Soy Consumption and Cancer – New Research on the Safety of Soy in Breast Cancer

For many years a lingering controversy has plagued many breast cancer patients and survivors – the question of to eat, or not to eat soy products. This question arose because soy is a source of isoflavones, compounds that are sometimes called phytoestrogens since they bind to estrogen receptor sites on cells in the body. As many breast cancers are estrogen related, the fear was that consumption of these compounds in soy products would at best prevent certain cancer therapies from working, and at worse actually be a contributing factor in the development of breast cancer.

The problem is that this idea was just a theory not based on much actual evidence. It also didn’t take into account that phytoestrogens are found in many foods that were never included in the list of things to avoid for breast cancer patients. A short sampling of other foods containing phytoestrogens includes sesame seeds, oats, barley, lentils, apples, carrots, beer, and even coffee (and the list goes on after that).

Over the last few years however, the evidence has been coming in that not only does soy consumption not contribute to cancer, but, in many patients it actually can prevent recurrence of breast cancer in breast cancer survivors. In earlier studies of Asian women, a group of people who consume much higher amounts of soy than women in the United States, soy intake was seen to actually have a protective effect against cancer (in other words, it helped prevent breast cancer, not make it more likely).

Earlier this month another large-scale study (looking at over 6000 women) was published in the journal of the American Cancer Society. This paper looked at an ethnically diverse group of women with breast cancer based in the United States, and evaluated the effect of their soy intake. According to the authors of the study, “In this large, ethnically diverse cohort of women with breast cancer living in North America, a higher dietary intake of isoflavone [soy] was associated with reduced all-cause mortality.” In other words, consumption of soy products in some groups reduced risk of dying from breast cancer. Furthermore, the study found that no group of breast cancer patients, including those with estrogen based cancers, had any negative effect from consuming soy. To read the original article please click here (the abstract is free to read although the full article requires a subscription).

At this point we can clearly say that based on scientific evidence breast cancer patients can safely consume soy products. It is important to note though that this recommendation is made about actual food, not dietary supplements. We would also recommend trying to only consume high quality soy in the form of organic soybeans, tofu, tempeh, etc…  We do not recommend consuming highly processed and artificially colored or flavored soy products made for example to mimic other foods (like soy hotdogs and the like). Enjoy eating real food, and enjoy staying healthy as a result. Remember that other aspects of a healthy lifestyle, including getting adequate rest and exercise, reduce risk and recurrence of cancer as well.

A Seasonal Recipe - Japanese Pumpkin 南瓜の煮物

Happy Halloween! Today we thought we’d give everyone a great seasonal recipe, and what could be more seasonable today than pumpkin? Pumpkin is a type of winter squash, and although associated with American festivals such as Halloween and Thanksgiving, various forms of pumpkin are eaten all around the world, including in Asia.

In Japan the favorite variety of pumpkin is a little different from the large orange pumpkins we are used to seeing here. The local specialty in the Land of the Rising Sun is a smaller pumpkin known as Kabocha, or sometimes simply Japanese pumpkin. Kabocha are much smaller than American pumpkins, and their outer peel is green. However, just like western pumpkins the inside is orange and filled with seeds that look like regular pumpkin seeds. Here is a simple and delicious pumpkin recipe from Japan.

Kabocha Nimono (南瓜の煮物)

In Japan root vegetables and other vegetables such as squashes are frequently boiled or stewed (known in Japanese as nimono). This simple preparation is nutritious, easy and healthy; it is a common staple of home style cooking.

Ingredients:

  • 3 cups dashi (fish broth), or other soup broth
  • 2 ½ lb. Kabocha pumpkin
  • 1 ½ tablespoon soy sauce (or tamari to be gluten free)
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • 1 or 2 tablespoons sake or mirin (sweetened rice wine)

Directions:

  1. First wash, and then cut open kabocha and remove seeds. Then cut into small chunks. Be careful as raw kabocha is very tough – go slowly to avoid knife slips. Sometimes it is useful to first slowly stab into the kabocha before cutting. The outer rind is completely edible so there is no need to remove, except for trimming off any very hard or gnarled parts. The traditional base in Japan is dashi (fish broth – click here for a recipe). However, other types of clear broth can be used as well.
  2. Put broth into a small pot and add kabocha chunks. Bring to a boil and then simmer on medium for 20-30 minutes until kabocha is soft enough to be pierced easily by a fork.
  3. Add in other ingredients and continue to simmer another 15-20 minutes to reduce broth a little. Some recipes will also add about a tablespoon of sugar as well. This is optional for a sweeter dish, although I usually find the kabocha sweet enough without.
  4. Remove from heat and let sit covered until cooler so the kabocha absorbs the cooking liquid flavor more. Serve slightly warm to room temperature, or reheat a little before serving.

According to Chinese medicine pumpkins as a food have a slightly cooling nature, with a sweet and slightly bitter flavor. Cooking them for a longer period of time as in this recipe makes their thermal nature neutral to slightly warming. They have a direct positive effect on the Spleen and Stomach (the organs of digestion in Chinese medicine), and are said to supplement those organs as well as build the Qi (the vital substance in the body). In particular they are eaten to treat diarrhea, poor digestion, low energy, and edema in the lower body.

Happy Halloween! If you try this recipe be sure to let us know (you can post a photo of your finished product on our Facebook page - click here to go directly there).

