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Your Teeth and Your Diet: What’s the Deal?

(This the 3rd article in the series of three. See the first here, and the second here.)

Can Diet Affect the Health of Your Teeth?

After researching the conventional approach to preventing cavities, I started to dig into the potential relationship between teeth and nutrition.

A bit of background, first. I spend a lot of time reading about food and nutrition. The dietetic wars fascinate me. There’s a lot of big-brained, highly-qualified, critical-thinking, research-waving people out there who vehemently disagree with one another about the most health-optimizing diet. They’re blogging, researching, teaching, publishing, and raking through data with a fine-toothed comb.

For transparency’s sake: I do not recommend one diet over another. I try to work with my patients from a Traditional Chinese Medicine perspective and help them find the diet that works best for them. Modern research has shown that there is no such thing as the “perfect diet.” Because there is tremendous variation among populations with diet, there is also tremendous individual variation. For instance, some people do better with no dairy products in their diet, yet others thrive on moderate amounts. Some feel better with a low-carb approach, while others feel better eating more carbohydrate. Beyond that, I’m also an advocate of finding pleasure and enjoyment in food, which helps with the sustainability of any particular approach to food.

More than anything, though, I recommend one thing the most: chewing.

Which is kind of hard, actually, with a bad tooth.

Over time, I’ve become familiar with the dietary tenets of a double-fistful of folks who lead the debate(s), including T. Colin Campbell, Chris MasterjohnMichael Greger,  Neal Barnard, Michael Pollan, Andrew Weil, Mark Sisson, Dean OrnishJoel Fuhrman, George MateljanStephan Guyenet, Chris Kresser, Paul Pitchford, and Gene Baur. I’m endlessly reading or listening to people debate issues of food and diet, genetics and epigenetics, and the role of the exposome on our health. I regularly visit websites like Authority Nutrition, The Weston Price Foundation, The Vegan Society, and The Vegetarian Resource Group to get a gauge for what people are saying, what research they’re citing, and what creative insults they’re slinging.

It’s worth mentioning that it can be difficult to do blinded, randomized, controlled trials of diet. For instance, it’s hard to adequately ‘blind’ subjects to what they are putting in their mouths (though some blinded research has been done, for instance, with the type of fats used in cooking since it can be hidden). If you want to know more about the difficulties of studying diet, see here.

One of the most problematic issues (as well as one of the most common) involves sharing correlational findings as if they are causal, which is straight up unethical when done purposefully in order to capture attention and wallets. This happens a lot.

Anyway, back to my burning question. Can nutrition affect teeth? If so, how? And if so, what should I add to or subtract from my diet in order to increase the resilience and health of my teeth? Below is what I did to try to find an answer to my questions. And not to ruin the results, but I never found the “answer.” I did, however, put together an approach that I felt confident might help me avoid future cavities. As for treating the ones that already exist…well, we’ll see at my next dental appointment. (Update as of 1/2016: Just met with my dentist; no new cavities!!!! Just a cleaning!!!!)

1. I read everything I could find about the conventional dentistry approach to caries. See here.

2. I read everything I could find about nutrition and teeth. vegetables and greens in the garden

Let’s start with this. Here’s a website that’s been given the official stamp of the American Dental Association (ADA). If you like reading about nutrition, you’re going to find this website lacking; granted, the ADA is writing for the average American whom likely consumes the Standard American Diet (SAD) and whom may not have the time, money, or resources to delve deeply into nutrition…so to some extent it’s wise to keep dietary recommendations simple. (The question of how simple is too simple bears asking).

The ADA also follows the general guidelines of the MyPlate USDA food guide, which replaced the food pyramid, and is riddled with its own set of issues. Some of the information on the ADA site was of mild interest to me because it appears as if there ARE some basic nutritional guidelines/suggestions endorsed by the ADA. I remain curious to why my dentists have neglected to share this basic information with me. Ever. Even when asked twice.

So, why is this, anyway? Why was it relatively simple for me to get some nutritional advice with a 2 second google search, but could get nuthin’ from the leather dental chair? Well, for starters, only about 1/4 of American med schools offer the 25 hours of nutrition training recommended — but not required — by the National Academy of Sciences. I interpret that to mean that we shouldn’t expect our doctors to be the ones to administer advice about nutrition, which seems only a tiny bit !CRAZY! to me.

I completed a 4 year Master’s degree in Traditional Chinese Medicine; as part of my training, we were required to complete 48 hours of study in nutrition. (I wish it had been more.)  The biggest difference is that TCM considers nutritional therapy an essential treatment approach, and most acupuncturists use food therapeutically in daily practice. This is not to say that all acupuncturists always give good advice; this is to say that acupuncturists think about food as medicine. In other words, if you were to ask an acupuncturist about food recommendations to support the health of your teeth, you may have a hard time getting them to shut up.

The most content I could find (that wasn’t from a TCM perspective) regarding the relationship of nutrition to dental health came from followers of the dietary tenets of Weston Price. Weston Price was a dentist in the early 20th century who founded what eventually became the research section of the American Dental Association. The Weston Price folks had a great deal to say about the relationship of diet to teeth; doubly fascinating to me was that many vegans (who often lament ol’ Weston and his meaty prescriptions) agreed with the underlying theory, but differed on how to fill these nutritional holes.

Weston Price, in some circles, is referred to as the legendary dentist, but he’s not nearly as glorified in other circles. For those of you needing your information to come in the form of the double-blind, placebo-controlled, and largely populated, well…you aren’t going to be overly excited about Price’s data. His research was done in the early 20th century and wasn’t nearly as rigorous as your modern research geek would require. Also, I later discovered that Price’s research was problematic in another way (see how Price and the eugenics movement were related here).

So, what were people saying about nutrition and teeth? Here’s what’s been theorized:

  • The modern Western diet (particularly flour, sugar, and modern processed vegetable fats) cause nutritional deficiencies that are a cause of many dental issues and health problems.
  • The modern diet does not contain enough fat-soluble vitamins (for the sake of this article, we’ll look at D and K).
  • The presence of phytic acid in a diet heavy in nuts, seeds, grains, and legumes influences our ability to absorb minerals.

Food remedies that may heal cavities and prevent tooth decay

So, assuming that optimal tooth formation is positively influenced by a diet that is sufficient in minerals, fat-soluble vitamins, and low in phytic acid, here are specific recommendations.

Vitamin D and Your Teeth

From the Vitamin D Council (see link for references to research):

Enamel is the most mineralized substance in the human body. It is made up of mostly calcium and phosphate. Vitamin D is important for increasing the absorption of calcium and phosphate from the food you eat. Increasing the absorption of calcium and phosphate can improve the strength of your teeth and their ability to fight demineralization from bacteria.

Vitamin D receptors are found on cells in your immune system and in your teeth. Vitamin D can bind to these receptors and increase the amount of good antimicrobial proteins in your body which help to fight the bacteria that cause dental caries.

In addition, the cells in the teeth that form dentin and enamel contain vitamin D receptors, meaning that vitamin D may play a role in their functioning. Some studies show that dental caries are most common in late winter and early spring, when vitamin D levels are likely to be at their lowest. Many studies have found that geographic location and sun exposure are related to dental caries. People living closer to the equator with greater amounts of sun exposure are less likely to develop dental caries.

Mothers of children with early childhood caries have lower vitamin D levels during pregnancy than mothers whose children don’t have caries.

Studies that give people vitamin D supplements to prevent caries have found that vitamin D is effective at preventing the development of caries.

Vitamin D: Sources

Real sunshine is the best, but not always practical. If your arms and face (or the equivalent amount) is exposedVector illustration beautiful panorama of blue sky to the following amounts of midday sun (11 am to 3 pm), without sunscreen, on a day when sunburn is possible (i.e., not winter or cloudy), then you should not need any dietary vitamin D that day:

  • Light-skinned: 10 to 15 minutes
  • Dark-skinned: 20 minutes
  • Elderly: 30 minutes

Animal sources of Vitamin D include the egg yolks of free-range chickens, cold-water, fatty fish (like sardines and salmon), and dairy products from cows that ate green grass (not corn). Shiitake mushrooms have vitamin D in small amounts. For a more detailed list of Vitamin D food sources, see here and here. It’s also relatively inexpensive to supplement with Vitamin D, though it’s ideal to have your levels tested in order to avoid over-supplementation, which is dangerous).

As a breakfast food, natto is usually served over steamed rice and mixed with mustard and soy sauce.
As a breakfast food, nattō is usually served over steamed rice and mixed with mustard and soy sauce.

Vitamin K, specifically K2:

Vitamin K is actually a group of fat-soluble vitamins that are involved in blood coagulation and calcium binding. Low levels of vitamin K weaken bones and may promote calcification of arteries and other soft tissues.

There are three basic types of vitamin K. Their common names are K1, K2, and K3.

K1 is the “plant form” of this vitamin; the best sources of this vitamin are green vegetables. K1 is known for its role in blood-clotting. For instance, newborns are often given a K1 shot (or K1 drops) at birth to decrease risk of hemorrhage.

K3 (menadione) is a synthetic form of Vitamin K. Though it’s used for certain medical treatments, it’s generally considered unsafe and unnecessary for general use.

K2 is produced in animal tissues or as a result of bacterial fermentation (K2 comes in various forms, called menaquinones). Menaquinone-4 (MK-4) is produced by animal tissues. One of the richest sources of MK-4 is goose liver.

Menaquinone-7 (MK-7) is produced by bacterial fermentation and is found in products like natto and blue cheese.

A number of other forms of K2 (like MK-9) are found in fermented dairy products, though MK-4 and MK-7 are the best studied forms of Vitamin K2.

Vitamin K2 can be made from K1 by bacteria and other microorganisms. In plant foods, you won’t find much preformed K2, unless those plant foods have been fermented or transformed by bacteria. Nattō is one of the only good vegan sources of Vitamin K2. Nattō is a fermented soybean product that is notorious for it’s stench and sliminess (it’s also not easy to find in Maine).

