Can You Die of a Broken Heart?

By Emma Suttie, D.Ac, AP

Can you die of a broken heart? Surprisingly perhaps, the answer is yes.

Anyone who has had their heart broken wouldn't even have to think about the answer to this. "Yes" they would say, or at least that is what it feels like. Heartbreak is like walking around with tiny shards of glass in your chest. You feel a crushing sense of sadness, and you are miserable. I suspect that most of us have had our hearts broken at least once, and it feels awful. Sometimes it is so bad that you literally feel like you want to die. But did you know that you can actually die of a broken heart? Yes, that's right. You CAN. And the medical name for it is Takotsubo Cardiomyopathy.

In Western medicine the condition has several different names; transient apical ballooning syndrome, apical ballooning cardiomyopathy, stress-induced cardiomyopathy, stress cardiomyopathy and Gebrochenes-Herz-syndrom. The syndrome is characterized by a sudden weakening of the myocardium, or heart muscle. Broken heart syndrome is a well recognized cause of acute heart failure, and the interesting thing is that there are often no structural problems in or around the heart which is why, at least to Western medicine, its cause is a bit mysterious. Broken heart syndrome symptoms mimic those of a heart attack so people report symptoms like chest pains and shortness of breath. A heart attack results from a near or almost complete blockage of a heart artery. In broken heart syndrome, there is no such blockage.

Broken Heart Syndrome : Chinese Medicine Living

Broken heart syndrome has been well documented. If the sufferer survives the initial attack (which most do), all the symptoms often resolve completely in a couple of months. But perhaps the most significant thing about broken heart syndrome is that it is usually preceded by an intense emotional event, either a sudden shock, like the death of a loved one, or an ongoing emotional stressor like the breakup of a relationship. It can also be brought about by a constant state of anxiety - for example, living in a war torn country where you have watched your family die and have been torn from your home. This kind of ongoing stress and anxiety puts a huge load on the heart, both physically, spiritually and emotionally.

Interestingly, broken heart syndrome was first documented in Japan in the 1990's, and it gets its name - Tako-tsubo - from the Japanese literally meaning "octopus pot". It gets this name because of the shape of the heart when the syndrome is present - apical ballooning, a reversible abnormality characteristic of takotsubo cardiomyopathy. During systole (when the heart contracts) the midsection and tip (apex) of the left ventricle balloon out, while the area above, called the base, contracts normally. The shape is similar to the tako-tsubo - a round bottomed vessel with a narrow neck used to catch octopuses in Japan. The syndrome also seems to occur in much higher instances in women than in men, and most reported cases are of women from ages 58-75.

The Heart in Chinese Medicine

In Chinese medicine, the heart is at the centre of the body and its activities. The heart is said to govern and be responsible for all of the bodies functions via the other organs. The heart is also the residence of a very subtle but profoundly important energy, called the Shen. The Shen has been loosely translated as "spirit", but this does not encapsulate the entirety of what Shen means. It is a difficult concept to explain, but many mental illnesses are described in Chinese medicine as disturbances of the Shen. When you look into someones eyes and they are clear and bright and full of intelligence, this is someone with healthy Shen. When you look into the eyes of someone who is depressed, deeply sad, or is going through something very difficult in their lives that is, at least at that moment, getting the better of them, their eyes have a cloudy, unfocused appearance. This points to a disturbance of the Shen. Our Shen is our ability to be in the world, deal with problems effectively, be emotionally balanced and be clear and focused in our thoughts, feelings and ability to handle life and everything is throws at us. So, having a healthy Shen is of supreme importance, and its residence is the heart.

Broken Heart Syndrome : Chinese Medicine Living

To anyone who practices Chinese medicine, dying of a broken heart isn't such a bizarre thought. A sudden shock, or prolonged emotions like worry, sadness, anger and guilt (which is a uniquely Western emotion) weaken the heart and its energies. As we know, Chinese medicine takes the emotions very seriously and they are one of the main causes of disease. Now, for those of you who this is new to, let me clarify - it is not HAVING emotions that can cause disease, emotions are a natural part of being human. But emotions that are repressed, unexpressed or experienced intensely for extended periods of time without being resolved can certainly be a cause of disease.

In Chinese medicine, the body is like a garden, and everything must be working in harmony for the garden to flourish and grow. This means that the physical, emotional, and spiritual aspects of a person must all be in harmony for ultimate health to be achieved. So, take care of your heart. If you are dealing with something difficult in your life, acknowledging it and either dealing with it or seeking out help to get you through it is my best advice to keep your heart, and your Shen happy and balanced for many years to come.  And if you are having symptoms of a heart attack, even if you have no prior history of heart problems, take them seriously. Especially if they occur after an intense emotional event or sudden shock. Broken heart syndrome is real, and arming yourself with information is the best way to avoid problems in the present and the future.

Broken Heart Syndrome : Chinese Medicine Living

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Can You Die of a Broken Heart? : Chinese Medicine Living


Why You Need Your Intuition

By Emma Suttie, D.Ac, AP

I am presently reading a book about people who healed themselves of cancer either without conventional Western medical treatments like chemotherapy and radiation, or after their doctors and oncologists had sent them home to die. It was written by a researcher, lecturer and consultant in the field of integrative oncology.

