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Winter is just one of the five seasons acknowledged by Traditional Chinese Medicine. The ancient Chinese followed the belief that humans should live in harmony with the cycles of nature. During the winter months, the darkness and cold indicate that we should slow down, take care of our health, conserve our strength and replenish our energy for the upcoming spring and summer months. This is observed in the animal kingdom, and it should also be considered a good rule of thumb for human beings.
Each season has multiple associations that help us adjust our habits as things change, which makes it easier to keep the body and mind balanced. Winter is ruled by the water element. The water element is associated with the kidneys and urinary bladder. According to Traditional Chinese Medicine philosophy, the kidneys are the source of all energy found within the body. This energy, frequently called qi (pronounced “chee”), is what keeps us alive and allows our bodies to function properly. During the winter months, it is vital that we nourish and nurture our kidney qi.
Winter is typically a time when we decrease our daily activities. Because of this, we should also decrease the amount of food that we eat to avoid gaining excess weight. It is also recommended that excessively cold and raw foods be avoided or at least countered with things like hot tea. Cold and raw foods can deplete the kidney energy over time. This can lead to problems with digestion, sleep and much more.
It is suggested that during the winter months, we should emphasize foods that are warming to the body. This includes things like soups, stews, root vegetables, beans, garlic and ginger. Also foods like whole grains and roasted nuts can help keep the body’s core warm, while providing healthy nourishment.
The second organ associated with the season of winter is the urinary bladder. The urinary bladder is a reservoir where water in the body collects for disposal. The urinary bladder receives impure or dirty fluids from the small intestine and then further transforms these fluids into urine. The urinary bladder then stores and excretes urine as needed. This function also plays an important role in helping to regulate a person’s blood pressure. The ability to transform the impure fluids depends on the energy of the kidneys.
One of the most important things anybody can do during the winter months to stay healthy is drink plenty of water. Winter, in most places, literally drains the moisture out of the body. It is recommended that we drink at least 64 ounces of water per day, even during the winter months. However, the thought of drinking cold water in cold weather is a concept that tends to keep a lot of people clinically dehydrated during the winter months. This is why warm water with lemon or hot tea are good substitutes. We are still ingesting water, while avoiding the cold that could potentially damage our core.
By following the guidelines set forth by nature, we can also remain in balance with the natural world around us. This is how our ancestors did it and it served them quite well. Perhaps there is something to be learned from the wisdom our elders passed down through the generations.
Traditional Chinese medicine teaches that humans should live in harmony with the seasons. According to traditional Chinese medicine there are five seasons: winter, spring, summer, late summer and fall. Each season has many associations that help us change our habits, allowing for a more balanced mind and body. When these systems were being developed, people were living in harmony with nature. People rose with the sun, ate what was available during the different seasons and they were much more aware of their natural environment. What to wear, when to wake up, when to go to sleep and what activities to engage in were all dependent on the weather and the environment. Because of this, people were capable of staying healthy throughout the year and their immune and organ systems were strong enough to ward off disease.
- Get some rest
In TCM, the season of winter is a time of repair and rejuvenation. Winter is associated with the kidneys, which hold the body’s fundamental energies. Rest is important for revitalizing the kidneys.This is why some animals hibernate during the winter months. We should also spend more time resting during the winter months to help prepare our bodies for the months ahead when most people expend more energy.
- Incorporate self reflection
Winter is a really good time to turn inward and do some reflection. Practices like tai chi, qi gong and yoga can be very beneficial during the winter season. These practices help us connect to our inner selves, while supporting the kidney energy. They also help relax the mind and calm our emotions. Things like journaling and meditation are other ways of reflecting during the winter months. Long term, these practices can be very helpful at extending a person’s life.
- Drink water, lots of water
The kidneys are closely associated and ruled by the water element, which is the element associated with winter, so it is important to remember to drink water during wintertime. Drinking room temperature water is a vital step to maintaining sufficient kidney qi throughout the winter months.
- Eat warm, seasonal foods
Choose foods that grow naturally during the winter. Items such as squash, potatoes, pumpkin, sweet potatoes, cinnamon, nutmeg, cardamom, root vegetables like beets, greens, carrots, mushrooms, apples, pears and cabbage are great. During the winter months, cold foods like salads and raw foods should be avoided as they will deplete the immune system. There are also foods that specifically target and nourish the kidneys, including kidney beans, beef, goose, duck, black beans, lamb, chicken, dark leafy greens, garlic, ginger, walnuts, quinoa, asparagus, celery, onion, fennel, scallions, cloves, watercress and turnips. Sea salt is also helpful, because salty is the taste associated with the kidneys. As with anything, moderation is key. Too much salt can actually tax the heart, which then causes the kidneys to work overtime.
