Acupuncture & Chinese Medicine ● Longevity Nutrition

Chinese Medicine

In spring time learn, in harvest teach, in winter enjoy.

-William Blake

The ancient Chinese physicians believed that, like plants moving their resources deep into the Earth during the dark winter months, the energy of the body also moved into the deepest parts to rejuvenate tissues like bone and marrow.  When we think of bone the first mineral we think of is calcium.  However, the bones are reservoirs of minerals like magnesium, potassium, zinc, copper, and strontium.  Studies going back more than thirty years have demonstrated that these less-known minerals are as important for bone health as calcium.  Diets in the developed world have moved in a direction that provides fewer and fewer minerals.  Many of the mineral-rich foods that used to be mainstays of our diets like heart, kidney, roots, kelp, sea salt and even bone have fallen out of favor.  Instead of eating the whole animal, which provides a flood of minerals from the Earth, we’ve limited ourselves to only muscle.   Since it is very common for bone tissue to age faster than many other tissues of the body, we will revisit this subject again and again.  It’s a very complex subject.  If you are feeling motivated, here is a post I wrote several years ago about the complexities of alkalizing foods and bone aging.  For now, here are some simple steps to begin to bring minerals back into your diet.

  • Replace your table salt which contains only sodium with sea salt which contains an array of minerals.
  • Try some coconut water.  Be sure to get the one with no sugar added.  It’s slightly alkaline taste is a result of the abundance of potassium.
  • Eat sardines with the bones left in.  The wild ones definitely taste better and are worth the bit of extra money.
  • Make some bone broth.  This can be done by adding bones, like beef ribs or bone-in chicken or turkey.  Simply boil these down into a nice consommé.  Adding a little lemon of vinegar to acidify the water helps to dissolve the minerals into the water.  Be sure to add some sea salt.  Eat this on its own or use it as a base for other recipes.
  • If you live in an area where you can get Japanese food, try some seaweed salad or miso soup.  Both of these are abundant in absorbable minerals. You might be surprised that you actually like it.  If you don’t, I will be posting a breakfast seaweed recipe soon that I promise tastes good.
  • Try some organ meats.  If you live in a country like the US where the taste for these foods  is very unfamiliar start with a little liver pate’.
  • Eat more root vegetables like beets, burdock, parsnips and carrots….Have you ever eaten a fresh beet?  It’s like infusing yourself with the fragrance of the Earth.
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Hello to all of you wonderful people who have taken time out this precious life to read my blog. I had to check out for a while due to some personal tragedy. As some ancient cultures say ” I have been waiting for my soul to catch up with the rest of me” and I am FINALLY starting to write again. Upcoming subjects include:
-Evolution Dictates a Contrarian Approach to the Emergence and Spread of Human Pathogens
-Misinterpretation of Methylation. Why Folic Acid Doesn’t Cause Cancer
-A Conventional Interpretation of the Four Levels of Disease in Traditional Chinese Medicine
-A Conventional Interpretation of Digestion in Traditional Chinese Medicine
-Why We Need to Introduce a New School of Research if Science it Going to Successfully Evolve

I look forward to more great discussions and comments.

Sincere thanks to each of you!

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This post is for a good friend who will be doing an overland adventure through the Amazon.  He asked me if there was anything he could do that would help keep him from getting sick while on his journey.  Travel healthy!

For my readers who live in litigious countries, I am legally obligated to say to you:  Please note the information below is not meant to diagnose, prevent or treat any disease.  The information is provided for information only. There are inherent risks with travel (in fact there are inherent risks with living).  If you make the sovereign decision to implement any of the information you obtain here, be sure that you aren’t allergic to any of the products I mention below BEFORE you go on your trip. 

Before I submerged myself into indigenous Ecuadorian existence for three weeks back March of 2010, I researched the medical literature and interviewed several herbalists, nutritionists and conventional doctors about disease prevention for rainforest travel.  Traveling with a group of Chinese Medicine Practitioners I had plenty of opportunities to see what other practitioners were trying, what worked and what didn’t.  The following is an assembly of what I learned from the medical literature, what I’ve learned from treating disease and what actually worked while we were traveling.

