5 ways to combat cold & flu season

In Traditional Chinese Medicine, we believe our bodies have a type of Qi, or energy called “Wei Qi”. Wei Qi is our protective Qi and is located on the surface of the body. You can think of Wei Qi as the immune system – its job is to keep out invaders such as harmful viruses and bacteria.

As an acupuncturist, I’m always being asked by patients how they can increase their immunity at this time of the year. While most people know the importance of washing their hands there are a number of other ways you can help keep those bugs away. In addition to Acupuncture here are a few simple things you can do to help improve your immune system.

Exercise

The New York Times recently ran an article about a study which examined the relationship between regular exercise and healthy immune response.  Although mice, not humans were used in the study, it showed that mice who exercised regularly were better able to fight off infections. While exercise is important, there have been studies showing that over-exercising can actually harm your immunity, so remember that moderation is key.

 

Wear A Scarf

In Traditional Chinese Medicine, the nape of the neck is believed to be particularly susceptible to invasion by the wind element, which means colds and flu. Therefore, covering your neck is important, especially on cold, windy days or when you are sitting close to an air conditioning vent or fan.

 

Try A Saline Nasal Spray and/or a humidifier

When the heat is on inside your home or office, your nasal passages can become very dry. This is a problem because your natural nasal secretions are one of the body’s primary defences against viruses and bacteria. By using a basic, inexpensive saline nasal spray several times daily and a humidifier at your home and office, you can decrease the likelihood of viruses entering your sinuses and leading to a cold or flu. Using a saline nasal spray also helps flush out viruses that are already within your nasal passages.

 

Sleep

Your body produces substances called Cytokines during sleep. Certain types of cytokines play a role in immune functions, so it makes sense that the less sleep you get, the fewer cytokines are produced. Studies show that people who don’t get 7-8 hours of sleep per night are more likely to catch a cold and take longer to recover from colds.

 

Take a Chinese Herbal Formula

There are Chinese Herbal combinations which are very helpful for people who experience recurrent colds and respiratory infections. You must always see a trained herbalist, since there is no one herb which is good for everyone’s situation. It must be individually tailored to your health history and constitution. Herbs can also be helpful if you do come down with a cold or the flu.

Written by Angela Marshall – Acupuncturist at Brisbane Natural Health

Be patient with your body – it takes time to heal.

Being unwell can be so frustrating, especially when you’re not exactly sure what is happening in your body. The question that everyone asks us is ‘how long will it take until I get better’? Although we can give you approximate time frames of how long you might take to heal, there is no way to know for sure because everyone is unique – and each person has their own set of circumstances that can affect their healing time.

Some of the things that can affect how quickly you heal from a certain ailment include:

  • Your genetics
  • If you’re eating the right diet
  • How stressed you are
  • If you’re getting enough sleep
  • How long you have had the illness for
  • What your lifestyle is like – exercise, relaxation, self care
  • How well you can stick to your treatment plan

You need to look back to see how far you have come.

At the beginning of treatment, changes are often more noticeable – you can feel remarkably different in the first weeks and really feel the shift. As time goes on though, changes are often slower and can be less noticeable. Quite commonly we get patients in their 3rd or 4th month or treatment that report that they don’t really fell very different, but when you look back at where they started and compare symptoms you can clearly see that they are much better off then when they started. What can be unnoticeable to the patient can be obvious for the practitioner – that’s why it is important that the right questions are asked and the right tests are undertaken to make sure we can track your progress along the way.

You need to look back to see what changes have really been made.

You’re not called a patient for nothing!

A mentor of mine, master herbalist Kerry Bone, often says to his frustrated patients ‘you’re not called a patient for nothing’. Healing takes time and you do need to be patient as your body does its thing. A good adage is that for every year that you have had a certain condition or ailment it is going to take at least one month to correct it. If you have been bloated since you were a teen and you’re now 30 then you’ll likely need 15 months of treatment to get to the bottom of it. It is important to understand that healing takes time and persistence, and as long as you are giving your body the right combination of treatment, food and lifestyle factors then you will heal.

