Insights from a San Diego Acupuncturist

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Acupuncture a viable treatment option for depression patients

This small, but promising pilot study shows further evidence for acupuncture’s effectiveness in the treatment of depression. Similar studies have been performed in China and Germany with favorable results. Having options is important for non-responders to drug therapies and those more willing to try holistic, non-toxic therapies.

Interestingly, research has also looked at the benefits of massage and exercise in the treatment of depression with favorable results. My advice is to remain open-minded when looking for solutions to health problems and be willing to try new things.

What Does Your Tongue Say About Your Health?

Have you ever wondered why an acupuncturist wants to see your tongue? What are they looking at? How much useful information can a tongue actually reveal about a person’s health. As it turns out, quite a lot. While western medicine favors laboratory results and imagining as diagnostics, eastern medicine relies on far more subtle techniques. I consider this a strength and not a weakness. I want to be clear that I am not against western medicine, as each form of medicine has it’s proper place. (The ideal would be to merge these two systems into a more comprehensive form of medicine that emphases wellness and holistic therapies, and when necessary, disease management.)

The fact that subtle imbalances can be detected by eastern medicine techniques allows us to catch illness at its inception stage, before costlier and more devastating illness takes place. So let’s look at the major features of a tongue that would be of interest to an acupuncturist or herbalist. The first thing we look for in the tongue is body color. This can range from a scarlet red to a very pale pink. The color of the tongue lets us know if the body is running warm or cold, or if there is a lack or abundance of qi and blood.

Secondly, the tongue body shape reveals important information as well. Is it thin? Is it puffy with teethmarks on the edges? This tells the acupuncturist primarily about the state of “qi” or energy in the body. Is it low? A puffy tongue is a somewhat common presentation and can indicate weakness of the digestive system.

Thirdly acupuncturists look at the tongue’s coating which in a healthy state is thin and white. Certain people may lack a tongue coating, indicating a deficiency of “yin” or body fluids and others may have a thick yellow coating indicating the body is replete with heat and dampness.

Geographical features such as cracks in the tongue surface also indicate a chronic lack of fluids in particular body regions. This map gives you a general idea of the areas of the body imaged in the tongue.

A very common finding is a tongue with a tip that is redder than the rest of the tongue. This can indicate heat in the Heart. Another common finding is red spots on the side of the tongue indicating heat in the Liver and/or Gallbladder.

The tongue is somewhat changeable day to day, coatings can be scraped off or made to be a different color by the consumption of coffee or medicines. All of this is taken into account by the acupuncturist. An acupuncturist would seldom use the tongue alone as diagnostic criteria. Instead, it is considered along with the pulse (a subject for a future article) and information a patient gives about their symptoms.

I hope I have helped to de-mystify tongue diagnosis just a little bit. Look forward to future posts that will explain more about the diagnostic techniques and applications of this brilliant (and sometimes baffling) medicine.

Herbs for Beauty

People do some very strange things to improve their looks. Silicone injections, implants, “going under the knife”, liposuction, etc. are routine in our modern society. I’m a firm believer of natural therapies, however, which bear quite a slim price tag in comparison to its unnatural and often risky alternatives.

My first beauty secret is not an herb, it’s water! From a young age, I was encouraged to drink at least 2 liters a day of good, clean water. The controversy still continues as to what adequate water intake really is, and many people fear they are not consuming enough glasses per day. When I question patients regarding their water intake, the answer is often, “not enough” or some such reply, spoken with a hint of guilt.

In these warmer summer months, adequate water intake is especially important. I recommend home filtering and other mineralized water sources. The potential dangers of reverse osmosis and other demineralized water sources have been documented. When you have some extra time, check out this report from the World Health Organization.

Now that you’ve just poured yourself a glass of delicious clean water, let’s talk about some of the best kept beauty secrets known for centuries in Asia.

Herb #1 is Pearl Powder. While most women enjoy wearing them, few have thought about consuming them in order to look beautiful. Scientific studies confirm its status as an anti-aging substance. [1, 2] Quality pearl powder can speed wound healing and prevent dark spots from ravaging the skin. It is useful in the treatment of acne and can keep the skin looking luminous. It is also a reliable source of calcium and 8 essential amino acids. It is used in traditional Chinese medicine to calm the spirit. It has been investigated as an agent to enhance sleep. The Pearl Powder I use in my practice is very finely ground (almost nano-size) and easily assimilated. Beware of less-expensive and potentially ineffective products on the marketplace.

