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Herbal Spring Cleaning: 3 Surprisingly Powerful Herbs for the Liver

Timing is everything. Nature knows this and teaches us if we are paying attention. From winter to spring we can witness a drastic change in our environment. As that fresh spring breeze blows in and the cold barren landscape transforms into a vibrant display of life, we may feel like getting outside and shaking off some of that winter sluggishness.

In Chinese medicine, Spring is liver time, which is a time of rebirth, growth and movement. It is also a perfect time for supporting our liver function with some gentle detoxification. In accord with Chinese Medicine theory, the regeneration of liver cells is measurably more prolific after the spring equinox. Our bodies know what to do. Liver function, according to Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), includes regulating the movement of qi (energy) and blood in the body. It’s all about getting things moving again after nature’s slow season.

From a western biomedical standpoint, the liver is mainly an organ of detoxification. The liver degrades old red and white blood cells and breaks down toxic chemicals, cleansing and refreshing the blood. It actively filters 1.3 – 1.5 liters of blood every single minute. It also synthesizes bile which carries toxins out of the body through the intestines.

There are 2 main phases of detoxification in the liver that process contaminants like medications, alcohol, and environmental toxins. Phase 1 is responsible for transforming fat-soluble compounds into water-soluble compounds. Phase 2 converts pesticides, alcohol, toxic metals, excess hormones etc. into safer compounds that can then be eliminated by other organs.

Herbology is the internal medicine branch of TCM. We can support liver function and in turn our natural spring renewal process with the use of some Chinese herbs. With an understanding that the safest and most effective herbal therapy is a customized one, we can look at a few herbal detox superheros:

Turmeric: (jiang huang)
TCM categorizes this herb as a blood mover. It unblocks qi and blood stasis and eases pain.
Western pharmacology recognizes its blood-moving and anti-inflammatory properties as well. It is known to support both phase 1 and phase 2 of liver detox. A study on mice showed it also improved liver detoxification by lowering inflammatory markers, reducing oxidative stress and increasing glutathione (another important body detoxification product made in the liver).

Turmeric can be enjoyed as a food, seasoning, supplement, or in tea. ¼ teaspoon turmeric powder can be added to meals. Be sure to add a little black pepper to increase absorption. You can also grate fresh turmeric root into soups, salads and curries.

Schizandra Berry (wu wei zi )
This amazing medicinal herb is also known as 5 flavor berry because it exhibits all 5 flavors. It also remarkably enters all 12 meridians and therefore has multiple beneficial effects on the body. It is mainly thought of as having an astringent action, which can treat symptoms of liver and kidney deficiency by preventing loss of qi and yin fluids. Bio-chemically, it is known to support regeneration of healthy liver cells. It has been used to help induce regeneration of liver tissue after part of the liver was surgically removed. It also activates the phase 1 detox pathway, helps to decrease free radicals, protects cell membranes, and can assist in lowering stress-related increases of liver enzymes.

Small amounts of the berries can be eaten fresh or dried and there are also tinctures, powders and supplements. But why not relax with a cup of some medicinal and delicious 5-flavor tea?

Gold Coin Grass: (jin qian cao)
Another herbal powerhouse to keep on hand for spring cleaning is Gold Coin Grass. TCM functions are to drain damp, remove heat and toxins, and eliminate stasis. In Western herbology, it is recognized for its ability to dissolve and prevent gallstones and promote bile secretion to help to move sediment and clear bile ducts. This is in addition to it’s antibacterial and anti-inflammatory effects

Gold Coin Grass is known for making a drinkable tea, but can also be taken as a supplement or tincture. It is not advisable for patients with diarrhea or those on anti-diuretic medications.

Listen to your body this spring. You may hear it calling for exercise, or emotional release. While you’re at it, try one of these 3 herbal superheroes and see what their powers can do for you!

To discover the full benefits of Chinese herbal therapy and how it can help you optimally adjust to the changing season, call us today at (218) 724-3400 to schedule your next appointment!

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Healthy Eating for Spring

Spring is a time of renewal, regeneration, growth and energy. Plants and animals awaken from their slumber during the cold winter months, and vital nutrients stored in the roots of the plants and bodies of the animals come to the surface as life becomes more vibrant and fluid.

