Diet, emotional health, exercise, food, health, mental health, motivational, nature, Traditional Chinese Medicine

A Chinese medicine guide to living well in Spring

I’m a bit slow on getting my spring living post out this year! Apologies to all of you who have been wondering what to do since the turn of the season, you can now relax with the information contained within this post.

Here’s a little song to get you out of winter and into the spring mood.

In Chinese medicine the season of spring is all about these:

  • Moving from the cold and slowness of winter into a warmer, more energetic state as our Yang Qi predominates.
  • There is an upward energy.
  • The mood picks up, life feels lighter.
  • And there is a need to move more and get active.
  • We need to stretch out and get flexible after the rigidity of winter.
  • Plants are sprouting fresh green shoots.
  • This is the time of the Wood element and the Liver and Gallbladder need care.
  • The wind picks up. This has been particularly noticeable in Brisbane in the afternoons especially earlier in the season.
  • There is more light and longer days giving us a good supply of vitamin D to support our yang Qi. Safe levels of sun exposure depend on where you live and are outlined here.
  • The colour is green in keeping with those fresh sprouts.
  • The flavour is sour which again brings a feeling of lightness and freshness.
Spring is a wonderful time to walk around the Jacaranda trees in blossom.
Spring is a wonderful time to walk around the Jacaranda trees in blossom.

If you don’t naturally feel this shift to spring or you want to maximise your spring energy to live in harmony with the seasons then here are some tips:

  • Go to bed a little later and wake a little earlier (just like the birds)
  • Get some outdoor exercise (eg. walking or qi gong) and sunlight in the morning before you start the serious stuff in your day.
  • Wear loose clothing and don’t tie your hair back tightly. Let everything flow.
  • Focus on relaxation and flexibility of your mind and body. Now is an excellent time to get into some meditation and/or yoga.
  • Sing, dance or do activities that lighten your mood.
  • Work within your limits so as to enjoy the movement and longer days but not to overtire yourself.
  • Be prepared for changes in the weather, so while most of your summer clothes are coming out, have a spare layer handy to protect yourself from a sneaky cold snap or some breezy conditions.
  • Do a spring clean. Get rid of the clutter and excess that might have been stored away during winter  (or the rest of the year). A spring clean can be in your house, body and/or mind. Make room for the new.
  • Open the windows. Get good ventilation in your space. Get some indoor plants.
  • Focus your attention to being positive, optimistic, open minded, tranquil, happy and friendly.
  • Enjoy nature. Go hiking, camping or anything you enjoy that takes you into the great outdoors.
  • Generally eat fresh, clean and crisp foods that are in season. Some Chinese medicine dietary tips include benefiting the:
    • yang qi through pungent foods (eg. onions, garlic, ginger, paprika, chives, mint and mustard)
    • liver through some sour foods – just enough to make you feel well but no need to over do it. A squeeze of lemon in your water or some natural yogurt can be beneficial.
    • wood element through green coloured foods eg. green tea, green leafy vegetables (kale, broccolini, baby spinach), peas, beans, asparagus, sprouts and celery.
    • Avoid very spicy and fatty foods at this time of year and don’t overdo the sour flavour.

For another post about spring health read here.

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.

food, recipe, Traditional Chinese Medicine

How to drain the damp with corn silk tea

corn cobCorn silk, Stigma maydis, has a long history of use in the traditional medicines of China and America. The herb which is the stigmas or pale yellow strands that surround a cob of corn is known as yu mi xu in Traditional Chinese Medicine. There is one strand of silk for each kernel of corn.

Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) lists it as a neutral temperature and sweet flavoured herb which has influence over the Liver, Gall Bladder and Urinary Bladder. Its main functions are:

  • promotes urination
  • stops bleeding
  • clears damp heat from Liver and Gall Bladder

Corn silk has been traditionally used for oedema and to stop nose and gum bleeds.

The herb has been researched for various pharmacological functions including: antioxidant, diuretic, blood glucose reduction, anti-diabetic, anti-fatigue, anti-depressant and anti-inflammatory. Most of the research has been from animal and ‘test tube’ studies however this herb does have a long history of traditional use .

I often suggest this herb to my patients who may benefit from its diuretic (or damp draining) action. It can be easily (and cheaply) made into a tea and is a great way to use one of the by-products of delicious sweet corn.

