Tuesday, November 20, 2012

What's bugging your gut, part 3: Entamoeba histolytica

File:Entamoeba histolytica 01.jpgConsidered pathogenic, this amoeba is a single-celled organism that constantly changes shape. It is pathogenic and can infect the intestines as well as other organs (via the blood-stream) such as the liver.

Transmission of this bug is usually through faecally-contaminated food, water, or hands, as the cysts are passed in faeces and can survive in the environment outisde of the host for anywhere from days to months. Once the cyst is ingested, the trophozoite is released into the intestinal tract where it can bore into the intestinal lining and cause symptoms, even going further and ending up in the blood-stream, where it will be deposited into other organs, such as the liver, lungs, brain, spleen, etc. It is found using a stool test.

File:Entamoeba histolytica life cycle-en.svgSymptoms include a gradual onset of abdominal pain, diarrhoea, weight loss, fatigue, and bloody stools. In severe cases, fever and dysentery can be found. When deposited into the liver, it causes amoebic liver abscess, which can be fatal if left untreated. it is not uncommon for Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD) to be diagnosed when actually, this little bug is the poblem.

Like other intestinal parasites, this amoeba can be treated using pharmaceutical anitbiotics, however herbal medicine can also be beneficial, used in the appropriate dosages and in the appropriate manner. The standard protocol of clearing the gut and boosting the immune system using medicinals such as Chinese wormwood, Black walknut, cloves and turmeric. The gut then needs to be re-built using pre- and pro-biotics.

To make abooking to have your digestive system brought back into harmony, call Discover Chinese Medicine on 03 9013 1777, or click here to make an online booking.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Get your Mo on for men's health!

It's that time of year again when men around town start sporting odd-looking facial hair, looking like someone out of a barbershop quartet or a bikie!

No, it's not a cyclical trend of course - it's Movember, where men grow moustaches in support of promoting men's health. The global, month-long charity which had its humble beginnings in Melbourne specifically raises money for research and awareness into prostate cancer and male mental health.

The statistics are quite frightening,  with rises in the diagnosis and treatment of depression (linked inextricably to incidences of suicide in seemingly-happy males). Male life expectancy is about 5-6 years less than women; The suicide rate in males is four times higher than women; and it is estimated that five men die prematurely each hour from potentially preventable illnesses.

The Movember movement has shown to be effective not just in raising awareness about andrological health in mens' minds, but also in making significant changes in their lifestyle - the most important being actually visiting a doctor and getting a health check! As I've written on this site before, men are often reluctant in going to see a doctor in order to get checked out, let alone if they are actually starting to feel sick. Prevention is far better than the cure, not just for the individual, but also is thought to significantly make a difference to the national budget on health and take the strain off an already struggling health system.

Chinese Medicine of course has as its fundamental axiom the principle of preventing disease before it happens. The idea of treating sickness was likened to trying to fill a well when the village is dying of thirst. With our unique diagnostic system, such as the observation of the pulse, the examination of the tongue, palpation of the channel system, and the interpretation of various signs and symptoms as part of a larger 'pattern', we are able to gain subtle insights into the state of an individual's health. Often, some of these signs reveal the beginnings of more serious conditions, signs that the average person wouldn't think twice about, or consider a sign of becoming something more serious.

These Signs include constant headaches, persistent lower back pain, dribbling after urination, decreased libido or sexual function, feelings of discontent, waking up tired, unable to fall asleep, bloating after meals, changes to regular bowel habits, putting on weight, constant irritability or short tempers, greying and loss of hair, inability to cope with stress, feeling overwhelmed, rib-side pain, acid reflux, indigestion, shoulder and neck tension, recurring colds and 'flus, and so on.

On their own, these things seem innocuous and harmless. But when there is a pattern of these symptoms occurring more than once or twice, they point to what Chinese Medicine practitioners refer to as a 'pattern of disharmony'. A presenting pattern may be nothing that causes a disruption to one's normal daily routine, but if left unaddressed it can progress on to other more serious and chronic conditions.

Being able to see these patterns and treat them is part of the preventative process. Treating these disorders gently and natural with Chinese herbal medicine and acupuncture means reversing the disharmony gently, and then building the body, mind, and emotions up to be strong. Strength in men is important, as it allows us to be authentic individuals, to bring out our natural protective tendencies and to hold the space effectively for our wives, sisters, daughters, and mothers.

So whilst your grow your Mo this Movember, don't forget to come into the clinic for some preventative acupuncture and Chinese herbs. Take control of your health, your body, mind, and spirit, and start your new life with good health and happiness.

Click here to make a booking with our practitioners at Discover Chinese Medicine.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

What's bugging your gut, part 2: Dientamoeba fragilis

Dientamoeba fragilis is a single-cell parasite that infects our lower gastrointestinal tract. It is usually the cause of "Travellers' diarrhoea", chronic abdominal pain, chronic fatigue and failure to thrive in children.

It is known to spread via contaminated water and is connected with poor sanitation, however it is becoming more prevalent in industrialised countries in children. D.fragilis is also closely associated with pinworm, where it is thought that the trophozoite is found in the eggs of the pinworm.

The main symptoms one would experience if infected with this parasite are abdominal pain and diarrhoea (which can can come and go for about two weeks). In children, symptoms can be more severe. Other known symptoms include:
  • Weight loss
  • Fatigue
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Fever
  • Urticaria (skin rash)
  • Pruritis (itchiness)
  • Biliary infection
Diagnosis involves three fixed stool samples, as it is not uncommon for a single test to show no infection, yet subsequent stool samples show increasing amounts of the parasite.

Because the symptoms of infection resemble those of IBS, many medical doctors will dismiss the notion of infection and some have been known to refuse to perform stool testing. In a 2002 Australian study, a large number of patients who were thought to have IBS actually were infected with D. fragilis.