Weekly Taiji Classes Starting Soon...

Starting in November, Dr. McCann will be teaching Taiji classes in East Hanover every Sunday morning. The system we will work on is the Hunyuan Style of Taijiquan. Hunyuan Taijiquan (T'ai Chi Ch'uan), also known as Chen Style Hunyuan Taiji (陳氏混元太極拳), is a traditional system of martial arts and self-cultivation. It is a branch of Chen Style Taiji that was developed by Feng Zhiqiang (馮志強), one of the greatest practitioners and teachers of Chen Taiji during the 20th century. Master Feng was one of the top disciples of Chen Fa Ke, the first person to teach Chen Taiji openly in China.

Hunyuan Taiji is unique in that it seeks the original roots of Taiji practice by reintegrating Qigong into form movements, and emphasizing circular movements and other movement strategies that embody Yin-Yang theory. Practice includes the exploration of key basic postures (the 8 Postures of Taijiquan), solo forms (including short simplified forms, and the original long form of Chen Taiji), Cannon Fist forms (fast forms), weapons practice, and self-defense applications of the forms. The curriculum also includes extensive push hands practice and Silk Reeling exercise

For more information on classes please click here!
 

Autumnal Equinox 秋分 Seasonal Node

This year Thursday September 22, is the Autumnal Equinox – the day midway between the solstices. Being the midway point, the equinoxes are the times of even balance between Yin and Yang. Furthermore, Thursday begins the next 2-week long seasonal node, also called Autumn Equinox. In the Chinese calendar we are in the eighth lunar month and the time related to the Kidney channel. The smaller 5-day segments of this seasonal node are called Thunder Begins to Retract its Sound (Lei Shi Shou Sheng 雷始收聲), Hibernating Insects Reinforce their Shelters (Zhi Chong Pei Hu 蟄蟲培戶), and Water Begins to Dry Up (Shui Shi He 水始涸). The names of these 5-day segments of time all point to a similar phenomenon – this is the time of year when the Yin-contracting movement of nature is in full gear in preparing for Winter’s slumber.

During this time of year the Nei Jing suggests that we “nourish the Yin” (春夏養陽,秋冬養陰) by conforming with the Yin-contracting nature of Autumn. In practical terms one meaning is that we should start getting more sleep. As the days grow shorter so should there be less activity. Thus, the Nei Jing says that we can still wake at the cock’s crowing, but we should be in bed earlier.

During this seasonal node one traditional recommendation is to guard the Lungs, and in particular the Lung Yin. Autumn is the season associated with the Metal Phase and therefore the Lung. Furthermore, Autumn is associated with environmental dryness so protecting the Yin fluids of the Lung is important. Some of the foods that protect the Lung Yin are milk, peaches, pears, apples, soymilk, glutinous rice, sesame seeds, and honey. Those who are adventurous can cook rice congee using white wood ear mushrooms.

Another method for helping the Lungs is acupressure at Chi Ze LU-5 (尺澤穴). Located at the inside of the elbow (see diagram) this point regulates Lung function and treats conditions such as cough, wheezing, asthma, the common cold and seasonal allergies. It is also the Water point on the Lung channel meaning that it is appropriate for both the season (Autumn relates to the Lung) and the Lunar Month (the eighth Lunar Month relates to the Kidney channel, which is the Water phase). 

In addition to environmental dryness, this time of year sees temperatures dropping. Therefore, while we focus on protecting the Lung we should also be cautious about cold exposure. People who are cold and fatigued in general should focus on warming and supplementing the body this time of year. Wearing adequate clothing is an important part of this strategy. Additionally certain warming and supplementing Chinese herbs can be consumed as functional foods. For example, one traditional recipe for the Autumn Equinox Seasonal Node is Angelica and Codonopsis Lamb Soup. To make this, take 1lb organic lamb meat and cook in an appropriate amount of water with 10g Chinese Angelica (Dang Gui 當歸), 10g Codonopsis (Dang Shen 黨參), 30g Angelica Dahurica (Huang Qi 黃耆), 10g fresh ginger, and salt and pepper to taste. Other in season vegetables can also be added as desired. This recipe warms the Kidneys, supplements the Yang, quickens Blood and moves Qi.

A great tea for general use appropriate to this time of year is Chrysanthemum with Honey (菊花蜂蜜茶). To make, take about 1 tablespoon of dried chrysanthemum (the kind sold as a Chinese herb). Steep in boiled water for 3-5 min and then stir in some honey to taste. This tea can treat seasonal allergies such as dry, itchy eyes or headache. This recipe nourishes the Liver, brightens the eyes, moistens the Lung and awakens the brain.

As the weather gets colder and we move to the dark time, this is the time to start preventive moxa treatment for the Winter. This is especially important for patients who are cold and vacuous. Starting some weekly moxa at Zu San Li ST-36 (足三里穴) will go a long way to keeping vitality strong the in months to come. An alternate is to apply moxa to Huo Fu Hai 33.07 (火腑海) on a regular basis.

To read more about heath maintenance in general for Autumn please click here, and to learn how to do the acupressure or moxibustion described in this post please contact us!

Happy Autumn!

