The Perfect Diet

Paleo? Vegetarian?  Low-fat?  Low-carb? Vegan? Plant-based? Dairy-free?  Low-calorie? Gluten-free? Food combining?  According to your blood type?

All of these dietary regimens have their die-hard proponents who claim theirs is the perfect and healthiest way to eat.  Staunch supporters of such dietary regimens are often downright hostile if you suggest their way of eating may not be right for you.  I have read more than one nasty Facebook thread about differences of opinion about the right way to eat.  Fascinating how there seems to be so many “ideal” ways to eat. It’s almost like what may work for one person doesn’t necessarily work for another person.

Is there really a perfect way to eat?

Actually, Chinese medicine would say yes, there is a perfect way to eat, and the fantastic thing is that your perfect way to eat may not be my perfect way to eat.  The perfect way to eat differs according to a variety of factors, including your current health, your activity level, your constitution, the season of the year, the climate in which you live, your age, and your health history.  Why would we not consider all these things when determining how to eat?

The perfect way to eat in the summer is not the perfect way to eat in the fall.  The perfect way to eat in Toronto is not the perfect way to eat in Ecuador.  The perfect way to eat for a woman of child-bearing age is not the perfect way to eat for a 78 year-old man.  The perfect way to eat for a triathlete is not perfect way to eat for a monk who meditates eight hours a day.  The perfect way to eat when recovering from surgery or illness is not the perfect way to eat when you are strong and well.

This reasoning extends not just to the type of food you eat but also to how you prepare your food.  Grilling, lightly steaming or not cooking at all are more suited for summer and warmer environments.  Baking and roasting are more common and appropriate in cooler weather.

Think about how silly it is to claim that everyone, at all times, should eat the same way.  That stance is utterly absurd.  Your body’s needs differ at any given time, and a healthy diet is one that accommodates your situation. A healthy diet is one that helps you feel energetic, clear-headed, emotionally centered, and allows you to sleep soundly.  Food is medicine, and not everyone needs the same prescription.

Some people have a greater need for meat in their diet.  Some people have a greater need for green vegetables in their diet.  Some people need more fruit, some more grains.  Some people should really avoid raw food and some people should eat more of it.

Instead of letting the next diet book or latest super food craze dictate how you eat, maybe tune in to how you feel. What foods make you feel vibrant and clear?  What foods seem to unsettle you or make you feel foggy and sluggish?  That is your body trying to tell you something, and it is perfectly ok to listen—even if it seems to conflict with what other people say suits them.

If you have questions about how Chinese dietary ideas can support your specific health needs, please call to make an appointment at 323-475-9282. I would love to be of service.

But What Are the Needles Actually Doing? Part 3

This is the final installment in the blog series summarizing the effects of acupuncture according to Western science.  What follows is what we know about acupuncture and the changes it makes in your circulation.

It makes sense that when you insert a needle, even a very small one like an acupuncture needle, that the body increases blood flow to the area.  It pays attention and starts to shift resources to the area.  This is a reasonable explanation for how acupuncture can help issues such as muscle pain.  It brings healing resources to the area, including more blood and oxygen, to release tension and repair tissue.

What is perhaps less predictable, however, is that inserting a needle into the skin can also create particular shifts in blood flow to other parts of the body.  This has been demonstrated in relation to acupuncture.

A needle in an acupuncture point called Liver 3, which is located on the top of the foot between the big toe and second toe, is classically indicated for eye problems and diseases of the head such as dizziness, vertigo, and headache.  Interestingly enough, stimulation of this acupuncture point in a study was associated with measurable changes in circulation to the upper part of the body.

Likewise, an acupuncture point called Stomach 36, which is located on the shin, is classically indicated for digestive issues and problems of the abdomen.  The same researchers demonstrated a shift in blood flow to the blood vessels that supply the abdomen when this point was needled.

Amazing, no?

Let’s summarize.  Acupuncture has been shown to make changes in the nervous system, especially the central nervous system.  Acupuncture has also been shown to alter and balance the major categories of chemicals in your system.  These include hormones, neurotransmitters, and opioids.  Finally, acupuncture has been shown to change circulation and blood flow in your body.

A teacher of mine says, “When you insert an acupuncture needle, a million things happen.”  This makes sense since our bodies are highly intricate systems, and when you influence one part it also creates changes in other parts.  There is no way to avoid a systemic shift. That is why acupuncture is so versatile and useful for so many health problems.  It is why it can treat asthma and sciatica, eating disorders and herniated discs, sinus congestion and infertility.  When you balance the body as a whole, many conditions improve.

If you are interested in experiencing the healing effects of acupuncture, please call to make an appointment. I would love to be of service. 323-475-9282

But What Are the Needles Actually Doing? Part 2

The last blog discussed the changes in the body created by acupuncture, specifically in the nervous system.  This installment discusses the change in the body’s chemicals associated with acupuncture treatment.

Once you start making changes in the activity of the nervous system, shifts in the levels of chemicals in your body are not far behind.  Acupuncture has been associated with changes in levels of numerous categories of chemicals in the body.  Your body has its own pharmacy, and acupuncture is one way to access this pharmacy.

