Umeboshi: The Five Element Superfood

Salvador Cefalu, M.S., L.Ac.

A powerful nutritious condiment that’s a staple in Japanese culture, Prunus Mume, is a sour plum commonly known as Umeboshi. Umeboshi, or “salted plum,” is a pickled fruit that sits in salt brine for a year or more and though called a plum it’s actually more closely related to the apricot fruit.

Though acidic by nature with its concentration of citric and phosphoric acids, the effect Umeboshi has on the body is highly alkalizing, which is why it’s so important in the Macrobiotic diet.

The benefits of Umeboshi, however, go far beyond alkalization to bring nutritional and medicinal support for all Five Elemental energies of your body.

It’s no wonder in Japan they have a saying similar to our ‘apple a day’ idea, that ‘an Ume a day’ can keep the doctor away.

Umeboshi or ‘salted plum’ is a staple of Japanese culture and an important part of the Macrobiotic diet due to its alkalizing effect on the body.

Umeboshi or ‘salted plum’ is a staple of Japanese culture and an important part of the Macrobiotic diet due to its alkalizing effect on the body.

How Umeboshi Benefits Each of the Five Elements

Fire Element

Umeboshi becomes a red plum after pickling with iron rich Shiso (Perilla) leaves, so by law of signature, these pickled balls of energy support the Fire Element for Heart health, and provide a tonic for the blood. 

In fact, Umeboshi has been found helpful for anemia and to regulate heart rhythm problems such as palpitations. This may be due due their high concentration of potassium which helps regulate heartbeat. In Chinese Medicine, since the Heart controls the mind and Spirit, it may be through this effect on the heart that Umeboshi is also used to help calm and relax the mind.

Water Element

The body’s structure, i.e. the bones, are under the domain of the Kidneys and the Water Element. By supporting calcium absorption, Umeboshi is considered an important food for bone health in Japanese culture. Calcium absorption is likely a benefit that comes from their high concentration of citric acid as well as the trace mineral manganese. 

Furthermore, phytochemicals in Umeboshi have been found to increase osteoblast activity and the production of collagen to build bone. So these plums are a real boon for bone health and one of the reasons they are considered a longevity food. A 2014 study showed Umeboshi to have anti-osteoporosis benefits.

According to Chinese Medicine, the teeth are also an extension of the bone and therefore relate to the Kidneys. In regards to dental health, Umeboshi has been found to have anti-bacterial properties against Streptococcus mutans, the bacteria involved with dental caries and gum disease and help reduce bleeding gums (which relates to the function of the Spleen and Earth Element).

Earth Element

The trace mineral manganese also helps regulate blood sugar and traditionally in Japan Umeboshi is known to help stabilize blood sugar. In terms of western physiology, the pancreas plays a primary role in blood sugar regulation and in Chinese Medicine we correlate the pancreas with the organ of the Spleen which is an Earth Element organ.

Manganese also helps produce digestive enzymes and metabolize fats, proteins and carbohydrates. These are all aspects of the Earth Element which relates to digestion through the function of the Spleen (Pancreas) and Stomach. So Umeboshi tea is useful to take before and after meals to help strengthen your Earth’s digestive power. 

Umeboshi is also known to reduce fatigue and was used historically by the Samurai for this purpose. In Chinese Herbal Medicine it’s also considered a Stomach Yin tonic as these plums generate fluids to help hydrate the body and reduce thirst. Umeboshi is known to increase salivation and stimulate a weak appetite as well so in this way these pickled plums strengthen the Spleen and Stomach functions to enhance digestion. Umeboshi is also commonly used to benefit mild cases of acute stomach and intestinal pain and known to effectively reduce H-pylori, the bacteria found to cause gastritis and stomach ulcers. 

Metal Element

In terms of the Metal Element and the health of the Lung Qi, which controls both respiration and the skin’s sweating action, the astringent nature of Umeboshi helps reduce excessive sweating. Chinese herbal medicine uses these plums specifically for this purpose as well as to reduce chronic coughing when the Lung Qi is weak or when the Lungs are dry from deficient Yin. 

The Large Intestine is also part of the Metal Element energetics and Umeboshi can help expel roundworm parasite infestation which is on the rise with the increase in sushi and sashimi (raw fish) consumption. Keep in mind that in Chinese Medicine, herbal remedies are normally a combination of herbs so taking Umeboshi alone may not be an effective cure for a case of roundworms.

These plums also have dietary fiber (soluble and insoluble) to help improve elimination as well. In fact, in herbal medicine, they are used medicinally for both diarrhea and constipation. There is special preparation, however, to activate the different effects of Umeboshi. For example, in the treatment of diarrhea, the pickled plums are charred before consumption to achieve this medicinal benefit.

Wood Element

Last but not least is the powerful impact of Umeboshi on the body’s Wood Element energetics which involves the Liver and Gallbladder organs. Known to accelerate the clearance of alcohol toxicity from the Liver, Umeboshi is also considered a food to help detoxify the liver and, in general, protect liver health.

In Chinese Medicine, the Liver Blood nourishes vision, and perhaps it’s from vitamin A that Umeboshi supports vision health. These plums are also high in antioxidants to reduce free-radical damage which can also impair vision over time.

Umeboshi also supports the Gallbladder by aiding fat digestion.

Tips for Consuming Umeboshi

You can simply eat an Umeboshi daily as a snack or with meals. In Japan, Umeboshi is often placed inside the center of rice balls as a dried plum or plum paste. This makes a convenient way to eat rice and get your Umeboshi fix.

In Macrobiotics, it’s recommended to boil a salted plum in one quart of water for 30 minutes then drink the water 30 minutes after exercise to restore electrolytes.

My personal preference is to take Umeboshi in paste form. I use about a 1/4-1/3 tsp in a medium to large glass of warm water. I’ve been drinking this during the day since the beginning of Fall when the weather began to get drier and I immediately started to notice my body rehydrate much better.

Umeboshi plum paste also makes a very soothing tea to drink in the evening that calms my mind before bed. I recommend you give it a try. It’s a bit on the sour side, but I personally like the salty, sour combination and the benefits make me want to keep coming back for more!

Why You Need More than Exercise to Strengthen Your Lungs

Salvador Cefalu, M.S., L.Ac. & Setareh Moafi, Ph.D., L.Ac.

Supporting the strength and health of your Lungs during the Fall season goes beyond simply staying in shape with exercise.

While practices that focus on breathing, including Yoga and Qi Gong, are essential, there are other factors that are also important to support your Lungs and fortify your immune system throughout this season.


Foods to Support Your Lung Health

Since dryness is the predominant factor during Autumn, it’s essential to stay hydrated during this time of the year. And while drinking water is important, it’s also essential to be mindful of your diet, focusing on eating more moistening foods and avoiding foods that can increase dryness in your body.

In terms of grains, rice, millet and oats are the moistening grains whereas wheat, quinoa and buckwheat are more drying and should be avoided if you tend to feel more dry during this time. You may experience dryness most commonly in your mouth, lips, skin, nails, and hair.

Fruits are also very hydrating but should be consumed in moderation as the sweet nature of fruit can create phlegm and congest the Lungs. Citrus for example in the form of orange juice is overly concentrated in sugar and can cause phlegm or mucus to develop, weakening your Lung's Qi.

Compact fruits such as pears, apples, Asian pears, and persimmons are most beneficial to nourish your Lungs. These fruits moisten the Lungs’ Yin to stop a dry cough and increase hydration during the dry season. In fact, drinking a little pear juice before going to bed can help you fall asleep since the Lungs must be nourished to anchor the Wei Qi, or defensive Qi, of the body, to help you fall asleep.

Pears and other compact fruits help nourish your Lung Yin.

Pears and other compact fruits help nourish your Lung Yin.

We often recommend preparing an apple-pear stew before bedtime to nourish the Lungs, which helps clear your throat, reduce coughing and support you to fall asleep.

All you have to do is cut up an apple and a pear and place covered in a small pot on low heat. No water is necessary. The fruit will cook in its own juice. You can also add some cardamon, which helps reduce phlegm, and some cinnamon, which is warming, for a healthy evening treat!

Dairy is another food type that’s hydrating for the lungs. However, the excessively hydrating properties of dairy products give them the tendency to create dampness in the form of mucous, which can stress the Lungs and cause sinus and even ear congestion. So be cautious with dairy foods such as yogurt, cheese or kefir if you tend to have sinus problems.

In Chinese Medicine, dampness relates to excessive fluid congestion and in terms of Western medicine, excessive dampness is equivalent to a fungal condition. Fungus feeds on sugar so if you have chronic sinus congestion or tend to have "sinus drip" it's important to focus on drying up this damp terrain by avoiding damp foods such as dairy as well as foods with high sugar content, including fruit.

How Foods Are Cooked Matters

Food preparation is also critical in how food is processed in your body. For example, steamed foods and soups are more hydrating and moistening whereas barbecued, baked and fried foods are more drying.

Baked goods and toasted nuts and cereals are in general very drying to the body. In contrast, soups and stews hydrate the Stomach and Lungs. You may notice that your lips and skin are less dry if you consume more of these liquid-based foods during the Fall.

Conclusion

What you eat matters for your health, and paying attention to the prominent factors during each season is essential to make proper dietary adjustments. In addition, remember to keep up with your exercise (including Yoga to strengthen your lungs) and read our other Fall tips to support your immune health so you can fully enjoy this beautiful season.

5 Reasons to Drink Yerba Mate

by Setareh Moafi, Ph.D., L.Ac.

There’s nothing like waking up early in the morning and enjoying a hot drink to start the day. And all the better if that hot drink can help you wake up and give you more clarity and focus.

Over the years I’ve grown increasingly sensitive to coffee and even just half a cup is enough to give me heart palpitations and heartburn. Plus, I’m well aware that driving up my cortisol with too much caffeine can have some painstaking long term effects. That’s why I’m grateful for having discovered (and recently rediscovered) the magical Yerba Mate.