Staying Healthy in Autumn

Chinese medicine pays a lot of attention to how we prevent disease rather than just cure it. In the ancient classics of medicine it was said that the superior physician prevents rather than treats. Treating once a disease has arisen is like starting to build weapons only after war has already broken out. They'll still work, but we are seriously at a disadvantage. One of the best ways to stay health is harmonizing our diet, behavior, and other things with the seasons. Since we are now in Autumn (as the weather clearly shows here in northern New Jersey), we'd like to offer some tips on staying healthy in Autumn. 

In the Lü Shi Chun Qiu (The Spring and Autumn Annals of Lü Bowei; 呂氏春秋), the classic text of Chinese philosophy from the 3rd century BCE, it is said that the Emperor Shao Hao (少昊), and his son Ru Shou (蓐收) are the sovereigns associated with the three months of Autumn. This obscure statement sheds tremendous light on the essence of Autumn, and eventually allows us to understand how to stay healthy this season

According to some legends (since they do vary), Shao Hao was one of the Five Emperors (五帝) of ancient China. His mother was a weaver goddess who fell in love with the planet Venus, and the result of that union was Shao Hao. Together with his son Ru Shou, Shao Hao settled on Chang Liu Mountain where they ruled over the Western Heavens and controlled the setting of the sun. In Chinese sciences the west is associated with the Metal phase, and therefore Autumn. Certainly, Autumn is the time of year that corresponds to sunset during the day, and in traditional Chinese astrology Venus is the planet of the Metal phase, and thus too corresponds with Autumn. Even the son’s name, Ru Shou, has the word “shou” (收) within – the word meaning “to harvest” or “to collect,” an attribute of Autumn.

Click here now to read the entire article on staying healthy in Autumn!

San Fu Moxibustion - Chinese Preventative Treatment

Moxibustion is more than just using moxa! The word we commonly translate as moxibustion is jiu (灸) in Chinese, and this word actually refers to a wide variety of heat therapies. One method of “moxibustion” that doesn’t burn mugwort leaf is San Fu Moxibustion (三伏灸).

San Fu Moxibusion is a classical method of preventive healthcare that dates back about 300 years in China. During the three most Yang days of the year (chosen based on the traditional Chinese calendar), physicians applied a special type of mustard plaster made with additional Chinese herbs to special acupuncture points on the back. Plasters are then left in place for several hours, and the treatment repeated each of those 3 days. Originally this method was used to treat asthma or other chronic respiratory tract problems such as coughing, sinusitis, etc… It was also traditionally though to prevent colds and flus (and other upper respiratory tract problems) in the following winter. San Fu Moxibustion is therefore what is known as a special method of treating Winter disease during Summer (冬病夏治).

When I was in China back in 2008 I was surprised to see signs up at the provincial hospital in Chengdu advertising this type of treatment to patients. On those 3 special days patients would line up and wait for hours for their turn at getting these special mustard plasters. In our clinic, we hand make the mustard paste the traditional way, first grinding it into powder, then mixing it with fresh ginger juice, and finally ageing the plaster for at least 1 year. This year (2015) the 3 special days are July 13, July 23, and August 12.

Our clinic will offer this fantastic classical prevention method starting in July. Please contact us for more information!

Walking after Eating – Ancient Folk Wisdom, Modern Science

The Chinese language is full of folk sayings that most average people know, and many of these are related to health. One of my favorite Chinese folk sayings is, “Fan hou bai bu zou, huo dao jiu shi jiu” (飯後百步走,活到九十九). This translates to, “if you take 100 steps after each meal, you’ll live to 99.” Yes, it rhymes much better in Chinese! The idea is that taking a short walk after a meal is good for us.

Over the last few years researchers took a look at this idea to see if it was really a good health recommendation, since some people believe that walking after eating causes fatigue and stomach discomfort. It turns out that numerous studies found a measurably beneficial effect to the practice of walking after eating. One article published in 2009 looked at patients with type 2 diabetes (type 2 diabetics are those who do not yet need insulin) who walked after meals. They found that in these patients walking after eating had a beneficial effect on blood sugar numbers – better than if they had walked before eating, and better than if they hadn’t walked at all. Click here to see that study.

Another study published in 2013 found similar results, even in older patients who are otherwise inactive. This time researchers also discovered that three short 15 minute walks, one after each meal, was better than one long 45 minute walk during the day. Click here to see that study. In addition to blood sugar improvements with walking, walking improved digestion overall. There is also anecdotal information that has been published suggesting moderate weight loss with walking after meals.

With diabetes being one of the major health threats to older Americans today, and with the incidence of diabetes on the rise in all age groups, it would seem that the folk prescription of walking after meals is just what the doctor ordered. And it may actually help us all live to 99. Happy walking!

Research Report: Acupuncture and Stroke

A recent study published at the end of 2014 examined a large number of clinical trials related to acupuncture and cerebral infarction (stroke). While some of the papers identified in the study could have been of better quality, the authors concluded that "acupuncture treatment is superior to either non-acupuncture or conventional therapy for cerebral infarction."  The original study can be found by clicking here.

One of the most important factors for success of treatment in our experience is timing. For acupuncture to be most effective, treatment must be initiated as soon as possible after stroke. The sooner treatment starts the better results tend to be. For more information please contact our office!

