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.

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.


Is Your Skin Driving You Mad? A Classical Chinese Medicine Perspective on Psoriasis and Eczema

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

Skin problems are some of the most challenging health disorders to resolve. Here we will examine two of the most common types of skin disorders we see in our clinic: psoriasis and eczema.

As with most skin disorders, flareups can often be associated with an increase in stress.

However, simply trying to relax is not going to cut it as a treatment option. We need to understand the factors driving these inflammatory conditions in order to begin resolving these problems from the inside out.

It is my hope that you will be empowered through understanding a Classical Chinese Medicine perspective on these often challenging health conditions so that you can seek a path to healing and resolution rather than suppression.  

According to Western medicine, the key difference between psoriasis and eczema is that psoriasis is an autoimmune over-reaction of the skin and eczema is rooted in an allergic, inflammatory reaction of the skin known as dermatitis (derma = Greek for skin, itis = inflammation). Both of these skin conditions can become chronic and often require the use of toxic internal and topical medications. These medications are designed to either suppress the immune response or the inflammatory heat, both of which can lead to other more serious diseases. 

Though the healing process can be challenging and require lifestyle changes, with patience and perseverance, eczema and psoriasis can be treated safely and very effectively through Chinese Medicine.

A Classical Chinese Medicine Perspective on Psoriasis and Eczema

According to Classical Chinese Medicine, there is a distinct difference between the pathogenesis of these two skin disorders.

Psoriasis is an outward expression of pathological heat emanating from the deep bone level of the body which is correlated with the Kidney system.

Eczema, on the other hand, manifests as an allergic response to something either internal or external that initiates the skin reaction. It may be triggered by food or an environmental chemical that irritates the skin and causes the inflammatory reaction which can spread as long as the allergic reaction continues.

Both psoriasis and eczema can be disorders with hereditary predispositions that have been passed along genetically.

According to Classical Chinese Medicine, both conditions are associated with heat in the Lungs which over time will weaken the Lung Qi, or energy. 

Weakness of Lung Qi causes weakness in the immune system as well. This is why chronic sufferers of eczema or psoriasis become prone to secondary infections on top of their skin sores. Furthermore, since patients with either psoriasis or chronic eczema can develop weak Lungs, it is also common for these patients who chronically suffer from either of these skin disorders to develop asthma.

Both eczema and psoriasis can present with sores that form clusters on the skin. This clustering indicates that the root cause is likely related to diet. In Chinese Medicine, clustering indicates internal dampness that is exuding out to the skin level.

Dampness in the body and is often rooted in overconsumption of foods that are very sweet, oily, or processed, as well as heavily dairy or carbohydrate based. These clustering type of skin diseases may also be associated with some form of food sensitivity or allergy such as gluten or lactose intolerance.

Another common problem associated with eczema and psoriasis is a history of gastritis, which in Classical Chinese Medicine terms can be associated with excessive Stomach Fire. 

In Western medicine, gastritis is often rooted in the presence of the bacteria Helicobacter Pylori (aka H Pylori) in the gut. From a Classical Chinese Medicine point of view, both Dampness and Heat are major pathological factors in this case. The Dampness creates the clustering sores, and the Heat creates the Wind/itching, the redness and causes the condition to spread more rampantly.  

If Dampness is present with eczema or psoriasis, this suggests that there is also some problem involving the bowels likely with excessive Heat trapped in the large intestine causing constipation, Irritable Bowel Syndrome or colitis. Heat and Dampness can also get trapped in the bladder causing recurring urinary tract infections or interstitial cystitis that creates cramps and pain in the lower abdomen often following urination.

There is a close relationship between the Lungs (skin) and the Large Intestine in Chinese Medicine. If excessive inflammatory heat overwhelms the gastrointestinal system, it cannot eliminate the heat sufficiently through urination and defecation, and therefore the body will try to release it out via the skin creating inflammatory skin issues.

Gluten sensitivity is one of the factors commonly at the root of gut inflammation which underlies both eczema and psoriasis problems. 

Heat from chronic gut inflammation can spread anywhere throughout the body. In psoriasis, as the heat tries to penetrate the deepest organ level, which is the Kidneys in Chinese Medicine, the Kidneys will push it away. If this process continues, the body will inherently push this inflammatory heat into the bone level at the joints to protect the Kidneys. This is how psoriasis can become psoriatic arthritis, a related autoimmune problem. This is also the mechanism for how gout develops.

In these cases, the body is basically overwhelmed with metabolic heat rooted in an imbalanced diet and gut inflammation. Over time, this heat gets pushed into the joints as a way to try suppress and control it.

