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Treating Acute and Chronic Pain

What in tarnation IS THIS THING? Whatever it is, it's  NOT REPRESENTATIVE of acupuncture.
What in tarnation IS THIS THING? Whatever it is, it’s NOT REPRESENTATIVE of acupuncture.

Pain sucks, no doubt about it. Whether it’s acute or chronic, it can cloud your thinking, mess with your sleep, disrupt your ability to get around, and affect your relationships. In the community acupuncture clinic, pain is one of the most common things we treat.

Before going into the details about how to best treat pain, I do want to take a moment to share one essential piece of advice: Try to be compassionate toward others who are experiencing pain, especially those who deal with the chronic kind. People experience and handle pain differently. Generally speaking, it’s best to avoid assessing the “validity” of another person’s pain, since that would be insensitive and annoying.

Try not to do that.

Also, understand that people in pain are not always confined to their beds. You may see them out and about, trying to live their lives despite their pain. People who experience chronic pain are often grouchy, anxious, and/or depressed.  Before judging them, take a moment to consider how you might feel if pain greeted you every morning upon waking. If you think you’d be consistently chipper and glass-half-full, well, you’re probably a Cylon.

So…what is the best way to treat pain?

Well, if you haven’t tried acupuncture yet, here’s my shameless promotion: GET POKED! Acupuncture should be a relaxing, rejuvenating, pain-reducing experience. And in case you’re wondering, an acupuncture treatment will not leave you looking like Pinhead from Hellraiser. And yes, I have been asked that.

Herbal medicine can also be helpful in managing pain. More on that in a bit.

Treating Pain With Conventional Medicine

Ideally, we’d always treat pain the same way: identify and remove the cause. Unfortunately, it’s not that easy. Sometimes, we don’t know the cause of pain. Sometimes we know the cause but there’s little we can do about it. And sometimes, whether or not we know the cause, symptomatic pain relief is a priority (such as in the case of traumatic injuries, acute migraine, cancer-related pain, and surgical procedures).

Analgesic medications are usually the first line of treatment for pain; thankfully, many of them work quickly and well. An analgesic drug relieves pain and, very-generally-speaking, can be divided into either opioid or non-opioids. No matter the type of pain medication you use, they all have potential for side effects, especially when used over time. Since we’ve already established that pain sucks, the fact that common pain meds can come with nasty side effects is a double suck.

Adverse Drug Reactions

White pills on black
I, for one, was thankful for the stronger class of pain meds after my caesarian section. I refused at first. About 6 hours later, I changed my mind.

All pain medications come with a list of potential adverse drug reactions (ADRs). An adverse drug reaction is an injury caused by taking a medications. Adverse drug reactions are one of the leading causes of morbidity and mortality in health care.

Many patients want to know if there is anything they can take to treat their pain more naturally. In most cases, the answer is yes. That being said, natural does not necessarily imply safe; it’s best to consult with your PCP before adding anything into your regimen, especially if you have any chronic conditions or are taken any other medications.

With that necessary (but generic) advice given, the reality is that some conventional medical practitioners will know very little about herbs and supplements for treating pain. If that’s the case, it’s up to you (and your CAM practitioner, if you’re working with one) to make informed decisions if you decide to try an herb or supplement for pain.

Herb-drug interactions do exist. In most cases, some simple guidelines can help you avoid that. More on that here. And here.

All of that out of the way, let’s look at some other options for treating pain.

Start from the Beginning: Your Daily Fuel

What we eat can affect how we feel. That’s a no brainer. Put simply, your diet can contribute to inflammation, and inflammation is always at the root of pain. As much as possible, relax when you eat, chew your food, and take a moment to embrace the inherent pleasure of flavor. Try to incorporate community around the table; in other words, if possible, share, and enjoy the company of those with whom you decide to break bread. Being mindful of the experience of eating, rather than obsessing about what to eat, is a manageable starting point for most.

For patients who want to know more about specific dietary advice – simply put, you want to decrease food choices that contribute to inflammation. Below are some of my favorite resources, if you’re interested in reading more. Experimentation is key to understanding what works for your body. Detail of a man shopping in a supermarket

I do not think there is a single “diet” that is best for everyone. My intention here is not to preach; I would, however, like to provide some good resources for you to peruse in order to make a decision about what works for you, and seems sustainable. Remember, the blue zone areas (five regions in various parts of the world identified as having the highest concentrations of centenarians) have quite different diets from one another. (Read this short but fascinating piece on those populations who specialize in longevity here).

Let’s start with some simple guidelines: 27 Health and Nutrition Tips that Are Actually Evidence-Based

Dr. Weil’s anti-inflammation diet: Free, full of info, including a food pyramid you can print and hang on your fridge. Includes animal products. Anecdotally-speaking, seems to have worked well for many of my patients in regards to shedding pounds, feeling energized, and having less pain.

The Anti-Inflammatory Diet and Recipe Book: One of my favorite books, easy-to-read, concise information and devoid of self-aggrandizement or markety gimmicky crap. Tried and true recipes. I have many patients who report that reading this book helped immensely with their health problems, and helped them understand what can help fight inflammation.

Forks Over Knives: A whole-food, plant-based diet heavily influenced by The China Study. In my opinion, good for some constitutions, not good for others (to be clear, I think whole-food, plant-based food is great for everyone, but not always at the expense of all animal foods, especially if you tend to be “blood deficient” or “yin deficient” according to TCM). Patients with excess constitutions (if they can muster the discipline and support), can thrive on this diet. A revolutionary way of looking at food for many.

Low-Carbohydrate Diets: So, is it a dietary fad, or not? A body of favorable research does seem to be growing for the low-carbohydate diet. But again – this diet it most likely good for some, not great for others (one issue that I’ve come across when talking to my patients is that some felt like they did well on this diet but couldn’t sustain it).

So, yeah….choosing what to put in your mouth can be complicated. If you find this overwhelming, start with these simple rules.

Now let’s take a look at herbs that can reduce inflammation.

 

 


The Menstrual Cycle: How, What, When, Where, and Why

 

Okay. Now that you know all the basics about two of the sex hormones involved in the menstrual cycle, and you’re familiar with how Traditional Chinese Medicine views the menstrual cycle, let’s round this out with the physiological explanation of this cycle.

Note: This graph, as well as the information below is based on an “average” 28 day menstrual cycle. I don’t meet many people whose cycle is actually 28 days. The range is somewhere between 20-40 days.

Those Couple of Days Before Your Period

We see A LOT of patients in the clinic who make it a point to come get acupuncture during this time – mostly because they are trying to deal with The Hulks (also known as PMS or in more severe cases, PMDD). Not a good time for many, but fine for some.

Protagonists in an age-old story. Check out nose dive at Day 28.
Protagonists in an age-old story. Check out nose dive at Day 28.

