Birth and Beyond

By Emma Suttie, D.Ac, AP

I thought I might write about what my birth experience was like and how motherhood has changed me, both as a person and as a practitioner. Because this could easily be a 50-page article, I will be succinct. At least I will try. My baby is 10 months old now! He is talking, walking, laughing and growing like a weed. That sweet baby is the light and love of my life.

It has been a fascinating/joyful/frightening/blissful experience to have a baby. Nothing could have prepared me for what it was and is like. And that is the thing about it, I don't think there is anything you can do to prepare for how it is going to make you feel, and how it will, in every way, change your life.

Natural Pregnancy & Birth : Chinese Medicine LivingMy very pregnant belly! About a month before I had Liam.

Labour

I was at work, treating a patient when my water broke almost a month early. I knew, and my midwives told me, that what we see in movies - the pregnant woman in the grocery store whose water breaks - is not usually the way you go into labour (this only happens in about 10% of cases). I also knew that most first time mamas go beyond nine months, often by a couple of weeks. So, let's just say that I was a bit unprepared when I was writing out notes with a patient on the table when my water broke. I wasn't sure at first what had happened, probably because I wasn't expecting it. It only took a second to figure it out, and then my mind took me all the way to the end of the thought... I was going to have a baby. Today! I politely waited for my patient to have her time on the table and then went in and whispered to her (thankfully, she was also my friend), that I thought my water had just broken and that I should probably call my midwife. Her eyes got as big as saucers and she said "just calmly take out my needles, and I am going to help you. My gods, we're having a baby today!"

My midwife said that I should come in and make sure that my water did in fact break. I asked if I could go home and get my hunny first and she said of course. I texted him and told him my water had broken and his response was shock, disbelief and surprise. My friend piled up some towels on my car seat (when your water breaks, the amniotic fluid keeps producing so it is like a continuous flow) and I drove, as calmly as I could, home. When I arrived, everything I needed was in a bag and on the bed. My hunny had been busy and looked like he was having a small heart attack when I walked in the door. We looked at each other and smiled, knowing our baby was on its way. We got into the car and drove to the midwives where they checked and confirmed that my water had indeed broken. If your water breaks before you are in labour, you have 24 hours to begin labour (at least this is the rule in Florida where I live) or you put the baby and yourself in danger because the "water" or amniotic sack is there to protect the baby and keep everything sterile, so there is some pressure to get things going once your water has broken. The midwives checked me over and said everything seemed fine, but that I needed to get things moving. They told me to go get a couple of homeopathic remedies to help speed up labour and said to go home and make out with my hunny, which was a sure fire way to kick start the process. They told us to call them as soon as my contractions were about 5 minutes apart, or in 4 hours, whichever came first.

A Note on Pain

Now, I want to be really honest with you about what came next. And by that, I mean the pain. I don't think there is anything I could have done to prepare myself for what contractions and ultimately birth felt like. I know that everyone has a different experience, and I certainly watched a thousand videos of women giving birth in the months before I was due. But none of them accurately conveyed what it *felt* like. It is a difficult thing to accurately describe, so let me say this. I think, because of various things and experiences that I have had in my life, that I have, or had a pretty high tolerance to pain. Previous to having a baby, my pain scale went from one to ten. I was blissfully unaware of any pain, capable of breaching the ten ceiling. My pain scale now goes to 37, and that is not an exaggeration or an inflated number used to be dramatic - that is a relative increase, a mathematical equation used taking my maximum experience of pain before birth and multiplying it appropriately.

Natural Water Birth : Chinese Medicine LivingYup, that was the pain. Woo, it hurt.  

The things I have heard over and over again from women about birth are the fears they have of how much it is going to hurt. This is why there is a delectable assortment of drugs used to dull the pain of childbirth and I would never judge any woman for using any of them. Especially not now. Of course, the intensity and quality of pain varies from person to person, but I have to say, the pain I experienced during childbirth was something that I could not possibly express in words. It was a pain I never knew existed, and the most painful experience I have ever had in my life.

But I don't want to scare you about the pain. Do I regret it? No. Would I do it again? Yes. Do I wish I had been a little more aware of how intense it was going to be beforehand so that I could have been more psychologically prepared? Honestly, I'm not sure. Maybe. Was it worth it and one of the best, most incredible experiences of my life? Yes. The pain, much like the giving birth, were literally cutting new experiences into both my body and my psyche. They were experiences so intense that they literally take you to another place that anything less would never be able to take you. Words, again, cannot possibly express the depth and breadth of the experience, but alas, they are all I have at this moment.

Birth

My labour, once it started, went so quickly that my contractions were almost immediately on top of each other. I was unaware of anyone or anything else in the room, except my love, who was clutching me through each contraction. I would lean into him, gritting my teeth, crying out, focussing all my energy on making it through each one. I didn't have time to think. I didn't have time to fear. I only had enough energy to focus on making it through each contraction. I didn't even have time to think about something that might help the pain. Not once did this thought enter my head, which was swimming in a pain I scarce thought existed. The only time I came out of my pain was when I looked up and said "girls?" There were two midwives in the room, apparently watching closely, but sitting back, not wanting to crowd the experience. I saw them then and Christina asked, "yes?" I remember asking - "Can you die from pain?" She smiled and assured me that I could not. I remember then deciding that if I couldn't die from it, then I could endure it, and that was what I was going to do. That was the only time I remember being aware of the room or the people in it. My friend Michelle was there, sitting in a rocking chair in the corner, photographing the whole thing, but I was completely unaware of her presence. I had ridiculously told her that we would have a wonderful chance to catch up and perhaps have a tea while I was in labour and it would be so great that she would be there. Unfortunately, I didn't say one word to her the entire time, I was engrossed in my work.

After what seemed like an eternity (but was in fact only a couple of hours from the start of my intense contractions), I was checked and told that I had dilated to 6 centimeters and asked if I would like to get into the tub. It had been my plan to have a water birth, but I knew that I had to be flexible and decided I would see how I felt when the time came. I eagerly said yes and thought that the warm water might dull the sharp nature of the pain. It did. The tub was a large jacuzzi style in the pretty bedroom we were in at the birth centre. My hunny and I both got into the tub and the contractions continued with me changing positions every few seconds as nothing felt comfortable. I kept trying to find a way to position myself that made the pain tolerable. Very quickly I got the urge to push. I remember looking up and there was one of my midwives smiling at me. I asked her if I could push, and she said if I felt like I wanted to, then I should. Things are a bit of a blur after that, but I remember only pushing a couple of times, and when I finally did push out my baby I didn't realize it right away. I remember hearing Christina, my midwife, calling my name, telling me to catch my baby. I then have a vague memory of Mathieu diving across me and scooping up the baby and putting it into my arms. It was a feeling of disbelief. The baby was here!! I looked at this tiny creature in my arms with wonder and disbelief. I remember coming out of it and asking if it was a boy or a girl... it was a boy. A boy!! We had both thought from the beginning that our baby had been a girl, even after an ultrasound had said it was a boy. He was so tiny! Tiny feet and tiny hands and he lay still curled up into my chest as I held him close. He did not cry. Mathieu and I looked at each other and then at this tiny being that had been so active in my belly for months. He was beautiful. And a darkish purple. And covered with a waxy substance all babies are born with called vernix. He had a full head of dark hair. I sat, in the tub with my new little family in a sort of daze, with love pouring out of every pore of my body and being. It was done. He was born. :)

A Baby

Sweet baby Liam was born in the tub and all natural after 4 hours of labour. He arrived more than three weeks early but was born a healthy baby to very happy parents.

After a few minutes in the tub together, the midwives said I should get out and come over to the bed so that they could listen to the baby's heart and prepare for the arrival of the placenta. As I held him, I was helped to stand up and get out of the tub making my way over to the bed where the midwives listened to his heart and measured him. All the while, he never left my arms. I laid on the bed, marveling at this tiny creature who seemed so calm. His eyes were closed and he snuggled into me as I stared in wonder at his tiny body.

The midwives checked him over and made sure he was healthy. My husband got to cut the umbilical cord after some time so that the baby could benefit from the blood coming from the placenta. I was then told that I would have to deliver the placenta. My midwife said that I shouldn't be concerned, as although it was about the same size as the baby, it had no bones and would be easy to deliver. One of the midwives held on to the umbilical cord and pulled slightly at the same time that she told me to push. The placenta came out in one push and was taken by the midwives to be processed, as I had requested for it to be encapsulated.

After that, I was sewn up. I had torn quite badly - probably because everything had happened so fast (one of my midwives remarked that my labour had been the fastest first-time mama labour she had ever seen). The sewing up was intense and there was no anesthetic. It felt like it took forever, and my midwife kept telling me to focus on my beautiful baby and stop focussing on the pain. I remember wondering how much more trauma my poor lady parts could endure...