Inflammation, hives, arthritis, low iron, leaky gut have all been associated in the scientific literature with D.fragilis or B.hominis.

It is known that restricting high carbohydrate foods (ie, grains) from our diet helps, as it this parasite - alongside B. hominis - thrive from the carbohydrate chains found in these foods.

Like B.hominis, the answer is to clear the gut of the parasite, using a similar herbal mix which pierces through the mucosal capsule surrounding the capsule and then flushing it out of the intestines. The gut then needs to be repaired using good quality pre- and pro-biotics. Even the herbal remedies for clearing this can cause problems if not prescribed in correct dosages, so it is best to consult a qualified, registered herbalist with experieince treating these and other types of intestinal parasites.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

What's bugging your gut, Part 1: Blastocystis hominis

Blastocystis hominis is a small protozoal parasite that lives within the mucus of the large intestine and the colon, sticking to the inner wall, thus making it extremely difficult to get rid of even with extensive medication.

It is transmitted via the faecal-oral route, or from contaminated food or water. Incidence of B.hominis is therefore quite high in developing countries; however the incidence in developed countries is great amongst those with regular exposure to animals.

Part of the problem of this parasite is that many people may have them, but present with no symptoms whatsoever. For the most part, it is thought to not really be a problem in health unless someone later develops a problem with the immune system or the digestive system. The usual signs of infestation include anal itching, diarrhea, excessive flatulence, weight loss, on-and-off abdominal pain/cramps, abdominal distension, bloating and discomfort, constipation, diarrhea, nausea, intense brain fog, very low energy levels, lack of concentration, lack of appetite at times but increased cravings at other times and strangely enough weight gain. Those who suffer from allergies, immune system difficulties, skin problems, and bowel problem should also suspect that B.hominis may be causing problems.

The only true way to determine if the parasite exists in significant numbers in your gut is to get a digestive stool analysis which includes testing for parasites (not all stool testing is the same). These tests usually have a turnaround time of 1-2 weeks, depending on the pathology service.

Whilst mainstream medicine will prescribe strong anti-biotics, this is often found by some patients to be ineffective. There are natural medicine treatments that do work in reducing the severity of the parasite, with treatment protocols that can take 1-2 months.

There are certain Chinese medicine herbs that research has shown to be useful in clearing the gut of these parasites - which, according to traditional Chinese Medicine diagnostic approaches, are also generally indicated for the types of patterns one expects to find with the above signs and symptoms:
  • Huang Lian (Coptidis rhizome)
  • Huang Bai (Phellodendron rhizome)
  • Huang Qin (Scutellaria rhizome)
  • Ya Dan Zi (Brucea seed)

These herbs are all noted to 'clear Damp-Heat & Toxicity', which many of the above signs correlate to, and lack the harsh side-effects that powerful anti-biotics usually have. Some other herbs that are used include Black Walnut and Wormwood, Oregano oil, Thyme oil, and Clove oil. These herbs all need to be prescribed in the correct dose to be truly effective.

Some other treatments known to be effective include:
  • Less/No-grain diet: B.hominis is known to thrive on the the carbohydrates from grains, as well as sugar.
  • Colonic irrigation/enema with herbs that are focussed on killing the parasite.
  • Highly effective fat-digesting enzymes - this parasite is known to be built with fats; the dissolution of fats weaken and kill it.
Once the parasite has been cleared out of the system, we have found that the gut needs repairing, and this is done using specialist probiotics. The course of treatment can be repeated a couple more times, with re-testing to confirm how much of the parasite has been cleared.

There may still be a need for other herbal formulas to treat other aspects of illness/disharmony, and this is where the power of Chinese herbal prescriptions comes into its own, further strengthening and healing the digestive system after B.hominis infestation, and the clearing treatment. Herbal medicine is prescribed for the person, attending to redressing any energic imbalance also.

Patients often remark how the usual milieu of digestive complaints disappear once this parasite is no longer in their digestive tract.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Hayfever is here - but it doesn't need to stay!

It's spring time again... and for those who suffer from hayfever, this time of year can be quite annoying, not to mention downright uncomfortable - stuffy noses, itchy, swollen eyes, sore sinuses, constant sneezing, and sometimes a head that feels like it's wrapped in cotton wool!

Of course, chronic sufferers of hayfever can experience this at any time of year, especially if this is an allergic reaction to allergens such as dust mites, fungal spores, animal dander, or fumes. However for those who react adversely to grasses and pollens, the explosion of plant growth at this time of year (coupled with increased winds) can make things particularly difficult for a short period of time.

Hayfever is essentially the triggering of a hyper-stimulated immune system response by the particular offending allergen, usually inhaled. Histamine is released by the cells bound to the antibodies, which then produces the sneezing, itching, and watery eyes. Hence why anti-histamine is normally prescribed to treat the symptoms. These drugs can be effective at first, but come with the side-effects of drowsiness, dizziness, nervousness, and upset stomachs. More importantly, because they don't address the root of the problems (they just suppress the action of histamine, the body's normal immune response to the present of the allergen), the body can develop a tolerance for the drug, thus essentially rendering them ineffective at controlling the symptoms of hayfever.

Chinese Medicine is very good for hayfever, in that practitioners seek to address the root of the problem - building and strnegthening the immune system - whilst also effectively treating the symptoms without any of the unwanted side-effects.

Acupuncture and herbs can have a very immediate effect on reducing the symptoms of hayfever. Acupuncture is best sought 2-3 times a week  for 1-2 weeks. However, if acupuncture is combined with the appropriate herbal medicine, treatment need only be weekly initially. Herbal medicine is particularly good, as it can be taken only when symptoms appear and stopped when they disappear. It is often handy to have these on hand at home, as long as they have been properly prescribed for you.