Yerba mate is a tea made from the dried leaves and twigs of the Ilex paraguariensis plant, and is an excellent substitute for coffee, black tea and other high caffeine drinks. Plus its slightly bitter, smoky flavor makes it less of a compromise than most coffee substitutes.

It’s traditionally consumed in South America from a container called a gourd and sipped with a metal straw with an attached filter at its lower end to strain out the leaf fragments.

The health benefits of Yerba Mate are extraordinary, and its ability to give you a kick of energy without compromising longevity are one-of-a-kind. Here are five key benefits of switching to Mate in the morning.

5 Reasons to Drink Yerba Mate

  1. Strengthens Your Body & Boosts Your Immunity

    Yerba mate is rich in nutrients and antioxidants. It contains high concentrations of vitamins and minerals including vitamins A, B1, B2, B3, B5, C, and E, as well as calcium, iron, magnesium, manganese, phosphorus, potassium, selenium, sodium, sulfur and zinc.

    Unlike coffee, which can interfere with the body’s absorption of minerals, the high mineral content of Yerba Mate protects against bone density loss.

    Plus, its metabolic boosters increase energy, and its anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties provide excellent immune boosters.

  2. Gives You Energy without Caffeine Jitters

    There is currently a debate about the chemical nature of the stimulant in Yerba Mate. While North American chemists say it contains caffeine, South Americans claim it contains a unique molecule known as mateine, which has the same chemical formula but a different molecular shape from caffeine.

    Because of this difference, mateine is absorbed and processed differently by the body, providing an adaptogenic effect, which means it increases the body's ability to resist the damaging effects of stress and promote or restore normal physiological functioning.

    As an adaptogen, Yerba Mate produces no toxins, creates a non-specific response in the body and works in a bidirectional manner.

    Yerba Mate is also a great substitute for coffee and most tea since its adaptogenic properties prevent it from elevating your cortisol levels and creating the ‘fight or flight’ stress response that can lead to adrenal fatigue.

    My personal experience with Mate has convinced me that the South Americans are onto something—I’m very sensitive to caffeine in coffee and tea, but I can easily have a restful night of sleep just an hour or two after drinking a cup of Yerba Mate. With that said, I suggest drinking the hot tea rather than canned Yerba Mate because of alterations and loss of benefits that can result from excessive steeping of this tea.

  3. Clears Toxins from Your Body

    Yerba Mate contains saponins, which are phytochemicals found in plants and nearly all adaptogenic herbs.[1] Saponins have a unique chemical structure that produces foam when mixed with water, and can bind with water as well as fats and oils. In the digestive tract, saponins bind to bile acids and help eliminate them from the body, preventing cholesterol from being reabsorbed.

    In other words, saponins work like a detergent to clear toxins from your body.

  4. Helps Improve Digestion & Elimination

    Yerba Mate contains compounds such as xanthines that are known to relax the muscles to aid digestion, especially with cramping, constipation or bloating.

    While coffee and tea can cause stomach upset while potentially damaging your stomach lining, Yerba mate aids digestion by stimulating increased production of bile and other gastric acids.

    It also helps to effectively and efficiently eliminate waste from your colon by clearing heat in the Stomach, which in excess can cause constipation, bad breath and even ulcers.

  5. Can Help You Get Rid of Stubborn Belly Fat

    Research suggests that Yerba Mate can increase the amount of stored fat that's burned for energy [2].

    Furthermore, in a 12-week study in overweight people, those given 3 grams of yerba mate powder per day lost an average of 1.5 pounds (0.7 kg) and reduced their waist-to-hip ratio by 2%, while the participants given a placebo gained an average of 6.2 pounds (2.8 kg) and increased their waist-to-hip ratio by 1% over the same 12-week period [3].

So if you’re looking for a healthy alternative to coffee or caffeinated tea without compromising the energy and focus, try a fresh brewed cup of Yerba Mate to start your day.



Setareh Moafi, Ph.D., L.Ac. is Co-Owner and Director of A Center for Natural Healing in Santa Clara, California, a health and wellness clinic that specializes in Classical Chinese Medicine and Traditional Japanese Acupuncture. Setareh offers clinical services and transformational workshops that blend the ancient practices of Classical Chinese Medicine and Yoga. 

6 Dietary Tips to Support Your Winter Health

by Setareh Moafi, Ph.D., L.Ac.

The Winter Solstice occurs when one of the Earth's poles has its maximum tilt away from the Sun, and is the longest night and shortest day of the year. In 2018, the Solstice occurs at 2:23pm PT on December 21st.

During all seasonal changes, it’s important to make lifestyle adjustments to adapt to the new season and optimize your health.

Winter corresponds with the Water element and the Kidneys. (Learn more about this here)

*Below are six foods that will help strengthen your Kidney energy to ensure a healthy Winter season.

Seafood relates to the Water element and is in general important to strengthen the Kidneys.

Seafood relates to the Water element and is in general important to strengthen the Kidneys.

  1. Eat some pork. According to Chinese Medicine, the Kidneys house your essence, known as Jing, and relate to the gonads, your brain and your bones. Since every cell in your body requires fat for membrane integrity, a fatty meat like pork provides the best support for the Kidneys.

    From a Chinese medical point of view, pork can also help strengthen the sinews and bones, decrease Wind spasms to alleviate neurological issues, and help treat muscle weakness and conditions such as fibromyalgia.

  2. Have eggs for breakfast a few times a week. Considered a complete protein, eggs are another important wintertime food that support the Kidneys particularly in relation to the body’s essence, or Jing.

  3. Sprinkle some seeds on your food. Seeds, including sesame, flax, chia, sunflower, and pumpkin, are important Kidney tonifying foods that also help build Jing.

  4. Eat more fish and seafood. Seafood in general is related to the Water element. Therefore, seafood tonifies the Kidneys. Crustaceans including lobster, shrimp and crab are said to be more warming, or Yang, so it’s best to avoid them if a lot of inflammation is present. Mollusks including mussels, clams, oysters, and scallops on the other hand, are considered more Yin nourishing.

    Also, fatty fish are generally high in omega-3 oils, which studies have shown to be beneficial for neurological function and brain protection. For instance, a number of studies have shown that higher intakes of omega-3 oils significantly reduce the incidence of Alzheimer’s disease as well as vascular dementia.

    The bulk of these omegas are made up of of eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaeonic acid (DHA). Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) is found in the meat of coldwater fish, including mackerel, herring, tuna, halibut, salmon, cod liver, whale blubber, and seal blubber. DHA can be converted into EPA in the body.

    Studies have shown that DHA supplementation not only improves memory in cases of Alzheimer’s disease but can improve age-related memory loss as well.

    Since the brain is an extension of the Kidneys according to Chinese Medicine, both DHA and EPA are crucial for the health of this system.

    Seaweed and freshwater algaes such as phytoplankton are the only plant sources of DHA and EPA, though in a low concentration except as a supplement, so these are especially important foods for vegetarians.

  5. Cook with oils high in monounsaturated fats. Olive oil and avocado oil are especially beneficial to support healthy brain function and therefore the Kidney system. Just remember that olive oil has a low smoke point (about 200 degrees), after which it can become toxic, while avocado oil has a high smoke of about 500 degrees. Monounsaturated fats in general can help reduce “bad” LDL cholesterol while increasing “good” HDL cholesterol.

    Since inflammation is a sign of internal heat, it’s best to avoid polyunsaturated oils as these types of oils get rancid easily and therefore can become toxic in a body with excessive heat and inflammation.

  6. Add some spice to your meals. Spices such as cinnamon, pepper, cardamom, coriander, anise, and cloves are all warming for the Kidney Yang and particularly useful for someone who tends to have a cold body and fatigue.

Spices help warm the body during the cold Winter months and are especially important in the case of adrenal and Kidney Yang deficiency with cold body and fatigue.

Spices help warm the body during the cold Winter months and are especially important in the case of adrenal and Kidney Yang deficiency with cold body and fatigue.

Consolidating the energy of the Kidneys during wintertime is essential to rejuvenate and prepare yourself for the more active Yang seasons of Spring and Summer that follow.

In addition to your diet, it’s essential to get plenty of rest and sleep more during the Winter months. The shorter days and longer nights naturally encourage this and as long as you honor the seasonal changes and your body’s needs, you’ll enjoy impeccable health into the new year.

*Please note: the information provided in this article is meant for general health maintenance and not meant to be advice to treat disease or be appropriate for everyone. In general, diet must be tailored to the individual. If you want personalized recommendations, you can schedule a nutritional consultation and also ask about food allergy testing through our clinic.


Setareh Moafi, Ph.D., L.Ac. is Co-Owner and Director of A Center for Natural Healing in Santa Clara, California, a health and wellness clinic that specializes in Classical Chinese Medicine and Traditional Japanese Acupuncture. Dr. Moafi offers clinical services and transformational workshops that blend the ancient practices of Classical Chinese Medicine and Yoga. More information at www.setarehmoafi.com and www.acenterfornaturalhealing.com



How Your Gut Feeling Relates to Your Gut Health

by Setareh Moafi, Ph.D., L.Ac.

We've all walked away from situations where we wish we'd listened to our 'gut feeling' - that still, small voice that seems to speak from the depths of our solar plexus to give us guidance that always directs us toward our heart's truest desires. At times, the direction we're being pointed may seem illogical, but looking back we realize there was always a reason for this guidance. 

When you struggle to listen to your gut feeling, it’s often because this feeling is being obstructed by excessive processing in the mind as well as the digestive system.

Understanding the connection between the gut that's related to your digestion and the gut feeling that guides you in the most favorable directions in your life is essential to your well being.

 

Digestion According to Chinese Medicine

In Chinese Medicine, the Spleen and Stomach comprise the Earth element which is said to govern the late Summer and all seasonal transitions. This is why it’s important for us to pay attention to and strengthen these digestive organs during times of transition (seasonal or otherwise) in our lives.

According to Chinese Medicine, the Spleen is mostly responsible for the breakdown and transformation of food to produce Qi energy, blood and fluids. It is also the organ that is most likely to accumulate phlegm or dampness from improper food choices and weakness in its transformation function.