K2 appears to be a key vitamin in maintaining bone mineralization and limiting the formation and lifespan of osteoclasts. Researchers are also increasingly optimistic about K2’s potential for those with or at risk for osteoporosis. In addition, it’s being looked at as an important factor in cardiovascular health, in the treatment of rheumatoid arthritis, in the treatment and prevention of tooth decay, and as a factor in the prevention of prostate cancer. So far, research is in it’s early stages (and more must be done), but I intend to watch developments with interest.

Sources of K2

Good sources of K2 include nattō, pâté, grass-fed butter and ghee, and egg yolks from chickens. Moderate sources of K2 include blue cheese, Gouda, Brie, Jarlsberg’s and Edam. Here’s a more detailed look at the types and sources of K2 if you’re interested.

Phytic acid: The issue of phytic acid is controversial. This is the most comprehensive info I found on phytic acid. I try to soak and sprout as often as possible, since it does seem to make some (controversy exists regarding exactly how much) nutrients more readily available for the body to use.

How Does Traditonal Chinese Medicine Think About Teeth?

Eventually, I closed my laptop, all my books, and shut my peepers for a second to consider myself as a case study.  What would be my Traditional Chinese Medicine diagnosis, and what would be my treatment? Over the past couple of years, my diet hasn’t been as consistent or nutrient-rich. Basically, I had a kid and my food prep and homemade food-makin’ time got squeezed pretty thin for a while (I’m workin’ on it!). Any of the health issues I’d experienced in the past couple of years (mostly minor, but bothersome) pointed to an imbalance in of the TCM concept of Kidneys – the organ associated with the teeth. Typical nutritional recommendations for a kidney imbalance? There was definitely some overlap, notably marrow (bone broth), cold-water fatty fish, small amounts of raw milk, and ghee.

A Lauren-designed, Lauren-experiment

So, what to do with all of this information? I came up with a plan simple enough for me to sustain, ordered from most exciting (pleasurable) to least.

  • As always, continue to fill much of my plate with lots and lots of veggies and some fruit
  • Add small amounts of grass-fed organic dairy, especially pasture butter and raw yogurt (I’ve recently committed to buying all of my dairy from a local co-op; it’s not cheap, but I did have enough wiggle room in my budget for this allowance. I made this decision because of this and this.)
  • Moderate amounts of sardines and wild-caught Pacific salmon
  • When eating foods high in phytic acid (like grains, beans, nuts and seeds) soak and sprout when possible
  • After eating, chew a piece of xylitol gum. Many studies show that chewing xylitol gum reduces salivary Streptococcus mutans, the the chief bacteria responsible for dental caries.
  • Try to find natto in Maine; see if I can deal with the smell and taste and if so…. eat it up!
  • Small amounts of grass-fed, local meats (see above note on dairy products)
  • Make bone broth; freeze and use instead of boxed broths or bouillon when making soup (which are typically not nearly as nutrient dense and full of MSG)
  • Consider supplementing with K2; supplement carefully with Vitamin D during the 9 month Maine winter

This the 3rd post in a series of three. See How to Avoid a Root Canal and Fighting Cavities for the previous posts.


Alcohol: Yea or Nea?

Ethanol: Beer, Wine, and Spirits

Often referred to as alcohol or spirits, ethanol is also called ethyl alcohol or drinking alcohol. A volatile, flammable liquid produced by the fermentation of sugars by yeasts, ethanol is also used as a solvent, an antiseptic, and a fuel. When consumed, ethanol is considered a psychoactive, neurotoxic drug.

Alcohol is also one of the oldest recreational drugs used by humans; evidence indicates the preparation of alcoholic drinks dating as far back as 8,000 BC. Due to the destructive nature of alcohol abuse, warnings regarding the dangers of alcohol consumption have persisted for as long as alcohol has been available.

The TCM Take On Booze

From the point of view of Traditional Chinese Medicine, all alcoholic beverages are considered warming. In general, it could be said that the higher the alcohol content, the warmer the drink. In small amounts, alcohol can supplement and move qi/blood, scatter cold, and vitalize

Internet trolls make my qi stagnant, and a long list of logical fallacies light that pile of stagnant qi on fire.
I just can’t even…

the spirit. Like coffee, it would be best (better) to think of alcohol as a medicinal substance to be used with respect, and its use should be dictated by the individual’s constitution.

Similar to coffee, alcohol is a potent yet short-lived mover of qi. Cravings for alcohol can be explained by this concept.  For instance, one might crave a stiff drink after a 3-hour attempt at hearty discourse on Facebook that’s destroyed by an inane catalog of fallacies by a ‘friend’ who decides to troll an otherwise good thread. Put simply, the more stagnant the qi, the stronger the cravings for substances that move qi. Common qi-moving substances include cigarettes, alcohol, coffee, and spicy food. The warm, acrid nature of all of the above make them efficient movers of stuck qi (this is, by no means, an exhaustive list of qi-moving substances; these things just happen to be the ‘easy’ ones that we, as a culture, have a tendency to reach for when stuff gets… stuck).

Types of Alcohol, According to TCM

Beer: Beer is considered the coolest type of alcohol, although this is dependent on what kind of beer you’re drinking (craft beers, especially those with a higher alcohol content, fall into the “warm” category, whereas a Miller Light would be considered much more cooling). Drinking too much beer will overwhelm the spleen and create dampness. Those who misuse alcohol in the form of beer often present with mixed patterns of heat and cold in the body. The liver gets agitated and hot, the spleen becomes deficient, dampness collects (most often as damp heat in the middle and lower burner), and the Kidneys can become doused by the sheer volume of liquid consumed.

Mulled Wine,
Glögg, Glühwein, bisschopswijn, vin chaud, greyano vino, кувано вино, vino navega’o, Sıcak Şarap, Caribou.

Wine: Wine is considered acrid, sweet, and sour. In small amounts, in can support the spleen, warm the digestive center, expel wind-cold, and promote circulation of blood and qi. Red wine is more warm than white; mulled red wine is a traditional remedy (across the world) to help remove “cold” from the body. When wine is infused with medicinal herbs, it can enhance the tonic effect of those herbs; medicinal wines are commonly used in Traditional Chinese Medicine.

Spirits: Liquor is intensely hot and moving due to it’s concentrated alcohol content. The most potent of alcoholic qi-movers, liquor can quickly become toxic to the body, stressing the liver and creating excessive heat.

A Note on Moderation and Binge-Drinking

So, what does moderate consumption of alcohol look like? Tough question for a couple of reasons, the first being that according to Traditional Chinese Medicine, “moderate” would not necessarily be the same for any two people. For those blood deficient, yin deficient, or dealing with issues of damp-heat, a single drink could be too much. However, for those of a more robust constitution, ‘moderate’  would be a quantity that wouldn’t leave an imbalance in its wake.

Occasionally, on a Friday night in the Old Port, I'd like to stick this post-it to a forehead or two.
Occasionally, on a Friday night in the Old Port, I’d like to stick this post-it to a forehead or two. Just needs the number for a local cab.

I’ve always found it interesting that most people, when asked, will naturally advocate for moderate alcohol consumption, yet find it difficult to follow in practice (for transparency’s sake, I’ve been guilty of this in the past).

Essentially, alcohol’s short-term and long-term effects on the brain involve a decrease in prefrontal cortex control. The prefrontal cortex is the part of the brain that enables us to make rational, sound decisions. In other words, the more drinks consumed in one sitting, the more difficult it becomes to make rational choices. For most people, it becomes harder to self-regulate when under the influence of alcohol.

I mean – duh! It’s like asking Madame President Decision-Maker (who lives in your brain and is usually ON IT) to walk a balance beam once she’s been blindfolded and spun around on a tire swing 35 times. So, if you want to increase your chances of making sound, rational decisions at all times…well, you should steer clear of alcohol seeing it essentially blindfolds your inner logician.

This brings us to the topic of binge drinking. Though some people do not drink on a daily basis, they will occasionally drink a lot in a small amount of time (i.e. party). A January 2012 report from the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) noted that more than 38 million adults in the United States binge drink about four times a month (uhh, Saturday night?), and that the largest number of drinks per binge is an average of 8. The CDC report shows that the age group 18 to 34 years has the most binge drinkers, but that the age group that binge drinks the most often includes people age 65 and older.

Binge drinking, no matter how frequent, is considered a toxic activity that can acutely overwhelm the body, and over time, greatly detract from health…which is nicely illustrated by that day-after binge-drinking feeling.

Alcohol Abuse: Social Factors and Policy

It’s impossible (or simplistic, rather) to examine addiction from only one angle. Conversations about addiction too often focus on the pharmacological “potency” of the substance, and little to no attention is given to other powerful variables that affect a person’s likelihood to become addicted.  For instance, the likelihood of individuals without preexisting vulnerabilities succumbing to long-term addiction is slim. Addiction, unlike use, is heavily concentrated in our poorest communities.

…the most vulnerable individuals in our poorest communities…have networks that entrench their problems rather than offering solutions. Their decision making will tend to prioritise immediate benefit rather than long-term consequences. The multiplicity of overlapping challenges they face gives them little incentive to avoid high risk behaviours.

Together these factors make it more likely that, instead of carefully calibrating their drug use to minimize risk, they will be prepared to use the most dangerous drugs in the most dangerous ways. And once addicted, motivation to recover and the likelihood of success is weakened by an absence of family support, poor prospects of employment, insecure housing and social isolation.

In short what determines whether or not drug use escalates into addiction, and the prognosis once it has, is less to do with the power of the drug and more to do with the social, personal and economic circumstances of the user.

-Paul Hayes, Hon. Professor Drug Policy at London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine (see full article here)

Then there is the issue of drug policy. Carl Hart, associate professor of psychology and psychiatry at Columbia University (and first tenured African American professor of sciences at Columbia University), is known for his research in drug abuse and drug addiction. Though his research, Hart wanted to address the issues facing marginalized black communities like his own – but what he discovered, after years and years of research, changed the very roots of his understanding. If you’re interested, read more about Carl Hart here and here.

