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.

Is It Time for a Brain Detox?

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

While we've all heard of or experienced a colon or liver detox, we rarely hear about detoxifying the brain. A decline in brain function is a common complaint many people have and the multitude of related symptoms can be due to both brain weakness and brain toxicity.

Abnormal brain function symptoms can vary between hyper and hypo-activity. Both conditions can be rooted in the accumulation of excess toxicity in the brain or a deficiency of adequate nutrition to properly feed the brain's neurons. When the brain’s neurons are overstimulated, symptoms such as epileptic seizures or Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) can develop. When the brain is under active, symptoms such as brain fog, brain fatigue, poor memory and weakness in critical thinking can develop.  

Brain dysfunction can arise from the condition of systemic inflammation and systemic inflammation is often rooted in poor gut health. In addition, poor brain nutrition is not just the result of a poor diet but also due to poor digestion and poor assimilation of nutrients.

Anything that involves the function of the gut and digestion in Chinese Medicine relates to the Earth element organs, the Spleen and Stomach. Restoring balance in our Earth organs is always going to be a fundamental issue to restore function in our brain.

From the point of view of Western medicine, as we age, the production of hydrochloric acid and digestive enzymes declines significantly, making it more difficult to properly break down and assimilate the nutrients we consume. Furthermore, the combination of toxic food, toxic medications and toxic thoughts all contribute to inflammation of the gut.

Toxicity that brews in the gut due to imbalances in the microbiome, or gut flora, can lead to 'leaky gut syndrome.' A 'leaky gut' causes improperly digested proteins and unwanted microbial agents to pass through the intestinal wall and enter the blood stream. This dysfunctional process can then trigger a cascade of inflammatory responses throughout the body. This is one of the main causes underlying the degenerative process of systemic inflammation which can create a "brain on fire" and lead to many of the brain disorders we commonly see today.

Treatment of degenerative brain disorders therefore requires the restoration of healthy digestion and elimination so the brain can be properly nourished and detoxified.

 

A Classical Chinese Perspective on the Brain

In Classical Chinese Medicine (CCM), the brain is considered one of the six Extraordinary Organs and also called the “Sea of Marrow.” The Jing, or Essence, corresponds to the body’s constitution and relates to our genetic material. The Kidney system stores the Jing which supports the brain, so maintaining the health of our Kidneys is fundamental in Chinese Medicine to establishing a healthy, long life. It is the Marrow that comes from the transmutation of Jing Essence which creates the substance to form the brain, the spinal cord, as well as the bone marrow. 

As we age, Jing declines, so there is naturally a decline in brain function with aging resulting in shrinkage of brain mass and decline of memory and other mental functions as well as sensory decline such as hearing, taste and vision. This process relates to our cells dying off with aging and the decline of our genes' ability to replicate and rebuild tissue as efficiently as they did in youth. In Chinese Medicine, this reflects the natural decline of our Water element.

The brain needs blood to function properly as blood brings oxygen and nutrients to support its structure and function. Some of the nutrients transported from blood comes from water. As we seeing clearly in the elderly, a lack of proper hydration through water consumption has a dramatic impact on reducing brain function.

According to Chinese Medicine, building and storing blood in the body is a function of the Spleen, Heart, Lung and Liver. Supporting the brain is therefore a function of all five primary organ systems found in the Five Element Theory of Chinese Medicine. The Spleen and Heart combine to produce the substance of blood, the Lung’s provide the Qi or oxygenation to complete the blood production, and the Liver stores the blood and helps send it up into the brain to support proper neurological function.  

 

The Brain's Built-in Detoxification System

We learned only five years ago through a major medical discovery that the brain’s waste disposal system is far greater than what had ever been known.

It was discovered that the brain has an independent and unique drainage system, called the Glymphatic System that's far more efficient and powerful than the cerebrospinal fluid system we had previously thought was the only drainage system in the brain. The reason for such a late discovery of the Glymphatic System is that technology just recently developed the capacity to study the living brain in action. Prior research was done on dead brains and the Glymphatic System works through live cellular action and not through a structure of its own.

The glymphatic drainage system was actually discovered in the process of researching amyloid protein circulation and its abnormal accumulation in the brain in the form of brain plaques thought to be associated with Alzheimer's disease. 