In chronic situations, the immediate acute attack is treated in the same way, attacking the symptomatic, immediate condition. However in between attacks (and often in-between 'hayfever seasons') is when a practitioner would seek to enahnce and strengthen your immune system and build up your constitution to enable you to withstand attack from the allergen. When chronic hayfever sufferers undergo this kind of treatment, not only does hayfever often become a thing of the past, but there are usually other health benefits, as the body is brought back into balance, possibly leading to better immunity from colds and 'flu's, more energy, and increased general wellbeing.

Of course, preventative measures can also be taken, and if the allergens are known to be things like dust, moulds, or fumes, then we can take steps to eliminate - or reduce as much as possible - the presence of these. If dust is a problem, for example, it would be a good idea to look at what measures can be taken in the home to minmise this: maybe replacing carpet with floorboards? What is the source of the dust? Is there a lot of loose soil outside the windows, or living on a dusty, unsealed road? Do you have pets? Is it their hair, or skin being left everywhere? If you have birds, how often do you clean the cage out? Are the animals left inside? These are the kinds of things to look at in the home (or workplace) to ensure you can minimise the effects of hayfever.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Men need to "feel" how they feel

Talk to any man about their health and you'll usually get "yep, all fine", or no response at all.
According to the Australia's Health Report 2010, on average men rate their health better than what it actually is, and see a medical or health practitioner less than women.

Probably because of this, women are targeted more in health promotion and marketing, because they are more likely to seek out the assistance of a doctor or health practitioner earlier if a problem arises, or certainly in terms of preventative medicine. Mens' Health is often forgotten.....

While men are just as susceptible to chronic illnesses such as diabetes, hypertension, high cholesterol levels, and overweight/obesity, they also have specific andrological illness to keep an eye out for, such as enlarged prostate (ether benign or malignant), problems with bladder control, and of course sexual-related issues such as low libido, premature ejaculation, and impotence.

The biggest and most insidious problem of course lies in mental health - depression, anxiety, etc
Men don't talk about their health, or consider illness to be a big deal, in the same way, they also don't talk about how they feel. This can often impact on their relationships with their loved ones, and partner. Often, this can be a significant contributing factor in sexual dysfunctions, and of the inability to please lover further compounds a sense of low self-esteem and self-worth.

Whilst men have to deal with their own individual issues - physiological as well as emotional - they also are continually bombarded by mixed messages in the media about what it means to be male: competitive, fit, well-groomed, tall, muscular (the 'six-pack abdomen'), successful, dominant, and outgoing. These images are supported by celebrities who fit these images; all too often however, these 'role models' turn out to be less than perfect, getting in trouble with the law, treating women poorly, being involved in brutish and loutish behaviour, drunkenness and drug addictions. These archetypes seem to lack a core masculinity, and when men feel they are not meeting those expectations, this can also lead to very uniquely-male reactions to ideas around self-worth.

In Chinese Medicine, the inability to discuss how one feels is intimately linked with other more serious organic pathologies. This is called yu: constraint or stagnation. When Qi does not flow through the channel system properly, it is unable to reach other parts of the body. This can lead to issues with digestion such as abdominal bloating, heartburn or reflux; or even to sexual dysfunctions, such as low libido, impotence, or premature ejaculation. Prostatitis is often the result of this stagnation, especially in the channels associated with the genitals, after many years of this lack of free-flow. Constraint of this sort is also intimately linked with poor mental health, manifesting as depression, low mood, and even disorders such as anxiety or panic attacks; the latter also being linked with serious heart disease and hypertension.

Acupuncture is particularly useful at promoting that free-flow of Qi throughout the body, ensuring that all the vital substances are able to reach the various parts of the body that they are required. Many men notice how they "feel" better after an acupuncture treatment, even if they are coming for something 'physical'. Once Qi flows better, men are able to 'feel' how they feel, and are more likely to be able to embody the type of honourable man they know they should be.

Herbal medicine is of course beneficial at rebalancing the internal landscape of the body, correcting imbalances amongst substances (such as hormones, fluids, blood, etc.) and providing the material basis for such energetic/emotional shifts. This can be accentuated by following an appropriate diet, and exercising appropriately. Yoga, Qigong, Taichi, Pilates, walking, etc are all useful ways of keeping the body fit, the mind sharp, and the emotions flowing.

Men need to be encouraged to fully perceive how they feel about themselves, and seek help earlier. Most serious chronic illnesses can be prevented if addressed early enough. It is perfectly 'manly' to seek help, and accept that sometimes we are vulnerable - this is part of being a mature and capable male.

Monday, August 6, 2012

Infants & Eczema

Eczema is a non-infectious inflammatory skin disorder which is relatively common in Australia, thought to be found in 1 in 3 Australians. It is often diagnosed as dermatitis as the signs and symptoms are thought to be similar. The most common form found is atopic eczema, where the skin becomes red, dry, itchy and scaly and causes much discomfort for the sufferer; it can also present as weeping, although this presents more in sub-acute and chronic cases. Eczema usually begins in childhood, somewhere between 2-6 months, and most children grow out of it by the age of six, thus being quite prolific amongst children, with an estimated 1 in 5 children having atopic eczema by the time they start pre-school.

It's bad enough to suffer from this as an adult, but it can also be quite nasty for an infant, as they have no way of uderstanding the discomfort, or even able to communicate that discomfort - thus putting a lot of stress and anxiety on parents as they struggle to comfort their baby. Infants and toddlers usually show therash on their face, elbows, and knees, but is not necessarily confined to there, depending on the severity. The complication for seriousc ases is that the lesions can become infected.

Eczema is linked with a family history of asthma, hayfever, or eczema, and with reactions to certain foods such as dairy, wheat, citrus, eggs, nuts, and seafoods. However irritants such as chemicals and tobacco-smoke, allergens such as house-dust mites, moulds, pollen, and soaps can also cause flare-ups. Even the weather, or air-conditioning can irritate the skin into developing the eczema rash.