I was then asked to sit up and eat a little something and was handed a plate of cottage cheese and fruit which I ate, not realizing how hungry I was. While I was eating, the baby was taken out of my arms and weighed beside me, then given back to me. I was told that I needed to have a shower and that a couple of the midwives would help me to the bathroom and stay in the room in case I felt a bit faint. I remember getting up and feeling a bit woozy. I had a shower (which felt great) but soon did feel a bit dizzy so was told by the midwives to sit and just soak in the hot water for a bit. After that, I was lead back to my room where I was shown how to nurse and then told to relax until we were ready to go. It was so nice to just all sit in the bed together, my new little family and bask in our love for a little while. It was surreal and wonderful. I remember thinking that it was the reason we were here and that I couldn't have felt any more love at that moment. Once we had sat for a bit, we dressed the baby in his tiny shirt and pants and a hat and the midwives helped us to put him into the car seat, showing us how to strap him in safely. The midwives gave me the clothes I had worn when I arrived, nice and clean from the wash (they had washed and dried them, bless them!) and we dreamily got into the car. I hugged my midwives and drove my little family home. I remember being so grateful for having such a wonderful birth experience. I felt safe and like the midwives were there if I needed them, but that they were hanging back and letting us have our baby ourselves. My friend Michelle said to me the next day - "my gods, you guys had that baby yourselves, it was incredible!!" She took amazing (and emotional) pictures of the birth. They really convey the intense emotions of the experience.

The Placenta

Now, I wasn't sure that I would talk about the placenta, as it is a subject that many people find strange. For me, ever since I could remember I knew that I wanted to ingest my placenta, as many animals in the wild do. The placenta offers many vitamins, nutrients and health benefits to the mother after the hardship of pregnancy and birth. I am not sure they would give you this option at the hospital, but most midwives and birthing centre's have the option to keep your placenta. Something that was new to me, was that they can now do something called "encapsulation" which means that the placenta is taken after delivery and refrigerated, then dried and made into capsules to make it easier to ingest. This is pretty cool as you used to get the placenta in its entirety and would have to cut it up into bits and be creative about what you did to it, either juicing it, adding it to a stir-fry or whathaveyou.

Because the encapsulation process takes between 24-48 hours, my midwife kindly cut a piece off to give to us so that I could have it for the next day or two until she could get the capsules to us. My husband and I ate it the next evening fried up with some oyster mushrooms. It was a bit spongy but surprisingly good (oyster mushrooms make everything delicious, don't they??). And let me just say that if you are lucky enough to find someone who believes the same things you do, will be in the tub with you while you have a baby and also eat the placenta with you, you are very lucky indeed. <3

I honestly feel that in those weeks after giving birth I felt better, stronger and more even keeled emotionally because of the fact that I was taking my placenta capsules. In Chinese medicine, pregnancy, and especially childbirth are very depleting to blood and qi, so resting (the Chinese concept of "golden month' is something I will write about later) and doing everything you can to build blood and qi are important for the mother's recovery.

The Aftermath

Calling this section "the aftermath" may seem a bit negative, like the phase experienced after a war, but that is literally what it felt like. Physically and emotionally, I felt like I had been through a sort of war. I was very lucky to have had an easy pregnancy with very few symptoms or discomfort. My appointments at the midwives usually consisted of a conversation like this:

Midwives - "How are you feeling?"
Me - "Great! I am feeling really good."
Midwives - "Ok, excellent, we will see you next month."

Near the end, things got a little uncomfortable - and that is just because you are so enormous. Things like sleeping, lifting things, and getting around get a little harder too. All in all, I had a very easy pregnancy. I remember thinking during all those midwife appointments that I barely needed them. Little did I know, I would need them later. A lot. :)

The first couple of weeks after the birth were the hardest. The worst part was that I couldn't sit. Everything was so, um, sore that sitting was impossible. I had to get very creative about nursing. My body was exhausted, and all of my focus was on this tiny person, who, for many days didn't even have a name. My husband and I were so absolutely sure that we were having a girl that we didn't have a name for a boy and it took us some time to choose the right one. ;) The baby was nursing every few hours and he was so tiny that I was terrified that he would get crushed or that we would roll over on him or that the cat would try to eat him... and you are so tired that everything becomes very surreal and your ability to cope becomes eroded because of a serious lack of sleep. I also had terrible digestive problems after Liam was born that went on for about 6 months. We had a lot of company in those few months after he was born too, which was difficult. Of course, your friends and family are so happy and want to see the baby, but you are not at your best and still figuring out your new life with your babe and having people there all the time was stressful and made me more exhausted than I already was. I think if I were to do it again I would take some time, at least a month or two before I would have family come and stay just to get some time to bond with my new family.

I also had a hard time nursing and the baby was underweight at my first postnatal appointment which was hard and very emotional. He was put on a rigorous feeding schedule and I had to keep track of every feeding for weeks as well as have him weighed constantly to make sure that he was gaining enough weight.

All in all, those first few months after Liam was born were the most difficult. You have this new life to worry about that is completely dependent on you and your good judgment. Everything is new and you are trying your best to do everything right while only sleeping a few hours at a time (if you're lucky). You are feeling like an emotional train wreck because your hormones are readjusting and everyone around you is giving you advice and telling you what to do. Your body feels ruined and like it will never be the same. You want to cry because you are so happy. You want to cry because you are so tired. We got through it, and things got better once I set up a bit of a schedule and returned to listening to my instincts, which have never failed me.

The Choice is Yours

With all the books, blogs, doctors and mothers out there, having a baby can be a daunting experience. Everyone has advice they want to give you. Often when you have not asked for it. There are a billion theories on how to have a baby and raise a child and it is hard to know what to do. If you are strong willed and stubborn like I am, then you have some pretty clear ideas about how you want to do those things and you may spend a lot of time justifying and explaining to friends and family who don't agree with the way you are doing things. This uses up precious energy that you should be spending on your sweet baby!

I think that we live in a world of magnificent diversity, and there are many ways to do all of the things we do. Each person needs to find the way that resonates with them. This is sometimes easier said than done, but having a baby and raising children is an intensely personal experience and I believe everyone needs to do it in a way that makes sense to them. I decided to have a baby at a birth centre, in the tub, with midwives because that was important to me. I wanted to bring my child into the world in the most natural and gentle way possible. I wanted to be in control (well, as much control as possible) of my birth experience, and I knew that my midwives would respect my wishes. They absolutely did and I ended up having a wonderful birth, exactly the way I wanted it. I feel very lucky that I could choose to have that experience because I know that many women do not have the luxury of choosing how they give birth.

A New Life

Sweet Liam is now 10 months old, and a very sweet, good-natured, happy baby. I learn so much from him, and I love watching him discover and explore the world. He is a pure Buddha in that he is absolutely in the moment and the embodiment of joy and love. I realize that all of the experiences that I have had and all the things I have done in my life were to make me a better mother for him, so that I could share the things I learned and give him the wisdom of those experiences. I also feel so blessed that I get to be his mother in this life. I believe that children choose us, and I am honoured that he chose us to be his parents. I love him more than I knew was possible.

Something else that I have noticed, is a razor sharp focus on my child and my new family. I want to fully experience every moment and look forward to every day I have with my new family. I have had a crazy life. I could write several books on the insane experiences, wild travel and other crazy things I have done. Let's just say that I have lived my life FULLY. I am so grateful now, that I did all those things before I had Liam. I can't wait for the next chapter when I get to live this new adventure with him and my sweet little family. <3

 

Natural Water Birth : Chinese Medicine Living

** to my wonderful friend and excellent photographer Michelle Donner who was there throughout (although I didn't say a word to her as I was really concentrating) who beautifully photographed the entire event. She took all the photographs in this post. Please see her site here for more of her beautiful photographs. **

Thank you my friend. I love you.


Cooling Cucumber Salad - Summer Recipe

By Emma Suttie, D.Ac, AP

Cucumbers are an important part of Chinese medicine food therapy and are packed with a multitude of health benefits. They are also the perfect food for summer. In Chinese medicine cucumbers are sweet, affecting the spleen, and cooling - helping the body stay cool in the hot weather. They have a high water content and are very moisturizing, helping you stay hydrated in the hot summer months. Cucumbers are also excellent detoxifiers, cleansing the body of impurities which build up no matter how hard we try to avoid toxins in our food and the environment. Cucumbers are great in a salad, delicious pickled, an excellent addition to any juice, and adding a few slices to your water will pack an extra punch of hydration niceness whether you are working out at the gym or on the beach doing yoga. Below is an impressive list of cucumbers health benefits.