GRAIN RAIN 穀雨 SEASONAL NODE

This past Monday, April 20, 2015, was the beginning of the Grain Rain (Gu Yu 穀雨) seasonal node. Grain Rain is actually the last seasonal node of Spring, as early May marks the beginning of Summer in the Chinese calendar. Considering today was a particularly chilly Spring day here in New Jersey, it feels odd writing that Summer will begin in just 2 weeks. However, the seasons in the traditional Chinese calendar are tied in more with the changes of day length more so than actual temperature. Believe it or not, in only about 2 months from now the days start getting shorter again – so even though it’s still chilly outside get out and enjoy the sunshine!

Grain Rain is the 6th step of the 24 seasonal nodes thus corresponding roughly to the 3rd watch of the day (7-9am). Furthermore it is the time of transition from Spring to Summer correlating to the Earth phase (the Earth phase is the transition between seasons). Thus, Gu Yu is the time of year associated with the Stomach channel. The general movement of Spring is the movement of Liver-Wood. The Earth phase is in charge of movement and transformation. Thus, this time of the year we need to ensure that Qi and Blood are moving smoothly. Watch for signs of Qi stagnation in yourself and in your patients. This is why one of the basic recommendations for this time of year is performing regular self-massage.

One of the easiest points to massage for the average person is the collection of points known as the Shi Xuan 十宣穴. These points are located one at the tip of every finger and every toe. The word “Shi” means 10 – there is a point on each finger and toe adding up to 10 total. The word “Xuan” means to spread or diffuse. Since all the channels of the body connect to the fingers and toes, these points together can spread or move all the Qi in all the channels of the body. Thus, they can be massaged as a general way to prevent and treat stagnation in the channels. To massage simply squeeze and rub the tip of each finger and toe in succession. Repeat throughout the day, but preferably at least once each morning and once each evening.

Shi Xuan Points 十宣穴 (the same points are found on the toes)

Shi Xuan Points 十宣穴 (the same points are found on the toes)

As the weather does get a bit sunnier and warmer it is important to increase outside activity – consider walking or gardening. However, since Spring is a time of temperature ups and downs, be careful to dress appropriately as dictated by each day. This is the tail end of the cold season, so pay attention to preventing colds, and seek treatment as soon as any cold or allergy symptoms start. Gu Yu is a time when Lung Heat is thought to be a potential problem (many allergy sufferers manifest with Lung Heat signs and symptoms). Consider needling (if you’re an acupuncturist) or massaging (if a patient) Da Zhui DU-14 this seasonal node. Other points include needling or massaging Chong Zi 22.01 and Chong Xian 22.02 from the Tung lineage.

Back to the idea of stagnation, it is vital that during Gu Yu we prevent stagnation in the Stomach (since this is the time of Stomach channel). To this end, the traditional thing to avoid this time of year is overeating or overdrinking. Similarly, this is the time of year to avoid oily and greasy foods. Other foods to avoid are very cooling fruits (such as a lot of citrus).

Start eating lighter and easier to digest items and in-season vegetables such as asparagus. Other foods to emphasize should help boost Qi and Blood, and gently strengthen the Spleen and Stomach (since the Yang of the Spleen/Stomach is still fragile now, especially with the prolonged chill) – rice or rice congee, Bian Dou, yams, nagaimo (Shan Yao in Chinese), peanuts, and cherries (a slightly warming fruit). If you didn’t know, this is also egg season. Yes… Eggs have a season! Most chickens naturally lay eggs only when day length is about 10 hours or more (commercially grown eggs are available because farmers trick chickens with strong artificial lighting year round). One of my favorite early spring recipes is steamed asparagus with scrambled eggs – delicious and light, and good for you too!

Eating for Spring

Spring is finally here! As the seasons change, so should our basic eating patterns. In Spring diet should primarily be focused on supporting normal Liver function, as the Liver relates to Wood from a Chinese medical perspective.  In Chinese medicine the Liver is responsible for normal coursing and moving of the qi and blood internally. Foods that have this Yang function of coursing the qi and blood, or creating movement in general, have an acrid, or mildly spicy flavor. Acrid culinary herbs include onions, scallions, garlic, cilantro, ginger, basil, dill, fennel, and bay leaf. Additionally, Spring is the time to eat plants that are young and thus have the quality of growth associated with Wood. These include young greens, sprouts, or sprouted grains. The specific grain of the Wood phase is wheat, which is also eaten in Spring provided the person eating it has no specific allergies or sensitivities. Seasonal foods that are harvested in Spring include chard, arugula, new potatoes, asparagus, and eggs.

In general Spring is the time to eat lighter foods than those consumed in the colder weather. It is also the time to eat less. People who are relatively healthy can practice a short 24-hour fast once a week to let the digestive system rest a bit. This type of intermittent fasting still allows for food each day; for example a 24-hour fast would be eating breakfast one day, then not eating any calories until breakfast the day following (i.e., not eating any calories for exactly 24 hours). During the fast day people should consume plenty of water or light tea to stay well hydrated.

Even the method of cooking food should be adjusted to the season. In Spring foods should be cooked quickly over high heat. This type of rapid cooking leaves food, especially vegetables, not completely cooked. An example of this type of cooking is sautéing with a small amount of cooking oil. Other appropriate methods of cooking vegetable include light steaming or blanching.