For a long time there was significant disagreement as to whether PMS was even a legitimate medical condition (insert long sigh). Then, in 2007, REAL LIVE evidence was found to explain the thing that women have been talking about/complaining about/insisting upon for hundreds of years! Go figure…

So, what happened? Well, the first significant genetic finding in premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD) was reported. At this point, a number of  theories have been put forward to help explain PMS – the most predominant being the most obvious (hormones take a serious nose dive).

Estrogen/progesterone/testosterone levels reside at rock bottom during those couple of days before your period starts. There is some evidence that these hormones have a strong effect on the serotonin, norepinephrine, dopamine and endorphine receptor sites (all of which are involved in mood regulation). Therefore, any disruption (nose dive!) in the balance of these hormones could contribute to the symptoms of PMS/PMDD.

For a another perspective on PMS/PMDD, and one that takes into account the range of PMS in intensity as well as symptoms, see the brilliant Traditional Chinese Medicine explanation.

Days 1-7: Surfing the Crimson Wave

Within a couple of hours after bleeding starts, estrogen and testosterone levels begin to climb (which helps boost the brain’s level of serotonin and may account for the relief that many feel once their period starts). Some experience an increase in menstrual cramping at the uterus expels blood and tissue. There’s a great formula called Corydalis 5  that is wonderful for menstrual cramping – I prescribe it a lot. People with uteruses LOVE it.

Leave me alone with my book. I'm menstruating.
Leave me alone with my book. I’m menstruating.

In the meantime, while you’re lounging on the couch watching Battlestar Galactica and sipping Raspberry Leaf Tea (or half-deep into a bag of chips, let’s be honest), the still-low levels of estrogen and progesterone at the start of the period signal the pituitary gland to produce follicle stimulating hormone (FSH). FSH begins the process of maturing a follicle (a sac in the ovary which contains a wee’ egg). The follicle also makes estrogen, which results in a slow climb of estrogen (estradiol) levels. By day 7, estrogen and progesterone have risen significantly. Many patients report feeling better once their hormone levels have risen from their former position at…rock bottom.

Days 7-14: Gilding the Red Room

Estrogen and testosterone continue to rise. During this time, the uterine lining (endometrium) begins to thicken. It’s now a tissue rich in blood vessels and an more optimal environment for the implantation of a blastocyst (i.e. the uterine lining is prepared for the possible embedding of a fertilized egg). High levels of estrogen make some feel energetic and social; however, for some, high levels of estrogen can result in headaches or spikes in anxiety.

Days 14- 21: Release the Kraken!

Progesterone is produced in the latter two weeks of the menstrual cycle to balance out the regenerative effects of estrogen and stops further endometrial growth (i.e. progesterone prevents the uterine lining from further thickening).

At ovulation (day 14ish), the increased estrogen levels from the previous follicular stage trigger a spike in luteinizing hormone (LH) from the pituitary gland, causing release of the egg from the follicle.

I don't know about you, but this is how I feel sometimes when I'm ovulating.
I don’t know about you, but this is how I feel sometimes when I’m ovulating.

Release the Kraken!!!”

Ovulation is an immediate cue to estrogen and testosterone to take a break for a bit. In the meantime, progesterone levels climb all week.  Some feel sluggish due to the dip of estrogen/testosterone and the rising levels of progesterone. However, 3-4 days after ovulation, the hormones play nice and for a moment, they all rise together.

I’ve ran across an article in a crappy fashion magazine that said sex drive will dip due to the increase in progesterone levels, and that orgasms are more difficult to reach during this time. I personally don’t know what the hell they’re talking about, since….(cough cough). But isn’t that always the case?  Each situation is unique, and dependent on the subtle details of your body (as well as on hundreds of other factors that might affect how you feel). The lesson: Use this as a general road map, and figure out how YOU react to these changes. Cuz one woman’s progesterone spike is another woman’s pleasure.

Days 21-28: It’s Not You, It’s Me, Or Maybe It’s You, Yeah It’s Definitely You

We already know that rising levels of estrogen are responsible for the build up of the uterine lining (endometrium), so if no blastocyst parks itself in this lining, the levels of estrogen decrease. Decreasing estrogen loosens the support for the endometrial lining and prepares the body for menses.

In general, during this premenstrual week, estrogen, testosterone, and progesterone begin to drop.  Many patients find that this is the most

Stop talking and fetch me some salt n' vinegar chips. Please.
Stop talking and fetch me some salt n’ vinegar chips. Please.

difficult part of their cycle, especially the closer they get to their period. Their mood can vacillate from mellow-yellow to beet-purple in seconds. Dipping estrogen is associated with all kinds of crappy things, like migraines and insomnia.

Important to note: Some don’t experience these premenstrual issues, and fly through this phase like a pink-striped unicorn across a field of Monkeyflower and Beardtongue (common wildflowers, if you aren’t in the know). Anyway…

As the levels of estrogen decrease, it also decreases the brain’s level of the feel-good chemical, serotonin, while increasing the stress hormone, cortisol. This combo can make that already unpredictable thing called Life a little more tricky to navigate – like someone dumped a bunch of banana peels in your path. Low estrogen levels can also cause night sweats and low temperature, which can disrupt the quality of sleep.

If you can relate to this – it sucks, no doubt. Come get some acupuncture. It really helps. If you can’t relate to this, great! But if you run into someone who is dealing with The Hulks, perhaps offer ’em a foot rub. If you hate feet, well, a hot cup o’ tea and a bit of understanding can go a long way.

 


The Menstrual Cycle According to Traditional Chinese Medicine

 

This is the second post in a series of three. If you haven’t read the first one yet, here it is.

Those Couple of Days Before You Start Your Period…

…can potentially suck pretty bad.

PMS can pretty much feel like this.
PMS can pretty much feel like this.

We see it all of the time in the community acupuncture clinic, that assortment of discomforts that can include bloating, irritability, breast pain, cramps, loose stools, and an aching lower back. Then there are the little ‘subtle’ things, like the appetite from hell and road rage. The bad skin and the bad hair. The Chicken Little anxiety that you wake up with one day and carry with you all day long.

I had one patient say to me once: “I feel like the sky is falling. If it does, I’ll punch it.”

Wraps up that feeling nicely, huh?

Most of the time, these seemingly unrelated issues can be attributed to underlying liver qi stagnation. Since the liver is in charge of  the ‘push’ that will start menstruation, any underlying constraint will deter this outward movement and cause the qi and blood to further stagnate. To add insult to injury, stagnation that “sits around for too long” will create heat and make everything worse. This can manifest as migraines, headaches, flares of rage, an especially “hot” type of insomnia (wake up suddenly and feel hot and irritable, then eventually fall back asleep, repeat). Thankfully, these complaints often disappear as soon as menstruation begins; in fact, the onset of menstruation often feels like falling backwards into a cool pool of relief after being tied to a spit for a couple of days (see the biomedical theory of why this happens here).