How to make corn silk tea

  1. Take corn silk from one ear of corn and rinse.corn silk
  2. Add it to saucepan with 2 cups of water.corn silk pan
  3. Boil, then reduce to a simmer for about 10 minutes.
  4. Strain liquid into a cup and enjoy.corn silk tea

You may drink several cups per day of this mild, pleasant tasting tea. Other herbs may also be added to the tea for flavour or other functions. If you are taking medications consult with your practitioner before using corn silk tea.

Corn silk also can be purchased dried as a herb tea.

Feeling damp? Here are some more ideas for draining dampness.

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.

Diet, fertility, food, Traditional Chinese Medicine

The aubergine eggplant: a therapeutic culinary delight

Mediterranean eggplant salad webDo you say eggplant or aubergine? This is one of those topics that can generate a heated dinner party discussion.

I say eggplant. But feel free to substitute aubergine in your head if it makes you happy.

And I do love a good eggplant dish. This weekend I have been enjoying this versatile fruit (yes, it has seeds which classifies it as a fruit) in a variety of tasty ways. There are just so many ways you can cook with it, including:

  • Stuffed
  • Baked
  • Fried, barbecued or grilled (then used as you wish – I love it in this warm salad with preserved lemons – pictured)
  • Stir-fried (one of my favourite dishes when I was studying in China was an eggplant and garlic dish)
  • Steamed
  • In casseroles
  • In curries (one of my favourite curries features pumpkin and eggplant – it is to die for!)
  • To replace toast (eggs on grilled eggplant slices) or lasagne noodles (layer eggplant slices)
  • In dips (as in baba ganoush)

If you’ve never cooked with eggplant before, this is how it can be prepared to reduce bitterness and reduce the amount of oil they soak up in cooking.

The humble eggplant has some fabulous Traditional Chinese Medicine therapeutic uses including:

  • Clears heat from the blood (e.g. red rashes, heavy menstrual bleeding , haemorrhoids or bleeding disorders in general).
  • Moves blood, harmonises the Liver and the Uterus (e.g. painful periods, irregular periods or clotted menstrual blood).
  • Reduces swelling and eases pain (e.g. premenstrual oedema, breast tenderness or mastitis).
  • Regulates and cools the intestines (e.g. constipation or diarrhoea where the stool is smelly and the patient feels hot or experiences burning sensations).
  • May be soothing for someone repressing emotions (e.g. anger, frustration, irritation and resentment).

Just a note, if you do suffer from menstrual or bleeding disorders these should be discussed with your health professional for appropriate investigations and  treatment options.

Have you got a favorite eggplant recipe?

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, food, food allergy, health, herbal medicine, massage, mental health, Traditional Chinese Medicine

Irritable bowel syndrome: feeling better with complementary medicine

I see many patients each week who have been diagnosed with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). The good news is that I often find that with some good questioning and an individualised treatment plan covering the multiple aspects of this condition, a patient’s abdominal pain and bowel habits often respond for the better.

IBS is the most common digestive condition that patients seek help for and, believe it or not, accounts for up to a third of visits to gastroenterologists.

IBS is diagnosed by eliminating other disorders through medical testing.  An IBS diagnosis is made when a patient has recurrent abdominal pain or discomfort for at least three days of the last three months and at least two symptoms from the following:

  • Improvement of pain with bowel movement
  • Onset associated with a change in the stool frequency
  • Onset associated with a change in the stool consistency

The causes of IBS are poorly understood and so this means that conventional treatment is targeted towards reducing the symptoms. Interestingly, it is antidepressant medications that seem to offer the most relief to IBS patients from the pharmaceutical model.  Additionally, antispasmodics and anti-diarrhoeal medications are often trialed.

There are many natural therapies that have been used traditionally for digestive conditions and some of these treatments have shown statistically significant results in clinical trials.