- Treat yourself to some TCM
Traditional Chinese Medicine utilizes numerous modalities and tools to help keep the body balanced and prepped for the seasonal changes. Acupuncture and moxibustion are two of the tools that are regularly used to boost the kidney qi. Moxibustion is a practice where dried mugwort is burned very near the skin to warm and boost the qi within the body. There are certain acupuncture points that are essential for boosting kidney qi. Most are located either on the lower abdomen, below the umbilicus or on the lower back above the hip bones, in the areas of the kidneys. Applying moxibustion to these areas is a wonderful way to boost the energy reserves of the kidneys.
When we align ourselves with the natural processes of life and the seasons, our bodies will adjust and perform optimally, just as they are intended to.
A study published by the National Institutes of Health in 2018 indicates receiving acupuncture treatments can improve the possibility of conceiving a child for patients that have experienced fertility issues. This particular study was conducted on one couple, and focused on treating both partners to achieve conception. The male received acupuncture treatments to improve sperm quality, and the female received acupuncture treatments to remove ovarian cysts and improve blood flow to the uterus. After seven treatments, the ovarian cysts had disappeared, and the couple was able to conceive. The acupoints used in this study were chosen to improve blood flow and energy to the reproductive organs, while also decreasing excess phlegm and fluids in the lower body. Acupuncture has been shown to be very effective at treating infertility in the past and this study confirms those findings.
Infertility is defined as not being able to get pregnant after one year or more of unprotected sex. According to the Centers for Disease Control, 18 percent of women aged 15 to 44 have difficulty getting pregnant or carrying the pregnancy to full term. Infertility is not limited to women though. The CDC reports 35 percent of couples with infertility have a male component to their difficulties. This means that nearly 6.9 million people in the United States have received fertility treatments. Infertility is typically treated with injections, prescription medications and even artificial insemination, but there are still no guarantees that conception will occur even with all of these efforts.
Traditional Chinese Medicine has been proven to increase the chance of conception in couples that are currently receiving fertility treatments. In fact, the success rates of conception increase from 39.4 percent to 65.5 percent when acupuncture and TCM are added to the mix. Acupuncture helps increase fertility by reducing stress, increasing blood flow to the reproductive organs and balancing hormones. Acupuncture treatments can provide increased blood flow to the ovaries and uterus, which creates a stronger chance for an egg to be nourished and carried to full term. In the male, acupuncture treatments can improve sperm quality and motility.
The insertion of acupuncture needles has been proven to stimulate blood flow, so for men, regular acupuncture treatments can increase blood flow to the testicular arteries. The testicles need blood to provide nutrients, remove waste products and keep the area cool. Excess waste products can damage sperm while they mature in the testicles. Stagnation of blood in the scrotum can increase testicular temperatures, which can be very detrimental to the forming sperm. By increasing blood flow to and from this area, nutrients are brought in and waste is removed, which will contribute to healthier sperm.
The most common cause of female infertility is due to a problem with ovulation. This can be caused by imbalanced hormones, stress or even a buildup of excess phlegm in the lower body. All of these situations may prevent the release of a mature egg from the ovaries. When progesterone is lacking, the fetus may be unable to attach to the uterus. Regular acupuncture treatments have been shown to correct these imbalances, making conception more possible.
If infertility is something you are dealing with, ask me how I can help. The chances of getting pregnant and having a happy healthy baby are much better when combining both Western medicine and Eastern medicine.
A study published by BMC Complementary and Alternative Medicine looked at the effects of acupuncture in the treatment of depression. For the study, rats were exposed to three weeks of chronic unpredictable mild stress, which put them into a state of depression. Once depression had set in, the rats were then treated using two acupuncture points for 10-minute sessions. What was discovered was that depression-like behaviors were decreased using this treatment method. Therefore, it was determined by this particular study, that acupuncture indeed has positive effects on the symptoms of depression and can be used as a means to treat the disease.