The Glymphatic System is, in fact, much more proficient in moving nutrients and waste in and out of the brain than the cerebrospinal fluid system. It is like comparing a system that works on a drip process versus a system that is activated by the powerful pumping force under the pressure of blood flow. 

To make a theoretical correspondence to Chinese Medicine, I would say the Glymphatic System is under the functional domain of the Liver and Gallbladder systems.

The Liver meridian ascends blood into the brain for nourishment and the Gallbladder meridian is the main drainage system of the brain to support detoxification. 

Both the Liver and Gallbladder are Wood element organs established in Five Element Theory. According to Five Element Theory, the Wood energy is strengthened by the Water element and this makes the connection how the Kidneys (Water) support the Liver (Wood) for healthy brain function, especially in memory retrieval.

More specifically, long term memory is supported by the Liver and short term memory is supported by the Spleen which brings us back to the Earth element and gut health. If you find yourself having difficulty with memorization, than this is a weakness of the Spleen often due to dampness from excessive sugar in the diet. Dampness or a fungal terrain can also be attributed to excessive use of antibiotics, birth control pills or corticosteroid medications. So any of these medications can impact one's brain health in a negative way.

You may notice that your brain gets fuzzy, lazy and tired after eating too many sweets. This is often due to blood sugar quickly dropping with the consumption of simple sugars and the resulting dampness that impedes brain function. A damp terrain is a fungal terrain. Just as chronic sinusitis is now recognized to be associated with fungus, the same fungal pathology can seep into the brain to down-regulate brain neuron function.

Sugar in any form feeds fungus in the body so it's easy to see why the condition of dampness is a very sticky, stubborn pathology to clear up.

Dampness therefore, according to Chinese Medicine, essentially needs to be dried up or drained out of the brain to support proper function and impede the disease process that leads to brain disorders like dementia and Alzheimer’s.

It is imperative for those suffering from these disorders to eat a very low carbohydrate and low sugar diet. If you've known anyone with these disorders, their diet is usually heavy on carbs, sugar and dairy -- the exact foods that feed the fungus in their brain.

 

Inflammation, Inflammation, Inflammation

You may find you can't recall things as well as before, or perhaps you easily get tired while reading. These everyday occurrences that people brush off as aging can be early stage signs of a brain inflamed with toxicity. 

Inflammation is associated with most chronic degenerative conditions and what we have now realized in modern medicine is that systemic inflammation is often rooted in poor gut health. The problem is that Western medicine protocols are not addressing this fundamental issue and rely on toxic drugs to try and ameliorate symptoms without addressing the underlying problems. All the while, the medications are tearing apart the very system that is already inflamed and deteriorating.

 

Chinese Medicine Offers Clues to Evaluate Subtle Indications of a "Brain on Fire"

Based on the associations of the organ systems and brain function as outlined above, we can make some direct correlations you may find helpful to evaluate your own brain health.

If you're suffering from inflamed joints not due to an injury, then it’s time to consider healing your digestive system in order to cool down inflammation that's likely also occurring in your brain. Hip inflammatory problems relate to the Gallbladder system and knee inflammation relates to the Kidneys. Since these systems are directly related to healthy brain function, if you are suffering from any systemic inflammation or, specifically, these large joints are chronically painful and stiff, your brain is also likely inflamed. 

 

Beginning the Process of Brain Detoxification 

Chinese Medicine offers some of the most potent medicine available today to restore brain function which has been damaged. 

Chinese Medicine is a comprehensive medical system that looks to restore healthy brain function in a holistic way by addressing the other supporting organ systems involved in the brain's function. 

The brain can be directly targeted therapeutically through Acupuncture and herbal medicine, which can provide nutrition and support the flow of nutrients into the brain. In addition, these modalities can stimulate the dissolution of brain plaque and the clearance of toxic debris. 

Acupuncture can stimulate the Gallbladder Meridian to detoxify the brain. 

The Gallbladder Meridian system offers direct access to drain toxicity from the brain and support the removal of debris such as denatured amyloid proteins that cause plaques that lead to Alzheimer’s disease and dementia. Acupuncture can essentially stimulate the Gallbladder system to flush the brain and help reduce toxicity leading to brain inflammation. Acupuncture as a form of manual therapy is a critical part of detoxification because it is very common for the body to form blockages internally which impair detoxification and interfere with the recovery process. These blockages can be efficiently released through Acupuncture, Cupping and Gua Sha (a type of scraping therapy).