I jokingly refer to the days before bleeding as The Hulks.  If you tend to get Incredibly Hulky before your period starts, check out my post on how to help with that underlying liver qi stagnation. Also, know that acupuncture is SUPER EFFECTIVE for this kind of thing. Those magic needles can soothe the Hulk and transform him (her) back into the socially withdrawn and emotionally reserved Brucie Banner IN NO TIME AT ALL!!!

Menstruation

Just before starting your period, your body temperature will drop, signalling the beginning part of the yin phase of your cycle. Once your period starts, it’s best to stay rested and comfortable. Does that mean you should withdraw from society and eat soup for 3 days? Yes!

Actually, no. Though soup is a great choice during this time, as are all Spleen-nourishing foods and activitiesWhat I am saying is this: If you can, and if you so desire, take it easy, Gina!

Similar to the days before your period, any problems that arise during the beginning of menstruation (cramps, headaches, emotional instability) usually indicate underlying qi and blood stagnation. However, problems that arise at the end of the period (fatigue, shortness of breath, muscle weakness, anxiety, lack of appetite) usually indicate qi and blood deficiency. Acupuncture and herbs can help with both.

The Days After Your Period Begins Up Until Ovulation (Follicular Phase)

This is a yin and blood building time, according to Traditional Chinese Medicine, which is well-illustrated by the growth of new endometrial tissue. The word “yin” is associated with growth, form, and substance.

If you were already blood deficient to begin with, the first couple days after your period ends can leave you feeling depleted and exhausted. Lack of blood disrupts the smooth flow that is associated with elasticity of tissue and emotional flexibility. This is the best time for long walks and Yin/ Restorative yoga. Also a good time for friends who are nice and funny and like to feed you.

Some patients find that they enjoy this phase the most, and report that they are more likely to feel balanced and energetic. In clinic, I find that the patients who feel this way about the follicular phase are those who struggle with milder cases of blood deficiency, which means that their period doesn’t leave them feeling vampiric – in other words, it makes perfect sense that they would feel best while their slight deficiency rectifies itself as their blood and yin gain strength.

Yin Yoga.
Feeling follicular? How ’bout some yin yoga?

Make sure to get plenty of nutrients during this part of your cycle; foods that nourish blood and yin are especially helpful. If you find that your symptoms are aggravated during this phase, there is a good chance that an underlying blood and/or yin deficiency needs to be addressed.

Ovulation: Yin into Yang

During ovulation, your body temperature spikes and the body moves from the yin phase into the yang phase. In Traditional Chinese Medicine, “yang” is associated with the words warmth, activity, and energy. Some patients report that they feel the strongest, mentally and physically, around ovulation. I’ve also heard more than a few reports that sexual desire tends to increase during this part of the cycle.

From a biomedical perspective, the rise in progesterone slightly warms the uterus and dries up the cervical fluid to help provide an opportune environment for an embryo to implant. This biomedical explanation of what is happening overlaps nicely with the Traditional Chinese Medicine theory of the menstrual cycle. This warming and drying phase of menstruation is considered the yang part of the cycle. Doctors of Traditional Chinese Medicine recognized the importance of a “warm” womb long ago; in fact, a “cold womb” or “cold in the uterus” is a diagnosis that is treated in order to increase fertility.

If there is any underlying qi stagnation, ovulation can cause acute cramps (called “mittelschmerz”, which is German for middle pain), or present with a flare of liver heat (which often manifests as irritability, stomach pain, reflux, headaches).

The time around ovulation is the time to move qi and blood (and warm the yang, if deficient). The following foods can help move qi and blood: turmeric, ginger, basil, nutmeg, rosemary, mint,  cardamon, cumin, fennel, eggplant, beet, onions, garlic, mustard greens, and sprouted grains.  In small amounts, the following are potent qi movers: horseradish, wasabi, coffee, red wine, citrus, and vinegar (mmmm… pickles).

The Days After Ovulation Until You Start Your Period (Luteal Phase)

Generally speaking, this is the qi and yang building period, and a good time to do what you can to help your qi move smoothly (exercise that brings your heart rate up is an efficient and easy way to do this). Problems/complaints that arise during this time often indicate a qi and/or yang deficiency, though the one that we see most in clinic involves an underling liver qi stagnation. WTF, LIVER??!!!

If you haven’t noticed, the liver seems to be implicated in most problems involving menstruation and the menstrual cycle. Why is that? Well, first of all, the liver channel runs through the pelvis and through the uterus. Also, any type of stress will cause liver “depression” (the liver loses it’s ability to maintain the free flow of qi and blood and stagnation results). It is a common saying in TCM that “If there is free flow, there is no pain; if there is pain, there is no free flow.” Stagnant qi manifests as pain and distention that can be dull, crampy, or colicky. Static blood is characterized by localized, fixed, sharp, stabbing, or lancinating pain. (Blood clots are common when one’s blood is stagnant).

Ironically, the foods we often crave during this time are not the foods that are best for us. Do your best to limit excess amounts of cow dairy, eggs, hot spices, poor quality fats, refined sugar, poor quality animal protein, and excess alcohol. All of those things have potential to further stagnate the liver and create dampness. And heat. The qi and blood moving foods listed above (in the section on ovulation) are also appropriate during this time.

Eventually, your period will start, and the cycle of transformation renews itself. Yang is released and transformed into yin through a healthy menstrual flow. And on and on and on. And don’t forget – no matter where you are in your cycle, acupuncture and herbs are invaluable in regards to maintaining balance.

See The Menstrual Cycle According to Biomedicine for the last post in this series.


The Menstrual Cycle: Sex Hormones for Dummies

This is the first post in a series of 3 about the menstrual cycle (see also The Menstrual Cycle according to Traditional Chinese Medicine and The Menstrual Cycle According to Biomedicine). Read them! You’ll be a better person for it. And you will probably laugh at least 4 times or your money back.

I know, I know, you didn’t put any money down. SO THAT MEANS YOU OWE ME!

The Menstrual Cycle: Seriously, Be In the Know

On average, a woman will spend approximately 50,000 hours menstruating. If it’s true that 10,000 hours of practice can make you an expert at something, then we should have a fair amount of people on this planet who have been relegated to the status of genius on the subject.

Sadly, this isn’t the case.

Despite the “information age” and great medical advancements menstruation is still shrouded in mystery and myth, even among women. Crappy societal attitudes towards menstruation have altered women’s perceptions of their own cycles. In fact, menstruation is still sometimes considered shameful and dirty. Menstrual blood has even been perceived as especially dangerous to men’s power.**

PREPOSTEROUS!!! ALL OF IT!!!