If there is a family history of asthma or eczema, mums-to-be are strongly advised to breast-feed babies exclusively for at least six months, with no additions of formula or cow's-milk. If there is an issue with breast-feeding and formula-feeding is required, there are formulas out there which have been developed specifically for babies with allergies, and will need to be discussed with a paediatrician, maternal/child health nurse, and your pharmacist. Of course, breast-feeding issues are always common, which a qualified lactation consultant or Chinese Medicine practitioner are able to help you with.

Adjusting your diet whilst breast-feeding can also help - anything mum eats, baby eats too! Generally speaking, patients with eczema should avoid sugar, sweets, and any 'fermented' foods (including yeast). Foods should be cooked (not raw), warm, and 'clear'. Lots of fresh green vegetables and soups and broths full of nourishing ingredients. Grains should be avoided, or at least kept to an absolute minimum. Alcohol, coffee and tea are also something that should be avoided. Anticandidal and hypoallergenic diets are beneficial. So for breast-feeding mothers should also look at eating this way, as it is passed on through the breast-milk. The digestive system in infants plays a pivotal role, as children are born with an inherent digestive weakness - hence why breast-milk is so important, as it is the only thing they can digest (it is considered 'warm and clear'). When digestion is weak, it can lead to many types of illnesses. The skin is the outermost layer of the body, but the quality of it shows a Chinese Medicine practitioner what is occurring on the inside.

Chinese herbal medicine has been shown to be quite effective at relieving the symptoms, and there are known medicinals to treat both the weeping "wet" type of eczema, or the dry, scaly form. As with most issues, Chinese Medicine practitioners assess the individual and make a diagnosis according to pattern, so there are no 'one-size-fits-all' treatment. Herbal formulas can be administered to an infant using a small syringe, or if that is difficult, the mother can take the medicine, with its effects being passed on through the breast-milk. There are also probiotic formulas available which aid the digestive tract by rebuilding beneficial gut flora. Dermatology texts also describe poultices, washes, and powders made from certain herbal combinations; these are designed t alleviate the itch and settle the more annoying symptoms at the skin level. When using any skin creams, be very careful as to the ingredients - oil-based products can make the condition worse, as could various chemicals; natural and organic substances are best. Infants' skin is very sensitive, and if you wouldn't put that stuff in your mouth, then chances are you wouldn't rub it onto your baby's skin!

There are also teas which can be made at home that can help with eczema, using ingredients such as Job's Tears (Pearl) barley, corn-silk, azuki beans, mung beans, or dandelion. Choose 2-3 of these ingredients and place in a pot of water and boil for about 10 minutes, then administer (cooled down of course) to the child.

Eczema doesn't have to be something that one has to live with, or suffer from. As mentioned above, in most cases of childhood eczema, it is self-limiting and the child will grow out of it. However there are the cases where it will become chronic. Treating it early, and beginning to make dietary changes to improve the health of the gut will ultimately lead to better results down the track!

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Eating our way out of our mood swings

There is a link between our mood and blood-sugar which is well known. With diabetes on the rise, the dangers of drops in blood-sugar and how to deal with them are now being taught in First Aid courses, describing the tell-tale signs of mood swings and irritability linked with long periods of not eating. The more serious symptoms include seizures, and unconsciousness (and in extreme cases, death!).

One does not need to be diabetic to suffer from lowered-blood sugar, nor from the shakiness and irritability associated with lowered blood-sugar - when there is no detectable reduction in blood-sugar, it is usually associated with the drop in energy a few hours after a meal. The usual symptoms are shakiness, a general sense of weakness, altered mood, confusion, fatigue, anxiety, a pale complexion, abnormal sweating, an increased pulse rate, and hunger.
It's not just the food we eat, but also the type of bugs (good and bad) that live in the digestive tract, that can affect mood. The evidence for the wider implications for gut bacteria affecting the nervous system is slowly growing, with disorders of these microbes being linked with medical conditions such as obesity and inflammatory bowel disease. There is also growing speculation and research into the link with the state of the gut flora and its effect on mood.

In Chinese Medicine, the health of the digestive system is associated with the organ-systems of the Spleen and the Liver. The digestive system is one of the main parts of the body where vital energy (Qi) is produced, however if a person is tired, run down or has weakened digestive function, their Qi will become depleted because of an impaired ability to absorb nutrients and energy from food. A lack of Qi puts strain onto the liver and creates symptoms of anger and frustration. When the qi is lacking, soon to follow is a deficiency of a nutritive substance called Xue (roughly translates to blood),  because the poorly functioning digestive system (Spleen) is not absorbing and distributing the basic building blocks of Blood from the diet. Blood in Chinese Medicine has a large role in housing the Shen (spirit, or Mind), so if the Blood becomes depleted, the mind lacks the support and grounding it needs. This can leave people feeling easily overwhelmed, easily brought to tears, or feeling generally unsettled and out of sorts. People who suffer from mood swings can fluctuate between the symptoms of depleted blood and constrained qi - feeling tired and cranky when you're hungry, or being driven to emotional eating when upset. Common symptoms of a weak digestion - not necessarily a problem that is fixed by antidepressants or a nice relaxing holiday.
The key in fixing these very common types of mood fluctuations is in looking after the health of the digestive system. Ensuring that the diet provides the foundational building blocks required to function on a daily basis is a good start. What we eat is going to make a difference not just to the energy to move our physical bodies, but also to maintain psychological and emotional wellbeing. A substantial quantity of good quality green vegetables is vital (3-6 cups per day). A good healthy dose of ‘good fats’, so that we can produce cholesterol and maintain a healthy endocrine system. Because hormones like estrogen and testosterone have a role to play in disorders such as depression, eating dietary fat that converts to hormones is important.

The quality of the Blood/Xue depends on vital minerals and vitamins, such as Vitamin B, D, C, and zinc, calcium, and magnesium. The state of the gut flora needs to be protected, and clearing nasty bacteria, parasites and yeasts such as candida and others, while re-building good flora with the use of probiotics can greatly improve the health of our digestion.