The book was given to me by my patient, who is at the moment healing from pancreatic cancer. The book was one of the main reasons that he sought out what some people call "alternative medical treatments" but what I simply call medicine. These included reiki, acupuncture, Chinese herbs and massage therapy. He was using these treatments in conjunction with chemotherapy, both to combat the side effects and build his immune system while receiving chemo, as well as to build up his body and regain health after the chemo was finished. I am happy to say that he is doing extremely well and that his tumour markers are back to normal levels.

So far the book details many of the common threads that are shared between all the people who managed to heal their cancers without conventional treatment (or after conventional treatment failed), and one of them is intuition. This was surprising to the author as intuition is not something that can be understood in scientific terms, but when she started seeing that cases of what they sometimes call "spontaneous remission" occur, she thought that someone should investigate and see if there was anything that could be learned from the many people who had had this experience.

Acupuncturist. Mug : Chinese Medicine LivingThe Acupuncture Kit : Chinese Medicine LivingChinese Herbal Medicine Cabinet - Basket : Chinese Medicine Living

I believe that many of us have lost our connection to our instincts. We have lost connections with so many things that used to be vital to our survival. The planet. Nature. The weather. Our bodies. Each other. And our intuition. Our intuition used to serve us in many ways. Our ancestors living in hunter gatherer societies (the societies we all lived in before the development of agriculture) relied on their instincts in many ways. Sensing a storm was coming and when to seek shelter, what foods were safe and which were unsafe to eat, and sensing that a predator was near were all ways our instincts kept us alive. We have insulated ourselves from our natural way of living in many ways so that the senses that evolved to serve us are now no longer being used and, like an old car that never gets driven, have fallen into disrepair. Intuition is like a muscle that you need to exercise, and many of our intuitive abilities have gotten flabby.

intuition can save your life

The Role Of Intuition In Healing

Intuition is one of nine things that the people healing themselves of cancer had in common. There were nine things that came up again and again in these cases, although, as she states, it often goes against the Western medical way of treating disease, it was one of the things that contributed to people actually getting better. Curing cancer, and that is something many Western doctors cannot believe happens without treatment, managed to happen over and over again, often without the use of chemotherapy and radiation. It seems that there are many things at work, and that perhaps we don't completely understand them all and there is always more to learn.

One problem with conventional treatments for any disease is that they often remove the patient completely from the treatment and healing process; the doctors are making the diagnosis and recommending the appropriate treatment. Many ancient traditions know and believe (like Ayurveda - the healing tradition of India, and traditional Chinese medicine) that the intuition is a vital part of the healing process. This is taken into account and a relevant part of the treatment plan and subsequent healing of the patient.

Intuition And The Brain

intuition and the brain

Humans have two very different ways in which they process information and make decisions. The first is the quick, instinctual and often subconscious way in which we process things. That is controlled by the right side of the brain in some of the very oldest parts of the brain called the limbic system, also called the reptilian brain. The other way in which we process information is the slower, more analytical and very conscious way, which is part of the left hemisphere of the brain in a part that has only evolved relatively recently called the neocortex. Intuition is part of the first way. It is quick, and often doesn't make sense to us, as it is operating at a level below our conscious mind, but it has evolved over a very long time and is the part that kept us alive throughout human history. It is part of the reason we are all still here today.

Some interesting studies have revealed that over a hundred million neurons - the type of cells found in the brain - exist in the GI tract. This explains why people often say that they have a "gut feeling' about something. Your gut literally is your second brain. Another fascinating discovery is that the human digestive tract is able to operate separately and independently from the brain, meaning that it can make decisions without any input from the brain at all. What this means is that there is now a scientific explanation for why many people have a very strong "gut reaction" to things. There are many, many things that ancient cultures have known for thousands of years, but science is just now able to prove their existence scientifically.

There are also many scientific studies to show that the intuition knows the right answer to things, long before our conscious minds do. Some studies even suggest that the intuition can allow people to predict the future, even if it is only by a few seconds. Another study shows that people using their intuition to make major life decisions, such as who to marry, where to live or if they should take a certain job are 60% happier with their decisions, compared to people who had a lot of time to pour over all the information and think through their decisions.  Their satisfaction with their ultimate decision was only 25%. Food for thought.

The Ways Intuition Can Manifest

developing your intuition

There are many different ways in which your intuition will communicate with you, and it will be different for everybody. Some people hear a voice that tells them very clearly when to do or not do something. Others have feelings, such as "gut feelings" that tell them if a decision is right or wrong for them, others say their intuition comes to them in circumstances, such as speaking to a friend who tells them exactly what they need to hear or for others it is serendipitous "coincidences" that help them choose the right path. Another way that intuition can communicate with us is through dreams. Many people communicate with different parts of their subconscious through dreams, and this is a common way to get the information you need for whatever situation you are contemplating.

I have to say that reading through the chapter on intuition in my book was wonderful because of all the documented cases of remission from cancer because people listened to their intuition (even when other people thought it was a crazy idea), but none of it was SURPRISING. When it comes to things like that, the author was essentially preaching to the proverbial choir. But, it did yield two other very excellent results. One was that this researcher, someone who had never even considered that intuition had a role in healing now KNOWS that it does. I am always so elated when people who have come up through the annals of science are open to things that perhaps do not fit within the confines of their chosen profession or world view. And the other thing is that my patient had his world broken open. These concepts, as he told me, had never occurred to him before. The contents of the entire book were a departure for him, and reading it was both a profound experience and gave him something that Western medicine couldn't, HOPE that he could get better. And there is nothing in the world more healing than that.

