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. 

The Upside to Feeling Down: The Earth Element & Depression (Part 6)

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

This final survey of depression from the perspective of the Five Element Theory will address the Earth element. In Chinese Medicine, Earth energy is about transformation.

The Earth element organs are the Spleen and Stomach and the Spleen also correlates with the pancreas.

Therefore digestion and the conversion of food into energy are the fundamental functions of Earth energy.

This transformation of nutrients into Qi energy equates to the creation of cellular energy or ATP (adenosine triphosphate), a molecule of energy created by every cell of your body for biochemical reactions.

This is why in Chinese Medicine, your Earth energy is considered the center of your being.

Earth element and depression

And since the centralized organs of digestion create the energy that drives your brain function, weakness of your Earth energy can cause a decline in mental acuity, and become a fundamental reason for the development of depression.

The Earth energy’s powerful influence over mental faculties is a primary reason why according to Chinese Medicine, the Spleen stores the Yi, or the Mind.

The Yi encompasses your mental intelligence, providing the ability to think analytically, have memory retrieval and clarity of focus. All of these functions are thus supported by your Earth energy, specifically, your Spleen’s Qi.

Keeping your digestive system healthy and managing a healthy diet are therefore critical in the support of healthy brain function and the resolution of depression.

The Gut-Brain Connection

When the Spleen and Stomach are not functioning optimally or the diet is creating toxicity, a condition called Dampness will likely develop.

Dampness is a form of gut toxicity rooted in an imbalance of the microbiome wherein bad bacteria, fungus/yeast and parasites or worms overrun the good bacteria.

Dampness is a Chinese Medicine term that describes an internal terrain that is too moist, and pathogens like fungus—most commonly in the form of a yeast known as Candida Albicans—love moist environments.

Having some fungus in the body’s gut microbiome is normal, however, the common occurrence of Candida infestations is likely due to today’s modern diet that’s high in sugar, grains and alcohol, as well as certain medications such as antibiotics and steroids like Prednisone that create a cold, damp terrain in the body.

If you’re suffering from chronic sinus congestion, postnasal drip or recurring ear infections (especially in children), we can surmise there is too much Dampness accumulation in these areas of your body.

As a Chinese Medicine practitioner, we can confirm this supposition by checking your tongue. If it is abnormally swollen or has too much coating, then there is fluid stagnation and dampness has developed.

In cases of chronic depression, there’s usually fatigue, apathy and a lack of motivation, so we generally expect to find some degree of weakness of Spleen Qi (low energy) as well as an internal environment of Dampness which is making the Qi circulation sluggish throughout the body and dampening the functioning of the brain.

Even many incidences of dementia and Alzheimer’s are rooted in conditions of Dampness. In fact, modern medical science often refers to Alzheimer’s as Type III Diabetes because of its association to elevated blood sugar which leads to the overgrowth of yeast and plaque in the brain.

Healing Your Depression

If you’re looking to heal naturally from depression, I suggest working with diet, herbal medicine and acupuncture to reduce your damp terrain and only after you’re feeling better, begin to work with your doctor to reduce the dosage of your depression/anxiety medication.

It’s imperative to reduce foods that increase sugar in the blood, primarily carbohydrates, including concentrated sugar in any form such as fruit and melons. You may need to eliminate all grains for a period of time or eliminate just the gluten grains. This is where a Paleo diet can be useful for a period of time.

Excess fats also create dampness, so fish, avocados, coconut oil, fried foods and nuts may all need to be reduced or eliminated for an extended period to clean up your system if it’s overrun with dampness and a fungal terrain.

As you clear the dampness out of your system, your mental faculties will sharpen, your moods will stabilize and your depression may begin to lighten up.

Be patient if you’ve suffered from depression for a long time.

It may take several months before you start noticing a difference in your brain function and emotional state. As I mentioned in previous articles, sometimes you need to also clear the Blood Stagnation that’s trapping the emotional trauma in your body, or strengthen the Lung and Kidneys or detoxify the Liver.

Considering these factors, you can see why it’s important to find a qualified Acupuncturist to work with to support you in gaining clarity on what specifically needs to be addressed for you to achieve the quality of life you seek on your path to wellness and your journey to fulfilling your every dream.

The Upside to Feeling Down: The Wood Element & Depression (Part 4)

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

When evaluating chronic depression, it’s important to assess the status of the Liver system which relates to the Wood element in Five Element Theory.

The Liver is considered “The General” in Chinese Medicine as it’s said to control the “coursing” of Qi throughout the body. I like to call it the “Great Conductor” because a smooth functioning Liver system conducts a smooth flow of Qi throughout the body.

