In the largest study of the effects of acupuncture for lower back pain in the US (published in the Archives of Internal Medicine, now JAMA, in 2009), it’s demonstrated that acupuncture is a more effective way of treating chronic low back pain than the standard conventional treatments of medication and physical therapy.  Clearly, this finding is noteworthy in and of itself. Its findings are similar to those of the largest study on acupuncture for lower back pain conducted for insurance companies in Germany in 2008. It concluded that acupuncture helped improve lower back pain for at least 6 months, an effectiveness rate “almost twice that of conventional therapy.” [1]

If acupuncture has been shown to work staggeringly better than the current standard plan of care, why hasn’t it become THE treatment of choice, rather than seen as a “complementary and alternative treatment?”

The problem is that in both of these studies, patients in a control group who were given sham acupuncture treatments also experienced meaningful improvements, though not as significant as those who received real acupuncture. Critics drew the erroneous conclusion that because the sham treatments yielded positive results, the placebo effect must be the most important factor. It’s understandable that acupuncturists may shy away from bringing up research that may attribute part of our medicine’s success rate to the placebo effect: people are still largely naïve about the power of Chinese medicine, and we don’t want our very legit medicine to be perceived as something one needs to believe in. But the placebo effect is a factor in all forms of medicine whether it’s pills or receiving an acupuncture treatment. And the fact that acupuncture works on dogs and cats (who presumably don’t “believe in” acupuncture) demonstrates that there is clearly something beyond the placebo effect at work.

Returning to the lower back pain studies: let’s not overlook the fact that people got better. And that the patients who received real acupuncture got better results than they would have through conventional means. 60-80% of the public will experience lower back pain in the course of their lives (http://umm.edu/health/medical/altmed/condition/low-back-pain). People should know that acupuncture is an outstanding treatment strategy, outperforming the standard of care for lower back pain. Share this, tweet it, post it on your blog, shout it from the rooftops and help those you care about make an informed choice.

 

[1] Haake M, MüLler H, Schade-Brittinger C, et al. German Acupuncture Trials (Gerac) For Chronic Low Back Pain: Randomized, Multicenter, Blinded, Parallel-Group Trial With 3 Groups. Arch Intern Med. 2007;167(17):1892-1898. doi:10.1001/Archinte.167.17.1892.

 

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Rope knotWorry. It’s the force behind that knot in your stomach, the clenching of your jaw, your trouble falling asleep and the furrow in your brow. You know it’s not accomplishing anything, but your mind resists getting off the hamster wheel.

How can you change the channel? Turns out, there are points for that. The Stomach and Spleen are responsible for digesting not only our food, but our lives: absorbing what’s useful, letting that nourish us, and passing on the not-so-useful stuff to the Large Intestine so we can let it go. Worry is the mental equivalent of sluggish digestion, or chewing on the same thing over and over again without swallowing. Just as there are points to aid digestion, there are points to help dissolve the mental knots. Here are three:

SP 5

Spleen 5

Spleen 5 is the point to use when your compassionate heart leads to a worried mind and you can’t stop thinking about the problems your friend (or your kid, or co-worker) is facing, even though you know there’s nothing you can do to change their situation. This is empathy gone astray. First, summon some compassion for yourself – it’s tough to watch someone you love go through something hard. Then, find the point on the inner foot, just below and in front of the bony bump on the ankle. Press this point firmly with your thumb, and massage in circles for a minute while thinking to yourself “I let go.”

Lung 7

Lung 7 is the go-to point to help clear your mind of worry. Like the breath itself, this point helps anchor us to the present moment rather than projecting into a future that may never come to pass. Take a long, slow breath and massage Lung 7 – Make a “thumbs up”, and HT 5 and LU 7locate the point about an inch towards your elbow from the thumb/wrist crease.

Heart 5

Tap Heart 5 when you’re worried about what you’re going to say. This point helps you express what’s in your heart, so it’s especially useful for speaking your truth, confronting someone, or having to say “no.” Located on the inner wrist, one thumb-width up from the inner crease, just inside the tendon that leads to the pinky. Tap this point gently for 30-60 seconds, visualizing raindrops striking and bouncing up from a puddle at the point.

Changing your relationship with stress is the most powerful thing you can do for your health. If you’re ready to revamp your nervous system for more ease and confidence, check out your bodymind toolkit:

 Calm Yourself: Self-Care Strategies for Stress and Anxiety

 

 

 

 

DandelionIt’s getting to be that time of year where a remarkable number of people here in the Willamette Valley start sneezing, dripping, and itching with seasonal allergies.  Fortunately, there are a number of natural steps you one can take to mitigate or even eliminate allergy symptoms without suffering the drowsiness and other side effects that often come with taking pharmaceuticals.