When we think about drug effects, I want people to understand that they have less to do with pharmacology and more to do with context: the history of the user, the dose of the drug, etc. That’s not to negate the role of pharmacology, but I do want people to understand the importance of context in trying to evaluate drug effects. We often talk about a drug as if it alone is causing all of these social harms. I want people to think about it in a more nuanced way. -Carl Hart

I thought that I was going to solve the problem of drug addiction,” he told the New York Times. “But it turns out that drug addiction wasn’t the biggest problem; the biggest problem, I found out, was actually drug policy.  – Carl Hart

The quick summary: You can’t understand addiction without examining highly influential factors that increase or decrease risk, like the person (or group of persons) socioeconomic status. Also, we must don our critical thinking hats when thinking about this (often) fear-based topic, to assure that we avoid a common tendency to moral panic. We must differentiate myth from reality, which is essential to producing more reasoned social policy and laws.

So! Now that we understand those hugely important points that must not be forgotten or purposefully ignored when considering the complex topic of addiction, or when designing policy with the ultimate goal of alleviation and/or prevention of a problem rather than targeting certain populations… let us take a closer look at the brain.

Addiction and The Brain

“You’re in denial.”

The addict is often told this, even though it’s inaccurate. Denial refers to a psychological defense, or justification for a negative behavior, which is not the same as a loss of rational brain functioning that can occur with addiction.

Long-term addiction can cause changes to the prefrontal cortex (the part of the brain that enables us to make rational decisions). When the pre-frontal cortex is not functioning correctly, impulsivity and compulsivity are usually present. Impulsivity occurs during the early stages of addiction – during this phase, people impulsively act on strong urges to experience the pleasure of their addiction. As the regular use of alcohol continues, a shift can occur, and the impulsive urge transforms into the compulsive aspect of addiction. When this occurs, people are no longer engaging with the substance solely for pleasure – the person feels compelled to engage in their addiction to relieve anxious, uncomfortable feelings. At this later compulsive stage, “pleasure” comes in the form of relief from these anxious, uncomfortable feelings.

Though the language may sound a bit different, the TCM take on addiction and addictive behavior acknowledges a person’s “constitutional tendencies” (including acquired genetics), but also takes into account daily lifestyle choices and a person’s context.  Desires for strong substances that lead to addictions are considered to originate within imbalance, usually in the form of mental/physical/spiritual/contextual stagnations and blockages (that you may have inherited, or have been faced to deal with due to the circumstances that you were born into). Please see this article on Acupuncture for Addiction and PTSD for information regarding how acupuncture can help with recovery.

The 12 Steps. Recovery is possible.
The 12 Steps. Recovery is possible.

 

 


Fighting Cavities

Here’s what we know about teeth, according to the hundreds of years of research in conventional dentistry.  Most of this information comes directly from the American Dental Association (ADA), a not-for-profit dental association. The ADA is considered the leading source of oral health related information for dentists and their patients. If you’re super dorky, like me, here’s the link for the ADA’s Center for Evidence-Based Dentistry. tooth medical anatomy

  1. There are four tissues that make up a tooth.  Enamel, dentin, and cementum are the hard tissues of a tooth.  The pulp is the soft tissue in the center.
  2. Enamel forms the outer surface of the crown of the tooth. It’s the hardest tissue in the body. Enamel allows the tooth to able to withstand a great amount of stress, seeing as your teeth are your chompy-chompers!  Once enamel is completely formed, it can’t grow more or repair itself, but it does have the ability to remineralize.  This means that areas experiencing early demineralization (loss of minerals) are able to regain minerals and stop the caries (cavity) process. I have difficultly understanding why that’s not considered an ability to repair…
  3. Dentin makes up the main portion of the tooth; it’s softer than enamel but harder than bone.  Dentin is permeated with microscopic canals (dentinal tubules).  These tubules contain fibers that transmit pain stimuli and nutrition throughout the tissues. Dentin does have the ability for further growth.
  4. Cementum is the tissue that covers the root of the tooth in a very thin layer.  It is not as hard as enamel or dentin, but it is harder than bone.  It contains fibers that help stabilize the tooth within the bone.
  5. The pulp is located in the center of the tooth, and is surrounded by dentin.  The pulp is made up of blood vessels, connective tissue, nerve tissue, and cells that are able to produce dentin. The pulp nourishes the tooth and produces and repairs dentin.  If the pulp tissues dies, then a root canal procedure is recommended to save the tooth.

Here’s what else we know about teeth:

  1. Approximately 96% of tooth enamel is composed of minerals. These minerals will become soluble when exposed to acidic environments. All acidity weakens teeth, but the amount of time that acids are in contact with teeth that determines the amount of damage. If mineral breakdown is greater than build up from sources such as saliva, cavities can result. Remineralization can also occur if the acid is neutralized by saliva. Rinsing with water can help.
  2. At 77°F, the pH of pure water is very close to 7, and is considered neutral.
  3. Enamel begins to demineralize at a pH of 5.5. When the pH at the surface of the tooth drops below 5.5, demineralization proceeds faster than remineralization.
  4. Dental caries (caries is Latin for “rottenness”), is also known as tooth decay or cavities. Cavities are considered a breakdown of teeth due to the activities of bacteria, most notably Streptococcus mutans. (Of interest: Many studies show that chewing xylitol gum may reduce salivary S. mutans levels.) Before the cavity forms in the dentin, the process is reversible, but after it spreads to the dentin, it is not.
  5. In the presence of sugar and other carbohydrates, bacteria in the mouth produce acids that can demineralize enamel, dentin, and cementum.The bacteria break down the hard tissues of the teeth by making acid from food debris or sugar on the tooth surface. The more frequently teeth are exposed to this environment the more likely dental caries are to occur.
  6. Bacteria collect around the teeth and gums in a sticky, creamy-colored deposit called plaque, which acts as a biofilm (a thin, slimy film of bacteria that adheres to a surface).
  7. Some sites collect plaque more commonly than others, like in the pits and fissures of the surface of the molars and cervical margins of the teeth.
  8. The primary focus of brushing and flossing is to remove and prevent the formation of plaque.
  9. As the amount of bacterial plaque increases, the tooth is more vulnerable to dental caries when carbohydrates in the food are left on teeth after every meal or snack.
  10. A toothbrush can be used to remove plaque on accessible surfaces, but not between teeth or inside pits and fissures on chewing surfaces. When used correctly, dental floss removes plaque from areas that could otherwise develop caries.
  11. There are certain things that can increase your risk for dental caries, such as tooth location and surface. Caries are most commonly found on incisors, canines, premolars, and fissure sites in molars.

Other things that increase your risk of caries include: vector illustration of diagram for anatomy of human mouth

  • Foods that cling to the teeth, such as candy or chocolate.
  • Frequent snacking and sipping on sugary drinks.
  • Bedtime infant feeding.
  • Inadequate brushing of teeth.
  • Dry mouth.
  • Heartburn.

Here’s what we know about taking care of your teeth and preventing cavities:

  1. Regular professional cleaning of the teeth – 2 prophylactic cleanings are recommended per year. (This can be problematic for many, for multiple reasons outlined in my previous post.)
  2. Brush your teeth at least two times per day (make sure one of these times is before you go to bed).
  3. Floss between the teeth at least once a day; more so if you have a problematic tooth that catches food. Toothpicks can be helpful for getting food out of hard to reach areas.
  4. Do not brush immediately after meals, especially those that are high in acid. Instead of brushing, consider rinsing your mouth with plain water.
  5. Chewy and sticky foods (such as dried fruit or candy) tend to adhere to teeth longer, so they are best eaten as part of a meal. For children, the American Dental Association recommends limiting the frequency of consumption of drinks with sugar, and not giving baby bottles to infants during sleep.
  6. The ADA recommends brushing twice a day with a fluoride toothpaste.

This is the 2nd post in a series of three. See How to Avoid a Root Canal and Fighting Cavities for the other two articles.

 

 

 


Coffee: Good or Bad?

We’re All On Drugs!

Okay, maybe not all of us. But let’s start by pointing out the obvious. Coffee contains caffeine and caffeine is a drug. Though some of us like to imagine “drugs” as the stuff the neighbors do while we steam broccolini and knit wool hats for the grandkids, well, it just ain’t true. Caffeine is a powerful psychoactive drug consumed by 90 percent of adults living in North America. In other words, the majority of us begin our day wrapping our lips around a steaming mug of drug.

Coffee berries. Some ripe, some ripening.
Coffee berries. Some ripe, some ripening.

I personally LOVE coffee, especially with a bit of sugar and a hearty splash of REAL, full-fat cream. Occasionally, I have a big fight with coffee, and we break up in order to reestablish healthy boundaries; but the truth is, coffee is my eternal love and I never stray too far. Green tea is calming and lighthearted and looks great in a chawan, but it just doesn’t give me the warm, earthy, kick-in-the-pants that coffee does. Because no one loves me like my coffee. My coffee understands me, and though it might be overly loud sometimes, in our quieter moments we share a deep, intimate understanding. Are you getting uncomfortable? Let me tell you more.

Though I normally don’t consume more than a 8-10 ounces a day, I do drink a strong cup of french-pressed coffee in the morning to help shake off the desire to stay in bed until 10 am. I’m sure many of you can agree with me on this one – it can be difficult (read: impossible) to start your day without a’cuppajoe.

According to wikipedia, the word coffee entered English language after a series of mutations of the Arabic word qahhwat al-bun, which means wine of the bean. Perfect, isn’t it? Wine of the bean. The coffee bean actually comes from a bright red berry that is plucked from an evergreen shrub (usually Coffea arabica, sometimes Coffea robusta). The berry is dried and the seeds are extracted. Those seeds (the coffee beans) are roasted to varying degrees (explaining the difference in taste according to roast).

A very strong cuppa’ joe can contain up to 300 mg of caffeine (average range, depending on how it’s brewed, is 80-170 mg of caffeine). For comparison, a cup of black tea, depending on how long it’s steeped, will have about 30-60 mg of caffeine. Curious about how much caffeine you’re consuming? Check this out.