Just as trees grow upward toward the sky, in the body, the Wood energy, or Qi, of the Liver ascends and protects us from feeling vulnerable in our lives.

The ascension of the Liver Qi moves blood into the face and head to support the sensory organs and maintain the health of the brain.

If the Liver does not properly circulate Qi, psychological symptoms including frustration, irritability, anger, anxiety, and depression can arise.

As the General, the Liver organ coordinates many functions within the body including detoxification as well as blood storage. The blood reserve within the Liver provides nourishment specifically to the eyes, brain, nails, hair and the tendons to allow for strength in the lower back and the four limbs.

The Liver’s many responsibilities can easily become disrupted by a multitude of stressors that can lead to stagnation within this organ. Liver toxicity is the main culprit for poor liver function. Toxins can come from chemicals used in the farming of food, as well as in the creation of processed foods and pharmaceutical medications, and simply through the air we breathe and water we drink.

Chinese Medicine also recognizes that endogenous chemicals released within the body during periods of mental-emotional stress can lead to toxicity in the Liver, and stagnate the Liver Qi.

Just as trees grow upward toward the sky, in the body the Wood energy, or Qi, of the Liver also ascends. (From our trip to Sequoia National Park, 2017)

Just as trees grow upward toward the sky, in the body the Wood energy, or Qi, of the Liver also ascends. (From our trip to Sequoia National Park, 2017)

Liver Qi Stagnation Generates Heat

As Qi flow becomes stagnant within the Liver due to any type of stress, conditions of pain and excessive heat begin to develop.

Since the nature of heat is to spread, heat can move anywhere throughout the body and contribute to systemic inflammation.

Through its infinite wisdom, the body will attempt to vent this heat out of the system by transferring it into the more external aspects of the body’s energetic systems—the Stomach, Gall Bladder and Urinary Bladder Meridians—making these systems especially vulnerable to inflammation due to Liver Qi stagnation.

Furthermore, the more inflamed our mental and emotional states become, the more internal heat is generated within the Liver and this heat over time will exhaust the body’s Qi and dry up the Blood.

The resulting exhaustion of Qi and Blood combined with excessive internal heat can impact brain function and become an underlying condition that leads to anxiety and chronic depression.

The Liver Can Insult the Lungs

Stagnant Liver function can burden the Lungs and cause shortness of breath. Since the Lungs relate to sadness, grief and depression, as the Lungs get suppressed with Liver stress, the propensity for depression increases.

Since Qi is an aspect of one’s vitality, if Qi is suppressed and weakened, this will be reflected in one’s emotional state as well.

A person who’s depressed will often reach for substances such as coffee and cigarettes for stimulation, or marijuana, CBD products and alcohol to numb out and avoid feeling so bad inside.

Craving these types of substances can also be a sign that the body is trying to relax the Liver Qi stagnation.

However, while the use of drugs to manage one’s depressed state can offer short-term relief, it contributes to toxic congestion of the liver, which further weakens the Lungs, inducing a greater state of depression in body and mind.

You can read more about how to use Essential Oils for dealing with symptoms of depression relating to the condition of the Liver insulting the function of your Lungs here.

Liver Qi Stagnation Can Lead to Liver Blood Stagnation

Just as warming up blood causes thickening and coagulation, long term Qi stagnation with the accumulation of heat may create blood stagnation within the Liver and make the condition of depression more intractable.

Additionally, as the heat consumes the body’s Qi, internal cold can develop.

Very chronic conditions of depression will commonly present with Liver Blood stagnation with an underlying internal cold pattern, often from the use of pharmaceutical medications.

Medications used to manage anxiety and depression can easily lead to Liver Blood stagnation due to Cold since the nature of these medications tends to be cooling and their side effects often result in stagnation of Liver Qi flow.

Generally, the longer you depend on these types of drugs to manage your depression, the more difficult it will be resolve.

It’s also common for the side effects of long-term substance use, including marijuana, alcohol and other types of prescription medications such as anti-inflammatory and statin drugs to create Liver Blood stagnation.

Statin drugs prescribed for lowering elevated cholesterol levels have a particularly profound impact on brain function.

As these drugs reduce cholesterol production in the liver, they also reduce cholesterol production in the brain, which is necessary for healthy neuron function. It is my suspicion that statin drugs may be a major reason why we see a trend of dementia developing at relatively young ages the past couple of decades.

Cholesterol makes up a large part of the myelin sheath that protects the brain’s nerve cells, called neurons, and it’s the myelin that conducts the electrical activity of the brain. Therefore, reduced levels of brain cholesterol from the use of statins can compromise brain function and contribute to conditions of depression.

