Summer Wellness Series: Tasty Kitchen Medicine

This article is sixth in a special Summer Wellness Series I'm collaborating on with my colleague Erin Wood L.Ac. Next week: herbs, tonics and supplements for Late Summer. Subscribe to my blog to get each weekly installment or follow on Instagram #tcmsummerwellness

Late Summer is a season that might be unfamiliar to you. In traditional Chinese medicine we use the five element system of natural cosmology to understand the rthyms of our bodies and the earth. Even if we didn't grow up thinking of Late Summer as a specific season, we probably know what it means - harvest, end of summer, the transition between the unbounded expansion of Summer and the contraction and endings of Fall.

Read about Late Summer and its element, Earth, in Erin's article from last week.

Seasonal foods are one of the best ways to be in harmony with the natural world, and help us surf the energies of climate, day length, temperature and so on that might impact our health. 

Since my practice and patients are in the Bay Area, I'll talk about specifics with regards to our climate - Late Summer is a clearly delineated season for us here! However the Earth element affects all of us, wherever we live.

By eating to support our Earth element in late summer, we can ease ourselves into fall and protect ourselves from the coming cold and flu season. In Traditional Chinese Medicine we're taught 'phlegm is created in the Spleen (Earth) and stored in the Lung (Metal). Supporting our Spleen by eating easy to digest, anti-inflammatory and immune boosting foods is a great way to buffer our Lungs from fall allergies and cold and flu.

The Flavor of the Season: Sweet.

Sweetness is the flavor associated with Late Summer, and is a dominant flavor in much of the produce now in season. Sweetness softens and relaxes us, and naturally sweet foods are deeply nourishing to our systems and our spirits. Too much sugar with our sweetness can overload the system, and leave us craving more sweet without feeling satisfied. Sweetness helps us the transition from the long days of summer into fall.

The Color of the Season: Gold.

Yellow, gold and orange are the colors associated with the Earth element, and are found in many of the foods in farmers' markets right now: squash, plums, peaches, pears, sweet potatoes, corn. In biomedicine terms, orange produce is rich is carotenoids (like beta-carotene) and B vitamins that are especially beneficial for the immune system, skin and eye health.

The Cuisine of the Season: Light and Warm

The Spleen is said to like warmth and hate dampness. Dumping cold, wet foods like ice cream, cold drinks and raw veggies is a good way to dampen our digestive hearth and find ourselves with kickback like bloating, belching, distention and gas, upset stomach and diarrhea. Well-cooked, high nutrient foods are like dry, fragrant wood that burns easily and doesn't leave stinky ash.

In short, as the days shorten and table is covered with the sweet, golden fruits of the harvest, we shift our diet to eat what's in season, simmered soup of butternut squash, roasted peaches, corn and bean salad. Here's a few of my fave recipes for this season in-between.

Pumpkin Pancakes

This recipe from Practical Paleo is ready in a flash and the cakes are both super satisfying (pumpkin and egg) without being too heavy for warm late summer days. I like to eat them with freshly sliced peaches or a quick simmered compote. If you've been eating something cold for breakfast like cereal, yogurt or smoothies, give these pancakes a try.

Roast butternut squash and red onion with tahini and za'atar

This sheet pan roast vegetable dish from Yotam Ottolenghi stands up as a centerpiece, side or salad. Beta-carotene is fat soluble and significantly more available to the body when eaten with fat, like the tahini and pinenuts in this recipe. Try it with a roast chicken for a Sunday dinner knockout.

Peach Crumble with Almond Flour Topping

Fresh peaches become incredibly sweet when baked or grilled. This simple recipe uses a spoonful of maple syrup and buttery almond topping to fancy up roast peaches into something truly fantastic.

Golden Milk

Golden milk is a traditional healing beverage from South Asia and Ayurvedic medicine. Its golden color and sweet flavor put it squarely in the Earth element, but its sweetness and richness are tempered by the addition of spicy black pepper and cardamom.

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Summertime Sippers to Beat the Heat

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Curious as to why Chinese Medicine practitioners recommend against icy cold drinks on hot days? Check out this article I wrote a few years ago explaining it - plus a few recipes for my fave summer sippers!

As acupuncturists and herbalists, we like to offer alternatives to standard American or Western practices for ‘beating the heat’ that are not health promoting - icy cold drinks, that American favorite, come to mind. Access to refrigeration and summertime ice cubes is relatively recent. Before the Big Gulp with Ice, traditional summertime beverages helped to hydrate us after sweating and balance our bodies to feel more at ease in the heat. But why do TCM practitioners recommend avoiding a giant icy drink? When the body is very warm, dumping ice cold into the system causes a shock - if you've every had an upset stomach after downing a freezing drink on a hot day, or had loose stools or a headache after snowcones, ice cream or other super cold foods, you've felt the effects. Very cold foods can have a milder long term effect on the digestive system too - the digestive system is like a fire, and very cold foods make it harder to get a good flame going. (Read the NPR article linked at the bottom of this post for the modern science behind avoiding cold drinks).

