Monday, December 30, 2013

Roots, Branches, Watery Depths and Pollen Bursts

Happy Wintertime to you!  Metaphorically speaking, in Chinese medicine’s Five Element Theory, this season is the phase of relative stillness and the ”underground” unknown.  It’s like the murky bottom of the ocean.  Indeed, water is the associated element and blue is the associated color.  The kidney and bladder organ/meridian systems are related to this phase.

Often, being with the unknown, observing without evaluating, to see what emerges is the hardest phase to experience.  There may be an urge to skip it.   Before fully understanding the wisdom to be revealed in this phase, one may prematurely jump into planning and structuring the next step rather than simply being with the unknown.

The challenging emotion of the Water phase is fear.  Sometimes the feeling is unwarranted and comes from an imbalance in the kidney and/or bladder organ/meridians systems.  In wintertime in Central Texas, however, there’s often a very clear and real fear of impending Cedar Fever.  For the uninitiated, this is the allergic rhinitis or sinusitis from which many begin to suffer.  It directly relates to the plentiful cedar trees that have begun to bloom and disperse their pollen.

In Chinese medicine, it’s important to treat cedar fever on two levels.  There are the acute-stage symptoms such as sneezing, runny nose, itchy ears, and itchy, red and/or burning eyes.  All of these can leave a person exhausted.   This is the branch aspect of the imbalance.  Acupuncture and individually-tailored Chinese herbal formulas provide relief and often help someone smoothly sail through the season.

For lasting relief, a person’s constitutional level or pattern also must be assessed and balanced.  This is the root level of the disorder.   One patient may have a lot of clear mucus drainage, often feel cold, get up several times at night to urinate and have a history of shortness of breath, fatigue and asthma.  Another patient may have thick yellow or green nasal mucus, a flushed red face, strong thirst, and constipation as well as be overweight.   A third patient may simply get a runny nose and itchy eyes during Cedar Fever season.   Each person’s allergies will be addressed quite differently in Chinese medicine. 

If the root level is not addressed, the branch-level symptoms will continue to manifest during Cedar Fever season.  Although the best time to address constitutional imbalances is months before full-bloom allergy symptoms, they can be addressed at any time. 

As Bob Flaws points out, there are also three free therapies that are crucial for getting rid of these allergies: 
  •  Diet
Strong digestive Qi, or Life Force, is important to fend off the allergic responses.  What one eats and does not eat directly affect these dynamics.  For example, although a completely raw foods diet has been popular and some raw veggies are valuable, too much of them requires too much digestive Qi and drains it.  Eating plenty of veggies is very important but a general rule of thumb is to have the raw ones be no more than 20% of the diet.   It’s better for veggies to generally be lightly steamed.
Chilled food and drinks are also harmful.  Think of them in terms of the energy they drain from the body when they have to be warmed to body temperature.  Sugars, including alcohol and sweets, also damage digestive Qi.  The more oily and greasy a food is, the more it creates “Damp.”  This clogs our system and contributes to allergy symptoms.  All dairy and refined-flour products are Damp-producing.
  • Exercise
Regular and adequate exercise greatly helps Qi move in a healthy way and not be stuck.  It also strengthens digestive Qi.  Those with a history of asthma are included but need no more than 20 minutes of aerobic exercise that is done in a way that does not induce an attack.  An important first step for this population is to clean up one’s diet before starting an exercise program.
  • Relaxation 
Rare is the person who early-on did not learn maladaptive coping responses to frustrations, irritations and anger. When we feel stressed, most of us tense muscles in our upper back and shoulders, neck, and/or jaws. It’s also common to hold the breath. These responses only make respiratory issues worse. Therefore, deep relaxation practices need to involve the body and be more than mental experiences . My personal favorites are Qigong practices on DVDs by Lee Holden. His website is

Besides these three important therapies, one can also do home remedies such as Chinese self-massage at strategic points, seven star hammering, Chinese medicinal porridges, moxibustion, and Chinese medicinal teas.  Talk with your licensed practitioner of Chinese medicine or get a copy of Bob Flaw’s book, Curing Hay Fever Naturally at Blue Poppy Press for more specifics on these techniques as well as the three free therapies.

Janet Lee Cook
Licensed Acupuncture and Chinese Herbal Prescriptions


Saturday, November 23, 2013

Colds, Flu and other Seasonal Infections

Greetings on a chilly day! 