What You Can Do to Balance Your Liver Energy

Keeping the Liver function healthy is imperative to prevent and resolve depression.

A major way to support your liver function is to find alternative ways to manage your inflammation, pain and cholesterol levels without the use of harsh pharmaceutical medications. Chinese Medicine offers solutions through the use of Acupuncture and herbal medicine.

From a psychological perspective, Wood energy needs to be balanced for healthy Liver function and since Wood energy ascends, you can support this energy by being more active and adventurous in your life.

Activities such as taking on leadership roles, exercising and especially playing competitive sports will help ascend and support your Wood energy.

For those of you who are overly active and competitive, it may instead be necessary to settle down your Wood energy by calming your nervous system to relax your Liver Qi. If you feel you’re taking on too much in life, try to step back, meditate and make time to go within yourself to quiet your mind and settle your elevated cortisol levels.

Also, create time to have fun and do more creative activities to counter the stress that may be overheating your Wood energy.

Fun is adaptogenic and bio-regulates your body and mind, so it’s good for all conditions.

The Liver also sets the rhythms in your life, so be on time and maintain a regular rhythm with your daily schedule. Getting more organized in general will use the energy of your Metal element to manage and control your Wood energy.

As you begin implementing these ideas you can, day by day, support a healthy flow of Qi through your Liver and throughout your life, thereby reducing patterns of frustration, irritability and depression.

The Upside to Feeling Down: The Metal Element & Depression (Part 2 of 6)

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

As we begin the exploration into some of the many underlying factors of depression, it’s critical to understand that Chinese Medicine is based on treating the individual to resolve a state of dis-ease. It is not about treating the disease itself. 

In other words, for Chinese Medicine to be most effective, it’s essential to evaluate each individual to tailor a treatment plan that matches his or her specific needs rather than rely on generalized established protocols that have been created to treat a specific disease condition. Only when a treatment plan is tailored to a patient’s specific needs can you expect to achieve optimal results. 

A Five Element Perspective on Depression

Cycles of depression can last months to many years, especially if there is a hereditary disposition. This Five Element Model will provide a comprehensive perspective on the primary factors that need consideration to restore health from debilitating periods of depression.

The five primary organs associated with each of the Five Elements are the Lungs (Metal), the Kidneys (Water), the Liver (Wood), the Heart (Fire) and the Spleen (Earth).

Through the assessment of these systems we can gain important insight on how imbalances in these organs are involved in depression and create strategies to restore mind-body harmony to overcome the challenges of chronic depression and its many related symptoms. 

My Recent Challenge with Depression

Depression can be insidious, zapping your zest for life little by little until you finally realize you’re depressed. This experience culminated for me at the end of last year with a feeling of emptiness that simply seemed to take my spirit away.

For about four months I would wake up periodically in the morning feeling irritable, lacking inspiration or motivation, with tightness in my chest and shortness of breath. My symptoms worsened after the holidays and then I slipped into four days of fever with the flu in late January after returning from Bali. These four days in bed were more emotionally than physically challenging as my spirit delved into what some describe as the dark night of the soul with severe despondency.

As I rested and took herbs to recover my Lungs, day by day my energy increased and my spirit lifted. My inner drive and inspiration started to reveal themselves again and I began to feel better than I had in the previous six months.

In hindsight, a chronic virus had been latent in my system, taxing my immunity and weakening my Lung Qi. It wasn’t until I got low enough for this virus to surface and get burned out of my system through the fever that my health became revitalized and I felt a renewed enthusiasm for life.

I present my story to show how conditions like depression have many causative factors. Was it just the virus or was my immune system depressed from something I was going through emotionally that allowed this virus to take root and depress my immunity?

We don’t always need to know the exact causative factor, but if we follow the signs of the body to restore balance to its energy systems, we can be confident that we can improve our psycho-emotional state as well.

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The Metal Element: The Lungs and Depression 

Since the Lungs relate to the emotions of sadness and grief, it’s essential to assess the status of the Lung Qi, or energy to evaluate depression.

Lung energy is most vulnerable during the Fall season, therefore, the Lungs are more prone to be in a state of weakness during this time, which allows for conditions such as depression to more likely occur during the Autumn months. This is especially likely for those who are sensitive to reduced sunlight from Autumn through Winter in the far northern hemisphere where light becomes very limited during this time.

