acupuncture, health, herbal medicine

Get your free Herbs, Health & Acupressure ebook

ebook cover HHAThe fabulous naturopath Kathleen Murphy and I co-authored a little gem of an e-book a short while ago. It followed on from a presentation that we gave at the packed Blue Lotus tent at the Woodford Folk Festival.

We wanted to teach some simple self care techniques we often talk about in our clinics for these common health complaints:

  • Digestive disorders
  • Insomnia
  • Fatigue
  • Pain

Kathleen covered the easy homemade herbal remedies and I taught some simple acupressure techniques.

To thank you for following or subscribing to my blog (you can subscribe using the link on the right side of the page) I wanted to offer you a free copy of the e-book: “An introduction to health, herbs & acupressure: simple tips and home remedies for good health.”

Click here to download the ebook – herbs health acupressure 2013 for free!

To book an appointment at the clinic or further information on Chinese Medicine contact Dr Sarah George (Acupuncture).  Sarah is a practitioner of acupuncture (AHPRA registered), massage therapy and natural health.

acupuncture, emotional health, herbal medicine, mental health

Three herbs a Jedi Knight may be prescribed to develop the Force within.

In conjunction with herbal medicine, meditation and training, slow cooked soups and congee would help to maintain a Jedi Knight’s strength.

Someone once suggested on my facebook page that I should write a blog combining herbal medicine and Star Wars.

GEEK ALERT! (Although, if you read between the lines this post may also be useful for regular civilians just like us.)

So the proposed topic was this:

“Which three herbs would Jedi Knights use to grow, develop and manage the Force within?”

I imagine that the scenario would go like this. A Jedi Knight has come for a consultation with me at my clinic. He or she is in need of:

  • increased physical energy (to keep up with extensive light saber dual training),
  • good mental clarity (for maintaining peace and justice in the galaxy), and
  • to be able to keep one’s cool in stressful dispute and battle-style scenarios involving moral and ethical dilemmas. And to definitely not give in to anger.

Sounds familiar to what we all need to prosper in a busy, modern life doesn’t it?

The herbs that immediately spring to mind for this patient are:

  • Siberian ginseng – this herb is one of the physical endurance greats! One study showed that it could enhance  endurance by 23% and that participants could tolerate a greater cardiac requirement during exercise when compared with placebo.
  • Ginkgo biloba – the extract of the leaf of the gingko tree has been associated with improved cognitive function.  Memory response times were improved in this study of middle aged women after taking ginkgo biloba in this study.
  • Kava – when extracted in water, this herb is excellent for reducing stress and anxiety. Interestingly, a systematic review found that kava taken at regular doses also either improves cognition or at least has minimal negative effect. So, that means our Jedi is relaxed without compromising performance.

Of course, the actual herbs I would prescribe for the Jedi Knight would be based on their individual health history and may differ from the above. I’m sure that a Jedi Knight would also make use of acupuncture for the above treatment goals and to aid injury repair.

This post is for a bit of fun but don’t forget that herbs are still medicines. And they should be treated with the same respect as any other medicines in regards to safety and dosing. For best results, see a practitioner for an individualised herbal formula that bests suits your needs.

If you need a Star Wars related tasty treat now, here’s a recipe for darkside decadence: the gluten-free biscuit.

To book an appointment at the clinic or further information on Chinese Medicine contact Dr Sarah George (Acupuncture).  Sarah is a practitioner of acupuncture (AHPRA registered), massage therapy and natural health.

aromatherapy, Diet, herbal medicine, mental health, Traditional Chinese Medicine

5 natural medicine tips for surviving the exam period

Exam time is notorious for late nights of sugar and caffeine fueled binges.  Your stress levels soar and your sleep quantity plummets. This handy venn diagram explains the delicate balance between study, sleep and social life. I have compiled a list of natural medicine tips to help you cruise through the exam period light a Jedi!