It is imperative to note: for acupuncture and herbal medicine to work optimally, a person's diet must support the healing process that is being instigated by these modalities. Otherwise, you may be disappointed with your progress and blame the medicine for failing. You must clean up your habits for healing to take place, there is no way around this fact. We cannot continue the same lifestyle habits that created our problems. We must change in order for change to occur.

 

Chinese Herbal Medicine: An Important Component for Restoring Brain Function

Some Chinese herbs target the Gallbladder system to decongest and move the lymphatic circulation for detoxification. Some herbs are specific to break up amyloid tissue and plaques that block the brain neurons from functioning optimally. Other herbs support the nutritional aspect and provide nutrients for the brain to work better as well as the different organs involved in its function. There are herbs to strengthen the Qi energy of the Spleen to improve overall energy and others provide nourishment to help the Spleen build up the blood. These benefits support healthy brain function.

Other herbs specifically nourish the blood of the Liver to improve memory retrieval and vision. In addition, there are Chinese herbs used specifically to increase the Qi of the Lungs which improve oxygenation of the brain in order to quicken brain function and reduce brain fatigue. Perhaps most importantly, there are herbs to strengthen the energy of the Kidneys which as we now know has a direct correlation with the brain and is fundamental to maintaining the health of one's hearing and brain function overall. 

What is most exciting, is that many herbs have been shown to reduce brain inflammation and amyloid plaque deposition which interfere with brain circulation and neuron function.  And perhaps most importantly, herbs such as Turmeric, Gotu Kola and Bacopa Monnieri have been found to stimulate the regrowth of brain neurons to restore lost function as well. In fact, these three herbs support all of these critical actions for restoring brain health. There are a number of studies to support these claims, mostly international studies from China, Japan, Korea and India.

 

Healing the Brain Takes Time

Keep in mind, when working on the level of the constitution which includes anything related to the brain, it takes a minimum of three months of treatment before one can evaluate the progress of one's condition. Usually results are noticed right along, sometimes quickly, but studies show it takes a few months to regrow brain neurons to improve brain function. Older, weaker individuals and those with more serious brain dysfunction will require longer periods of time to restore brain health.

Healthy brain function allows us the awareness to experience a more full and meaningful life. Awareness is important to put us on the path of healing. My hope is that this information brings you awareness that there is always opportunity to heal and improve your health. Depending on your situation, the path may be easy or challenging, but if you persevere, you may find yourself living in greater health with an active, lively brain for many years ahead.


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, 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.

 

 

Essential Oils for the Five Element Personality Types - Wood

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

The Five element model begins with the Wood element as it relates to Spring, the season of growth and new beginnings. The Wood element also relates to time management. Difficulty with maintaining a schedule and the tendency to be late to meetings and events for example may relate to an imbalance in Wood energy. Difficulty maintaining discipline is also a weakness in Wood energy because this has to do with an inability to keep a schedule or routine. Difficulty getting things started also relates to a Wood imbalance as it relates to Qi stagnation of the Liver with Qi not moving well in a person's life. 

The Liver and Gall Bladder are the primary organs of the Wood element and the reason this element relates to time management is based on the Liver's primary function of maintaining the smooth flow of Qi, or energy, in the body.

Issues of time also relate to cycles in one's life, such as a woman's menstrual cycle. If the menses tends to be early, delayed or comes irregularly, it may also indicate Wood imbalance. In fact, maintaining regularity is a Wood energy issue even in relation to having regular daily bowel movements. This is why when the Wood energy gets full and stagnates right before the onset of a woman's menses it is common for a woman to experience constipation during her premenstrual phase.

Wood energy is a part of all of our lives and learning about it's energetic qualities allows us to become more self-aware and self-empowered. For some, learning how to enhance the Wood energy in their life will help them become more assertive since Wood relates to assertion. For those who have excessively strong Wood energy on the other hand, toning down this assertiveness will help them less aggressive in dealing with others. This can foster diplomacy and an easy going attitude rather than the tendency to force one's agenda which a strong Wood type person often has. 

The following discussion will outline how Chinese Medicine breaks down the nuances of Wood energetics that can be expressed with great variation based on the Yin and Yang characteristics that define the dualistic nature of each element. The Yang energy is more masculine and assertive and Yin energy is more feminine and receptive.