Lack of light exposure makes many Individuals susceptible to SAD syndrome (Seasonal Affective Disorder) and the greater a person has Lung weakness according to Chinese Medicine, the greater their sensitivity to this pattern will be. Because of SAD’s relationship to the seasons of Autumn and Winter, it is crucial to support the Lung Qi as well as the Kidney Qi which relates to Winter. Optimally, it’s best to start strengthening these systems a few months prior to the season when the problem begins to occur.

A simple food remedy is Cod Liver oil, a concentrated source of vitamin A and D essential for supporting the Lung Qi to boost immunity and strengthen lung function overall.

Cod Liver oil is also a concentrated source of the Omega fats DHA and EPA which support brain neurological function. The brain is an extension of the Kidney Essence in Chinese Medicine and these Omega fats in Cod Liver oil have been found to be beneficial for depression, making this a super food for reducing depression and its related symptoms, insomnia and anxiety, as well.

The energy of the Lungs can be suppressed or weakened through any life circumstance that creates prolonged sadness or grief. In this scenario, herbal tonics such as Cordyceps, Ginseng and Astragalus can be used to boost both the Qi energy of the Lungs and Kidneys to increase vitality and enhance overall mood and mental disposition.

These tonic herbs in particular are MAO inhibitors so they can help reduce depression by mitigating the action of monoamine oxidase, an enzyme in the brain that breaks down the mood enhancing neurotransmitters such as dopamine, norepinephrine and serotonin.

Caution however must be used with the use of these herbal tonics if you are using any medication that it is also an MAO inhibitor. Therefore, please inform your doctor before introducing any herbal substances into your nutritional regimen. Furthermore, Qi tonic herbs are generally warming in nature so you need to know if your body has too much internal heat to avoid exacerbating inflammation.

The Earth Element is the Mother of Metal

Earth energy is about digestion and therefore the health of the digestive system will have a substantial bearing on the function of the Lungs and any type of depression.

The Spleen (which also relates to the Pancreas) and Stomach are the Earth organs and control the transformation of food into energy and raw materials to rebuild the body.

If the function of the Earth organs is compromised or weakened in any way, then the body’s ability to transform is compromised and dampness will accumulate in the gastrointestinal system.

Dampness is a fungal terrain and fungus loves moist environments. As damp fungal terrain accumulates in the gut it can get pushed up into the lungs and into the sinus cavities leading to conditions such as chronic sinus congestion, snoring, allergies and ear conditions including excessive ear wax, pressure in the ears and ear infections. As the fungus migrates into the brain, it can lead to foggy thinking and more severe conditions such as dementia and even brain tumors.

The major factor that can weaken digestive function is consumption of food that is too damp. This can include excessive consumption of grains, especially refined/processed carbohydrates, sugar (including sweet tropical fruit), dairy, nuts, and fried/greasy foods.

Eating habits will also weaken the power of digestion such as eating while distracted such as when watching TV, reading, driving, or eating during a business meeting.

If the nervous system is activated to process information outside of eating, then the power to digest will be compromised and distracted from its role of transforming food into energy and raw material. 

Over time, these habits can weaken the Spleen energy and lead to a systemic deficiency of Qi throughout the body. 

Herbs to consider to support this relationship between the Spleen and the Lungs are substances that nurture digestion.

Cooking spices and digestive enzymes can be important to stimulate digestion. Hydrochloric acid may be necessary to support the digestion of protein, especially if the Stomach is weak.

Chinese Medicine uses sprouts and in some digestive enzyme blends you’ll find the use of Aspergillus oryzae, a type of probiotic fungus used to produce the enzyme amylase, to help the body break down the starches in carbohydrates.

Radish and radish seeds in herbal formulas (called Lai Fu Zi) help break down excessive dampness in the digestive tract and if this dampness has created a lot of mucous in the lungs then white mustard seed (called Bai Jie Zi) is used to break up phlegm and help reduce coughing and sputum. Both of these herbs aid in the digestion of fats.

Excessive dampness and fungus is usually present in the body when there is a very swollen tongue or thick coating on the surface of the tongue, making digestive support imperative for healing on any level in these cases.

As you can see, to support the health of the Lung’s energy, it is crucial to work with diet and eating habits so the digestive system can be a good mother for its child, the Lungs.

The Virtue of the Lungs - Forgiveness

Since the Lungs breathe in oxygen, which supports life, and release carbon dioxide through exhalation, the Lungs reflect our ability to receive life and let go of life through our breath.

If you find this basic respiratory function of the lungs is restricted, it may be necessary to release tightness in your body that may be inhibiting proper breathing. This can often be resolved through Acupuncture and Cupping as well as other forms of bodywork and physical therapy. The primary areas of the body that need to be released to support proper lung function are the Five Ancestral Sinews. (You can learn more in this article)

Freeing up the lungs on a physical level allows for the freeing up of the psycho-emotional aspect as well which involves the Lung’s ability to let go.