One basic tea that supports Liver is the combination of peppermint and lemon. For this tea steep either bags of dried peppermint tea or, if available, crush fresh peppermint leaves in boiling hot water. Add to this liquid several thin slices of fresh lemon including the peel. Some sweetener such as honey can be added to taste. This simple tea combines the acrid flavor of peppermint with the sour citrusy lemon, a basic combination that courses and soothes Liver qi. Practitioners of Chinese medicine can use this tea as a dietary substitute for the famous Liver coursing formula, Xiao Yao San (逍遙散), which also utilizes the combination of acrid and sour flavors.

Small Cold 小寒 Seasonal Node

Happy New Year Everyone!!!

I hope everyone had a very happy and safe new year, and that you are all keeping warm! The topic of warmth is important this time of year, and the name of the next of the 24 Seasonal Nodes reflects the decreasing temperatures about now…

This year, Tuesday January 6th marked the beginning of the penultimate Seasonal Node – “Small Cold” (Xiao Han 小寒). The next, and last, Seasonal Node of the year (ending at the next Chinese new year) will be “Great Cold.” In Chinese there is a saying that goes “Xiao han da han, leng cheng bing tuan!” – “Small Cold and Great Cold, coldness is here and ice abounds.” Even though, as mentioned in my last post, the Yang qi is already being birthed in the natural world, this month continues to become colder and colder. Why is this even though we are moving to the Yang phase of the year?

Think of the movement of the weather as being driven by the fluctuations of yin and yang in the natural world. Even though the “switch” has been flipped from yin to yang, it takes time for the weather to catch up. Imagine driving a car at 75 miles per hour (I apologize to you all who use the metric system – I’m metric impaired). If you wanted to stop and go in reverse, first you’d have to hit the brakes. However, even if you hit the brakes really hard, that car is going to continue skidding forward for quite a distance before you can start moving in the opposite direction. So, even though the brakes have been put on yin, before we can really move towards yang we continue “skidding” colder and colder for awhile, before Spring truly warms up the earth.

The health maintenance guideline for this season is, not surprisingly, not all that different from Winter Solstice. Specifically, during Small Cold we should focus on (1) Nourishing the Kidney (Yang Shen 養腎), and (2) Safeguarding the Spleen and Stomach (Baohu Pi Wei 保護脾胃).  As mentioned in the previous Seasonal Node post, Winter is the time for all the Qi to be stored away internally. Since Kidney is the root of storage, and the root of Pre-Heaven Qi, we nourish the Kidney to nourish the body’s ability to store Qi away (i.e., the movement of Winter). While Kidney is the Pre-Heaven root, the Spleen and Stomach are the Post-Heaven. So, protecting the Post-Heaven helps to ensure that Pre-Heaven is not excessively tapped into. This is especially true again for our patients with conditions of vacuity (especially either Kidney or Middle Jiao vacuity), or patients with cold conditions (for example patients with chronic arthritic conditions – Bi syndrome from Wind, Cold and Damp).

Continue having patients get to bed early. Also encourage warming therapies such as moxibustion, especially on points like Zu San Li ST-36, Guan Yuan Ren-4, Qi Hai Ren-6, and Huo Fu Hai 33.07.

Dietary guidelines for Small Cold are similar to Winter Solstice. Since we want to protect the Middle Jiao in particular, the first basic guideline is to eat foods that are easy to digest and take foods at regular intervals. Since most of us are coming out of holidays with lots of eating going on, it’s also a good idea to cut back on intake of meats and other heavier foods.

Patients with overall yang vacuity should consume yang warming foods such as lamb, venison, alcohol, and warming spices like cinnamon. Meats can be taken in moderation, but moderation is still important. Traditional Chinese lists would also add dog meat to the “should” list, but I have to admit that’s way out of my cultural comfort zone! These same patients should avoid cold foods such as duck, rabbit, chrysanthemum, mint, milk or yoghurts. Patients who are prone to cold damp conditions (such as arthritic patients) should do the same as already mentioned and especially avoid cold-damp producing foods such as oranges and orange juice, tropical fruits, and the overconsumption of refined sugars.

Here is a traditional recipe for the Small Cold seasonal node…

LAMB AND MILLET CONGEE

Ingredients: lean lamb 100g, millet 100g (a little more than ½ cup), fresh (peeled) ginger root 12g, scallions 3 stalks, black pepper and salt

Preparation:

  1. First clean lamb and cut into thin strips
  2. Put millet and lamb in about 4 – 5 cups of water (adjust water depending on if you want the congee more creamier or more soupy); bring to a boil
  3. Add in ginger (cut into thin slices or chopped), scallions (chopped) and continue to boil until made into a congee
  4. Add salt and pepper to taste; instead of black pepper, Sichuan Pepper (Hua Jiao) can be used as a substitute to make the soup spicier

Eat on an empty stomach. This congee helps boost the Qi, nourish the Blood, and warm the Center. Patients with internal heat patterns should be cautions about consuming this congee. But, patients with cold patterns or in generally good health can take this congee during Small Cold.

I hope everyone continues to stay warm!

Henry

Hoarfrost Descends 霜降 Seasonal Node

Thursday, October 23, 2014 is the start of the Hoarfrost Descends (Shuang Jiang 霜降) seasonal node. This is the last segment of Autumn as the next seasonal node is the beginning of Winter! The days are clearly getting shorter. In a few weeks we go off Daylight Savings Time, and when that happens the sun will be setting much earlier. The days are also getting colder. Here in New Jersey today the high will only be in the mid-50s, and evening temperatures are dipping into the 40s.