In Chinese Medicine, we distinguish between two main types of allergies: those where heat or cold predominates.  Wind, joining forces with either heat or cold, invades the body from the outside, causing an acute attack of those symptoms we all know and don’t love: sneezing, nasal congestion or runny nose, itchy eyes, tiredness, and even diffiuculty breathing.

Symptoms of wind-cold type of allergies include very drippy runny nose with clear mucus and fatigue, while the wind-heat type is characterized by itchy eyes, itchy throat and thick yellow or green mucus. Both conditions are made worse by the presence of phlegm.  Phlegm is which is basically accumulated turbid water that the body is trying to throw at what it perceives as a dangerous pathogen: the evil, invading pollen.

So what can you do besides hide indoors?

  1. Use a neti pot to rinse your sinuses to get the pollen out of your respiratory tract. Combine warm water and enough salt so that the water tastes like a teardrop, and rinse your nasal passages twice daily.  Flushing the allergens out of your body gives the body a break from having to perpetually react to them.  Plus, freeing the flow of qi in your sinuses makes it less likely for stuff to percolate there and become infected.
  2. Eat strategically: Making sure that you’re digesting well and therefore not creating more residual crud to hang out in your system as dampness or phlegm is very important.  Keep damp-producing foods like dairy products, refined sugar, bananas, alcohol, and refined flour products to a minimum (Though yogurt and kefir with active probiotic cultures can help the immune system, you may be better off with fermented foods like miso and kimchi — or taking probiotic supplements– which are less mucogenic than dairy.) The taste of bitter helps to transform phlegm, so including lots of leafy greens in your diet can be helpful.  If you have wind-heat type allergies, cooking with spices such as rosemary, oregano, turmeric, and mint can be helpful. For wind-cold type allergies, cook with onions and fresh ginger.
  3. Drink tea:  Both green and black tea are especially rich in quercetin, a component of plant-based foods that has anit-inflammatory properties. Other foods rich in quercetin include red onions, lovage, capers, red grapes, and green leafy vegetables.Tea made from nettles can be highly anti-inflammatory: steep the leaves for 10 minutes in hot water (and handle with care!) Chrysanthemum blossoms (steeped covered for at least 5 minutes) is especially good to relieve itchy eyes.
  4. Take Herbs: Herbs are simply stronger foods. Ready-made Chinese herb formulas like Pe Min Kan Wan, Bi Yan Pian, or Xanthium Pills are all aimed at treating the wind-heat or wind-cold to decrease symptoms of allergies, and many people find to be effective symptom relievers without the side-effects of pharmaceutical drugs. (available at Life in Balance Acupuncture.)
  5. Get acupuncture.  A study published in the Australian Journal of Medicine suggests that acupuncture provides safe, effective treatment for persistent seasonal allergies, even 12 weeks after the course of treatment. But you may already know that!

It’s starting to feel like spring here in the Willamette Valley. Plants are emerging from their winter dormancy, flowers are budding, the days are getting longer. This same seasonal cycle that we  observe in the outer world of nature is also happening inside our bodies. The enlivening and renewing of spring is associated with the Liver and Gallbladder system in Chinese Medicine. This system encompasses not only your physical liver and gall bladder that you know and love, but also with the tendons and connective tissue, the eyes, and the free flow of emotions, the creative drive or as the beginning phase of a new endeavor and the envisioning, planning, decision-making that go along with it, and the emotion of anger (short temper, impatience, frustration also). The upward and outward movement of qi in spring resonates with those same energetics within us.

How can you give your liver a break and move with the natural rhythms of spring?