Some symptoms will resolve within weeks whereas others may take months or even years. It helps to remember that it took some time for your body to get into this state and it is going to take some time to unravel the damage and get it back to health.

 

If you have any questions about your treatment plan, please ask your naturopath, acupuncturist or case manager who will be able to talk about your individual case.

Primary Dysmenorrhea: A Traditional Chinese Approach to Period Pain

Amongst the multitude of treatment options for those experiencing primary dysmenorrhea (period pain which is not attributed to any other pathology such as: endometriosis, fibroids etc.), traditional Chinese medicine and the complimentary medicine approach excels in the management and treatment of symptoms.

From the western perspective, primary dysmenorrhea is one of the most prevalent and disabling gynecological disorders with no identifiable aetiology. It is a disorder which is said to incur an economic impact on a global scale, with an estimated 600 million work hours and 2 billion dollars lost annually in the USA alone. One study recorded as many as 50% of women were affected by primary dysmenorrhea and another 10% experiencing symptoms severe enough to render them incapacitated.

Despite this, other than ruling out secondary dysmenorrhea, the conventional medical approach can offer little insight to its origin. The level of understanding with regard to causative factors from a TCM point of view is more comprehensive in comparison.

In TCM gynecology, the Liver organ and Penetrating vessel, also known as the Chong Mai, are crucial in the free flow of Qi and Blood. Free flow = a painless existence.

The Chong Mai flows through the uterus and is also known as the sea of blood.

Acupuncture

Acupuncture reduces pain in women with dysmenorrhea

Acupuncture, Tui Na (Chinese remedial massage) and Chinese herbs work to harmonise the flow of Qi and Blood in the uterus by treating meridians on the body. There are however, plenty of things that we can do to ensure free flow without even getting to the point of disease! A diet rich in anti-inflammatory foods, an abundance of physical activity and relaxation exercises, nourishing sleep habits and an avoidance of drugs and alcohol will all benefit the Chong Mai and help to keep the menstrual cycle in balance. This also applies to the treatment of subfertility with Chinese medicine. A healthy cycle is a good way to ensure a healthy pregnancy.

Many women are led to believe that it is quite normal to have a huge amount of pain during menstruation and that it is normal to pop a few pain killers or take oral contraceptives to avoid this. According to the old Chinese texts, this is only a modern pathology. Normal periods are pain free and regular in length.

Conventional medicine, although efficient in its pharmacotherapy, lacks the availability of a lasting solution for primary dysmenorrhea and a youth of periods spent fighting pain with prescription medication or pain killers, often leading to undiagnosed complications with fertility, is pretty common unfortunately.

There is a stack of research out there that shows the efficacy of acupuncture and Chinese herbs in dramatically improving the quality of life and level of pain that women are experiencing. Generally, studies show the best results are had over a 3 month treatment regime for chronic cases. The added benefit of an individualised diagnosis and treatment, is that the effects are seen on a more than symptomatic level. Accompanying symptoms such as referred lower back pain, nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea, headache, fatigue, anxiety, and dizziness were also alleviated from acupuncture. TCM treatment is also found to have lasting effects on pain relief of up to a 3-6 month follow up period.

Hugh Hayward – Chinese Medicine Doctor, Acupuncture & Chinese Herbalist, An Mo Tui Na and Qi Nei Tsang

Winter Is Coming…

Chinese medicine ideas for staying healthy and warm in winter.

Studies have shown that the Influenza virus is more stable and air borne for longer in cold and dry air; the winter months being the perfect conditions for transmission. This is possibly one reason we experience the flu more in winter.