Essential Oils to Balance the Wood Personality Types

A Yang Wood type of person is a strong, courageous and enthusiastic personality who likes to be in charge because they like to be noticed and are very competitive in nature. This person is very Yang with a lot of energy, tremendous stamina and drive so it can be hard for people trying to keep up with them. Yang Wood types can be very entertaining, but also with so much heat in the Liver system they can be emotionally volatile with a hot-temper and prone to anxiety attacks or nervousness.

The Yang Wood type person typically bites off more than he can chew so though a good leader, this person needs others to support him in following through with plans. 

Another typical trait of this personality is that he's often in a rush; he runs from one commitment to another and often gets very uptight if he's late for any date. Rather than being unable to keep to a schedule, the excessively Yang Wood person is obsessed and rigid about keeping to a schedule.

Typical imbalance symptoms of Yang Wood types are high blood pressure, heart disease, muscle spasms and stiffness of the neck, insomnia, headaches and gastrointestinal disturbances such as stomach ulcers and irritable bowel syndrome. 

Essential Oils that can be used to calm the nervous stress and cool the emotionally hot-tempered and uptight nature of Yang Wood personality types are: Roman and German Chamomile, Lavender, Lemon and Spikenard. These oils are all powerfully effective for the associated physical imbalances as well. German Chamomile is stronger than Roman Chamomile so for children exhibiting the very temperamental qualities of a Yang Wood imbalance it is best to use Roman Chamomile.

A Yin Wood type personality is also nervous but more timid and indecisive (vs. the overbearing leader that is displayed by Yang Wood personalities). The Yin wood person, though highly intelligent, lacks the courageousness we associate with the Yang Wood person. 

And even though a Yin Wood person is success driven, he tends to have a low self-esteem or self-worth issues,  feeling insufficient and not good enough within himself.  To help fortify this sense of insufficiency, the Yin Wood person needs to nourish the Liver Blood. 

In Chinese Medicine, Yin Wood types are also moody and emotionally unstable, and since they often withhold the expression of their feelings they can be physically rigid and tend to have a wiry type of muscular build. These people typically are not very flexible in body or mind. As they tend to internalize their feelings and emotions, Yin Wood types are prone to both depression and anxiety as a result of the emotional build up from repression.

Yin Wood types have a lot of ideas streaming through their minds, so it can be difficult for them to focus on a particular project. They are prone to headaches, digestive upsets and sexual frigidity, nervous tics and twitches. 

The Yin Wood type personality needs to also calm his or her nervous system but rather than cooling the system down, he or she will need more blood nourishment to relax internally. Supporting the blood will help boost vitality so they are more courageous and sexually invigorated.

Essential Oils that support nourishment of the blood are Angelica sinensis root (Dang Gui), Angelica Archangel (seed and root),  Ligusticum Wallichi (Chuan Xiong), Carrot Seed, Celery Seed, Rose and Vetiver. Winter Savory is also an important essential oil to stimulate the Spleen in its production of blood to benefit the Liver.

All of these oils can be diffused or made into blends and applied topically over acupuncture points to regulate and nourish the Liver or to sedate the Gallbladder thereby establishing a healthy rhythm for your Wood energy. Some of these oils can be taken internally as well. Please consult an acupuncturist who practices Medical Aromatherapy to learn specific protocols for your particular needs.


Salvador Cefalu, 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, 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.

Managing Anger & Power: Liver & the Wood Element

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

Springtime brings renewal, rebirth and growth. These qualities can be seen in nature with birds nesting to bring new life, and the blossoming flowers and trees. 

According to Chinese Medicine, springtime relates to the Wood element. The central characteristic of Wood is growth and the related organs are the Liver and Gallbladder. Energetically, the Liver smooths the flow of Qi and thus allows one to create and execute change. The Gallbladder is necessary for the change to occur, as it is the organ responsible for making decisions. 

When the flow of Liver Qi is not smooth, we tend to feel angry, irritable and restless. Over time, this "Liver Qi stagnation" can lead to overstimulation of the sympathetic nervous system, elevated cortisol levels and therefore greater stress, all of which can compromise the immune system.