Letting go relates to your ability to release trauma, guilt, resentment, and anything that keeps your heart from opening. This metaphorical aspect of the Lungs’ function to let go is achieved through its virtue of forgiveness and forgiveness is experienced when we can let go of our judgements.

So ultimately forgiveness requires letting go of the very nature of what it means to be a Metal (Lung) type person which is to be very judgmental. (To learn more about a Metal type personality and Essential Oils for the lungs go here).

Just as we have control over our lungs to inhale and exhale, it is through our own choice and volition that we can allow ourselves to let go of our judgements to experience forgiveness. And through this process, as our Taoist and Classical Chinese Medicine teacher Dr. Jeffrey Yuen suggests, “we can achieve an inner cleansing and find redemption in our lives”.

Moreover, as you unburden your Lungs through forgiveness and less judgement of yourself and others, you will more easily breathe in life and experience the vitality that comes with being emotionally free.

It is then that one can move beyond depression and know what it means to have a peaceful heart.

The Upside to Feeling Down: A Chinese Medicine Perspective on Depression (Part 1 of 6)

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

Do you ever feel like you’ve lost your joyful, optimistic personality? Or perhaps you’ve been dealing with fatigue or insomnia, and just lacking motivation or feeling apathetic. If you can relate to any of these feelings, it’s likely you’ve experienced or are currently experiencing a state of depression.

Fortunately, Chinese Medicine can provide an understanding of the root causes of depression and empower you to bring motivation and joy back into your life.

What May Be Causing Your Depression

Depression has many causes. Some cases are purely from physical depletion as in postpartum depression. Other forms of depression can be from a longterm overwork and sustained stress that leads to physical and mental exhaustion.

Cyclical hormonal changes that come with aging, including menopause in women and andropause in men, can also lead to depression. This form of depression is related to exhaustion of the Kidney’s Essence, known as Jing.

Giving birth, working, raising a child, sustained stress of life, lack of proper sleep for recovery, and constitutional depletion as a result of the aging process, are some of the leading factors that can cause depression.

It’s no wonder that some statistics show that one in six individuals will suffer from depression at some point in their life and taking anti-depressants/anti-anxiety medications seem to be a standard part of the American diet. And many become dependent on these medications just trying to get through each day.

Chronic stress, depression and anxiety can lead to dependency on other substances as well. Some people become addicted to mood altering substances such as marijuana, CBD or cocaine to offset feeling down. Today there is a rise in the use of methamphetamines (known as Speed) to offset chronic depression. Alcohol, even though it is a depressant, is a popular drug of choice to numb difficult feelings. Caffeine is another common addictive substance, particularly among young adults looking to cope with the unhealthy stresses they face each day.

With educational demands on children and young adults so much greater than in years past, it’s easy to see why so many are suffering from depression and nervous disorders such as Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD).

Though the use of mood altering drugs may be suitable for short-term support when feeling acutely out of sorts, long term dependency on these substances can cause major problems. Both prescription or over-the-counter drugs can be useful to suppress symptoms but won’t lead to longterm resolution of the depression. Furthermore, on a physical level, drugs create toxic residues which stagnate the circulation of blood throughout the body—especially in the main organ of detoxification, the liver.

According to Chinese Medicine, the more stagnant your blood is, the more you’ll be stuck in your emotional traumas. A key indication of blood stagnation can be seen by observing the underside of the tongue. If the two bilateral veins are dark, there is blood stagnation in the body and we can assume there are stagnant emotional issues as well.

It’s therefore clear that using drugs to suppress the symptoms of anxiety and depression does not allow for the resolution of your emotional issues.

According to Chinese Medicine, to resolve the root of your emotional disturbances, you must cleanse your blood in order to release the deep withheld traumas in your body .

Furthermore, according to Chinese Medicine, suppressive substances such as marijuana, CBD or the prescription anti-depressant/anti-anxiety drugs, lead to the development of Cold inside the body. This Cold energy impairs the warming, vitalizing power of the internal Kidney Yang energy therefore keeping you feeling stuck.

Over time, because of this taxation on the inner power source of the Kidneys, it’s not uncommon that greater dependence on these suppressive substances eventually leads to the loss of willpower to overcome difficult circumstances and worst of all can lead to the loss of hope.


This Can Help

The good news is that Chinese Medicine offers solutions to offset the side effects of mood-altering substances and revitalize the core energy to restore your zest for life.

