common adaptogenic herbs come from Traditional Chinese Medicine or Ayurveda (traditional Indian Medicine.)

Adaptogens are unique in that they exert numerous, at times contradictory, effects on a biochemical level in the body. For instance, some adaptogens have been shown to both increase blood pressure in cases of low blood pressure, and reduce blood pressure in cases of hypertension (high blood pressure.) Thus they are said to have a homeostatic effect on the body, meaning bringing the body back into balance.

Through myriad biological effects including modulating formation of stress hormones (corticosteroids and ACTH), regulating secretion of numerous stress hormones (including catecholamines), regulating central nervous system function, reducing oxidative stress and increasing protein synthesis, adaptogens may improve mood, increase energy, improve sleep quality, regulate  immunity, improve recovery, and increase focus.

From a modern understanding of the body, we know that adaptogens are particularly helpful in cases of over exhaustion, adrenal fatigue, and prolonged periods of stress.
In their native traditions, adaptogenic herbs traditionally appear as “tonic” herbs, known to have strongly nourishing effects of various body systems. This makes sense given our modern understanding – they are offering the body additional support, and they are able to identify the areas that are lacking.

From a Chinese Medicine perspective, we use some of these adaptogenic herbs in traditional herbal formulas alongside other herbs to target a particular symptom or condition. Common Chinese Herbs that have adaptogenic properties include Reishi Mushroom* (Ganoderma lucidum), Cordyceps (Dong Chong Xia Cao), Licorice (Gan Cao/Zhi Gan Cao), Eleuthero (Ci Wu Jia), Panax Ginseng (Ren Shen), and Astragalus (Huang Qi).  Many traditional Chinese Medicine formulas contain these herbs naturally – in other cases, we can add these herbs into a traditional formula as appropriate for a particular condition. That way, you have the best of both worlds – the traditional use of these herbs, and the modern understanding of all the ways they can help you once in your body.

Stressed? 

It doesn’t have to feel as overwhelming or exhausting as it does.



*Reishi mushroom is pictured above. 

Please note that herbs should always be prescribed under the guidance of a licensed health professional. There is no one herb that is appropriate for everyone, and there are absolutely health conditions for which you would not want to take adaptogenic herbs. 

The Relationship between the Liver, Spring and Wood the Phase

In order to examine the relationship of the Five Phases (Elements) and how they manifest in the body, it is best to go back to the two thousand year old source text of this cosmological and medical union of information from ancient China, the Neijing, or Inner Classic. It is considered the “bible” of Chinese medicine, as this classical medical text is still used today to help enlighten students and doctors in the art and science of Chinese medicine. In chapter four of the Inner Classic, in a discourse between the Yellow Emperor and his minister Qibo (who served him as an imperial doctor), the Yellow Emperor asks, “Each of the five zang organs correspond to a season, but do the Five Phases have other correspondences? If so, how do these affect the flow of energy?” Qibo replies, “In the east we have the color green, an energy which corresponds to the Liver. The Liver energy opens up into the eyes. The natural elements related to this are grass and trees, the flavor of sour, the animal is the chicken, the grain is wheat, the planet is Jupiter, its number is 3 or 8, its smell is rancid, its season is spring, its direction is out, its sound is shouting, its emotion is anger and it controls the ligaments and tendons.” All of these aforementioned correspondences are classified as belonging to the Wood Phase in Chinese medicine.

This dialogue tells us that the Liver has functional and physical correspondences to observable phenomena in nature which we can synthesize to better understand the role of the Liver in the body. The Liver is associated with rapid growth and movement, as observed in nature during spring. This is the time that seeds go from dormant to active, and energy changes from potential energy to kinetic energy.  On Earth, the manifestations begin to appear before our eyes as we start to notice green grass growing, warm winds blowing, and all of the other changes around us that are associated with this time of year. From a biomedical perspective, the liver is like a biochemical factory. It is responsible for metabolic activities such as manufacturing proteins, processing fats, and detoxifying the body from harmful substances. The various processing and metabolic activities of the liver energetically mirror children and teens, as they rapidly metabolize food, grow rapidly like plants in the springtime, are volatile, and are quick to process and react to changes in their surrounding environment. Just as when teenagers easily anger at their parents and shout or rebel by doing foolish things, when the Liver is diseased and out of balance, we may feel compelled to act out of anger. The Liver is said to “store the emotions” in Chinese medicine. From a Chinese medicine point of view, when emotions are stored and not dealt with in the moment, this manifests on a physical level. These emotions are capable of damaging our organs and causing symptoms of disease simply because on a mental/emotional level they have not been expressed in a way that is pleasing to our soul.