Why not try these tasty treats!?

Mint and Chrysanthemum Tea: Bo he and ju hua are a classic pairing for heat and wind - great for the kind of dry heat that makes allergies flare up. It has a pleasant taste that’s palatable to most people - a little sweetening with stevia leaf, honey or rock sugar makes it even easier to drink. It’s also delicious cool.

Green Tea with Hibiscus: This is a great iced coffee or iced tea substitute as the green tea provides a gentle lift of energy without overdoing it like more caffeinated beverages. Hibiscus offers a refreshing sweet/sour flavor that benefits the liver and nourishes yin, and a beautiful red color, resonating with the Fire element of Summer. It is used in traditional medicines around the world to cool the body and improve hydration. I combine equal parts of both and make sun tea in a large mason jar.

Cantaloupe Agua Fresca: Aguas frescas (cool waters) are refreshing summer beverages made from fresh fruit, popular throughout Latin America and the Caribbean. They can easily be made without sugar for a sweet, refreshing taste of summer that doesn’t knock your spleen out and kick your blood sugar in the butt. Mix equal parts ripe cantaloupe and water in a blender and puree. A tiny pinch of salt will improve the hydrating effect and make it taste sweeter. Add a little bit of grated fresh ginger, especially if you tend towards digestive upset like gas and bloating.

Bonus recipe: try a tart and refreshing fruit shrub from my colleague Erin Wood L.Ac

All of these are delicious cool or at room temperature - but if you’d like a little accessible science to help share the wisdom of avoiding cold drinks on hot days, here’s an investigation from NPR that explains from an allopathic perspective why cold drinks make you hotter. A votre santé!

Angelica & Peony: Radiant Natural Health and Beauty products are created by an acupuncturist and herbalist. Contact me for samples and information about enhancing your practice with Angelica & Peony!

 

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Getting sleep when you're worried and stressed

Trouble sleeping? This post from last year is still relevant! Check out the TCMTalk video   (at the end of the article too) for more, and if you'd like to try the WOOD element anointing oil blends mentioned (or any of the other elemental blends) they're on all sale for spring!

I've collected some ways of understanding insomnia and solutions that most folks can do themselves. Chronic insomnia that doesn't resolve with these kinds of approaches or is severely affecting your ability to function needs attention. Please find a practitioner of Traditional Chinese Medicine or holistic medicine in your area for treatment and further support - email me if you'd like help finding someone in your area. Visit TCMTalk on Pinterest for more resources and links

Do this first: BASIC SLEEP HYGIENE PRACTICES

  1. Keep your bedroom clean and uncluttered. Change sheets regularly and purify air with filters and/or plants
  2. Use your bed for sleeping, relaxation and sex - not work
  3. Go screen free or at least be sure to use a light modulator
  4. Make your bedroom as dark as possible
  5. Develop sleep rituals - having a bath, journalling, meditating, (here's some ideas)
  6. Keep your bedroom cool

Top tips for “Wood Element” insomnia:

The 5 Elements through the day  (I could not find the original artist for this image)

The 5 Elements through the day (I could not find the original artist for this image)

The Wood Element is the dominant element in the Spring time. It is associated with the Chinese medicine organ systems of the Liver and Gallbladder, and related to self-expression, the free flow of energy, and the expression of anger and self-assertion (learn more in Denise's TCMTalk on the Wood Element) Dysfunction and imbalance in the Wood element shows itself when your sleep is disrupted by anger, stress, frustration and overwork. You might find yourself waking in the middle of the night (during the 'Wood Element' time of day) and tossing and turning, with your mind going over the day’s events or the causes of your frustrations

The prescription for this kind of sleep trouble is to relieve and release the congested energy and emotions which are backing up and disrupting your sleep with mind-body-spirit practices that benefit the Wood Element and the Liver-Gallbladder system.

Yoga + qi gong for the liver/gallbladder/wood element - to help in discharging energy from those systems with stretching  and gentle movement - we’ve shared a few videos on our pinterest board, and I especially love the Qi Gong videos of Mimi Kuo-Deemer, like this one for the Wood Element

MOVE Wood Healing Anointing oil contains essential oils for relieving and releasing stuck energy and emotions.