La Vino de la Beano

You can smell it, can't you?
You can smell it, can’t you?

According to Traditional Chinese Medicine, coffee is a powerful medicine and should be used as such. Even a small amount (a single cup, even half a cup for some) can dredge stagnant liver qi. When the liver qi is constrained, the body/spirit will also feel constrained (i.e. tense and/or depressed).  Substances that move liver qi will usually result in a temporary but strong sense of mental and physical relief (the sludge has been moved through the pipes and now everything feels better). This is why people love coffee so much – it’s very effective at moving “stuck” liver qi. It’s also why we become addicted to it.

So, I Drink 12 Cups of Coffee A Day? IS THIS OKAY?

Caffeine is clearly the most prevalently used stimulant in the world. Coffee, tea, chocolate, cocoa, many soft drinks, diet pills, aspirin, various analgesics used for migraine headache and vascular pain, and even some herbal preparations contain either caffeine or very closely related substances. Examples of such caffeine-like substances are theobromine in chocolate and cocoa and theophylline in tea. When caffeine and similar compounds are taken in excess, any of several symptoms usually result: anxiety and nervousness, insomnia or light sleep patterns, various types of heart disease, stomach and intestinal maladies, and moodiness. When consumed regularly, as little as two cups of coffee can initiate these symptoms. Children who exhibit hyperactivity are often victims of diets rich in chocolate and cola drinks. – Paul Pitchford, Healing with Whole Foods

So, no, if you are interested in a healthy relationship with coffee, you probably don’t want to be drinking 12 cups of coffee a day. And by the way, Paul Pitchford’s Healing With Whole Foods is considered the “bible” of nutrition (if you’re interested in learning about the Traditional Chinese Medicine approach to food). It’s hundreds of pages of densely-packed information about one of our best medicines – FOOD!

So, here’s the problem with coffee. Like I mentioned above, coffee is strong medicine, and should be used as such. We tend to overdo it with coffee since we, culturally-speaking, tend to be so stagnant (in theory, alcohol and cigarettes are also potent qi-movers, which can help explain some of the addiction issues that surround those substances as well). Some of us do a lot of sitting at our computers, a lot of being “polite,” and a lot of stuffing down of emotions. And we don’t sleep or exercise enough. And sometimes we don’t have enough opportunity to laugh and love. At the end of the day, that makes for some tense shoulders, some unpredictable digestion, and a good dose of irritability. So, it makes sense that we crave substances that move qi, which is, understandably, stuck.

But here’s the downside of coffee. While it can effectively release ‘stuck’ liver qi, it does not necessarily regulate it. Some people, if overusing coffee, will feel mild to extreme negative effects – for instance, since coffee’s moving effect is so much more potent than it’s tonifying effect, those with a weak spleen or a blood deficiency may feel agitated after coffee, or experience gastrointestinal distress. When consumed over a long period of time, coffee can damage the blood (this could manifest as heart palpitations, anxiety, dizziness, “adrenal fatigue”). Excessive amounts of coffee can also agitate the liver and create ‘wind’ (manifesting as shakes/tremors) and exacerbate issues of “counterflow” (including complaints like acid reflux/GERD, belching, nausea, gastritis, insomnia, and panic attacks).

So, Should I Drink 2 Cups of Coffee a Day?

So, what to do with this  wonderful bean that tempts all the sensory organs of your face? (It blends sooooooo well with chocolate, too).

In the case of coffee, which should be thought of as a medicinal plant, emphasis should be on how well the plant matches the needs of the individual. If the two of your aren’t well-matched, well, it’s like an unending bad date. Consider giving it up or substituting with green/black tea. If you’re not well-matched but you love coffee too much to leave it, get creative. Consider ways in which you can make it a more balanced beverage (see below). If you try to do this and coffee just can’t meet your needs…well, I’m sorry to say but it’s time to pack up and leave (and take the dog, since the dog loves you best and you’re the one who takes care of it anyway).

But what does the research on coffee say, you ask? For a interesting, concise overview of research on coffee, see here (you can listen to the podcast or read the transcript). If you don’t feel like listening, here’s the summary: coffee is associated with numerous health benefits in the scientific literature.  However, it’s best when coffee consumption does not interfere with HPA axis function (the relationships and signals that exist between the hypothalamus, the pituitary gland and the adrenals). In other words, it shouldn’t be used to compensate for the fact that you’re run down, overworked, or over-stressed.

All of this, BELIEVE IT OR NOT, is right in line with the TCM theory of how coffee can work to your advantage…or not.

Practical Suggestions From Your Friendly, Coffee-Loving Acupuncturist

Matcha is a jewel-green, powdered, green tea that is rich in catechin polyphenols (compounds with high antioxidant activity). Frothed with .
Matcha is a powdered, emerald-colored, green tea that is rich in catechin polyphenols (compounds with high antioxidant activity). The l-theanine in green tea can also help bring you to nice, calm place.

1.) Use coffee as medicine. Many Americans use massive mugs/cups and drink coffee all day. Don’t do that.

2.) Experiment with green tea. Camellia sinensis is pretty awesome. Period. It’s a potent source of antioxidants and it contains a unique amino acid called l-theanine,  which is associated with “alert relaxation” making the buzz quite different from the coffee buzz. According to Traditional Chinese Medicine, green tea is cooling, as opposed to warming (if you’ve forgotten, coffee is warming). It’s said to brighten the eyes, open the meridians, improve digestion, and drain dampness. If coffee leaves you agitated in any way, try green tea instead.

Oh. And if you like green tea, check out matcha. It’s wonderful.

3.) Add organic virgin coconut oil or grass-fed butter to your coffee. In some circles, this is known as “Bulletproof  Coffee.” This mix is more appropriate for those who eat more plants than meat, and who tend to be more ‘cold’ than ‘warm.’ By adding butter/coconut oil to your coffee, you can ‘soften’ the extreme release of liver energy. Many people report that drinking their coffee in this way gives them much more extended energy throughout the day, sans jitters. According to Traditional Chinese Medicine, coconut oil is warm, sweet, strengthening, and can quell ‘wind.’ Butter/ghee is warm, yin-tonifying, and ever so slightly blood-moving.

Start by adding 1 tsp. of  coconut oil and/or 1 tsp. of grass-fed butter to your coffee. Blend it to emulsify the fats (a small immersion blender is helpful). Some people add up to 1 tbsp of coconut oil or butter to their coffee. I feel like 1 tsp. of each is enough, but that’s me. 

4.) If you’re blood deficient, experiment with adding Si Wu Tang to your coffee.  Si Wu Tang (a blood-tonifying formula) tastes pretty good, and mixes decently with coffee (depending how committed you are to a specific taste). For example, let’s say your period just ended. You’re feeling tired, stressed, and kind of anxious. You really want a warm mug of coffee, but you wonder if it will make you feel worse. Well, try adding Si Wu Tang granules to your coffee! The herbs in this formula not only tonify blood, but help ‘soften’ and regulate the liver. If you’re interested, granules are available at Wildwood Community Acupuncture.

Well, that’s a wrap! May you find your sweet spot with this beverage, and if not, may you find your sweet spot with another.


How to Avoid a Root Canal

I recently had a root canal and though it wasn’t painful, the experience absolutely sucked. I left the endodontist’s office two and a half hours later, $1300 less in my savings, feeling pretty dang defeated. After all was said and done, my debit card swiped by an ill-tempered front desk person,  I sat in my 90 degree car and took a fit (cried). This was the 6th dental appointment that I’d had in 2 months for the same problematic tooth.  Three nights previous to the root canal I dreamed that my teeth were falling out, one at a time. They looked like giant pieces of white coral. I’m used to experiencing dreams as tightly bundled metaphors; this was uncomfortably literal.

WHAT is going on with my teeth? 

I asked my dentist and my endodontist this exact question.

“I’m so anal about my teeth!” I reported. “I brush and floss twice a day, sometimes three.  Aside from a single cup of coffee in the morning, I drink water throughout the day. So why this dying tooth? Why the increase in cavities? Do you think that it could be related to changes in my diet?”

Though I asked these questions separately of my dentist and my endodontist, they had the same reaction: a shrug followed by silence. Though I might be wrong, I understood this body language to mean: Don’t know, don’t care, probably not. The only feedback I’d received from my dentist up to that point was that he attributed the problem to the location of the tooth and a history of grinding. But when I asked about the other two cavities that had been discovered, and wondered aloud why suddenly there was such an influx of problems in my pie hole, and mentioned again my regimented (read:anal) care of my teeth, and asked one more time about the potential role of nutrition since that was the only thing that had really changed for me, he shrugged again.

He didn’t even bother to answer why he didn’t think nutrition could play a role.

SAVE THE MOUTH OF THE WORLD, LAUREN!
The 1-2-3 punch: Policy, nutrition, proper care.

I couldn’t help but be momentarily overcome by self-doubt. Perhaps I’m so grossly uninformed about dental health that I am coming off as a giant idiot? Maybe questions are annoying? Maybe I’m annoying for asking questions? (I answered my own questions quickly: No. No. No.)

I was told by my dentist that a root canal was the only option left, so I set up an appointment with the endodontist that he recommended. For whatever reason, extracting the tooth wasn’t mentioned. Three weeks later, I went in for the procedure. The first step was an x-ray of my tooth so the endodontist could examine the root. As soon as the image popped up on the screen, the assistant asked a question.

“Why are we giving her a root canal? Her tooth looks perfectly healthy.”

The endodontist cleared her throat and answered, irked, “I’m the doctor; you’re the assistant.” She then turned to me, rolled her eyes, and said “You’re getting a root canal because all the other signs point to a root canal.”

This exchange, as you can imagine, instilled a surge of confidence.

Ohhhhh, crap!” I thought, and though my anxiety swelled and threatened to invade my body with a sickening heat, I stopped it in its tracks. I wasn’t the expert. Neither was the assistant. The endodontist had spent many years of her life studying how to care for teeth. Root canals are her thing! my rational brain exclaimed.