So let us gleefully put that spotty history behind us (though let us not forget it) and spend some time examining the fluid genius of menstruation, and of those who menstruate/have menstruated. And if you want to be EXTRA AWESOME you should learn about the menstrual cycle according to Traditional Chinese Medicine – it’s more a story than a graph, so it’s easier to remember and more enjoyable to learn. I mean, who doesn’t love a good story? And a story with complex female protagonists, subtle transitions, and lots of blood??! COUNT ME IN!

**There are some moments in history in which we can observe a reverence for menstruation; unfortunately, it’s not as common as our history of regarding menstruation as witchy and weird.

Meet Our Complex Protagonists, Estrogen and Progesterone

Estrogen and progesterone are the two best known sex hormones involved in the menstrual cycle. How much or how little of each hormone is made at any one time relies on a complicated feedback system between the brain, the ovaries, and the adrenal glands. In very simplistic terms:  Estrogen stimulates tissue growth, and progesterone signals the body to slough it off.

During a normal menstrual cycle, estrogen and progesterone take turns driving the process of maturing and releasing an egg and preparing the uterus for possible pregnancy. Estrogen spikes in the first half of the cycle, peaks at ovulation, then falls in the second half as progesterone rises. Progesterone is released by the rupturing of the follicle and the release of an egg during ovulation. If there is no pregnancy, you have a period and the whole cycle begins again.

*Note: The menstrual cycle involves other major hormones, including testosterone, luteinizing hormone (LH), and follicle stimulating hormone (FSH), but for the sake of this post, we’re stickin’ with the Queenpins. See more about these other hormones in The Menstrual Cycle According to Biomedicine.

Estrogens: The Yin Hormones Schiefertafel mit der chemischen Formel von Estradiol

“Estrogens” are actually three different compounds, and include estrone (predominant in menopause), estradiol (predominant in non-pregnant females), and estriol (predominant in pregnancy). Estradiol is present in both men and women – so next time some dude refers to your knitting circle as an “estrogen party” you can invite him to join since he belongs too. Same goes for testosterone. My thoughts? There should be a ban on all hormonally-exclusive parties because they’re stupid and inaccurate. 

Since most people use the word ‘estrogen’ generically, and don’t differentiate between these three different compounds, you can safely assume that if someone drops the E-bomb, they’re usually referring to estradiol.

Estradiol is famous for its role in the development of secondary sexual characteristics – think of estradiol as an incredibly prolific builder named Babette. She builds boobs, increases fat stores, thickens the uterine lining, increases vaginal lubrication, increases bone formation, assists in blood coagulation, and helps boost sexual desire. She’s busy as a bee, that Babette. In fact, if I was as prolific as Babette, this blog post would have been finished and posted by the time I was 13.

In Traditional Chinese Medicine, estrogen is considered a yin hormone. The word ‘yin’ is associated with form, substance, growth and blood. In basic terms, yin is the water that opposes the fire of yang. During menopause, estrogen levels decrease. Since estrogen is a yin hormone – and acts in nourishing and cooling ways – we can see why a deficiency of yin produces hot and dry symptoms such as hot flashes, night sweats, vaginal dryness, and bone thinning. In Traditional Chinese Medicine, menopause involves what is called “Yin Deficiency.”

On the flip side, an excess of Yin produces cold and wet symptoms, such as weight gain, fatigue, and infertility (similar to symptoms we see in PCOS, when estrogen levels are often higher, and with the symptoms of “estrogen dominance”).

Progesterone: The Yang Hormone Sex hormones: progesterone, estradiol, testosterone

Progesterone is considered a yang hormone, as opposed to yin. Though progesterone is tots famous as the ‘pregnancy’ hormone, you can also think of it as the counterbalancing hormone to estrogen – the yang to estrogen’s yin. The word “yang” is associated with function, warmth, transformation, and change – it’s a concept very concerned with function and less concerned about form.

Progesterone definitely wears a power suit to work, and can walk on a cobblestone street in 2 inch heels without wobbling. I’m sure of it. Let’s call her Portia.

Portia efficiently moves through the body and keeps stuff a-movin.’ As the Director of the Office of Long-Term Planning and Sustainability, she’s in charge of everything from climate change and adaptation, energy supply, building efficiency, transportation, and waste. In other words, Portia can enhance thyroid function, enhance fat metabolism, improve circulation, and help distribute fluids. She can increases your core temperature during ovulation, reduce spasm and relax smooth muscle, and can help prevent endometrial cancer (involving the uterine lining) by regulating the estrogen’s tendency to build and build and build without regulation. Simply put, estrogen stimulates tissue growth, and progesterone signals the body when it’s time to slough it off.

Slightly off the subject, but very interesting to note –  I see a decent amount of women in the clinic who report that their complusive/addictive behavior is greatly affected by their cycle. And since progesterone/estrogen levels can enhances the function of serotonin receptors in the brain, it would make sense that a deficit or excess of these hormones have the potential to result in significant neurochemical issues. This provides one theory for why some people resort to substances that enhance serotonin activity such as nicotine, alcohol, and food when their progesterone/estrogen levels are not at optimal levels. 

*Note: Progesterone’s functions are quite different during pregnancy, but that’s a post for another time.

In Sum: You Want Babette and Portia to Tango Without Fighting 

If you are ever unsure of your relationship with someone, try tango lessons. It’s very telling. women couple dancing old-fashioned

The body’s ability to warm/cool and create/move signifies a balance of yin and yang, and is inextricably tied to hormonal flux. During a lifetime, it should be expected that a woman will occasionally experience periods of imbalances in yin/yang. If they don’t, they’re probably a Cylon.

See the following posts in this series to get some good ideas on how to reestablish balance. For a more detailed look at Traditional Chinese Medicine and Menstruation, see here. For a more detailed biomedical view on menstruation, see here.

 

 


Treating Dampness with Diet

A State of High Humidity In the Body

Fuzzy thinking, loose stools, fatigue, and aching joints – all of these things can arise from excess dampness in the body, according to Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM). If you missed the post explaining how TCM conceptualizes dampness, see here.

Acupuncture is great for treating dampness, but it’s equally important to modify your diet if you want good results. WAIT, DON’T RUN!  I promise that I’m not going to launch into an extreme dietary diatribe. Read through the list below and choose the modifications that seem sustainable to you – it’s not necessary to do all of them. Pick the ones that seem sane for you, and run with it! Continue reading…


Dampness: That Special Muzzy Feeling

A patient came in the other day and wrote this down on her intake: Head full of soggy cotton balls.

Head full of soggy cotton balls? Yep. I  knew exactly what she was talking about. It’s that muzzy, tired feeling, as if your head is full of heavy rain clouds. When it’s happened to me in the past, I’d feel tired,  grouchy, and want only one thing: a nap. Eventually the clouds would pass and I’d feel better. These days, I don’t wait for it to pass. Instead, I get acupuncture and start taking herbs and those nimbostratus clouds pass over quite quickly.

