Treating Lupus with Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine

Greetings Dear Readers,

If you or someone you know is living with Lupus there is hope.  Oriental medicine has had a lot of success with many types of auto-immune diseases such as Lupus.

oriental medicineSystemic Lupus Erythmatosus (SLE) is an auto-immune disorder  in which the immune system attacks its’ own tissues leading to chronic inflammation. Several orlupus-symptomsgan systems may be affected such as kidneys, heart, skin, blood cells, joints, brain and skin.  Western medicine explains the cause of lupus as essentially unknown but beyond that is believed to be a combination of genetics and environment where some people have a genetic predisposition to developing lupus and then various environmental factors such as sunlight, medications (anti-biotics, anti-seizure meds, blood pressure medications) can be the triggers that set off the lupus symptoms. Commonly used Western drugs such as  NSAIDs (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs), corticosteroids, anti-malarial drugs and immuno-suppressants are used to manage symptoms.  Although these drugs may be able to control flare-ups to some extent, there are often side-effects with long-term use.
Natural therapies such as acupuncture that can achieve suppression of flare-ups as well as get to the root of the disease itself.

Oriental medicine describes Lupus as a situation of too much Yang (heat)  and not enough Yin (yin=coolness, moisture) which also creates “Empty Heat” or Heat resulting from Deficient Yin.   I will publish a post about Yin Deficiency soon.

With Excess Heat, often the person has Heat signs such as the red butterfly rash on their face (red=heat)butterfly rash, constipation, excess thirst, a feeling of heat in the body or fever, and dark-coloured urine that may be scanty.  The tongue is often red with a yellow coat, and the pulse is often rapid, and full.  Heat symptoms tend to show up in the upper part of the body such as the face because heat rises.  Lupus also shows up more often in younger people between the ages of 15 – 40 because young people are relatively more Yang than older people.

When the Heat is intense it becomes Fire.  Fire rises upwards towards the heart and brain which can result in mental-emotional symptoms such as irritability or anxiety.  Fire also dries up the body fluids which is why there can be constipation and scanty urine.

With Yin Deficiency, there is a lack of the moistening, cooling body fluids in the body which result in dryness as well as Blood Deficiency symptoms such as fatigue, insomnia and hair loss..  With prolonged Yin Deficiency there can be “Empty Heat” which means a relatred cracked tongueive increase in Heat caused by a lack of Yin which shows up as low-grade fever and night sweats.  Yin involves all the body fluids including blood and sinovial fluids.  A Yin deficient tongue may be peeled (geographic, or cracked) and the pulse may be superficial, thin and fast.  Since women are considered more Yin, and require a greater amount of blood and body fluids for healthy body functions (think of how women’s bodies must replace menstrual blood lost each month) , this helps explain why SLE tends to affect women more than men.

Photophobia often stems from Yin deficiency of the Liver system (the Liver liver blood def.“opens” to the eyes) causing a lack of moistening fluids (Liver Blood) to the eyes resulting in light sensitivity  and dry eyes.  Hair loss is also indicated because in TCM hair is considered a surplus of Liver Blood.  Discoid (small round) rashes are another symptom of Blood Deficiency as it is the function of Blood to moisten the skin so the lack of Blood causes red flaky rashes.

The joint pain in lupus may be the result of the lack of body fluids (Yin) resulting in less sinovial fluids in the joints.  It can also be from Liver Blood Deficiency as the Liver Blood’s role is to moisten the tendons and resulting in arthritic pain.

Without treatment  Lupus can progress into kidney damage and failure.  This can be a life-threatening illness so it’s important to chose your treatment strategy wisely.  Where there are more severe and acute symptoms such as breathing difficulty and acute kidney issues it’s important to see a Western doctor quickly to prevent serious complications.  Once things have stabilized, TCM acupuncture can focus on the other symptoms as well as addressing the root of the disorder.

treatmentThe goals of acupuncture treatment with Lupus will depend on how the individual presents.  In general, points will be used to clear the Heat/Fire and strengthen Yin and Blood of the affected channels and organ systems.  This is achieved by selecting the correct acupuncture points that will do those jobs.  Each acupuncture point has its own functions and indications so the treatment will be tailored to the patient’s unique presentation. The treatment for Lupus tends to be longer than other conditions because Yin Deficiency takes a long time to develop and so a longer time to remove.  With persistent treatment as well as the guidance I offer in self-care including diet there should be a lessening of flare-ups as well as better energy and quality of life.

Yours in health,

Cynthia McGilvray, R.Ac.