Many diseases can be diagnosed and treated in Chinese medicine as diseases of the Liver. The Liver has a holographic correspondence with body parts including the eyes, the tendons, the sinews, the ligaments, tears, nails and other bodily fluids and functions, including the menstrual cycle. For example, eye problems like floaters, can be diagnosed as a problem relating to the Liver and blood. Someone who has weak ligaments or tendons and has had sprains and tears might have a deficiency problem related to the Liver and Gallbladder since those are the Wood organs in Chinese medicine, and Wood is related to movement. Without proper ligament and tendon health it is impossible to move the muscles and bones to perform our daily activities. Excellent clinical results can be achieved when treating pain and restricted movement with Chinese medicine.

As we move into the spring season from winter, it is important to start adapting our habits and diet to correspond with the changes in nature so as to prevent new symptoms and disease processes from arising, and to keep old problems at bay. It is not uncommon in this season to see a lot of allergies, flu, emotional anger and frustration, eyes conditions and Liver problems arise this time of year if the Liver Organ system is out of balance and not adapting well to the change of seasons. For many of these issues, we can treat them with acupuncture and herbs to minimize symptoms and keep old problems from resurfacing. Something you can do for yourself is to start modifying your diet to eat more seasonally. Chinese medicine theory often suggests reducing sour flavored food and increasing the sweet and pungent flavors this time of year, as this helps to protect some of the other organ systems that are often negatively affected by Liver problems, according to Chinese medicine. Generally speaking, organic, local and in season food are a great general guideline to follow for eating the freshest and most nutritious ingredients. In the spring, foods like leafy greens are readily available- kale, spinach, lettuce, swiss chard and mustard greens are often abundant and great for us. Many members of the onions family can be harvested now if grown over winter. This includes, onions, leeks and scallions, for example. Sprouts and seeds are also growing this time of year and are full of nutrients, so add them to your salads, smoothies and garnishes for meals. Soups, salads, and seasonal herbs like basil, peppermint, and whatever else you can find in your garden are also great additions to spring meals. In general, food that are cooling, heat clearing and ones that promote circulation of blood and energy are the best general recommendations for this time of year. Of course, if you come in for acupuncture this spring you can ask your acupuncturist if there are any other specific food suggestions for you based on your conditions and constitution.

Diagnosis in Chinese Medicine

Many new patients often ask what we are looking for when we take pulse and tongue and how we select our acupuncture points for each treatment. This post is intended to answer these questions and more as we walk through the general process of diagnosis and acupuncture point selection.
 
The Chinese medicine diagnosis process is broken down into what are collectively called the “four pillars” of diagnosis. These four are looking, listening, question asking and palpation (touch). Each practitioner and style of acupuncture might have some variations about how they go about incorporating these “four pillars” in the clinic, and some might put more emphasis on one pillar over another, but ALL acupuncturists should be using a combination of these methods in practice regardless of style and training. This is a methodology that is so crucial to the medicine that it is considered one of the defining foundations of acupuncture practice. It is important to distinguish Chinese medicine diagnosis from Western medicine diagnosis.  Legally, an acupuncturist is unable to diagnose a according to Western medicine unless one is licensed as an MD, so it is important for all acupuncturists to be well versed in the four pillars even if the patient comes in having already been given a diagnosis from a conventional medicine practitioner. The terminology we use, and how it guides our treatment, is unique to our medicine. For example, when your acupuncturist says “Liver,” they may or may not be referring to your physical liver. In Chinese medicine the “Liver” means three things- 1) the physiological functions associated with the Liver according to Chinese medicine theory. 2) The acupuncture channel/meridian called the Liver. 3) The actual organ. Thus, when referring to the Liver of Chinese medicine we often use a capital L to distinguish it from the liver of biomedicine so as to prevent confusion when writing about the two.

Looking/Observing
The first of the four pillars is looking, or observing the patient. This happens the minute the patient comes into the clinic as we first observe the gait and then the eyes as the come closer as we greet them. The classics our medicine state that the shen (spirit) is best observed in the eyes. In fact, the medical classics also go so far as to say the eyes can give us an indication as to the prognosis of the patient as well. If the quality of the shen is very weak, the prognosis is poor for the patient being able to heal quickly or fully recover, where as prognosis for quick recovery or full healing is greatly increased if they person has good shen in their eyes. Other things we observe are the skin color and tone, the nails, the lips and the tongue. Since many people ask what we are looking for in the tongue, I will tell you that we look at the color, coat, shape and for other abnormalities like cracks, bumps, and deviation of the tongue.