Health Benefits

  • Clears heat from the body; resolves fevers from summer heat and helps to prevent heat stroke
  • Detoxifying
  • Anti-inflammatory (most inflammations are due to heat)
  • Cleanses & purifies the blood
  • Strengthens the spleen
  • Relieves thirst
  • Benefits the heart
  • Moistens the lungs
  • Moistens and cleanses the large intestine
  • Strongly alkalizing
  • Reduces cholesterol
  • Treats depression
  • Benefits the skin - cucumbers speed healing in the skin and the juice speeds the healing of burns and wounds
  • Aids digestion
  • Stimulate hair growth
  • Treats kidney and bladder infections
  • Promotes urination
  • Helps with weight loss
  • Anti-cancer
  • Aids constipation
  • Relieves bad breath
  • Promotes joint health
  • Benefits the eyes (placing cucumber slices over the eyes calms hot, puffy, dry or irritated eyes).
  • Kills tapeworms!

Cooling Cucumber Salad - Summer Recipe

Cooling Cucumber Salad : Chinese Medicine Living

Ingredients

  • 2 cucumbers
  • 1 medium white onion (you can also use red onion)
  • 1/4 cup vinegar (2oz)
  • salt & pepper to taste

Cooling Cucumber Salad : Chinese Medicine Living

Directions

*You can make this tasty salad with the skin on or peel it off, its up to you. There are many health benefits to eating cucumber skin but as cucumbers are sensitive to pesticides, always try to buy organic, or soak them in a little apple cider vinegar which will neutralize the pesticides.

  1. Peel and cut the cucumbers lengthwise, then slice into 1/4 inch slices (or thinner if you like)
  2. Slice the onion in half, then slice thin
  3. Add cucumber and onion to a bowl and mix
  4. Add salt (I like pink Himalayan salt) & pepper to taste
  5. Add the vinegar
  6. Mix thoroughly and serve

This dish actually gets tastier the longer it sits, so you might want to make it a couple of hours before you plan to eat it for maximum deliciousness. ;)

Enjoy!

Cooling Cucumber Salad : Chinese Medicine Living

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If you would like a downloadable information sheet that will tell you all about how to live in harmony with the Summer season in Chinese Medicine, you can find it here - The Summer Season in Chinese Medicine.


How Acupuncture Can Improve Your Eyesight

By Emma Suttie, D.Ac, AP

Did you know that acupuncture, Chinese herbs, acupressure, exercises and nutritional therapy can help to naturally improve your vision?

There are 2 organs that are largely responsible for the health of the eyes and vision in Chinese medicine, and they are the liver and the kidneys. The liver is said to open into the eyes, and an imbalance of the liver can result in ringing in the ears, red, blood shot eyes and floaters, so the health of the liver is important in maintaining good vision. The kidneys are responsible for the brain, the eyes, the marrow and bones, and a kidney imbalance can manifest as ringing in the ears, dizziness and vision problems. When someone presents with problems with their vision, these are the two organ systems we are looking to re-balance.

Improve Vision with Acupuncture : Chinese Medicine LivingThis beautiful eye image from deviantart.net

There are 400+ acupuncture points on the body, and on the face, there are 18 acupuncture points that surround the eyes. Each of these points stimulates and increases the circulation of Qi and blood to the eyes as well as stimulates the muscles and nerves that control the eyes, helping to improve vision. There are three acupuncture points that, if you apply pressure to them (called acupressure), can help to improve vision. They are Bladder 2, Stomach 2 and Stomach 3. You can use your fingers and apply gentle pressure to each of these points helps to stimulate optimal blood flow and nerve function. There are images of each point below for your reference.

Bladder 2

Improve Vision with Acupuncture : Chinese Medicine Living

Bladder 2 is located at the medial end of your eyebrows. These points are bilateral, meaning on both sides of the body. When applying gentle pressure, it is best to come up from underneath, placing your fingers on the body ridge of the brow bone. You can apply about 30 seconds of gentle pressure to the points simultaneously a few times in the morning when you get up, and in the evening before bed.

Stomach 2

Improve Vision with Acupuncture : Chinese Medicine Living

Stomach 2 is located directly under the pupil when looking straight ahead, right on the lower edge of the eye orbit (or socket). It is located about one finger width below the eyelid. Use your finger to gently find the point, you may feel a small notch there. Apply about 30 seconds of gentle pressure to the points simultaneously a few times in the morning when you get up, and in the evening before bed.

Stomach 3

Improve Vision with Acupuncture : Chinese Medicine Living

Stomach 3 is located directly under the pupil when looking straight ahead, directly below each cheek bone and level with the base of the nose. You can apply pressure to both stomach points simultaneously, or, if you are dexterous enough, all three points at the same time. Apply about 30 seconds of gentle pressure to the points simultaneously a few times in the morning when you get up, and in the evening before bed.

Muscles of the Eye

There are also 6 muscles that surround the eyes and one muscle inside the eye. If these muscles are too tight or too loose, it can affect our vision and ability to focus effectively. The muscles and their responsibilities are as follows..

  • Lateral rectus - Primarily moves your eye outward, away from your nose.
  • Medial rectus - Primarily moves your eye inward, toward your nose.
  • Superior rectus - Primarily moves your eye upward.
  • Inferior rectus - Primarily moves your eye downward.
  • Superior oblique - Primarily rotates the top of your eye toward your nose.
  • Inferior oblique - Primarily rotates the top of your eye away from your nose.

Improve Vision with Acupuncture : Chinese Medicine LivingThis image from kin450-neurophysiology.wikispaces.com

There are many exercises that you can do to strengthen the muscles of the eyes. Whether the muscles of your eyes are weak or strong determines what kind of vision problems you are having, if it is being near-sighted or myopic or far sighted or presbyopic.

One good, simple eye exercise that you can do every day is to relax sitting or lying and look directly up, to one side, down and to the other side, counting to ten at each position. Do this a few times and then reverse the direction. You will be able to feel a difference, as one direction will probably be easier than the other. Once you have done this a few times, try looking up and making a complete circle in one direction. Go slowly so you don't make yourself dizzy. Stop once you have reached the top and begin again. Do this a few times and then go in the opposite direction. Doing these exercises every day helps to use our eye muscles and keep them strong.

Here are some other things that you can do to help improve your vision and take some of the pressure off your eyes.

  1. If you work at a computer, take breaks. Take a walk and be sure to look into the distance (using different muscles in the eyes).
  2. Eat lots of antioxidants like cherries, pomegranates and blueberries. These foods help to protect the eyes from macular degeneration which is a leading cause of blindness.
  3. Eat foods high in lutein. Lutein is an antioxidant that helps to reduce free radical damage which can affect every part of the eyes. Foods high in lutein include eggs, leafy green vegetables like kale, spinach, turnip and collard greens as well as romaine lettuce. Also high in lutein are broccoli, zucchini, brussel sprouts and green peas.
  4. Supplement with DHA. DHA is a fatty acid that is found in the retina of your eyes. DHA can actually help to heal some degenerative changes that occur with macular degeneration. DHA is found mainly is animal products like eggs, fish and meat. The highest concentration is found in oily fish such as mackerel, herring, salmon, trout and sardines.
  5. Stay away from hydrogenated fats. Trans fats are bad for the whole body, but especially for the small blood vessels that supply the eyes and brain.

Get An Acupuncture Treatment

If you are having vision problems, seeing an acupuncturist can help to isolate where the problems with your vision are coming from. Because diagnosis in TCM (Traditional Chinese Medicine) is individualistic, each patient is diagnosed based on their individual symptoms so that the treatment can be designed specifically for you. Acupuncture, Chinese herbs, acupressure, exercises and dietary therapy may all be used to correct your imbalance and improve your vision. You do not have to suffer with failing eyesight when Chinese medicine presents so many solutions to this common problem!

Here are some scientific studies that discuss acupuncture and its beneficial effects on the eyes

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Featured image from luxorclinic.com
Beautiful face original image from modernfashionblog.com

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Fending Off the Common Cold with Black Elderberry

By Dr. Kevin Curran

We all know there’s no cure for the common cold. But the question remains…is there a natural way to treat the symptoms of a cold. Plant-based, natural remedies for cold or flu infections are popular because they tend to be less invasive and yield fewer side effects than pharmaceutical drugs. Black elderberry is one of these popular natural therapies. However, just because a remedy is popular, that doesn’t always mean it’s an effective approach. In this article, we explore the biology behind the proposed health benefits of black elderberry.

What is black elderberry?

Black elderberry is a shrubby tree native to the temperate regions of Europe. Black elderberry, or Sambucus nigra, has become widely used as a medicinal plant. This deciduous tree grows up to 30 feet in height and produces clusters of small, white flowers. These flowers generate green berries, which turn black at the end of summer.

The use of elderberry by humans is not a new concept. Archaeologists discovered that early humans buried their dead with elderberry branches. In North America, early settlers have been using black elderberry for the past 10,000 years. Native Americans ate the berries for food but they were also aware of the healing properties of the plant. They consumed the berries, leaves and flowers as a means to defend against rheumatism and viral infections.