  • Herbal medicine and nutrition therapy do have plenty to offer a patient with IBS and this is backed by clinical trials. One of the most effective herbal remedies tested in double blind clinical trials is a herbal formula known as Iberogast. A study found that Iberogast significantly reduces abdominal pain and other IBS symptoms. I use a lot of Iberogast with my IBS patients when I feel that the formula fits their pattern and it usually brings excellent results.
  • Probiotics have also been the subject of several clinical trials and there is good evidence for their use in IBS.  They are particularly useful in patients who suffer from bloating, flatulence and abdominal pain. Probiotics enhance the gut barrier function and inhibit pathogen binding. Many probiotic strands are available, so you need to work with a practitioner to get the correct strands and dosing. In addition to supplementing with probiotics, increasing probiotic rich foods (such as yoghurt, keffir, miso, tempeh and sauerkraut) may be beneficial.
  • Fibre, particularly soluble fibre such as psyllium husks, is also supported by research for use in IBS, particularly where constipation is a predominant factor. Soluble fibres should be taken before meals for a greater impact on the lower digestive system.
  • Dietary causes play a part in IBS. It is worth having your diet assessed by your practitioner to identify if there are any foods that are aggravating your system. I often refer patients for food sensitivity testing which takes some of the guess work out of finding out which foods aggravate your symptoms and diets based on this testing have significantly reduce symptoms in clinical trials. Not all patients need to follow a dairy and gluten free diet – however this does work well for some – testing helps us to identify which foods are causing your problems.
  • One of the most important factors in treating IBS is managing stress and anxiety. Seek assistance in resolving ongoing life stresses or anxieties. Hypnosis is well supported in research for managing IBS. Additionally, choose counselling, meditation, yoga, massage and relaxation techniques to help you feel more relaxed. Acupuncture is excellent for enhancing relaxation and has been used for thousands of years for alleviating digestive pain and bowel disorders too.

Traditional Chinese Medicine has several diagnostic patterns for IBS. One of the most common is known as “Liver invading the Spleen”. Basically, this means that when feeling emotions such as frustration, resentment, irritability and anger your digestion system is weakened and your symptoms are worse. If you have this pattern you may suffer from alternating constipation and diarrhoea, and it is hard to pinpoint any foods that make your condition worse. (Here’s a little more on Liver Qi Stagnation, the precursor to Liver invading the Spleen.) It is no surprise then that it is the antidepressant medications that have shown the greatest improvement in this condition from a pharmaceutical point of view. There are many drug-free stress reduction options, and these are listed in the last bullet point above. This brain-gut connection highlights the importance of an holistic strategy in the management of IBS.

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.

Diet, food, health, herbal medicine, Traditional Chinese Medicine

It’s time for a detox – Traditional Chinese Medicine style

detox dietEvery now and then, maybe once or twice each year, I put myself on a detox diet.

Now I’m not one who is big on following a particular diet trend, a detox diet for me is more about establishing good eating and living habits – bringing myself back into line – back to basics – that kind of thing. It’s about prioritising what’s important – and that’s doing what makes me feel well.

Usually I get this urge after an extremely busy few months when some of my good habits have slid and I’ve been running from the clinic to social event to karate training to professional education seminar to giving a lecture while surviving on food that is far more convenient than it is worth eating. That’s when I know, it’s time to set things straight.

So my detox diet usually runs for about two or three weeks, and since I respond well to structure and routine I spell it out like this:

None of these

  • Dairy
  • Gluten and refined grains
  • Animal protein
  • Processed foods (this includes chocolate)
  • Added sugar
  • Alcohol
  • Coffee and black tea

And plenty of these, organic where possible

  • Fresh vegetables
  • A small amount of fruit
  • Beans, peas and lentils
  • Wholegrains (non-gluten)
  • Plenty of herbs and spices (eg. ginger, garlic, cumin, cardamom, cinnamon, turmeric, parsley and coriander).
  • Water
  • Herbal and green teas

I take a few herbs and supplements for:

  • liver support 
  • good digestive function
  • healthy gut flora

I like to consider this as more about what you can have, and that is spoiling your body with excellent quality food that you deserve (none of that cheap, nasty processed stuff)! For me, this means I can eat as many gluten-free porridges, curries, casseroles, stir frys and soups as I like. Which is great because I love these foods.

Now, you don’t have to go without gluten grains if you don’t have a problem with them, I just feel better when I do avoid them. I’m also already a vegetarian so the meat thing isn’t a problem.

The part I struggle with most is avoiding sugar.  I have a sweet tooth and I love dark chocolate. The rest of the diet makes me stick to a good routine for two weeks and that’s long enough for me to remember my good habits and stick to them most of the time after that. I also find that if you fill up your body with good food it is very satisfying and you tend not to want the processed or sweet foods you might otherwise crave. These cravings are usually gone after only a few days. There are a few other tricks I have up my sleeve for people who struggle with sugar cravings.

A good detox program should also include some exercise, again use this as a way to set your future exercise routine.  Do exercise that you enjoy – if it’s outdoors in a green space it’s even better! Be kind to yourself during your program and add in a massage or two and some epsom salts baths.

