Greetings Dear Readers,
Kombucha is a raw, living, fizzy sweet tea drink prized for its numerous health benefits. The earliest record of its use dates back to China’s Qin Dynasty (221 – 206 BC) where it was given names such as “The Tea of Immortality” and “Stomach Treasure”. It was later brought to Russia and Europe by travelers in the 20th century when it started to re-emerge in popularity after a disappearance during the sugar and tea rationing of World War II. Many people discovering kombucha, myself included, feel so good after drinking it that it quickly turns into a daily habit. Kombucha drinkers report many benefits from much increased energy, immunity to colds and flus to excellent digestion and even increased hair growth. Why is that? Well, here is some of what Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) has to say about kombucha.
It Detoxes the Liver
One of the main patterns seen by TCM acupuncturists in the modern world is a pattern called “Liver Qi Stagnation”. This means that the Liver energy is clogged, over-heated and excessive (although sometimes deficient) most often due to emotional stress and poor eating habits. Kombucha has a number of properties that make it an excellent remedy for the Liver system. TCM considers kombucha to be sour, bitter and warming. The sour flavour in TCM herbology and nutrition is used to cleanse the Liver and Gall Baldder. Similarly, Western science has identified a number of naturally occuring acids (think sour) in kombucha such as glucoronic acid which benefit the liver and have been found to prevent the build up of toxins in the tissues. These healthy acids have a similar effect as lemons which are acidic before being ingested but are transformed inside the body and in the end leave the body more alkaline, i.e. healthy. Kombucha’s bitter properties mean that it has the ability to improve circulation, reduce inflammation and clear toxins from the body. The bitter flavour in TCM also has the ability to prevent infection and prevent tumors.
Kombucha Tea Improves Digestion
Kombucha supports the “Middle Burner Qi”, meaning the proper functioning of the Spleen and Stomach systems. The stomach’s job is to break down food. The Spleen system also has many jobs including extracting nutrients from the food to support the production of blood. When the Spleen system is “deficient” there are often sugar cravings. It’s interesting to note that fermented foods, including kombucha, actually work to reduce sugar cravings. Raw kombucha is probiotic containing live beneficial bacterial cultures which support the breakdown of food and digestion (for the full beneficial effects, always check that store-bought kombucha is truly raw – read labels and check for strands of the culture in the glass).
Being warming in its thermal nature (click here and scroll down to see my Thermal Nature of Foods Chart), kombucha helps the Spleen system which prefers Yang (warming) food and drink. The Spleen system is often weak because of the Liver imbalances where the over-burdened Liver “attacks” the Spleen. So kombucha tea helps both organ systems. Warming food and drinks such as kombucha also help those is transition from a more meat and dairy type diet which is more warm to a vegan or raw vegan diet which is more cooling. The effervescent quality of the drink resembles soda pop and is used by many to overcome the craving for pop drinks. It is a sweet-tasting drink but the sugar content is very low (7 grams per 250mL).
When the energy of the Spleen and Stomach improves, the side-effect is better immunity. In TCM, immunity relates to the Metal element which governs the Lungs. In the Five-Element cycle, The Earth element (Spleen and Stomach) is the “mother” of Metal (Lungs and Large Intestine). So when the Spleen and Stomach are healthier and stronger, they send their extra energy to nourish the Lungs to build “Defensive Qi” to fight off external pathogens such as colds and flus.
Kombucha improves Stomach Acid and Nutrition
While the body does need alkaline reserves, some areas of the body do need to be acidic to do their job. One such is the stomach lining which needs to have a pH of around 2-3.5 in order to be able to break down food. If Stomach acid is weak or lacking (which happens quite frequently in the modern age because of adrenal stress – the fight or flight response shuts down digestion) the result is poor absorption of nutrients causing malnutrition. Yes, this means that even if you are eating amazingly fresh, organic tree-ripened foods, if your stomach doesn’t have the acids to break it down enough to extract the nutrients, you will be malnourished. It’s not just what you eat, it’s what you absorb. Kombucha to the rescue! Kombucha has been found to contain seven plant acids as well as various B vitamins, vitamin C, enzymes and amino acids. These plant acids increase the acidity of your stomach lining which gives your stomach the ability to break down food. The improved Spleen and Stomach function from this drink results in improved athletic performance (the Spleen governs muscle tissue in TCM) as well as mental ability (the Spleen governs the intellect in TCM). People have also reported increased hair growth which would be because of improved nutrient absorption.