Lately there’s been a resurgence in interest the health benefits of this medicinal plant. Fortunately this resurgence of interest has been accompanied by quality clinical and laboratory studies. These studies explore the capacity for black elderberry to strengthen our immune system and, thereby, minimize the negative effects of a cold or flu.

Below, we’ll explore some of this published work and, in doing so, we will explain how elderberries can help us stay healthy.

Black Elderberry for Fighting Colds : Chinese Medicine Living

Clinical tests probe the ability of black elderberry to treat colds or flu infections.

There are two notable clinical studies that both demonstrate the ability of black elderberry to reduce the symptoms associated with a cold or flu (Zakay-Rones, 1995; Zakay-Rones, 2004). One of these clinical trials, performed in Norway, tested 60 patients of varying ages. All of these test subjects had just begun to feel the effect of a flu (extreme fatigue, high fever, aching body, congestion). These recently ill patients were given 15 mls. of black elderberry syrup for a duration of 5 days. A similar control group was given a placebo treatment. The scientists found that patients who received elderberry treatment became healthy approximately 4 days earlier then the control group. The authors conclude black elderberry treatment is an efficient, safe and cost-effective treatment for influenza.

In summary, these clinical trials demonstrate the capacity for black elderberry to reduce the time duration of a flu.

How does black elderberry strengthen our immune system?

The primary job of our immune system is to attack and kill invading pathogens. In regards to a cold or flu, these invading pathogens tend to be either a bacteria or a virus. When our bodies fight a sickness - our immune system shifts into battle mode. Specialized immune cells are sent out to destroy the pathogens that have caused our sickness. Laboratory studies have explored the benefits of black elderberry syrup for colds. These studies have concluded that black elderberry strengthens our body by regulating our cytokine levels and by delivering antioxidants. We will explain all this biology below.

Anti-oxidants prevent cellular damage

First of all… what are anti-oxidants? Anti-oxidants are small molecules that defend our cells from free radicals. Free radicals are small, charged molecules that can bang around the inside of our body and cause inflammation and cellular damage. This is why you want to eat foods that are full of anti-oxidants.

Plants are a rich source of antioxidants. Turmeric, for example, the tropical plant used as a curry spice, is enriched with a powerful antioxidant called curcumin. Curcumin is a potent bio-active compound that fights free radicals. This antioxidant capacity makes turmeric a natural remedy for inflammation related health issues, such as arthritis and osteoarthritis.

Black elderberry is another plant that is enriched with antioxidants. In particular, black elderberries contain molecules called flavonoids. Flavonoids are a class of antioxidants often found in leafy plants and dark colored fruits. Multiple studies demonstrate that flavonoids in black elderberries protect cells from oxidative stress. In these experiments, living cells are exposed to damaging, oxidizing free radicals such as hydrogen peroxide, AAPH and α-tocopheroxyl. The authors then present data showing that the presence of flavonoids protects these cells from this free radical damage (Abuja 1998).

In summary, taking black elderberry delivers antioxidant flavonoids to our body. These flavonoids help protect our body from the damaging effect of free radicals.

Black elderberry controls our cytokine levels

Cytokines are small molecules that are incredibly important for our immune system. These small molecules move throughout our body and act as chemical messengers. Cytokines send signals that tell our body to either increase or decrease the intensity of an immune response. When cytokine signaling is functioning properly, our body will only mount an aggressive immune response when necessary. In contrast, if there is no threat to our body, then we want our cytokines to tell our immune system to take the foot off the gas. If our immune system is overactive, our body will experience chronic inflammation and tissue damage. We need our cytokines to help us mount an appropriate response to an infection.

Multiple laboratory studies reveal that a treatment of black elderberry can increase and regulate the cytokine levels in our immune system (Middleton, 1992). One especially convincing report by Barak et al., demonstrates that black elderberry extract activates a series of cytokines that are critical to our immune system (IL-6, IL-1 and TNF-α).

In summary, taking black elderberry when we’re sick can modulate our cytokine levels. Properly regulated cytokine levels leads to an appropriate immune system response.

When taken together, the clinical and laboratory studies discussed in this article certainly suggest that using black elderberry is a reasonable course of action. Our body is bolstered by the cytokines and antioxidants derived from the black elderberry tree. So, next time you feel a cold or flu sneaking into your body, consider lending your body a hand with this medicinal plant.

Black Elderberry for Fighting Colds : Chinese Medicine Living

Citations:

Abuja, Peter M., Michael Murkovic, and Werner Pfannhauser. “Antioxidant and prooxidant activities of elderberry (Sambucus nigra) extract in low-density lipoprotein oxidation.” Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry 46.10 (1998): 4091-4096.

Barak, Vivian, Tal Halperin, and Inna Kalickman. “The effect of Sambucol, a black elderberry-based, natural product, on the production of human cytokines: I. Inflammatory cytokines.” Eur Cytokine Netw 12.2 (2001): 290-296.

Middleton, Elliott, and Chithan Kandaswami. “Effects of flavonoids on immune and inflammatory cell functions.” Biochemical pharmacology 43.6 (1992): 1167-1179.

Zakay-Rones, Zichria, et al. “Inhibition of several strains of influenza virus in vitro and reduction of symptoms by an elderberry extract (Sambucus nigra L.) during an outbreak of influenza B Panama.” The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine 1.4 (1995): 361-369.

Zakay-Rones, Z., et al. “Randomized study of the efficacy and safety of oral elderberry extract in the treatment of influenza A and B virus infections.” Journal of International Medical Research 32.2 (2004): 132-140.

Image Credits

Featured image - www.tophealthremedies
Black Elderberry closeup - www.gartenjournal.net
Black Elderberry Bush - science.halleyhosting.com

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Pregnancy - The Ultimate Exercise in Letting Go

By Emma Suttie D.Ac, AP

Pregnancy, until recently, had been a bit of an abstract concept for me. I have always thought of it as a wonderful, magical and beautiful experience, and one that is probably one of the most important and profound in any woman's life, I just hadn't ever done it before. So far, it has been an amazing education, and it is only going to get more intense in the next couple of months, especially when I get to the birth part. I have always found that going through things is the best way that I can learn and bring those experiences to my patients. And what I have learned so far, is that pregnancy is the ultimate exercise in letting go.

In my experience, how you are pregnant (and give birth) has a lot to do with how you live your life. It has been interesting to see all of the pregnant ladies coming and going from the birth centre over the past many months. Most seem relaxed, and that meshes well with the general atmosphere of the birth centre, as it is quiet and very comfortable, looking more like a little house - with comfy couches with lots of pillows - than a medical facility with bright lights and people rushing around in scrubs.

My experience with people outside of the birth centre environment has been a little bit different. There are always a lot of questions and anxiety surrounding pregnancy and birth. Inside my circle of friends, there is support and calm about the whole situation. We are all on the same page when it comes to this subject. Many of us are healers. Hippies. Trust in the universe, nature and our bodies. There is no anxiety, only love and support. But from the outside, the reaction is noticeably different. For one, pregnancy seems to be the ultimate conversation starter. Complete strangers will come up to you and ask about how far along you are, if it is your first baby and if it is a boy or a girl. It is sweet to see how seeing a pregnant girl really brings out feelings of joy in complete strangers. People in the grocery store see your belly and smile. Random strangers will come up to you and congratulate you, or tell you that you look beautiful and radiant which has been really lovely. Everyone seems to be really excited and happy about impending babies. And they are pretty cute, so who can blame them?

From what I can tell from past patients and many mothers that I have spoken to, is that I have been really lucky with my pregnancy so far. I have not had any morning sickness or any problems whatsoever. There were periods of intense eating (which was alarming to anyone around me who had the pleasure of witnessing me eating for eight or nine people), and a few weeks, after a large growth spurt, some intense sciatic pain accompanied with pain in my back. But thankfully the pain resolved itself and the insane eating has slowed down a little and now it seems I am only eating for five or six. It is still impressive to watch and my mother almost cries with joy to see me eat that much as I have always been thin, *too* thin as far as she is concerned.

Pregnancy and Letting Go

One of the most profound things I have experienced being pregnant is the overwhelming feeling of having to let go. Perhaps this is difficult to explain, but I will try. The first thing that went, although I did have to willingly let it go, was all sense of dignity. Granted, after med school and learning about all the things that can happen to human bodies, your sense of dignity is significantly altered. But going through something like pregnancy takes it to a whole new level. First of all, your body is doing things that you never thought were possible. There are the things that you learn about pregnancy in your textbooks, and then there are the "other" things that happen when you are pregnant that are new and surprising. Not everyone experiences all of these things of course, and there is a wide array, but without getting into details let me just say that this has been humbling.