 

why you need intuition

* Lead image from The Emotion Machine
* Brain image from Conscious Life News
* Eye image from Reality Pod


Painful Periods? Why You Don't Have To Suffer.

By Emma Suttie, D.Ac, AP

Painful periods are what got me into Chinese medicine. A strange thing to say maybe, but it is true. I hated them then, but when I look back, I am so grateful for them. It is because of my horrible cramps that I became an acupuncturist.

Horrible cramps are what led to my introduction to Chinese medicine when I was a teenager. I had been suffering with them for years, and the only thing that doctors would ever tell me was that I would have to deal with them, that this is what came with being a girl. There were also prescriptions for hard core painkillers which could knock out a horse, but that was it. This was the treatment.

period cramps : Chinese Medicine Living

I was always amazed, even then, that there was no investigation. No tests, no ultra sounds to determine what might be happening. My doctor suspected that I might have endometriosis, but said that there was really nothing they could do about it. They could do an exploratory surgery through my belly button, but there was nothing to be gained by knowing.

At one point I asked if I could please be referred to a gynaecologist. I figured, this is what she DOES, so she might have some answers, or at least ideas of what I could do for my debilitating cramps. I was excited to see her. I was hoping that she might help me. I went in and explained my situation. And this is what she told me. She said why don't you come back when you want to have children, have tried and failed to conceive, then we will know that it was probably endometriosis (which, if left untreated can lead to infertility and the eventual inability to have children). So... let me see if I get this straight... you want to wait, and see if the thing you think I might have (endometriosis) renders me infertile to get a correct diagnosis? Really? Wow. I was stunned. Nothing about how to deal with my cramps. She didn't even ask me if I ever wanted children. I walked out of there with my mouth agape, wondering how this approach could be called medicine. It got worse.

It was after it was suggested by, not one, not two, but three separate doctors that I have a hysterectomy (that is the removal of the uterus) that I knew the world had gone mad. Could this really be a viable solution? I knew then it was crazy. I was fifteen years old.

hysterectomy : Chinese Medicine Living

I feel like I have told this story many times. It was the story that I told when I applied to Chinese medicine school. I wrote an essay answering the question - "Why did I want to be a doctor of Chinese medicine?" This experience with Western medicine was profound and transformative. It was also devastating and disappointing. I was experiencing first hand how broken the system was, and I knew there had to be another way.

I am grateful to my parents for teaching me to think for myself, and to question everything. This made for some frustrating interactions with many of my teachers growing up, but I was stubborn, and always looking for the truth. I didn't take anybody's word for anything, I always wanted to figure things out for myself. Every fibre in my being told me that the "solution" that these doctors proposed was insane. This was no solution at all. So one day my mother asked me if I wanted to see an acupuncturist. One of her musician friends was seeing one and said she had helped her a lot. I didn't know anything about acupuncture but I said yes. Of course. I was open to trying anything.

I went to see this acupuncturist in her home that was incredibly quiet and peaceful. I walked into her office and felt instantly calm. It was serene. She asked me questions and listened to my answers. She was kind, compassionate and gentle. She did a very detailed intake and asked me about my entire life, going back as far as I could remember. She took my pulse. She listened for a long time. She looked at my tongue and wrote extensive notes. I remember feeling that she was really LISTENING to me. She was listening to me explain my experiences and creating an overall picture of my health.

Chinese Herbal Medicine Cabinet - Crate : Chinese Medicine LivingSilver Om Earrings : Chinese Medicine LivingThe Acupuncture Kit : Chinese Medicine Living

The acupuncturist then looked at me and told me that she would help me resolve my cramps. She said I had some imbalances but that with acupuncture and some herbs I could rebalance and my cramps would go away. It took me a minute to process this information... yes. This is what she said. I think I fell in love with her a little. She was going to help me so that I would not spend one week out of every four writhing in pain and unable to function. I was so happy I was speechless.

After a few months of acupuncture treatments and herbs my cramps went away. I went for treatments a couple of times a week and they were an enormously wonderful and healing experience. I fell asleep on the table almost every time. When the session was over I would be gently awakened and brought out to sit down and given tea.

Acupuncture : Chinese Medicine Living

I saw my lovely acupuncturist for many years. When anything came up, I would go to her. She always helped me and healed me. She told me what to eat, and what to avoid and I asked her a million questions, trying to understand.

It was after that experience that I realized that this is what medicine should be, and that this is what I wanted to do with the rest of my life. If I had had this experience with Western medicine, in theory, countless others had as well. I wanted people to know that they didn't have to suffer or have organs removed. Chinese medicine offers a tool we can use to regain health, and maintain it. It offers not just healing from illness, but a way of life. Chinese medicine looks at things in a different way. You need to be whole to be healthy. It treats the person and not the disease.

I feel very blessed to have had this experience. It bought me to Chinese medicine. Because of what happened, I am passionate about it and deeply committed to sharing its wisdom with whomever would like it. I know that there are probably many people out there who are suffering with all kinds of ailments and some have been told that nothing can be done. I believe that there is ALWAYS something that can be done, and what happened to me is proof. :)

Yin Yang : Chinese Medicine Living


Traditional Chinese Medicine - The Medicine of Prevention

By Emma Suttie, D.Ac, AP

I like to use the metaphor borrowed from the wonderful book Between Heaven and Earth that compares the body to a garden. Chinese medicine sees the body as a garden; something that needs to be tended and nurtured. You must water a garden, pull weeds and be mindful of pests for your garden to thrive. You must look at your garden every day so that you can detect subtle changes and make adjustments so that your garden will flourish.