References:

1.Weil, Andrew, M.D., (August 2016). Lupus. Retrieved from: http://www.drweil.com/health-wellness/body-mind-spirit/autoimmune-disorders/lupus/

2. Mayo Clinic Staff, (November 2014). Lupus. Retrieved from: http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/lupus/basics/definition/con-20019676

3. Maciocia, Giovanni. ( 2005). The Foundations of Chinese Medicine. 2nd Ed. Churchill & Livingstone.

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Why I Love Yarrow Tea

Greetings Dear Readers,

yarrow tea

Yep, I got one of those nasty summer colds.  Here I am in Toronto, in a summer with extreme heatwaves for the last two months, and then getting a “cold” which is not cold at all but making me uber hot and sweaty, as if I weren’t enough already!  Anyhow, I just happened to have some yarrow tea on hand (that I just happened to have because it’s a great  hair rinse) and it so happens to also be good for “releasing the Exterior” as they say in TCM, or “sweating it out” in lay terms.  The cool thing about Yarrow is that once you start sweating it out, this breaks the fever so you end up cooler, yay!

I felt perplexed as to why I got this cold in the first place with all the Vitamin D, camu camu, and elderberry that I take.  But truth be told, I was spooning back the peanut butter like the factory would close tomorrow.  Now that’s a lot of Damp Heat that peanuts create, on top of the damp hot humid weather going on all summer, what’s a girl to do?  Oh but it tasted so good! And no problems for two months, then whammo!

So I gave yarrow a try and the exciting thing was that this cold felt really different from every cold I’ve had in the last 15 years I’d say. Rather than lingering on for 9 days, it came on hard and left just as quickly.  In TCM, when the Defensive energy (read: immune system) is weak, the body can’t put up a big fight against the pathogen so the bug carries on and on.  If the Defensive Qi is really strong, the fight is intense, high fever, feeling really sick, then suddenly it’s all over.  That’s how I feel this morning. Like these two have had their duel – I couldn’t even sleep til 1 am last night nose running like Niagara Falls, throat sore as anything, achy joints, felt sick as a dog, and now this morning I feel almost normal, congestion all dried up, throat is 90% better, a little bit achy still, and tired because of poor sleep, but it feels like the bug is 90% gone.  Wow, that hasn’t happened to me since I was a kid!

So I think the peanut butter feasts eventually caught up with me, but the yarrow tea that I drank over and over yesterday really strengthened my immune system quickly pushing the pathogen out hard and fast.  And now here I am, ready to go to work today.  Feels like a small miracle:)

Yarrow tea is a great decongestant that melts all the phlegm in your body down to a nice watery-ness that your body can expel really easily.  My herbal teacher Diane Kent explained to us that some over-the-counter cold medications actually dry up your lungs without helping the body release the pathogen.  So the Dampness now becomes Phlegm which is so much harder to expel causing the virus to linger for a lot longer.  In a nut shell, if you’re getting a cold, try to take a day off work and load up on the yarrow tea.  It will strengthen your Defensive Qi so you can push that mess out of your body quickly and then you can live as normal, but all the wiser knowing that too much Damp foods like peanut butter and a sticky summer heat wave just don’t go together.

Yours in health,

Cynthia

 

 

 

 

 

Activating Feminine Yin Energy

 

Greetings Dear Readers,

Finding balance between the masculine and feminine energies is something many people are wanting in their lives.  It seems many people find that in this modern age there is a lot of fast-paced, aggressive Yang energy.  This creates a craving for the slower paced, quieter Yin energy.  Some of the ways we add more Yin energy such as sugar, and recreational drugs are unhealthy in the long run.  Luckily, there are also many healthy ways to bring in more Yin energy such as working with the energy systems of the body.

Each acupuncture channel of the body has various properties and functions which are activated when the area is stimulated by acupuncture, massage or moxibustion.  The main channel that works with the feminine energy is the Conception Vessel (CV) channel.  The CV channel runs up the front of the body along the mid-line from the perineum to the chin.  It is balanced by the masculine energy of the Governing Vessel channel which runs along the back of the body near the spine, from the perineum up to the head and face.  The Conception Vessel channel, also called the “Sea of the Yin channels” is often used for the purpose of nourishing the Yin  or the feminine energy in the body.

 Yin and Yang energies need to stay in balance for health and harmony.  Sometimes people have too much Yang or heat/inflammation caused by a relative lack of Yin.  In these cases, activating this channel helps them overcome symptoms of Yin deficiency such as anxiety, dry mouth at night, facial flushing, insomnia, dizziness, tinnitus, sweating at night, hot flashes, menopausal symptoms or restless mind.

It’s also very interesting to me that acupoint Lung 7 is used to open the Conception Vessel because it affirms what we already know, that using our lungs to take deep breathes helps us to feel more calm and Yin.