Digestion of food can be impeded by stress and too much consumption of damp or phlegm-producing foods such as dairy, sugar, and processed foods. 

The Spleen is also the organ that governs our thinking process and, because of this, it’s the first organ to be affected by overthinking and being obsessive compulsive.

For this reason, it's common for students who are mentally overstimulated for extended periods of time to develop weak Spleen Qi, or energy. Weakness of the Spleen energy will cause a reduction in mental focus and concentration and create a lower level of energy production in general. This can manifest as fatigue.

Fatigue leads students to grab fast foods and sugar for quick energy, but this energy burns fast. In addition, these types of foods can be toxic and create dampness in the Spleen, thereby weakening the digestive system and creating a vicious loop of low energy and poor decision making with food choices. 

Since students tend to be young adults their tolerance is in general higher than older individuals. However, even these young adults will crash over time with physical symptoms ranging from allergies and asthma, to digestive problems and even fibromyalgia that can manifest as a result of severe Spleen weakness causing muscle pain throughout the body.

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 The Spleen and Stomach Digest Thoughts, Ideas, Emotions, and Food

Your digestive system is not just digesting the coffee and scone you ate for breakfast, but also what the woman at the coffee shop said to you this morning or the argument you had with your spouse, or the earful of stressful news you heard at work. 

The busier the mind, the greater the burden on the Spleen to break down the plethora of thoughts and information you are processing throughout the day.

Metaphorically, the Spleen has to transform this information similarly to the way it does food because the Spleen controls your Yi, your Mind. So what you digest either physically or psychologically will impact your state of mind.

Furthermore, your physical state is impacted by your mental state. For example, excessive stress causes the body to produce cortisol, the primary stress hormone, much of which is actually produced in the gut. Increased cortisol levels lead to the proliferation of an unhealthy microbiome in the gut, which can lead to indigestion, fatigue, insomnia, as well as problems relating to your brain and mental function. 

When you eat while you’re in a meeting you’re putting twice the impact on the Spleen as it not only has to process the food that you’re eating but also all the information from the meeting.

Having your energy diverted to your mental processing inhibits sufficient energy to support your digest. Over time this pattern will cause a serious dysfunction in the digestive system and weaken the Spleen energy. This then leads to common complaints such as fatigue, poor digestion, muscle weakness, and generalized body pain since the Spleen also governs the muscles.

The fact that your mental and digestive processes are so connected makes it clear that your gut health will impact your ability to listen to and follow your gut feeling.

The Gut-Brain Axis Helps Us Understand How Emotions Affect Digestion

Modern research on the gut-brain axis (GBA), which refers to the biochemical signaling that takes place between the gastrointestinal tract and the central nervous system (CNS), affirms the connection between the mind, emotions and the digestive system.

Both clinical and experimental evidence suggest that enteric microbiota has an important impact on GBA, interacting not only locally with intestinal cells and the enteric nervous system (ENS), but also directly with the central nervous system (CNS).

The vagus nerve, the longest cranial nerve in the body, passes through the neck to the abdomen and interfaces with parasympathetic control of the heart, lungs and digestive tract. Evidence indicates that microbiota communication with the brain involves the vagus nerve, which transmits information from the luminal environment to the central nervous system (CNS). The enteric microbiota is distributed in the human gastrointestinal tract and relative abundance and distribution along the intestine is similar among healthy individuals. This microbial community has important metabolic and physiological functions and contributes to homeostasis.

The constant communication and interplay between the gut and the brain has the potential to influence and intersect with sleep both directly and indirectly. Breus (2016) summarizes some of the ways that might occur:

  • Mood. Disruptions and imbalance of gut microbes have been strongly connected to anxiety and depression. This has potentially significant implications for sleep, as both anxiety and depression can trigger or exacerbate sleep disruptions.

  • Stress. Research is also revealing a complicated, two-way relationship between stress and gut health. Stress is an extremely common obstacle to healthy, sufficient sleep.

  • Hormones. The intestinal microbiome produces and releases many of the same neurotransmitters, including dopamine, serotonin, melatonin and GABA, which help to regulate mood, and also help to promote sleep.

In sum, the health of the gut impacts the health of the brain and therefore our ability to process information, manage stress, balance our emotions, and digest and assimilate food.

 

Tuning in to Your Gut Feeling

Since so much of your mental, emotional and food processing occurs in the gut, gut health is essential to your overall health.

A healthy microbiome in the gut supports ease in the digestive process, which supports healthy elimination, and results in clarity of mind.

In the same way, the combination of a well-balanced diet, a clear, calm mind and harmonious emotions support the production of healthy microbiome in the gut to support digestive and overall health.

When your body is healthy and your mind is calm, you have the clarity to hear and listen to the still small voice that always provides you with the least resistant path to achieve your goals and dreams.

Healthy digestion thus allows attunement to your instincts and a closer connection to the guidance that's offered by your gut feeling.


Setareh Moafi, Ph.D., L.Ac. is Co-Owner and Director of A Center for Natural Healing in Santa Clara, California, a health and wellness clinic that specializes in Classical Chinese Medicine and Traditional Japanese Acupuncture. Dr. Moafi offers clinical services and transformational workshops that blend the ancient practices of Classical Chinese Medicine and Yoga. More information at www.setarehmoafi.com and www.acenterfornaturalhealing.com

Body, Mind & Spirit According to Chinese Medicine

by Salvador Cefalu, M.S., L.Ac.

The integration of body, mind and spirit is essential to holistic healing practices and is gaining an increased level of importance in the conventional medical world as well. Having once been considered non-scientific, this trinitarian concept is becoming embraced by Western medicine and accepted as an integral basis for explaining the cause of certain health disorders, especially those considered to be idiopathic or psychosomatic. 

Chinese Medicine has established a theoretical model that's based on this trinity as well and forms a framework to help us understand these concepts systematically in order to gain greater clarity about the integration of our body, mind and spirit.

 

The Trinity of the Triple Heater System

Early Daoist philosophers who were fundamental in establishing Chinese medical theory were also intrigued with this trinitarian concept of body, mind and spirit. These philosophers articulated this trinity in terms of Heaven, Humanity and Earth to explain our connection to the universe. Superimposed on the body, the microcosmic system of this macrocosmic trinity is referred to as the Triple Heater.

The Triple Heater is a system comprised of three energy centers: the head, the chest and the abdominal/pelvic region.

The head is part of the Upper Heater and relates to Heaven; the chest comprises the Middle Heater, which relates to Humanity; the abdominal and pelvic regions comprise the Lower Heater and relate to Earth.

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The Upper Heater Relates to the Level of Heaven

The Spirit can be related to the Upper Heater of the Triple Heater system by virtue of the brain and the sensory organs of the eyes, ears and nose.

According to Daoist teachings, the sensory organs of sight, hearing and smell are considered gateways and when 'opened' allow an awakening of perception to higher dimensions of consciousness.

In Chinese Medicine, the head - because of its location on top of the body - is in closest proximity to Heaven's energy above. This gives the brain a close relationship to the energy of Fire. Since the brain as an organ is supported by the Kidney system, it also relates to the element of Water.

This creates an interesting association of the brain as Fire and Water - two energies in opposition based on the control cycle in Five Element theory.

Since the brain has aspects of both Fire and Water, a healthy balance of these two energies is required for optimal function.

Chinese Medicine has established diagnostic parameters for assessing the activity of these energies within the body which helps guide the treatment process to bring these energies into a state of greater balance. Through this process, a normalization of organ function can be achieved to impact one's mind, body and spirit.

 

The Middle Heater Relates to Level of Humanity

The Middle Heater of the Triple Heater system is comprised of the chest and relates to the Heart and Pericardium organs which are associated with the Fire element and the level of Humanity.

The Shen, or spirit, is stored in the Heart.  Fire energy is about "intelligence" and "awareness" so in this way we see the correlation of the Heart and the Middle Heater with the level of Humanity as an expression of higher intelligence.

Physically, the pericardium is a protective membrane around the heart and in Chinese Medicine the major function of the Pericardium organ is more metaphorical as it protects our spirit from emotional trauma.

It is said that the Pericardium holds the traumas that occur in one's lifetime and therefore protects one's spirit from being disrupted by past emotional stresses.

However, if there is an excessive amount of trapped energy in the Pericardium from past emotional stress, a person's heart and mind will be impacted physically and psychologically causing health disorders of the heart itself or mental illness.

 

The Lower Heater Relates to the Level of Earth

Corresponding to the Kidney system and the Water Element is the Lower Heater and this level energetically most closely relates to the health of the body itself. Water comes from the earth, so the energetics of the Lower Heater helps us gather energy from the earth to sustain our physical life.

Your Jing, or Essential Qi, is stored in the Kidney system and corresponds on a cellular level to your genetic material, the chromosomes and DNA.

Since Jing or Essential Qi is stored in the Kidneys, the health of your physical body intimately relates to the Water energy. Daoist practices are generally based on the idea of "Yang Shen", to nourish life. From this perspective, we see how nourishing our life is about sustaining cellular health and maintaining healthy gene expression.

Telomeres, a segment of DNA at the end of chromosomes, are indicators of cellular health. As the telomeres shorten, the lifespan of the genes shorten, so we can see how the integrity of the genes and the process of aging relates to the abundance of Water energy contained by the body.

In this regard, maintaining the health of the Kidneys, including the genitourinary and reproductive systems as a whole, is integral to maintaining the health of the physical body.

 

Balance Among the Triple Heaters is Essential to Balance in Body, Mind and Spirit

Historically, the belief in psychosomatic causes of disease was readily accepted in Chinese Medicine.

Chapter 8 of the ancient text the Ling Shu, or Spiritual Pivot, the canon of Acupuncture dating back to the 5th Century B.C., states that "all diseases are rooted in Spirit."  

From a Daoist Chinese medical perspective, it's clear that maintaining the health of the spirit supports the health of the mind and spirit. With these aspects being rooted in the Triple Heater system of the body, we can understand that maintaining balance of these heaters on a physical level is essential to having balance in body, mind and spirit.