  1. Feed your brain – Instead of reaching for that family size block of chocolate and the whole bag of M&Ms to get you through a night of study look instead to increasing your intake of nature’s brain foods. Traditional Chinese Medicine considers that optimal thinking and optimal digestion are related. Take yourself away from your books to eat and eat foods that you know make you feel well. Nuts (walnuts even look like a brain!), seeds and fish are good sources of omega 3 fatty acids which are essential to maintaining good nervous system function. Increasing your vegetable and wholegrain intake will keep your energy levels more stable than a sugar binge will, so that you’ll feel energised yet calm. For short burst energy snacks pick some snacks such as berries, sliced fruit or dried fruits. Keep up the water too – your brain needs to be adequately hydrated to perform at its best!
  2. Sleep on it – The time when you lose the most sleep is often when you need it most. If you can, make sure that you have covered (or at least skimmed) the content you need at least the day before your exam and then aim for 8 hours sleep that night. You will be calmer, have greater focus and clarity, and improved memory recall.
  3. Vaporise essential oils – There has been some fascinating research on the use of smells and memory recall via the limbic system. We’ve all experienced a time when a smell has invoked a memory from our past. Use this to your advantage as you study. Vaporise the essential oil of your choosing while you study a particular topic. When you enter the exam room put a drop of that same essential on a tissue and tuck it into your shirt. This may increase your memory recall from when you studied that content. The oils that are most often associated with concentration, focus and memory are lemon, peppermint, basil and rosemary.
  4. Rosemary for remembrance – This herb is known as the memory herb. It is associated in folklore with remembrance and is used on Remembrance Day for this reason. You can use it straight from your garden in cooking, baking or even as a herbal tea (it combines beautifully with lemon myrtle). A study was conducted examining the effects of rosemary on cognitive function. One group was given cold tomato juice to drink while the other had the same tomato juice with added rosemary. The rosemary group performed significantly better than the plain tomato juice group. And interestingly, the plain tomato juice seemed to have a negative impact on cognitive function – so keep clear of it during exams.
  5. Become a herb nerd – There are several herbs that have been researched extensively for concentration, focus and memory function. Two of the most popular ones are ginkgo biloba and bacopa. These herbs are available in tablet form or can be developed by an herbalist into an individualised herbal formula to suit your specific situation. The addition of ginseng is an excellent way to boost energy levels for late night study sessions without the use of strong coffee.

And if the above tips aren’t enough, make sure to check in with your health practitioner to assist your focus and recall. Acupuncture usually works a treat at times of high stress!

To book an appointment at the clinic or further information on Chinese Medicine contact Dr Sarah George (Acupuncture).  Sarah is a practitioner of acupuncture (AHPRA registered), massage therapy and natural health.

acupuncture, emotional health, exercise, mental health, motivational, Traditional Chinese Medicine

The case of the stuck Liver

You wake up, slowly, you’ve already pressed snooze twelve times and still aren’t ready to face the day despite getting a good eight hours sleep. But the day cannot be delayed any further and so after a coffee and a hot shower you’re beginning to lose the grumbles and may actually be able to hold a civil conversation with another human being.

At work, you can’t believe how everyone else is wrong and can’t see how right you are. And on top of that technology is failing and it’s all just so damn FRUSTRATING, you could cry or maybe tear someone’s head off, or maybe both at the same time.

You’ve partially lost your appetite, except for chocolate, coffee and chips which temporarily provide comfort after skipping meals. Trouble is, when you do eat you either get nausea, bloating or some sort of bowel irregularity. You’re also feeling stiff and tight (your neck and shoulders have become a solid block), there’s the feeling of a lump in your throat and you can’t remember the last time you took a decent deep breath although you have done a helluva lot of sighing lately. And this is all made worse the more frustrated and irritated you get (and if you are a lady of reproductive age, just prior to your monthlies). At least you know there’ s a glass of wine/scotch/beer waiting for you at home. You wonder how you got stuck in this mess anyway: the job, the house, the relationship, the debt. Yep, stuck. And tired. And down. That sums it up.