Listening/ Question Asking
The part of the initial treatment that often takes the most time is the conversation we have before the actual treatment.  For Chinese medicine practitioners, listening carefully to your story and asking many questions is a primary way we gather information to determine our Chinese medicine diagnosis and the point selection for treatment. We do a detailed initial intake asking many questions about the chief complaint as well as gathering information about different bodily systems to try and obtain the whole picture. The intake form for new patients also includes gathering information such as family health history, any medications, surgeries, or other things that may be impacting your current situation.

All this information is very important, so don’t forget to mention something even if it seems trivial or unrelated to your primary reason for coming! The more information the better, as it gives us more to work with for the purpose of diagnosis and treatment.  Information is to INFORM us of what is going on inside your body. Question asking is a real skill, and the best doctors know how to ask the right questions to obtain pertinent information for the case.


Palpation
In classical Chinese pulse diagnosis we look for much more than in Western pulse taking. Yes, we do observe the speed and if it is regular or irregular like Western doctors do, but we also look for quite a bit more. This is why we feel the pulse on both wrists, not just one. We are feeling 6 different positions and at 3 depth levels. And we are not feeling only for rate and rhythm but particular qualities all of which have their specific meaning in the diagnosis. Chinese medicine has over 25 different pulse qualities!

Many Acupuncture practitioners utilize abdominal palpation. This is especially popular in Japanese styles, as originally only blind people were allowed to practice acupuncture in Japan, thus extra emphasis was placed on palpation of the body since the blind are unable to use the observation of the patient to obtain information. When palpating the body, we look for masses, tender spots, temperature changes and other factors that help diagnosis excesses and deficiencies of the channels, organs and other layers of the body.

So, now you hopefully have better insight into what it is we are doing when we assess you before we stick you with the needles. Hopefully, this information is helpful and answers some of the burning questions you have about the whole acupuncture process. Also, don’t forget to tell us if you ate or drank anything that might affect your pulse or tongue, such as coffee, candy, curry, etc. Changes in medications are also important to mention not just for contraindications of herbs, but also because it can affect the pulse and tongue.
 

Year of the Fire Rooster

January 28 marks one of the most important days of 2017 in China. This is because it is the first day of a two week long New Year celebration. The date changes yearly, as the celebration occurs on the second new moon after the winter solstice each year. The Chinese use both a lunar and solar calendar, but many of the traditional celebrations follow the lunar cycle, so the dates can vary by several weeks from year to year. In Mandarin, the pinyin (written spelling) for Happy New Year is gōng xǐ fā cái.

In China, people eat lots of traditional foods, travel to see family, participate in parades and dragon dances, and hand out red envelopes with money in them to children. People wear red for good luck, as it is also said to repel the mythical creature named Nian. Each day of the festival is associated with different activities, culminating with release of red lanterns into the sky on the 15 day for what is known as the Lantern Festival.
 
Twelve different zodiac animals exist in Chinese astrology, and this year will mark the Year of the Fire Rooster.  According to Amanda Starr in Chinese Astrology, people born in the Year of the Rooster are congenial, independent, industrious, brilliant, well-groomed and original. They make friends easily, are witty, cheerful, intelligent, charming, and love to impress and be the center of attention. Roosters enjoy engaging in verbal sparring and are quick to anger, but also quick to simmer down. By nature, Roosters are often inclined to be conceited and impatient, and those born in the Rooster year take themselves very seriously. Morally speaking, they are honest and brave, as well as daring and optimistic. They have a penchant for exaggeration, are not critical, and loathe criticism.
 
The last paragraph refers to Roosters in general. As far as the Fire Rooster goes, this is what Theodora Lau has to say in The Handbook of Chinese Horoscopes: this type of Rooster will be more authoritative and highly motivated compared to other types of Roosters. This Rooster will be even more independent, and will act with great precision and skill. On the negative side, their temperament might be more over-dramatic and nervous. They will possess above average managerial abilities and leadership. The Fire Rooster will fanatically stick to his or her own views and conduct his own fact-finding tours and feasibility studies. He will be unswayed by the feelings and personal opinions of others, although he is professional and ethical in his dealings.
 