In the West, the body is seen more as a machine. Parts break and must be fixed or replaced. It is a reductionist model, reducing the body to parts, that instead of working together are seen in isolation. We tend to wait until something "breaks" before we seek out a mechanic to do the needed repairs. This is one of the fundamental differences between the Eastern and Western models. In the West, we tend to wait until we are diagnosed with a disease before we seek out treatment, and in the Eastern model, we are learning to take care of ourselves on every level so that we can stay healthy so sickness never develops. Chinese medicine is a medicine of prevention.

Chinese Medicine - The Medicine of Prevention

The thing that many people don't know about Chinese medicine is that it is not just going to have acupuncture for a headache, or when your allergies flare up - it teaches a way of life, or better yet - a way of LIVING. In acupuncture school, we are all taught the acupuncture points and their functions, but this is only a fraction of the overall picture. We are mostly looking at the entire body and its relationship to the environment. We are also looking at the body and its various parts in relation to each other. In the garden, if you tend it every day you see which plants are happy and which ones are struggling. You can see which ones need fertilizer and which ones are getting too much sun. It is the same with the body. If we are paying attention, we can feel the subtleties happening inside, if we have an excess liver, a deficient spleen or a disturbance in our shen. This kind of attunement is possible, and vital to being as healthy and balanced as we would all like to be. The thing is, that we have to learn how. And this is what Chinese medicine teaches.

This learning, or teaching - the sharing of information - is the job of the acupuncturist. That is the entire intention of Chinese Medicine Living and why I started it in the first place. It is not to hand over your health to someone else, it is to participate and empower everyone to achieve the healing, health, and happiness they want because they can have it.

How To Stay Healthy and Prevent Illness

The wonderful thing about the Chinese medicine approach to health is that it is all-encompassing. You are not just your body, you are so much more! You are spirit, emotions, energy, light - they are all part of you. You are also flesh, bones, muscles, and tendons, and all must be maintained so that you remain healthy. Every aspect is important, they all matter. The intake process of the acupuncturist or practitioner of Chinese medicine is comprehensive and extremely thorough. The theory is that we are trying to paint a picture of the entire organism because every part is connected to every other part, nothing exists in isolation. If you have a headache, we do not just look at the head, we must look at the entire body in all its aspects. The headache is only the symptom, we must determine the main cause. The other reason is that we are treating the root problem and not the symptoms. This is at the core of Chinese medical theory. Any illness that manifests is seen as a symptom of a deeper problem, and that is what we are trying to correct. People sometimes wonder, what if they have many symptoms? Do you treat them all at the same time or can you treat them all at once? This situation depends on the severity of the symptom. If it is acute and causing distress to the patient, then we treat the symptom immediately and then treat the root afterward. If the symptoms are causing discomfort, then both symptom and root would be treated at the same time, and if the symptoms are not causing distress, then the root would be treated, and once the root is discovered and corrected, the symptoms simply disappear. This is one of the reasons why Chinese medicine treatments are so effective. They are individualized treatments, seeking out the root of the problem and correcting it. It is not treating a headache, it is treating YOUR headache by figuring out why you are having them.

Why Emotions Matter


Photo by Jeremy Wong on Unsplash

 

A thorough exploration of the emotions is of vital importance for every patient. Sometimes someone will come in with problems they see as reasonably superficial and when I get to the part about the emotions they ask "what difference does that make? What could that possibly have to do with having stomachaches?" And this is my answer. It could have everything to do with your stomachaches and everything else that is going on with you. Emotions are a huge factor in our health and Chinese medicine takes them very seriously. They are as important to the practitioner of Chinese medicine as the virus you caught in a third world country or the chronic asthma you have been suffering with since you were a child. In my opinion, the emotions are responsible for a huge percentage of all the imbalances I see in clinic, and that is why they really matter.

Living in Harmony with Nature


Photo by Amy Rollo on Unsplash

People used to live in complete harmony with the world around them. After the development of agriculture, we began to break this connection, and instead of living in harmony with nature, we began to dominate and control it. People were aware of subtle changes in weather and were deeply connected to animals, the seasons and the planet. The natural world governed behaviour; what people ate and when as well as eating what was in season. This is the way our bodies were designed and evolved over thousands of years, and how we could best stay healthy and ward off disease. Things like the weather, the ebb and flow of the seasons and the migration of animals were all a vital part of life, health, and survival.

In the present day, this connection has largely been severed. We suffer and die from diseases at an unprecedented rate. Many of us sit in front of computers for many hours a day and eat foods that are highly processed and full of unnatural chemicals. Going outside is something to "do" and not our natural state as it once was. Our relationship with nature and the planet is no longer harmonious and mutually beneficial, human beings live unnatural lives and get sick and die from many diseases that did not affect our ancestors.

Chinese medicine teaches a way of living, and that is to live as close to nature as possible. Eating with the seasons, rising early in the summer months and spending time outside being active, eating more cooling foods, and sleeping more and turning energies more inwards in the colder months, eating warming foods and conserving energies. It is simple, and it works well to keep us healthy so that disease doesn't have a chance to develop.