Chinese Medicine offers a comprehensive approach to address the multitude of factors underlying chronic depression and anxiety.

It can take months of treatment for recovery if a person is severely burned out or has a lot of internal toxicity and blood stagnation. However, everyone is different and I’ve seen older individuals reverse a downward emotional and physical spiral of deep exhaustion, depression and anxiety within a few short months.

Downtime to rest and recuperate is critical and deep restful sleep is fundamental to the process of recovery.

The more time you have to build and consolidate your energy without further burning yourself out with stress and work, the easier it will be to regain a feeling of well being.

The process to reverse this downward cycle of apathy, depression, anxiety and exhaustion can be understood clearly through the lens of Chinese Medicine, in particular the Five Element model.

In Part Two of this series, we’ll explore how the Metal Element and treatment of the Lungs is involved with resolving depression.

Please add your comments and questions in the comments below so we can continue to gain a greater understanding of the development and process of healing depression together.

In the meantime, you can get some extra support by checking out a previous article by Dr. Moafi called Why It’s OK to Not Always Feel OK.

The Best Way to Celebrate Valentine's Day

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

While Valentine's Day represents all of the conventional definitions of love, for some the void of love is even more apparent at this time.

The focus of most Valentine's Day photos, posters and cards is a fantasy-like love.

We’re encouraged to buy gifts and express our love for those most important to us in our lives. And while all of that is important, Valentine’s Day, and love as we’re taught in general, is focused on everything and everyone outside of us.

We rarely see images of the most lasting and authentic form of love—love for oneself.

As best-selling author, professor and speaker Brené Brown points out: "Love is not something we give or get; it is something that we nurture and grow, a connection that can only be cultivated between two people when it exists within each of them -- we can only love others as much as we love ourselves." 

If you’ve explored the world of personal development for any amount of time, I’m sure you’ve discovered the importance of self-love. Self-love is undoubtedly THE most significant form of love. (You can learn more in this past article)

Self-love is the source through which all other forms of love grow. The seeds to nurture and grow love must therefore first be planted in the self. 

But what does it mean to love yourself?

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What if you’re going through a challenging time or you’re really struggling with something in your life, like shame, guilt or pain? It’s not that simple to just love yourself in moments like this.

Rather than focus on loving yourself or extending love to others, the way to cultivate self-love—however slowly—is to focus on being kind to yourself and accepting yourself however you are right now.

The best way to begin this practice is to be more present in each moment. The more present you are, the easier it is to be aware of your thoughts as they come and go, and you'll therefore be more able to release negative thoughts before your mind is overtaken by them.

Feel your body and listen to your thoughts by taking as many moments as you can during the day to take deep breaths.

One of my favorite yoga instructors, Erich Schiffmann, taught me to set a timer every hour as a reminder to take a moment to be fully present. In the busyness of modern society, it’s easy to live on autopilot, so it’s essential that we intentionally slow down and practice mindful awareness as often as possible throughout the day.

The simple practice of mindful awareness helps you be more kind and gentle with yourself.

As you practice being kind and accepting of yourself, you'll naturally impart this kindness and acceptance, and therefore love, onto others.

Only in this way—through the gentle cultivation of kindness, acceptance and self-love—can love can be harvested and shared with others.

And if you're fortunate enough to be surrounded by loving, supportive people, recognize this as a reflection of YOU.

As the last month of the Winter season, February is our final call to move inward, to self-cultivate and to plant the seeds from which we can enliven our dreams in the upcoming Spring season—a time of rebirth and renewal.

So this year for Valentine's Day and throughout the month of February, take time to nurture and be kind to yourself. Take time to be with and celebrate yourself. And if you feel like you want more love, again focus on what you need to cultivate within yourself.

New Year, New Intentions - How to (Re)set and Achieve Your Goals for the New Year

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

With the month of January already behind us it’s common to feel uneasy about staying on track with your new year's resolutions and goals.

And this is why it’s so important to reset and recalibrate right now.

Winter is the most Yin season of the year and is related to the Water element, which is associated with introspection and cultivation, and is the most important time for rest so that you can build back the energy of the Kidneys.

When the Kidney energy is strong, you’ll feel vital and have the Will, known as Zhi, to carry out your goals and dreams during the upcoming Spring season.

While wintertime is not the time to actualize your dreams, it’s an important time to clarify your intentions and through careful examination and meditation, glean wisdom from the experiences of your past.

Since the holiday season keeps our lives so full, January and February are wonderful months to recommit to our personal desires and clarify our intentions for the new year.

Right now is therefore the ideal time to let go of what’s past and move into the future with clarity and focus.

