the "mini" season between summer & fall can be a game-changer if you work it right
There are five elements in Chinese Medicine, and each one is associated with a season:
In TCM (traditional Chinese Medicine) and daoist philosophies, the Earth element is the center of of the five elements and is the base everything is built upon. So this associated season can be one of the most powerful places to start to maintain your health. The earth element is also said to nourish the muscles in the body, so this is a great time to make some changes if you are dealing with stiffness, fatigue, or chronic pain related to muscle injuries.
To honor this season and your body there are a number of things you can do to harmonize with Late Summer:
So don't just let this time of year pass you by unnoticed. Take your health to heart and give yourself some nourishment as we head into fall and you'll breeze through cold and flu season easily. And to my fellow Texans, I can't wait to see y'all outside on the porch now that this brutal summer is winding down!
Steroid injections work great for some people, but for many people the relief is temporary. New studies are showing that long term use of steroids increases cartilage loss in knees. Acupuncture provides many people with relief without any side effects. Why not try it before you and your doctor decide to do an injection?
Here's some highlight from this study on Medscape:
"Patients underwent magnetic resonance imaging at the beginning and end of the study to provide data on cartilage volume and soft-tissue structures. Among the 119 patients who completed the study, those receiving triamcinolone lost about twice as much cartilage as those in the placebo group. Specifically, the intervention group lost an average 0.21 mm in index compartment cartilage thickness compared with 0.10 mm in the control group (for a mean difference of −0.11 mm: 95% confidence interval, −0.20 to −0.03 mm)."
tldr? those taking steroids had twice as much cartilage loss in their knees.
""Also, the rate of cartilage loss in this study was commensurate with that observed in prior natural history studies, so it is likely that the difference in cartilage loss rates between groups was due to an adverse effect of intra-articular corticosteroids on cartilage rather than a benefit from intra-articular saline," the authors write."
But what's it mean? The authors thought it pertinent enough to point out - it wasn't so much that the saline injections created good outcomes, so much as the steroid injections created worsening conditions for cartilage. Damn.
How to stay healthy & Cool in the texas summer
Well last week was the solstice, summer is officially here!
The is an auspicious day in Chinese Medicine and Daoist philosophy, because it represents the most yang part of the year. Yang is represented by the sun and summer time, by warmth and activity, so the longest day of the year is also the yangest day of the year.
So this is a good time to seek balance with yin, which is represented by the moon and nighttime, winter and cooling darkness. Day time is longer, so we should be getting up earlier with the sun, and staying up later too. Wait, get up earlier and stay up later you say? Yup.
But how exactly do we do that? Well, people in hotter climates have known for years - afternoon naps, or Siestas here in South Texas. I know, I know, that's not always doable for some of us. But we can still try to embody the idea by making sure we don't overdo it during the hottest the part of the day. So try not to go to the gym between 3-5, maybe wait and go the evening class, or wake up extra early and go before work. Just make sure that during the heat of the day, late afternoon, you can find shade and do activities that aren't too strenuous, and let yourself stay up a little later to enjoy the cooler evening this time of year.
Another thing we need to focus on during this time of year is hydration. Drink up all the water! And you're not gonna want to hear this, but try to avoid the ice. For real though. Ice makes your stomach work harder to heat up the water, which raises your overall body temperature in the long run. Room temperature water, or even hot tea is better. Hot water opens up the blood vessels and increases blood flow, reducing body temperature overall in the long run. Mint and Chrysanthemum flowers are both great cooling herbs to put in those teas. I've got some 8 treasures tea at the clinic right now which contains some organic chrysanthemums, stop by to grab one before we run out!
Speaking of herbal medicine, did you know that watermelons are basically the best thing you can consume during the summer? They are naturally cooling, contain great electrolytes, and are more hydrating than water! Food is medicine! The strongest part of this medicine though, is in the white rind, so eat down as far as you can at that bbq this weekend. Mung beans are another great cooling food to add to your summer diet. You can make a side, a soup, or even turn your soup into a cooling summer mung bean popsicle. In fact, you definitely should, as Betty pointed out, they are cooling, and drain damp heat. With all the rain we've been getting this year, it's important to drain it out.