So, I opened my mouth, a meek pup, and 150 minutes later  I was released to the wild. The endodontist and her assistant talked about many things while the insides of my tooth were filled with Gutta-percha – basically, the assistant asked decent questions and the doctor scolded her for being silly. Not my cup of tea, and 150 minutes of this was a bit much, but c’est la vie. Honestly, I just wanted to be able to chew food on the left side of my mouth again.

Before leaving the office, I asked my endodontist for her opinion about my tooth. I explained to her about my diligent care of my teeth, and told her that my dentist said that maybe the damage was due to the location of the tooth. I asked if she thought that diet could be a possible factor.

She shrugged and said nothing.

Then she turned around and went into another room, where she immediately started bickering with her dental assistant.

As soon as I was in my car, I began to cry out of pure frustration. $1300 was a big chunk of change for dental work, especially in addition to the $150 I’d spent first trying to fill it like a regular old cavity. And the whole damn experience would have been 70 percent less frustrating if those on the receiving end of my cheddah’ could have taken the time to talk to me. Taken a single minute to answer a single question.

Anyway, back to the pitiful sobbing. Two boogery minutes later, my inner warrior-pirate lifted my chin and said, Get it together, Lauren. Go home. Do some research. SAVE THE MOUTH OF THE WORLD, LAUREN!!!!

Cue Chariots of Fire theme song.

Once I got home, I sipped at a tall glass of water with my fat-lipped, half-numbed face and for the next 3 hours (which turned into the next month), I researched the subject of all-things-teeth.

Before I share what I found, here’s a bit of history. At age 36, I’ve had a total of 4 cavities (not counting the recent proliferation of problems with ma’ pearls). Since I’ve lived in various places, I’ve seen a handful of dentists and my experiences have been mostly consistent. Any time I’ve had to have a cavity filled, I’ve started the appointment with a request for information: What can I do – other than brush and floss –  to keep my teeth healthy? With the exception of a recent Facebook exchange with a friend who’s a dentist, I’ve received little to no feedback or instruction. For instance, I did not know that you probably shouldn’t brush right after eating, especially if you’ve just eaten or sipped something acidic.

Historically, after a dental procedure, my tongue darting across some newly polished teeth or poking at a newly filled tooth, I’ve been reminded (as my debit card is being swiped) that dental insurance is inadequate. More than once, the priced-out sheet of what the dentist did that day and how much won’t be covered has made me cringe. Then my brain starts churning out concerns: What about people without insurance? What about the single moms, the students, the elderly, the working class, the kids, the poor? If regular cleanings are one of the most proactive things you can do to protect your teeth (get rid of that plaque!), and if any work done on your teeth quickly consumes your coverage, and if many people don’t even have the millimeter of padding that dental insurance affords, and if paying out-of-pocket is too expensive for many, and if the majority of dentists don’t accept Medicaid, then…well, we have an obvious problem.

“Lauren, that’s why the poor are associated with bad teeth,” my sister calmly explained. “And that’s why they show up to the ER with an abscessed tooth and leave with a prescription pain killer.” Dental medicine and healthcare - dentist examining little child boy patient open mouth showing caries teeth decay

Which is how an article titled “How to Avoid a Root Canal” turned into this post. (Yes, I do have practical suggestions in regards to dental care in the next posts; see here and here.)

But many people, and not just the poor, are unable to get the basic treatment they need. About 130 million Americans lack dental coverage, and the rest aren’t off the hook. Dental insurance rarely covers the full cost of treatment: In 2011, $39.2 billion—46 percent—of the $85.2 billion spent on dental care came directly out of patients’ pockets. Dentistry is expensive enough that many people postpone procedures they urgently need—even though an abscessed tooth is excruciatingly painful and potentially deadly if infection spreads to the bloodstream. Disrupting Dentistry, by June Thomas

According to The United States Department of Labor Occupation Employment Statistics, the annual mean wage of the general dentist is $166,810. Dental school is expensive (in 2013, dental school graduates had an average of $215,000 in educational debt), and most new dentists feel they have to embrace the for-profit model to pay back these loans. Because of this, many dentists end up serving a very specific population. As for dental “insurance?” Here’s some food for thought: In 1972, Delta Dental offered a maximum yearly benefit of $1,000, which bought a decent amount of dental care. Today, the average cap on dental plans is … $1,000. In over 40 years, the benefit has not gone up.

So, what exactly is going on here? Below is another except from a great article I came across in my maniacal consumption of all things dentistry. I’d highly recommend reading it if you’re interested in the complexity of the problem, including the problem that the dentists themselves have to face. One of the solutions suggested to confront the issue of accessibility is (somewhat) similar to…the community acupuncture model. Go figure!

When you hear how rare it is for private practice dentists to take on Medicaid patients, it’s easy to conclude that they’re selfish snobs prioritizing profit over the needs of poor kids. But it’s not that simple. There’s no question that Medicaid pays less than market rates, and as small-business owners, dentists can’t ignore financial considerations. Anyone with a limited number of billable hours each week would be sensible to fill them with the best-paying clients.

Dentists also have other reasons to be selective about the patients they serve. For people in good oral health, dentistry is an aesthetic pursuit. These people’s twice-yearly appointments typically consist of a cleaning by the hygienist and a thumbs-up from the dentist. Some dentists may prefer these quick and easy cleanings, with occasional elective procedures such as whitenings, over the complicated business of managing serious tooth decay and gum disease, which are more common among poor patients who may have missed out on good care as children. A dentist’s office has a lot in common with a fancy department store: The more expensive the clothes, the fancier the changing room, the more solicitous the saleswoman. Similarly, the higher a dentist’s fees, the more exclusive the waiting room. That’s why those dentists who do treat Medicaid patients often set aside a day just for them—it’s better for business to keep the two groups separate. –Disrupting Dentistry, by June Thomas

Before we move into the next blog post where I share my ideas on how we may practice preventative dental health through diet and other little tricks of the trade, below are a couple of resources, for those of you who might have found yourself stuck between a rock and a bad tooth. We have a serious dental crisis in Maine. Read about it here and here.

And please understand that my personal experiences around getting my tooth fixed are not representative of all visits to the dentist. When I started sharing my stories of dental woes, many, many people were happy to share the names of the dentists that they loved.

Though my tooth isn’t giving me acute pain any more, it’s still not resolved. I still can’t chew on that side of my mouth, and to complete the fix, it needs a crown – another $1300 out of pocket. It’s recommended that you get the tooth crowned ASAP in order to prevent complications, but many people have to wait for their insurance to ‘refill’ to complete the fix. Many never get it done because they simply can’t afford it.

This is the first of 3 blog posts on this subject. See Fighting Cavities and Your Teeth and Your Diet: What’s the Deal for the following posts on this subject.

 


Are Chinese Herbs Safe?

If you’ve ever visited an acupuncturist, a Chinese herbal formula may have been suggested as part your treatment plan. Chinese herbal medicine is a sophisticated medical system that dates back thousands of years. Each formula is designed to treat the needs of the individual, as opposed to the specific complaint. In other words, it’s possible that if three different people came to you reporting chronic back pain, three completely different formulas may be prescribed.

If you simply don’t have the time to read this whole post on the safety of Chinese herbs, know this: There have been legitimate issues in the past with the quality of Chinese herbs, including issues around contamination, adulteration, and mislabeling.  However, if you’re getting your herbs from Wildwood, know that you are getting safe, high-quality herbs. At Wildwood, we use herbs from Spring WindKPC, Blue Poppy, Kan Herb CompanyEvergreen, Classical Pearls, and Seven Forests. All companies independently test for pesticides, fungus, mold, spores, and heavy metals to ensure that levels fall below minimum requirements.

Most importantly (if you ever wanted to do your own research), all of these companies will provide you with a Certificate of Analysis (COA) for any herb or formula. A COA is the laboratory documentation issued by an inspection firm attesting to the quality or purity of exported herbs.

In addition, all of our herbalists have completed a 4 year Master’s degree in Chinese Medicine, and have many years of clinical work under their belt.  And beyond that, we simply wouldn’t give you something that we wouldn’t take ourselves.

Of course, some people come with specific questions regarding specific issues. Below are some common concerns that I’ve heard.

Aristolochic acid: “Chinese Herbs Cause Kidney Failure”

This is probably the most common concern that I’ve heard, and unfortunately, this issue is the result of misuse of Chinese herbs combined with poor-quality, fear-based reporting. In short, yes, there have been documented cases of kidney failure due to aristolochic acid-containing Chinese herbs, BUT the herb in question was 1) misidentified,  2) used erroneously, and 3) used in addition with very potent pharmaceutical drugs in a dangerous weight loss formula.

In addition, in 2000 the FDA banned Chinese herbs that contained aristolochic acid (AA). Currently there are strict guidelines in place to make sure any herbs containing aristolochic acid are removed from circulation. China has been slower to remove these herbs from their domestic market (though export is restricted). Personally, I’d go so far as to recommend avoiding sourcing your herbs from small-scale Chinatown shops in the US,  especially if you are a relatively uninformed layperson with no experience with identifying or using Chinese herbs.

So, what happened, anyway? Why and when did Chinese herbs become vilified and associated with this kidney-damaging acid? The proliferation of misinformation happened fast and furiously in the early 1990s in Belgium, when toxic herbs containing aristolochic acid (AA) were wrongfully used in weight-loss formulas. 

The main cases involving toxic levels of AA herbs have occurred with improper substitution of AA herbs for non-AA herbs that have a similar name. For example, the initial situation in Belgium involved the substitution of guăng fáng jĭ (Radix Aristolochiae Fangchi) for fáng jĭ (Radix Stephaniae Tetrandrae). A medical doctor without knowledge or training in TCM made this substitution in his weight-loss clinic, obtaining the herb from unreliable sources. He used large amounts of guăng fáng jĭ for prolonged periods of time, certainly beyond what a traditional prescription would call for.