The Conception Vessel belongs to a set of eight “extra-ordinary vessels” which contain some of the most powerful energy reserves in the body, which we can tap into for extra support.  These channels are also used when there are chronic conditions that are often complicated by issues in many organ systems.  If you are interested in exploring how to increase your Yin energy and find more balance in your body, acupuncture as well as non-needling technologies can be used to bring relief.

I look forward to hearing your comments and questions.

Yours in health,

Cynthia

Treatment of Shingles (Herpes Zoster) and Post-Herpetic Neuralgia

Greetings Dear Readers,

If you or someone you know is suffering from shingles, there is a lot that can be done to shingles in eyereduce pain, strengthen immunity and get relief using natural therapies. A word of caution: if you are experiencing the shingles rash, pain or unusual symptoms in your face, eyes or ears, this symptom that can have serious consequences such as damage to the eyes or ears leading to loss of vision or hearing. Please visit your doctor immediately.
In Western medicine, the virus causing shingles (varicella-zoster virus) is the same virus that causes chicken pox. When someone gets the chicken pox, eventually the rash clears, but the virus itself does not fully disappear. It lies dormant in the nerve ganglia at the dermatonesspine waiting for another opportunity. When the immune system is down, the virus may then reactivate, this time as shingles. Since the virus lives at the nerve root in the spine, it tends to affect one or multiple dermatomes or areas that the affected spinal nerve controls. Prior to the outbreak, the immune system could have been weakened by chemotherapy, radiation, HIV, fatigue, organ or bone marrow transplant, physical or psychological trauma or a very stressful life event. Shingles also tends to affect those over the age of 50 more than younger people.
According to Asian medicine, shingles is a combination of Wind, Damp and Heat pattern often involving Liver/Gall Bladder and/or Spleen system. It’s interesting that the dermatomes at T9-T12 which are often affected by shingles, is also the area of the spine that corresponds to the Liver, Gall Bladder and Spleen in Asian Medicine. Where Heat predominates, the pain tends to be more intense and the sooner the acupuncture treatment is done, the lesser the chances of intense pain that carries on for months or in some cases years. Palpation of the Fire points shows the extent of the Heat in the body and the corresponding points are treated first before treating the immune system. The Spleen system is also treated because of the burden of Dampness caused by either a pre-existing weak Spleen system (the spleen is also an immune organ in both Eastern and Western medicine) or because the virus itself has weakened the Spleen system which is responsible for controlling Dampness. In either case, Asian medicine offers effective protocols to clear any residual pain or immune weakness caused by shingles.
Once the rashes and blistering have died down, there is often lingering post-herpetic neuralgia (read: intense pain) along the nerve pathway of the affected areathat can go onSt. John wort for months, sometimes years. Getting started with acupuncture soon after the pain starts will cut down the amount of time the pain goes on for. Some patients have been told to try various rash ointments that are intended for another purpose such as eczema or psoriasis, but with little success because the pain is not about the skin. It is caused by the infection at the nerve. An excellent remedy for this type of nerve pain is St. John’s Wart oil rubbed onto the affected area.
Dietary changes can help support the immune system. An acupuncturist can determine whether Damp, Heat or Wind is most predominant in your body. If the Dampness is predominant, it is important to avoid Damp producing foods such as roasted peanuts, dairy products such as milk or ice cream, beer, sugar, concentrated juices or sweeteners, pork, bananas and saturated fats. Refined sugar itself is

Image result for immune boosting mushrooms  known to depress the immune system within hours of consumption.1 If Heat predominates, avoid hot spices, alcohol, coffee, chili, ginger, mustard, lamb, ginseng, maca and other heating foods or herbs. Ways to support the body’s immunity include immune tonics such as ganoderma (reishi mushroom), fermented foods because they promtote healthy gut flora, zinc, selenium and keeping stress levels down (stress reduces Defensive Qi) through relaxation, exercise and meditation.
Feel free to contact me if you have any questions.

 

Yours in health,
Cynthia

 

References:

1. · Albert Sanchez, J. L. · Reeser, H. S. · Lau, P. Y. · Yahiku, R. E. · Willard, P. J. · McMillan, S. Y. · Cho, A. R. · Magie, and U. D. Register. (1973. The American Society for Clinical Nutrition). The Role of Sugars in Human Neutrophils Phagocytosis. http://ajcn.nutrition.org/content/26/11/1180

 

 

How to Make Elderberry Syrup for Your Lung System and Skin

Greetings Dear Readers,

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Do you have a penchant for all things old-fashioned or making things from scratch with honest ingredients? I do. Maybe it’s the idea that things were some how more simple or more wholesome in the past?  Anyways, I thought I’d share this recipe for strengthening the lungs and immune system with elderberry syrup. You can find elderberry syrup in a lot of good health food stores, but you can also make it at home for much less and have some fun while you’re at it.

