Maintaining Balance

Perhaps you may remember the “old man” character depicted by Tim Conway in the Carol Burnett Show.  Whatever the scene, he shuffles along unsteadily with his head jutting forward. Tim does this so well, that it is hard to keep from laughing; but in reality, being in this situation is anything but funny.  A person’s lifestyle changes dramatically when there is constant fear of falling and the effort of walking a short distance takes a great deal of energy.

This shuffling-along scenario does not typically happen overnight.  Once a person reaches a certain age (and year-by-year thereafter), stabilizing muscles can lose strength, joints can become painful and, as a result, range of motion and agility diminish. Not only is this a problem for getting around, but slipping and falling is more likely to occur - and if it happens, injuries can be more serious.

The balance of muscles and strength of ligaments, tendons and discs is an important part of maintaining structural balance. I'm often asked “How can acupuncture help? How does acupuncture work?” My answer offers both an Eastern and Western medicine perspective.

In Traditional Chinese Medicine, inserting needles balances channels by moving blood flow and Qi (or Chi - a Chinese word meaning aliveness, life force energy). With Western Medicine’s diagnostic tools we can also say that where needles are inserted there is an increase of blood supply and naturally occurring endorphins (morphine-like chemicals produced by the body) are produced in the brain to reduce pain. Regardless of the explanation used, acupuncture is extraordinarily effective in releasing tightness and tension in the body.

And remember, acupuncture is both a preventative and a restorative medicine. To help someone address or avoid shuffling along, acupuncture can free up tightness in back muscles that in turn allow more space for intervertebral disks. When the discs aren’t happy, the nerves are often unhappy. When tension is released and discs and nerves are happy, more exercise is possible, weight can be better managed and sleep may also improve.

A Plan to Feed the World

As we plan for our Thanksgiving meals this year, probably very few of us will be picking out seaweed to serve. In fact, outside of an occasional Nori Roll or Kombu Salad, most Americans are not accustomed to eating seaweed at all. By contrast, especially in Japan, 20 different varieties of seaweed are integrated into a regular diet.  The benefits of eating seaweed, as outlined in a 2013 Huffington Post story, include getting numerous vitamins, minerals and antioxidants. In fact, there is even evidence that eating seaweed can help with inflammatory conditions like arthritis. 

If the benefits of eating seaweed weren’t enough, a story by Marketplace Morning Report's David Brancaccio tells how a former commercial fisherman is imaging how, if properly done, the growing and harvesting of seaweed can feed the entire world, sustainably and cleanup polluted areas of the ocean. This sounds like win to the power of 10! You can listen to the story here. Happy Thanksgiving!

Time to Quit?

Today marks the American Cancer Society's Great American Smokeout. Every November, they set aside the third Thursday to encourage smokers to go the distance, and to finally give up smoking. With the help of acupuncture, smokers have a greater chance of success!

As Diane Joswick, L.Ac. points out in her article for the Pacific College of Oriental Medicine, "acupuncture is not a panacea or a magic cure in the treatment of any addiction, including smoking. But, acupuncture is effective in making it easier to quit and remain smoke-free. If you are highly motivated and ready to quit, acupuncture can empower you to take control and begin a healthy and smoke-free life!"

If you are thinking about quitting, you may want to know that there are documented benefits:

20 minutes: heart rate and blood pressure drop
12 hours: carbon monoxide levels in blood drop to normal
2 weeks to 3 months: circulation and lung function improve
1 year: excess coronary heart disease risk cut in half
5 years: risk of mouth, throat and bladder cancer cut in half
10 years: risk of dying of lung cancer cut in half
15 years: risk of coronary heart disease same as non-smokers'

Cliff Douglas, vice president for tobacco control, said in a cancer society news release "The most important step is the first one: making the decision to quit. We hope the Great American Smokeout gives smokers an opportunity to consider making a lifesaving change." Are you ready to take the first step?

Veterans Day 2015

In 1918, the 11th month, the 11th day and the 11th hour marked the end of hostilities of WWI – a global conflict President Woodrow Wilson once called “The war to end all war.” The anniversary of that moment has become our federal holiday known as Veterans Day. Wilson’s idealism and optimism, that the sacrifices made would help ensure that no such clashes of world powers would happen again, has unfortunately proved wrong.

