January Detox?

This is an article I wrote when I was a senior intern at acupuncture school, over ten years ago - it still pretty much sums up what I think about 'detoxes' and 'cleanses' and I hope you find it useful! -Kirsten

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The flurry of the holidays has died down, and even here in California there is a certain dreariness to the months of January and February. The days are still short, it's cool (or downright cold), we're probably all broke and a little bloated after overindulging in every way through the month of December.

A question I am often asked is "should I 'detox'?" Many people feel that their bodies are clogged with toxins, and that some tough love is in order. Fasting, gallbladder flushes, high colonics, herbal 'cleanses' and other methods are all popular. I would wager that sales of those products, many touting weight loss benefits, peak at this time of year. So what does Chinese Medicine have to say about 'cleansing'?

In Chinese Medicine we view the body as an interconnected and balanced system. The digestive and eliminative system is analogous to a pot on a stove. Food goes in the pot, and the fire underneath cooks it, producing steam that rises up. In an ideal situation, the fire burns hot but not too hot, and there is the right amount of food in the pot, with the right amount of moisture to produce lovely, fragrant steam. (as a side note, the Chinese character "Qi" or "vital force" is of a rice pot with steam rising out of it.) When we have overloaded or underloaded the pot, or if the fire is sputtering, or burning out of control, we have an imbalance, and uncomfortable symptoms result.

The body has its own mechanism for restoring balance. In western terms this is called homestasis, or self-regulation. In the acupuncture clinic we facilitate this with herbs and acupuncture, but most important is letting the body return to its own natural balance. If we suddenly empty the pot, it can all too easily be scorched or cracked. And scrubbing it out with clorox is similarly too radical a solution. Personally I feel many of the more 'radical' detox methods contain an element of self-disgust. We feel we have overindulged so we punish ourselves by starving or taking harsh herbal brews that keep us in the toilet, contemplating our sins.

The student of Chinese Medicine views the body as something to be treated gently and with love and respect. Alright, fine, you say. But what do I do about feeling maxed out after 3 weeks of canapes and candy canes?

Acupuncture and herbs can both be used by your practitioner to ease symptoms like constipation, bloating, gas and heartburn. At home, try digestive herbal teas like mint, ginger, citrus peel and fennel seed, or hawthorn berry tea, a tasty and traditional remedy for digestion, especially helpful for fatty foods.

Dietarily, it is important that your body have nourishment to continue its work. To ease the burden on your digestive system as you recover from a period of overindulgence, one of the best foods is congee: traditional chinese porridge. Usually made with rice, it can be made with any grain or legume, and can be quite convenient when you use a slowcooker. (A great book about using congee as medicine is Bob Flaws' The Book of Jook). Slow cooked whole grains,  proteins like fish and chicken, and steamed vegetables are all nourishing, easily digested foods that will feed your body without taxing it. Foods to avoid are cold and raw foods, including vegetables like salads. Many people are surprised at this advice, but salads and raw veggies are actually quite hard to digest. We are not herbivores like cattle. Our bodies have to 'cook' the vegetables once they are eaten. Many patients find they have more energy and less digestive problems when they switch to cooked veggies. Steering clear of heavily flavoured foods is restful for your system, and of course artificial and processed foods are always best avoided.

In the end, remember that January is just a month like any other. Certainly it is an opportunity to 'start fresh,' but so is every day, every moment, every breath.

ess in gezunterheyt/eat in good health
Kirsten

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A tale of two gingers...

Since Denise and I are both Harry Potter fans, I took my opportunity to work in a reference.

Since Denise and I are both Harry Potter fans, I took my opportunity to work in a reference.

Denise Cicuto L.Ac and I have been releasing our Five Element Healing Anointing Oils over the last several months, and have just bottled and made available our EARTH element blends. They are both fragrant and expansive scented oils, as befits the Earth element. The Earth element governs the Spleen and Stomach organ systems in Traditional Chinese Medicine, which can loosely be understood as the physical and metabolic processes of digestion and elimination. A healthy and balanced Earth element means we take in food, extract nutrients efficiently, and release waste effectively. Imbalance means this process is too slow or too fast, ineffective, or has a lot of collateral side effects like gas, bloating, nausea, poor appetite, feeling 'hangry', excess mucus production, brain fog and fatigue and aches and pains especially in damp weather.

Learn more about the Earth element and happy digestion from a Traditional Chinese Medicine point of view from the resources on the TCMTalk Pinterest board for the Earth element.

In Chinese medicine, we use ginger as a herb in a huge number of formulas, but it has a special affinity for the Earth element and the Spleen/Stomach organ systems. There are two main ways we use ginger - the fresh root (sheng jiang) and the dried root (gan jiang). It can be further prepared for special use by pan frying or carbonizing. The fresh root is especially useful for colds and flus and stomach upset and nausea. The dried root is 'hotter' and is also good for digestion, as well as for pain especially caused by cold and damp.

In our Earth element blends, we use two types of ginger essential oil which are extracted in different ways. NOURISH Earth contains CO2 extracted oil, which is created without the use of any heat or solvents and has a scent much closer to fresh ginger. MOVE Earth contains steam-distilled ginger oil, which smells much more like dried ginger. Although both are beneficial for a broad range of conditions especially related to digestion, damp and cold, the different extraction methods result in differing chemical profiles for the two oils. Aromatherapist Jessica Grill points out that zingerone, a component in ginger, is only extracted by the CO2 method, and is the reason she prefers it for digestive remedies. The steam-distilled ginger is higher in sesquiterpenes, making it the choice for pain-relief. (Source)

When we began experimenting with the Earth oils last summer, we didn't know about the different chemical profiles of the gingers we were trying. We used our knowledge of the base herbs and their preparation and our experience with the blends we created to identify the different uses, but it's fascinating to see the chemical profiles as explained by an aromatherapist lining up with the traditional herbalist knowledge that Denise and I were trained in.

Try MOVE + NOURISH Earth Healing Anointing Oils, as well as WOOD and FIRE, all now available. We'll be donating a portion of every bottle of EARTH oil sold to help support Dreamers, young immigrants to the US affected by recent attacks on the federal DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) program.

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