This is especially important during the summer, because you know what else causes damp heat? Basically everything we eat during a BBQ. Unfortunately. Fatty foods, butter, cheese, charred and grilled meats, these all cause dampness and heat. What is damp heat? Well its that time of year where it gets hot and wet, and then we put all the hot and wet food on top of it and we get common symptoms such as:
If not though, use the above strategies to keep cool and stay healthy this summer season!
Do you struggle with symptoms related to anxiety and stress? I've got some ways to help with that!
I could tell you all about how it's super common, and link to all the statistics and sites that say it's becoming an epidemic of the modern age. But you already know this, so I'm not gonna waste your time or mine. Instead I'm just gonna get straight to the point - what can you do help reduce your own stress and anxiety?
Common Misconceptions can delay or prevent treatment of the problem
Almost everyday someone asks me if acupuncture can help their sciatica because they haven't been able to find anything that works. And the answer is of course it can help. Here is a great meta analysis for you science geeks. TLDR? Don't worry I got you:
Okay now that we know acupuncture can help sciatica, let's get to the key part of this post - the basic misunderstanding of sciatica:
Okay, but what's that mean? A diagnosis is the reason a thing is happening, and a syndrome is just a description of the pain. E.g. Kidney stones are the diagnosis behind urinary pain. This may just seem like semantics but it's important that you know the mechanism causing your pain or you might not be getting the appropriate treatment.
Sciatic pain can be caused by a number of things, but is most often caused by a disc issue in the low back - which could be caused by a degenerative problem, a herniation, pregnancy, and even spondylolisthesis. Imaging such as x-rays and MRIs can help us learn if there really is a disc issue. But honestly lost of people have disc problems who never even have any symptoms. So even when people have sciatic pain are diagnosed with a disc issue, that might not still be the root cause. Often times sciatic pain is caused by something caused Piriformis Syndrome and has nothing to do with the low back. Here, take a look at the sciatic nerve:
As you can see it travels all the way down the back of the leg after it comes out from the lumbar spine, and goes right underneath the piriformis muscle. So when the muscle is very tight it can also compress the sciatic nerve, causing the exact same symptoms as lumbar based sciatic pain. If you have a piriformis problem but no one ever treats it, then you're not going to get lasting results. Of course some distal treatments on the channel can relieve some pain, but that tight piriformis is still there and it's going to start impinging on the sciatic nerve again. Thus, proper diagnosis is very important for effective treatment.
Luckily there are a number of physical assessments that a provider can do to determine if the issue is back related, piriformis related, or in some cases even both. So here's the rub, you're going to have to advocate for yourself. If your provider hears your symptoms and diagnoses you with "sciatica" but never does any physical assessment (or even simple palpation), then you may need to go see someone else who has a better understanding of the complexities involved with sciatic pain.
Finally, when you and your provider figure out what is causing the sciatic, then the treatment approach can be determined and your protocol can start. With low back and spinal/disc related sciatic pain, working on the low back with acupuncture needles can decrease pain by stimulating blood flow and relaxing the muscles which puts less strain on the spine and discs. Acupuncturists also use a variety of distal techniques meaning they can treat the pain in the channel from different areas of the body, so don't be surprised if they put needles all over the body. For piriformis related sciatic pain, the focus will of course be on the piriformis and releasing this muscle's tightness to let up the pressure from its exerting on the sciatic nerve.
If you're struggling with sciatic pain, contact Red Raven Acupuncture and come in for an assessment and see if you would be a good candidate for this approach. Stay Healthy, friends.
I wanted to talk about a nice trend I've started to see in patients this year, and it has to do with the transition from sick care to self care. Now what exactly do I mean by that? For an brief introduction, read my post on When To Try Acupuncture. But for now let's start with some definitions to help clear things up -
Sick Care: Seeking treatment or changing lifestyle to treat symptoms to find relief and stop the disease process.
Self Care: Seeking treatment or changing lifestyle before symptoms occur, making sure the body never starts the disease process.
This year I have seen a huge shift in patients coming in earlier and more regularly for treatments, and it's been tremendously helpful for their long term health. Instead of waiting for that little bit of neck tension to become a full blown headache or muscle spasm, people have been coming in to get it knocked out right away. Or when they start to feel a little run down or stressed out they come in for a treatment to boost their energy or chill them out. Why is this important? Because the longer you've been dealing with something, the longer it takes to get it taken care of. Think about how quickly you can lose muscle strength when you stop going to gym regularly, or how quickly your stamina goes down when you stop going for long walks or runs. You have to build up over time, and the same is true for your overall health.