Presently, in the United States, it is virtually impossible to obtain raw herbs or products containing AA, with the possible exception of small Chinatown herb stores importing herbs and products from overseas relatives.  -Jake Paul Fratkin, OMD, LAc

For more information about this issue, see here and here.

Pesticides

Rapid industrialization has changed our natural environment, and when it comes to selecting the things that we will consume, we must consider issues such as industrial waste and chemical pesticides/fertilizers. All companies we use for Chinese herbs test for pesticides and will make available a Certificate of Analysis upon request (many have the COAs readily available on their website). Here is an example of a COA.

If you’re interested, a more detailed article about this topic can be found here and here.

On the whole, the issue of pesticides in Chinese herbs should not be blown out of proportion. For most herbs, vendors that do systematic testing on hundreds of products very rarely find pesticide residue levels that surpass safe limits and the majority of Chinese herbs have no detected pesticides at all. Pesticides require attention and remain a significant concern, but the problems are case-by-case and are primarily focused on specific crops. -Eric Brand, L.Ac.

Herb-Drug Interactions

It’s not uncommon for a patient to seek care from several health professionals. As a result, patient’s are often taking a variety of drugs, herbs, vitamins and supplements at once. If you’re a patient, it’s your job to communicate clearly with your practitioner. Provide them with a list of the medicines, including over-the-counter medicines, that you take regularly (or occasionally). Also provide them with a list of any herbs, vitamins, and supplements that you take.

There are two ways in which interactions can happen: pharmocokinetic (fluctuation in bioavailability of herb/drug molecules in the body due to changes in absorption, distribution, metabolism and elimination) and pharmacodynamic (fluctuations in the bioavailability of ingested substances as a result of synergistic or antagonistic interactions between herb and drug molecules). For a detailed piece on pharmacokinetic interactions, see here. For a detailed piece on pharmacodynamic interactions, see here.

For a list of drugs with a higher risk for interaction, see here. If you are taking a blood-thinner, most acupuncturists will not prescribe herbs, even if you ask for them.

If you are going to take something in addition to a pharmaceutical drug, it’s often recommended that you take the additional supplement or herb 2-3 hours away from your medication in order to lower risk of interaction. Remember, your job is to communicate clearly with your practitioner, so that the potential for negative herb-drugs interactions can be minimized.

Efficacy and Research Traditional chinese herbal medicine ingredients over bamboo background with mortar and pestle and chopsticks.

John and Tina Chen’s Chinese Herbal Formulas and Applications and well as Chinese Medical Herbology and Pharmacology are two indispensable resources for information on Chinese herbs. Monographs include pharmacological effects, clinical studies and research, and safety data (herb-drug interactions, safety index, toxicology, symptoms and treatments of overdosage).

The Society for Acupuncture Research is also a favorite.

To conclude, I’d recommend a few simple steps in regards to assuring the safety of Chinese herbs. See a qualified, experienced Chinese herbalist. If you’re curious, ask about the company (companies) they use for herbs (bulk, granule, and encapsulated). Avoid experimenting with Chinese herbs unless you have reliable guidance.

Now enjoy the wonderful, balancing effects of Chinese herbs – they’re truly a wonderful addition to treatment when used correctly!

 

 


The Most Common Mistake that Parents Make

Bambinos: To Have or To Have Not

When I was in my late twenties and early thirties, there was a particular conversation that would always leave me feeling really, really frustrated. The conversation was about whether or not I was interested in having or adopting children. Not an inherently maddening subject; in fact, I’m thankful that it was a question that was being asked of me instead of assuming that I’d dive headfirst into motherhood just because I was equipped with a uterus. It was a genuine question, and like all questions, fun to ponder. For me, the pondering lasted about a millisecond.

“You think you’ll ever have kids?”

“No.”

Since the kid-question usually came from the child-bound folks in my life, the conversation would then morph into what it’s like to have kids; again, not an inherently maddening topic – potentially a hilarious one. Yet, inevitably, mid-conversation, a false accusation would arrive out of nowhere and leave me feeling peeved.

“You don’t understand because you don’t have children.”

The statement was delivered as if the childless layperson couldn’t grasp the reality of parenthood with their inexperienced, child-free, peabrain. Yet…for anyone who has spent time with a child, it’s not hard to imagine what it’s like living with one. Just like you’d intuitively get the hell away from the long, finned shadow in the water even if you’ve never seen a shark, you can tell that having a child is a lot of work simply by watching one on the monkey bars. An extra double full-time job. No holidays, no sick days, no extra pay for staying late, no nothin’ but a bundle of boogery sweetness that moves faster, talks more, and climbs higher with age.

But let me repeat, just to be annoying. Before I had a child, it was very obvious to me that having children = A TON OF WORK. Gratifying work, sure. But exhausting work.

I mean, duh.

Having a two year old is kind of like having a blender, but you don't have top for it. - Jerry Seinfeld
Having a two year old is kind of like having a blender, but you don’t have top for it. – Jerry Seinfeld

Anyway, fast forward a bunch of years, and here I am with a fat and funny two year old. Though I had imagined myself remaining child-free, voila! One day I had a strong sense that I should go to the Dollar Tree and get a pregnancy test (yes, they work, even from the Dollar Tree) and true to the tiny voice that had guided me to the store that morning, the test was positive. My partner and I had a very brief, super intense huddle. Though we were both freaked out and whimpering, we were ultimately excited about this turn of events and decided that it was okay. Now we have a two year old daughter who is adventurous, playful, and whom even uses irony in her day to day joke-making!

…And who leaves me collapsing into bed every night at 9:30 pm. I used to READ BOOKS until two in the morning.

And guess what? I now know what those parents were trying to say. The thing is, they were saying it wrong. In fact, when I had my daughter, all my assumptions about parenting proved to be correct. Big love? Check. Big worry? Check. Big fun? Check. Big stress? Check. Big exhaustion? Huh, what? Oh, sorry, I fell asleep with my eyes open.

What those parents could have said to me, back then, was this: “Losing your alone-time can be a very difficult adjustment.”

And I think that’s what they were trying to say. What they really wanted was someone to listen to them talk about how hard it is to adjust to parenthood. They wanted someone to understand that losing, in some cases, ALMOST ALL OF YOUR FREE TIME, is like wicked freakin’ hard. They want you to know this simple truth: If you have time to brush your teeth every morning, go to the gym a couple times a week, keep your toenails trimmed, and bake a loaf of banana bread on a whim – well, then your life is not like their life.

That’s it. They are jealous of your free time. But they don’t want to say that because that would be rude. And worse, they wouldn’t want someone to mistakenly think that they are lamenting the fact that they had children….as if EVERY SINGLE PARENT doesn’t occasionally daydream about their child-free, banana-bread-baking, leisurely-book-reading, stroll-taking, sure-I’ll-have-another-one because-I-can-sleep-in-tomorrow past. Because that would be bad.

Except for the simple fact that it would be honest. Healthy. Cathartic. Real.

You know – all those good things.

But here’s the thing, and here’s where I finally stop ranting about word choice and become more compassionate (because if you rant too long without offering practical solutions people start silencing their phones when you call). Having a moment of solitude is how most people rejuvenate. It’s how they unwind. It’s how they heal.  Think about it. If you’re super stressed, what do you do? Go for a run? Get comfortable on the couch and crack open a novel? Meditate? Make cookies? Have a beer and work on the daily crossword puzzle?

There are things that we naturally do to unwind, and most of them involve getting into a somewhat quiet, meditative space. They normally don’t involve someone screaming in your face, puking on your shirt, or lunging for your breast. So, when new parents realize that this meditative, rejuvenating space is now the size of two-lentils holding hands, they kind of freak out. Flossing your teeth becomes your free-time activity. You count the minutes until your child goes down for a nap so you can gobble a slice of turkey from the fridge and do 4 loads of laundry that all, literally, smell like crap.

And when you finally get out of the house to catch up with your best friend for dinner, let’s call her GinaBeth, who is child-free, just got back from South Korea, whose toes are cherry apple red and newly pedicured, and who can’t stop raving about all the hot sex she is having with her partner, you say things like “You just don’t understand.”

But wait! That’s not true! GinaBeth can understand. Instead, tell her all about your overgrown toenails, your unchanged oil, your atrophied quadriceps, and your neglected garden. And don’t worry, GinaBeth knows you love your kid. You don’t need to explain to her that even though you only sleep 3 hours a night, your child is a beautiful miracle that’s made you a better person, when actually you’re kinda worse since your fuse is super short from lack of sleep and your breath is bad because of lack of flossing. If you’re honest, GinaBeth will likely hear you and give you an extra hand since she is your best friend.

Which is the point of this post. Be honest, parents. The culture we live in simply isn’t designed to properly help new parents, especially new moms. So swallow your ego and give it a shot: ask for help. Because that temple you live is equally important to that baby’s temple, even though it’s not nearly as cute.

And though this blog is titled”The Most Common Mistake that Parents Make”, I just called it that so people would read it. SEO stuff. Just know that I wanted to call it “Parents, You are Strong and Brave and Good and Let Me Take that Baby From You So You Can Nap or Trim Your Toenails or Do Whatever The Heck You Want For the Next Hour, Ok, Good, Now Get Out of Here.”

 


My Favorite 3 Ingredient Recipes

Since my chore list has gotten increasing complex with time, I’ve developed a crazy love for simple things. Here’s a collection of my favorite, healthy, world’s-easiest recipes.

Chanana Crackers

Nutty and slightly sweet…and my 2 year old will eat them, praise be.

What you need: chia seeds, ripe banana, sea salt

Chia seeds.
Chia seeds.
  • 1/2 c. whole organic chia seeds (you can also use flax seeds)
  • 1 medium, very ripe banana, mashed
  • Sea salt to taste

Combine ingredients and press spoonfuls on a cookie sheet greased with coconut oil or olive oil. Make half-dollar sized rounds, pressed down as thinly as possible without separating the “dough.” Cook at 300 for 10 minutes, then at 350 for 10. (You can stop here, but I take them out, flip them, and cook them for 2-3 more minutes at 350). I like to get them as crispy as possible. Add a tiny bit of extra sea salt as they cool. Before you store, let them cool completely, or they will turn kinda rubbery rather than remain crispy.