Get serious and cut down on the amount of sugar you consume, as this is what will ‘damage the Spleen’ and therefore damage digestion and the production of Qi. A routine of regular, gentle exercise that moves Qi and Blood, such as walking, Yoga, or Tai-chi is also useful. At the same time, looking after the nervous system by eliminating or minimising exposure to serious stressors such as "general life stress", chemical toxicity, emotionally toxic people, and changing your inner emotional landscape to look more like the hills from the sound of music, rather than a wartorn battlefield. Strategies to help reduce stress can be enhanced by learning to meditating, learning how to relax, and maintaining regular sleeping patterns.

Of course, your Chinese Medicine practitioner can prescribe herbal medicines, acupuncture and tailored advice to you so that you can really quickly regain balance in your mood and in your mind. Once you achieve harmony, it's much easier to maintain it using these strategies listed above.
In these ways, it is possible to maintain the health of the physical, emotional and mental aspects of ourselves.

Friday, July 6, 2012

Do you have the gall to keep your gallbladder?

It is becoming increasingly more frequent that people are having their gallbladders surgically removed. This is usually due to the advise of a medical practitioner (usually a surgeon) who recommends it as a first course of treatment in cases of gallstones (cholelithiasis) and with “sluggish” gallbladders, or gallbladder inflammation (cholecystitis). Most people in this situation are told that it is perfectly alright for this to happen, and most are under the impression that the gallbladder has no real necessary function in the human body.

This could not be further from the truth. What's more, the procedure of removing the gallbladder would be considered a last resort, when all other methods have failed.

The gallbladder indeed has a very important function as part of the digestive system. Its role is to store a substance called Bile, and to secrete it into the small intestine during digestion. Bile is an alkaline substance, bitter-tasting and greeny-yellow, containing acidic bile salts, cholesterol, bilirubin, electrolytes, and water. Its main role is in the emulsification and absorption of dietary fats. The storage of bile in the gallbladder occurs between meals, removing the water and electrolytes, and storing it in concentrated form, to then be released about 30 minutes after a meal. When dietary fats are present in the duodenum (the upper part of the small intestine), hormonal signals are sent to the gallbladder to begin secretion.

If the gallbladder is removed, it becomes near-impossible to digest any form of dietary fats, requiring one to be on either a no-fat diet, or very small amounts eaten regularly. Dietary fats are required for the operation of the endocrine system (hormones); they provide the pre-cursors to many of the sex-hormones in the form of cholesterol; and they are also important for the absorption and metabolism of important fat-soluble vitamins and minerals. The gallbladder is necessary for dietary fats to be absorbed by the body, so that the endocrine system can perform its role in healing the body when necessary.

In symptomatic cases of gallstones, there is considerable localised abdominal pain and jaundice. Other signs and symptoms of gallstones could include heartburn, flatulence, epigastric discomfort, and intolerances to fatty foods and cabbage. An inflamed gallbladder is usually caused by the lodging of a gallstone in the cystic duct. The pain is similar but will present with specific findings of test results.

In Chinese Medicine, the gallbladder is also said to have a psycho-emotional role, allowing us to be courageous, and having the courage to express our innermost desires in the external world. This is recognised by many other cultures also, with the common expression “having the gall” to do/say something with a degree of audacity. Confucian medical scholars likened the gallbladder to the social role of the judge, whose job it is to make decisions and carry out the (legal) decisions of the State. Thus indecisiveness is said to indicate a weakness of the gallbladder, whilst to have 'da dan' (a large gallbladder) indicates that someone is courageous and decisive.

So how can Chinese Medicine help with gallbladder disorders? Using acupuncture, herbal medicine, and dietary therapy, practitioners are able to dissolve and clear gallstones. Often gallstones are asymptomatic, so if there appears to be some issues with digestion (especially involving foods with considerable levels of dietary fats), it is often useful to do a “gallbladder flush”, which helps clear the ducts that carry bile, and dissolve and clear any stones that are yet to be big enough to cause pain or complete blockage. There are very effective herbal formulas which dissolve the stones, and then flush them out. Apple cider vinegar and artichokes are known to be useful for this, as are lemons, limes, turmeric, parsnips, radishes, mung beans, rye, endives, linseed oil, chamomile tea, and seaweed.

It is a better idea such non-invasive and less-radical procedures to clear the gallbladder of stones and inflammation before heading down the route of surgical removal. The gallbladder has an important function in digestion, and it is probably worth the effort to keep it.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Keeping our insides warm in winter

This is turning out to be quite a cold winter!

In agricultural-based societies, winter was the season of pulling back from the usual workload and spending more time conserving energy; very similar to what many of the plant world during this time. Crops grown over this time are slower growing, and somewhat heartier; and many of the heavy crops harvested in autumn are either preserved or kept in order to be consumed over the colder months. People would still wake with the dawn and bed down at dusk - these times being somewhat brought closer together due to the shorter daylight hours.

Life for us however doesn't necessarily allow us to follow these kinds of patterns. Our schedules are determined by the clock, not by the movement of the sun; and our workloads don't really differ that much from season to season. However, our bodies have an intelligence which mostly is still tuned to those natural cycles - insofar as we unconsciously yearn to sleep more and do less and stay cosy and warm on these chilly winter days.

In Chinese Medicine, wintertime is associated with the Water-phase of the 5-Agents schema. The energy of Water is about dormancy and conservation; the tendency of this time is solitude and isolation, and the emotional need is one of being protected. Immediately, many of us would think of sitting neat an open fire with hearty warm foods, wrapped in warm pyjamas and blankets and fluffy slippers, whilst the cold is kept away.