Recently after going through a recovery from mild acute liver failure last December (long story, but I learned some people’s livers cannot process an herb called skullcap – take note!), I’ve been going through a process of trying to detoxify my liver. My naturopath prescribed a powerful homeopathic formula which really cleared the congestion and pain, however I started to get eczema all around my eyes. My naturopath guided me to support my kidneys with herbs to help flush out my system. This makes sense in TCM because the Kidney nourishes the Liver system.

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Five Element Cycle

It worked somewhat, but didn’t see great results until I realized that the Lung system was also involved. In Japanese acupuncture, eczema is often looked at as “Lungs not Controlling Liver”.  Lungs govern the skin, hence the eczema. Most of my life I’ve had a Lung weakness and some skin issues. The Lung system nourishes the Kidneys so Lung Deficiency can create Kidney Deficiency. It was early winter, a time when the Kidney system is more taxed, so I knew had to support my Lung and Kidney systems as well.

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Long story short, elderberry syrup daily along with oolong tea (both are lung tonics) has really cleared up most of the eczema, and incidentally (since the Lung system deals with immunity too) I have not had a cold all winter and normally I get one. Using the Lung system to control the Liver system is a key concept for the spring season when the Liver tends towards imbalance.   Liver Yang excess symptoms such as anger outbursts, muscle tension, temporal or vertex headaches, eye issues, skin rashes, allergies etc. can be helped by supporting the Lung system.

Elderberry Syrup:

3 cups water

1/2 cup dried Elderberries

¼ cup raw honey (preferably local)

1 cinnamon stick (optional)

3-4 cloves (optional)

1 teaspoon finely chopped ginger (optional)

Put all the ingredients except for the honey in a pot and bring to a low boil. Simmer mixture on low for 30 min. Then turn off heat and let stand for 5 minutes. Strain mixture and press berries well through strainer to extract as much of the liquid as possible. Add honey once the mixture has cooled and stir. Store in the fridge.

Adding the cinnamon, ginger and cloves will add flavour but also heating properties. Avoid adding these spices if you already have a fever, or other heat symptoms such as red rashes, sore throat, or the during spring and summer season.

Happy Healing!

Yours in health,

Cynthia

Restore Your Nervous System

Yes you can do this! I know. You want to feel more relaxed as well as energized, more balanced some how. “Well if I could just get a week off work (every week) to lie on a beach in a tropical country I’d be great”. Yeah, I get it, our outer conditions are usually not as we would like. So we do our best to strengthen ourselves from within.

We all need a strong nervous system in modern life. Our nervous system may have taken some hits from stress, thinking too much or working too much and also from drug or alcohol abuse. Acupuncture often looks to the Heart and Kidney systems involvement when stress is the issue where there is Heart Fire (excess energy) often caused by Kidney Deficiency (weak Kidneys not controlling the heart-mind). Acupuncture can be used to calm an overactive (Yang excess) nervous system or the end result of chronic stress that often leads to is a depressed nervous system (Yang deficiency).

The way Japanese acupuncture works is to find the leaks in the system, to plug up the energy leaks in where our energy may be draining so we can keep more energy for ourselves, to live our life dreams. The acupuncturist will test reflex points using gentle pressure to find out what is imbalanced and apply what will get best results for your body. Since each person’s health history and constitution are unique, the advantage of using a more individualized approach using confirmation signs means less needling and faster results rather than applying a standardized formula for every case.

I work to make acupuncture is a deeply relaxing restorative and gentle experience for people. You have a quiet space all to yourself with some soothing music if you like, where you can rest, recharge and let the needles do their work.

Some things you can try today to soothe your nervous system are:

  1. Make it a goal.  When we do have time in our day to relax, we can set an intention to make it truly relaxing. Instead of filling our free time with too many distracting multi-tasking activities we can take it down a notch.  When eating for example, we can also create a peaceful space visually, energetically and with attention to our thoughts to allow our self to stay in more peaceful, healthy energies.
  2. Winding down before bed.  We can improve sleep through relaxing before sleep by listening to soft peaceful music, meditation, taking a bath, or journalling to help let go of concerns of the day.
  3. Breathing exercises. There are some great ones you can find here. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N9jmO6xwFfs

I look forward to seeing you soon!

Yours in health,

Cynthia

 

Kombucha Tea for Stomach Qi

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 imagesChina’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.

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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).

G.T.Dave's Kombucha is raw and unpasteurized. I don't receive any money for saying this. You can also use it to start home brew.

G.T.Dave’s Kombucha is raw and unpasteurized. You can also use it to start a home brew. I don’t receive any money for saying this.

Being warming in its thermal nature, 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.  If you have been a regular kombucha drinker before becoming pregnant than drinking kombucha while pregnant should not be 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,

Cynthia