 

Pregnancy and Letting Go : Chinese Medicine Living

This image from www.thespiritscience.net

We have a lot of body issues in our culture. Women are taught to not only be wildly successful in their careers and at home, but they are taught that being beautiful, fit and thin are virtues as well. It is a lot of pressure, and I know from the ladies I see in my practice, that it takes a toll. Many women come with feelings of inadequacy, who are constantly fighting their bodies and who give way more to the people in their lives than they give to themselves. And it still amazes me how these women - beautiful, successful women with amazing talents, who have incredible children and great relationships can still feel that they are not enough and should be doing better. We could all, in my opinion, use a little more self-love.

Pregnancy - The Ultimate Exercise in Letting Go : Chinese Medicine Living

When you are pregnant everyone wants to give you advice, and the number of books and blogs out there about pregnancy are overwhelming. I actually found some articles about how to lose weight when you are pregnant. Yes. Why in gods name would you want to lose weight while you were pregnant? The answer is that you wouldn’t. And there are lots and lots and LOTS of articles about how to lose weight after pregnancy, how to tighten up belly skin (and other things), get rid of stretch marks and so forth. I see a lot of information about how to get your post-baby body back and I know it is a concern for a lot of ladies. The thing is, that when you have a baby growing inside you, you are supposed to gain weight. Granted, you should be eating well and getting everything you need to help your baby grow and develop but that is going to cause your body to change. And that is ok. It is marvelous actually. You are making a human being, and that is awesome.

I know that this whole process, the process of pregnancy and birth, is a lot easier if you can relax and let go. Easy to say I know but for some, so much harder to do. One of the reasons that I chose to have a baby not with a doctor or OBGYN and instead with a midwife, is that midwives respect this process. Their job is not to intervene, but to support you and your body because they believe (and I also believe) that your body at least, knows EXACTLY what it is doing. It was designed to do it. If you can really accept that this is true, then pregnancy and birth will be a lot easier for you.

There are a lot of things that women fear about childbirth, which is understandable. For instance, pain is one of the biggest. It is completely normal that when you actually think through what is going to happen, that you would have some feelings of anxiety about it. Of course. But there are many ways in which we can cope with that pain. Women, especially, are very good at this. Many meditative practices are excellent for pain management. Deep breathing. Internal martial arts. And being in control of your state of mind are some. Fear, as an emotion, contracts. It tightens and makes things small. And many women go through pregnancy and labour with these feelings which actually intensifies pain. The hospital environment also, with all the chaos, bright lights and doctors taking control away from the mother, all feed this fear and can intensify pain. Creating a relaxed and calm atmosphere can decrease feelings of discomfort and pain enormously. Because everyone has a different idea of what a comfortable environment is, it is good to think about it so that you can consciously create it for yourself. Not just with things like pregnancy and childbirth, but with any situation that you know scares you or makes you uncomfortable. Do things for yourself that calm and soothe you and help yourself get through the experience with positivity, expansiveness and joy instead of fear and trepidation.

Pregnancy - The Ultimate Exercise in Letting Go : Chinese Medicine Living

Another thing that I have noticed that I have really had to let go of, is my ideas about how I want this whole thing to go. Not only my pregnancy but giving birth as well. I am a strong willed and extremely stubborn person, so this whole letting go thing has not come easy. I have been working on it my whole life. A lot of it came from the discipline of many years of martial arts (bless them). A lot of it has come from some serious work on myself, self-reflection, writing and working through demons, and some more has come from my meditation practice which has helped me more than I can express to get through difficult times and put things in perspective. These things have helped in every aspect of my life, and I know are helping me now with my pregnancy and will help with the birth process.

When thinking about it I realized that I had some fears when it came to the birth. I had to be honest with myself and realize that what scared me was what I didn’t want, which was to have a baby at the hospital. I didn’t want to deal with doctors who might try to force me to have drugs or a cesarean which might inevitably lead to me putting said doctor into a headlock or worse and us both ending up on the evening news. So I had to face this fear and really come to terms with the fact that if for whatever reason I do have to go to the hospital to have a baby, I will have to accept it and not fight. I will have to let go and accept it or the entire process will be unpleasant for me, and for my baby.

In conclusion, I have tried to keep my ideas about pregnancy and birth pretty loose as far as how I would like everything to go. I keep my desires about things general like - I would like to have a healthy baby, rather than I must have a water birth with a midwife with no drugs on or after my due date. Of course, I have an idea of how I would like things to go, but I am not married to it and if it changes I have worked through my feelings so that I will not be devastated or disappointed. A lot of this is the excellent keeping things in perspective skills I have acquired over the years. So, what is amazing about this experience. I have had an amazing, practically symptom-free, healthy pregnancy. At the ultra sound (which was a mind blowing experience, wow!!) I learned and saw that I had a fully formed beautiful baby who has all fingers, toes, organs and is super healthy. I am having this baby with a person that I love madly and who is an amazing partner and will be an incredible father. Every one of those things is a blessing and I am grateful for every single one of them, and I make sure to be thankful for them every day. I am grateful and I want to make sure my baby can feel that too.  In the end, the most important thing is that whatever happens, a healthy baby is the result. How he or she decides to come into the world is largely up to him or her. I for my part, will do my best to be calm and relaxed and make the journey as easy and lovely as possible. And I am thankful for all these lessons in letting go and look forward to applying them to the rest of my life - and I am sure that they will be useful when raising a tiny human too. :)

Pregnancy - The Ultimate Exercise in Letting Go : Chinese Medicine Living

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Pregnancy - The Ultimate Exercise in Letting Go : Chinese Medicine Living

 


Reishi / Ling Zhi - The Mushroom of Immortality

By Emma Suttie, D.Ac, AP

English Name: Reishi mushroom
Pinyin: Ling Zhi
Latin: Ganoderma
Temperature: Neutral, warm
Organs/Meridians Entered: Heart, Liver, Lungs, Kidney
Parts Used: Fruiting body (mushroom), spores, mycelium

Reishi mushrooms are one of the most powerful tonics on earth, and have been used since the beginning of human history as a protector herb, longevity tonic and to aid in spiritual development. Research has now confirmed that reishi is an immune modulator and a very potent antioxidant, and it is being used in modern treatment of cancer and to combat the effects of chemotherapy in China as well as in the West.

Reishi / Ling Zhi - The Mushroom of Immortality : Chinese Medicine Living

Reishi Mushroom History

Reishi mushrooms were first described by the famous herbalist Shen Nong in the Shu Dynasty more than 2400 years ago. Reishi was classified by Shen Nong as a superior herb - meaning that it could be taken continuously without side effects. The definition of a superior herb is an herb that it is a substance that it essential to life, can be taken continuously without negative side effects and promotes excellent health and long life by harmonizing the body, mind and spirit.

Shen Nong said of Reishi that "if eaten customarily, it makes your body light and young, lengthens your life and turns you into one like the immortal, who never dies."

Shen Nong observed that there were at least six different types of ganoderma; red, purple, green, black, white and yellow. Red and green are the types that are commonly found in Chinese herbal shops, and purple is the most rare and difficult to find. Black reishi is fairly common and can be found in most Chinese herbal shops that sell bulk herbs. As the reishi becomes older, it gets larger, but larger is not necessarily better for medicinal use. You want to choose a reishi that is still relatively fresh and moist inside. When reishi age, they become dry and brittle. One way to identify a reishi is good enough to use is that if it is between about 6 - 10 inches in diameter and the skin is highly glossy.

Duan wood reishi are the best of the best of reishi mushrooms. They are grown on specific varieties of wooden logs, without chemicals (reishi's should never be grown with chemicals!), in a pristine mountain environment. In the wild, reishi's grow on a large variety of trees in forests throughout Asia, and like humans, they are what they eat. Depending on what type of wood the reishi grows on determines its strength and potency. Ideal types of trees for potent reishi mushrooms to grow on are specific types of hardwood trees indigenous to parts of China. The Chinese have made extensive studies on reishi's and the types of trees that they grown on and how they affect their potency and medicinal uses.

Reishi / Ling Zhi - The Mushroom of Immortality : Chinese Medicine Living

Reishi Mushroom & Traditional Chinese Medicine

Reishi or Ling Zhi have a very long history in Chinese medicine. As mentioned above, they were first recorded by the famous herbalist Shen Nong almost 2500 years ago and have long been known for their powerful healing properties. Some of reishi, or ganoderma's medicinal properties are as follows:

  • A super immune tonic, strongly protects the entire body from disease
  • Tonifies the three treasures - Jing, Qi and Shen
  • Nourishes the heart
  • Protects the liver
  • Used traditionally as an anti-aging herb
  • Improves vitality, strength and stamina
  • Has a mild tranquilizing effect on the central nervous system
  • The ancient Chinese have traditionally used it to enhance spiritual and meditative practices. It is often called "the mushroom of spiritual potency" by Taoist adepts and spiritual seekers.