Human beings are no different. Humans stay indoors more during the winter months, and tend to pack on a little extra weight in the process. As the weather warms, humans become more gregarious and spend more time outside enjoying nature. This is just a natural process.

Therefore, it makes sense that what was observed by the ancient Chinese should still hold true today. Humans are supposed to take their cues from nature. As a species, humans should be more active during the warmer spring months. And to do this, we need proper nourishment. Qi (pronounced “chee”) is sometimes translated into energy. This Qi is the vital substance that keeps our bodies functioning until the day we die. To keep the Qi plentiful, we need to eat the proper foods at the proper times.

During the spring, we should be eating foods that have upward energies, such as green, sprouting vegetables. But we also need foods that will provide the extra nourishment for the increased amounts of activity that accompany the season of spring. This is where sweeter foods play a vital role. Foods such as fruits, nuts, yams, carrots and potatoes can provide the extra energy needed during the spring. But be careful not to overdo it. Too much sweet can overload the body and make it sluggish.

Sweets should be countered with pungent foods. Pungent foods aid in the movement of Qi upwards and outwards through the process of perspiration. Pungent flavored foods include scallions, onions, ginger, radishes, garlic, leeks and chives.

According to Traditional Chinese Medicine theory, spring is the season of the liver and the gallbladder. These organs regulate a smooth flow of energy throughout the whole body. However, they are prone to stagnation because we do not take proper care of ourselves. This can manifest as anger, irritability, depression, insomnia and even pain. Stagnation can occur when people eat too many poor-quality foods that may be full of chemicals.

Foods that help ward off stagnation include foods rich in chlorophyll, such as wheat grass, spirulina, chlorella, parsley, kale, Swiss chard and collard greens. All of these foods are abundant during the months of spring. It is also a good idea to have a glass of warm water with a slice of lemon first thing in the morning. This will help detoxify the liver and gallbladder to start the day off fresh. Lastly, foods that have a slightly bitter taste can help ward off heat in the liver. This includes foods like asparagus, quinoa, romaine lettuce and dandelion tea.

If you are curious about how to eat according to the seasons, contact us at (218) 724-3400. We will be able to guide you along your healing journey through the use of Traditional Chinese Medicine and nutritional counseling.

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More Than Meets the Ear

“My, what big ears you have!”
“ All the better to hear you with!”

Or, if you’re a Chinese Medicine practitioner: “All the better to live a long, healthy life with!” That’s because the ears are a manifestation of the kidneys which hold our essence (jing), our genetic potential, and large ears can be an indication of health and longevity.

Acupuncturists and Chinese herbalists have long understood this connection between the ears and the kidneys, relating issues such as hearing loss, tinnitus, and ear infections to imbalances of the kidney qi. In clinical practice we will treat the kidneys while working with these types of disorders. Interestingly, Western medicine also recognizes a relationship between the kidneys and the ears. The inner ear and the kidneys develop at the same time in utero, so if a baby is born with hearing issues, a good doc will know to immediately check the kidney function. Ongoing research is still exploring the parallels of specific aspects of the inner ear to renal function.

The ears are also a valuable microsystem in Chinese Medicine practice. Being a manifestation of the kidneys which govern our development, the ears are actually a map of our development. They reflect the whole body and have their own complete acupuncture point system as such. Picture an upside down fetus when looking at the ears in this way, with the head at the lobe and spine curving up to the little baby bum at the top, with internal organs on the inner portions of the external ear. Paul Nogier, a French Neurologist, is actually considered the father of auricular medicine, as he measured the electrical conductivity along the skin of the ear and recorded the specific points as a reflexology system, which was then incorporated into Chinese Medicine texts. He based his understanding of this system on the correlating tissue types and innervation between various parts of the ear and the parts of the body they represent.

“The ear is one of the few anatomic structures which are built up of tissue from each of these three primary tissue types to be found in an embryo. Paul Nogier maintained that each tissue type in the ear had a link to the various somatotopical reflections and to the innervation related to that part of the ear.”