Perhaps it looks a bit like this classic example of frustration:

Welcome to a classical (and slightly over-the-top) presentation of the Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) pattern of Liver Qi Stagnation.  It is a remarkably common syndrome in the modern world and I see a range of these symptoms presenting in patients. You can have one, some or all of these symptoms to be given this TCM diagnosis.

So, what can be done to return you back to your old easy-going self? You can choose one or more of the suggestions below. Addressing the emotional cause is essential to a longer term fix, however the other suggestions can support you through this and make you feel better.

  1. Address the cause of your ‘stuckness’.  If something or someone is bothering you, work it out.  Whether this is through discussion, a new plan or seeing a counselor – find a way to move past or remove your obstacle mentally. The idea is to express yourself and not to bottle everything up. Your aim is to be a ‘free and easy wanderer’ or like a gently bubbling stream meandering through the path of least resistance.
  2. Move your body. Exercise is an excellent way to physically move your stuckness (or stagnant Qi/energy). It doesn’t matter what you choose, as long as you are physically moving and feeling better for it. A mix of cardiovascular exercise (think runner’s high) and stretching (enhance flexibility of body and mind) might be most useful.
  3. Breath deeply. When we are frustrated or angry our breathing becomes fast and shallow. In an effort to get a decent breath out, we often sigh. Take the time to assess your own breathing and if necessary slow the rate down and fill your chest with air right down to your diaphragm. There is research to support that 15 minutes of deep breathing exercises at a rate of <10 breaths per minute with slower exhalations may even have an effect on lowering blood pressure (if it’s high).
  4. Laugh. Laughter, like exercise, physically moves your body. It also promotes a happy feeling and while you are laughing it’s hard to obsess over your frustrations. So go and support your local stand up comedy venue or put on your favourite laugh-out-loud comedy series. Or better still, spend some time with someone you know who makes you giggle – some people just have that knack.
  5. Be creative. Get those creative juices flowing – and the key word here is flowing. Express yourself. Even learn a new creative skill. Whether this is through visual art or writing, starting a crafty project, picking up your guitar or singing your heart out, it will help to coerce that stuck Qi along.
  6. Spice up your life. Okay, this doesn’t come back to the singing point again, what I mean here is to liven up your meals with some light, fragrant and pungent foods – in moderation. Think garlic, onions, ginger, chilli and fresh herbs to boost your circulation.  Of course, eating a diet based on whole foods which are tasty and nutritious will add to your sense of wellbeing.
  7. Take a break. Get away and have a change of scenery and routine for a fresh perspective. Here’s more ways a break can help.
  8. Release the pressure gauge with a treatment. Acupuncture is an excellent way to help you through stuck times. This treatment is excellent for an almost instant feeling of relaxation. Often when you know what have to do but lack the motivation to do them an acupuncture treatment and a few herbs can give you the kick you need to ‘get the ball rolling’.

To book an appointment at the clinic or further information on Chinese Medicine contact Dr Sarah George (Acupuncture).  Sarah is a practitioner of acupuncture (AHPRA registered), massage therapy and natural health.

acupuncture, Diet, exercise, food, herbal medicine, Traditional Chinese Medicine

Drying the damp: feeling well in humid climates

This week in Brisbane the heat and humidity have picked up and it’s no surprise that summer is just around the corner.

Humidity has a tendency to make many of us feel:

  • Heavy
  • Lethargic
  • Fluidy
  • Sweaty and sticky (a skin nightmare!) – use this scrub recipe
  • Unmotivated
  • Irritable or melancholy
  • Foggy headed
  • Not hungry, and yet still craving comfort foods and drinks
  • Nauseous and/or prone to loose bowels

In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) we refer to this syndrome as ‘dampness’.  That is, humidity from the environment, our lifestyle and diet has accumulated in our body and become stagnant, making us feel… bleh.

So, if this sounds like you in humid weather, what can be done?