Detox diets and Traditional Chinese Medicine

Detox diets are not part of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) so this post is a little controversial.  TCM supports the body back to a healthy function but does not traditionally use therapeutic methods as a ‘clean out’, unless of course you are blocked up.  Detox diets do form part of naturopathic and ayurvedic thought.

My personal idea of a detox is not huge on the cleaning out side of things, but more on re-establishing a healthy diet and lifestyle routine. In TCM terms it’s all about supporting the Earth element – the Spleen and Stomach (or digestive system in western terms). It’s a plan for a set period of time (2-3 weeks) to get yourself back on track. I also do not subscribe to the raw food clean-out idea. A little is ok, but it depends on your constitution and you’ll probably need to see a TCM practitioner to work that out. My detox doesn’t usually include any juicing (or at least not copious amounts). When your body is functioning well, it can eliminate easily what it doesn’t need.

Detox programs aren’t for everyone.  It depends on your constitution and your signs and symptoms. I design different types of programs for my patients as individuals. Different foods, herbs, supplements and time periods. The goal is to re-establish (or establish in the first place) a healthy diet and lifestyle for a period of time that you can then stick to maybe 80% of the time thereafter.

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, emotional health, health, mental health, Traditional Chinese Medicine

The acupuncturist and the broken heart

Today is the 16th February, just two days after Valentine’s Day.  It’s gorgeous to see that many people are wandering around still exhibiting the after-glow generated by gifts of flowers, chocolates, champagne and time with their loved one. (Although, shouldn’t it be like this most of the time?)

Valentine’s Day, even though it’s origins are in nothing more significant than a greeting card marketing exercise, has become symbolic to many as a day to celebrate romantic love.  This day has been responsible for igniting new love, but sadly, with the pressures it brings, has also been known to be a catalyst in the demise of relationships.

Recently, I have seen several patients in my clinic, looking for support in matters of the heart.  (Yes, who would have thought it?  Acupuncture can do more than just relieve physical pain!)  So, today it seems timely to discuss ‘the broken heart’ from a Traditional Chinese Medicine perspective.

Break-ups are rarely ever easy, for either partner, and the emotions they conjure up can create undesired effects in our bodies.  The old saying “time heals all wounds” is applicable here as the broken-hearted embark on an emotional journey (often laced with mysterious physical symptoms like nausea or muscle tension) to mend.  When these issues do not resolve in a timely manner, professional counselling is highly recommended.

The five element theory that is deeply rooted within Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) gives us some clues in treating matters of the heart.  This theory pairs the organs of the body with emotional states.  Whilst, the heart is seen as the organ that is tied to our ‘spirit’, many other organs are also tied to common emotions that may be experienced following a break up.  I should point out here, that in TCM each organ is given some additional ‘energetic’ functions in addition to their biomedical functions so you can have a TCM ‘liver disorder’ without having a physical liver problem.

So, simply and generally put, the five elements can explain some of the mental and physical symptoms of a broken heart as follows:

  • Fire Element – Heart and pericardium – the pericardium is the protector of the heart and emotionally characterised by feeling anxious or a lack of joy.  Physical symptoms may include insomnia, palpitations or inappropriate behaviour.
  • Wood Element – Liver – for feelings of anger, ‘stuckness’, resentment, irritation, frustration, depression and mood swings.  Physical symptoms may include neck and shoulder tension, chest tightness, nausea and digestive disorders that have a direct correlation to your emotional state.
  • Earth Element – Spleen & Stomach – for feelings of worry, obsessive thoughts and inability to concentrate.  Physical symptoms may include lack of appetite, low energy, digestive disorders and sweet cravings.
  • Metal Element – Lungs – when grief and sadness are the principal feelings surrounding the break-up.  Physical symptoms may include low energy, respiratory disorders, concave chest posture, weak voice and skin problems.
  • Water Element – Kidneys – when fear is a primary emotion.  Physical symptoms may include poor memory, urinary problems, reproductive system disorders and lower back ache.

Through discussing a person’s emotional and physical symptoms an individualised acupuncture treatment for supporting someone with ‘love sickness’ can be designed.  It would usually include some lifestyle advice so that the patient may begin to take control of their own situation and feel better, more quickly, between treatments.  I have seen many patients respond well to acupuncture treatment in gaining clarity of mind and renewed energy allowing them to face their new path with enthusiasm.

What to do now? Check out my five Chinese Medicine tips for mending a broken heart.

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.