At times he could be too inflexible to effect workable compromises. As a result, he will take to putting people and situations under a microscope for observation. If things do not measure up to his expectations, this could cause major upheavals. The Fire Rooster does have organizational talents and can project a stimulating and dynamic public image. And despite his shortcomings, this type of Rooster will have the noblest intentions behind his actions.

New Years GOALS

I’m a big fan of goal setting. Anyone who knows me well knows that. I definitely believe in the phrase, if you don’t know where you want to be, how can you figure out how to get there? This time of year, of course, lots of people are setting New Years Resolutions. But here is the thing – how many New Years Resolutions have you ever actually kept? I am a huge believer in resolutions and goals, and I’ve kept exactly ONE New Years Resolution in my decades of making them. A quick informal survey of many friends and patients leads to the same results – people either don’t make resolutions, don’t keep them, or have only successfully kept them once or twice.

Why is this? Maybe it is because a year is a long time. Maybe it is because we think too big too quickly. Maybe it is because we are all busy and change takes time and energy. But I think it is more likely because people make bad resolutions.

Here me out. It isn’t that the intention behind your resolution is bad – it is that the way we make resolutions isn’t conducive to success. Resolutions usually expect us to make a change cold turkey  - something many people aren’t that good at – and also don’t take into account the many steps, iterations, highs, and lows, that it takes to truly achieve a goal. I stumbled upon a great article by Elizabeth Scott, MS, a wellness coach and stress management expert, that delineates the difference between a resolution and a goal:

  • Resolutions are rigid, whereas goals are fluid. This means that goals can account for the gradual build-up necessary to really affect lasting change.
  • Goals give you a sense of accomplishment, whereas resolutions can set you up for a sense of failure.
  • Resolutions are usually a means to reach a goal, whereas a goal is the end result with many possible paths to reaching it. This means that if a resolution is too hard, you usually drop it and forget about it. However, if your way of reaching your goal isn’t working, you can drop it AND FIND ANOTHER WAY to reach the goal, without abandoning ship.

So let’s think about New Years Goals, as we head into 2017.

I’ve compiled a list of “Goal Categories” that you might consider when taking stock of where you are and where you’d like to be. Think about each of these categories of your existence, and if there are areas that you want to change or improve. It is important to focus on things that you have agency to change – it isn’t fruitful to wish something was different that is out of your control. Then think about a specific goal, and a plan of action for reaching it. (Remember, it is the goal itself that is important…the plan can change!) My advice is to think about each of these categories, but choose 1-3 goals total to focus on in the coming year as your “New Years Resolution” – but the exercise of evaluating your life in each of these categories can, in and of itself, be a useful exercise!

Health: What could make you a healthier person this year? Are there things you’d like to change about diet, exercise, medication, doctor’s visits, preventative health care, etc? Is there a specific ailment that you would like to better understand, resolve, or control? What parts of your health do you have control over?

Fitness: What are your fitness goals for 2017? Think about frequency, and intensity, and what purpose your fitness routine serves in your life. (Does it make you feel good? Give you a sense of purpose? Give you a sense of community? Reduce stress? Help you reach specific benchmarks? Challenge you? Keep you healthy? Strengthen your heart? Help you sleep? Etc.) Are there specific fitness accomplishments you’d like to reach? (Do 5 pull-ups, walk 20 minutes each day, complete a marathon, join a swim team, walk every day?)

Intellectual: How do you want to stimulate your intellectual curiosity this year? What do you want to learn, and why? How will you do that?

Emotional: In what ways does your emotional self need more support? In what ways do your emotions serve you well? In what ways do you wish your emotional responses were different? How might you help that be the case?

Character Development: What will make you a better person this year? What lesson do you need to learn? In what ways can you challenge yourself to grow in new ways?

Spiritual: What role does spirituality or religion play in your life? Are you happy with that? Do you wish it was different? What spiritual or theological questions do you want to devote time to this year? Are there new spiritual practices you would like to introduce into your life? (Prayer, meditation, drumming, yoga, etc) Or spiritual practices you already have that you would like to deepen?

Love Relationships: If you are in a romantic relationship, what could you do to strengthen that relationship? Be careful to only think about goals that YOU can do, not things that require change from the other person (for this exercise, at least!)

Family Relationships: Are there family relationships that you would like to strengthen or heal? How could that happen? What would that look like? What is one concrete step you could take in that direction?

