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.