So grab your cup of tea, a notebook and pen, put on some calming music, and give yourself at least 20 minutes to read through and thoughtfully answer the following questions:

  1. What are 3 things you're most grateful for/proud of from 2018?

  2. What 3 things are you willing to let go of as you begin the new year (i.e. projects, people, feelings, etc.)?

  3. Write 3 specific desires you’d like to manifest in 2019.

20 years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.
— Mark Twain

With best wishes for a magical year ahead!

Love,

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Transitioning into Winter: The Doyo Period & Your Family Relationships

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

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As we approach the Winter Solstice, we find ourselves once again in the transitional period between seasons, known as the Doyo period. This period starts 9 days before each solstice or equinox and extends through 9 days after.

While each season corresponds to a specific element, each Doyo seasonal transition period relates to the Earth element.

Earth elemental energy relates back to your digestive system and the primary organs involved are the Spleen and Stomach. These organs are the fundamental producers of Qi, Blood and Body Fluids within the body.

We’re all familiar with Blood, but the concepts of Fluids and Qi are quite unique to Chinese Medicine. For example, from a Chinese medical point of view, Fluids include the fluids of your sweat, saliva and tears as well as your body’s hormonal secretions.

The focus of this article is on the concept of Qi as it relates to the element of Earth.

The Earth organs generate Qi in the body from the food and drink you consume. So in this sense, Qi is energy. If you have strong Qi, you have good energy or stamina, and healthy immune system function.

Our Daoist teacher, Jeffrey Yuen, a world-renowned expert in Classical Chinese Medicine, has a different perspective about Qi and likes to consider the concept of Qi in the context of relationships.

Water which is the element of Winter is associated with the Kidney organ system which stores the Essence of one’s being, called Jing. Therefore, with this understanding we can see that the strength of your Kidney’s Qi will reflect the strength of your relationship to yourself and influence the level of self-esteem you bring into your life.

In terms of the Earth element, Earth energy is about nurturing others especially in terms of family. So the Qi of Earth relates especially to family relationships, and the health of your Earth energy (digestive health) relates back to how you were nurtured by your parents and your ability to be caring and nurturing of others as an adult.

The holiday season often includes a lot of interaction with family, making it common to experience a resurrection of unresolved emotional issues relating to family. These emotionally challenging times can take a great toll on your gastrointestinal system and potentially lead to flare-ups of symptoms that may have been lying dormant.

Many people are easily triggered simply with the idea of having to spend time with family or particular family members, let alone having obligatory direct personal interaction in general. If this is the case for you, it indicates that the Qi of your Earth is in an imbalanced state.

If you have a hard time with your family, especially for a protracted period, the health of your Earth suffers and your ability to digest and assimilate nutrients becomes compromised leading to a lack of Qi in your life.

If you lack Qi, oxygen is not properly circulating throughout your system and this will compromise the function of every single cell of your body. With this said, the function of all your organs and glands will be compromised which will impact your immune system, cardiac system, endocrine system, reproductive systems as well as your brain system.

This is why digestive health is considered the cornerstone to your well being.

In previous articles on supporting your Earth energy, we’ve shared how Earth corresponds with the digestive organs, so supporting your gut health through proper diet and eating habits is fundamental to heal your body.

Since healing your body, especially your digestive system, is closely tied to the health of your family relationships, below are some tips to support you in healing these issues as well.

How to Begin the Process of Healing Your Relationships

Healing these relationships will not be an easy task if you expect someone else to change. What you can do however is begin to change yourself. You can start by:

  1. Practicing forgiveness and letting go of the past to free up the energy that may be keeping you stuck in old patterns.

    You can learn practices to support you to let go here and here.

  2. Creating healthy boundaries.

    There are cases in which your relationships with certain family members may never be good, healthy or rewarding. This is why sometimes the best solution is to completely disconnect from a toxic relationship regardless of if it’s a family member. However, this should be done with compassion and unconditional love which again requires that you work on yourself to let go of past resentments and bad feelings that can make you ill as well.

    Boundaries are an important part of cultivating healthy Earth energy. Click here for ways to strengthen your Earth and create strong, healthy boundaries.

In the end, the process of healing your relationships with others begins by healing your relationship with yourself. Focusing on your Spleen and Stomach organ systems and your gut health in general will initiate the changes within you so that you are more readily available to heal your relationships with your loved ones. In that way, you can enjoy a healthy and nourishing holiday and Winter season.

Essential Oils to Balance the Metal Type Personality

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

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Chinese medicine is as much a philosophy of life as it is medicine for health and healing. One of its fundamental theoretical models is the Five Elements, which establishes a system for understanding our connection to the natural world.  