In Chinese medicine theory, the cold and dry air put strain on the Lung and Wei Qi (defensive qi or immunity), thus allowing for the invasion of pathogenic influences. Some of us may already have poor Wei Qi as a result of things such as: poor diet, overwork, chronic illness, recurring respiratory illness, long term use of antibiotics, smoking, drug and alcohol abuse, being an infant or elderly, mental stress or poor sleeping habits. If this is the case, we need to make a special effort to combat the seasonal shift and stay healthy.

Most of us probably fit into one or more of those characteristics and will encounter 2-4 bouts of the flu or other respiratory illnesses, of varying intensity each year. It is normal from a conventional medicine point of view to experience this, and you probably have heard that this is your body’s way of developing immunity. From a TCM point of view however, once your Wei Qi is developed and healthy, we should only ever experience this during a seasonal shift, and with far less consequences.

Some people may have difficulty kicking the sickness once it arrives and may have residual symptoms for up to a month or more. If this is the case, complications can arise and cause long-term illness. It puts a huge strain on your mental state and can impact your productivity at work and the relationships that surround you, especially if you pass it on to your family or peers!

Here are some ways to stay healthy and keep up that Wei Qi throughout the year.

Cover up!

In Chinese medicine, the more your temperature fluctuates, the more energy we expend keeping out pathogenic invasion. Constant battling against the weather is a sure way to deplete your Wei Qi and become ill. So stay rugged up, especially on the neck and shoulders, lower back and soles of the feet and try avoiding drafts or air conditioning.

Keeping your head and neck warm in winter helps to keep your defences working well.

Eat seasonally.

As the cooler months set in, the types of foods naturally available to us will change. Stick to seasonal fruit and vegetables and this will aid your digestion in transforming food into energy. According to Chinese dietary theory, your body has an internal cook pot, which needs to work harder to digest colder foods such as raw vegetables and fruits. In the winter months, when these foods are naturally less available, the internal cook pot generally benefits from more easily digestible foods; broths, stews, root vegies, congee, oats, soups and slow cooked roasts are all great ways to stay warm.

Conserve your energy.

Most of us will relate to the desire to stay indoors and be less active during winter. While it is not so applicable in Queensland, most cultures that experience a full-blown winter nestle in when the cold hits. Winter is about consolidation and hibernation. Exercising to the same degree as we do in summer will deplete hard earned energy stores. Athletes who train all year round make an exception to this rule, although they make sure to aptly warm their bodies before a work out. In many cases due to their high intensity training, the Wei Qi of an athlete is much stronger and they don’t feel the weather like most. To stay moving in winter some exercises that we could continue include yoga (not hot yoga), tai chi, qi gong, meditation or stretching.

Finally, avoid damaging the Wei Qi with substance abuse.

Culturally speaking, Australians love to get loose on the weekends and winter is no exception. If you really can’t avoid hammering your immunity with cigarettes and alcohol at least try to drink seasonally and responsibly. Good quality mulled wine, red wine, plum wine, rice wine, port, porter, stout, dark ales and dark spirits, can all be enjoyed in moderation and are more nourishing and warming.

If we try our best to listen to what our bodies crave naturally in seasonal shifts we will have a much easier time adapting and staying free from illness. While we can still afford the occasional slip up from time to time, when the bugs hit the battle will be quick and with minimal casualties.

Posted by acupuncturist Hugh Hayward.

Getting to know your body

Let’s talk about getting to know your own body and what’s right for you.
A lot of patients come to us and they are really out of touch with their bodies. I would like to explore the concept that signs and symptoms are your body’s way of telling you that something’s wrong. When you get bloated, tired, have skin problems or anxiety, these symptoms are your body’s way of saying ‘I am out of balance and I need help’.

What we actually want to do is retrain you so that you can start listening and tuning in to your own body. And the first step is getting back to normal. So once we’ve actually resolved these symptoms and things are going well and you are feeling good again, you’ll start to notice when things go out of whack.