Parenting: If you have kids, what is one area that you would like to improve as a parent? (Like Love Relationship goals, think about things that YOU can actively change…not things that you wish your children would change.) Again, think big picture, and then come up with a plan to get there.

Social: What social relationships do you want to improve or strengthen this year? Do you want to meet more people? In what kind of setting? What purpose do your social interactions serve? Is that serving you? How would you like that to change, if at all? Are there new social situations you’d like to put yourself into? New groups you’d like to join? Or certain social circles you would like to meaningfully pull back from?

Financial: Where would you realistically like to be financially one year from now? What will it take to get there? Is this about budgeting, cutting spending, or increasing income? Is it about reorganizing money, shifting your priorities, or saving in a more smart way?

Professional: What areas in your professional life would you like to strengthen or expand upon? What resources do you need to do that? How will you better yourself in your career? What is the long-term plan, and how do these goals align with that?

Societal: Are there ways that you could contribute more to society at large, to your community? Are there certain community groups you would like to be a part of? Volunteer opportunities you would like to take on? Donations you would like to make? What social/political/moral causes do you want to devote yourself to, as a way to better the world?

Physical Space/Home: How can you improve the physical space you live in? What one project will make your home feel like a better place to be? Or, can you redecorate a room to make it feel more your own? If you are thinking of moving in the coming year, what do you need to do to make your current space ready to sell or rent? What are you looking for in a new space?
 
Remember, start small. Pick one or two goals to focus on, and then create a plan of action to help you get there. Re-evaluate your plan periodically during the year – if it isn’t helping you reach your goal, then try a new plan.
 
A few other goal-setting tips:

  • Remember to make SMART goals when creating these new kind of New Years Resolutions. SMART Goals are:
             S – specific
             M – measurable
             A – attainable
             R – realistic
             T – time-bound
          (For more information, see this great explanation.)
 
  • Lots of us naturally think of things we can cut out of our lives – which is sometimes the best possible approach! But also consider what you can ADD to your life to make it better. For instance, instead of just thinking about unhealthy foods you can cut out, also consider what healthy foods you are not eating, that you could add in to your diet. Balancing what we want to eliminate from our lives with what we want to add to our lives can help us stay on track, and not seem to restricting.

  • Put your goals in writing. You will have a far better chance of sticking to them!

  • Share your goals with someone else – then you have someone to hold you accountable.

  • Have fun with it. New Years Resolutions, ideally, should be a chance to imagine the possibilities that change can bring. Allow yourself that imagination. And then get down to work!

Dōngzhì Festival- Winter Solstice and the Return of Yang

On December 21, 2016 the Winter Solstice will be celebrated by cultures all over the world. This day has been a significant one in the history of humankind ever since ancient cultures started to track time and the movements of the sun and stars. In China, the Winter Solstice Festival is called Dōngzhì, which translates as the “extreme of winter.”  Unlike in Western culture, this date does not mark the start of winter, but the midpoint, or height of winter and cold, thus the “extreme” rather than start of the season.
 
What does this “extreme” indicate? It is also the extreme point of yin, as the Chinese see this day as the return of yang. Since yin represents darkness, cold and stillness, this day is celebrated as a return of light, warmth and movement on our planet. Since it is the end of yin, it is also the darkest day of the year. It is also the day our shadow is the longest or tallest. These all indicate the extreme of yin.
 
The Chinese philosophy views the yin/yang symbol as one of movement. Energy moves around the outside of the taiji and when it reaches the top of the taiji circle we have arrived at the summer solstice, or the time when yang is at its peak. The bottom of the taiji circle represents the Winter Solstice, as this is the day when yin reverts to yang. This endless interplay of yin and yang goes on without end. One always turns into the other, just as fall always turns into winter and winter into spring, etc. The seasons are part of a yearly cycle, and the repeated patterns of nature allow us keep track of things on our planet. The predictability of this is paramount to human life. Without such predictability our lives would be full of chaos, as unpredictability would mean we wouldn’t know when to plant seeds and harvest their bounty, for example.
 
In Chinese medicine we often advise patients to “recharge their battery” this time of year in order to get ready for the next year. This means, limiting strenuous activities such as vigorous exercise to more gentle and nourishing spiritual and physical activities such as yoga, tai chi, and meditation in place of running and lifting weights, for example. Patients are told to try and go to bed earlier and sleep in a little later to help preserve their qi for the more active time of year- spring and summer. Yang is also preserved by keeping warm, so bundle up in layers and don’t forget to wear your hat, gloves and scarf when you go outside!
 