Many Chinese Medicine practitioners diagnose and treat the whole body just using the ears. Abnormalities, tenderness, discolorations, etc. on the ear can signal issues in the correlating part of the body. There have been studies done to test these practitioner’s accuracy. In one study, pre-established medical diagnoses matched with auricular diagnoses over 75% of the time. Treatment can then be done with needles or ear seeds. The benefit of ear seeds is that they can stay on the ear for up to a week, providing continuous stimulation of the ear acu-point. Practitioners can also train patients in administering their own ear seeds for home use. Ear treatments have been used successfully in the treatment of addictions, chronic pain, anxiety and weight loss among many other conditions.

A simple way to experience the amazing healing potential of your own ears is to massage them! In addition to all the acupressure points you will be activating, the ears are actually the only external access (via the auricular branch) we have to the Vagus nerve (the longest nerve) in the body. Stimulation of the vagus nerve has tremendous benefits, including relaxation, improved digestion, cognitive function and calming inflammation. So go ahead and give your ears some love and attention… and respect for the amazing body parts they are!

Winter is a great time to get some ear acupuncture, as it is kidney time in the Chinese Medicine understanding of the seasons. Schedule today, and ask Heidi to include an ear seed or 2 if appropriate for you. This can help direct your ear massage to points personalized for you and what you need!

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Acupuncture: Effective for Diabetes?

Diabetes is one of the most prevalent chronic diseases in the US and cases are rising at an alarming rate. As of 2020, over 10% of the U.S. population have diabetes (this is up from about 6% in 2000 , and prevalence is also expected to double in the next 20 years). 95% of those cases are type 2. Because of this, a lot of the conversation around diabetes as a chronic health issue is referring to type 2 diabetes and it’s defining culprit: insulin resistance.

Insulin resistance can be understood as the ineffective use of insulin in the body leading to poor control of blood sugar and is usually associated with excess body weight. Until recently it was generally only seen in adults, but more and more children are diagnosed every day due to poor diet and inactivity. This metabolic syndrome can lead to vascular issues, neuropathy, and kidney problems. In fact, diabetes type 2 is associated with a 2 to 3-fold risk of heart attacks and stroke. Other complications include blindness and lower limb amputation. In 2019, it was the 9th leading cause of death with 1.5 million deaths directly caused by diabetes.

Modern approaches are mainly drug-based though any successful management program will include diet and lifestyle changes. Metformin is the drug of choice for most as it reduces the amount of sugar the liver releases into your blood, while also helping the body to respond better to insulin (the hormone responsible for bringing sugar into the cell and out of the blood). A1C is the typical blood-test used to gauge a person’s average blood sugar and treatment progress. Currently, with western treatment, only about 50% of people reach their A1C target , which clearly leaves some room for improvement and alternative therapies.

So, what about acupuncture? There is definitely a need for more research and prospective studies are continuously designed and await funding, but so far the established research is very promising. In a 2018 study of 90 rats, it was found that within 3 weeks, diabetic rats that received electroacupuncture at specific acupuncture points had lower glucose levels, increased insulin levels and improved glucose tolerance. Acupuncture also shows significant benefit as an adjunctive therapy to pharmaceutical treatment. In 2015, an article published in Acupuncture in Medicine reviewed studies using rats in which scientists combined electroacupuncture with metformin. It was found that the combination of metformin and acupuncture offered better glucose lowering effects and greater insulin sensitivity when compared with metformin alone.

Acupuncture has also been shown to assist in weight loss while reducing blood sugar levels in type 2 diabetes patients. Sanming County Hospital of Integrated Medicine researchers (Fujian) conducted a clinical trial of obese patients diagnosed with type 2 diabetes. A group receiving “routine care” (metformin plus lifestyle guidance) was compared with another group receiving routine care plus regular acupuncture. Although weight loss was statistically significant for both groups, reductions were significantly greater in the acupuncture group as measured by BMI (Body Mass Index).

One of the top complaints doctors and acupuncturists alike hear from patients with diabetes type 2 is neuropathy (weakness, numbness and pain, usually in the hands and feet). This is because, over time, uncontrolled blood sugar damages the nerves. Studies also show that acupuncture can be very effective in easing the suffering from such complications. In a review of 13 random controlled trials looking at acupuncture and various types of neuropathy, the majority showed benefit in the treatment of diabetic neuropathy.