The trick is to really observe your body, instead of ignoring it. We are very stoic in Australia – you are taught if you have a symptom just ignore it. For example, if you have a sore tummy, someone might say to you, “oh you’ll be fine”. You probably think that these symptoms are minor and there’s nothing major going on. We are taught to just deal with it and ‘suck it up’. The problem is that when you do that, you really are ignoring your body’s language and you’re not really listening to the clues that it is out of balance and it needs help.

A good example would be when you have a cold or flu. Before you get a cold, there are these little warning signs that tell you that the immune system’s going down. You might feel tired, a little bit achy, might be having an off day but it’s not until the symptoms come that you think,” Oh I really didn’t feel that well the last few days”. Then you start getting a running nose and at that point you do something about it. You may try to get some more rest; you might take vitamin C or take a day off work.

Imagine if, when those early warning signs – when you started feeling achy and a little run down – you took vitamins and looked after yourself, the outcome would be that you may not even get the cold. Or perhaps you might not have it for as long or the severity may be minimalized. We really need to start tuning back in and listening to our bodies. So start observing, because when you do, you’ll know what’s going on and what’s happening to your body.

As you are going through the healing process and you start feeling better and better, remember what it feels like to feel good. And recall when you didn’t feel so good. If you do start feeling a bit off again, ask yourself what’s going on. Do I need to change my diet? Do I need to rest more? Do I need to check back with my practitioner in these early stages so that I can get on top of this and feel good again?

Why am I so tired?

We all get tired from time to time, but for many people low energy is a daily occurrence. Low energy is anything less than feeling that you have enough energy to do all of the things you want to do. If your energy levels are good you won’t have slumps of energy or periods throughout the day where your energy wanes.

So why do we get tired? The answer is not complicated, but can be multifaceted. Let’s explore the most common reasons for fatigue.

Not getting enough sleep

This one is a bit of a no brainer – if you don’t sleep enough your energy will be low. Many people stay up too late and wake up too early, getting far less than their 8 hours a night on a regular basis. Not many people can function on less than 7 hours a night, with most of us needing 8 to fully replenish and restore our bodies.

Then there is the problem with not being able to get to sleep or stay asleep, which eats into your sleep hours. This is linked with the next cause of fatigue.

Adrenal depletion

Your adrenals are little crescent shaped glands that sit on top of your kidneys. It is their job to release cortisol, a hormone that helps your body deal with stress and keep you energized during the day. When you have high levels of stress, or even low levels of unrelenting stress, your adrenal glands become depleted which leads to tiredness. The 3pm slump is a classic sign of adrenal depletion.

The other effect of your adrenals working overtime is they can start producing cortisol when they are not meant to – at night when you’re meant to be asleep. High cortisol may stop you from being able to fall asleep and can also wake you up during the night. This can turn into a vicious cycle where your adrenals are keeping you awake so you can’t sleep, which further depletes your adrenals and so forth. If a holiday to the Bahamas isn’t an option, a trip to a naturopath or acupuncturist will help to break this cycle and get you sleeping properly again.

Fatigue and sleep deprivation can become a chronic cycle that needs to be corrected to break out of it.

Nutrient deficiencies

To make energy within your cells, you require many nutrients, but the B group vitamins, magnesium, and coenzyme Q10 are the most important. A deficiency in B vitamins can show up as fatigue, mood issues and sleep problems. A deficiency in magnesium can cause symptoms like muscle cramps, nervousness, irritability and anxiety. Magnesium is used up more rapidly with stress so is commonly deficient if your stress is high. Coenzyme Q10 is needed in the citric acid cycle (how your cells produce energy) but also helps to keep your blood oxygenated which helps boost energy reserves. Those that are taking statin drugs (cholesterol lowering drugs) will be deficient in CoQ10 as these drugs greatly reduce the production of this important nutrient in the body.

Iron deficiency can also lead to fatigue as it stops your red blood cells from being able to carry oxygen around the body. Signs of iron deficiency are fatigue, feeling dizzy or light headed, losing your breath easily when walking up hills of stairs and bruising easily. To get assessed for nutrient deficiencies, see a naturopath or nutritionist.