In the clinic, moxa is a very popular treatment method the week before the solstice because it is said to bring warmth and yang qi into the body. It helps to tonify the body in order to reinforce this recharging of life. We can also do specific points and needle manipulation techniques that are tonifying to the body in order to strengthen the organ systems and increase the supply of blood and qi in the acupuncture channels and other layers of the body. The treatment point selections are also often influenced by the seasons and the state of yin and yang in the body, so a skilled acupuncturist can modify the point prescription to incorporate the influences of the seasons into the treatment plan.

Acupuncture for Addiction

Almost everyone reading this has a friend, family member or co-worker that struggles from addiction. Perhaps, you might not even be aware that someone you know struggles from an addiction of some sort. Sometimes it is obvious, but most cases aren’t so apparent unless you pay careful attention to the signs. Chances are, most people you know struggling with an addiction are not open to talking about it, and they do a good job of hiding their habit unless they are hanging out with their addict friends. Often times, an addict will not confess they have a problem until they have already gone past the point of no return. Meaning, they have done so much damage to their physical and mental/emotional being that even after they quit they will still have strong urges to use or they will have certain mental and physical conditions that they may never fully recover from as a result of long-term abuse.

The good news is that for those who are willing to seek help, acupuncture can be a very effective treatment method for helping the person reduce cravings, detoxify their blood and organs, and help return them to better mental, emotional, physical and spiritual health. People who are coerced into treatment tend to make minimal progress to recovery, in my experience. That is why the first step of Alcoholics Anonymous is “We admitted we were powerless over alcohol—that our lives had become unmanageable.” This effective system is based around the idea that addicts must be aware of the damage they have done to themselves and other around them. If they are not ready to admit they have a problem, then AA is not for them. I find this to be true with acupuncture for smoking, drugs, alcohol and even for food addiction/cravings.
 
In Chinese medicine, the Stomach organ network is said to be that which has an appetite for earthly delights. All things that give us pleasure, not just food, can fit into this category. Many addicts often have an exuberance of Stomach Fire, as this fuels their passion and desire to consume things that bring them pleasure. The animal of the zodiac that goes with the Stomach is the dragon. Think of a fire-breathing dragon that consumes everything in its path. It can’t help itself. The excessive “dragon-like” human being is much like this in life. They might easily give into peer pressure because they have a hard time saying “no,” or they are just open to the idea of trying things that can make them feel good (even if they are aware the long-term consequences might lead to depression or other harm to the body).
 
I was fortunate to have a chance to intern at Hooper Detoxification Center in Portland, OR when I was still a student. I went there once a week for 4 hour shifts for about 9 months. It is a short-term addiction program for people who are willing to go past Step 1 and do something about their problem. About 10-12 people a day are allowed to voluntarily check themselves in for about 10-14 days of daily treatment. Most of these people came in off the streets still high on their drug of choice. We would feed them, take their blood pressure, pulse, look at their tongue and ask them a handful of questions about their addiction. Then we would do a simple needle protocol in the ear to help them begin the process of detoxification of the vital organs along with reducing their cravings and helping to calm their spirit and nervous system. I can tell you what I witnessed every week was powerful. It didn’t matter if the person was addicted to cocaine, oxycontin, alcohol or any other drug you can name. The acupuncture worked! When people came in off the streets, most were still high on their drug of choice and the energy in the room was always chaotic. To witness the shift in energy week after week for 9 months was truly amazing. Every week the energy would shift to a more calm, peaceful one within minutes of everyone having needles placed in their ears. Prior to the insertion of the needles, the room would be loud, people would be fidgety, and overall it would feel somewhat chaotic with each new group every week. 5 minutes after the needles were in, people that couldn’t stop talking became quiet, those that were fidgeting would often nod off for a quick nap, and overall the energy and spirit in the room would transform from negative to positive.
 
To this day, I still remember my weekly trip to the Hooper Detoxification Center. It is forever embedded in my memory as one of the most miraculous experiences I have encountered with acupuncture in a clinical setting. I highly suggest you mention this to any person you know who is openly struggling with addiction and is asking for help. It might be an idea they never thought of before, and it may just be the one that helps them the most to get their life back on track again.

Essential Oil Profile of the Month: Cinnamon Bark (Cinnamomum zeylanicum)

Chinese name: 肉桂 Ròuguì
Family: Lauraceae
Recommended Daily Dosage: Internally- 3-4 drops, 3 times daily for adults.
Externally- 1-2 drops in the bath.