The ancient text Yue Jin Qi Shi Er Hou Ji Jie says, “the Qi is solemn during Hoarfrost Descends. It is when the Yin starts to condense.” Since we are moving into the Yin and colder part of the year, the first traditional recommendation for Hoarfrost Descends is to protect against the cold and preserve internal warmth. Be sure to dress appropriately for the weather on any given day. When eating, keeping the Spleen and Stomach warm will help warm the entire body. Traditional Chinese foods for Autumn include lamb and rabbit, and this is the time to eat more stews and soups. Spice equivalents to warm the body are ginger and cinnamon. Hoarfrost Descends is also the traditional time to take tonics. Therefore, most people can take small doses of Spleen and Stomach tonics such as the Four Gentlemen (Si Jun Zi Tang), or other similar formulas. Generally speaking, for asymptomatic people, taking tonics in pill form at a lower but consistent dose is beneficial.

While it is important to keep the Spleen and Stomach warm, since Autumn is the Metal and therefore Lung season, supplementing the Lungs and preventing upper respiratory tract infections is a key seasonal strategy. One of the traditional teas for late Autumn is called Jin Qi Hua Cha (金芪花茶). Take 5g Huang Qi and 3g Jin Yin Hua and simmer in 1 cup of boiling water for 5-10 minutes. When finished, remove the herbs and let cool to just below boiling. Add 3g of good quality Jasmine Tea and let steep for only about 2 minutes. Strain and enjoy! This tea gently clears heat and drains fire. But at the same time it also supplements and rectifies the Qi, and harmonizes the center. It boosts the immune function and has a mild anti-viral effect. Alternately, the tea can be made using a granular concentrate powder. 

One traditional recipe for Hoarfrost Descends is Angelica and Ginger Lamb Stew (Dang Gui Sheng Jiang Dun Yang Rou 當歸生薑燉羊肉).

Ingredients:

  • 1lb. Boneless lamb meat, cut into cubes
  • 6-8 cups water or chicken broth
  • 20g Chinese Angelica (Dang Gui 當歸)
  • 15g Fresh ginger root (peeled and sliced)
  • Cooking oil (peanut oil is traditional)
  • Black pepper

Method:

  1. Coat a thick metal pot with some cooking oil and heat over medium flame. Place cubed lamb meat in the pot and brown.
  2. Add water (or broth), angelica and ginger. Bring to a boil and then reduce to a medium simmer (other vegetables can be added as desired).
  3. Cover part way with a lid and simmer for about 90 minutes. Add black pepper and salt to taste.
  4.  Remove Angelica before eating (or just eat around it!). Ginger can be eaten.

Functions: Warms the yang and scatters cold, moves Qi and quickens the Blood

Stay warm and dry!

Autumn Equinox 秋分 Seasonal Node

Today, Monday September 22, is the Autumnal Equinox – the day midway between the solstices. Being the midway point, the equinoxes are the times of even balance between Yin and Yang. Furthermore, today begins the next 2-week long seasonal node, also called Autumn Equinox. In the Chinese calendar we are in the eighth lunar month and the time related to the Kidney channel. The smaller 5-day segments of this seasonal node are called Thunder Begins to Retract its Sound (Lei Shi Shou Sheng 雷始收聲), Hibernating Insects Reinforce their Shelters (Zhi Chong Pei Hu 蟄蟲培戶), and Water Begins to Dry Up (Shui Shi He 水始涸). The names of these 5-day segments of time all point to a similar phenomenon – this is the time of year where the movement of Yin-contraction of nature is in full gear. The natural world is preparing for Winter’s slumber.

During this time of year the Huang Di Nei Jing (or Nei Jing for short), the foundation text of Chinese medicine, suggests that we “nourish the Yin” (春夏養陽,秋冬養陰) of our body by conforming with the Yin-contracting nature of the season. In practical terms this means for example getting more sleep. As the days grow shorter so should we be less active. Thus, the Nei Jing tells us that we can still wake at the cock’s crowing, but we should be in bed earlier.

During this seasonal node one traditional recommendation is to guard the Lungs, and in particular the Lung Yin. Autumn is the season associated with the Metal Phase and therefore the Lung. Furthermore, Autumn is associated with environmental dryness. Thus, protecting the Yin fluids of the Lung is appropriate to this season. Some of the foods that protect the Lung Yin, and therefore are useful now, are milk, peaches, pears, apples, soymilk, glutinous rice, sesame seeds, and honey. Those who are adventurous can cook rice congee using white wood ear mushrooms. Click here to read more about white wood ear mushrooms.

Another method for helping the Lungs is acupressure at Chi Ze LU-5 (尺澤穴). Located at the inside of the elbow (see diagram) this point regulates Lung function and treats conditions such as cough, wheezing, asthma, the common cold and seasonal allergies. Furthermore, it is the Water point on the Lung channel meaning that it is appropriate for both the season (Autumn relates to the Lung) and the Lunar Month (the eighth Lunar Month relates to the Kidney channel, which is the Water phase).