Other causes of fatigue

Nine times out of ten correcting the above causes will alleviate fatigue, but sometimes there can be other issues that play a role. Some people suffer from post-viral or post-bacterial fatigue, where the initial infection has cleared up but the body has not recovered. Hormonal imbalance can play a role – low testosterone can cause fatigue in both men and women. Allergies are another cause of fatigue, often accompanied by a feeling of tiredness around the eyes, or heaviness behind the eyes.

Fatigue is something that we treat every single day at the clinic. It is important to get on top of fatigue, as the more energized you are the more likely you are able to look after yourself. When we’re tired we tend to buy more takeaway food and eat more convenience foods, which in turn can make you feel even more exhausted.

You don’t have to be tired anymore, call us on 07 3367 0337 and make an appointment with an acupuncturist or naturopath and start feeling better.

Male Fertility

In two out of three cases, there is likely to be a male-related subfertility cause, either alone or in combination with a female factor.

In many cases, conventional reproductive medicine practice tends to ignore the issue of male fertility and it is the female partner who seeks treatment. Most men have semen analysis, although in many cases if the semen is found to be suboptimal, these couples are automatically referred for IVF, rather than the man undergoing further investigations and treatment. Furthermore, men are usually presumed to be fertile if their semen parameters are normal. However, male infertility may be present even when the semen analysis is normal.

Other functional factors which contribute to male infertility include:

  • Lowered or non-existent sperm production
  • Sperm blocked from or imperfectly being released
  • Sperm not functioning properly

Studies report that acupuncture treatment can improve ejaculatory dysfunction, erectile dysfunction, sperm motility, concentration, sperm vitality and total motile count. This is possibly due to the effect that acupuncture has in increasing testosterone levels.

Sperm take about 72 days to clear the production line, so an acupuncture treatment schedule of at least 3-4 months is preferable to ensure benefits are realized.

Semen parameters are not the only measure of male fertility. Delayed parenthood may contribute to low sperm count and higher rates of DNA damage. However, the ensuing lifestyle factors on both the male and female parts could also contribute to these findings, of which, acupuncture can be incorporated with positive results.

Weight and BMI
Paternal weight is also important in male fertility. A 2012 systematic review and meta-analysis of 21 studies concluded that being overweight or obese significantly increased the risk of azoospermia (no sperm) or oligozoospermia (low sperm concentration). The recommended BMI for optimum baby making is currently set between 19 – 24 kg/² for both males and females trying for pregnancy.

Exercise
Although there are mixed results regarding exercise and sperm count, one study showed that men who exercised for at least 15 hours per week had a 73% higher sperm concentration compared with men who exercised under 5 hours per week. The study also showed that men who spend more than 20 hours per wek week watching TV had 44% lower sperm counts compared with men who did not. In any case your general health will be better by being more active and maintaining a healthy weight. Creating offspring should not be the only motivation for exercise!

Alcohol
Consuming alcohol has been shown to affect sperm morphology and sperm production. This is exacerbated with increased intake. Binge drinking on the male part (more than 20 units/week) has shown to significantly increase the couple’s time to conception. There has also been a link with alcohol intake on both the male and female part with miscarriage and reduced IVF success.

Smoking
Smoking in males reduces fertilisation rates and success rates of IVF and ICSI, as studies have shown a link to poor semen parameters.

Drug Use
Recreational drug use is strongly associated with infertility in both males and females, and can contribute to as much as a 70% increase of risk factors.

Medications
Prescription and over the counter medication can also contribute to male infertility, so it is important to make a note of anything that you and your partner are taking and to be aware of which medications could potentially harm reproductive function.

Environment
Environmental factors such as air pollution and exposure to contaminants can affect male fertility. Increased temperatures can also alter sperm production and can include: sitting for long periods, hot baths, using a laptop placed on the lap and sauna use.
Mention any potential environmental predisposition which might be involved to your practitioner.