Precautions: Do not use if pregnant or nursing, or if suffering from stomach or intestinal ulcers.  Cinnamon may cause irritation taken internally or applied externally. Use a skin patch test or reduce the dosage by half if someone is particularly sensitive to be sure that there is no reaction.  Sensitive individuals may have a rash appear. If stinging and redness occur, dilute it with a carrier oil. If no reaction, it is safe to use the recommended dosage. If used in excess, possible side effects are: mucous membrane irritation, tachycardia, increased respiration, increased peristalsis, convulsions and perspiration through stimulation of the vasomotor center, followed by a sedative stage characterized by sleepiness and depression. It is also hepatotoxic in large doses, so be careful with individuals with sensitive livers. From a Chinese medicine perspective, it is contraindicated for Heat and Empty Heat conditions.

Aroma: Sweet
Taste: Spicy, sweet, hot
Color: Light yellow
Feel: Wet, slippery
Nature: Hot qi

Possible Therapeutic Actions- antibacterial, antifungal antiviral,antispasmodic, anti-ulcer, blood-thinning, cancer-preventative, stomachic, circulation stimulation, estrogenic, febrifuge [reduces fever], hypoglycemic [lowers blood sugar], hypotensive [lowers blood pressure], insecticide, nerve sedative, nerve stimulant

Medicinal Uses- mental exhaustion; nervous depression [especially in devitalized, emaciated and/or anemic people]; depression caused by relationship problems; post-partum depression; introversion; feelings of isolation; emotional coldness; fear; nervousness; insomnia; viral infections; fever; cholera; typhoid fever; fainting; periodontal disease; toothache; circulatory debility with chilliness; hypotension; respiratory weakness [expands the chest volume]; colds; bronchitis; pleurisy; gastrointestinal spasms; lack of gastrointestinal tone; pancreatic deficiency; dyspepsia; colitis; flatulence; diarrhea; nausea; vomiting; amoeba infection; intestinal worms; kidney weakness; cystitis; dysmenorrhea; scanty menstruation; deficient uterine contractions during birth delivery; vaginitis; leucorrhea; impotence; frigidity; muscle spasms; rheumatism; foot fungus; head lice; scabies; insect bites; warts
 
Cinnamon, a member of the Lauraceae family, is a native of Sri Lanka (formerly Ceylon) and southwest India, but is now cultivated extensively in other tropical areas. The evergreen tree grows from 15-40 feet tall in the wild, but the cultivated trees are kept short and shrub-like (approximately 7.5 feet tall) for the purpose of easier harvesting of the shoots. The glossy, opposite leaves are ovate-oblong, from 6-9 inches long, bright red at first, then turning green when mature. The yellow, silky, inconspicuous flowers arise in long panicles. The thick, rough bark and leaves emit the well-known cinnamon scent. The flowers produce bluish, acorn-like berries. Collection of the dried inner bark of the shoots, the part most commonly used in commerce and medicine (and from which the best essential oil is distilled), generally begins when the tree is five years-old. Using special knives, the bark the of two year old shoots is harvested during the rainy season and left to rot for a day after which the inner bark can be easily separated from the coarse outer layer; the inner bark is first shade-dried and then sun-dried. The tree requires a great deal of rain (at least 100 inches annually) and heat, prefers sheltered places and consistent temperature and grows best in a well-drained, very sandy, yet nutrient rich, loam.

 

Cinnamon has long been used in herbal medicine, the medicinal parts being the bark (primarily) and the leaves. In herbal medicine, cinnamon is considered to exert the following therapeutic actions: stimulant, sedative, tonic, stomachic, carminative, hemostatic and astringent. The digestive tract is one of cinnamon’s main spheres of influence, and the herb has long been used to stimulate appetite and gastric secretions and to relieve dyspepsia, gastrointestinal spasms, flatulence, nausea, vomiting and diarrhea (including infantile diarrhea). It is also a powerful hemostatic agent used to stop nosebleeds, pulmonary hemorrhage, gastrointestinal hemorrhage in alcoholics, dysentery and bloody diarrhea related to other causes (e.g. ulcerative colitis), hematuria, post-partum hemorrhage, flooding during miscarriage, menorrhagia and uterine hemorrhage related to other causes. Cinnamon is one of the most effective remedies in the herbal materia medica for uterine hemorrhage. Cinnamon acts directly upon the muscle fibers of the uterus, causing contraction and arresting hemorrhage. Cinnamon has also been employed to stop the secretion of breast milk. Other conditions that cinnamon may prove of useful include: toothache; influenza, diabetes, anxiety during childbirth, sexual debility, worm infestation and wounds.  Cinnamon contains a substance which destroys bacteria and other harmful microorganisms, including Clostridium botulinum (which causes botulism) and Staphylococcus aureus. It exerts a similar action upon Aspergillus parasiticus and A. flavus, fungal organisms which produce the carcinogenic poison aflatoxin.