As you can see, reishi mushrooms, or Ling Zhi, have many medicinal uses in Chinese medicine. They are considered sweet and neutral in nature and enter the heart and liver meridians. Reishi are used traditionally in Chinese medicine to tonify the "three treasures" which are jing, qi and shen. Reishi is a strong protector of the entire body, is an herb that is said to have strong anti-aging properties, and promotes calmness, balance and inner awareness.

The discovery by modern science that they are immune modulators have made them popular in treating cancer patients, helping to build the immune system to fight the cancer, as well as combat the destructive effects of chemotherapy and radiation.

Reishi Mushroom as a Spiritual Aid

Reishi Mushrooms for Meditation : Chinese Medicine Living

Reishi has a long history of being used by those seeking the spiritual life - monks, Taoists and mountain hermits. Reishi was used because it was believed to help calm the mind, relax the body, strengthen the nerves, improve memory, heighten concentration, improve focus, increase will power and ultimately, result in deep wisdom. This is why it was referred to as "The Mushroom of Spiritual Potency" by these seekers. Reishi is still revered all over Asia for the attainment of overall health, longevity and spiritual attainment.

Reishi Mushroom and Cancer

Because of mushrooms' powerful immune boosting properties, many mushroom extracts are now being used as cancer fighting medicines because they strengthen and modulate the immune system and have anti-cancer, anti inflammatory, antiviral and liver protecting effects. Ling Zhi is used in Chinese medical cancer treatment to build up the body, increase vitality, increase overall strength and prolong life. Reishi mushroom is a strong immune booster and has been proven to alleviate the effects of chemotherapy like nausea and kidney damage, and has been shown to protect cellular DNA because of its strong anti oxidative properties.

Other mushrooms used in cancer treatment include shitake mushroom (xiang gu), turkey tail mushroom (yun zhi), Chinese caterpillar fungus (dong chong xia cao), cloud mushroom (hui shu hua), and chaga mushroom. Each has proven to be powerful medicine against cancer and its effects.

 

Reishi / Ling Zhi - The Mushroom of Immortality : Chinese Medicine LivingHave you loved a Reishi today?

Reishi mushrooms are incredibly powerful tonics that protect the entire body, build the immune system, help with spiritual practices and have anti-aging properties. The Chinese have been using them for thousands of years for all of their beneficial effects. It is wonderful that they are also now being used in modern cancer treatment for their immune boosting effects and their ability to combat the effects of chemotherapy and radiation treatment. Nature offers us many gifts, and it seems that reishi is one of the best and most researched one of them all.

Buddha Bracelet : Chinese Medicine Living

 

Reishi / Ling Zhi - The Mushroom of Immortality


The Nocebo Effect

By Emma Suttie D.Ac, AP

What Is The Nocebo Effect?

Have you ever heard of the "nocebo effect"? The nocebo effect is basically the opposite of the placebo effect. Lets define both terms.

The placebo effect is a measurable, observable or felt improvement in health or behaviour which is not attributable to a medication or any procedure that has been administered to the patient.

The nocebo effect is an opposite tendency - and one that has been largely overlooked by the medical/research community. Put simply, the nocebo effect is the phenomenon in which inert substances, suggestions of substances or the words of a medical professional can actually bring about negative effects in a patient or research participant.

The Nocebo Effect And Cancer

The nocebo effect is real and very powerful. I have seen it in action in my practice and in my patients. Nowhere is the nocebo effect more noticeable than with my cancer patients. And in those cases, it was elicited simply with words. Patients aren't feeling well and go in to the doctor to try to ascertain what is happening. There is testing and then a doctor's visit to discuss the results. In the session, the doctor tells the patient that they have found something irregular, and that it is cancer. They are told where the cancer is and at what stage it is at according to the staging system which is comprised of four stages. The stages help the doctor to determine the appropriateness and aggressiveness of the treatment required and determine the prognosis, or outcome for the patient. Stage four is the last and most serious stage, meaning that the initial cancer or tumor has spread to other parts of the body (metastasis). And in these discussions, something often happens. The oncologist will tell the patient how long they have left to live or can expect to survive. This is usually *if* they start treatment right away. If they refuse treatment or ask for some time to consider the options, they are often told that the clock is ticking and that they are wasting precious time because death, is racing towards them.

 

The Nocebo Effect : Chinese Medicine Living

Cancer is the extreme example because it evokes such an intense fear response. No one wants to receive a cancer diagnosis, because in many cases they believe that it is literally a death sentence. The truth is, that we are all living with cancer in our bodies every day, and if our immune systems are healthy, then we are fighting it off on a regular basis. It is when the system gets out of balance due to various factors like extreme stress, poor nutrition and sedentary lifestyle that we are no longer able to fight off disease causing agents in the body and things like cancer can develop. The other thing that is important to remember, is that many cancers take between 5-12 years to develop to the point where they are measurable with modern medical equipment.

The Power of the Word

I am not sure if most of us realize how incredibly powerful words can be. The nocebo effect is a clear illustration of their destructive power. At the opposite end of the spectrum, the placebo effect does not only have to be medications, treatments or procedures that have a beneficial effect, it can be the words themselves that do the healing in the body and the psyche. There is a wonderful book that talks about this concept in detail called The Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz. It is definitely worth a read. In the book it talks about the importance of being impeccable with your word, which means being very careful with what you say, as words can create destruction as well as joy in the person they are being said to (and in the person saying them).

The Nocebo Effect : Chinese Medicine Living

While I was writing my thesis in my last year of Chinese medicine school I read a lot of books on the power of the mind and its ability to heal the body (I wrote about the mind/body connection and how it related to healing). In my reading I discovered many documented cases of people who had been unknowingly living with cancer for many years, and it wasn't until they got diagnosed that they got sick and died. This got me thinking about the power of words and how important it was to be responsible with my own. In another book I read about how, in some experiments with olympic athletes, they had hooked them up to electrodes that measured their brain activity and muscle activity simultaneously. The athletes were asked to visualize themselves doing their events in their minds. The thing the scientists discovered was that the muscles that they would be using to do their events were firing as if they were actually doing them which led them to conclude that the mind doesn't know the difference between actually running an event, and visualizing it. What is happening physiologically can be profoundly affected by our thoughts and emotions, which is something that I believe Western or allopathic medicine is just beginning to recognize.

The Nocebo Effect And Chinese Medicine

In Chinese medicine the nocebo effect is well understood. Not by that name, but the integration of all aspects of a person's being in how it relates to health and wellness are built into the foundation of the medicine. The nocebo effect is a Western term for a phenomenon that the Chinese have understood for thousands of years. Words like "cancer" don't exist in Chinese medicine, they are a result of a long term imbalance in the system. When things have been out of balance for so long that disease develops, cancer can be the result. In the office of a traditional Chinese medicine practitioner you will discuss many lifestyle options when it comes to your diagnosis and treatment. An extremely detailed initial consultation is one of the ways in which the practitioner can determine where the imbalances lie. The more information that is gathered, the more detailed the entire picture of what is going on with the patient. And, the more information about the patient and how the imbalance was created, the better and more targeted the diagnosis and treatment. One of the reasons that Chinese medicine is still so effective after thousands of years, even for diseases that are attributed to modern living, is that is is based on principles that don't change. The effect of our physical, psychological and emotional lives all have an impact on our health. What we eat, how much we exercise, how well we sleep... these are the pillars on to which our health and wellbeing are built. And each person is given a thorough intake and therefore receives a very personalized diagnosis and treatment. Cancer is one diagnosis, but there are a million reasons that cancer can develop. It is the job of the TCM (traditional Chinese medicine) practitioner to determine WHY you have that cancer and give you recommendations and lifestyle advice along with acupuncture, Chinese herbs and other modalities to help your body to heal itself. The TCM practitioner believes in the body's innate ability to heal itself if it is given everything it needs to do so. They are your partners, helping you to find the balance that will bring you back to ultimate health, harmony and happiness.

 

The Nocebo Effect : Chinese Medicine Living

 

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References 

Smithsonian - www.smithsonianmag.com

 

 

The Nocebo Effect : Chinese Medicine Living


HPV - What You Need to Know

By Emma Suttie, D.Ac, AP

HPV, or the human papillomavirus, has become a bit of a buzz word lately, especially with the release of vaccines like Gardasil and the controversy surrounding it. Although this will not be a discussion about vaccines, I am careful about what I say to patients about them. It is my belief that everyone should make their own choices about their health, and that includes vaccines and whether or not to have them. I encourage people to always get all the information before doing so, so that they may make an informed decision. It is my job to give them information and allow them to decide for themselves. Below I have listed some helpful resources about HPV and the Gardasil vaccine so that you may read up on them if you like.

What is HPV?

There are approximately 70 types of human papillomavirus which infect the skin and mucous membranes that have been identified. There are many different types of HPV which affect different parts of the body. The types that are most commonly associated with genital infections are types 6, 12, 16, 18, 31, 33 and 35. Infections of these types typically occur through mucous membranes or traumatized skin, although oral infection is also possible.