The creation cycle of the Five Elements begins with Wood. This Wood sparks to create Fire. The ash of Fire creates Earth and the minerals within Earth create Metal. Through the process of erosion, the minerals of the Metal element dissolve to nourish the Water element. The cycles continues as Water supports the growth of Wood for a new cycle to begin.

Each element has a certain psychological profile. Understanding these profile traits can help you balance the pathologies associated with that element and its organ systems.

The Fall season relates to the Metal element and the personality traits of the Metal archetype.


The Metal Type Personality

The Metal type personality tends to be disciplined, organized, analytical and emotionally stoic. Therefore, if you have a dominant Metal element you may tend to overanalyze and focus on details.

When the Metal element sways out of balance, this personality type tends to become self-righteous, uptight and highly opinionated. Excessively Metal people also tend to be sarcastic and judgmental.

Balanced Metal traits are invaluable as Metal people get things done with a focus and clarity that the other elements might simply dream about. They like order and expect a lot from themselves and others, which can lead to disappointment as others often can’t keep up with their efficiency.

The Metal element relates to the Lungs and Large Intestine organs. Imbalanced Metal energy can lead to health problems related to the lungs and colon such as allergies, asthma, and respiratory conditions, as well as Irritable Bowel Syndrome, constipation, hemorrhoids and even colon cancer in extreme cases. 

Emotionally, a patient with a lung weakness may have a tendency toward sadness and depression. Trauma that leads to grief can also harm the lung and large intestine organ systems. 

The Lung energy is also expressed out through the skin, so skin problems including dry skin and reactive skin problems such as eczema, hives and psoriasis, are common issues experienced when Metal energy is out of balance.

Since spice is the flavor associated with the Metal element, spicy foods can be used to offset Metal imbalances. Psychological profiles such as rigidity, stoicism and depressed can all benefit from the spicy flavor. This is why many people turn to coffee, black tea or chai tea and alcoholic beverages when they’re emotionally down, as the spice temporarily alleviates the depression of Qi in the lungs that is associated with the sadness, lethargy and depression which is often worse in the morning.

Spicy foods are drying, however, and create heat, so if a person has an overactive skin problem like eczema or psoriasis, spicy foods will likely exacerbate these problems so be cautious with spices in these cases. 

A spicy therapeutic tea, popular in the Ayurvedic tradition, that can be used longterm with mild cases of depression, is Tulsi Tea. Tulsi Tea, also called Holy Basil, will slowly strengthen the lungs and adrenal glands. It is spicy in nature to uplift the mood and boosts energy for the fatigue that is often concurrent with depression.*

When out of balance, Metal energy can create a stubbornness that keeps a person stuck in their rigid, overly critical and judgmental nature. However, by supporting the virtue of the Lungs, which is to ‘let go,’ the opportunity for liberation can be supported.

(Learn more about this virtue and how to let go here and here).

Essential Oils to Balance the Metal Type Personality

Evergreen essential oils boost Lung Qi so they have the energy to release emotional blocks.

Essential oils such as Pine, Black Spruce, Fir and Cedar are all useful to quiet the compulsively stuck mind and support the Lungs to “let go” and move on from what it’s fixated on. Terpenes found in conifer oils have been found to have antidepressant effects as well. This is why breathing in fresh air in a forest can be liberating and refreshing for the mind and emotions.

However, if you’re very stuck and rigid, stubborn phlegm may be blocking the Lungs from diffusing its Qi and letting go. In these cases, essential oils with stronger mucolytic qualities should be considered. Thuja and Bay Laurel are better for these cases when the lungs are stuck with mucous. Other mucolytic essential oils that help clear the lungs are those from the Eucalyptus family.

Spicy Essential Oils can lighten one’s mood, and enhance mental focus and clarity. Some of the spice oils include Clove, Cardamon, Coriander, Black Pepper, Thyme, Rosemary and Basil. These oils have all been found to be beneficial in reducing sadness and mild states of depression. In addition, these oils are mental stimulants and can help reduce brain fog and mental sluggishness.

Citrus peel oils such as Bergamot, Orange, Tangerine, Mandarin, Lemon and Lime can also help reduce sadness and melancholy. These citrus peel essential oils have been found to increase dopamine, a brain chemical that induces happiness.

Balanced Metal type personalities are clear, focused, organized, efficient, disciplined and dependable. Balancing the Metal energy in your life will illuminate these traits and support you to achieve your fullest potential.



*Please consult a health professional before starting a new health regimen, self diagnosing and treating yourself.


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.