Food as Medicine 

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Food is perhaps the most important aspect of good health. There is a lot of information and therefore confusion about how and what to eat. There is an overwhelming amount of information out there about foods, diets, what is harmful and what is beneficial, so it is understandable that nutrition is a huge and confusing subject for many. Chinese medicine uses food as medicine. Food is something you put into your body every day, so eating well is the best way to stay healthy and avoid disease.

There is a huge amount of evidence that diet alone can reverse many of the most devastating diseases in Western society - heart disease, diabetes, and cancer. The trick is not to wait until you get a diagnosis of one of these diseases to take action. Eating well is something that you can do every day, at every meal. Chinese medicine sees foods as having a thermal nature, or temperature. Along with your constitution (you may be a hot or cold person), you can add or take away foods that will help keep you balanced. The key is to be constantly paying attention so that you can adjust accordingly. You must listen to your body.

Listen to Your Body

listen to your body : Chinese Medicine Living

This is perhaps the thing that, in my experience, we are missing the most. I fully believe that the body has an intelligence that far exceeds the one we attribute to our brains. Your body is a miracle. It is a miracle of healing. There are stories about this healing from all over the world. Your body wants to be healthy and heal from illness, you must only give it what it needs to do so. But you must listen. It is always trying to communicate with you. Take the example of pain. This is a communication tool used by the body to tell you that something is wrong. Instead of listening, doctors prescribe painkillers so that we don't feel it. We don't want to feel pain, but it is the body's way of trying to get your attention. There are many, many ways that the body communicates, but we have largely lost the ability to listen. So many times I have patients who have been diagnosed with illnesses like MS, cancer, heart disease and are completely shocked when their doctors tell them they are sick. Once we speak and I learn of their history, be it medical, emotional or psychological it is usually obvious that there were signs, many, many signs before there was a diagnosis of one of these serious diseases.

We live in a world where we are overworked, underslept, in debt and stressed out. Many of us feel we do not have the luxury of listening to our bodies because we have to go to work so that the mortgage can be paid, or the children can go to school. We push ourselves harder and harder and our health - both physical and spiritual, suffers. It's not easy. But it is WORTH it. Deep down we all have that sense, that gut feeling that we know when something is wrong. Something is out of balance. We need more sleep, we need to eat better. This is your body speaking to you. It wants you to be healthy and to live a long, happy life. It only wants you to listen.


Let's Talk About Your Lady Parts...

A Discussion About Vaginal Health According to Chinese Medicine.

By Emma Suttie, D.Ac, AP

It may seem a bit saucy to write about something that most people don't like to think about. They like to talk about it even less, but 52% of us have them, and I think it is in our best interest to know what is going on with them and keep them healthy. And when I say "them" I mean specifically the vagina (we can cover the other lady parts later). Men, I don't want to lose you here, you need to know this too. Have a mother? A sister? Daughter? Wife or girlfriend? Then knowing some basic information about vaginal health and disease will benefit you and all the ladies in your life.

Women's Health, Vaginal Health, reproductive health

Gynaecology in Chinese Medicine

Gynaecology in Chinese medicine has a long history. The earliest writings on the subject date back to the Shang dynasty, which was between 1500-1000 BC. As a result, Chinese medicine is extremely effective for dealing with the gamut of gynaecological problems women face. It was because of terrible problems with my periods as a teenager that I found Chinese medicine and after years of being told "I would just have to deal with it", acupuncture and herbs resolved them after a few months of treatment. So, I am speaking from experience, mine and the many, many women I have seen in clinic.

The way that Chinese medicine looks at gynaecology, and really the entire body is completely different than what we are used to in the West, so this is probably a good place to start. Chinese medicine believes that puberty is a particularly important time for a young girl and problems she experiences in these years will have lasting effects throughout her life. Living in a cold, damp climate can cause cold and dampness to invade the body and cause problems, excessive physical labour as a young person, and experiencing many emotional upsets are all factors that can contribute to problems both during puberty and later in a woman's life.

The periods are considered an especially vulnerable time for a woman, as the uterus is seen to be "open" allowing menstruation to occur. There is also, because of the loss of blood, a relative blood deficiency and many problems with menstruation are influenced by these factors. Some other main factors that cause gynaecological problems are:

  • Pathogenic factors from the outside, like heat, cold, dampness and wind (viruses, bacteria, etc..)
  • Excessive physical work or exercise
  • Emotional stress (emotions like sadness and grief, worry and anger, fear, shock and guilt are a significant factor in many gynaecological problems)
  • Diet and nutrition (hugely important always, but especially for women with gynaecological issues)
  • Overwork and exhaustion (which is so common in our culture)
  • Pregnancy and childbirth (having too many pregnancies too close together does not give the body time to recover)
  • Too much or too little sexual activity (you may be wondering, really? Yes. For more info, read this: Can too much sex be bad for your health? Sex and Chinese Medicine)
  • The birth control pill
  • Surgery and hysterectomy

There is a huge emphasis for women to take care during and immediately after their periods, being sure not to become overly emotional (which may seem counterintuitive, as this seems to be the time when most women feel exactly that), not to participate in too much strenuous physical labour, especially heavy lifting, they should avoid cold food, and be careful to avoid cold, damp places as it more easily enters the body at this time.