Resolves Dampness and Phlegm (AKA Tumors and Cancer)
Dampness and Phlegm are TCM terms used to describe a Yin pathogen that shows up as discharges such as excessive vaginal discharge (leukorrhea), excessive nasal mucous (rhinitis), productive cough, watery swellings, wheeping discharges from the skin, and excess body fat. When pathogenic Dampness has been in the body for too long, it becomes hardened by the natural heat of the body and becomes Phlegm which appears as hardened nodules, lumps or tumors. Dampness and Phlegm produce stagnation in the body. Kombucha, which has similar properties to vinegar in TCM, is used to remove stagnation by moving Qi and Blood. For this reason kombucha has been used traditionally for cancer patients – by increasing the Qi flow, the body can resolve the dampness and phlegm. According to the ancient axiom in TCM, where there is Qi (energy) flow there is health, harmony, where there is no Qi flow there is pain, disease.
**Please note: If you are a child, are pregnant, have a compromised immune system, or have kidney disease, it may be advisable to talk with your doctor before beginning to drink kombucha, especially if you are doing a home-brew. Kombucha can cause the body to detoxify strongly and pregnancy is not the time to begin to detox. It is recommended that if you are a regular kombucha drinker before becoming pregnant than drinking kombucha while pregnant is not a concern. However, starting to drink kombucha after becoming pregnant is not advisable.
Have you tried kombucha yet?
Love to hear your comments and questions.
Yours in health,
Yay! it’s finally Spring!!
Spring is associated with the Wood element which governs the Liver and Gall Bladder systems. Foods that are sour and foods that are green, especially young green foods such as micro-greens, A.K.A. sprouts (alfalfa, mung, brocolli sprouts, etc.) are excellent for the Liver/Gall Bladder systems. Here’s an interesting raw vegan salad dressing recipe you can try
with yourfresh green salad.
3-4 cups fresh cut mango
1 cup pitted dates
1 large tablespoon fresh rosemary
*optional – sliced pineapple
Mix ingredients in a blender and serve. Fun things are often so simple!
Yoga Exercises for Spring
Certain yoga postures such as twists are especially good for the Liver/ Gall Bladder systems because they help move qi in the “Middle Jiao” (area just under the ribs, between the rib and the navel). There are many variations of the yoga twist that you can try. Here are a few below that you can incorporate into your daily routine.
On the mental-spiritual plane, the Liver is associated with irritability, anger, frustration. One way to channel this energy is to engage in creative projects that allow the mind feel expansive and open to seeing life as full of infinite possibilities. It’s also helpful to remember that the people we may feel anger towards also suffer in many ways too.
Wishing you a dynamic and healthy spring.
Yours in health,
Greetings Dear Readers,
If you have kidney stones or are worried about possibly having them, there is an easy solution:
asparagus! Yes, that’s right, asparagus. Go down to your local market and pick yourself up 2 or 3 bunches.
Eat one cup of asparagus (steamed or juiced, however you like it) each day for 3 or 4 days. You’ll know this is working when you see the appearance of a white sand in your urine. This is the dissolved kidney stone material leaving your body. Yay!
Asparagus dissolves the oxalic acid crystals as well as the calcium stones caused by too much calcium supplementation either in pill form or from drinking calcium-fortified soy or almond milk. Read the labels. The body only needs a set amount of calcium at one time and will deposit excess calcium in various places in the body such as the arteries (arterial plaque) and the kidneys (stones). The body often cannot absorb calcium because it requires various cofactors, namely magnesium, which is extremely deficient in modern diets owing to poor soil quality.
From a Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) perspective, asparagus purifies the Lung system of toxicities, strengthens the Kidney Yin, and calms the Heart which helps the mind become more peaceful (Heart houses the mind, known as “shen” in TCM).