When I asked my patient to tell me about about the sogginess in her head, she looked at me sheepishly, as if she expected me to call her crazy.

“Do you feel waterlogged and super duper tired?” I asked her.

“Yes!” she said, brightening up. “I do!” Storm sky, rainy clouds over horizon.

Quickly, before I move on. Do you know what’s totally awesome about being an acupuncturist? Being able to work with the metaphors that we use to understand our lived experience, including how we experience our own bodies. I mean, really. Tell ten conventional medical doctors that you are suffering from a head full of waterlogged cotton balls, and at least five of them will look at you like you’ve got some screws loose up there, rather than a mash of wet cotton.

The other cool thing about being an acupuncturist?

Being able to offer relief.  That particular patient, after a 45 minute treatment, left feeling clearer, lighter, and more awake. All praise The Traditional Chinese Medicine!!!!

So, where does this feeling come from, anyway?  And how do you treat it? The answer lies within Traditional Chinese Medicine, which again proves to be a system of medicine that can answer the hundreds of strange medical questions that you’ve probably tucked away in a brain wrinkle, assuming that you’d never find the answers.

As to the etiology of this particular complaint? Excess dampness.

Dampness, According to Traditional Chinese Medicine

Take the humidity, lose the beauty. Now put in your body. That's what dampness feels like.
Take the humidity, lose the beauty. Now put in your body. That’s what dampness feels like.

What the hell is dampness? 

My mom said this to me once after we split a whole bag of salt and vinegar chips on a humid summer afternoon. I muttered something about impending dampness, and that was her response. Hey mom – read this!

The easiest way to conceptualize dampness is to imagine a state of high humidity in the body. Dampness can show up alone, or it can combine with heat, cold, or wind.

Hot damp? Imagine a tropical climate in the your bowels.

Cold damp? Imagine spending two winters in Portland, Oregon, living an apartment that has leaky windows and a mild mold problem. Now pretend that house is located in your brain.

Wind dampness? Imagine a damp and windy day at the beach and imagine that all you have is a bikini and a book of poetry and for whatever awful reason you have to sit on that cold windy beach for 60 minutes with no cover from the wind or cold. Now imagine that this takes place in your knees.

If these metaphors aren’t working for you, and now you think I’m crazy, here is Daverick Leggett’s description of Dampness in his book “Recipes for Self Healing”

Dampness refers to the accumulation of fluid, mucus, and phlegm in the body. As its name suggests, its nature is heavy, sticky and obstructive. Some of the most stubborn Western ailments including candida, allergies, thrush, eczema, asthma, arthritis, tumors and being overweight are frequently seen as involving patterns of Dampness in Chinese medicine. Usually, a person will already be predisposed to Dampness and this tendency is aggravated by factors such as a heavy, fatty and sweet diet; lack of exercise; the use of certain drugs – in particular antibiotics, steroids, birth control pills; and exposure to Damp environments.

When dampness predominates, the world can seem to lose its edges. Everything can seem sticky and blurry, including your body. Dampness is often at the root of feelings of mild to severe depression, since it can greatly affect the spirit/emotions. People often report feeling sluggish or weighted down; they’ll often report feelings of apathy, numbness, and lack of motivation.

Dampness can show up in the physical body as well – the limbs may feel heavy, achy, or numb. Joints may be painful, tight, and swollen. Digestive complaints include difficulty digesting food, lack of appetite, bloating, diarrhea, and sticky stool that is difficult to void. Gynecological conditions may arise, like excessive vaginal discharge and ovarian cysts. There could be swelling in the ankles, belly, and face (especially around the eyelids). Weight seems to be gained easily, regardless of the caloric intake. There may be difficulty getting out of bed in the morning, and severe fatigue after meals.

Emotions/feelings associated with Dampness include persistent negative self-talk as well as chronic worry, which can affect the transporting and transforming function of the Spleen and lead to an imbalance in fluid metabolism. To read more about the Spleen’s role in the accumulation of Dampness, click here).

The Origins of Dampness

Again, from Leggett’s Recipes for Self-Healing:

Dampness is the result of the body’s failure to burn off or transform moisture. A sedentary lifestyle and overconsumption are primary causes. Poorly digested food that is eaten hastily and not chewed well also contributes to the build up of Dampness. Too much nutrition, especially in the form of fats, starchy or glutinous foods and sugars, will overburden the system…A strong digestive system can transform most foods, providing we don’t chronically overeat. Much is also due to combining foods poorly, either by making meals too heavy or too complex, or by combining foods that tend to ferment together. Eating large meals late in the evening will also tend to cause congestion; and overwhelming a meal by drinking too much water with it will also aggravate Dampness. Poor quality food such as synthetic, chemically grown food, food which is stale, food which is overcooked and food which is old and reheated more than once will contribute somewhat to the perpetuation of Dampness.

So, yeah. If you resonate with the above descriptions of excess Dampness, the first thing you can do is take a good look at your diet and make some modifications – some as simple as chewing your food more thoroughly. However, know that Dampness isn’t always an issue of overeating, or of poor quality food. Certain medications (see above), some viral and bacterial infections, or time spent living in a house with mold or moisture problems can generate Dampness. Environmental dampness (i.e days of high humidity) can greatly exacerbate health conditions that involve dampness at their root. Spleen qi deficiency is almost always implicated in the accumulation of dampness, therefore, taking care of your Spleen will be beneficial.

So, a head full of wet cottonballs is not that uncommon, really. And according to Traditional Chinese Medicine it can be treated with acupuncture, herbs, and dietary modifications. Read on for some practical advice on how to deal with dampness.

 


Acupuncture for Addiction and PTSD

When treating addiction and/or Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), the most common treatment involves inserting tiny needles into the ear. Ear acupuncture (also known as auricular acupuncture) has been used successfully to treat a wide range of complaints, and has a strong history in helping those who suffer from addiction or PTSD.

Auricular acupuncture happens to be a personal favorite for two reasons.

1) Auricular acupuncture is very effective.
2) The ear is easy to access.

Case in Point: Acupuncturists Without Borders

The accessibility of the ear and the effectiveness of this style of acupuncture is why groups like Acupuncturists Without Borders (AWB) use auricular acupuncture when providing disaster relief and recovery to communities in crisis. Volunteers set up clinics and provide (free) relief to people caught in the middle of a natural disaster or human conflict. The mission of AWB is to provide places of respite where people can find momentary relief, allowing them a chance to break from the cycle of trauma.