When traveling in the Amazon, several things became quickly apparent.  First, the South Park episode about saving the rainforest is a fairly accurate depiction.  The Amazon literally wants you to become a part of it.  Second, there are so many insects there who want to eat you that concerns about mosquito bites almost become a joke.  Just be grateful that malaria can be treated and hope that you don’t get something worse.

Prevention of Gastrointestinal Infections:

Step One:

Your digestive tract should naturally be full of an incredibly diverse population of gut flora composed mostly of bacteria and fungi.  When you consume food and water, unless it has been sterilized or chlorinated, you are naturally exposed to these various organisms and you establish a balance of both beneficial and pathogenic flora. Like an ecosystem, the more diverse, the more difficult it is to cause disruptions or allow invasion of non-native species.  When antibiotics or chlorinated water are introduced, the balance of the digestive flora is significantly disrupted and the diversity plummets.  Critters that wouldn’t normally be able to grow there are given the opportunity to invade.  Doing a 14-21 day course of probiotics, prior to embarking on your journey, can add an extra barrier of defense by reducing the viability and survivability of any potential bacterial and fungal invaders.  This is especially important for anyone who has been on a course of antibiotics in the past few months. You should also note that if you are on any proton pump inhibitors for heartburn like, Prilosec, Protonix or Zantac, you are at a much higher risk of GI infection since you have no stomach acid. 

The Best Probiotics:  Obtain a combination that provides various forms of bifidobacterium, lactobacillus and saccharomyces boulardii.  In my clinical experience, the refrigerated brands, which contain live bacteria, and are much more effective despite claims from companies that sell the non-refrigerated forms.  It’s important to get it from a company that ships these cold otherwise they die during shipping.  My favorite brands are Jarrow, Natural Factors, Metagenics and Pharmax.  These can be obtained from health food stores or from several online companies. If you order it online in the summer, pay the extra money for overnight shipping so it doesn’t overheat.  Take the suggested dose with at least 8oz of water, 30 minutes before or two hours after eating.  During your course of treatment, reduce your fruit and sugar intake and eat more vegetables, onions and legumes.  This will ensure proper survival and establishment of these bacteria. 

Of course you should take all the necessary precautions and try to minimize your exposure to unclean drinking water, uncooked vegetables and fruits that can’t be peeled. Be sure to educate yourself with more complete information at the CDC’s website.  

Step Two:

While You are Traveling

Oil of Oregano – I use this in my clinical practice for various bacterial and fungal infections.  I recommend it with a high level of confidence for prevention of GI infections while traveling.  To emphasize its effectiveness, I often have patients with GI symptoms send in stool samples for analyses.  Whenever pathogenic bacteria or fungi are found, sensitivity testing is performed so we know what substances will and will not kill the invaders.  Oil of oregano often tests equally or more effective than antibiotics for clearing the various pathogens.  Follow up stool tests almost always confirm these findings.  In over ten years of practice I’ve never seen any side effects. However, if you have a tendency toward gastritis (inflammation of the stomach lining) oil of oregano can irritate it.  If you develop any pain in the area above the naval (your stomach) I would discontinue it.  Make sure you aren’t allergic to it before you decide to use it as you main defense.

 In addition to the fact that this stuff really works, it provides additional benefits that make it ideal for travel in hot, humid areas.  First, it doesn’t seem to wipe out the beneficial bacteria in the gut.   Second, it has pretty strong antifungal properties and is an added tier of protection from topical fungal infections like, jock itch, candida and athlete’s foot, that thrive in warm, damp climates.  For women, if you do end up having to take strong antibiotics on your trip, it’s very effective at preventing yeast overgrowth.

Dosage:  For travel, I recommend 300 mg before every meal and an extra 150mg if you consume any small meal or drinks of unknown origin.  My favorite brand from Designs for Health but most brands in health food stores are acceptable.

 Story:  In my own experience traveling through the Amazon, I was in several situations where I ended up sharing foods prepared by the indigenous peoples and even sharing drinks out of one cup passed around entire communities.  No, I don’t recommend this.  However, I was fine for the first 17 days.  There was finally an incident where I decided to hike back from a village with a friend.  The kind Santa Agua gentleman, who guided us back down the mountain, led us to his home where his wife offered us some fresh strawberries.  It was so hot, we were tired and hungry, and the strawberries smelled so amazing.  I didn’t have my oil of oregano but decided to take a chance.  Sure enough, the next day I had new visitors in my tummy.  This leads me to what to do if you do get sick.