Certain types of HPV have been strongly associated with certain types of cervical, vulval and anal cancer in women (types 16, 18 and 31). There is also thought to be a connection with certain HPV types with anal and penile cancer in men. Approximately *11,000 women will be diagnosed with cervical cancer each year in the United States.

The HPV virus is so common, that it is estimated that most sexually active people will be infected at some point in their lives. There are presently *79 million people infected with the HPV virus in the United States.

30 strains of HPV are sexually transmitted and approximately 15 are thought to lead to various cancers if the HPV infection persists over a long period of time. In the majority of cases the HPV virus resolves on its own with a healthy immune system in about 2 years.

There are currently *79 million people infected with HPV in the US. There are *14 million new cases of HPV diagnosed every year.

HPV Transmission

So, how is HPV spread? Well different types are spread in different ways. Most are spread through skin to skin contact and through abrasions or tears in the skin. The genital types of HPV are spread through contact with infected genital skin, mucous membranes or bodily fluids and are spread through sexual contact (not necessarily intercourse), vaginal sex, anal sex or oral sex. Because many people are carriers of the virus but have no symptoms, practicing safe sex is a good way to cut your risk of getting the virus. People can develop symptoms for HPV years after their initial contact, so it is sometimes difficult to figure out where you got the initial infection. Remember, that using condoms does not keep you safe from the infection if it is located in other regions other than the penis.

HPV and Genital Warts

Certain types of HPV cause genital warts. About *360,000 new cases of genital warts are diagnosed in the US each year. Most cases of genital warts are asymptomatic so it is possible to have the strain of HPV responsible for genital warts without manifesting the warts themselves. This means they can be spread even if the person has no symptoms. When they do appear, genital warts are pinkish brown masses, usually in clusters on the penis, vulva, cervix, perineal or perianal region. They can appear anytime between one and eight months or more after infection and then resolve spontaneously after one to two years.

HPV Vaccine

The original Gardasil vaccine, which was first released in 2006, protects against four strains of the HPV virus - 6, 11, 16 and 18. In 2014 the FDA approved Gardasil 9 which vaccinated against five additional types of the HPV virus (making a total of nine) - 31, 33, 45, 52 and 58. If you are already infected with one of the nine types of HPV, getting vaccinated will not eliminate the infection. Please do your research before considering the vaccine. There are many helpful resources that you can use to read up on the vaccine and its effects. Some are listed at the end of this article.

 

Pap Tests Prevent HPV : Chinese Medicine Living

HPV Prevention

In the last 5 decades pap tests have become part of most women's yearly health screening, and are by far the best, least expensive and least dangerous way to prevent cervical cancers. Cervical cancer has become one of the most preventable and treatable forms of cancer. Regular pap tests can identify chronic HPV infections and pre cancerous cervical lesions so that they can be removed and treated before they can develop into cervical cancer.

Cervical cancer rates have dropped more than 70% in the United States since the 1960's when pap tests became a routine part of women's health care. Your risks can be greatly reduced if you practice safe sex by using condoms, and by having regular pap tests. Other risk factors include:

  • smoking
  • infection with other STD's like chlamydia or HIV
  • weakened or compromised immune system
  • long term use of the birth control pill

Healthy Lifestyle & HPV : Chinese Medicine Living

Eating a healthy diet, getting adequate sleep, exercising regularly and getting enough vitamin D are important to maintaining a healthy immune system. Because HPV is so ubiquitous, most people are likely to become infected at some point throughout their lives. But, if we stay healthy chances are that it will resolve on its own and never become a life threatening problem. So keep healthy, practice safe sex and ladies, keep getting regular pap tests to keep the lady parts healthy too. :)

I will follow this article with one on how we identify and treat HPV in Chinese medicine as well as prevention including dietary therapy so stay tuned!

 

*These are statistics from the CDC (Centers for Disease Control)

 

Resources

Gardasil Vaccine - from the Gardasil Website

HPV Vaccine Can Make You Susceptible to More Serious Strains of HPV 

The HPV Vaccine: Herd Immunity or Human Sacrifice?

The CDC (Centers for Disease Control) - HPV Vaccine - Questions & Answers

WHO (World Health Organization) Vaccinating Against Cervical Cancer

Mushroom Extract Might Eradicate HPV Infection

National Cancer Institute - What are Human Papillomavirus Vaccines?

 

Peace Love & Acupuncture Button : Chinese Medicine Living

HPV - What You Need to Know : Chinese Medicine Living


pH - What Is It, And Why Does It Matter?

By Emma Suttie, D.Ac, AP

We've all heard of the pH scale and may even remember it from high school science class, but what does it have to do with our health?

The body is constantly working to maintain a delicate balance between acid and alkaline (or base) - the body's pH. The scale ranges from 0-14. 7 is considered neutral and 0 through 7 is acidic, while 7 through 14 is alkaline. An example of something that is relatively neutral is most water weather it be from the tap, the ocean, springs or bottles. pH stands for "potential hydrogen" and represents the hydrogen ions that are present in, when we are speaking about health, the body. But, pH also affects things like the quality of our soil and the water in the oceans.

pH And Your Health : Chinese Medicine Living

The pH Scale And Your Health

When it comes to the human body, the pH varies depending on what part of the body you are talking about. For example, the pH in the bowels, stomach, skin and vagina should be slightly more acidic because they need to fight off invaders in the form of bacteria, whereas the pH of saliva is more alkaline. Also, the body is constantly dealing with the naturally occurring  byproducts of cell breakdown, respiration and metabolism all of which are acidic and affect the body's overall pH levels.

As a culture, at least in the US and Canada, most people are highly acidic. Disease thrives in an acidic environment. It is host to inflammation and degenerative diseases. The most acidic foods are the ones that are the easiest to find and often the least expensive. But in the long run, they really cost much, much more if you take the long term consequences and the future health care costs into consideration. Below is a list of acidic foods.

Acidic Foods

Acidic Foods for Health : Chinese Medicine Living

  • Coffee
  • Meats, especially red meat
  • Soda
  • Cheeses
  • Processed foods
  • Chemicals like aspartame, nutrasweet & sweet 'n' low
  • Vinegar
  • Black Tea
  • Wine
  • Pickles
  • Fruit juices
  • Grains
  • Pasta

In contrast, here is a list of some alkaline foods.

Alkaline Foods

Alkaline Foods for Health : Chinese Medicine Living

  • Spinach
  • Broccoli
  • Brussel sprouts
  • Sprouts
  • Bananas
  • Avocado
  • Green juices
  • Green tea
  • Figs
  • Cauliflower
  • Cucumber
  • Kale
  • Asparagus
  • Lemons
  • Limes
  • Cabbage

To help, below is a chart which shows the entire pH scale and the foods that belong in each category.

Acid & Alkaline Foods & Health : Chinese Medicine Living

 

The body's pH is extremely important to maintaining health. The way we most often measure pH, is in the blood. The pH of blood should be slightly alkaline at around 7.4. The body is constantly working very hard to maintain this balance, so if we are feeding it all kinds of acidic foods (like the ones that comprise the average American diet), the body is forced to work even harder, taxing the body's resources to achieve that balance. Your incredible body, in fact, if it needs to restore that balance will take alkalizing materials like calcium, magnesium and potassium from other parts of the body like the bones and teeth and even your organs to restore the pH. Amazing, but this can have long term, detrimental effects like osteoporosis, cancer and stroke to name a few.

Here is a list of diseases that can be caused by a highly acidic body.

  • migraines
  • gout
  • allergies
  • stroke
  • obesity
  • osteoporosis
  • arthritis (both osteo and rheumatoid)
  • asthma
  • bronchitis
  • arteriosclerosis
  • diabetes
  • constipation
  • gout
  • cancer
  • acid reflux
  • nausea
  • kidney stones

Now, this may all sound like very bad news, but it isn't. The good news is that you can, through a healthy lifestyle and good eating habits alkalize your body and prevent disease. It's all up to you!

How To Have A More Alkaline Body

Here are some tips on how you can shift your body's pH balance in a more alkaline direction.

  • Eat a diet rich in leafy greens, sprouts, avocado's - plant based, fresh foods
  • Drink fresh, green juices daily
  • Drink lemon water every morning (this is very alkalizing)
  • Exercise daily, even if it is just going for a short walk to move your qi around
  • Manage your stress
  • Stay away from chemicals in your food, beauty and cleaning products
  • Keep environmental toxins to a minimum
  • Get enough sleep

If you want to test your pH you can buy litmus paper strips (for about $10) that you pee on, usually first thing in the morning (or the second pee of the day is usually better and will be a little more balanced). This will allow you to see where you are on the pH scale. You can track your progress with changes to your diet and the other things on the list and see if you are moving in a more alkaline direction. Even doing one or a few of the things on the list will have an impact on your overall health, and probably make you feel a whole lot better too.