 

You can learn fundamental practices to balance this system in my twice monthly Triple Heater Qi Gong classes. Learn more and register now. I’ll also be sharing elements of this practice in the Yin Yoga Integration Teacher Training.


Salvador Cefalu, M.S., L.Ac. is the Founder & Co-Director of A Center for Natural Healing in Santa Clara, California, a health and wellness clinic run by he and his wife, Setareh Moafi, Ph.D., L.Ac. that specializes in Classical Chinese Medicine. Salvador is a leading U.S. practitioner of Japanese Meridian Therapy, a rare form of non-insertion Acupuncture using Gold & Silver needles. More information at www.acenterfornaturalhealing.com.

5 Teas to Grow in Your Garden This Summer

by Setareh Moafi, Ph.D., L.Ac.

Each season has its gifts and the greatest gift of Summer is that the longer, warmer days encourage us to be more active, social and to spend more time outdoors.

But like anything, this Fire energy that keeps us active must be balanced in order to prevent it from becoming pathological (learn more about Fire energy here and here). 

Since summertime is inherently warmer, it's important to harmonize this heat with more cooling foods and drinks. 

*These 5 non-caffeinated teas will not only help you stay cool and hydrated during the hot Summer days, but they're also packed with extraordinary benefits to support your health year round.

Each one can easily be grown in a small pot right in your garden or balcony then dried or steeped fresh in hot water to make a delicious cooling tea.

 

1. Peppermint 

Peppermint is one of the most popular herbs used to make tea.

Peppermint is one of the most popular herbs used to make tea.

Also known as Mentha piperita, Peppermint is one of the most popular and rapidly growing herbs in the world.

The menthol in Peppermint creates both a cooling flavor and effect to help with fever and inflammation.

Peppermint helps reduce inflammation and improves digestion. It's one of the most common oils and teas used to treat gastrointestinal issues including bloating, cramping, constipation, and Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS). 

Peppermint tea is also antispasmodic, so it helps to treat vomiting and nausea as well as respiratory conditions that may be present during a cold or flu.

In Chinese Medicine, Peppermint is one of the most important herbs to regulate Liver Qi which can manifest as agitation, irritability and PMS. It's also commonly used to clear Wind Heat with symptoms that include headache, fever, nasal congestion, dry cough, as well as sore eyes and throat.

Besides alleviating symptoms, Peppermint tea protects against bacteria and can boost immune function. Its menthol flavor helps remove bad breath and its antibacterial properties kill the germs that can lead to halitosis.

 

2. Lemon Balm

Lemon Balm grows abundantly in my mother's backyard.

Lemon Balm grows abundantly in my mother's backyard.

Lemon Balm, or Melissa officinalis,  is both antibacterial and anti-inflammatory. In addition to its antioxidant benefits, Lemon Balm can reduce chronic inflammation, help protect against disease and relieve pain. 

Studies have shown that both Lemon Balm essential oil and extract can support the treatment of diabetes by reducing blood sugar levels and reducing oxidative stress related to diabetes.

Lemon Balm is my favorite herbal tea for anxiety and insomnia.

Lemon Balm can help relax the nervous system, supporting improved mood and better sleep. You'll notice how light your heart feels after drinking a cup of Lemon Balm tea.

From a Chinese medical point of view, Lemon Balm clears Liver and Heart Fire, both of which can cause the emotions to flare up. By clearing this Fire, Lemon Balm calms the spirit, known as the shen. Lemon Balm essential oil can help relax and open the chest as well as descend Stomach Qi to alleviate vomiting, belching, morning sickness, vomiting, and food stasis.

Lemon Balm essential oil (also known as Melissa) is also helpful for reducing PMS symptoms and for treating the herpes virus when used topically during an outbreak and to increase time between outbreaks.

Like many of the other teas on this list, Lemon Balm is beneficial as a digestive aid.

We love to grow Lemon Verbena in our backyard. The gorgeous leaves can be dried or steeped freshly into hot water to make a soothing herbal tea.

We love to grow Lemon Verbena in our backyard. The gorgeous leaves can be dried or steeped freshly into hot water to make a soothing herbal tea.

3. Lemon Verbena

Lemon Verbena is one of my favorite plants that grows right in our backyard.

Scientifically known as Aloysia citrodora, Lemon Verbena is a perennial shrub that has a strong lemony scent when touched. The leaves can be dried then steeped to support metabolic processes.

Packed with antioxidants, this tea can help reduce inflammation and anxiety through its effects in hormonal balancing. It's also been shown to reduce oxidative stress levels leading to stronger immune function.

Lemon Verbena is a great digestive aid that also clears phlegm and dampness, helping to reduce bacteria as well as congestion.

 

4. Lemon Peel

Lemon Peel, or lemon zest, can be steeped in hot water to make a cooling tea. It contains a full spectrum of vitamins and minerals, including Vitamin C, Vitamin A and potassium, and is more nutrient dense than lemon fruit and juice.

Lemon Peel also contains high amounts of fiber so it can help prevent and treat constipation.

Lemon Peel makes an easy and healthy homemade tea that's packed with vitamins, minerals and fiber.

Lemon Peel makes an easy and healthy homemade tea that's packed with vitamins, minerals and fiber.

This tea cools the Liver which can help alleviate irritability, anger and even allergies.

With its high content of calcium, lemon peel supports healthy teeth, hair and nails. Its antimicrobial properties ward off a host of bacteria.

 

5. Chamomile

Chamomile, also known as Martricaria Chamomilla, is an annual plant with white flowers that's commonly used in traditional medicine for anxiety, insomnia and digestive disorders including heartburn, nausea and vomiting.

Chamomile is rich in antioxidants, is anti-inflammatory and is also cooling for the Liver.

Steaming Chamomile extract and breathing in the steam can be effective to treat common cold symptoms.

A recent extensive study published in Molecular Medicine Reports describes the use of Chamomile in traditional medicine with regard to evaluating its curative and preventive properties. The study explains that the flowers of Chamomile contain 1–2% volatile oils that possess anti-inflammatory properties.

The authors also discuss the anticancer properties of Chamomile, noting that preclinical models of skin, prostate, breast and ovarian cancer have shown promising growth inhibitory effects.

Chamomile is cooling and can have a calming effect on both the nervous system and gastrointestinal system. Studies in preclinical models suggest that Chamomile inhibits Helicobacter pylori, the bacteria that can contribute to stomach ulcers. Chamomile is believed to be helpful in reducing smooth muscle spasms associated with various gastrointestinal inflammatory disorders.**

From a Chinese medical point of view, Chamomile is especially effective to regulate Liver Qi for symptoms such as headaches, anger outbursts, intercostal distention, muscle cramps and spasms, dysmenorrhea, and PMS. It also helps clear Liver Fire that can be caused by excessive emotions, especially Liver Fire that invades the Spleen and Stomach causing epigastric burning and reflux that's aggravated by stress, and even ulcers.

Chamomile's sedative effect helps calm anxiety and hyperactivity, and makes it a great sleep aid.

The efficacy of Chamomile is amplified as an essential oil though these benefits can be experienced to an extent by drinking the tea.

Chamomile is a flower that can be dried and steeped in hot water to make a cooling, calming tea.

Chamomile is a flower that can be dried and steeped in hot water to make a cooling, calming tea.


*Please note: this article is for educational purposes only. Please consult your healthcare practitioner to determine what foods and drinks are suitable for your condition. 

** Srivastava, J., Shankar, E. and Gupta, S. Chamomile: A Herbal Medicine fo the Past with Bright Future. Molecular Medicine Report. 2010 Nov 1; 3(6): 895-901.


Setareh Moafi, Ph.D., L.Ac. is Co-Owner and Director of A Center for Natural Healing in Santa Clara, California, a health and wellness clinic that specializes in Classical Chinese Medicine and Traditional Japanese Acupuncture. Dr. Moafi offers clinical services and transformational workshops that blend the ancient practices of Classical Chinese Medicine and Yoga. More information at www.setarehmoafi.com and www.acenterfornaturalhealing.com

6 Tips to Have Your Healthiest Summer Yet

by Setareh Moafi, Ph.D., L.Ac. and Salvador Cefalu, M.S., L.Ac.

Each season is inherently associated with an element that grows stronger during its season. One of the most important ways to maintain your health throughout the year is to understand the various associations and learn how to balance these energies from season to season.

The Fire energy grows strong as we transition into Summer. 

Fire is associated with creativity, inspiration, connection, and gives us the ability to be present in our lives. When out of balance, Fire energy leads to inflammation, fatigue, burnout and aging (learn more here).

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6 Tips to Help You Stay Cool and Balanced Throughout the Season

1) Stay hydrated: a good general tip is to drink 1/2 of your weight in ounces of water, i.e. if you weigh 150 pounds, try to drink 75 ounces of water per day.

2) Eat cooling foods such as celery, watermelon and cucumbers and cooling teas such as peppermint, chamomile, lemon verbena, and green tea that are especially therapeutic on days when the weather is warmer. 

3) Avoid eating too much fruit. Summer fruits are hydrating and make wonderful Summer treats. Just be sure to eat them - like anything - in moderation. Too much sweet fruit can create dampness and lead to more heat and inflammation in the body. Dampness and phlegm negatively impacts the digestive system and leads to fatigue and weight gain. Keep a healthy balance of cooked and raw foods in your diet and stay lighter with your meals in the warmer months. 

4) Exercise early in the day: Do high activity exercise first thing in the morning when the weather is cooler. You can do more gentle exercises in the evening. Cooling practices such as Qi Gong and Yin Yoga are excellent ways to calm the mind and counter the heat of the season.

5) Spend more time outdoors, but don't forget your internal cultivation. Mangano Calcite, our Summer balancing stone (see below), can provide support.

6) Play more: have fun, open your Heart, and allow the playful energy of this warm season to weave through all aspects of your life!

 

Summer Balancing Stone: Mangano Calcite

Mangano Calcite is an excellent stone to cool and calm the heart and mind.