Variations:

Experiment with different flavors when making these crackers. Try adding a teaspoon of cinnamon and a teaspoon of ginger.

Using a coffee grinder, you can grind a 1/4 cup of the seeds into a flour and combine with the other 1/4 of whole seeds. When you grind flax or chia into a flour, it increases the bio-availability of ALA and EPA, two important omega 3 fatty acids.

I like to put a dollop of sunflower butter or almond butter on these puppies, and call it a mid-afternoon snack for the kid and me.

The Blanche Devereaux

She’s golden and delicious, so I named her after my favorite Golden Girl.

Organic Raw Golden Honey Comb
“Dammit, Dorothy, if you’d have sex in public more often this kind of thing wouldn’t happen. ” -Blanche Devereaux

What you need: Raw honey, turmeric, and ginger

This is my go-to when I need a warm beverage and I’ve already had my allotted delicious n’wonderful french-pressed coffee. Coffee is so ridiculously good-tasting. But this is also ridiculously good-tasting, so it’s actually an effective substitute for those mid-day cravings for a 2nd cup of coffee.

Basically, I make a sort of “medicinal paste,” jar it, and leave it in my lunch bag. If you think that ‘medical paste’ sounds gross then YOU’RE THINKING OF MEDICAL PASTES ALL WRONG!

Here’s what I do:

I put 1/2 cup of raw honey in a small glass jar. Then I mix in 2 heaping tablespoons of powdered turmeric and 1 heaping tablespoon of powdered ginger root. (You can get creative and add 2 teaspoons of cinnamon, 1 tsp of cardamom, 1/2 tsp of clove…the variations are endless.) When I get a craving for a warm beverage, I take a big teaspoon of this paste and mix it with just-under-boiling water. Then, because I’m a hedonist, I add a splash of cream (sometimes raw cream from the Portland Food Co-op).

Introducing the Blanche Devereaux – a creamy sexy beverage that will leave your tongue a nice golden yellow for the next hour or so.

Oh Frack! Soup Suppe

I love potlucks, I do. But I often find myself, the morning of, thinking “Frack! The potluck!” A carnivalesque episode of Chopped flashes before me as I frantically dig through my fridge, wondering what I might make with a tin of sardines, some apple butter, and a bunch of chives. Then I decide to get some crackers and cheese – which 3 other people have brought at well, most likely the result of a similar morning. We eat cheese and tell bad jokes. It’s still fun, even if everyone is constipated the next day.

Then I discovered this soup. It’s delicious and savory. It’s filling and not overly carroty. And it takes, like, 20 minutes to make.

What you need: carrots, cashews, chicken stock

Boil a bag of peeled carrots until they are soft (if you poke ’em with a fork, the fork should pierce them with little resistance). Drain.

Add 1/2 cup of roasted cashews and 2 cups of chicken stock to the boiled carrots.

Whip out the immersion blender (if you don’t have one, you can use an upright blender, but then, later that day you should get an immersion blender because they are awesome).

Blend away until smooth. At this point, the soup may be a bit thick; you can thin the soup with additional chicken stock to desired consistency.

Season with salt and pepper, or with chicken bouillon paste (I use a teaspoon of bouillon paste as long as the chicken stock isn’t too salty).

And now you’ve brought the fiber to that potluck, hey!

Yea Big Frittatas

It may be the cock that crows, but it is the hen that lays the eggs. - Margaret Thatcher
It may be the cock that crows, but it is the hen that lays the eggs. – Margaret Thatcher

These little egg muffins make a simple breakfast or snack. They are easy to make and easy to pack. Definitely warm them before eating, preferably in the toaster oven, since cold eggs are disgusting.

What you need: eggs, broccoli, sharp cheese

  • 4 eggs
  • 1 cup steamed broccoli (chopped fresh or frozen spinach works too)
  • 1/2 cup sharp cheddar, shredded (you can also use feta crumbles)

Preheat oven to 375.

Generously coat a 6 hole muffin tin with olive oil.

Chop up broccoli and add to eggs and cheese. Whisk.

Add salt and pepper (about 1/2 tsp each) to taste. I like to add additional spices – either oregano and thyme, or turmeric and red pepper flakes.

Or cumin. Since I love cumin on everything, no joke.

Pour mixture into muffin tins.

Bake for 12-15 minutes, or until the eggs are set (eggs should not be runny or wet at the top).

Salty Chip Peas

Roasted and salted chick peas.
Roasted and salted chick peas.

I have a serious problem with the Kettle brand Krinkle Cut Salt and Pepper potato chips. I don’t buy them, but if they appear in front of me (how did that happen?), I eat them and eat them and eat them until I have to have someone move them to an alternate physical location. I’m a sucker for crunch and salt, so when I discovered this recipe, I felt like I had cheated the universe.

What you need: Can of garbanzo beans (chickpeas), olive oil, sea salt

Preheat over to 400.

Rinse and dry chickpeas. Hint: Dry them really well. You can use a paper towel to rub away the thin skin that covers them if you’re anal and/if you have the time.

In a bowl, toss the chickpeas with olive oil and sea salt. (I also add fresh pepper, cumin, chili powder, and 1/2 tablespoon of maple syrup.)

Spread on a cookie sheet and bake until the chickpeas are crisp and crunchy, about 30-40 minutes.

No Nap Pancakes

Pancakes and Bananas
Yum-diddily-yumpkins!

My partner loves pancakes. You can just say the word ‘pancake’ and his eyes will roll to the back of his head with a freakish kind of joy. My daughter seems to have inherited this obsession. Me? I’m not a big fan. Sure, they taste great, but I always want to nap after eating a stack. The flour and syrup spike my blood sugar, then it plunges and makes me grumpy and sleepy and all I want to do is cover myself with a fuzzy blanket and watch my love, Louie CK, on the boob tube.

This was my successful compromise.

What you need: ripe bananas, 2 eggs, 1/2 cup of almond butter (peanut butter works, too)

  • 2 brownish bananas, mashed
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/2 cup almond butter (or peanut butter)
  1. Whisk together all ingredients.
  2. Cook on a greased griddle or cast iron pan on medium-low – these take a little longer to cook through than regular pancakes, because you need to cook them at a lower temp.
  3. I like mine with just a bit of butter, but the other two embellish their breakfast with Maine maple syrup.

After eating, go for a nice long walk and discuss how brilliant Louis CK is, and how cute he is, too.

Roasted Broccoli with Teriyaki Dipping Sauce

broccoli florets
Little green shrubs of versatility.

I love love love veggie tempura. But when I’m cooking at home, I don’t fry anything. Not because I’m too-healthy for it, but because I’m kinda lazy and don’t want to deal with the mess. If I’m craving tempura, this is good enough to mollify my craving.

What you need: 2 crowns of broccoli, olive oil, red pepper flakes (or, even better, Shichimi Togarashi)

Set oven to 450.

Chop two broccoli crowns into small, bite-sized florets. Toss with small amount of olive oil and seasoning.

Spread across cookie sheet. Roast for 12-15 minutes

While broccoli is roasting, whisk together 1/3 cup soy sauce (or wheat-free tamari), 1 tbsp. fresh minced ginger, and 1-2 tsp brown sugar.

Dip! Eat! Enjoy!

 

 

 

 

 

 


Herbs for Natural Pain Relief

Anti-Inflammatory Herbs For Pain Relief

This is part two of a series on treating pain naturally. If you haven’t read the first post, see here.

Below are some common supplements for decreasing inflammation. While two of these are herbs that can be found in the spice rack, in order to get the anti-inflammatory benefits, taking a concentrated dose in capsule form is recommended.

Using single herbs in high concentrations is more in line with Western herbalism than Traditional Chinese herbalism. Taking high doses of single herbs is not common to TCM; herbal formulas are constructed according to the kind of pain (including location) and take into consideration the patient’s underlying constitution, and there are usually multiple herbs in a formula. I wrote this post on single herbs because my patients are often more familiar with Western herbalism. Many report that the following supplements have been effective for mitigating pain, especially when taken consistently and over time.

Turmeric 

Most often used for arthritis (osteo and rheumatoid), tendinitis, bursitis, post-surgical inflammation, acute injuries, and inflammatory bowel disease.

Turmeric comes from the root of the Curcuma longa plant. It has tough brown skin and bright orange flesh. Traditionally used as a pain-relieving herb in both Ayurvedic and Traditional Chinese Medicine, much of the recent research on turmeric has confirmed it’s anti-inflammatory effects.

The volatile oil fraction of turmeric has demonstrated significant anti-inflammatory activity in a variety of experimental models. Even more potent than its volatile oil is the yellow or orange pigment of turmeric, which is called curcumin. Curcumin is thought to be the primary pharmacological agent in turmeric. In numerous studies, curcumin’s anti-inflammatory effects have been shown to be comparable to the potent drugs hydrocortisone and phenylbutazone as well as over-the-counter anti-inflammatory agents such as Motrin. Unlike the drugs, which are associated with significant toxic effects (ulcer formation, decreased white blood cell count, intestinal bleeding), curcumin produces no toxicity. – from WHFoods.com

Curcumin is also a  powerful antioxidant. It helps fight oxidative damage and boosts the body’s own antioxidant enzymes. For more about turmeric, including research, see here.

Dosage: The daily dosage is 400-600mg of encapsulated extracts, three times per day (or as directed on label of product). Whole turmeric and isolated curcumin products are available (I prefer whole turmeric that is standardized for 95% curcuminoids.)