Herb #2 is Schizandra. I detailed Schizandra in a previous post. It stands as one of the most amazing and well-studied herbs in all of Chinese medicine. It can sharpen concentration, improve memory and increase alertness, all without the side effects of caffeine. Aside from its valuable adaptogenic properties, Schizandra is very highly regarded as a beauty tonic. It has been used for centuries to make the skin soft, moist and radiant. Schizandra benefits the body’s fluids and in particular the sexual fluids in both women and men.

Unheated Schizandra has liver-protecting effects and can help detoxify poisons. Known for its regulating effects on the nervous system, Schizandra has also been investigated for its ability to improve sleep. I don’t doubt that the anti-stress/rest-enhancing properties of these herbs are a factor in their ability to help maintain a youthful appearance.

Herb #3 is Goji Berry. Being a rich source of carotenoids (beta carotene and zeaxanthin), Goji Berry is recognized as an important anti-oxidant herb. It also contains a vitamin C precursor, flavonoids, and is rich in zinc. Quality Goji Berries are delicious on their own or can be added to smoothies and cereals. It is used in Chinese medicine to improve the eyesight and benefit the Liver and Kidneys.

Goji contains polysaccharides which are powerful immune-supporting phytochemicals. They also contain iron and are used medicinally to help build Blood. An abundance of Blood can help to ensure a moist and vital complexion. Evidence also suggests that Goji can improve one’s mood, which is consistent with traditional thought.

There are several other herbs which can contribute to great looking skin. I have touched upon three of the most important ones in this article. Be sure to drink plenty of water, exercise to your ability, and provide for adequate rest and sleep.

I am happy to be a partner in your quest for beauty. Call me at (619) 663-4325 to request an appointment for herbal consultation, acupuncture, and/or facial rejuvenation. It is always best to discuss supplementation with a qualified health consultant or physician.

True beauty starts from within. Be well, and look your best!

Christopher “Erich” Cook, L.Ac.

Disclaimer: The above article is for general information only. In no way should it be used as a substitute for medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment of any health condition or problem. Any questions regarding your health should be addressed to your own physician or other qualified healthcare practitioner.

Chinese Tonic Herbs 101

There are a number of herbs in Chinese medicine known as “superior tonic herbs”. These are not first-line defense herbs for acute illnesses. They are instead to be taken when one feels relatively well to ward off disease and enhance one’s quality of life.  This article will discuss a few of the most important tonic herbs to know about to enhance one’s wellness which can also produce some life-changing effects.

Reishi Mushroom (Ganoderma lucidum) is known as the “mushroom of immortality”. Reishi mushroom has been prized for millennia. It has a wide range of beneficial effects both spiritually and physically. The translation of the Chinese name for Reishi, Ling Zhi, is “spiritual mushroom”. It is believed to help calm the mind, ease tension, and improve memory and concentration. A small pilot study of 20 individuals showed a 90% success rate in treating anxiety after 4 month’s use.

Reishi is a powerful immune stimulant. It has been found to stimulate T-cells, macrophages, interferon, and tumor-necrosis-factor. Reishi not only stimulates the immune system, it regulates it. It is used in treatment of allergies as the ganodermic acids it contains inhibit histamine release. Reishi has also been shown to lower cholesterol, reduce liver enzymes in chronic hepatitis cases, and improve a variety of dermatological disorders.

Reishi can vary tremendously in terms of quality. Products made from the mycelium can be beneficial in supporting the immune system, but it is believed that the spiritual properties can only been obtained from consuming the mushroom (fruiting body).

Ginseng (Radix Ginseng) is the most famous herb in all of Chinese medicine. It is used in chewing gum, energy drinks, libido enhancers, and in life-sustaining medicines. It is famous for its energizing effect.  There are several grades of ginseng, and quality makes a huge difference. Some older wild roots can be worth thousands of dollars each to the connoisseur.

Ginseng is an adaptogen. Adaptogens increase the body’s ability to adapt to environmental and internal stress and stabilize physiological functioning.  Many strengthen the immune system, nervous system and/or glandular systems. Ginseng is known to increase alertness while improving memory and learning ability. It is used by athletes to shorten reaction time, improve visual and motor coordination, and increase respiratory functioning.