  1. Keep moving – keep up the exercise even when you feel heavy and unmotivated, it will help you feel better.  Don’t sit for too long, get up regularly.
  2. Stay dry – don’t sit around in sweaty clothes or wet swimsuits.  Towel off properly and get changed.  Also be aware of your living, working and playing environments – are they well ventilated and dry?
  3. Keep up your fluids – it may sound counterproductive to drink more water (2-3L) but we need to promote urination to pass the excess fluid from your system.  That is, clean fluids going in so we can wash away the stagnant ones.
  4. Eat small meals, regularly, and make your lightest meal in the evening.  Don’t overeat.
  5. Reduce sweet, oily, rich and dairy foods – An icy soft drink, creamy gelati or fresh mango may seem like just the treat to give you a refreshing pick up but it will probably have the opposite effect, making you feel heavier and more lethargic than you were before.  Steer clear of  soft drinks, fruit juices, milk shakes, smoothies, ice cream, excessive high-sugar tropical fruits (eg. mangoes and bananas), fatty meats and greasy fried foods.  Before you get upset that I have taken your mango away (because let’s face it, they are delicious), a slice or two after a meal with a slice or two of pawpaw or pineapple is fine for aiding your digestion, we just shouldn’t go crazy on them.  While we are at it, an excessive intake of grains (eg. pasta dishes) will add to the damp feeling.
  6. Eat more light, bitter and pungent foods – these are what you can eat and will help your body reduce excessive fluids that are being held.  Make sure to eat small, light meals that include some ginger, garlic, onions, chili, caraway seeds, aduki (red beans) beans, mung beans, bitter leafy greens, alfalfa sprouts, celery and rye (if gluten is ok). A squeeze of lemon or lime in your food and water will be refreshing. Diuretic teas – nettle leaf,  dandelion, corn silk (here is a recipe on how to make it) and green teas are useful – drink them like they are water.  Barley water can also make for a refreshing diuretic drink, although not for the  gluten intolerant.
  7. Herbs and acupuncture – if the humidity is still knocking you around and the thought of doing anything on this list is beyond you, get some professional help from a herbalist or acupuncturist.  They will choose the right herbs (often bitters) and acupoints to kickstart moving the dampness so that you can then get back on track with the lifestyle and dietary recommendations.

If it’s more the heat than the humidity that is getting to you – here’s some ideas to help you feel cooler.

Eating a diet to resolve dampness isn’t fun.  But neither is feeling heavy, lethargic and unmotivated.  So, do what you can, keep moving and if you can make even just a few of the dietary recommendations you should feel lighter and brighter to enjoy this summer.

To book an appointment at the clinic or further information on Chinese Medicine contact Dr Sarah George (Acupuncture).  Sarah is a practitioner of acupuncture (AHPRA registered), massage therapy and natural health.

acupuncture, exercise, herbal medicine, massage

The natural medicine guide to surviving the Kokoda Challenge (or other 100km hike)

On the weekend, I knocked over The Kokoda Challenge (known as one of Australia’s most gruelling endurance events – 96km of big hills on the Gold Coast Hinterland, that must be completed within 39 hours), for the second time.  Crazy? Yes, definitely.

Was it easier the second time?  Yes and no.

Yes, you know most of the track and what to expect, your training regime should be sorted out, you should know your body well (and its weaknesses) and hopefully you’ve maintained some fitness from last time.

And no, they change the track each year and add some new surprises (which are worse if you knew the easy bits they took out and replaced), conditions change – 50% of the track was coated with either slippery or sticky mud this year – much harder on the legs and lastly, maybe you lose a little bit of drive after completing it successfully before (a voice says, “you’ve done this before, there’s no need to get to the end, you have nothing to prove”).

None-the-less, The Commandettes, crossed the finish line 3 hours ahead of last year’s time.

Here’s my tips, as an acupuncturist, herbalist and massage therapist for getting your body across the line without relying on pharmaceutical pain killers and anti-inflammatories unless you really need them. (And for the record, I didn’t take a single pharmaceutical drug this year due to sticking to this plan).