Occupation
Occupational factors have also been linked to reduced fertility so therefore it is important to disclose this information. Male occupations most strongly associated with subfertility include, welders, bakers, drivers (or others involving high scrotal temperature), radiotherapists, engine drivers, agricultural workers, chemists, laboratory workers and painters (due to solvent exposure).

Nutrition
Macronutrient intake and diet play a huge role in reproductive health. As an acupuncturist, it is important to work with a naturopath or dietician who can rule out any nutrient deficiencies leading to subfertility. Generally speaking, to ensure healthy sperm quality, men should:

  • Eat a diet rich in vegies, fruits, grains, poultry and seafood
  • Reduce intake of foods that have high amounts of carbohydrates and high sugar content, and also reduce intake of processed meats
  • Replace full-fat fairy with low-fat dairy

Generally speaking, conventional medicine perceptions are most often guilty of relinquishing the task of conception and pregnancy to our female counterpart and quick to assume a dysfunction in the female rather than the male. There is much more at play for the paternal role in the synergistic bond of creation. Men so easily forget, as the woman bares the child and experiences the birth, that she is not just a vessel for breeding.

Chinese Face Reading

Ancient Chinese medicine dates back over 3000 years. Originally the ancient medicine man worked for The Emperor and cared for the Empress and the Emperor’s concubines. But the medicine man was not allowed to touch the Emperor’s women. So originally face reading became a valuable diagnostic tool and in some practices is still used in this way.

The Emperor’s women had a statue, and when they saw the medicine man they would point to where they felt unwell on the statue and the medicine man would then look – but NOT touch – and see what the patterns of her face could tell him about diseases she would be more likely to experience.

So for many, many years the medicine men had studied patterns. They studied patterns of nature, the seasons, the life cycle; they also studied patterns of disease. They studied patterns of everything.

They noticed that people with certain diseases had certain types of faces. For example, people with particular diseases had a particular shape to their face and a key look to their features.

They looked at size, shape and position of features on each person’s face.

Not only did certain faces show patterns with certain diseases, but those same faces also displayed certain behavioural patterns and emotional patterns. There were gifts and challenges that went with each face type.

The ancient Chinese named these types according to The Five Elements because it was a universal language that could be understood equally by the rich and the poor people. It was the language of nature and metaphors that could offer layers of richness and meaning.

So there was The Water person (Kidney & Bladder), The Wood person (Liver & Gall Bladder), The Fire person (Heart & Small Intestine), The Earth person (Stomach & Spleen) & finally the Metal person (Lung & Skin).

These personality types also linked to the following emotional triggers; Water links to fear, Wood links to anger, Fire links to rejection, Earth links to worry and Metal links to grief.

Chinese face reading, as well as being a diagnostic tool, also became a personality profiling tool; a psychological branch of Chinese medicine if you like. Just as today we use profiles such as Myer Briggs or DISC profiling, we can also look at someone’s face to understand what behavioural and emotional patterns may be in their life. It is not fortune telling nor is it a form of psychic reading but rather the eastern wisdom of studying patterns. It comes from a place of compassion, recognising each individual’s perfect design.  Every quality is perfect when it is in balance, but too much or too little of any quality can allow that quality to show it’s shadow.

Everyone’s design is perfect for them and when any quality displays its shadow it is about reducing the temporary ‘excess’ or ‘depletion’ of that quality to bring it back into the range that serves them.

The Chinese say that our elements are in balance when we come into this world and they are in balance when we leave this world, but the rest of the time we are all seeking to ride that wave and maintain our balance. So at any one time there may be an element speaking to us to seek some extra care. It may speak to us through physical conditions or it may speak to us through things that happen in our life, or patterns that we may get tripped up by.

There are many layers to The Five Elements and whilst the study of The Five Elements can be a lifelong journey, much insight can also be gained by just dipping your toe into this beautiful eastern philosophy.