Since that day, countless soldiers, sailors, airmen and marines have come back from our country’s conflicts as changed people.  It may be an obvious disfigurement, but all-too-often, there are not-so-obvious psychological and emotional scars.   In his book, Explaining Unexplained Illnesses, Martin Pall, PhD, offers that there may be some biochemical similarities with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and other multisystem illnesses, such as Fibromyalgia, Chronic Fatigue and Multiple Chemical Sensitivity.  He states that, with these conditions, efforts are frequently made to categorize symptoms as mental or physical and in reality, they can be chemically all wound together.  Traditional Chinese Medicine has always been about treating the “whole person” and can be rather complementary with other ongoing therapies.

In my own practice I’ve seen repeated examples of the effectiveness of acupuncture for the treatment of PTSD.  The typical treatment stimulates specific points in the body that help control nerve functioning and mitigate stress levels. Of course, point treatments are always customized to address individual needs.

PAKTYA PROVINCE, Afghanistan - 1st Lt. Robert Blume inserts a thin gold needle through a U.S. civilian contractor's ear during a battlefield acupuncture session. (U.S. photo by Spc. Brian Smith-Dutton Task Force 3/101 Public Affairs)

PAKTYA PROVINCE, Afghanistan - 1st Lt. Robert Blume inserts a thin gold needle through a U.S. civilian contractor's ear during a battlefield acupuncture session. (U.S. photo by Spc. Brian Smith-Dutton Task Force 3/101 Public Affairs)

The results throughout the country have certainly gained the attention of the U.S. military in recent years. In fact, the Veterans Clinic at the National University of Health Science (NUHS) Whole Health Center in Lombard, IL has provided close to 4,000 free acupuncture treatments to veterans and their families since 2010. In a recent Chicago Tribune article, Dr. Hyondo Kim (chief clinician at the NUHS Veterans Clinic) was quoted, saying "Since we began our free acupuncture for veterans five years ago, we've seen substantial improvement in patients with PTSD symptoms."

It is exciting to see that those responsible for the health of our veterans are increasingly open to the use of complementary and alternative therapies such as acupuncture. I hope you join me tomorrow in wishing our veterans good health and thanking them for their willingness to serve and sacrifice for the common good.

The Start of a Good Day

How we start our day can have an impact on how the rest of our day goes.  Of course, beginning with a restful night of sleep also makes a difference.  So what can we do to both improve sleep and set the tone for a productive day?

Here are some healthy morning habits that won’t take very much time.  (The last thing any of us need is yet one more thing to work into an already over busy day.)  Please note, that any of these suggestions can be modified to allow for physical limitations, dietary restrictions, etc.  I personally begin with a cup of freshly brewed coffee* in bed while listening to the news for 30 minutes, and then I begin my morning routine:

Here is Surya Namaskara A - a flow to warm up your body and stretch your muscles gently before you continue with more intense postures. You can also follow this flow to bring your body, breath and mind in sync.

First, stretch. Your body has been prone for hours. Bounding out of bed — or even dragging yourself reluctantly out of bed — may be asking too much of your muscles. I find stretching and gentle breathing, like in this beginner’s Sun Salutation yoga sequence, is a way to get your body ready to greet the day.

Second, hydrate. You’ve been asleep for (hopefully) seven or eight hours, during which time you’ve ingested no liquid. Studies suggest drinking 16 ounces of water can combat muscle fatigue and keep your digestive system working … smoothly. Here too, I do things a little differently; namely, I run about 2 cups of water through my coffee machine and leave the plate on to keep it hot.  To the same mug I used for coffee, I squeeze a wedge of fresh lemon or lime, fill it about half full with hot water and top it off with just enough filtered water to make it drinkable.  Lemon and lime, in addition to adding flavor, help to regulate the body’s Ph level, which is a bonus.     

Third, exercise. If your schedule allows it, a 20-minute stroll or brisk walk can help ease stress during your workweek. One study, which followed overweight women aged 50-75, showed that walking four hours per week in the morning helped the women sleep better at night (Huffington Post January 2014).

Fourth, eat breakfast. A healthy breakfast with lean proteins — eggs are a good source — can help you feel more satisfied through the morning. Participants in a study who ate an egg for breakfast lost 18 pounds over the course of the study, and those who added a slice of lean protein such as Canadian bacon had more lean muscle than those who ate less protein (American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 2013). 

I hope you find these tips useful. Let me know how it goes.

*NOTE:  Caffeinate in small doses. A large jolt of coffee will boost you for an hour before filtering out of your brain over the following three to four hours. A study published in the academic journal Sleep showed that hourly doses of caffeine — what you would find in a two-ounce shot of brewed coffee — were optimal in keeping the study subjects alert. Bonus: you can sip your coffee throughout your work morning, extending the caffeinated treat.