Please make sure that if you use the ideas listed below that you speak to a qualified acupuncturist or herbalist regarding the specific herbs and supplements and their dosages – everyone is different and herbal medicine is just that – a medicine – so treat the herbs with the same care you would with any other medicine.

  1. Pre-event training
    • Start training well in advance of the event.  Build up the pace and distance gradually.  If you can’t train on the actual track, mimic the conditions as best you can.  Besides building you up for the event, this gives you plenty of time to recognise weaknesses and prevent future injuries.
    • Any niggle, should be assessed by a health professional (eg. physiotherapist, chiropractor or acupuncturist) as early as possible so you can work on fixing it.  It’s common to need specific exercises for the core abdominal muscles and gluteals – great for knee and hip injury prevention.
    • Swelling, pain, inflammation and muscle tension need to be treated as they occur too – see below.
  2. 4 weeks prior to the event
    • Get yourself onto a personalised herbal formula to prepare you to perform at your best.  The particular herbs chosen for your formula will depend on how you have been pulling up on from your training and your overall constitution.  Herbs such as Siberian ginseng and panax ginseng are excellent for endurance, stamina and energy, and even have high quality scientific studies demonstrating their effectiveness for athletic performance.  Herbs such as gotu kola and ginkgo biloba may improve any blood circulation related problems (eg. golfer’s vasculitis, otherwise known as ‘Disney rash’) and may also be useful in healing connective tissue.
    • If you aren’t already, now is the time for some weekly massages and/or acupuncture sessions to iron out any niggles from training – you want your body to be in tip-top shape for the event and not carrying around any left-over tightness which may predispose you to injury.  Acupuncture may also be able to assist with your stamina and treat any injuries you have already sustained.
    • The day before the event – see your acupuncturist again.  They will be able to locate some points on your ears that correspond to different parts of your body.  You will be able to press these points if your injuries begin to play up.  I have seen many cases of excellent results with this technique.
    • Ask your practitioner for dietary, nutritional and herbal tips for the event.
  3. On the day
    • Rehydration formula – take it regularly. What you sweat out will not be replaced by water alone.
    • Magnesium is essential!  A dose may be required at each major check point to prevent cramping, spasms and muscle tightness.
    • Herbal anti-inflammatories – A dose at every major checkpoint and as needed.  There are a lot out there including boswellia, turmeric, chamomile, horsechestnut, ginger and celery seed.  Don’t forget your omega 3’s too – from flaxseeds or fish.  If swelling is a particular problem, there are herbs specific to this.
    • Stimulants.  As needed.  I can not speak more highly of Flordis Ginsana – a highly researched ginseng capsule.  Nothing picks up my energy and my mood, more than the ginsana.  It’s great for getting through the night. Otherwise, the caffeine and carbohydrate sports gels, if you can manage the revolting texture, work quite well too.
    • Protein.  Sometimes you just don’t feel like eating a lot during exercise.  Protein powders are excellent at these times.  I like the pea-based protein powders – they have just as much protein as the whey ones, but are great for those who want a vegetable based protein source or wish to avoid dairy products.
    • Topical herbal anti-inflammatory and pain relieving cream or liniment.  Have it on hand to rub into sore knees, aching hips and other injuries as needed.  Why not sweet talk your support crew into giving you a shoulder rub with it at the check points?
  4. After the event
    • Simple carbohydrates are good (sugar… perhaps even a glass of alcohol to celebrate?)
    • Keep up your protein intake
    • The best part:  Soak in an epsom salts bath.  Relief.  Bliss.

There are many different ways to complete a 100km endurance event.  I have seen this combination work well for many people undertaking athletic activities.  If you are undertaking such an event – good luck!