Ginseng is often used in the treatment of male sexual dysfunction. It has been shown to increase both potency and fertility. Ginseng roots have been a symbol of longevity as it provides the most primal energy needed to sustain life. Its effects are best understood by consuming the herb, as no description can do it justice.

Astragalus (Radix Astragali) is a premier energy tonic and a strong ally to the immune system. It is commonly taken as a preventative to ward off colds and infections by those with weakened immune systems. Because it is regarded as strengthening to the muscular system, it is a great choice for body builders and anyone engaged in demanding physical activity.

Eleuthero (Siberian Ginseng) (Acanthopanax senticosus) is not a true ginseng species, but credited as having similar adaptogenic properties. Eleuthero has been shown to:

  • Increase mental alertness
  • Support the endocrine system
  • Increase immunity, including killer cells and T-cells
  • Enhance cardiovascular health
  • Increase work output and delay time to exhaustion

Eleuthero is highly regarded in the sports community for its effects on physical endurance. Components of eleuthero have demonstrated anti-oxidant, anti-cancer, and cholesterol-lowering effects.  Chinese herb texts say the herb quiets the spirit and treats weakness of the Heart, Kidneys, and Spleen which can manifest as fatigue, poor concentration, mild depression, and disturbed sleep.

Schizandra (Schizandra chinensis) is said by Taoists to enter all 12 channels (of acupuncture) and therefore, benefit the entire body’s functioning. It has been used for 2,000 years by women to enhance beauty, as its regular use has been said to make one’s skin radiant and pure. Its benefits are not mere folklore, as hundreds of scientific studies have proven its worth.

Many of the studies performed with schizandra are in regards to liver health. A synthetic analog of schizandrin, a component of schizandra, is widely used in China as a hepatoprotective drug.  Real schizandrin has been found to reverse memory impairment in rats, confirming this berry’s reputation as a mind-strengthening substance.

In a review of four decade’s worth of research by the Russians, the Swedish Herbal Institute had this to say about the herb:

“Pharmacological studies on animals have shown that schizandra affords a stress-protective effect against a broad spectrum of harmful factors including heat shock… inflammation, irradiation, and heavy metal intoxication… In healthy subjects, schizandra increases endurance and accuracy of movement, mental performance and working capacity…”

That’s quite an impressive summary for one herb! It is important to note that some of schizandra’s components are sensitive to heat. In order to preserve its liver enhancing effects, it is recommended that you consume tinctures or products extracted at a low temperature.

I am happy to assist you with starting and maintaining a Chinese tonic herbal program for superior health. Please call to make an appointment. (619) 663-4325.

Disclaimer:  The above article is for general information only. In no way should it be used as a substitute for medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment of any health condition or problem. Any questions regarding your health should be addressed to your own physician or other qualified healthcare practitioner.

Welcome to Eternal Tao

This blog will keep patients informed about the benefits of Chinese medicine and acupuncture. Acceptance of these modalities are increasing in the western world at a phenomenal rate. Even the U.S. military is beginning to recognize its effectiveness in treating pain and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.

Still, the concept of being stuck with needles sends a shiver up many a person’s spine. This is perhaps logical, being that many people have only experienced the pain of a hypodermic needle being inserted for something like a blood draw or an immunization shot. An acupuncture needle, however, being solid and thin in construction, has a very different feeling from a doctor’s shot. I’ve had more than one person tell me they’d rather have an acupuncture session over a massage any day due to how deeply relaxed they become during treatment.

Specialty needles, like those made by Japanese manufacturer Seiren, have been dubbed “the painless one” due to their smooth insertion and often unnoticeable entry into the skin. This brand of needle was the kind used on Oprah when she received her first acupuncture treatment on national television.

If you’ve wondered about acupuncture but have been afraid to try it, I’m here to tell you that your imagination is probably making monsters out of the clothes pile in the closet. Acupuncture, in most instances, is a painless procedure when performed by a skilled practitioner. Everyone is unique in their response and heeding simple advice can further insure that your treatment is a pleasant one. (I recommend patients do not drink caffeine before their session and have something substantial to eat in the two hours before an appointment.)

I wish you the best of health and looking forward to sharing my insights with you. My first article, “Chinese Tonic Herbs 101” will post soon.

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