If You Get a Gastrointestinal Illness or Disturbance

For the reasons mentioned above, I do everything I can to avoid taking antibiotics.  However, I fully acknowledge that there is a time and a place for their use and urge travelers to get a prescription from their doctor to have if needed.  I think it’s important to understand that developing diarrhea is an immune response that is designed to make the intestinal tract uninhabitable for those little invading critters.  Just because you get diarrhea, doesn’t mean you have an actual pathogenic bacteria.  Your body will initiate an immune response against almost anything it’s not familiar with.  Stopping it with anti-diarrheal medicines can give invasive pathogens an opportunity to really establish themselves and make you really sick.  There is, of course, a balance.  If you are so sick that you are unable to stay hydrated then these medications might be necessary.  Consult a physician. 

Below is a combination I have found to be very effective at treating diarrhea or GI infections while traveling.  This combination usually results in significant improvement within a day or two and is even capable of warding off more severe infections.  It’s quite normal to still have loose stools and some cramping for several days after the initial infection.  Important:  If the diarrhea becomes severe or explosive, continues to get worse or is accompanied with vomiting or fever then it’s time to seek and use conventional medicine.

v  Apo-Enterit 30 drops in water 3-4 times per day.  Available from BioResource Inc.  This is a German Biologic Drainage Remedy designed specifically for food poisoning and diarrhea. 

v  Pil Curing (aka Culing Pills) – these are available in vials from Chinese Medicine Pharmacies or from Chinese Medicine Herbalists.  The best one is from the US Distributor, Solstice Medicine Company and is screened for various chemicals.  Take 1-2 vials three times per day.

v  Coptis – this is an herb with extremely potent antibiotic properties.  It was one of the primary herbs used for bacterial infections for several hundred years in China.  Take a small dose of 2-3 pills with each dose of Pil Curing.  Available from Chinese Medicine Pharmacies and Practitioners.  The company Mayway makes a nice preparation.   

v  L-Glutamine – this is optional but very helpful.  1000mg twice per day on an empty stomach helps to reduce inflammation in the wall of the intestines

Dietary recommendations if you are having gastrointestinal issues:  Avoid raw vegetables and fruit. Eat easy-to-digest grains and small amounts of animal protein.  A little fruit, fruit juice or coconut water throughout the day can provide extra potassium to help prevent dehydration. Careful, too much will make everything worse. Broth with lots of salt will also help to keep you hydrated. 

Watch for future posts about travel medicine.  Until then, travel healthy!

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As an herbalist, I have strong concerns about the growing popularity and widespread use of the ancient herb, Mucuna pruriens, as an herbal and dietary supplement.  Mucuna pruriens has an almost magical ability to improve motivation, well being, energy and sex drive along with decreasing the tendency to overeat.  These properties are a result of its contents of natural L-dopa, a direct precursor to the neurotransmitter dopamine.  Dopamine is always present in the nervous system.  Ultra-low levels (or dysfunction of dopamine receptors) lead to conditions like Parkinson’s.  Normal levels maintain proper function of the nervous system, promote normal motivation and sex drive and help to regulate the appetite.  We experience a stronger sense of well-being when dopamine is released in response to activities such as engaging in something novel or seeing a beautiful sunset.  We release even more if we accomplish a long-term goal or have a profound experience.  Dopamine is artificially elevated in response chemicals contained in alcohol, cigarettes, cocaine, crystal meth and heroin as well as from overeating.  Excessive exposure to dopamine results in dopamine receptors not working properly.  As the nervous system needs higher and higher levels of dopamine to produce the same response, an individual seeks out more and more of the stimulating substance or activity.  This is the heart of addiction.