What follow are some important        
strategies to help you smoothly sail
through cold and flu season.  
Some are universal precautions. 
Others are pure Chinese medicine,
a gift that helps avoid the snags
of antibiotics and anti-viral

Strategies for Prevention:

  • Cleanse your hands often.  If you wash your hands, do so for 15-20 seconds (the length of time to sing the Happy Birthday song).   Scrub all contours of the surface – not just the palms.  Rinse well and dry hands with air or disposable paper towels.
  • Keep your fingers away from your nose and mouth unless you’ve just cleaned your fingers.  Many forms of colds and viruses live up to two hours on surfaces such as tabletops, doorknobs and telephone receivers.  If you’ve touched a surface with a live "bug", all that is needed to become infected is to touch your eyes, nose or mouth before you’ve properly cleansed your hands.
  • Cover your nose and mouth when you sneeze or coughDisposable tissue use is best.  Throw it away right away and wash your hands.  If you don’t have a tissue, sneeze or cough into the upper part of your sleeve near your shoulder.  Other people are far less likely to have contact with your upper sleeve than with your hands.  In fact, sneezing or coughing into your hands is one of the worst options since they touch more surfaces in the environment than any other part of our bodies.  Hands will spread germs almost as readily as sneezing or coughing without covering your mouth.
  • Teach others in your home to observe germ-prevention habits.  Most of the details can be understood by children as young as two years old with proper instruction, repetition and supervision.
  • Drink plenty of water.  Stay away from iced water because it unnecessarily taxes digestive energy.
  • Minimize dairy products.  They clog the respiratory system and create phlegm.
  • Avoid simple sugars and alcohol.  They depress the immune system and also create phlegm.  Get your sweets from a serving of fruit.  If you react to modern wheat’s high gluten content, avoid this source of congestion.  This includes whole wheat.
  • Eat plenty of fresh vegetables.
  • If you eat meat or eggs, choose organic.  A second-best choice is free-range.  Animals raised in feed lots or other confinement facilities are shot full of antibiotics and other chemicals.  The residual is in their meat or eggs.  This affects your immune system.
  • Get plenty of rest and minimize stress – often easier said than done, but important.
  • Stay physically activeQigong is one of my favorites; it’s also a great way to deal with stress.
  • Use Chinese herbs and acupuncture to keep your immune system strong and prevent infection.  People who receive regular acupuncture treatment and/or use Chinese herbs get sick less often.  The medicine balances and strengthens your immune system.
  • Address your allergies.  There are wonderful Chinese herbal formulas that can be tailored to your specific situation.  The herbs work synergistically to deal with root causes of allergies and to strengthen your body.  The best time to use them is before your allergy season but they can also be a huge help when it’s full-blown allergy season.

Uh-oh.  I’ve got a bug and am starting to feel sick:

  • Avoid alcohol, tobacco and phlegm-producing foods such as sweets and dairy products.
  • Drink plenty of water and rest.
  • If you’re taking an herbal formula that strengthens your body constitution, stop using it.  It also strengthens the pathogen. 
  • Consult with your practitioner for an herbal formula that is tailored to you and the specific phase of your illness.
There are many Chinese herbal formulas to clear infections more quickly and thoroughly.  At the same time, they actually help your immune system.   A formula can be targeted to specific parts of your body:  head, sinuses, throat, neck, upper lung, deeper lung, stomach, etc.  There are no yucky side effects that cause other disorders. 
For over two thousand years, Chinese herbal medicine has been very effective against viral infections, even new strains.  For example, during the huge and frightening SARS outbreak a decade ago, infected patients in China were successfully treated with Chinese herbs.  Herbs also protected the health care professionals from contracting the virus.  
  • If you have sinus congestion and/or infection, try these measures:
    • Remove congested substances with a saline (salt water) rinse.  A neti-pot is great for this.  Alternatively, use a sinus spray filled with saline.
    • Put hot compresses on your head several times a day to help ease the pain.
    • Bring a pot of water to simmer.  Put a few drops of eucalyptus essential oil into the water, place your head over the pot, drape a towel around your head, and inhale the vapor.
    • Consider eating horseradish or wasabi to loosen and help expel phlegm.  For those who tolerate nightshades, salsa is another option.
  • For help getting rid of nausea or stomach ache, brew a tea made from a few quarter-sized slices of fresh ginger.

What about pharmaceutical anti-viral medications?

They can diminish heat signs and sometimes slow down the progression of a viral disease.  The virus isn’t killed, just less active.  More often than not, however, they wind up prolonging the illness.  Complete recovery can take an extra two or three weeks if an anti-viral medication is given at a full-blown stage of influenza.

What about antibiotics?

  • They don’t treat viral infections. 
  • They destroy beneficial bacteria in your digestive system, making you more vulnerable to future infections.  The destroyed gut flora also puts you at risk for a host of other disorders like leaky gut syndrome and auto-immune disorders.
  • They leave you more at risk for future antibiotic resistance. 

What about the flu vaccine?