Here is another one of my family recipes which we thoroughly enjoy at this time of year. It is very rich, but it's also incredibly filling and warming. While the Beef can strengthen Qi, the richness of the meal nourishes and supplements Yin and Blood. The spices also contribute to warming the Yang, while the vinegar and rosemary assist in moving Qi.

Stifatho - Beef stew


½ kilo rump/topside steak, diced
2 tablespoons coconut oil
1 medium onion, diced
3-4 cloves garlic
2 bay leafs
2-3 sprigs rosemary
400g tomatoes (passata, or canned tomato)
½ cup red wine
1 cup vinegar (malt or red wine)
10 small pickling onions or shallots
5-6 potatoes
Salt, pepper, cinnamon, few cloves
  • Pre-heat oven to 160 C.
  • Saute meat, add onion, garlic, bay leaves and rosemary until meat is sealed and brown. 
  • Add tomatoes, salt, pepper, cinnamon and cloves and simmer gently for 1 hour, stirring occasionally.
  • When the sauce has thickened and reduced, add the wine and continue simmering for another ½ hour. 
  • Add the onions and the vinegar and simmer for another ½ hour. 
  • Add your potatoes and continue to cook gently until the potatoes are soft.
  • This dish is to be very slow cooked so that all the flavours can fuse together and the meat just melts.

Serve this up with a side of steamed green vegetable - traditionally greens such as leafy amaranth, silverbeet, endives, spinach, or 'mountain greens' were lightly boiled and sprinkled with virgin olive oil and lemon juice. Some steamed jasmine/basmati rice can also round this off.

This is certainly a heavy dish, so probably not had as a late evening meal. This dish can take up to four hours, so start cooking it early to have as a late afternoon meal. 

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Kids & Coughs

Coughing is something that all children experience when they ‘catch a cold’, and sometimes it can be most distressing for parents. Usually, a child will experience severe coughing fits at night whilst they - and everyone else - are trying to sleep.

Whilst it can be an inconvenience for the busy, modern parents, the best thing for children is to be kept home from school and allow the body’s own natural healing process to take place, but more importantly it also means that a child won’t ‘share’ their illness with all their classmates; the common cold - or upper respiratory tract infection - is probably the most common cause for school absence.

Paediatrics as a specialist medicine was really developed during the Song dynasty period in China, around the 11th Century. The understanding that children required something slightly different to adults led to the development of specific massage (tui-na) and acupuncture techniques, as well as paediatric herbal formulas. Children are understood to be inherently more yang - as this is the period of phenomenal growth and development, which requires an abundance of Qi and yang-energies. This also means that there is a relative deficiency of yin, and so this constitutional factor needs to be taken into account when developing treatments for children. Their immune systems are also considered inherently weaker, as they are still in the process of developing fully, and so tend to get sicker easier and quicker; the upshot to that is that they also get better quicker than adults too! As with adults, and congenital factors also need to be taken into account.

There are some key things to look out for, and let your practitioner know about which assist in determining the correct treatment. What does the cough sound like - is it a strong, loud barking cough; or a weak, quiet one? Is it dry? If there is phlegm, is it coming up easily? What colour is the phlegm? Is the throat sore? Is there a headache? Is there a fever? Is the child sore? Is there any nasal mucus, and if so what colour is it? How long has the cough been going for?

Chinese herbal medicine is particular good for this kind of ailment, but it is also useful to be combined with a session of acupuncture and/or massage. Most children may not be keen on having acupuncture needles stuck in them, which is why massage that stimulates the same points and channels can be better in these situations. The other benefit of taking your child into seeing a Chinese Medicine practitioner is so they can assess the nature of the condition and guide you to what needs to be done.

With getting your child to take medicine, I find that using a syringe (around 10ml) is useful, as it also turns the taking of the medicine into a kind of game - they get to squeeze the syringe themselves, thus also teaching them (in a subtle manner) about taking responsibility for their own health. It also means the medicine will get through and bypassing most of the taste buds! When coughing is the main complaint, I will often combine the medicine with a herbal cough syrup - usually containing honey - which will sweeten the flavour somewhat. There are quite a few good herbal cough syrups that are available from most Asian grocery stores as well as Chinese Medicine dispensaries.

And there is plenty that a parent can do at home to speed up recovery. Dietary therapy is of particular importance for all kinds of paediatric illnesses, due to the undeveloped nature of the child’s digestive system. Teas are very useful for treating the common cold, and particularly so for a cough and a sore throat. The types of teas are again dependant on which pattern of illness your child presents with. ‘Heat’ patterns need to be treated with ‘cool’ teas, foods, and herbs, while ‘cold’ patterns need the opposite. If the Lungs are dry (distinguished by a dry cough), they need moistening; whilst the presence of phlegm suggests the use of substances that will ‘dry up’ the mucus.

Another useful method is massaging the child’s chest with some Tiger Balm when they go to bed. Tiger Balm is said to help promote the movement of Qi and disperse the Qi-stagnation in the Lungs. The smell of the camphor can also help clear the nasal passages, allowing the child to breathe easier through their nose, thus reducing the need to breathe through their mouth, where pathogens lodge in the throat (the first signs of a cold are usually the distinctive sore throat and blocked nose). Baby-boomers may remember having camphor pinned to their undergarments to prevent getting sick; dabbing a spot of Tiger Balm behind the ears and on the throat is used for the same reason.

Here is our family recipe for Chicken Soup - it’s what we were always given when we were sick growing up. It provides nourishment (Qi) to help keep the body strong and fight infection. And it tastes wonderful, and kids love it! Enjoy....

“Avgolemono” - Chicken soup with egg & lemon

1x whole chicken - free-range or organic
1x carrot
1x stick celery
1x onion
pepper & salt

1x cup rice
2-3x free-range/organic eggs
3-4x lemons

20-30g sliced Huang Qi (Astragalus radix) - available from all good Asian grocers. This is optional.