To book an appointment at the clinic or further information on Chinese Medicine contact Dr Sarah George (Acupuncture).  Sarah is a practitioner of acupuncture (AHPRA registered), massage therapy and natural health.

acupuncture, Diet, emotional health, exercise, food, health, herbal medicine, martial arts, mental health, Traditional Chinese Medicine

Top tips for an energy boost

As with most health conditions in Traditional Chinese Medicine, tiredness can have many different diagnoses and therefore treatments.  Your body’s energy or life force is known as ‘Qi’.  It powers your organs and entire body to function correctly and give you vitality. If a person does not have enough Qi they will be tired.  If a person has enough Qi but it’s not circulating well or has become ‘stuck’ they may also seem tired.

Qi also interacts with your blood by giving your heart the force to pump your blood around the body.  In turn, the blood nourishes the Qi.  So, poor blood quality or quantity can also contribute to low energy (eg. anaemia).  Another factor to consider in the case of tiredness may be when an excess of fluids in the body accumulates creating the sense of  heaviness and preventing Qi from circulating.

If you are prone to suffering from bouts of tiredness, here are some ideas applicable to some common types of tiredness that I see regularly in my clinic (which have no known cause eg. lack of sleep or other disease cause).

  • Weakness, loss of appetite, loose stools and tiredness that is worse after eating
    • Improving digestion and food intake is important.  Eat well, that means consuming warm, cooked and easy to digest foods such as soups and stews (that are not too rich).  Good foods to include are orange coloured vegetables (eg. pumpkin, carrot and squash), root vegetables (eg. sweet potato), naturally occurring sweet foods (eg. corn, figs) and some lightly pungent foods to aid digestion (eg. cinnamon, ginger, fennel and onion).  Licorice tea is an ideal beverage.
    • Breathing deeply helps to cultivate Qi.
    • Practice exercise that helps to build Qi rather than use it up.  Yoga, tai chi and qi gong would be more beneficial than running or an aerobics class.
  • Pale face, lightheaded and dry skin
    • Eating well is also important for this type of tiredness so follow the recommendations above.  To boost the blood, increase naturally occurring dark coloured foods especially those that are red (eg. cherry, beetroot, dark leafy vegetables), iron rich foods (eg. molasses, dates) and adequate protein (eg. eggs, legumes, tempeh).  Nettle tea makes a good blood nourishing drink.
    • Often herbal medicine may be required to nourish the blood.
  • Muzzy head, limbs feels heavy to move and fluid retention.
    • Getting the body moving will benefit this type of tiredness.  Increase cardiovascular exercise (eg. walking, jogging, cycling or aerobics).  It may be hard to start but afterwards these people work up a sweat they will feel much more energised.
    • Eat less.  Only eat until you feel 80% full.
    • Decreasing rich foods in the diet is the key here – eat light.  That means reduce or eliminate dairy, fatty foods and cooking methods, excessive sweet foods and drinks (including very sweet fruits such as bananas) and fruit juice.
    • Beneficial foods will promote digestion and loss of excess fluid.  These foods include those that are bitter (eg. rocket and other greens), some fruits that aid digestion (eg. pineapple and papaya) and some pungent foods such as mustard, horseradish and those from the onion family.  Drink green tea or dandelion coffee.
  • Neck & shoulder tension, frequent sighing and moodiness
    • Once again, getting the body moving is essential.  Cardiovascular (eg. those listed above and martial arts) and stretching forms of exercise (eg. yoga) are perfect to promote a sense of more energy.
    • Breathing exercises may be useful in moving Qi.
    • Any activity that is useful for managing stress and alleviating emotional ‘stuckness’ is beneficial for this type of fatigue.  Eg. yoga, massage, acupuncture, meditation, creative projects or counselling.  This pattern often has an emotional cause such as frustration or anger that needs to be addressed.

To book in for acupuncture at my Launceston clinics (House of Prana or In-Balance) or for further information on Chinese Medicine contact Dr Sarah George (Acupuncture).  Sarah is an AHPRA registered acupuncturist, Chinese medicine practitioner and massage therapist.