Mangano Calcite is an excellent stone to cool and calm the heart and mind.

In general, calcites provide a fast acting cooling effect on the body, so they can be used for acute cases of excessive heat, or Fire.

Mangano Calcite calms a nervous heart and temperamental mind. 

This stone clears heat that can cause agitation and high blood pressure, allowing for greater clarity and focus. 

The pink color of Mangano Calcite comes from the mineral manganese which influences balanced function in the brain and the entire nervous system, especially in regards to inducing a relaxation effect on the motor nerves that control muscle function. 

Signs for using a manganese stone such as Mangano Calcite include an acute period of impatience, anger, quarrel, anxiety, heart palpitations and general nervousness.

Mangano Calcite is an important stone to strengthen Heart Qi and move Heart Blood to treat cardiac insufficiency and shortness of breath.

Among the calcites, Mangano Calcite is the most appropriate for intentional work. It can be taped in the depression under the ball of the foot at Kidney 1 or at the tailbone to ground your energy during Qi Gong practice. 

Even when used topically on acupuncture points or simply held in the hand or on the center of the chest, the vibration of Mangano Calcite is quite potent to quickly induce relaxation and calmness in the body and mind.

You can experiment with the power of Mangano Calcite if you ever experience an acute bout of anxiety or anger. It's likely you'll notice it help quickly cool your temper and calm your mind.


Salvador Cefalu, M.S., L.Ac. is the Founder & Co-Director of A Center for Natural Healing in Santa Clara, California, a health and wellness clinic run by he and his wife, Setareh Moafi, Ph.D., L.Ac. that specializes in Classical Chinese Medicine. Salvador is a leading U.S. practitioner of Japanese Meridian Therapy, a rare form of non-insertion Acupuncture using Gold & Silver needles. More information at www.acenterfornaturalhealing.com.

Setareh Moafi, Ph.D., L.Ac. is Co-Owner and Director of A Center for Natural Healing in Santa Clara, California, a health and wellness clinic that specializes in Classical Chinese Medicine and Traditional Japanese Acupuncture. Dr. Moafi offers clinical services and transformational workshops that blend the ancient practices of Classical Chinese Medicine and Yoga. More information at www.setarehmoafi.com and www.acenterfornaturalhealing.com

How to Blossom During Springtime

by Setareh Moafi, Ph.D., L.Ac.

The three months of the Spring season bring rebirth and renewal. Spring is a time of change as we transition from Winter, the most Yin or quiet season, to the first Yang or active season of the year. This is the time for new beginnings both in nature and within our personal lives.

While we may have set our intentions for this year after the holidays, Spring is really the ideal time to make the effort to manifest these intentions into reality.

The fertility, abundance and growth in nature reflects the potential that we each have during this season.

To maximize your ability to utilize the energy of springtime, it's essential to balance the Wood element and the Liver and Gallbladder systems that are associated with this season.

According to Chinese Medicine, the Wood element relates to growth, decisiveness and action.

When in balance, Wood provides the energy to be brave, focused, driven and decisive. Excess in the Wood energy on the other hand can cause one to become controlling, angry, and combative. On the other hand, if you feel that you have no spring in your step this time of year this can reflect a Wood deficiency possibly arising from a lack of rest to nourish the Kidneys during Winter months.

The Liver is the primary organ associated with springtime. It stores blood and is in charge of smoothing the flow of Qi or energy throughout the whole body. Because the Liver also smoothes the emotions, if it is imbalanced the Qi stagnation that results can manifest as feelings of stress, irritability and anger. 

As Spring arises, the Liver energy becomes more active. This activity can however cause the Liver to generate heat and Wind, which develop into typical allergy symptoms such as itchy, red eyes, sneezing, and sore throat. 

Since the Liver is in charge of detoxification, during springtime it's especially important to be cautious of taking in substances that burden the Liver’s function, such as over the counter medications, alcohol and drugs. 

As the Wood element and the associated Liver and Gallbladder systems become active both within us and in nature, it's important to balance their energy so we can flourish throughout the season. Here are 5 ways to cultivate this balance:

  1. Eat a Wood balancing diet replete with leafy green vegetables, asparagus, artichokes, olives, and berries.

  2. Reduce or avoid coffee, alcohol and spicy foods as they can aggravate the Liver thus worsening allergies and the overall irritability and restlessness that most of us experience during this seasonal transition.

  3. Drink herbal teas such as Chrysanthemum, Chamomile, Dandelion and Nettle Leaf to cool the Liver, especially if you tend to experience allergies at this time of year.

  4. Be more active - exercise daily to keep the Liver Qi moving smoothly. Yoga, Qi Gong and Tai Ji are especially helpful as the connection to breathing with these types of exercises helps strengthen the Lungs and open the diaphragm to further help prevent Liver Qi stagnation.

  5. Get Acupuncture treatment to help cool the Liver and move the stagnation that can stir up allergies, irritability and anger.

With its vital energy and beauty, this abundant, creative season supports us to blossom by starting new projects and sharing our unique gifts and talents.


Setareh Moafi, Ph.D., L.Ac. is Co-Owner and Director of A Center for Natural Healing in Santa Clara, California, a health and wellness clinic that specializes in Classical Chinese Medicine and Traditional Japanese Acupuncture. Dr. Moafi offers clinical services and transformational workshops that blend the ancient practices of Classical Chinese Medicine and Yoga. More information at www.setarehmoafi.com and www.acenterfornaturalhealing.com

The Doyo Period - 9 Tips to Support Your Health During Each Seasonal Transition

by Salvador Cefalu, M.S., L.Ac. and Setareh Moafi, Ph.D., L.Ac.

The transitional period between each seasonal change is a very important time to support the health of your body and mind. In Five Element theory, this period is called Doyo and relates to the Earth energy. The Doyo period is an 18-day period consisting of the 9 days before and 9 days after each Solstice or Equinox.

Since this period relates to the Earth element, the organs of the Spleen, Stomach and Pancreas are most vulnerable to imbalance and disease and therefore need protection and support during this time.

People who already have problems in their Earth element need to take extra care as cases such as diabetes, ulcers and gastrointestinal issues in general can all worsen during this time if their lifestyle is not supported.

During the Doyo period in particular it's important to eat meals at regular times and without distractions. Staying away from too much sweet food and other damp inducing foods like dairy and fried foods is also important to keep the Spleen and Stomach energies in a healthy balance.

The Spleen as the largest lymphatic organ in the body indicates this is a good time for acupuncture and massage to support lymphatic circulation. If you only get these treatments a few times a year, it's best to do them during the Doyo periods.

The Spleen is an especially important system as it supports immunity during the seasonal transition.

In addition, the Spleen is an organ that assists in the transformation of food into energy and thoughts into purpose, so a healthy Spleen will support you to stay focused on your goals and be able to transform your dreams into reality.

Weakness in the Spleen can result in problems with digestion and elimination and cause the body to accumulate dampness. Dampness is a fungal terrain, often resulting from a diet heavy in carbohydrates, fried foods, dairy and sugar (even in the form of fruits).  A fungal terrain can also develop from using various drugs such as antibiotics, sulfa drugs, chemotherapy, birth control pills, corticosteroids, antacids and acid blocking medications.

Dampness is reflected in our lives through the feeling of being stuck or lacking clarity.  Dampness is also associated with psychological imbalances such as Obsessive Compulsiveness Disorder and hoarding.

The Earth element organs thrive on a simple diet based on unprocessed foods, a calm mind, and a regular daily rhythm with meals, exercise and rest.  

Here are 9 tips to support you to have greater clarity and a healthier lifestyle during the Doyo Period of every seasonal change:

  1. Take time to cook and be present during your meals. Put away your cell phone, turn off the TV and just be - with your meal and people with whom you enjoy spending time.

  2. Eat meals at regular times and without distractions. Avoid eating under stress and eating on the run or while distracted.

  3. Integrate more root vegetables into your diet to nourish your Earth. Root veggies such as sweet potatoes, parsnips, carrots and rutabaga also help anchor your body's energy and calm your mind.

  4. Start to integrate more cooked leafy green vegetables to support the Liver and the Wood element, which are associated with the Spring season

  5. Reduce or avoid coffee, alcohol and refined sugars. All of these substances aggravate the Liver, so this is especially important during the transition to the Liver (Wood) season of Spring.

  6. Take enzymes daily. Enzymes taken with meals will help break down food and prevent stagnation and heat accumulation in the Stomach. Along with a balanced probiotic supplement, enzymes are essential for your gut health, which is the core of your immune function and brain health. Not sure what to take? Call us at 408-244-8565 or stop in and pick up a bottle of our favorite probiotics and enzymes.

  7. Exercise to strengthen your Earth. Calming exercises such as Yoga and Qi Gong are especially important to integrate into your routine. Join us for weekly Qi Gong classes Mondays at 11:45am.

  8. Take more time to meditate or just sit quietly to calm your mind. The imbalanced emotion of Earth is worry, so the more you can quiet your mind the less stress this system will take on.

  9. Get Acupuncture treatment. This is the ideal time to support your core Earth energy and immunity with Acupuncture and Chinese Herbal Medicine. (If you're in our area, you can schedule yourself online here).


Salvador Cefalu, M.S., L.Ac. is the Founder & Co-Director of A Center for Natural Healing in Santa Clara, California, a health and wellness clinic run by he and his wife, Setareh Moafi, Ph.D., L.Ac. that specializes in Classical Chinese Medicine. Salvador is a leading U.S. practitioner of Japanese Meridian Therapy, a rare form of non-insertion Acupuncture using Gold & Silver needles. More information at www.acenterfornaturalhealing.com.

Setareh Moafi, Ph.D., L.Ac. is Co-Owner and Director of A Center for Natural Healing in Santa Clara, California, a health and wellness clinic that specializes in Classical Chinese Medicine and Traditional Japanese Acupuncture. Dr. Moafi offers clinical services and transformational workshops that blend the ancient practices of Classical Chinese Medicine and Yoga. More information at www.setarehmoafi.com and www.acenterfornaturalhealing.com

Is Your Liver Insulting Your Lungs?

by Salvador Cefalu, M.S., L.Ac.