In a large pot of water, bring to the boil the chicken, carrot, celery, onion, and salt/pepper. Boil for 1 hour. If using the Astragalus root, stuff it into the cavity of the chicken.
After this time, remove the vegies & the chicken (carefully) and place in an oven tray. The chicken can be roasted, to provide a second meal, thus getting value for money!

Add the rice to the broth, and boil until rice is ready.
Whilst the rice is cooking, beat the eggs and the juice of the lemon together in a large bowl. When the rice is cooked, turn off heat, and begin to slowly ladle the liquid (not the rice) into your egg/lemon mixture, and continue to beat to create a fluffy mixture. The purpose of this is to slowly bring the egg/lemon mixture to the same temperature as the soup, so the egg will not curdle. Keep ladling soup into the bowl until it feels the same temperature as the soup pot. Then transfer this back into the soup pot. Add salt/lemon juice to taste (if necessary). Serve with some ground pepper.

Monday, June 18, 2012


We can all feel a little anxious from time to time - before an exam, or a job interview, an important meeting, before a first date, and so on. For some people however, these anxious feelings can continue over extended periods of time, and sometimes with no real or valid reason. When the feeling of anxiety is affecting your ‘normal daily routine’, then this is an indication that there is something wrong which needs to be addressed.

According to Western models of mental health, there are a number of anxiety disorders:
  • generalised anxiety disorder (GAD)
  • panic disorder
  • obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)
  • post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
  • social anxiety disorder
  • specific phobias
Whilst all of these have their own idiosyncratic nature, at the heart of it is some irrational and excessive sense of fear, worry, and dread.

According to Beyond Blue, these disorders are the most common, with an estimated one in seven Australians experiencing an anxiety disorder in any given year, with one in six women being affected, and one in ten men.

Chronic feelings of anxiety - termed generalised anxiety disorder (GAD) - is said to affect 5% of Australians. It can also occur alongside other mental health disorders, such as depression, addiction, or other anxiety disorders. As well as the uncontrollable worry about everyday concerns, sufferers of GAD can also find themselves with a number of physiological signs and symptoms, such as muscle tension, abnormal sweating, nausea, cold/clammy hands, difficulty in swallowing, edginess/jumpiness, gastrointestinal discomfort (such as diarrhoea), irritability, tiredness and insomnia.

Panic disorders on the other hand a little more dramatic, with the tell-tale ‘panic attacks’ - sudden and acute onset of intense fear or discomfort which lasts for up to ten minutes, accompanied by symptoms such as the feeling of imminent danger or doom, the strong desire to flee, heart palpitations, sweating, trembling, hot flushes, a possible shortness of breath or a feeling of being smothered, a choking sensation, possible chest pain, a feeling of nausea or abdominal discomfort, dizziness, depersonalisation, a fear of losing control, or a fear of dying. Diagnosis of this disorder is based on the frequency and intensity of the attacks, and also monitoring for subsequent and continued sense of anxiety about further attacks, or fear of the triggers of such attacks. It is thought that about 3% of Australians suffer from this disorder.    

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) are attacks of anxiety that are directly linked to traumatic events, such as assaults, major accidents, natural disasters, neglect, experiencing unpleasant medical procedures, and so on. As well as the usual signs of anxiety, sufferers from this disorder will also experience flashbacks, nightmares, a loss of interest in what was once enjoyable, and memories of the event that continue to intrude on normal, everyday thoughts.
There is no exact equivalent in Chinese Medicine for anxiety, however there were some disease states which closely resemble this, known as “fear and palpitations”, “panic throbbing”, and “agitation”. Involving a state of fear, worry, and anxiety, these disease states share many of the same physical and emotional symptoms described above.

The aetiology of anxiety from a Chinese Medicine perspective is usually some form of stress, which can involves any of the emotions. Emotional stress can lead to the stagnation of Qi , which can also generate internal heat which will deplete the yin-natured aspects of our body, which agitates the Mind. Sometimes, there is also what is referred to as ‘constitutional’ factors, which include the development of patterns of behaviour and coping skills within families. Diet also plays its part, with irregular eating and the excessive consumption of Damp-producing foods - such as processed foods, preservatives, and additives being the worst - causing sluggish flows of Qi in the channels, leading to obstruction the Mind. Haemorrhages and other heavy losses of blood can also lead to the patterns of deficiency which affect the Heart, the organ-system which plays a vital role in our emotional health. Finally, extreme taxation and fatigue caused by working long hours without adequate rest and recuperation can deplete our vital energies, which also throws the internal organ-systems out of balance, leading to the patterns of disharmony which are found in cases of anxiety.

In Chinese Medicine, the Heart organ-system is said to be the “seat of all emotions”, and so any psychological/emotional disorder is linked with pathologies involving this organ. In anxiety disorders - especially in panic disorders - this connection is obvious given the associated symptoms of palpitations, chest fullness, and so on. However, all the organ-systems and channels of the the body are involved in the treatments of this disorder.

Being primarily an energetic medicine, Acupuncture is particularly beneficial in treating individuals with these disorders, as emotions - like Qi - is fundamentally an energic quality. By palpating points along the channels, assessing the pulse, and asking about any other symptoms, Acupuncturists are able to harmonise the channel system, the network which interconnects all parts of the body. Systematic reviews of the research into Acupuncture treatment for some anxiety disorders showed some positive results

Herbal medicine and nutritional health also plays its part, as we are able to bring our internal landscape into balance, harmonising the organ-systems which lead to patterns such as Qi-stagnation, or depleted energies of the individual organs.

Meditation and mindful exercises such as Yoga or Taichi are also very useful to help to learn to relax the body as well as the mind, and providing the time and the space to unwind and alleviate stress.
Something that helps with all types of anxiety is the ability to talk with someone you trust and share how you feel about issues. Speaking with a trusted practitioner - a Chinese Medicine practitioner, your GP, a counsellor, or a psychologist - can also be of great benefit. Practitioners can help in ways beyond the mere physiological, and can also help refer you onto services - such as
Beyond Blue, Lifeline, and Men's Helpline - that exist to help you further.