MOVE Wood Healing Anointing oil contains essential oils for relieving and releasing stuck energy and emotions.

Massage especially for foot and leg massage, or the sides of the head - use an aromatherapy blend like Move Wood, Swimming Dragon oil, or make your own with the essential oils that harmonize and move stagnation in the Wood Element - Denise has a great infographic sharing some of our faves and how to use them.

Herbs + foods: herbs that help move and benefit the Liver/Gallbladder and can relax you into a good night’s sleep include mint, lemon balm, cardamom, chamomile, and bupleurum or chai hu, (especially combined with peony root or bai shao) cumin, fennel and ginger. These aren't designed to knock you out, but rather help balance out your energy through the day - try drinking a spicy or minty blend in the afternoon.

I like to add mimosa blossom or he huan hua, to my Swimming Dragon tea blend to relax and release the liver and promote sleep. Water with apple cider vinegar or lemon juice is a good morning beverage for folks suffering with liver congestion and stagnation. Try mixing equal parts (about a tablespoon each) of honey and apple cider vinegar into a big glass of water for a balancing sweet and sour health beverage to begin the day. Eating lots of veggies, whole foods and getting enough fiber also helps keep everything, including your stagnant energy, moving!

Worry Journal - this is a way to help manage stress and worry: you write down everything that’s weighing on your mind so you can release it before sleep. It goes well with bedtime rituals and keeping screens and work out of the bedroom. You leave the day in the journal and enter into a different space/time for sleep and restoration.

Meditation practice - meditation is something we recommend for every condition and stage of life! For when you’re feeling very pent up, try walking meditation. You can even do it if you awake in the night and can’t get back to sleep - get out of bed and do walking meditation for 10 or 15 minutes and then try to sleep again.

The Wood Element and the Liver-Gall Bladder system are working hard in these times to cope with the onslaught of external stressors, environmental toxins and daily frustrations that we are all living with, especially those of us in oppressed and marginalized communities. Denise and I hope these ideas and strategies and everything we share through TCMTalk can support your wonderful body in harmony with the energies of the Universe and help you as  you do your work in the world.

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Getting sleep when you're worried and stressed

I talk about these issues and ideas in the most recent episode of TCMTalk! Check out the video on our Youtube Channel, or scroll to the end of the article. Subscribe to the TCMTalk channel to get our seasonal health and wellness videos as soon as they're released!

I've collected some ways of understanding insomnia and solutions that most folks can do themselves. Chronic insomnia that doesn't resolve with these kinds of approaches or is severely affecting your ability to function needs attention. Please find a practitioner of Traditional Chinese Medicine or holistic medicine in your area for treatment and further support - email me if you'd like help finding someone in your area. Visit TCMTalk on Pinterest for more resources and links

Do this first: BASIC SLEEP HYGIENE PRACTICES

  1. Keep your bedroom clean and uncluttered. Change sheets regularly and purify air with filters and/or plants
  2. Use your bed for sleeping, relaxation and sex - not work
  3. Go screen free or at least be sure to use a light modulator
  4. Make your bedroom as dark as possible
  5. Develop sleep rituals - having a bath, journalling, meditating, (here's some ideas)
  6. Keep your bedroom cool

Top tips for “Wood Element” insomnia:

The 5 Elements through the day  (I could not find the original artist for this image)

The 5 Elements through the day (I could not find the original artist for this image)

The Wood Element is the dominant element in the Spring time. It is associated with the Chinese medicine organ systems of the Liver and Gallbladder, and related to self-expression, the free flow of energy, and the expression of anger and self-assertion (learn more in Denise's TCMTalk on the Wood Element) Dysfunction and imbalance in the Wood element shows itself when your sleep is disrupted by anger, stress, frustration and overwork. You might find yourself waking in the middle of the night (during the 'Wood Element' time of day) and tossing and turning, with your mind going over the day’s events or the causes of your frustrations

The prescription for this kind of sleep trouble is to relieve and release the congested energy and emotions which are backing up and disrupting your sleep with mind-body-spirit practices that benefit the Wood Element and the Liver-Gallbladder system.

Yoga + qi gong for the liver/gallbladder/wood element - to help in discharging energy from those systems with stretching  and gentle movement - we’ve shared a few videos on our pinterest board, and I especially love the Qi Gong videos of Mimi Kuo-Deemer, like this one for the Wood Element

MOVE Wood Healing Anointing oil contains essential oils for relieving and releasing stuck energy and emotions.

MOVE Wood Healing Anointing oil contains essential oils for relieving and releasing stuck energy and emotions.