Autumn is the season that’s related to the Lung energy and the Metal element. According to Chinese Medicine, the Lungs thrive on moisture and since dryness is predominant during Autumn, the Lung energy tends to be most vulnerable during this season.

Issues related to the Metal energy are therefore more likely to occur during this time of year. Metal is associated with the Lungs, Large Intestine, and skin so symptoms may manifest in the form of respiratory and skin infections and inflammatory flare-ups such as allergies, asthma, psoriasis and eczema. Furthermore, since the emotions of the Lungs are sadness and grief, these states may surface at this time as well.

As we all know and have experienced, Autumn is a dry season. We may notice this dryness manifest in our skin and in our sinuses. In Chinese Medicine, the Lungs like adequate moisture though not too moist with dampness or phlegm. If you notice your mouth and lips are drier at this time of year, it’s likely that your Lungs are as well and this dryness will weaken the Lungs’ function and make them predisposed to illness.

Another common complication during Autumn is that the Lungs' vulnerable energy makes them susceptible to “insult” by the Liver. This idea is based on the Five Element Theory of Chinese Medicine. Normally the Metal energy, which is related to the Lungs, controls the Wood energy, which is related to the Liver.  However, if this relationship is imbalanced due to a weakness in the Metal energy, which is common during Autumn, the Wood energy can insult the Metal energy especially if the liver is overheated with toxicity.

If these patterns are occurring within your body or your life, it likely indicates that it’s a good time to do a Liver detoxification. 

FiveElementsCycleBalanceImbalance.jpg

 

Let’s take a look at how these patterns can manifest. 

Generally speaking, we do not suggest doing a Liver cleanse at all times of the year. It’s best to avoid cleansing during the cold Winter months because your body needs to maintain its warmth and not be subjected to the cooling effects of a cleanse. While it’s best to consult a healthcare practitioner before starting any cleanse, generally as long as the weather is relatively temperate in your area and your body is not feeling challenged by cold temperatures or feeling cold internally such as having cold hands and feet, a liver cleanse may be appropriate during the Fall. 

 

How To Identify if Your Liver is Insulting Your Lungs

One of the common signs of toxicity in the liver is tightness or discomfort in the flank or sides of the ribcage (not due to injury), as well as a feeling of oppression in the chest making it difficult to take a deep breath. This is often due to an overly tight diaphragm that’s preventing the lungs from comfortably expanding.

The Liver is considered 'the General' who leads the troops since the Liver controls the smooth flow of Qi throughout the body. If the General is abusive however, his overbearing and insulting actions can compromise the performance of his troops. In the same way, a toxic liver can impair not only the lungs’ functions but also the digestive and elimination systems.

If the liver is not properly detoxifying the body or keeping the energy circulation flowing smoothly, this will lead to inflammation and pain as toxicity will build up in the tissues, especially in the joints.  

In Chinese Medicine, the Liver energy has an ascending quality and through this action it helps bring blood to our eyes to support strong vision and into the brain to support memory retrieval. However, if there is liver congestion due to toxicity its natural ascension of energy may become impaired and lead instead to a horizontal spreading out of energy hence causing tightness along the diaphragm and across the ribcage or flank regions. If more severe, overt pain or cramping can be experienced in the region of the liver itself.

If the Liver energy is spreading sideways pathologically rather than ascending this will also lead to the Liver or Wood energy over-controlling the Earth-digestive energy and causing numerous digestive complaints ranging from GERD to gas and bloating as well as nausea. In fact, according to Chinese Medicine, more serious conditions such as Crohn's, Ulcerative Colitis and Irritable Bowel Syndrome are often rooted in a toxic liver that is insulting the Large Intestine and depending on the condition can involve the Small Intestine as well.

Since the Large Intestine is the other Metal element organ along with the Lungs, it is therefore also predisposed to being insulted by a toxic Liver.

A toxic liver is overheated indicating inflammation, but this may not overtly present in a blood test with elevated liver enzymes. A "hot" liver, however, may show up in your day-to-day health in different ways. For example, if you suffer from allergies or asthma during the Autumn season, it is likely that your Liver is insulting your Lungs and therefore needs a good cleanse.

An overheated liver can push its heat into the Heart system, causing hypertension, and into the head, causing headaches behind the eyes, around the temples, migraines and even temporomandibular joint pain (TMJD). In addition, since the Liver Blood nourishes the tendons and nerves, too much heat in the liver can dry up the blood and cause the development of muscle spasms and cramping or restless legs and neuropathy. All of these conditions are indicators that the liver is overheated and causing irritation of the muscular, vascular and neurological systems.

In these cases, you may benefit from doing a liver detox this season. You can start with a simple 10 day detox or try for a 4 week or more period depending on the severity of your condition. And during this time, it is important to avoid spicy foods such as coffee and alcohol which further create heat and dry up the blood. Of course, smoking is going to create both heat and dryness in the lungs and liver as well.

 

Tips for Detoxifying Your Liver

A powerful way to support liver detoxification is with an amino acid supplement called N-Acetyl-Cysteine (NAC). NAC helps synthesize glutathione which is a major antioxidant of the body that helps reduce the toxic effects of lipid oxidation which can lead to liver damage. Glutathione is a powerful antioxidant stored in the liver to further support detoxification and repair of the liver itself. Numerous studies have shown NAC to improve liver function. Furthermore, taking 600mg twice a day has been shown to reduce mucous in the lungs and improve respiration with patients suffering with Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disorder, also known as COPD.

Another important amino acid supplement that supports liver detoxification and intestinal repair is L-Glutamine. Glutamine is now popularly used to repair a "Leaky Gut" due to erosion of the mucous membrane of the small intestine. It's also an important amino acid for the production of brain neurotransmitters, GABA and glutamate. These two neurotransmitters act in a Yin and Yang fashion as GABA helps down-regulate nervous system activity and glutamate helps stimulate the nervous system.

Bupleurum, Milk Thistle and Turmeric are important herbs used to improve glutathione levels as well in the liver and support liver restoration. Bupleurum and Milk Thistle are especially useful when there is heat in the liver. In regards to Turmeric there are three parts of the turmeric plant used in Chinese Medicine. I will mention two of them. The root is called Yu Jin. Yu Jin is cooling, very good for depression and anxiety as well as reducing the chest constraint and flank pains related to Liver Qi stagnation. The rhizome of turmeric is called Jiang Huang. This is the common turmeric herb used in cooking. Jiang Huang is warming and especially useful for joint pain and swelling from wind, dampness and blood stagnation. It also is used when blood stagnation is occurring in the liver and causing pain in the abdomen or flanks as well. Both forms of turmeric are used in anti-inflammatory supplements but have a clear distinction in action.

Your Chinese Medicine practitioner can diagnosis what liver conditions may be present upon examination of the tongue and pulse. In regards to tongue diagnosis, a tongue that shows blue veins along the sides of the tongue would indicate liver blood stagnation and if the tongue sides are especially red, this indicates heat. Please consult with us or your practitioner for a more detailed assessment before beginning any detox regimen.

Turmeric is commonly used in cooking in many Eastern cultures. It contains compounds that can support restoring healthy glutathione levels and boost the activity of glutathione enzymes.

Turmeric is commonly used in cooking in many Eastern cultures. It contains compounds that can support restoring healthy glutathione levels and boost the activity of glutathione enzymes.

Essential Oils to Reduce a Toxic Liver Insulting the Lungs and Large Intestine

Petigrain is an important oil to relax the chest and deepen inspiration when Liver Qi stagnation has constricted the diaphragm. Petigrain is a leaf oil and in general leafy greens help spread the Liver's Qi when it congests. Liver Qi stagnation will result in an irritable mind and if the Lung Qi gets depressed, depression of the mind can set in too. Petigrain helps resolve both of these patterns and transforms dampness in the process to improve memory as well. Apply diluted over the center of the chest and at the wrists to relax the diaphragm, deepen respiration and soothe the mind.

Peppermint is the signature oil to decongest the liver. Its antispasmodic action is useful for spasms of the colon and cramping of the muscles which may occur with liver toxicity. Taken internally in capsule form, peppermint oil has been shown to improve symptoms from Irritable Bowel Syndrome.

Lavender & Lavandin are all-purpose oils that can diffuse Lung Qi for chest tightness with diaphragmatic stress from liver congestion. These oils can calm an irritable or nervous mind and relax muscle tension due to Liver Qi stagnation. Both of these oils are antiseptic and used for reducing Lung Heat presenting with sinus infections and sore throats.

Lemon essential oil is an antiseptic for Lung heat problems such as sinusitis and sore throat as well. It also reduces Liver Fire with symptoms such as headaches, migraines, abdominal distention and gas. If excess Stomach Fire is occurring, lemon essential oil can reduce acid reflux and burning of the epigastric region. All citrus oils are effective antioxidants and very alkalizing for acidic conditions. Lemon essential oil is also useful for congested lymphatic regions and best when applied in diluted form with a carrier oil over the areas affected. Lemon essential oil is considered a liver decongestant and rejuvenator as well as a blood tonic. Lemon essential oil has been known to help strengthen fingernails which are supported by Liver Blood according to Chinese Medicine. 

Helichrysum (Everlast) is an amazing flower oil that's useful when the lungs have too much heat causing asthma, chronic bronchitis, coughing or allergies. It's especially beneficial to reduce toxins during a liver detoxification. Helichrysum is one of the key essential oils to use if Liver Fire (inflammation) has created Liver Blood Stasis as indicated with the red sides of the tongue along with blue veins which commonly occurs with the overuse of drugs (both pharmaceutical and street drugs).

Rosemary essential oil has a powerful therapeutic action on both the liver and lung systems. Rosemary can help relax the diaphragm to deepen respiration, and stimulates both the liver and gallbladder to support detoxification. Its stimulating action improves circulation, focus and concentration. Rosemary is a very warming oil that is considered a heart tonic so be cautious in its use if there is hypertension.