The first type of substances associated with acupuncture is what is called an endogenous opioid.  (Endogenous just means that your body produces them on its own.)  These are the chemicals your body produces to provide pain relief since they resemble substances like morphine and other narcotics.  Examples of opioids are endorphins and enkephalins.  These chemicals are associated not only with pain relief, but also with a feeling of well-being and even euphoria.  You have heard of an endorphin high, right?  This was one of the first areas researched because practitioners working with heroin addicts noted that those who received acupuncture had significantly fewer withdrawal symptoms than those who did not receive acupuncture.  An endorphin release is also thought to be why people feel so good after an acupuncture treatment.

The second category of substances is the neurotransmitter.  Neurotransmitters are chemicals responsible for communicating between the cells of the nervous system.  Examples are serotonin and dopamine.  The regulatory influence that acupuncture has on neurotransmitters would explain the positive results of studies regarding acupuncture and depression.

Acupuncture has been shown to boost the effectiveness of SSRI medications.  Also, in a large study in Britain (1), acupuncture was as effective as cognitive behavioral therapy in a comparison of usual care, acupuncture plus usual care, and cognitive behavioral therapy plus usual care.  At 3 months usual care alone was the least effective intervention measured in that study. Both acupuncture and cognitive behavioral therapy produced faster results when added to the treatment protocol.

The third category of chemicals is hormones. Acupuncture has demonstrated an influence on various hormones that regulate reproductive and sexual function (estrogen and testosterone), hormones that regulate the appetite (leptin and ghrelin), and hormones that regulate blood sugar, bone growth and other functions (cortisol).  This would explain why acupuncture has been shown useful for issues like polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) and other gynecological disorders, appetite dysregulation issues, and male and female infertility.

The chemicals in your body greatly determine how you feel on a moment to moment basis.  Between the changes in your nervous system and the chemicals circulating throughout your system, acupuncture has a profound influence on the overall balance of your body.

Stay tuned for the next installment, which examines how acupuncture affects the circulatory system.

(1) MacPherson, H., et al. Acupuncture and Counselling for Depression in Primary Care: A Randomised Controlled Trial, PLoS Med. Sep 2013; 10(9): e1001518. Published online Sep 24, 2013. doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.1001518

But What Are the Needles Actually Doing? Part 1

This is a common question from people who come to try acupuncture for the first time.

“When you put the needle in, what is it actually doing?”

There are two ways to answer this, the Eastern way and the Western way.  The simplified version of the Eastern is that the needles are stimulating points along the energy pathways of your body.  Stimulating the points helps regulate the flow of energy throughout the entire body and improves how your body functions.

The Western version can be summed up as the following.  We aren’t entirely sure why acupuncture works, but we have noticed through research that it seems to do certain things consistently.  It stimulates and regulates the nervous system; it shifts the chemical balance in your body; and it alters circulation.

Below is a summary of what we have seen with acupuncture and the nervous system.  Additional blogs will summarize what acupuncture does with your chemicals and circulation.

One major effect of acupuncture on the nervous system is to regulate the sympathetic and parasympathetic branches of your autonomic nervous system.  These are the two complementary sides of the autonomic system.  The sympathetic is the system responsible for the fight-or-flight response, when your body and mind think you are in danger of some sort and need to react quickly.  The parasympathetic is the mode responsible for slower and more relaxed responses, such as digestion. Acupuncture balances and modulates which mode you are in, which explains the happy “side effect” of acupuncture: most people get very relaxed during and after the treatment and many fall asleep while resting on the table.

The ability to shift people into a more relaxed state is thought to be how acupuncture can treat diseases associated with too much activity of the sympathetic nervous system.  Issues such as cardiovascular problems, anxiety and nervousness, digestive disorders (like IBS), and fertility issues all have a nervous system component.  Acupuncture has been shown to be clinically effective in all these conditions.

Stimulation of acupuncture points has also been associated with altered activity in certain areas of the brain.  For instance, points that are clinically indicated for vision and eye problems have been shown to increase blood flow to the occipital lobe, which is an area associated with vision.

Recent studies in acupuncture for Alzheimer’s and dementia have suggested that acupuncture also increases communication between different parts of the brain (which is compromised in these conditions).

An important fact to remember is that acupuncture has been shown to influence not just the parts of the brain responsible for the perception of pain and physical sensation, but it has also shown an influence on the part of the brain responsible for how you emotionally and mentally process the world.  This explains how acupuncture can be used for both physical and mental illness.

Finally, remember that acupuncture regulates, and for that reason it is very safe.  We are using your body’s own resources, and the body tends toward balance.  Unlike pharmaceuticals or surgical intervention, we are not imposing change on the body. We are stimulating the body’s innate healing mechanisms so it can regulate itself.

Stay tuned for the next blog about the chemical changes acupuncture makes in your body.

If you have questions about how acupuncture and Chinese medicine can help your health, please call me at 323-475-9282.