  • Go outside and breathe some fresh air, exercising for 30 minutes. Healthy lung qi helps invigorate stuck Liver qi.
  • Do some qigong or yoga to allowing your qi to flow freely, and to maintain flexibility in the tendons and connective tissue, which is associated with the Liver.
  • Forgive someone. Holding onto anger and resentment constrains the Liver Qi. Let it go!
  • Eat Lightly.  Our Livers help us get rid of the heavy stagnation we might have accumulated during the winter (which might manifest as seasonal allergies as the sludge moves up to eyes and nose). Leaving behind the heavier foods of winter, especially heavy meats, dairy products, and wheat, can help you move into spring feeling lighter.
  • Consider cutting down on your liver’s workload by eliminating alcohol, refined sugar, and anything artificial like fake sugar, alcohol, pesticides and herbicides. Even if you don’t want to do this  forever, consider giving your liver a week or two off from known toxins — a spring vacation from toxins.
  • Eat green and pungent. Foods with a pungent taste like onions and garlic, peppermint, basil, dill, fennel, turmeric, rosemary, parsley resonate with the upward, outward direction of the season and can be helpful in eliminating venting the winter sluggishness. Young, tender shoots and green leaves, like asparagus, rabe, bean sprouts, and pretty much anything green and leafy kale, collard greens, watercress, romaine, dandelion, parsley are tremendously beneficial to detoxify that liver. If your digestion is weak, stick to cooked vegetables as opposed to raw, which require more energy to digest.
  • Drink hot water with lemon first thing in the morning. A little bit of the sour taste helps to gently help the liver slough off toxins. But too much sour will not be good for the liver, so think moderation.
  • Enjoy life!

Chinese Medicine is based on the notion that humans are connected to the Nature. What’s happening out in nature is also happening in us. Winter is a time when the world gets dark, quiet, stillness, and dormant. Animals hibernate, trees pull their sap inward, conserving their energy until the spring. This time of year is associated with the Water element, which in the body correlates with the Kidneys.

The Kidney is paired with the urinary bladder and is responsible for anything having to do with aging, the lower back and lower body, bones, teeth, hearing, hair on the head, as well as growth, development, reproductive organs, adrenals, the emotion of fear, and the Will. Here are some tips to support your Kidney qi this time of year and help stay in harmony with the season:

1) As the days get shorter, so should yours. Conserve your qi by going to bed early and getting up with the sun.
2) Get quiet and inward with qigong, meditation, or yoga.
3) Stay warm. Dress warmly. Secure the exterior of your body by massaging your skin with warm sesame oil before bathing.
4) Eat hearty soups, stews, especially those involving Kindey-nourishing beans like black, aduki, and kidney, and other foods with a natural salty taste like miso, seaweeds (especially cooked into soup), millet, barley. Seeds and nuts, as the most yin part of the plant, resonate with the season as well. Walnuts, black sesame seeds, and almonds help support Kindey yang, yin, and Essence respectively. Avoid salads, fruit juices, and adding too much salt to your food.
5) Warm up with spices like cinnnamon, nutmeg, clove, ginger, if you tend to feel cold.

If you honor your yin this season, abundant yang is bound to spring forth in the next.

In the Pacific Northwest, where I live and practice Chinese Medicine, the cessation of the long rainy season (late June this year) marks the dramatic start of summer, and people take off running. More than a few patients report that there is so much they want experience this summer that they pack their schedules full:  entertaining a string of out-of-town guests, tending enormous gardens, going on epic hikes and bike rides, lots of parties and cookouts. And yet, with all the doing of these activities which should add up to satisfaction from getting the most out of life, many people confess to feeling depleted.  They are exhausted as they attempt to keep up with the demands of the season.  Feelings of depression often accompany such fatigue — feelings which can be confusing because adding more “fun stuff” to their schedule is not actually increasing their joy—it’s depleting it! What is happening here is that people are getting caught up in the yang of the season, expending too much of their own yang qi, and burning up their yin in the process.

Summer is the most yang of the seasons. It is associated with the element of  Fire, the emotion of joy.  As we resonate with the season, the urge to do more, to get up earlier and stay up later, and to be more social is natural. But too much of that throws us off balance. Even in the summer, it’s not daytime all the time — we still have to cycle through nighttime. And living in a culture that already emphasizes yang over yin  — doing over being — no matter what the season, it doesn’t take much to tip the balance.

To help you make the most of this active, vibrant season while still feeling exuberant yourself, I offer four tips:

  • Begin the day with gratitude.  What do you appreciate about your life right now, without doing a thing?
  • Schedule in unstructured time.  Yes, I’m encouraging you somewhat ironically to plan to be spontaneous. Doing what feels right in the moment is one of the virtues of the Fire element.
  • Take time to be alone.  Some people need this more than others, but even the most natural extroverts need time to connect with themselves in order to connect authentically with others.
  • Balance your active, productive, busy yang schedule by adding yin items to your “to do” list.  Anything restful, quiet, and peaceful qualifies.  I suggest actually writing in the yin elements of your schedule.  Putting a check mark next to “sit outside and appreciate the flowers” helps to satisfy the need to accomplish something while ensuring that what you’re accomplishing actually leads to feelings of joy, rather than burnout.

May you enjoy the season to the fullest!