Yours in health,
Greetings Dear Readers,
Ever wonder why some people (perhaps you fall into this category) eat a very healthy, perhaps
extraordinarily healthy diet well beyond what most people do for themselves, perhaps eating super foods and/or supplements by the truckload and YET have fatigue, low appetite, weight gain, bloating, gas, constipation, food sensitivities and low vitality? Why is that? Well, one likely reason is Low Stomach Acid.
The stomach, like the skin and vagina, are organs that are meant to be acidic (pH above 7). Since these are areas that
micro-organisms can easily invade, acid acts as a chemical barrier preventing unfriendly bacteria/viruses/parasites frequently found in animal products (especially raw fish) as well as unwashed vegetables (i.e. spinach) from colonizing inside you. Your stomach acid, which is part of your immune defence, is meant to have a pH of 2; enough acidity to destroy these micro-organisms. Stomach acid also has a digestive purpose in chemically breaking down food particles in order for your small intestine to absorb the nutrients. In modern people, stomach acid is often weak and gets even weaker as we age due to long-standing poor dietary habits. Ever wonder why many elderly people have poor appetites and eat bird-size meals? My grandfather who lived to be 98 and took apple cider vinegar (which increases gastric acid secretions) regularly had the strongest appetite of anyone I know. He would take us to a Chinese buffet and have four full plates of every kind of food plus two full dessert plates.
Low stomach acid is something to take very seriously as it has a number of consequences:
1. Protein in food is not broken down. Protein in it’s broken down state is amino acids (protein molecules). Amino acids are the basis of neurotransmitters (naturally chemicals used by the brain and nervous system to relay information between the brain and various areas of the body). Without enough neurotransmitters, the nervous system doesn’t do it’s job leading to things like mood disorders such as depression. Poor protein digestion also causes hair loss and brittle nails (nails and hair are made of protein). Another issue with poorly digested protein is that it often sits too long in the intestines causing bacterial growth and weakening of the intestinal walls. This is called ‘leaky gut syndrome” meaning food matter leaks out the walls of the intestines. This leakage causes an immune response because the food matter isn’t where it’s supposed to be, the peritoneal cavity. Anti-bodies are made in response to the food particles in the peritoneal cavity which then sets off an immune response every time you eat foods that you have antibodies to. The more the low stomach acid situation continues, the more food sensitivities, inflammation and auto-immune diseases develop.
2. Bacteria and other unwanted micro-organisms get a foot-hold in the digestive tract (think H. pylori, the bacteria known to be responsible for stomach ulcers, as well as parasites).
3. Although this sounds contradictory, low stomach acid is actually one of the causes of acid reflux, heartburn and G.E.R.D. (Gastro-Esophageal Reflux Disease). How so? With each of these conditions, contents from the stomach are backing up into the esophagus because the lower esophageal sphincter (LES) is not closing tight enough. Why is the LES not closing? The is because the stomach acid is not sufficient to break down the food or destroy bacteria causing the pressure in the stomach to build up. The fermentation of stagnant food means the lower esophageal sphincter must open to release the pressure. Initially, the treatment is to calm the acid reflux with chamomile and slippery elm to heal the irritated esophagus. Antacids, baking soda or milk will comfort the esophagus in the short term but since these products are intensely alkaline they will actually weaken stomach acid. Once the acid reflux has calmed down, the next step is the increase stomach acid using bitters.
4. Low stomach acid means poor absorption of nutrients, especially minerals such as non-heme iron sources (plants), B12 and folic acid.
5. As the food is not properly broken down by stomach acid, it putrifies (rots) in the gut causing gas, bloating, belching and constipation.
How to tell if your stomach acid is low? One simple way which you can do at home is called the beet test. Eat a beet or two (salad, steamed, juiced, doesn’t really matter how). If your urine or bowel movements turn pinkish-reddish (called beeturia) within the next 24 hours , you will know that your stomach is not breaking down and assimilating the pigments which indicates that you are not getting enough nutrients from your food.
Ok, now for the therapeutic answers. It’s interesting how TCM and Western herbal medicine both agree so well on this issue: bitters! Bitters are so important for your stomach and digestion and need to be eaten every day. Vinegar which is considered a bitter food in TCM, is a key ingredient used in the recipe below. There are hundreds of bitter foods. All those leafy green vegetables your mom wanted you to eat and you ate them because she promised you dessert. Most green leaves have a bitter quality. Some common bitters are dandelion, alfalfa, plantain, red clover, arugula, wheat grass, barley grass, parsley, watercress, and a whole lot more which you may even find growing in your yard (careful – don’t eat if sprayed with herbacides).