Roman Chamomile and German Chamomile are both amazing essential oils that can help regenerate a toxic liver and reduce liver inflammation. They are relaxing oils that can also reduce diaphragmatic constriction and discomfort around the ribcage and flanks to improve respiration by relaxing the nervous system. They are very calming oils hence the use of Chamomile tea before bed to help with sleep. When a toxic liver is causing trouble with the GI system in the form of dyspepsia, bloating, IBS, etc, both of these Chamomile essential oils can be rubbed over the affected regions in a diluted form for relief. In general, Roman Chamomile is used for children while German Chamomile is used with adults for anti-inflammatory and detoxification purposes.

 

Conclusion

When the Liver is relaxed and clear of toxins, the mind is calm and Qi can flow smoothly throughout the body. This helps us to also breathe more deeply and increase the strength of the lungs so they are less vulnerable during the Fall season.

These health suggestions are for educational purposes, so please consult your health care provider for personalized support and guidance.


Salvador Cefalu, M.S., L.Ac. is the Founder & Co-Director of A Center for Natural Healing in Santa Clara, California, a health and wellness clinic run by he and his wife, Setareh Moafi, PhD, L.Ac. that specializes in Classical Chinese Medicine. Salvador is a leading U.S. practitioner of Japanese Meridian Therapy, a rare form of non-insertion Acupuncture using Gold & Silver needles. More information at www.acenterfornaturalhealing.com.

Sleep and the Gut-Brain Axis

by Setareh Moafi, Ph.D., L.Ac.

Digestive health is fundamental to the health of your entire body. According to Chinese Medicine, the Earth element, which includes the Spleen and Stomach, is considered to be the central element in the Five Element system. Earth corresponds to the late Summer as well as to all seasonal transitions. This is why it's especially important to take care of your digestive health during all transitions, seasonal and otherwise.

The health of your digestive system, or gut health, is the foundation of your ability to properly digest and assimilate food, manage stress and sleep well.

Gut health is directly impacted by stress because of a mechanism known as the gut-brain axis, which explains the biochemical signaling between the gastrointestinal tract and the central nervous system. 

Under stress, the hypothalamus in the brain signals the autonomic nervous system as well as the pituitary gland to produce stress hormones, including epinephrine and cortisol. The production of these stress hormones shuts down the parasympathetic nervous system, which is related to our ability to rest and to digest.

When the sympathetic nervous system, or our 'fight or flight' response, is active, the parasympathetic nervous system is impeded and therefore both our sleep and digestion are impacted.

You probably know from experience that your thought process, especially when you’re under stress, affects your ability to digest food, but this relationship goes both ways.

In other words, what you eat also impacts your ability to think—and sleep. 

 

Sleep and the Gut-Brain Axis

The bidirectional communication between the brain and central nervous system (CNS) and the enteric nervous system (ENS) is known as the gut-brain axis (GBA), an information superhighway of chemicals and hormones that provides constant feedback and informs, among other things, our moods, emotions and sleep patterns.

Recent research on the gut-brain axis (GBA) affirms that an unhealthy microbiome in the gut impacts sleep quality and that poor sleep causes changes to the bacterial community in the gut. This is because sleep deprivation produces an imbalance of the stress hormone cortisol.

Too much cortisol can lead to a proliferation of unhealthy bacteria microbiome that can lead to gastrointestinal (GI) problems. GI imbalances increase the potential to develop sleep disorders.

In addition, research has shown that there is 400 times more melatonin in the gut than there is in the pineal gland where melatonin was traditionally thought to be produced. It appears that stress causes changes both in gut bacteria and in neurotransmitter levels (Beckett, 2015).

The rhythms of gut microbes are affected by diet, both the timing of eating and the composition of foods consumed. A healthy diet helps the body generate more beneficial gut microbes thereby helping to reduce inflammation and optimize gut health.

The health of the gut helps determine the health of the brain and therefore our ability to process information, manage stress, balance our emotions, and digest and assimilate food; all of which affect our ability to sleep.

 

Unbalanced Emotions and Sleep

Li Dong-yuan, Founder of the Earth School in Chinese Medicine and one of the Four Great Masters of the Jin-Yuan period in China, believed that disease pathology manifests as a result of damage to postnatal Qi, the energy that we refine and consume through our environment from food and drink. Postnatal Qi is produced by the Spleen and Stomach through the Gu Qi, or energy that's transformed from food. This process occurs in the gut.

Excessive or unbalanced emotions and stress weaken the Spleen and Stomach and therefore the gut. According to Li Dong-yuan, this weakness leads to stagnation of Stomach Qi that eventually turns into heat or Fire that burns the fluids in the body.

We can therefore surmise that heat accumulation in the gut eventually affects the brain and interferes with the harmonious interplay between the gut and brain.

During menopause for example, hormone production decreases and, since damage to the gut inhibits the proper production of melatonin and other hormones necessary to regulate stress and sleep, there is a great tendency for a woman to develop insomnia at this time.

Li believed that weakness in the Spleen and Stomach, or Earth organs, is the foundation of disease and begins with unresolved emotions. He stated that "the downward flowing [of the five yang qi] into their confinement with yin fire in kun earth is always due first to damage done by the five thieves -- joy, anger, sorrow, worry, and fright--followed by stagnation of stomach qi. Finally, overtaxation and dietary irregularity succeed in damaging the original qi" (Li, 2004, 203).

The “five thieves” damage the Spleen and Stomach, leading to stagnation of Stomach Qi. Overwork or overtaxation and poor diet further damage the original qi. This pattern is prominent during major life transitions like menopause during which, as Dr. Christiane Northrup has explained, many women’s unprocessed and unresolved emotions cause insomnia and fatigue to accompany “the enormous changes of midlife” (Northrup, 2012).

This internal heat caused by Qi deficiency is called Yin Fire and flares up into heart. This pattern is common among women going through the menopausal transition where stress along with hormonal changes damage the Spleen and Stomach function.

 

Yin Fire: The Impact of Emotions on Your Health

According to Nei Jing Su Wen, one of the foremost classical Chinese medical texts, seven emotions are considered major internal causes of disease - joy, anger, fear, fright, anxiety, pensiveness and sadness. Li Dong-yuan focused on what he referred to as the “five thieves,” or the emotions of joy, anger, sorrow, pensiveness, and fright, any of which in excess become pathological.

The Earth attribute of Yi, or the mind, has a tendency to worry. Nei Jing Su Wen stated: “Pensiveness harms the spleen” (Unschuld, 2011, 207) and if it is not properly transformed, it leads to obsession.

The attribute of the Heart is known as the spirit, or shen. Over-joy, which includes excessive desires and passions, can overwhelm the Heart and disrupt the shen, since the Heart is the organ that manages joy. Over-joy can transform into anxiety and eventually mania.

Yin Fire causes excessive emotions to aggravate the Heart, which then dumps heat into the Stomach. As the abode of the shen, or spirit, the Heart’s disturbance will affect the circulation of blood and thus the shen, inhibiting one’s ability to sleep restfully.

Wei Qi, which determines the body’s circadian rhythm, forms in the Lungs through the Gu Qi that first enters the Stomach via food and drinks. The circadian rhythm, like the circulation of Wei Qi, dips and rises at different times of the day and can be impacted by the pathological process of Yin Fire.

Sleepiness and sleep propensity are strongly influenced by our circadian clock as indicated by circadian rhythms, most commonly by that of core body temperature. Sleep is most conducive in the temperature minimum phase, but is inhibited in a "wake maintenance zone" before the minimum phase, and is disrupted in a zone following that phase. Different types of insomnia symptoms have been associated with abnormalities of the body temperature rhythm (Lack et al., 2008).

Yin Fire results from Qi deficiency heat caused by poor diet, over taxation, and imbalanced emotions (Li, 2004, 86). Over time, Yin Fire creates an internal heat that can burn up the body’s blood, qi and yin and cause insomnia, especially because its ascending quality affects the Heart and Pericardium. It can also inhibit a decline in core temperature, which is essential for falling asleep (NIH, 2005). 

Internal heat can also arise from Yin deficiency wherein insufficiency of body fluids prevents the body from cooling or tempering the heat, or Yang energy, in the body.

Think of Yin Fire as a process of inflammation that slowly erodes the internal membrane of the intestinal wall. As this membrane barrier breaks down, the gut lining becomes hyper-permeable and leads to the problem of Leaky Gut Syndrome. An abnormally leaky gut allows molecules of partially digested food as well as microbial toxins like bacteria, virus and fungus to flow directly into the bloodstream. These foreign invaders lead to overactive immune responses by the body which can lead to a host of serious diseases such as cancer or chronic degenerative conditions like autoimmune disorders. 

If you’re dealing with chronic inflammation of any kind, it's imperative to clean up the toxic terrain within your gut and heal the intestinal lining.

 

Healing the Gut, Brain and Sleep

One effective way to support the process of healing a leaky gut and build back a healthy microbiome for improved digestion and elimination is through the ingestion of bone broth.

Bone broth is a food source packed with substrates to help bind up the intestinal wall, referred to as the Yin of the Stomach in Chinese Medicine. Yin is substance, so we need substance to heal the body's broken down tissues. Bone broth contains the following substances to repair and restore your muscles, skin, joints and gut health:

  • Protein - supplies the building blocks for growth, including the building of muscles, tissues and new cells.

  • Glycine - an amino acid necessary for healthy DNA and RNA that's essential for properly functioning cells.

  • Collagen - holds together our joints, bones, ligaments and tendons. Needs to be supplemented as it starts to diminish as early as age 20.

  • Chondroitin Sulfate - supports joint health and comfort (especially in combination with glucosamine)

  • Glucosamine - a compound that's involved in the creation of molecules that form cartilage.

  • Hyaluronic Acid - a compound contained in the synovial fluid in our joints that serves as a cushion and lubricant in the joints and other tissues. Hyaluronic acid is also a major component of skin, where it is involved in tissue repair and wound healing.