Prevention and Hygiene

Vaginal Health, Women's Health

Without an in-depth discussion on women's physiology and the aetiology (the cause of a disease) of gynaecological diseases, there are a few simple rules that women can follow to keep all of their lady parts healthy and prevent the problems will we discuss later.

  • Don't have sex during your periods - this is seen to cause stagnation in the uterus which can lead to problems later on and heavy periods
  • Avoid cold, damp environments, especially during your periods - this will cause cold and damp to invade the uterus when it is particularly vulnerable and can lead to problems
  • Don't work too hard or for long hours during the periods - overwork easily leads to deficiency at this vulnerable time
  • Don't have sex with a full bladder - this can lead to stagnation in both the uterus and the bladder
  • No heavy lifting during or immediately after the period - this can lead to qi sinking which, if it progresses can lead to prolapse of organs
  • Refrain from being angry during the period, as it may cause the period to stop
  • Don't drink alcohol during the period - this can cause circulation problems in the limbs
  • Eat foods that nourish blood during the periods such as - Peanuts, carrots, spinach, chicken, egg yolks, wood ear mushroom and Chinese red dates (we have a lot of wonderful Chinese medicine recipes here)
  • Don't be exposed to cold after sex - as cold can easily invade the uterus at this time
  • Avoid cold foods and liquids during the periods - as these foods can cause painful periods due to invasion of cold

Vaginal Discharge

Women often wonder if vaginal discharge is normal. Yes, it is. The way Chinese medicine defines it is that a slight vaginal discharge, that increases in volume and viscosity around ovulation (mid cycle) and is thin and colourless with no smell is normal. Therefore, discharge that is a colour (white, yellow, red, brown, green), thick with a strong smell is considered pathological. Some of the reasons to be having excessive vaginal discharge are below.

Diet

Chinese medicine puts a huge emphasis on what we eat, and how that can contribute to imbalances. This is especially true with gynaecological problems and the big three are greasy foods, dairy, and overconsumption of sugar. Now, in an ancient Chinese diet, these would not be things you would eat a lot of anyways, but we certainly do now, especially in the West. My best advice would always be to eat food that is as close as possible to how it has grown in (or on) the earth. Fresh fruits and vegetables are best. Organic if possible. As little sugar, refined oils, flours and salts as possible and if you must eat processed foods, do so sparingly. This advice goes double if you are healing from an illness.

Connected to diet is also eating at regular times. Chinese medicine theory states that the regularity with which we eat is almost as important as what we eat. The body likes routine, especially when it comes to food, and eating at random hours which change constantly puts stress on the Spleen and can lead to dampness which can lead to excessive vaginal discharge.

Excessive Physical Labour and Overwork

People who have very physically demanding jobs like people who work construction, or are firefighters or orderlies can be prone to Spleen deficiency. The same is true if you work long hours without adequate rest, eating properly and not getting enough sleep. Does this sound like everyone you know? This is a prevalent problem in our culture and many illnesses are a result of this stressful, fast-paced lifestyle. This overwork with lack of rest to recuperate easily leads to Spleen deficiency which in turn leads to dampness, and... excessive vaginal discharge.

Emotions

The emotions of the Liver - anger, frustration, and resentment, and the emotions of the Spleen - worry and over thinking can cause Liver Qi to become "stuck" or stagnant, and stagnant Liver Qi leads to many gynaecological problems. Worry and over thinking (which we do so much in our culture) cause Spleen Qi deficiency which leads to dampness. The combination of dampness and Liver Qi stagnation (which left untreated leads to heat) settles in the Liver channel which happens to wind around the genitals and causes excessive vaginal discharge.

diet and vaginal health

Diet is a very important part of vaginal health

Vaginal Itching

Vaginal itching is defined as persistent itching of the vagina which may also be accompanied by excessive vaginal discharge. To see a definition of excessive vaginal discharge, see the section above.

There are many factors that contribute to gynaecological problems in Chinese medicine. Often the Liver and Spleen are involved, so trying to keep both these organs healthy is a good first step in preventing imbalance in those organs which may lead to gynaecological problems down the road. Below is a list of factors that can lead to vaginal itching in Chinese medicine.

Emotional Problems

Chinese medicine sees the emotions are being an important part of health.  They become pathological when they are either felt intensely, as in a sudden death which can lead to shock; felt in a prolonged way without easing, such as after the death of a loved one; or not felt at all because they are being repressed or unexpressed. Each organ in Chinese medicine has an emotion that is associated with it, and the two most common organs that contribute to gynaecological problems are the Liver and the Spleen. The Liver is associated with anger - which may manifest as resentment, frustration or when extreme, rage. The Spleen is associated with worry and over thinking, two things that as a culture, we tend to do a lot. The Liver, in particular, is at the root of many gynaecological problems. If Liver Qi stagnates or becomes "stuck" it can, over time, turn to heat and that heat affects the Liver meridian which happens to run through the external genitalia, leading to itching. The more heat there is, the more intense the itching becomes.