Make this change for yourself comes down to one key thing: understanding when your body is starting to tell you it's getting run down. The top three signs that I see in patients coming in that let you body is starting to get out of balance are:
Recognizing these early warning signs it what will help you turn sick care into self care. Figuring out what self care is best for you is the next step. Of course I'm partial to acupuncture, as are most of my patients, but that is by no means the only form of self care. Massages are great for it, and if you can convince your family or friends to do it, some nice massages at home can be a game changer! Taking time to talk a nice long walk in nature can relieve a huge amount of stress and give your body a basic reset that it needs. Your know what your body loves and what makes it feel good, just try to listen more if you aren't sure. Stay healthy, friends!
The secret is...
Make it FUN!
I know, too simple right? Nope. It really is that simple. Studies show that if you don't enjoy it then you will grow to despise it and quit. Plus the stress hormones released from the act of forcing yourself to go can lead to weight gain. Forcing yourself to go to the gym if you don't enjoy can literally have the opposite effect.
So what do we do to make it fun? After years of trying to figure it out I've come up with a few tips:
Can Acupuncture and chinese herbs help with diabetes? The short answer is YES!
Diabetes is very common in my clinic and in San Antonio. We lead the national average by more than 4% and by 65, 1 in 3 San Antonians will have diabetes. But there's a lot that Acupuncture and Chinese Medicine can do to curb that number, help with symptoms, and even balance hormones and blood sugars. It provides another great way to manage diabetes in addition to medication, and lifestyle and nutritional changes.
As we consume food, the body breaks it down into glucose (sugar) and is passed into the bloodstream. Then the body uses insulin to transport the glucose in to muscles, fat and liver cells. In diabetes though, the pancreas does not produce enough insulin to transport the insulin and leaves the sugar in the bloodstream. This elevates sugar levels and leads to serious issues that if left untreated can cause blindness, heart attack, or kidney failure to name a few.
How Acupuncture Can Help
Acupuncture is a holistic approach to healthcare that nurtures the body by inserting very fine sterile needles into specific places in the body to promote healing. To learn more about the basics of acupuncture puncture check out this blog post. Ultimately acupuncture works on the regulatory systems in the body to help balance hormones and make insulin work more effectively. Combined with herbs patients often see marked differences in their symptoms and well-being. Of course, one should always work with their doctor and follow their instructions for using insulin. But pairing acupuncture and chinese herbs with dietary changes and lifestyle changes like exercise, patients can learn to manage their diabetes easier and live a fuller life.
People ask all the time, what exactly is acupuncture and how does it work? This is not a simple question to answer, but in this post I will attempt to provide an easy to understand explanation for the basic mechanisms and principles behind acupuncture.
Acupuncture is an ancient form of medical treatment that has had millenia to evolve into a complete holistic health care system. Licensed Providers use acupuncture and Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) as a treatment method helping millions or people become well and stay that way. Its non-invasive approach is not only almost completely painless, but has relatively few risks and side effects when compared to traditional Western medical interventions like pharmaceuticals and surgery.
Acupuncture encourages the body to heal itself naturally by enhancing immunity and the inherent recuperative powers we have. Through natural approaches, it improves overall function and well-being. One if those approaches is through the process of balancing 'Qi'.
Qi (or Chee) is an innate property of the body that flows through pathways which are called meridians in TCM. This substance provides nourishment to organs and cells in the body through the use of specific points activated by tiny needles. When this system gets blocked there is an imbalance which causes illness and symptoms to appear.
The Movement of Qi
Most imbalances are easily fixed by the body's inherent ability to heal. The body wants to be in balance and can usually find a way to get back to it. However, if the disruption is extreme or chronic, or the your body is already compromised and weakened, then disease, pain, and illnesses can take root.There are 15 main meridians in the body that Qi flows through in a day. Each one is connected to a specific organ system or gland. Think of the system as like a flowing river, where the river flows, life blossoms. Where Qi flows, the tissues of the body blossom - and healing occurs.
When the river stagnates, the flow is stopped and qi cannot get where it needs to and illness/pain occurs. This can happen through traumas - physical and emotional - stress, working too much, not working out enough, poor eating habits, or a number of other things the influence the abundance of Qi in the body.