Furthermore, bone broth comes from slowly cooking down bones to provide different types of collagen depending upon the animal source of the bones. In Chinese Medicine, the bones relate to the Kidney system and the Kidney system also supports the brain. So we can see a correlation with how the regular ingestion of bone broth can be very nutritional to strengthen brain function as well.

Other important supplements that support gut restoration include probiotics and digestive enzymes (contact us to learn more about products we recommend that are available at our clinic).

A healthy diet rich in omega fatty acids, leafy green vegetables and limited complex carbohydrates (especially gluten free) will also help to develop a healthy gut microbiome . 

Self-care is also crucial to heal the digestive system, as the ability to care for oneself and others is a virtue of the Earth element. Learning to cook healthy meals at home, receiving regular Acupuncture treatment and taking time for cultivation practices such as Yoga and Qi Gong will help to regulate both the nervous and digestive systems.

With a calm mind and healthy gut, a good night's sleep will naturally become a more regular part of your life.


References

Beckett, F. (2015). Can’t sleep? Blame your gut bacteria! Retrieved from https://secretsofagoodnightssleep.com/2015/03/03/cant-sleep-blame-your-gut-bacteria/

Lack L.C., Gradisar M., Van Someren E.J., Wright H.R., & Lushington K (2008). The relationship between insomnia and body temperatures. Sleep Medicine Review, 12(4): 307-17.

Li, D.Y. (2004). Treatise on the Spleen & Stomach: A translation of the Pi Wei Lun by Bob Flaws. Boulder, Colorado: Blue Poppy Press.

Northrup, C. (2012). The wisdom of menopause: Creating physical and emotional health during the change. New York: Bantam Books.

Unschuld, P., & Tessenow, H. (2011). Huang Di Nei Jing Su Wen. Berkeley and Los Angeles, California: University of California Press.


Setareh Moafi, Ph.D., L.Ac. is Co-Owner and Director of A Center for Natural Healing in Santa Clara, California, a health and wellness clinic that specializes in Classical Chinese Medicine and Traditional Japanese Acupuncture. Dr. Moafi offers clinical services and transformational workshops that blend the ancient practices of Classical Chinese Medicine and Yoga. 

Food as a Mirror

by Setareh Moafi, Ph.D., L.Ac.

We’ve all heard the saying “you are what you eat” but what may be more true is that what you eat is a reflection of how you feel about yourself. 

When we make healthier food choices, we're also making choices about the quality with which we want to live our lives.

A healthy lifestyle comes from knowledge through the proper resources but also through tuning in with the self. Adapting a healthy lifestyle means looking at all aspects of your life – your work, relationships and your diet.

Proper nutrition is one of the primary pillars of healthy living and, for a lot of people, it’s also one of the most challenging. My hope is to empower you to be more conscious of your diet because it is one of the most impactful aspects of your health over which you have total control.

 

Food and Digestion According to Chinese Medicine

According to Chinese Medicine, the Spleen and Stomach are the primary organs responsible for digestion. Everything you eat and drink has to be digested and transformed into Qi, or energy, with the help of these organs.

There are two major kinds of Qi in the body - the essence Qi, often referred to as the prenatal Qi, and postnatal Qi, which is produced from food and drink (Gu Qi), in the Stomach. Prenatal Qi is the constitutional essence with which we're born and postnatal Qi is our basic daily energy that we cultivate through our diet and lifestyle. The healthier the diet, the better quality Qi we can extract and therefore the greater our endurance.

The Gu Qi, or “grain” as it is often called in the classics, that enters the Stomach, is transmitted to the Lungs to produce the defense or “guard Qi,” also known as Wei Qi, which is essential for maintaining one’s circadian rhythm.

Wei Qi forms in the Lungs through the Gu Qi that first enters the Stomach. As Chapter 21 of Nei Jing Su Wen stated, “Beverages enter the stomach. Overflowing essence Qi is transported upward to the spleen. The spleen Qi spreads the essence, which turns upward to the lung” (Unschuld, 2011, 375). 

The Spleen sends Gu Qi up to the Lungs, where (with the help of Kidney Qi) it combines with air and transforms into another form of energy known as Zong Qi, which is often referred to as "gathering Qi." 

Zong Qi is formed from the combination of Gu Qi extracted through food and drink and Lung Qi extracted through the breath. Therefore, the more nutritious your diet and the better your capacity for deep respiration, the better quality Qi you'll have to support the various organs' Qi in the body.

Since Gu Qi is also used to produce Wei Qi, which controls circadian rhythm and supports immunity, a healthy diet also supports sleep and healthy immune function. 

An unhealthy diet that's high in sweet, spicy, fried and processed foods taxes the digestive system and over time will make us not only feel lethargic but also can damage the gut, or the Spleen and Stomach terrain, and lead to chronic inflammation.

In Western Medicine, the impact of nutrition on overall health has been confirmed through recent studies on the gut-brain axis (GBA).

Eating healthy can be so simple (and beautiful!) - Sprouted quinoa, lentils and adzuki beans with brussel sprouts, arugula and beet salad, avocado, butternut squash and baked sweet potatoes. We dressed the salad, grains and brussel sprouts with organic olive oil, black and cayenne peppers, and lemon juice from Meyer lemons in our garden.

Eating healthy can be so simple (and beautiful!) - Sprouted quinoa, lentils and adzuki beans with brussel sprouts, arugula and beet salad, avocado, butternut squash and baked sweet potatoes. We dressed the salad, grains and brussel sprouts with organic olive oil, black and cayenne peppers, and lemon juice from Meyer lemons in our garden.

The Gut-Brain Axis

Recent studies have revealed that the enteric nervous system (ENS), which is a system of neurons within the gastrointestinal tract and often referred to as the ‘second brain,’ may be linked to immune function, hormonal regulation, psychological disorders, and even autism. The bidirectional communication between the brain (i.e. the central nervous system) and the ENS is known as the gut-brain axis (GBA), an information superhighway of chemicals and hormones that provides constant feedback and influences - among other things - our moods, emotions and sleep patterns.

The vagus nerve is the longest cranial nerve in the body. It passes through the neck to the abdomen and interfaces with parasympathetic control of the heart, lungs and digestive tract. Evidence indicates that the communication between the microbiota in the gut and the brain involves the vagus nerve, which transmits information from the luminal environment of the gut to the central nervous system (CNS). 

Important hormones and neurotransmitters such as melatonin, which regulates sleep, and serotonin, which affects mood, are produced in the gastrointestinal tract. In fact, about 90% of serotonin, which can affect mood and social behavior, appetite and digestion, sleep, memory and sexual desire and function, is produced in the gut. 

The health of the gut therefore impacts the health of the brain and our ability to process information, manage stress, sleep, balance our emotions, as well as digest and assimilate food.

 

Chinese Medicine Perspective of Digestion, Emotions and the Gut-Brain Axis

Li Dong-yuan (1180 – 1251 c.e.) was a Chinese medical scholar who is considered to be one of the Four Great Masters of the Jin-Yuan period of Chinese Medicine. As founder of the Earth School, Li believed that the health of the Spleen and Stomach was the foundation for disease prevention. He developed the concept of Yin fire, which he believed is produced by excessive emotions and poor diet, both of which damage the original Qi and overwhelm the Spleen and Stomach. Excessive emotions engender heat internally. This heat, accompanied by weakness in the Spleen and Stomach, eventually flares upward into the Heart causing symptoms such as restlessness, anxiety and insomnia.

The gut-brain axis dynamics discussed earlier parallel Li Dong-yuan’s emphasis on the pivotal role of the Spleen and Stomach, or gut health, for all human functioning. Li believed that disease pathology manifests as a result of damage to postnatal Qi, the source of which is the Spleen and Stomach. 

The Spleen and Stomach is responsible for creating the Gu Qi, or energy that is transformed from food. Excessive or unbalanced emotions and stress weaken the Spleen and Stomach and therefore the gut. According to Li Dong-yuan, this weakness leads to stagnation of Stomach Qi that eventually turns into heat or Fire. This pathological heat relates to any inflammatory or infectious condition within the gastrointestinal tract.

We can therefore surmise that heat accumulation in the gut eventually affects the brain and interferes with the harmonious interplay between the gut and brain. Furthermore, pathological heat in the gut burns out the Stomach Yin which correlates to the destruction of the intestinal mucosa.

Over time, as the mucosal lining of the gut deteriorates, "leaky gut" syndrome develops allowing for undigested proteins to leak into the blood stream and begin the cascade of inflammation throughout the body. This is one of the fundamental pathological processes underlying a host of autoimmune diseases.

 

Diet and Your Health

Some argue that to eat healthfully is too costly or a less convenient option. But we can’t be short-sighted. The long-term return on your investment is quite high, even if in the short-term it is a little more expensive to cook healthy foods at home rather than eat processed foods, for example.

Nothing is worth more than the health of your mind and body. And nothing will give you as great a return on your investment.

Your health is the pillar of your future success, happiness and fulfillment. Nothing is possible without health, and in health anything is possible.

So it should naturally be the number one place where we put our resources.

In Chinese Medicine, diet can be used as a modality in and of itself to heal chronic illness.

Diet is also the most important self-care tool we all have. Our diet provides an opportunity to feel empowered because we're able to have a say in our self-care and well-being through the choices we make with food.

What we eat is a mirror for how we feel about ourselves, and the choices we make with what we eat also allows us to choose how we want to feel and what we want to create in our lives.

Once you've finished reading this article, I'd love to hear from you on any or all of these questions in the comments below --
* How does what you eat reflect how
you feel?
* Do you eat better or worse under stress?
* What's one change you could make in your diet to better reflect what you want to create in your life?


Setareh Moafi, Ph.D., L.Ac. is co-owner and Director of A Center for Natural Healing in Santa Clara, California. The Silicon Valley-based health and wellness clinic specializes in Classical Chinese Medicine and Traditional Japanese Acupuncture with a clinic and studio where Setareh offers clinical services and transformational workshops that blend the ancient practices of Classical Chinese Medicine and Yoga. More information at www.setarehmoafi.com and www.acenterfornaturalhealing.com