Trauma is not Limited to Large-Scale Crises

Every single day, in the community clinic, I see people who are in functioning in what I would call “emergency mode” or “crisis mode.” Though their conflicts aren’t necessarily the result of a natural disaster, many of our patients are the victims of poverty, childhood abuse, domestic violence, sexual assault, and traumatic physical injury. Addiction and/or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) often come hand-in-hand with these types of traumatic experiences. Substances are turned to in an attempt to ‘anesthetize” the pain, and over time addiction and substance abuse can take hold.

During my years as an acupuncturist (or, I should say, since I was about 8), I haven’t been able to help but notice the (often blatant) social stigma that follows at the heels of those who suffer from addiction and PTSD. This kind of judgment doesn’t help. Ever. Judgment only produces more shame, more isolation, and more suffering for those people dealing with these kinds of issues. Consider using the lens of compassion when trying to understand issues as complex as addiction, or PTSD, and try to avoid seeing people who suffer from these things as ‘other.’ The Struggle is real, folks. Be kind.

Addiction and PTSD: A Shared Experience?

First of all, let’s look more closely at addiction and PTSD, and what they have in common. In essence, recovery from chemical addiction mirrors the recovery path for individuals suffering from post-traumatic stress. For instance, the mental and physical stress experienced by an individual caught in the midst of a natural disaster, or a war zone, is worsened by the breakdown of social infrastructure (family, community, government). Similarly, in the world of substance abuse, research has shown that before individuals can overcome chemical addiction, attention must be given to both the alleviation of the mental and physical stresses affecting their lives, as well as restoration of the community infrastructure.

And here is where community acupuncture can play an important role in recovery.

Treatment in a community acupuncture clinic allows people to experience relief from stress and trauma together, as a community. When the entire group feels calm and quiet and safe, strengths of the human spirit (that we so love to make Hollywood movies about), like hope, determination and resiliency have the space to grow. There is less pain in the body. And less pain in the spirit.
Put simply: Recovery from trauma involves physical relief, mental relief, accessible and affordable treatment, and a sense of (supportive, non-judgmental) community .

National Acupuncture Detoxification Association

A good example of this is the story behind the National Acupuncture Detoxification Association (NADA). In the mid-1970′s, Michael Smith, a medical doctor working in the South Bronx, became interested in using ear acupuncture to treat common drug addictions. He also wanted to offer an alternative to methadone – something that could help addicts overcome their addiction that wasn’t a pharmaceutical drug. The NADA protocol was born, and quickly proved to be very helpful in the treatment of addiction.

According the founder himself, the NADA protocol works because these specific points in the ear “enhance” overall functioning by doing the following:
1. As a non-verbal intervention, it helps in reaching resistant patients.
2. It reduces anxiety and agitation while facilitating calm and receptive behavior.
3. It helps develop an inner meditative core in even the most troubled and fearful persons.

The NADA Protocol/ 5NP

The NADA protocol consists of the insertion of small, stainless-steel, disposable acupuncture needles into five points on the outer surface (auricle) of the ear. The points needled are Sympathetic, Shen Men, Kidney, Liver, and Lung.
Normally, both ears are needled. Then the patient relaxes for 30-45 minutes in a safe, quiet space. Typically, the NADA protocol is done in a group setting to help build a support network among patients, and to help break down factors (and feelings) of isolation. Patients will often report an improved sense of well-being after the treatment. Common words used after a treatment include “energized,” and “lighter-feeling” and “relaxed.”

To sum up this post, I’ve pasted a blurb from the NADA website.

Dozens of studies have documented the effectiveness of the NADA protocol. Among the benefits reported by patients and health care providers are: improved retention in drug treatment programs; more optimistic attitudes about detoxification and recovery; reductions in cravings and anxiety; fewer episodes of sleep disturbance; and reduced need for pharmaceuticals.

Opening access to the treatment itself comes first. This occurs through eliminating unnecessary bureaucratic, socio-economic and environmental barriers to starting a program of recovery. The next task is to create a zone of peace within which patients can begin to experience their own inner strengths. Finally, and in respect to the other aspects, keep it simple.

While the NADA protocol is an important component of any detoxification program, it is by no means the only component. A patient’s behavior and attitude, along with the perceptions of the clinician delivering care, are also integral to successful treatment. The NADA protocol is often used with other treatment modalities, such as counseling, support groups and self-help programs, to increase the overall effectiveness of care.


Wet Hot Summah in Maine: A Traditional Chinese Medicine Romance

Imagine This… 

It’s late June, and it’s a hot summer day in Maine. Since you have the whole day to yourself, you decide to drive to the coast. You grab some snacks and your iPod, hop into your car, unroll the windows, and blast Janelle Monáe’s Electric Lady. Along Rt. 1, fields of pink and purple lupine line the roadside. For lunch, a soft shelled lobster, an ear of sweet corn, and sun tea; then, an afternoon hike through Wolfe’s Neck State Park, a two hour paddle in Casco Bay, and a dish of frozen custard as dusk falls. As the sun sets and the sky darkens, you head home with the windows down, the smell of beach rose and sea water heavy in the air. Later that night, back in the city, the simultaneously haunting and peaceful sound of peepers drift through your open window, a nightlong testament to the bewitching magic of summer and the world’s most effective tonic for sleep.

Summer is the season of warmth and bounty and laughter, a long-awaited reward for Mainers who brave long winters and do their best to fight off the deep chill that threatens to douse the spirit. Spring seems tardy in its arrival, but always arrives in the nick of time. Just when Mainers begin throwing their hands up in surrender to the eternal gray freeze, the earth heaves and the thaw begins.

Then, daffodils! Boiled sap! Asparagus and arugula! Fiddleheads!  Seed swaps! And my all time favorite spring phenomenon – kids in shorts and flip flops regardless of the fact that the temperature hadn’t broken 50, their awkward winter legs a droll reminder that summer will come. Eventually.

Then, finally, the burning yellow fireball appears in the sky igniting spirits with warmth and joy. Mainers begin showing their teeth in the form of a smile. They begin interacting with their neighbors, rolling out grills and yanking lawn chairs from the shed. The smell of charcoal smokers and freshly cut grass fills the neighborhood. Cardinal’s whistle in the sunrise. Light streams through the kitchen window as if it’s always been warm and wonderful and people fall madly in love with the smell of the air, forgetting that out that very same window once loomed an unbearable pile of gray snow.

Summer: The Element of Fire Wild Roses At Portland Head Lighthouse

A typical summer day in Maine is a perfect metaphor for explaining how Traditional Chinese Medicine conceptualizes the fire element, which is associated with the season of summer and the organ of the heart. Summer is the best time to cultivate yang energy – activity, growth, and creativity are at their peak. In general, less sleep is required, more fresh uncooked food can be consumed, and more liquid is needed to balance the spike in heat.  In the warmer weather, the chest opens and the muscles relax more easily. People naturally feel more playful and adventurous.