Diet

We all know how Chinese medicine uses food to keep the body in balance and help to cure it if diseased. As a result, food can also be the cause of a problem and certainly contribute to it if an imbalance is already present. Diet is a big contributor to gynaecological problems in the West because the foods that cause the problems are a huge part of our diet. The main culprits are greasy foods and dairy products. If you are prone to gynaecological problems like yeast infections (candida infections) then take a look at your diet and try to cut back on greasy foods and dairy as they are a prominent factor. When it comes to diet, the regularity of eating is also important in Chinese medicine. The body likes routine, and we live such hectic lives, it is pretty normal for people to go all day without eating and then have a huge meal in the evenings. This puts a huge burden on the Spleen and can lead to problems like dampness. When combined with emotional issues, heat in the Liver combines with the dampness in the lower burner and forms damp heat which causes vaginal itching. The more heat there is, the more intense the itching becomes. So, express those emotions, and try to limit dairy and greasy foods.

Excess Physical Labour

Excess physical work can manifest as vaginal itching in a couple of ways. People with very physical jobs or people who train intensely can, over time, deplete their Spleen. If this physical work is carried out without sufficient rest the Spleen becomes deficient and is prone to dampness which can cause vaginal itching. The other way is if people work very long hours without eating properly or getting adequate sleep it will injure Liver and Kidney Yin. A Yin deficiency will ultimately lead to a blood deficiency which can lead to vaginal itching.

Vulvar Sores

The vulva refers to the external vagina including the labia, clitoris, and entrance to the vagina. Sores on the vulva can be painful, hot, itchy and/or have a discharge of pus. Vulvar sores may be categorized as itching, swelling, pain, lumps, pus and excessive vaginal discharge. These symptoms may also be accompanied by systemic symptoms such as shivers, fever, weakness, constipation, thirst, dark urine and abdominal distension.

In Chinese medicine, vulvar sores can arise for many reasons. The main ones are poor and irregular diet, emotional strain and stress, or an invasion of dampness and cold (especially during or immediately after the periods, or after childbirth).

Acupuncture and Chinese herbs are very effective for treating vulvar sores, but it is important to obtain a correct diagnosis to ascertain the reason for the sores so that it can be corrected and therefore will not return. It is also important to determine if the vulvar sores may be due to certain sexually transmitted diseases or neoplasms. The vulva is the fourth most common site of gynaecological neoplasia. The majority of gynaecological neoplasms are diagnosed in women in their sixties and seventies, and 15%  occur in women under forty. Gynaecological neoplasms have been associated with the HPV virus (human papilloma virus). The symptoms of vulvar neoplasm are pruritus, erythema, and swelling. If you suspect an STD or neoplasm, be sure to see your doctor.

And last but not least, some basics to keep the lady parts clean and in good health. Wear cotton underwear which will keep all those bits clean and dry (other synthetic fabrics don't breathe and can cause problems especially in damp, hot weather). If you can, don't wear anything (on those parts anyways) to bed so that they get a chance to breathe. When bathing be sure to dry the lady parts very well as they tend to heat and heat and sweat can brew into a less than awesome situation. Most of all, be mindful of your lady parts and pay attention to what is happening down there. This article lists some of the more common issues, but if there is anything that you are worried about, go see a doctor, homeopath, naturopath or acupuncturist - the one you feel most comfortable talking to about these things and make sure you get it sorted out. Peace of mind is a good thing, for any of our parts.

 

Vaginal Health

Vaginal Health - Women's Health in Chinese medicine


References
Obstetrics and Gynecology in Chinese Medicine by Giovanni Maciocia


Acupuncture and Osteoporosis

By Emma Suttie, D.Ac, AP

Osteoporosis is the gradual loss of bone density that causes the bones to become brittle, thus increasing the risk of fracture. Women are at a higher risk of developing osteoporosis because of the steady loss of estrogen after menopause. There are some risk factors that contribute to your chances of developing osteoporosis and they are:

  • Age – bone density decreases naturally as we age
  • Heredity and genetics – osteoporosis tends to run in families
  • Being thin with fine bones increases your risk
  • A diet high in sodium
  • Carbonated drinks
  • Stress
  • Dieting
  • Caffeine
  • Smoking
  • Heavy alcohol use
  • Excess sugar intake
  • Certain medications such as the birth control pill and drugs for hypothyroidism weaken bones
  • Lack of exercise – weight bearing exercises cause the body to lay down new bone, increasing bone mass
  • A diet lacking in calcium, phosphorus and vitamin D
  • Too much animal protein in the diet can leach calcium from the bones
  • If you have broken many bones in your adult life, you are more susceptible

Although some of these risk factors cannot be avoided, many can and things like diet and exercise are vital to the health of your bones. Eating a diet high in calcium and balancing that with adequate levels of vitamin D which is responsible for the absorption of calcium, are important for the strength and density of bones. Most people associate dairy products with foods high in calcium, but for those who prefer not to eat dairy, there are many foods that are extremely high in calcium. Here is a list of non dairy sources of calcium.

Acupuncture and Osteoporosis

Non Dairy Sources of Calcium

  • Tofu
  • Chia seeds
  • Almonds
  • Sesame seeds (ground or pulverized for better absorption)
  • Tapioca
  • Collard greens
  • Kale
  • Bok Choy
  • White beans
  • Figs
  • Black eyed peas
  • Broccoli
  • Sardines with the bones
  • Seaweed
  • Turnip greens
  • Oranges

Acupuncture and Osteoporosis

Vitamin D & Calcium Absorption

Getting enough vitamin D is crucial to absorption of calcium. Common wisdom says that 30 minutes of sunshine a day is adequate for the average adult. Note that people with a diet high in animal proteins will cause calcium to be absorbed poorly, so if you are trying to build up calcium and strengthen bones, consider limiting your intake of animal proteins. It is also important to note that if we are not getting enough calcium in the diet, the body will take the calcium it needs from the bones, so make sure you are getting enough! The recommended daily amount is between 800 milligrams – 1200 milligrams for lactating women.