Neither curcumin nor turmeric taken orally is well absorbed unless taken with black pepper or piperine, a constituent of black pepper responsible for its pungency. When shopping for supplements, make sure that the one you choose contains black pepper extract or piperine. (If you’re cooking with turmeric, be sure to add some black pepper to the food.). Be patient when taking turmeric supplements: the full benefits may not be apparent for eight weeks. -Dr. Andrew Weil

Potential side effects: Rare. Occasional stomach upset or heartburn if used over time.  Not to be used with blood-thinning drugs, like warfarin or coumadin. Questions exist around whether turmeric/curcumin is appropriate for those with gallstones or bile duct dysfunction, though curcumin can increase bile solubility. If you are pregnant, consult with your doctor before using turmeric.
Note: If you are taking turmeric with piperine, please note that piperine can slow the elimination of some prescription drugs including phenytoin (Dilantin), propranolol (Inderal), and theophylline. Some evidence also suggests that curcumin can interfere with a chemotherapy agent used to treat breast cancer, so discuss the with your physician if you are currently in treatment.

Traditional Chinese Medicine: TCM has long included turmeric in its pharmacopeia. Curcuma longa, referred to as jiang huang, is considered warming and blood vitalizing. It’s used to eliminate blood stasis, promote the flow of qi, and relieve pain.  For you herbalists out there, take note: jiang huang should not be confused with yu jin or e zhu.

Ginger.
Ginger.

Ginger Root 

Most often used for arthritis (rheumatoid and osteo), muscle pain, menstrual cramps, nausea, and stomach discomfort (dyspepsia). 

Zingiber officinale, or ginger, is a flowering plant in the family Zingiberaceae whose rhizome (underground root) is widely used as a spice and a medicine.

Ginger contains very potent anti-inflammatory compounds called gingerols. These substances are believed to explain why so many people with osteoarthritis or rheumatoid arthritis experience reductions in their pain levels and improvements in their mobility when they consume ginger regularly. In two clinical studies involving patients who responded to conventional drugs and those who didn’t, physicians found that 75% of arthritis patients and 100% of patients with muscular discomfort experienced relief of pain and/or swelling.  –from WHFoods.com

Dosage: 500 mg one to three times daisly, standardized to 5% gingerol content. Some take up to 3 grams of ginger (total) per day.

Potential side effects: Rare, but include heartburn and digestive upset. Avoid taking ginger if you have gallstones or if you are on a blood thinner, like warfarin or coumadin.

Traditional Chinese Medicine: Dried ginger (gan jiang) warms the spleen and stomach, warms the lung and transforms phlegm, warms the channels to stop pain, and stops bleeding due to cold. Fresh, sliced ginger (sheng jiang) releases the exterior in wind-cold conditions, warms the the spleen and stomach and lung, and alleviates coughing. Note: Dried ginger is considered more warming than fresh ginger.

Bromelain Pineapple with slices

Okay, it’s not technically an herb, but it’s effective at reducing inflammation and it comes from a common food. Derived from the stem of the pineapple plant, bromelain is a proteolytic enzyme (capable of digesting protein) that is absorbed from the GI tract and is able to promote healing of tissue injuries.

Most often used for sprains and strains, bruises and hematomas, wound healing. (Some research shows that it works well for sinusitis, too). 

If you’re curious about the research on bromelain, see here.

Dosage: Look for bromelain that is enteric-coated. The coating prevents bromelain from being destroyed by gastric juices, and assures it anti-inflammatory properties rather than simply working as a digestive enzyme.

The dose is 200 to 400 milligrams three times a day, taken on an empty stomach (at least ninety minutes before or three hours after eating). Bromelain is measured in MCUs (milk clotting units) or GDUs (gelatin dissolving units). One GDU equals approximately 1.5 MCU. Strong products contain at least 2,000 MCU (1,200–1,333 GDU) per gram (1,000 mg).

Potential Side Effects: Bromelain is generally safe and free of side effects when taken in moderate amounts. Some people are allergic to bromelain (if you’re allergic to pineapple, don’t take bromelain). Because bromelain acts as a blood thinner and little is known about how bromelain interacts with blood-thinning drugs, people should avoid combining such drugs with bromelain in order to reduce the theoretical risk of excessive bleeding.

In theory, bromelain could increase the anti-inflammatory effects of nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) and could cause a larger than expected fall in blood pressure from ACE inhibitors. Bromelain may increase the absorption of some antibiotics; stop taking bromelain if you are on antibiotics.

Lastly, consider Traditional Chinese herbs for treating pain. See your local acupuncturist for a formula suited to your specific needs.

Curious about Chinese herbs with analgesic or anti-inflammatory properties? See here.

 


Giant Orange Berry Proves to Be Miracle Fruit

 

Yes, I meant to make the title sound like it could never deliver.  Sometimes I see these kinds of ads, you know, the “101 year old man used this cream and now his…!” and I can’t help but click it.

SO ANYWAY, WHAT IS THIS GIANT ORANGE BERRY AND WILL IT CURE MY RASH?

Well, the giant orange berry is the pumpkin, and though I’m not sure about the rash, the pumpkin is pretty amazing.

Pumpkinmania!

I absolutely love pumpkins. I love the way they look, they way they feel, the way they smell, and the way they taste. If I had to choose 3 things to bring with me on a deserted island, I’d choose pumpkin seeds, High Tide in Tuscon by Barbara Kingsolver, and the complete episodes of The Wire. Of course, I’d die. But I’d die happy, clutching a bunch of seeds in one hand, Kingsolver’s essays in the other, and staring at my useless set of dvd’s (seeing as I have no computer), only slightly wishing that I would have brought a portable desalination machine and a solar powered chain saw.

But I digress…

Did you know that the pumpkin is my spirit fruit?! Yes, that’s right. My spirit fruit. A pumpkin is not a vegetable. In fact, it’s actually a berry. In order to attain berry-dom, you must be a fleshy fruit produced from a single ovary, and this applies to the lovely pumpkin.

Pumpkins belong to the family Cucurbitaceae (which includes cucumbers, melons, squash, and gourds). The bigger pumpkins are best for carving, but the smaller, pie pumpkin varieties are good to use for cooking since the flesh is more tender and the flavor sweeter. When it comes time to pick your cooking pumpkin, choose a pumpkin that is heavy for its size, has a hard rind, and is free of blemishes or bruises.

Pumpkins, According to Traditional Chinese Medicine

Sugar pumpkins. They kinda seem like they should be wearing denim and smoking cigarettes. Non?
Sugar pumpkins. They kinda seem like they should be wearing denim and smoking cigarettes.

According to Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) the pumpkin is a potent spleen-tonic. It can relieve dampness and help regulate blood sugar, two things from which most of us can benefit. It can also promote discharge of mucus from the respiratory tract and regular consumption could help bronchial asthma. Pumpkin is also used to treat nausea, erectile dysfunction, and prostatitis.

And pumpkin seeds?! Also awesome! The seeds (also known as pepitas) can help drain dampness. It’s suspected that they can also help dispel round worm and tapeworm (the seeds of pumpkins are believed to contain a deworming compound called cucurbitacin which has been used to expel tapeworms and roundworms in domestic livestock for years). The seeds, and the oil from the seeds have also been valued for their anti-microbial benefits, including their anti-fungal and anti-viral properties. Pumpkin seeds are also a valuable source of zinc and omega-3 fatty acids, and they provide us with vitamin E in a wide diversity of forms (we are likely to get more health benefits when we consume foods that contain a vitamin in all of its different forms).

10 Ways to Enjoy the Spleen-Loving Pumpkin

Pumpkin is a sadly underutilized fruit. Check out these 10 creative ways to add more pumpkin to your life.

1) First of all, let’s get the most important thing out of the way. CHECK OUT THESE AWESOME PUMPKIN-CARVING HACKS! Like, for real. They’re really, really good.

Roasted pumpkin seeds with a bit of salt and fresh black pepper.
Roasted pumpkin seeds with a bit of salt and fresh black pepper.

2) Carve a pumpkin, save the seeds!  In other words, whether you’re baking with a pie pumpkin or carving a jack-o-lantern, save the seeds and roast them for a delicious treat. Directions: Pick out seeds. Pick off guts from seeds. Rinse in colander. Boil for 5 minutes (this can make them easier to digest, but you can skip this step if you’d like.) Pat seeds dry. Toss with olive oil and sea salt. Roast for 8 minutes in baking sheet at 325. Take them out of oven, stir/toss, and roast for another 5-10 minutes at 325 until crispy. Be careful not to burn the inner seed. Taste test throughout second roasting.

3)  Make a pumpkin pi and be the cleverest neighbor on the block (see picture).

4) I found this recipe for a pumpkin seed dip that is traditional to the Yucatán. It’s called Sikil P’ak.

1 ¼ cups raw, unhulled pumpkin seeds
2 plum tomatoes, cored
1 habanero chile, stemmed
3 tbsp. finely chopped cilantro
3 tbsp. finely chopped chives
Kosher salt, to taste

-Heat an 8″ skillet over medium-high heat. Add pumpkin seeds, and cook, swirling pan often, until lightly toasted, about 3 minutes. Transfer to a food processor, and process until smooth, about 45 seconds; set aside.
-Return skillet to heat and add tomatoes and chile; cook, turning as needed, until charred all over, about 5 minutes for the chile, 7 minutes for the tomatoes. Transfer to food processor with pumpkin seeds along with cilantro, chives, and salt, and pulse until smooth. Transfer to a bowl, and serve at room temperature.

5) This recipe was in Saveur and it made my heart skip a beat when I saw it: Pumpkin and Bourbon Mousse.

6) If you are interested in building a boat out of a giant pumpkin and then racing it across the river, then you know you’re a Mainah! Check it out. 

7) PUMPKIN SPICE LATTE with coconut cream. Egads.

8) Cilanto & Pumpkin Seed pesto. I almost lost my shnipz when I saw this. Cilantro is my second favorite thing in the world. My daughter  is my third favorite.

9) Yes, I’m serious. My daughter is my third favorite thing, after pumpkin and cilantro. I’m not kidding.

Anyway…use pumpkins to flesh out one of the greatest insults ever to exist. I found this insult in The Online Slang Dictionary and I laughed about if for…well, I’m still laughing.

pumpkin positive, adjectivean insulting notation used by doctors in the UK on medical charts. Refers to the implication that a penlight shone into the patient’s mouth would encounter a brain so small that the whole head would light up.