The emotion associated with the element of fire is joy. This includes the concept of overjoy, which implies excessive excitement. Often, this is a difficult concept for some people at first – too much joy is a thing?

Yes. It is. Here’s an example: Party hardy for a 10 days straight, then consider how depleted you’d feel by the end of that week. That’s overjoy. Admittedly, some of us no longer party hardy, or never did for that matter. Consider overjoy as the part of American culture that encourages us to live fast and furiously – to consume, work hard, play hard, and then to do it all over again. You know, the whole “don’t sleep ’til your dead” mentality.  If you don’t get what I’m talking about, rent The Wolf of Wall Street for an extreme example of ‘overjoy.’

Lastly, consider this sobering fact, from the CDC: About 600,000 people die of heart disease in the United States every year–that’s 1 in every 4 deaths.  A doctor of Traditional Chinese Medicine might make a correlation between this high mortality rate and a culture that fosters high stress, competitiveness, and consumption – all which could be seen as various forms of overjoy.

The Heart

According to Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), summer is the season in which yang is at its peak. Just as the sun provides warmth and light for all living things, the organ of the heart is said to illuminate the body with consciousness, spirit, and feeling (called ‘shen’). In other words, the concept of ‘shen’ is similar to the Western concept of “mind.”

A balanced fire/shen is evident through the brightness of the eyes and the clarity of speech. A person with a strong heart is comfortable in their skin; they are able to adequately express their needs and ask for help in a direct way. Though they aren’t falsely chipper or overly-positive, they can deal with the complex range of emotions without becoming ungrounded.  The balanced heart, according to TCM, also implies a strong memory, a love of laughter, and a naturally warm demeanor.

Imbalances in the Heart: Dying Flames and Sudden Flares 

The essential characteristics of imbalances within the heart involve unstable mental-emotional states as well as emphasis on, or avoidance of, social interaction.  In order to assess the health of the heart (and the element of fire), we must take into account that the health of the heart encompasses a spectrum.  On one end of the spectrum is the completely “snuffed” fire – the person feels as if they have lost their warmth, literally and metaphorically. Feelings of apathy and severe depression are often the result of deficient heart qi/yang.  A weakened fire can also manifest as social anxiety and a preference to remain isolated. Memory is poor and sleep is not restful. A person may present with a flushed face and have a difficult time staying still. Heart palpitations are common, and will often lead to high anxiety and/or panic attacks.

BURG, GERMANY - APRIL 23, 2011: People look at the traditional Easter bonfire in the Lusatian village of Burg in Spreewald Region, Lower Lusatia, Brandenburg, Germany.On the opposite end of the spectrum, excess fire can show up as extreme agitation, or mania (picture an uncontrolled bonfire). A person may speak fast or excessively. They may have a tendency to laugh inappropriately, or swing from one extreme emotion to another. Moderation can be difficult to maintain, and extreme consumption of food/substances and erratic behavior is common in this state of imbalance. A person with excess heat in the heart also has a hard time remaining still, but their movements are often erratic or forceful. Though the person might be noticeably uncomfortable, they may tend toward excessive optimism and uncomfortable laughter.

Again, remember that the health of the heart encompasses a spectrum. Perhaps you’ve never experienced either of the extremes – the bonfire or the dying flame. However, most people have struggled at some point in their life with their mind and their emotions (this includes everything from a diagnosed mental health issue to temporary periods of mental suffering). In fact, if you haven’t…well, I don’t believe you. We all struggle from time to time, and when our mind suffers, our heart suffers. That being said – the beauty of Chinese medicine acknowledges imbalance as a natural part of life, and is full of great suggestions on how to to regain balance.

See my post Maintain a Healthy Flame for suggestions on how to keep the fire element (and the heart) in balance, especially during those sweet, sweet months of summer.

 


Maintain A Healthy Flame

Stay Healthy in the Summer Months

Because the summer is the apex of yang energy (therefore, hot!) the fire element can easily get out of whack, especially if you already have a constitutional imbalance. Here are some suggestions on how to stay balanced during this season of warmth and joy.

1. Sleep less. What??! Yep, I said sleep less! In general, it’s okay to get less sleep in the summer. People (often) have more energy in the summer months, and naturally need less sleep than they do in the winter months. However, though you may sleep less hours at night, you may find yourself craving a cat nap by mid-afternoon. So…. Woman relaxing in hammock

2. Hacer una siesta.  People who have imbalance in the fire element may have a drop in energy around midday. If you experience imbalance in the heart, the best time to meditate or nap is from 11 am to 1pm, when the qi moves through the heart (according to the Chinese meridian clock).

3. Eat water. Enjoy cooling, yin-nourishing foods. Foods with cool or cold properties can clear heat, reduce toxins, and generate body fluids. The “yin” foods include fruits and vegetables with high water content – cucumber, watermelon, melon, asparagus, tomatoes, peach, pineapple, berries, lemon, and lime. Coconut water is especially appropriate for the hot months of summer. Avocado and walnuts are also great yin-nourishing foods.

4. Love a farmer. Summer is a time for luxurious growth, especially in the garden, so eat what’s in season! Instead of giving you a long list of seasonal produce– check out Maine’s incredible farmer’s markets and let your body guide you. See www.mainefarmersmarkets.org for more information. Try to fill your plate with a wide variety of colors – the more the better!

5. Keep it crunchy. When cooking/sautéing, use less oil and more water. Steam vegetables for less time in order to keep some crunch.

6. Avoid sausage hands. Though iced drinks and ice cream are two favorites of summer, enjoy these things with moderation. According to Traditional Chinese Medicine, their inherent coldness tends to “contract,” and the act of contraction holds in sweat and heat. Room temperature liquids are best. If you’re feeling puffy and you’re not sweating (though the temperature is 85 by 10am), trying adding some hot spice* to your food and sip some hot peppermint tea*. This may seem counter-intuitive during the summer months, but it’s an effective way to induce sweating. Also, check out this recipe for kicharee, a great way to clear summer heat and drain damp’ according to Traditional Chinese Medicine. And it’s a wicked tasty snack. BONUS!

*If you have excess heat (which could show up as reflux, high blood pressure, a subjective sense of feeling overly warm all the time, red eyes and face), avoid the recommendations above. Instead, follow the advice under #3 and #7, and exercise once it’s cooled down outside.

Ju Hua: dried Chrysanthemum flowers
Ju Hua: dried Chrysanthemum flowers

*Peppermint can worsen acid reflux in some cases, especially if it’s due to relaxation of the lower esophageal sphincter (LES).

7. Be prepared for the heat. On especially hot days, make sun tea with chrysanthemum flower, mint, or chamomile. Apples, watermelon, lemon and lime are also effective for cooling summer heat.