In Chinese medicine, cinnamon is considered useful for promoting the circulation of blood and qi. It is viewed as having a hot energy that moves upward and strengthens Kidney Yang and sexual vigor. Cinnamon dispels cold and relieves pain. Prolonged use of cinnamon is thought to relieve chronic tension in the neck and shoulders, warm the Spleen and Stomach and the skin, thus adding color to the complexion and helping clear the skin of blemishes. Cinnamon is also used to calm the nerves and to treat: anemia; hypertension; fever; gastrointestinal pain due to cold; headaches; colic and lumbago.

Essential oil of cinnamon is distilled from the leaves, twigs and dried inner bark of the cinnamon tree. The essential oil distilled from the inner bark is considered the highest quality. The most important chemical component of the bark oil is cinnamaldehyde, an aldehyde which promotes gastrointestinal motility and is a powerfully antibacterial, antifungal and antiviral. In general, aldehydes exert anti-infectious, anti-inflammatory, hypotensive [In debilitated individuals, however, cinnamon oil can be used to elevate low blood pressure. In general, whether cinnamon will act as a nerve stimulant or sedative, hypotensive or hypertensive is a dose-dependent phenomenon.], sedative and tonic effects. 

Insomnia and Acupuncture

You have had a long day, you know you are exhausted, and you can't wait to fall asleep, but then when your head hits the pillow - you are awake! Or you fall asleep and wake in the middle of the night, only to lie awake for hours, counting down how much more time you will be able to sleep before the alarm goes off. Insomnia, or persistent problems falling or staying asleep, can be an incredibly frustrating issue to deal with. 

There are numerous causes of insomnia, including emotional or physical stress, pain or discomfort, illness, environmental factors such as light or noise, irregular sleep schedules, depression or anxiety, certain medications, or hormonal imbalances. Sleep problems are usually treated from a biomedical perspective with pharmaceutical medications that often leave patients feeling groggy or out of it the next morning, and many require a larger and larger dose over time.

From an acupuncture perspective, there are likewise numerous energetic systems that may be out of balance leading to insomnia. A blood energy weakness can make it hard for people to fall asleep, whereas waking up frequently during the night is related to a weakness in the yin foundation of the body (which often happens during menopause or post-childbirth or trauma.) Sleep disruption can also be caused by excessive heat in the body, which agitates the mind and doesn't allow it to fall asleep, or can be caused by a weakness in the qi energy that doesn't allow the body to fall into a deep enough state of sleep to be rejuvenated. 

In acupuncture and Chinese Medicine, different times of day and night correspond with different energetic systems, as well. For instance, 1:00-3:00 am is a time associated with the Liver meridian. If someone is waking up routinely in this window of time, there is likely an imbalance in the Liver energetic system, which controls how the body processes stress and how energy physically circulates within our bodies. 3:00-5:00 am is associated with the Lungs - when someone is waking habitually at these hours, there is likely Lung involvement - the Lungs control respiration, sweating, breathing, how the body processes grief, and how we find our voice. The Lungs are also connected to the Large Intestine energetically, so sometimes digestive pathologies can cause the 3:00-5:00 wake-up, as well (or emotionally, if we are holding on to something too tightly, that is a Large Intestine pathology, as well.)

Acupuncture and Chinese Herbs can help to rebalance the body's energy systems for longer, more restful, more rejuvenating sleep. 

Preliminary clinical research studies have shown that acupuncture may help treat insomnia through reducing sympathetic nervous system activity and increasing parasympathetic activity (reducing the "fight or flight" response), regulating the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis and cortisol production (which has been shown to mediate how stress affects insomnia), and increasing GABA neurotransmitter levels (which subdue physiological brain activity during sleep).

Counting sheep not working? Call today to start working towards better sleep!

For an old blog post that includes some to-at-home tips for promoting restful sleep, start here.