Massage especially for foot and leg massage, or the sides of the head - use an aromatherapy blend like Move Wood, Swimming Dragon oil, or make your own with the essential oils that harmonize and move stagnation in the Wood Element - Denise has a great infographic sharing some of our faves and how to use them.

Herbs + foods: herbs that help move and benefit the Liver/Gallbladder and can relax you into a good night’s sleep include mint, lemon balm, cardamom, chamomile, and bupleurum or chai hu, (especially combined with peony root or bai shao) cumin, fennel and ginger. These aren't designed to knock you out, but rather help balance out your energy through the day - try drinking a spicy or minty blend in the afternoon.

I like to add mimosa blossom or he huan hua, to my Swimming Dragon tea blend to relax and release the liver and promote sleep. Water with apple cider vinegar or lemon juice is a good morning beverage for folks suffering with liver congestion and stagnation. Try mixing equal parts (about a tablespoon each) of honey and apple cider vinegar into a big glass of water for a balancing sweet and sour health beverage to begin the day. Eating lots of veggies, whole foods and getting enough fiber also helps keep everything, including your stagnant energy, moving!

Worry Journal - this is a way to help manage stress and worry: you write down everything that’s weighing on your mind so you can release it before sleep. It goes well with bedtime rituals and keeping screens and work out of the bedroom. You leave the day in the journal and enter into a different space/time for sleep and restoration.

Meditation practice - meditation is something we recommend for every condition and stage of life! For when you’re feeling very pent up, try walking meditation. You can even do it if you awake in the night and can’t get back to sleep - get out of bed and do walking meditation for 10 or 15 minutes and then try to sleep again.

The Wood Element and the Liver-Gall Bladder system are working hard in these times to cope with the onslaught of external stressors, environmental toxins and daily frustrations that we are all living with, especially those of us in oppressed and marginalized communities. Denise and I hope these ideas and strategies and everything we share through TCMTalk can support your wonderful body in harmony with the energies of the Universe and help you as  you do your work in the world.

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What Western Studies Say about Painful Periods Will Surprise You!

Image courtesy of stockimages at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of stockimages at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Painful periods are known in Western medicine as 'primary dysmenorrhea'. 'Primary' means there's no clear underlying cause (such as endometriosis, fibroids or cysts), and dysmenorrhea means 'bad monthly flow' which is pretty accurate! Painful periods affect almost all people who menstruate at some point in their lives, and at least 1 in 4 have pain severe enough to result in missing school or work. (source)

As an acupuncturist and herbalist, I know what to do for painful periods, and that most sufferers can experience tremendous relief using acupuncture, topical treatments, dietary and lifestyle changes, and herbal medicine. But I'm always curious about what Western style studies have to say. So I put on my adventuring hat and took a tour through PubMed, the archive of biomedical and life sciences journal literature at the U.S. National Institutes of Health's National Library of Medicine. Here's a few studies that you might find as interesting as I did!

1. A hot water bottle works better than acetaminophen. A randomized, single-blind (meaning the investigator asking the questions didn't know which treatment the women had received) study of 344 women found that a heat wrap not only relieved pain more effectively and for longer than acetaminophen, but also reduced fatigue and moodiness - probably because a hot water bottle is a lot nicer than a pill that can damage your liver! (source) Numerous other studies support this conclusion, finding heat therapy as effective or more effective than over the counter painkillers and NSAIDs.

2. Your kitchen cupboard works better than your medicine cabinet. Numerous studies conducted in Iran (where traditional Persian medicine uses these herbs medicinally) found that common spices are more effective than ibuprofen - with no risks of side-effects. Researchers studied ginger, fenugreek and cinnamon. Ginger stopped nausea as well as pain (source), fenugreek reduced pain, as well as other symptoms such as fatigue, headache, nausea, and fainting, better than ibuprofen (source), and cinnamon reduced both pain and heaviness of bleeding better than the drug (source). Wow!

3. Acupuncture works better than anything else! Well, I could have told you that without inflicting any scientific jargon on either of us! Acupuncture is very hard to study in a typical Western way (here's a long article about it), but the overall consensus is that it works (source, source, sourcesource)

You can learn even more about what really works to stop period pain at my upcoming class with Denise Cicuto of Cicuto Acupuncture, Sunday, July 19 at 4 pm, at Back to Life Wellness in Alameda. Get more info and RSVP on facebook

 

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Radiant, Healthy Skin: From the inside out!

I'll be giving a talk and hands-on workshop with my friend and colleague Denise Cicuto, L.Ac of Cicuto Acupuncture. It's in one of our favorite spots, Julie's Coffee and Tea Garden in Alameda. Visit the facebook event for more deets and to RSVP (space is limited!)


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