8. Be a smart sweaty pig. Don’t overhydrate with water, especially if you’re sweating a lot. On labor-intensive days, or especially hot days, remember that you need electrolytes to properly hydrate. For moderate, recreational activity, coconut water is perfect, but if you are engaging in more extreme exercise – be sure to snack in small amounts, and often. Possible options include salty sourdough pretzels, a banana, or a handful of trail mix.

9. Vocalize. Because the heart is the organ associated with speech (and imbalances are associated with frantic/confused speech) try meditating with focused, self-generated sound to calm the heart. For many people, prayer, meditation, chanting, and affirmations are preferred methods for calming the spirit.

10. Let me poke you. Get some acupuncture. Yintang (located at the “third eye”) is an especially effective point for the type of imbalance(s) that tend to flare in the summer months. When needled, it’s a quick-acting chill pill for a racing mind. It can also enhance concentration, promote sleep, and help alleviate sinus congestion.  The 5 Needle Protocol in the ear (also referred to as 5NP) is also an incredibly awesome way to settle an agitated spirit.


How to Recover From 3 Helpings of Cheesy Scalloped Potatoes

Lauren Eats Way Too Much On Easter Sunday: A Parable

My husband’s side of the family celebrates Easter, and they do it well. Everyone arrives in their dapper best and crowds the kitchen to catch up on the past 6 months. Kids bearing chocolate eggs zip to and fro in a sugar-induced madness. And since this isn’t a day for politics, laughter swells and fills the room. Everyone is happy to share this day with loved ones, and though the story behind the holiday is acknowledged on an individual basis, gratitude for friends, family, and food is palpable.

The food was especially abundant this Easter, and I was shamelessly abundanting. Without going into the details of every glistening/frosted/steaming plate that covered the kitchen counter, let’s just say that every single option was decadent. I enjoyed a small taste of everything. And then a bigger taste of everything.

Ok, fine. I totally pigged out.

Whoa.
Whoa.

Though I normally fuel my earth-suit with a mostly plant-based diet,  I do occasionally take a break from my plant friends to party with the Meaty n’ Buttered. Besides, it was beautiful outside, and since 300 eggs were hidden in the back yard, I figured I’d run around after lunch and digest my 3rd serving of cheesy scalloped potatoes.

Well, I was painfully wrong.

For the next couple of days, my spleen had a major hissy fit (that is, spleen from the perspective of Traditional Chinese Medicine). I was left with a puffy face and cloudy brain. My joints ached. I had nightmares.  My throat began to hurt. Most of all, I was super disappointed that I reacted so strongly to a single afternoon of rich food. At some point, I closed my eyes and sent a not-nice message to my digestive center: C’mon, digestion! Stop being such a baby!!

As you might assume, calling my digestion “a baby” didn’t help. At all. It continued to howl and bare it’s claws and showed me that if it was “a baby,” well then, it was Rosemary’s baby.

Tuesday morning (a WHOLE TWO days since Easter), I still felt like crap. I woke up to a boring sensation in my gut that made me wonder if my stomach was trying to eat itself.  Intuitively, I began rubbing my abdomen in a large counter-clockwise circle. It felt good, and it relaxed me enough to think straight for a second. A revelation came screaming from the depths of my digestive muck. You know how to fix this, you loonbag! You do this for a living! 

Oh, right.

Anyway, long story short. I did some things and I felt better. Here’s what I did.

5 Simple Ways to Reset Your Digestion

1. I made kicharee. Then I ate it for breakfast and lunch for the next two days. Kicharee is yummy and easy on the digestion. It’s the ultimate dish when you’re looking to recover from a food hangover. Carrot-Ginger Soup is another option. Carrots are easy to digest (especially in this form, boiled to tenderness) and the addition of lemon and ginger will further help your digestion.

2. I ate my probiotics. I made sure to add live, raw, fermented veggies to my diet. In other words, I ate my probiotics for the next couple of days. Whole Foods in Portland has a section (near the produce) of raw, live fermented veggies – kimchi, sauerkraut, pickles, carrots, and beets. Rosemont Market also stocks “living” veggies. I had a small amount of brown rice topped with Sunja’s Radish kimchi for my daily snack.

3. I made a soothie.  I mean a smoothie. Since my digestion was feeling okay by the 3rd day, I had a smoothie for dinner. Kale, blueberry, sunflower seeds, date paste, and fresh lemon juice. It was cooling and detoxifying and delicious. Smoothies are excellent when you have damp-heat in the Spleen due to eating rich foods, but if your digestion is constitutionally weak (and you get chilled easily), they can be too cold and worsen your digestion.

4. I took Xiang Sha Liu Jun Zi Tang.  In other words, I took my Chinese herbs to further help my spleen recover. This particular formula is suited for my constitution and also treated my digestive distress. See a certified Chinese herbalist to figure out a good formula for you.

5. I rubbed my belly. A lot. Every morning, and every night, I rubbed my abdomen in counter-clockwise or clockwise motion (counter-clockwise “disperses” and is better for the acute gut-bomb sensation, clockwise is better for the uncomfortable wake that can follow). I also did a two minute deep-breathing meditation before eating anything bigger than a snack. This always helps me relax, and chew my food properly rather than tossing it down the gullet, pelican-style.

Here’s what I could have done to prevent shutting down my digestion, and what I PROMISE I WILL REMEMBER in the future, now that I’ve been humbled.

3 Easy Ways To Avoid Gut-Bombing Yourself

Let’s be realistic. I know you may be a disciplined person. But who can actually say that this has never happened to them? (You are disqualified if you live on a monastery.)

No one! Good. Check out these three things you can do to make sure a moment of indulgence won’t bring you so far down.

1. Digestive bitters before your meal. Add a teaspoon of digestive bitters to sparkling water and sip to completion before you eat. It’s a great way to stimulate digestion, and especially helpful if you’re going to eat a meal that includes anything “heavy” (i.e. always carry bitters in your purse during the holidays). Angostura bitters can be found at most grocery stores. Urban Moonshine also has a selection of excellent organic bitters. Digestive bitters, in this form, are also good after a heavy meal.

2. Have Bao He Wan in your purse. I adore this formula. The translation is “Preserve Harmony Pill” though one of my favorite acupuncturists refers to it as “Digest The Mess.” Bao He Wan is a formula to assist the digestion of foods that are difficult on the spleen/stomach (sugary, oily, meaty, cheesy scalloped potato-y). I made the tea from granules – but I’m hard core. A lot of people don’t like the taste. Bao He Wan is available in pill form if you’re a big baby.

3. Fill your plate with veggies so there is less room for the wonderfully cheesy scalloped potatoes. On most holiday gatherings, I purposefully bring a giant cookie sheet of roasted root veggies. Everyone loves them, and it provides the option of something healthful and spleen-loving to fill some serious space on your plate! Once you make these roasted plants the centerpiece of your plate, you can decorate the edges with cheesy scalloped potatoes.