In addition to environmental dryness, this time of year sees temperatures dropping. Therefore, while we focus on protecting the Lung we should also be cautious about cold exposure. People who in general are cold and fatigued should focus on warming and supplementing the body this time of year. Wearing adequate clothing is an important part of this strategy. Additionally certain warming and supplementing Chinese herbs can be consumed as functional foods. For example, one traditional recipe for the Autumn Equinox Seasonal Node is Angelica and Codonopsis Lamb Soup. To make this, take 1lb organic lamb meat and cook in an appropriate amount of water with 10g Chinese Angelica (Dang Gui 當歸), 10g Codonopsis (Dang Shen 黨參), 30g Angelica Dahurica (Huang Qi 黃耆), 10g fresh ginger, and salt and pepper to taste. Other in season vegetables can also be added as desired. This recipe warms the Kidneys, supplements the Yang, quickens Blood and moves Qi.

We hope you enjoy the unfolding of Autumn and wish you health in the season to come!

Ineffective Knee Surgery

    There have been numerous research studies over the years related to knee pain due to arthritis. Today, arthroscopic surgery for mild arthritis and meniscus tears is common. A recent study published in the journal of the Canadian Medical Association looked at data from numerous studies related to this procedure. In that study it was found that the evidence pointed to "no benefit" from this type of arthroscopic surgery. Here is the original study for those who would like to see it. Perhaps we will start coming to an end to this very expensive, painful, and potentially useless surgery.

     Not surprising, less invasive therapies such as acupuncture actually perform well for knee pain. Also, when compared to other therapies, acupuncture is one of the most effective for pain due to arthritis of the knee. 

End of Heat 處暑 Seasonal Node

Today, Saturday August 23 is Chu Shu 處暑, ‘End of Heat’, the next seasonal node after the beginning of Autumn in the Chinese calendar. The transition from August to September is also the transition to the end of warmer weather. Right now as I sit and write this post here in New Jersey, it is only 68 degrees outside!

Autumn is the time of year when Yin grows. All things are moving towards the hibernation phase and many plants are being readied for harvest. The names of the smaller 5-day periods of this seasonal node are quite interesting and illustrative of what Autumn represents. The first is called Ying Nai Ji Niao 鷹乃祭鳥, Hawks Start to Sacrifice Birds. This time of year starts the slow march towards the death phase of nature. Many plants and animals with short life spans won’t make it to next Spring. The image of hawks harvesting or killing smaller birds then fits perfectly with this image. The next two 5-day time periods are Tian Di Shi Su 天地始肅, Heaven and Earth Become Austere, and He Nai Deng 禾乃登, Rice Plants Are Harvested and Presented as Offering. Just as this is the time of year for bringing things to harvest, it is also the time for us to start becoming quieter and more introspective, for us to take stock of what, out of the myriad things in our lives, is really important (i.e., we become austere like heaven and earth).

In more tangible respects there are things to keep in mind so we stay healthy this time of year. The first traditional recommendation for this time of year is Ben Franklin’s favorite – ‘early to bed, early to rise’ (zao shui zao qi 早睡早起). When there is more Yin in the natural environment we can mimic that in our own body by getting more sleep. In the summer it is permissible to stay up later and still wake up early. In the Yang time of year less sleep is just fine. However, not that Autumn (a Yin season) is upon us, we need to get a little more rest. To accomplish this, try to get into bed a bit earlier, preferably before 11pm or midnight.

The weather pattern associated with Autumn is dryness. The thing we need to be cautious of is being too dry this season. One way we do this is through diet. In Chinese, this time of year we need to focus on shao xin, zeng suan 少辛增酸 – ‘less spicy, more sour’. Spicy flavors have a mild drying quality as well as a sweat promoting quality, both of which dry the body. To the contrary, sour foods are gently moistening and hold in sweat. Increasing the amount of foods such as vinegar, pickled vegetables, and fruits such as plums is appropriate to the season. Other moistening foods include milk, soymilk, and fruit juices (especially apple or pear).

We wish everyone peace and health this season!

Beginning of Autumn 立秋 Seasonal Node

In the traditional Chinese calendar August is the start of Autumn, and this year Friday, August 7th, marks the beginning of the new season. Although in the western world Autumn is a summer month, the Chinese calendar is concerned with the relative balance of Yin and Yang in the natural environment, which is closely tied to day length. Summer Solstice in June was the longest day of the year. By now the days are getting gradually shorter, and we are only 6 weeks away from the Autumnal Equinox, a day of balance light and dark. Even though August weather can still be hot we are in the time of Yin and contraction in the natural environment.

The first five days of this seasonal node are called Liang Feng Zhi (涼風至) – Cool Winds Arrival. There is a Chinese saying that goes, “in the morning, once Autumn has arrived, in the evening the weather is cool and dry” (早上立了秋,晚上涼颼颼). The weather here in New Jersey this week has been relatively cooler – at the end of last week the evening lows were in the upper 50s.

Although the weather is beginning to shift, August can still be quite damp and humid. In Chinese medicine, weakness in the Spleen and Stomach leads to damp accumulation. This time of year we therefore need to avoid dampness and simultaneously strengthen the digestive organs. One way to accomplish this is to eat light and clear foods, increasing the amount of seasonal vegetables and eating a little less meat. Vegetables can be consumed lightly steamed or stir-fried, or in the case of light salad greens, raw. In general avoid overly hot, spicy foods. Congees are appropriate to help strengthen the digestive organs and one traditional congee recipe for this seasonal node is Euryale Seed and Discorea Congee (Qian Shi Shan Yao Zhou 芡實山藥粥; see below). In addition to dietary recommendations is basic acupressure on supplementing points such as Zu San Li (ST-36). If patients tend to cold and vacuous patterns of the Spleen and Stomach, gentle direct thread moxa at Zu San Li is also applicable.