TCM describes the actions of bitters:
1. Clears Heat
2. Drains Dampness
3. Increases appetite
4. Purges toxins
5. Moves Qi downwards to promote urination and bowel movements
Cabbage Salad to the Rescue
Cabbage in TCM is slightly sweet and benefits the Spleen and Stomach systems. It also clears toxins from the bowels and improves circulation. Cabbage also contains vitamin U which heals the stomach lining and increases appetite. Fresh raw cabbage juice is an age-old remedy for gastric ulcers. The vinegar is a bitter which stimulates acid production in the stomach. The raw vegetables contain live enzymes which help digest the food. The Celtic sea salt contains chloride needed in the production of hydrochloric acid (A.K.A. stomach acid).
**For those who have an active heartburn/acid reflux situation going on, wait until the the heartburn/acid reflux calms down (takes about 2-3 weeks to clear using chamomile, marshmallow root and slippery elm daily) before using the vinegar, onions and garlic as these foods can be heartburn triggers. Some people report that apple cider vinegar doesn’t trigger their heartburn while regular vinegar does. Also, dried garlic and dried onion powder can be used as substitutes as these are less triggering than the fresh kind.
3 cups red cabbage, shredded
1/2 medium onion, shredded
1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
1/2 cup raw almond butter
3 Tbsp unpasteurized honey
1 tsp cumin
1 tsp coriander
1 tsp Celtic sea salt
2 cloves garlic, minced
1. Shred cabbage and onion in a food processor or with a grater.
2. Add in apple cider vinegar, raw almond butter, garlic, honey. coriander, cumin and salt.
3. Mash ingredients together until fully mixed.
Yours in health,
Greetings Dear Readers,
Welcome to the beautiful, mystical winter season. In Asian medicine, all living things – humans, animals, plants – are connected to the seasonal cycle of nature. Although the modern scientific view puts more focus on the microcosm – the tiny cells and microbes – to understand disease, Asian medicine takes into account the macrocosm, which includes the energies in and around us such as the emotional environment in our mind, our social milieu, the food we eat and the way we go about our lives. There are a multitude of influences on the state of balance our body systems are always trying to achieve. We can learn so much from the natural world.
Winter is associated with this dormancy stage of the seed. It is a period of waiting; a time when it appears not much is happening, at least externally. It is a time of cocooning and inner transformation. We reap the benefit of the winter season by following this example in nature and taking time to rest. Long, deep sleeps in winter let the body rest and rejuvenate. We restore balance by cultivating the Yin energy after the very active spring and summer seasons. We conserve our energy so that it can re-emerge again strongly during the spring season when the Yang energy pushes forth again.
Seed wisdom is about holding the vital life force within its’ shell. In winter, our body also pulls its’ energy deep inside. Like the seed, we benefit from protecting ourselves from with cold with an added layer of warm clothing. We also benefit from eating winter vegetables such as kale, cabbage, squash, turnip and collard greens. These plants have a special ability to withstand cold climates. By eating plants that winterize well, we also gain their same inner resilience to cold.
Still waters run deep. Our consciousness runs at a much deeper level in this most Yin season. As winter is when our qi is submerged to its’ deepest level within our bodies, so too do our thoughts turn to the deep, the spiritual and existential.
Winter has a beautifully mysterious quality. Everything is hidden under a blanket of snow. No longer are the blooming flowers inviting us to dance in the garden. Now the cold wind sends us indoors where we nestle by a fire. In the quiet spaces of our mind, deep thoughts emerge from the subconscious bringing forth insights (insight=in+sight=inner sight). It is a time to look within ourselves for answers. It’s a time to listen more to those little callings in our mind we hear in the quieter moments of the day. Some call these little nudges the higher self, the Buddha within your heart, intuition, or God who is speaking to you. However we frame it, it’s a time for resting, listening to the inside, and being deep.
Wishing you a Happy Winter Season!
Yours in health,