More and more evidence is coming out showing that stimulation of acupuncture points causes the release and regulation of neurochemicals and hormones, helping restore the body's natural healing abilities and return it to a state of balance. Whether it's influencing the nervous system to relax in patients dealing with PTSD, helping break the cycle in patients suffering from chronic pain, or helping increase energy for patients suffering from Depression - the regenerative powers of TCM and Acupuncture are astounding.
During an initial treatment, a full health history is recorded and questions are about lifestyle and current symptoms. A physical examination is conducted including taking traditional pulse and tongue evaluations. This allows the practitioner to find Qi imbalances causing the symptoms and root cause of the illness. They will create a plan and begin inserting tiny, sterile needles in the appropriate acupuncture points. This can unblock the stagnation and rebalance the Qi. Ultimately this can eliminate pain, and return the body's natural ability to heal.
The path of qi through the organ systems throughout the day:
Let’s talk about each of the channel systems in order from the #chinesebodyclock Everyday your qi travels through the channel system at specific times correlation to each of the organ systems. During these times there are some things that your body will respond extremely well to and have outlines some of them here so you can get just a little more in touch with your body. There are also things that should be avoided during these times as they can damage the the vital flow of qi and lead to longterm stagnation or disease. Here is a nice list of the first half of that systme.
5-7 AM: Wake up!
The Large Intestine’s time is from 5-7am and this is the best time for you to wake up. Drink a glass of water at room temperature, or even better warm water with lemon, to help facilitate your first “movement” 💩 Moistening the intestines and replenishing your body’s fluids is the perfect way to start your day!
Try not to sleep in as this can damage your qi and make you lethargic for the rest of the day. Even if you're tired, just get up and try to get that qi flowing. This is also not a great time for excessive thinking or mental strain, and it's best to avoid sex this early as it can also leave you drained for the rest of the day.
7-9 AM: The most important meal of the deal! For real though.
The next stop is 7-9am and corresponds to the Stomach. This is the best time to eat breakfast, take a little walk, and start working. Breakfast should be a warm #congee as it helps build the digestive fire 🔥 in the body. Cold cereal will douse the fire and can lead to chronic digestive disorders. An oat or rice based congee with go ji berries and walnuts is one of my personal favorites. 😋 The walnuts are great to support the kidneys and the go ji berries support the qi and the immune system.
Do not skip you breakfast!! I could write volumes on how important breakfast is, so be sure not to skip it. Also, don't rush your breakfast, or eat while scrolling social media and watching the news. Feelings of anxiety stop the digestive function of the body. Eat in a nice calm and quiet environment.
9-11 AM: Get to work!
From 9-11 am the spleen does its thing. It’s important to have eaten before this time because this is when the spleen will start to digest and build your #qi This is the best time to start strenuous activities like working out or working on a complex project for work or school because you have access to that brand new qi from your healthy warm breakfast ☺️😋🙏
Don't let that energy go to waste on social media. this is one of the most productive times a day. Help yourself stay focused and get a lot done by limiting social media. And don't wait to be told what to do, get to work on your projects even if you don't feel motivated to get started. you'll be amazed at how fast you can get into work during the phase of the qi cycle.
11-1 PM: Heart Healthy Lunch ❤️
This is of course the time to have lunch. This is the time of day when our digestive fire is peaking so its great to have all those hard to digest things like meat and raw fruits and vegetables. The emotion associated with the heart is JOY, so this is a great time of day to connect with peoiple who bring you joy. Have lunch with your dear ones and nourish the love in your life. The heart houses the "shen" or "spirit" in Chinese medicine, and the shen will grow strong if nourished in the right ways! It's is also a great time of day to take a short nap to keep your heart strong.
Don't focus on meaningless activities. The Heart is about joy! If you focus on stuff that is trivial, it can lead to feelings of meaningless in life. Make sure that activities done during this cycle are important to you.
1-3 PM: Get organized!
The Small Intestine sorts out “the good from the bad” in our gut. So the time from 1-3 pm is a great time to sort out the good from the bad in your life. Organize your life and get rid of what doesn’t bring you joy haha! If y’all are on Netflix you know what I’m talking about. Check out #mariekondo on her new show #tidyingup and find your #unexpectedjoy .
Now this is not the time to focus on the meaningful work, this is about discernment. Find the bad in your life and clean it out, find the good in your life and clean it up. But don't start new projects and bring fresh ideas in. Focus on the stuff that's already in your life and how it can help you.