The track record is about 40% for flu vaccine manufacturers guessing which strains will be active.  There are over 200 viruses that can cause the common cold.  Influenza viruses mutate one to two times a year.   Therefore, there’s a good chance a vaccine won’t prevent a cold or flu.  Furthermore, there are many documented cases of serious illnesses following a flu vaccination.  This includes neurological disorders, auto-immune diseases, and exacerbation or onset of respiratory disorders like asthma.   Significantly, there is a fairly high percentage of doctors and nurses who skip yearly flu shots.

Janet Lee Cook
Licensed Acupuncture and Chinese Herbal Prescriptions

Sunday, September 22, 2013

  Autumn 2013


Greetings and Happy Fall Equinox to you!

For those of us in the northern hemisphere, the Fall Equinox signals a time of fruition, maturity and harvest as well as a time to pull inward, study and plan for the approaching stillness of winter.  In Traditional Chinese Medicine, this phase of change corresponds to Metal, or that which has been transformed within extreme heat.  Dryness is a predominant climate, akin to the desiccated leaves that fall from trees and other plants, to be composted into new substances that nurture next Spring's growth.  White is the associated color for the Metal phase of our yearly cycle.

Autumn's major Yin organ is the lungs, our body's tool for taking in air's oxygen and its additional constituents, e.g., allergens and toxins, as well as for releasing into the air what we wish to exhale.  The lungs receive the Qi vital force (energy) of the air and mix it with the Qi extracted from food, and then distribute it throughout the body.  Indeed, the lungs are considered the master of Qi. 

They are also called the Official of Rhythmic Order, a reflection of the rhythm of the breath.  In practical western medical terms, the “belly breathing” or “Buddha breathing” that involves lowering the diaphragm and thus protruding the belly upon inhalation, and doing the opposite upon exhalation, signals the parasympathetic nervous system that one can relax.  This is an easy and accessible way to decrease feelings of stress.

The Metal phase is about letting go and death, after having integrated the rest.  It's also about completion.  Grief and sadness are the emotions associated with the Metal phase.  The connection between grief and the lungs was vividly illustrated in my life many years ago when I abruptly lost a loved one.  Within a week, I had pneumonia.  Thankfully, a Chinese herbal prescription and acupuncture allowed me to quickly heal from this physical disorder and without the side effects of antibiotics.

If grief is fully processed with felt emotions, tears, talking, and other measures done in supportive environments, it is part of natural life.  The danger is when grief is not fully processed and has only partial expression of its present-moment experience, thus delaying resolution.  It thereby lingers longer and with more intensity than necessary, sometimes coming out in very indirect ways, e.g., depression within oneself or hostility toward an innocent person.  Each person has his or her own timeline for progress within a grieving process.  The important thing is to support it and allow it to fully flow.  A realistic goal is to think of the grief as a point on an every-expanding spiral, with increasingly more time between episodes.  Do the grief work and thereby help yourself truly move on to other phases of life.

Courage is the virtue associated with the Metal phase.  A lovely qigong exercise has one exhale grief while making the designated sound for lungs; then, one inhales courage. 

During Autumn, take care of the lungs in order to keep them healthy, strong and relatively free of dryness, wind, damp, phlegm, heat, cold and infectious pathogens.  Autumn (and even earlier in Summer) is also an excellent time to strengthen the lungs and Defensive Qi that fend off such things as cedar fever allergens that will come in later months.  This preventive medicine can be done via exercises such as qigong, Chinese herbal formulas, acupuncture, and diet.  Singing is also an excellent way to support the lungs.

A few of the foods that support the lungs are:
•    Rice, so associated with Qi that the symbol for the latter is rice.  Whole grain rice provides fiber and vitamins that support the nervous system.
•    Pears and apples for moisture
•    Scallions (for cold conditions) and daikon radishes for removal of mucus and phlegm
•    Many white fish, e.g., cod, flounder, haddock and perch
•    White beans such as navy, great northern, and soy in the form of tofu and tempeh
•    Pungent cooking spices, e.g., ginger, garlic, and hot peppers
Whenever possible, use organic food.

In Traditional Chinese Medicine, our skin is considered an outer extension of our internal lungs in that it breathes by taking in elements from our environment as well as perspires and otherwise expels some toxins from our body.  Thus, care of our skin is important for our health.  Dry brushing our body with a brush or luffa before a shower stimulates these processes and increases blood flow to skin.  Brush away from the torso on inner arm and leg surfaces (Yin meridians that end at finger and toe tips).  Brush towards the torso on outer arm and leg surfaces (Yang meridians that start at finger and toe tips).

The associated Yang organ with the lungs is the large intestine, also an organ of elimination.

Some of the things that I enjoy during Autumn are the beautiful colors of the daytime Sky and Earth, and, sometimes, the special meteorite showers during the night. 

Enjoy the season and good health to you!

Janet Lee Cook
Licensed Acupuncture and Chinese Herbal Prescriptions