Depression is defined as a mental disorder characterized by feelings of dejection and severe despondency. Worldwide, nearly 350 million people suffer from depression and nearly 16 million of those are in the United States alone. Statistics show women tend to be more likely to experience depression and young adults between the ages of 18 to 22 are also at higher risk. Symptoms of depression include extreme irritability over minor issues, anxiety, restlessness, irrational anger, lack of interest in everyday activities, thoughts of death, insomnia, severe fatigue, weight gain/loss, difficulty concentrating and unexplained aches and pains. When these symptoms occur for more than a few weeks, depression may be the reason behind them.
As shown in the aforementioned study, Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) is very effective in treating depression, not only short-term, but also long-term. Modern medicine usually treats depression with antidepressants and psychotherapy regardless of the presenting symptoms. In contrast, TCM diagnoses each patient on an individual basis and treats the specific symptoms, while also addressing the root of the illness.
Acupuncture and Traditional Chinese Medicine can help alleviate symptoms of depression while also attacking the root cause(s), thus bringing the body and mind back into balance. The body and mind are inseparable and should be treated as a whole, which is the approach used by acupuncturists. When we experience emotional challenges and become upset, our physical body may become affected as well. Then a vicious cycle begins because the emotions are greatly impacted by what we can and cannot do physically.
The theory behind treating depression using TCM, all revolves around the concept of Qi (pronounced “chee”). Qi is considered the vital energy that flows through the body and animates everything. When Qi is blocked or stagnant, illness can take root, either physically or mentally. Qi flows throughout the body on energetic pathways or meridians. Each energetic meridian is associated with an organ and each organ has its own emotion. For example, the emotion of the liver meridian is anger. When Qi is blocked and liver Qi stagnation occurs, anger can then manifest. From the same standpoint, if a person is excessively angry, the flow of Qi can be blocked creating stagnation.
Acupuncture releases endorphins and activates natural pain killers. By doing so, it improves the flow of Qi throughout the body while eliminating blockages and bringing balance to the mind and body. Endorphins counter the symptoms of depression and allow the person to resume a normal life.
If you are suffering from depression and are looking for a natural way of dealing with it, contacting a licensed acupuncturist might be exactly what you need. A local acupuncturist can help you navigate the waters of depression without the harmful side-effects of pharmaceuticals, while helping you get back to a happier life.
When you consider all the changes in our agricultural practices, the increased number of medications we take, as well as our dependence on plastic and technology that is constantly emitting low-grade radiation, it’s no surprise more couples are having trouble conceiving. Current statistics show one in six couples who are trying to conceive are facing fertility issues. And while many times infertility is thought of as a female issue, it is really a factor for both the man and woman and should therefore be addressed as such.
In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) we talk about qi a lot, the energy or life force in everyone. Qi regulates the mental and physical body. When qi is disrupted or blocked due to poor health or other circumstances, then disease may occur. Regular acupuncture treatments help to keep the normal flow of qi moving and unblocked. A healthy flow of qi increases a couple’s chances of conceiving.
One of the most important ways acupuncture treatments can support a couple facing fertility issues is through reducing stress. Stress is frequently a key component that contributes to infertility in both men and women. When people are stressed, the brain releases a hormone known as cortisol. Too much cortisol alters the brain and changes the hormone levels which are key to the reproductive cycle. Due to the delicate balance between the brain, pituitary gland and the reproductive glands, excess stress is capable of preventing ovulation completely. Stress can also cause spasms in the uterus and fallopian tubes, which may interfere with implantation of a fertilized egg. In men, stress can alter sperm count, sperm motility and cause impotence. Acupuncture has the ability to counter the effects of stress.
Regular acupuncture treatments are also very effective at decreasing and removing excess phlegm in the lower body. This buildup of excess phlegm can be caused by numerous factors. In the United States, there are two causes that are most common. The first is the standard American diet that is saturated with fast, greasy, sugary and fried foods and lacking in fresh, whole plant-based foods. The second cause is the sedentary lifestyle that many people now live. Studies confirm that these two situations lead to increased infertility issues. But specific acupoints, herbs and exercise can all be beneficial in creating a healthy environment for a baby to be conceived.
Acupuncture can also be a great option for those facing fertility issues, because it doesn’t cost nearly as much as other options. The average cost of in vitro fertilization (IVF) is $15,000 per session and the success rates are only about 33 percent. However, the use of TCM over a 6 month period can increase success rates by nearly 65 percent for a fraction of the cost of IVF. With acupuncture, people also get the added benefits of more restful sleep, less stress and anxiety, improved digestion and better health overall.
Studies show acupuncture can increase fertility and allow couples to conceive more frequently. If you are experiencing fertility problems, acupuncture may hold the answer. Ask me today if you would like more information.