The emotional and intellectual aspects of Wood can be understood by examining a plant. Starting out as a tiny seedling, it grows and expands and its roots stretch further out. Over time, it needs more space, and thus begins to encroach on the space and feed on nutrients of the neighboring plant. This process stirs up competition and conflict. The stronger or more adaptable plant eventually survives.

The skill to be adaptable can transfer to the intellectual level related to Wood, which has to do with ingenuity, inventiveness, and the willingness to explore something new.

On an emotional level, Wood is represented by the spirit of a pioneer for which one needs to be brave and trust one's own abilities and power. This person is a leader, and leadership serves the community to grow and to expand.

Anger is an integral aspect of the Wood element.

Anger erupts most commonly as a result of two circumstances. First, if an individual violates one's boundaries, attacks one verbally or physically, one will become angry and defensive. The second circumstance that commonly arouses anger is if someone or something stands in one's way, thus hindering one's progress or expansion.

A certain amount of anger can drive one to create positive change, but excessive anger can damage one's health as is often driven by a hunger for power or control.

Wood type personalities are ambitious, focused, and driven. They can be entrepreneurial, decisive and make wonderful leaders. 

When in balance, Wood types are like knights in shining armor: brave, gallant, strong, and always on a mission. When out of balance they can be very controlling, angry, and combative.

The Liver stores the blood, which gives us the fortitude to make decisions and feel supported. Liver blood deficiency often manifests as fatigue, lack of luster and color in the hair and nails, and problems with the eyes. The vulnerability that one can experience as a result of blood deficiency can result in loss of clarity around one’s vision. When one lacks fortitude to face challenges, it’s easy to feel victimized and unable to adapt to changing circumstances.

Women, because they go through menstrual cycles, have a greater tendency to experience Liver blood deficiency. Wood types in general tend to push themselves very hard and thus it’s important that women with these personalities consciously slow down during their cycles in order to avoid burnout. 

The Liver is in charge of detoxification, ridding the body of chemicals, hormones and toxins. It also manufactures all the essential proteins necessary for the body. Wood types therefore need to especially be cautious of taking in substances that burden the Liver’s function, such as over the counter medications, alcohol and drugs. 

Alcohol in particular, which we often refer to as ‘fire water,’ creates a lot of heat in the Liver, which can stir both the heart and liver, intensifying emotions such as anxiety and anger. Ironically, alcohol is one of the main forms of relaxation to which Wood types resort, especially if they are tightly bound through accumulated stress from their hard work. It's vital, however, to be conscious of this tendency and instead turn to more natural methods with which to cope with stress and smooth the Liver Qi such as Yoga, tai chi, or even more active movement and martial arts.

During Spring, the Wood element becomes active both within us and in nature, so it's important to balance its energy.

Here are a few Wood-balancing tips:

1. Exercise daily: practicing Yoga, Qi Gong or Tai Chi or martial arts especially help smooth the Liver Qi. 

2. Meditate or journal daily. Writing is an excellent tool with which to transfer busy thoughts from the mind onto paper so that they feel less burdening. Writing helps us to process our emotions and get clear about our goals, which is especially important for Wood types who are very goal-oriented.

3. Eat lots of leafy green vegetables and berries. Both of these foods help build Liver blood. Leafy green vegetables also help drain dampness, which can accumulate in the sinuses causing headaches and allergies.

4. Avoid alcohol, coffee and recreational drugs, which aggravate and heat up the Liver and impede its detoxification process causing more anger, irritability and restlessness.

5. Try Essential Oils to calm your mind and settle allergic reactions which can be triggered by an overheated Liver: Peppermint, Lemon, Lavender and Roman Chamomile can be very beneficial to relax irritability and nervousness and reduce allergies. You can directly inhale or diffuse these oils in your home. Peppermint is cooling, refreshing and stimulating for your mind and can be used during the day to keep you mentally alert. Lavender and Roman Chamomile are cooling and relaxing, best used in the evening to wind down and rest. Lemon soothes a tight Liver due to toxicity and helps reduce emotional frustration and irritability. As a food, lemon zest can also be put in warm water or steamed with vegetables providing the natural benefit of Lemon essential oil. 

Discipline is key to balance the Wood type personality, so it's important to commit to these habits and practices daily. You'll realize that by making this commitment to smooth the flow of Liver Qi, your life will flow more smoothly as well.


Setareh Moafi, 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. More information at www.setarehmoafi.com and www.acenterfornaturalhealing.com