Autumn is the season associated with the Lungs. As such, even though we want to avoid very spicy foods, mildly acrid foods are good this time of year for Lung function. These foods include ginger, scallion, leek, and black pepper. Mildly sweet and slightly sour fruits also help moisten and benefit the Lungs, including the now in-season stone fruits (i.e., plums and peaches).

This season we need to be cautious of sudden return of very hot and humid weather. In Chinese this is called “The Old Tiger of Autumn” (Qiu Lao Hu 秋老虎), and is similar to what in the west we would call an Indian Summer. When the old tiger rears its head again Summerheat pathogens are a risk – symptoms of this include headache, dizziness, nausea or vomiting, poor appetite, stuffy chest, heavy or fatigued limbs, and possibly diarrhea. If intense hot and damp weather returns, focus the diet on foods that are cooling and moistening. Foods to consider adding on a daily basis include all sorts of sprouts (e.g., mung bean or alfalfa), cucumbers, muskmelon, winter melon, tomato, and loofah. Mung beans are very cooling, and in hot weather they can be made into a sweet dessert soup.

 

Euryale Seed and Discorea Congee (Qian Shi Shan Yao Zhou) 芡實山藥粥

Ingredients:

·      1 cup rice (use glutinous rice if available)

·      200g Euryale seed (Qian Shi 芡實)

·      200g Discorea (Shan Yao 山藥)

·      200 g sugar

 

1.     Grind rice, Euryale seed, and Discorea to a powder. Mix the three together with sugar and blend well so evenly mixed

2.     In a pan, add 50 – 100g of blended powder to cold water, enough to make a thick soupy consistency

3.     Put over medium flame and warm for several minutes, stirring occasionally

4.     Enjoy in the morning on an empty stomach (consume warm)

 

Functions: Strengthens the Spleen, stops diarrhea

Contraindications: Diarrhea due to infections, damp heat type diarrhea

Minor Heat 小暑 Seasonal Node

Monday, July 7, is the beginning of the next seasonal node – Minor Heat (Xiao Shu 小暑). This important time period marks a major transition in the movement of Qi in the natural world. Summer Solstice (Xia Zhi 夏至) began the transition from Yang-expansion to Yin-contraction in the environment. Therefore, Minor Heat is the first seasonal node in the Yin time of the year. That said, it is still hot out! Even the name of this seasonal node acknowledges this. Although we are transitioning into the Yin time of the year, weather change happens slowly. Think of it like a train barreling ahead at high speed. Once the conductor decides to stop the train and put it in reverse, he first puts on the breaks. Even though the breaks are applied, it takes several hundred feet before the train actually stops. Only then will it very slowly start moving in reverse. The movement of the seasons is just like this. Once we have flipped the switch from Yang to Yin, the weather still continues to warm for some time before the very slow movement in the opposite direction begins.

The most important “to do” during this time is to nourish the Heart by maintaining an optimistic outlook. Why is this? June and July are the months associated with the Fire phase. Also, if we overlay the 12 time periods of the day with the 12 months of the year (i.e., the 12 two-hour periods of the day that each correspond to one of the primary channels), June is the time of the Heart channel and July the Small Intestine channel. Both are Fire phase channels. Since this is the time of year of the Fire phase, it is the time of the Heart Zang. We nourish the Heart by keeping a calm mind and being optimistic. Pessimism or other negative emotional states can lead to patterns such as Liver stagnation, which in turn can transform into heat and harass the Heart. Modern research has shown that positive attitudes are beneficial to health. For example, researchers at the Mayo Clinic found that pessimistic people have a much higher risk of developing dementia in later life, and the risk is even higher for people with a pessimistic personality and anxiety (click here to read more about this study).

During this seasonal node, the first 5-day period is known as Wen Feng Zhi (溫風至), - Sultry Winds Arrive. This certainly describes what is happening in the weather right now, especially in the Northeastern United States! The weather has been very hot, and very humid. Therefore, we also need to be careful about environmental dampness damaging the body. People who are prone to damp patterns (ask your acupuncturist if this is you!) need to be carful about how to eat, dress, etc… In this light the main “to avoid” this time period is undue exposure to cold and excessive consumption of cold items (both cold temperature and cold thermal nature). While it may seem logical to be in cold places in cold weather, there is certainly a problem in the west with, for example, using air conditioners to cool rooms to temperatures lower than we’d feel comfortable with in winter! Recently in our clinic we’ve seen quite a few patients with summer colds from frequently going between very hot and very cold environments. Furthermore, the overconsumption of cold food and drink, especially cold and very sweet food and drink damages the Spleen leading to more damp accumulation. Instead, we should drink beverages that are cooling as well as either bitter (to drain) or acrid (to move). This will cool the body without developing damp stagnation. This type of drink includes chrysanthemum and mint, or even green teas. For example, in China summer is the season to drink green teas such as the famous Dragon Well – Long Jing Cha 龍井茶.

In the next post we look at some diet recommendations for Minor Heat.

Stay dry and cool (but not too cool!)