Acupuncture takes the approach of bringing the individual body back into balance with itself and the environment, so each person’s treatment will be based on a customized plan. TCM (Traditional Chinese Medicine) offers personalized diet and lifestyle guidance towards this aim as well. Given the growing prevalence of this metabolic disorder and the limitations of modern treatment, acupuncture should be a consideration for anyone concerned with prevention and/or treatment of this disease.

Acupuncture is a cost-effective way to support the body’s metabolism whether or not diabetes is a concern. Call today at (218) 724-3400 to set yourself up with some energy-boosting treatments that can help to regulate hormones and strengthen digestive function!

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Effortless Healing: Can Imbalances Clear up on their Own?

Short answer: Yes.

Long answer: Yes, but…..there are a few things to consider when relying on our ‘natural propensity towards health’. The most important of which is entropy, the second law of thermodynamics, a disorderly force we must contend with. It runs counter to the organizational efforts of nature, but also works in balance with them, in yet another dynamic expression of yin and yang.

Entropy is played out in living systems as the natural deterioration of the body. As we age past mid-life our body tissues and physiological systems gradually lose their vibrance. Structure and function suffer, as entropy takes over in the process of decay necessary to the cycle of life. So, where we are in the stages of development/decline in life is a big determining factor for the ability to self-heal.

How much entropy are we up against? Imbalances have a much better chance of resolving themselves while we are young and more in the yang (growth) phase of our life versus the yin (decline) phase. Severity of disease or injury also dictates the level of counter-entropy efforts needed.

Regardless of age, however, and even the severity of our condition, we can still tap into our innate healing energy under certain conditions. And yes, some of those conditions can be practically effortless, depending on how you look at it.

One condition is: stop doing the things that are pushing your body into a state of entropy. Don’t keep eating toxic food, don’t keep putting yourself in overly stressful situations (as much as you can control it), in other words: don’t keep banging your head against the wall.
The other condition is that your qi must be strong. In TCM terms, qi IS that natural healing force. It is that spark of life that organizes chaos into form and function. Qi can be supported by even minimal efforts such as adequate sleep, meditation, or simply sitting quietly in a restful but conscious state.
While some of us call it qi, others think of it as the inborn system of self-preservation. Zhigou Wang, a biomedicine researcher from China, breaks down the ways the human body resists entropy into 4 processes: self-organization, self-defense, self-healing and anti-wear and tear.

Self-organization can be witnessed in the miracle of development, the way a single cell matures into a full grown organism. Scientists at Tufts university looked at this miracle in early stages of tadpole development. In doing so they documented a perfect physical representation of the organizing power of qi: patterns of visible bioelectrical signals outlining and directing the development of the embryo.
Self-defense includes our immune system, inflammatory response, endogenous antioxidants, the stress response, autophagy and apoptosis (the destruction and removal of sick cells).

Self-healing includes compensatory mechanisms like the increase in heart rate that occurs to compensate for slow circulation due to heart damage. This is also the category of cell/tissue renewal. Think of a wound healing, or a broken bone that seems to magically repair itself over time. When a large number of cells are destroyed, surrounding cells replicate to make new ones. Self healing also happens on a molecular level with DNA repair. There is a natural editing process at work correcting damaged or mutated DNA. Finally, anti-wear and tear is simply the daily process of upkeep necessary to mend minor internal injuries that arise from continued use of the body’s tissues.

And while these self-preservation mechanisms can help to slow or even reverse the degradation of our living system, there are no guarantees (well, except eventual death).

Effortless repair and renewal does happen, even in seemingly miraculous ways, but every little effort to support this process gives us a better shot at healing, and a better chance at enjoying the best quality of life. Acupuncture is one of the best tools for supporting all aspects of this self-preservation system. It has been shown to strengthen immunity and regulate inflammation , aid in tissue renewal, and even DNA repair. It does this because it supports the driving force of this self-preservation system, that spark of life, that intelligent bio-electrical energy that organizes and directs our growth and healing: or as practitioners of Chinese medicine have called it for millennia: qi.

Yes, it takes effort to call and make an appointment but once you are on the table you can relax and allow Heidi to support your own effortless healing abilities. The gentle placement of needles at various acupuncture points will free up the flow of your own qi-driven self-preservation system.

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