The important thing to remember is that if you are flooding your body with unhealthy foods, you are forcing your body to work even harder to maintain the pH balance and health in general. If this is ongoing it can lead to problems down the road. So, being kind and giving it fresh, natural foods and doing things like exercising, sleeping enough and managing stress are huge when it comes to keeping your body healthy and happy for many years to come.

Buddha Bracelet : Chinese Medicine Living

 

pH - What Is It And Why Does It Matter? : Chinese Medicine Living

 


Antibiotics. The Good, The Bad and The Ugly.

By Emma Suttie, D.Ac, AP

The term antibiotics literally means "against life." In this case, against microbes. When most people think of antibiotics they think of antibacterial drugs, used to treat bacterial infections, but antibiotics actually covers a much larger group of medications including antibacterial, antiviral, antifungal and antiparasitic drugs.

A Brief History

The History of Antibiotics : Chinese Medicine Living

Treating wounds and infections with moulds goes far back into ancient history, long before the discovery of penicillin by Sir Alexander Fleming, the Scottish biologist, in 1928.

  • Greeks and Indians used moulds and other plants to treat infections.
  • In Greece and Serbia, mouldy bread was traditionally used to treat wounds and infections.
  • Warm soil was used in Russia by peasants to cure infected wounds.
  • Sumerian doctors gave patients beer soup mixed with turtle shells and snake skins.
  • Babylonian doctors healed the eyes using a mixture of frog bile and sour milk.
  • Sri Lankan army used oil cake (sweetmeat) to serve both as desiccant and antibacterial.

The discovery of penicillin from the fungus Penicillium notatum perfected the treatment of bacterial infections such as syphilis, gangrene and tuberculosis. Alexander Fleming also contributed immensely towards medical sciences with his writings on the subjects of bacteriology, immunology and chemotherapy.

One sometimes finds what one is not looking for.
- Sir Alexander Fleming on the discovery of penicillin

The discovery of antibiotics, made by a succession of cultures and people throughout the ages and perfected by a handful of scientists spanning from 1640 to 1932 was one of the most significant discoveries in Western medical history. Antibiotics have led to the eradication of many infectious diseases in the developed world and saved countless lives.

Antibiotic Resistance

The problem we face presently, is antibiotics being over prescribed, often unnecessarily and this has led to the development of antibiotic resistant bacteria and "superbugs". Each year in the United States an estimated 2 million people are infected with such antibiotic resistant bacteria and a staggering 23,000 people die every year as a result of these infections.

Perhaps the most famous of these drug resistant bacteria is MRSA (Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus) which is caused by antibiotic resistant strain of staph bacteria used to treat common staph infections. About one third of people carry the staph bacteria in their nose or on their skin and have no symptoms. A MRSA infection contracted outside a medical setting usually results in a skin infection. MRSA infections are particularly dangerous to hospital workers or other health care providers which is where many MRSA infections are contracted. MRSA infections are typically associated with invasive procedures or devices, such as surgeries, intravenous tubing or artificial joints. In medical facilities, MRSA can cause life-threatening bloodstream infections, pneumonia and surgical site infections. MRSA is usually spread through contact with an infected wound or from contaminated hands or equipment. People who carry MRSA and do not have any symptoms can also spread the infection to others which is why rigid disinfecting procedures are practiced for all hospital equipment and by all medical staff that have access to patients.

This is a cute animation on what causes antibiotic resistance. Video by Kevin Woo for TED Ed

Antibiotics & Chinese Medicine

Widespread antibiotic use is something commonly seen in clinic. I have many patients who come to me for the express purpose of getting off of many of their medications and looking for more natural alternatives to treat their ailments. For serious infections antibiotics are sometimes necessary, but there are consequences to the body. Antibiotics may be good at killing the infection, but they generally weaken the body and cause imbalances in other organ systems that need to be corrected.

Many infections in Chinese medicine are seen as a combination of heat and dampness. Antibiotics are generally good at resolving many of the heat symptoms (fever, swelling, sort throat, redness), but they do nothing to treat dampness (phlegm, loose stool, vaginal discharge, dizzy, heavy feeling, edema, tiredness and a fuzzy feeling in the head). The spleen is the organ responsible for dampness is the body, so if you have an infection, chances are that your spleen is already deficient. If you add to this the fact that antibiotics are very cold in nature according to Chinese medicine, the spleen is taking another hit (the spleen likes to be warm and dry). On top of that the spleen is the main organ (paired with the stomach) of digestion, and the use of antibiotics severely decreases the amount of beneficial bacteria in the intestinal tract. There are over 500 different species of beneficial bacteria that collectively destroy pathogenic microbes while also neutralizing harmful chemical toxins that the body is trying to get rid of. When the amount of beneficial bacteria is compromised the result can a proliferation of colonies of harmful fungus and bacteria that can be detrimental to health. This beneficial bacteria is also an important part of a healthy immune system, so although use of antibiotics can deal with an infection, it can wreak havoc on the rest of the body, weakening it and making it more susceptible to future infections.

One of the important things to do after you have done a course (or many courses) of antibiotics is to get the beneficial bacteria built up again. You can do this in many ways be taking acidophilus, or eating yoghurt with a high count of beneficial bacteria (in the billions if you can). I often use Chinese herbs to strengthen the immune system and tonify the spleen after a patient has taken antibiotics to attempt to bring them back into a healthy balance.

The other thing to consider before taking antibiotics is that there are many Chinese herbal formulas with antibacterial properties that combat infections very effectively with no side effects. They do not weaken the body or immune system and attempt to restore the balance of the entire organism. Chinese herbal formulas do not use a single herb but a combination of herbs that work synergistically to treat various types of infections often in a few days. If the infection is not serious (an outpatient infection), consider seeking out a practitioner of traditional Chinese medicine who can prescribe the right formula for the type of infection that you are experiencing. Repeated use of antibiotics often causes subsequent infections due to the hit on the immune system, and patients often come in who have been on one or several antibiotics that have either not worked for the initial infection, or dealt with the initial infection but have caused subsequent infections that are being treated the same way, more antibiotics. It is a bit of a vicious cycle. Many Chinese herbs have antibacterial and antiviral properties and have been well documented over thousands of years. Before getting that prescription, consider all your options.

Detoxing from Antibiotics Use

Antibiotic Resistance : Chinese Medicine Living

 

Drugs, both medicinal and recreational, are stored in the body long after use in various tissues such as the liver, and brain. The residues of these drugs, like alcohol, nicotine, LSD, pain medications, birth control pills and antibiotics build up in the body and their accumulation can cause reactions that cause a buildup of toxins that threaten health. A grain and vegetable based diet along with green foods helps to cleanse these residues from the body.

If the use of medications or drugs is prolonged, an excellent remedy is the herb chaparral (Larrea tridentata), also known as greasewood and creosote bush, which cleanses toxins and drug related deposits from the body. Chaparral's medicinal properties can be extracted in water, but for maximum effectiveness the entire plant should be consumed, or it can be taken in a tincture (extracted with alcohol).

Ayurvedic medicine (the traditional medicine of India) uses an herb called calamus root (Acorus calamus) which helps to restore mental damage resulting from prolonged drug use.

Eat Your Medicine

Thankfully, there are many foods that also have antibiotic properties, and can be added to the diet in the event of an infection. Here is the list of some of the best ones:

Natural Antibiotic Foods : Chinese Medicine Living

  • Honey
  • Cabbage
  • Garlic
  • Ginger
  • Apple Cider Vinegar
  • Coconut Oil
  • Fermented Foods
  • Turmeric

Ginger Natural Antibiotic : Chinese Medicine Living

 

There are also herbs and tinctures with strong antibiotic properties like:

  • Tea Tree Oil
  • Oil of Oregano
  • Echinacea
  • Golden Seal
  • Olive Leaf Extract

Essential Oils Natural Antibiotics : Chinese Medicine Living

It is unfortunate that today, with more information than ever about the human body and natural medicines, that antibiotics are so overprescribed. Although sometimes they may be necessary, often times they are not. I believe that this has led to both the prolonged weakening of the immune systems of their recipients as well as the development of antibiotic resistant organisms that put both health care workers and the public in danger. Thankfully, there are numerous natural ways in which we can treat infections from various microbes, from foods to herbs to acupuncture. Chinese medicine has been developed over thousands of years and has many herbal formulas that are excellent for treating infections of various kinds often more quickly and effectively than antibiotics would, and without the damage to the immune system, side effects and risk of subsequent infections. I am a firm believer that the body has an incredible ability to heal, if we only give it what it needs to do so, and often that is a change in diet, or a rebalancing with natural but powerful medicines like acupuncture and Chinese herbs.

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Healing with Whole Foods - Paul Pitchford
Explorable - History of Antibiotics

Chinese Silk Pulse Cushions : Chinese Medicine Living

Antibiotics and Chinese Medicine : Chinese Medicine Living