Anxiety isn’t something to be afraid of, nor ashamed of. But it is something that will affect our daily lives if we let it, and can lead to further complications.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

It takes two: baby!

The infertility rate here in Australia is estimated to be one in six couples.However, the focus on fertility treatments always seems to be skewed towards treating the female. Marketing of fertility treatments seems to be directed at women, reminding them that the clock is ticking. Even in IVF, a lot of stress is placed on the woman to follow strict schedules. Somewhere along the line, it is forgotten that men too play an equally important role in conception.

Holistic fertility treatments focus on both man and woman, never assuming that the inability to conceive is merely due to a woman’s age or egg production alone. Studies are showing the increasing effect of the male on all conception, embryonic/foetal/infant health and pregnancy issues.

It takes between 80-116 days for a single sperm to be created. Going through five cycles of six stages, it is this 3-4 month period before ejaculation where the sperm is susceptible to many threats, before it even takes the journey towards (possible) conception in the uterus of the woman. Because they are smaller and more exposed to environmental factors, sperm are indeed more vulnerable than eggs.

Of the known causes of male infertility, the most common (affecting some 66% of cases) is issues with production. The usual causes are factors such as heat, pressure, infections, genetic problems, exposure to drugs, chemicals, or radiation, age, testicular torsion, undescended testes, or previous vasectomy. 15% of cases are due to blockage of tubes (ejaculatory problems), and the third most common aetiology is anti-sperm antibodies which attack the sperm whilst in the uterus. Less than 1% of infertility cases are due to sexual problems, which are usually secondary to illnesses such as diabetes, pelvic/prostate surgery, nerve damage from spinal cord injury, anti-depressants and anti-hypertension medication, infrequent intercourse, or age.

Pre-conception health-care for males is therefore essential, especially during the 3-4 months where sperm is being created. The factors leading to male infertility need to be identified, and then appropriate diet/lifestyle changes and treatment need to continue throughout this period. Potential dads need to re-consider how they lead their lives and how they treat themselves and their bodies, as their health can impact the health of their offspring. Leukemia, asthma, respiratory disease, mental development/disease have all been linked to the health of the father and his sperm.

Healthy sperm should ideally have a concentration of at least 100 million/ml. Motility should be at least 75%, and normal morphology rates of no less than 30% are considered acceptable for natural conception. In the past few years, the details of what is considered acceptable sperm for making the next generation have been significantly revised downwards. Many laboratories now consider 5 million sperm, 45% motility and 97% abnormally formed sperm to be acceptable.

In Chinese Medicine, there are several physiological factors that must come together to enable a man to be fertile. There must be adequate life-essence, this is reflected in a general robustness and vitality, good quality hair that isn't greying, strong nails, no sweating at night or sticking feet outside of the doona, no reflux meds or asthma medication. The "gate of vitality" in the lower abdomen must be warm enough to power spermatogenesis, this will show in a strong lower back that doesn't ache, good circulation, hands and feet that don't get cold, and a good strong libido. Liver energy must be free-flowing and Kidney energy must be abundant enough to promote healthy sperm production and maintain normal ejaculation. When the Liver and Kidney are functioning well there will be a moderate temperament without anger, good vitality, clear eyes without dark circles or puffiness underneath. A man must also have adequate vitality and general nutrition, to promote the quality and liveliness of his sperm which contain a blueprint that gives his offspring the best foundation to life possible.

If prostate issues are suspected, or there is a blockage interfering with normal ejaculation, Chinese Medicine looks for "phlegm" or "blood stasis", which tend to obstruct the seminal pathways and allow normal ejaculation. Issues that damage or interfere with the normal shape of the sperm (morphology) are often classified as "damp-heat" or "heat-toxins". These can be present in the body due to exposure to toxins, chemicals, radiation, infections and STD’s. Checking the semen for Human Papilloma virus (HPV), cytomegalovirus (CMV), herpes simplex virus (HSV), human herpes virus type-6 (HHV-6), Epstein-Barr virus, hepatitis-B, and Chlamydia trachomatis can be useful; at the sub-clinical level, there may be no visible signs or symtpoms, but the DNA of these viruses will show up in the semen.

Of course, there are other factors which we would also look at addressing, such as the physiological factors involved when men are over-weight or suffering from obesity. When there are prostate issues, these presenting patterns usually combine also to create infertility, as would any of the patterns involved with more psycho-emotional conditions involving low libido, erectile dysfunction, or other issues related to performance. Psychological and emotional wellbeing is also important, as how we as men feel will also affect our partners’ moods, thus affecting the deep connection which also is important in the act of conception.

In treating male infertility, both acupuncture/moxibustion and Chinese herbal medicine can be of great benefit. However it also vital to look at one’s diet, and make the appropriate modifications, depending in the individual. Antioxidants such as zinc, folate, vitamins E & C, and beta-carotene have been found to be useful to improve fertility; these are best taken in supplement form, the therapeutic levels required to achieve positive changes in sperm often exceed what is possible in a normal diet.

Lifestyle issues also need to be taken into account with appropriate modifications, such as reducing the exposure of the scrotum to heat due to tight and synthetic-fibre underwear, hot baths, and so on. The ancient Chinese also knew that maintaining regular - but not excessive - sexual activity is important, as it ensures the free-flow of "Qi" (energy), "Blood", and "Essence", thus maintaining fertility. Psychological and emotional wellbeing is also important, as how we as men feel will also affect our partners’ moods, thus affecting the deep connection which also is important in the act of conception.

Overall, a holistic approach is best and involves utilising modern testing methods with ancient Chinese treatments and augmentation practices such as diet, lifestyle, and Qigong.