Fosamax and Boniva

Fosamax (Alendronate) and Boniva (Ibandronate) belong to a group of drugs called bisphosphonates. They alter the cycle of bone formation and breakdown in the body, decreasing the rate at which bone cells are absorbed. They are both commonly prescribed to postmenopausal women for osteoporosis.

Acupuncture & Chinese Herbs

Although sometimes drugs like this are a good option if your are suffering from severe bone loss and your bones have become dangerously brittle, my suggestion would be to always try to rebuild bone naturally. Medications often just treat symptoms and do not tackle the underlying problem which is what Chinese medicine is all about. Of course there are times when medications are necessary, but even so, I would always encourage a patient to be working towards balance so that eventually they did not need the drugs.

Acupuncture and Chinese herbs have been shown to be extremely effective for osteoporosis. There have been many clinical trials that show that both acupuncture treatments as well as Chinese herbal formulas that treat the kidneys (in Chinese medicine the kidneys govern the bones, growth and maturation) are very effective in building bone mass making the bones less brittle and susceptible to fractures.

Exercise

Weight bearing exercise is what the body needs to lay down new bone and this type of exercise is prescribed for people with osteoporosis. Weight bearing exercise is defined as exercises one does on your feet working the bones and the muscles against gravity. While that doesn’t mean going to the gym and pumping weights, there are many types of exercises that fall into this category and will improve bone health.

Acupuncture and Osteoporosis

  • Walking
  • Jogging
  • Dancing
  • Climbing stairs
  • Tennis
  • Volleyball
  • Tai Chi
  • Yoga
  • Golf
  • Gardening or working in the yard

As you can see, these are activities that almost anyone can do. Exercise is not only good for osteoporosis, it is also vital to our overall wellbeing. I always encourage patients to try to go outside every day, take some deep breaths and spend time in nature. It is a very grounding activity and often pulls us out of our heads and reminds us of what is important.

Acupuncture and Osteoporosis

In conclusion, my best advise on what to do about osteoporosis is to make changes to your diet, including as many calcium rich foods as possible, as well as making sure that you are getting adequate vitamin D to ensure that the calcium you are eating is being absorbed fully. Remove things like excess salt, sugar and alcohol from your diet and try to limit caffeine. Take some time every day to exercise, even if it is going for a walk to give your bones a workout which will stimulate them to lay down new bone and increase your bone density. And last but certainly not least, I would highly recommend seeking out an acupuncturist for regular treatments with the addition of Chinese herbs which are excellent for building up the kidneys and building strong healthy bones.

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Why Acupuncture Plays Nice With Others.

By Emma Suttie, D.Ac, AP

Acupuncture is very friendly and does not compete. There are no unpleasant side effects, and it uses the body's own energies to rebalance and heal. It really is the perfect system. Needles are inexpensive and portable, making it widely accessible both socioeconomically, and geographically. There are many stories of tiny acupuncture clinics springing up in remote parts of the world, helping hundreds of people who might not otherwise have access to medical care. These are only some of the reasons why I am so in love with it.

Setting up Western medical clinics in remote and impoverished parts of the planet is considerably more difficult. Equipment and supplies, as well as expensive drugs are needed which often makes running them cost prohibitive.

Acupuncture is a complete, superhero system on its own, able to treat limitless ailments - but also combines with every other modality, from massage to oncology to mental health, to compliment and improve their effects. I have worked in many multidisciplinary clinics over the years, sharing patients with other doctors. Sometimes the acupuncture was used to reinforce the treatment a patient was being given and sometimes, it was used to combat the negative side effects of treatments and medications. Every time, it was inserted seamlessly into a patient's treatment to make it better. Acupuncture plays nice with others.

Acupuncture Plays Nice With Others

There is often skepticism from Western doctors when they hear they will be working with an acupuncturist. There is sometimes even eye rolling, the raising of eyebrows and dramatic sighing. I admit, this used to be difficult to deal with, and made the interaction heavy right from the start. But in my years of clinical practice, I have learned something (I hope more than one thing), and that is that there is something that knocks out the opponent that is skepticism and doubt - results. Over and over again, acupuncture is able to treat patients, and resolve their problems, and, when this happens enough, the doctors start believing that it might actually be the acupuncture doing it.

This is sometimes a difficult thing for a doctor who studied Western or Allopathic medicine to grasp because it is completely outside their experience and frame of reference. Western medicine is a method based on science, using things that can be seen and measured. Acupuncture and Chinese medicine are based on an unseen energy called Qi which is responsible for many processes vital to life and existence. It cannot be put under a microscope, in a vial, or measured in a laboratory test.

When acupuncture or Chinese medicine is combined with other modalities, Western medicine or otherwise, the results are awesome. Chinese medicine is only one tool used to treat and heal the body, mind and spirit. Western medicine is another. My thought is that when dealing with the human body or anything else, don't you want to have as many tools at your disposal as possible? I think so, and for me, acupuncture will always be one of them.