With its naturally-occurring L-dopa, Mucuna can be carefully used as a natural remedy to treat conditions such as addiction, obesity, dopamine-related depression or Parkinson’s.  However this MUST be done in conjunction with rehabilitation of the dopamine receptors.  Otherwise, it actually exacerbates the problem and causes further damage.  If given to people who suffer with depression from low serotonin, Mucuna can actually make the depression more severe by further lowering serotonin levels.  (Dopamine tends to suppress seretonin)

The addition of Mucuna to general dietary supplements and even to some multivitamins is completely irresponsible.  It has great capacity for misuse and in the long term could have health consequences.  Because of the seemingly magical effects of L-dopa, almost all people notice they feel better on these supplements and notice they feel worse when they stop them.  This is no different than creating another addiction.

Because of its effectiveness, I also have concerns about other herbalists and health care practitioners carelessly prescribing it without fully understanding its mechanism of action.  I am pro-education and anti-regulation.  I think Mucuna pruriens is a natural substance that practitioners need to actively educate themselves and the general public about.

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Bugs…Don’t Kill ‘Em, Eat Em!

“If all the insects were to disappear from the earth, within 50 years all life on earth would end. If all human beings disappeared from the earth, within 50 years all forms of life would flourish.”  Jonas Salk

In the previous posting I discussed protein requirements for present-day humans and questioned the inefficiency of the ecological model with respect to evolution. 

A couple of years ago, while pondering a failing in my second attempt at a biodynamic garden, I was looking at an infestation of insect eggs on my collard greens.  Reflecting back on an involuntary, three-day survival situation I also pondered that, by day three, those insect eggs would have looked pretty appetizing.   Sitting there, I realized that before the advent of modern farming, the plants we ate and water we drank would have been full of the products of all life stages of insects.  This is a well of protein and other essential nutrients that we have now virtually eliminated from our food supply. 

The general consensus is that, despite the ability to hunt, hunter-gatherer societies still obtained 80% of their food calories from gathering.  To help incur the survival advantage, all species in the food web (other than present-day humans) have retained the universal law of the conservation of energy.  However, the transfer of energy in the form of calories is quite inefficient.  As we move up each trophic level in the food chain only about 10% of the energy is transferred.  

For a species to skip a trophic level is an incredibly inefficient utilization of resources and is an idiosyncrasy in the natural laws.  Like lions attacking an elephant (which is rare), a species has to be under an incredible amount of stress and scarcity to expend the energy to harvest higher in the food web.  Nonetheless, due to communication, cooperation, the ability to make tools, and the ability to be omnivores, this idiosyncrasy allowed humans to expand beyond their niche and take over the Earth.  Coyotes (also omnivores) are one of the few other creatures that have managed similar success.  The difference between coyotes and humans is that coyotes remained part of the ecological web whereas humans moved beyond it.

Because insects are a much more abundant and energy-efficient protein source, they likely acted as an evolutionary bridge for humans.  Insects would have provided the all the essential amino acids as well as the essential nutrients choline and omega-3 fatty acids.  Access to these nutrients would have enabled humans to move away from coastal food dependency and more inland.  It’s possible that this protein source was more passively obtained through the consumption of plants which, as I already mentioned, would have contained insect eggs and larvae.

Insects also provide various chemicals that help to treat and prevent disease.  For example, their exoskeleton provides chitin, a key source of glucosamine which is now taken as a dietary supplement to help prevent joint tissue degeneration. Perhaps if we still ate insects we wouldn’t need to take their exoskeletons in pill form.  Several “bugs” are used medicinally in Traditional Chinese Medicine.  For example earthworms, which contain the enzyme lumbrokinase, are used to treat blood clots and congestion of tissues when there is lots of inflammation and phlegm present.  I can speak from experience that asthma patients respond profoundly better when earthworm is included in a formula.  Other medicinal insects that actually work when used appropriately include cicada skin for dry, itchy skin, and mantis egg case for urinary leakage and incontinence. 

It’s time that we move from viewing insects as pests to viewing them as a resource.  We evolved eating them.  Efforts to transcend the stigma of eating insect products in our society offer an array of benefits.  Reduction of consumption of fossil fuels to produce protein, reduction of need for pesticides in some crops, recovery of species numbers which depend on various insects as a primary food source in areas like the country’s mid-section where pesticide use results in incidental insect elimination.  In an effort to work with the natural laws I say the “Don’t kill ‘em, eat ‘em!” policy should be implemented immediately.

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