If Stomach Heat is part of the Chinese Medicine diagnosis, it is essential to identify if any foods are causing the inflammatory reaction. Stomach Heat (gut inflammation) can also be created by an imbalance in the intestinal micro-biome due to a fungal or bacterial overgrowth including what is becoming a far too common problem, Lyme's disease.

From a Western medical perspective, psoriasis, as an autoimmune problem, is much more complex than eczema. 

From a Classical Chinese Medicine point of view, Psoriasis is created from heat coming out of the body's deepest energetic level, the KIdney or bone level. When heat comes out of this deep Constitutional level it is called a "Steaming Bone Syndrome."

"Steaming Bone" suggests that the Kidney system is pushing excessive metabolic heat away from itself in order to protect the Jing, or Constitutional Essence, that it stores. Jing corresponds to our cellular genetic makeup, so protecting our genes from heat invasion is a fundamental survival mechanism of the body. Toxic heat can create genetic mutations on a cellular level leading to more serious problems such as cancer. If heat is not being sufficiently cleared through the elimination channels of urination and defecation, this heat gets pushed upwards and prevents the Lung energy from properly functioning.

If the Lung Qi cannot descend properly because too much heat has weakened the lungs, asthma can develop. 

Furthermore, if the Lung energy cannot descend properly, then the Lung's action of diffusion out to the skin becomes overactive and this process pushes heat outward to the skin resulting in overstimulation of the epidermis and the development of psoriasis.

Early stage psoriasis will first manifest on the scalp, palms and soles of the feet.

As the condition becomes more chronic, the psoriasis moves toward the joint regions of the elbows and knees as the Dampness and Heat migrate closer to the center of the body and the trunk, where the psoriasis makes its way around and down to the base of the spine.

 

The Causes of Heat that Underlie Eczema and Psoriasis

The heat that gets penetrated to the deepest aspect of the body (the Kidney system) can come from emotional trauma, hereditary factors, diet, vaccinations, and exposure to environmental toxins such as pesticides and herbicides, especially in the farming industry.

Vaccinations induce tremendous heat directly into the blood. Diet can also contribute to inflammatory heat in the body, especially a diet heavy in processed foods, bad fats such as hydrogenated oils, sugar and hot, spicy foods such as caffeine and alcohol. 

Lifestyle can create inflammatory heat that eventually explodes out via the skin. Unhealthy habits including excessive mental stress, smoking, drugs, and even excessive exercise and sex can generate too much heat in the body and consume the blood reserves needed to cool down this heat pathology.

As we age, our blood reserves decline so it is imperative to keep our systems cooler. As our blood declines with aging, our vision declines, our memory decline, and our skin and muscles dry up. Adequate blood reserves also keep inflammatory processes of exorbitant heat under control as blood cools the fire in the body. Once blood weakens with aging, inflammatory disorders begin to express themselves and latent heat can begin to surface on the skin with dark skin pigmentations, liver spots and moles. These are all indications of heat that has been trapped in the body, now being released.

Constitutionally, we are all born with different levels of strength. However, all children are deficient of Yin and Blood. If a child's Jing, or Essence, that is stored in the Kidneys is particularly weak, he or she will be prone to early onset of diseases. This is especially true when aggressive vaccinations are administered at an early age. Vaccinations put toxic heat directly into the blood system and in general children have very vulnerable immune systems, which is why a lot of chronic diseases begin at a very early age.

From a Chinese Medicine perspective, childhood onset of psoriatic arthritis arises when inflammatory heat penetrates to the level of the bones or joints. Excessive inflammatory heat at an early age is likely created from some type of stress (vaccinations, birth trauma, a stressful pregnancy of the mother or food sensitivities) that compromise the child's Jing, or Essence, and prevent him or her from properly dealing with it. The child's body with its innate wisdom traps this toxic heat in the joints to protect the vital organs, and this creates arthritis. If the skin gets hyped up as a way of venting the heat, this leads to the painful chronic autoimmune problem of pediatric Psoriatic Arthritis.

According to the Arthritis Foundation, arthritis occurs concurrently with around 30% of the people afflicted with psoriasis.

The good news is that Classical Chinese Medicine has a way to understand the pathogenesis of these complex skin diseases and a systematic way to treat and address both the acute and chronic phases of these disorders. Through the use of acupuncture, herbal medicine, essential oils and diet modifications the often stubborn conditions of psoriasis and eczema can be brought under control safely and effectively to bring healing and a sense of peace to one's life.


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.