Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Healthy Digestion without Drugs: 10 Tips

I know by now that ailments show up in my clinic in groups, and these last couple of weeks have been all about indigestion and acid reflux. So let's tackle this question.  In Chinese Medicine there are several patterns responsible for acid relfux and indigestion.  So it's best to isolate the pattern and get to the root of the problem instead of taking a catch-all over the counter, or prescription medication.  In my clinic I diagnose the pattern and use acupuncture and herbs to treat the condition and I'm usually able to help my patients wean off their medication, much to their relief.  Here I'd like to outline a few ways to maintain a healthy digestive tract naturally in your everyday life.

Lots of people take antacids.  And yes, it's possible to take Tums or Pepcid or even a proton pump inhibitor everyday for the rest of your life and survive.  But at what cost?  There is even a common misconception that it is a good idea to take Tums daily for calcium!  Let me tell you why this is really not a good idea. 

Antacids neutralize stomach acid.  When the hydrochloric acid in our stomach loses it's potency our bodies are no longer able to fully digest our dinner, and partially-digested food causes systemic problems. Also, changing the pH of the gut causes an imbalance of friendly flora putting you at risk for infection by the unfriendly types. Some believe that antacids even help set the stage for infection with Helicobacter pylori the bacterium that causes ulcers. In fact, sometimes antacids will cause your stomach to produce more acid, a condition called acid rebound, which makes heartburn worse. 
Here's the really interesting bit:  "Once you let partially digested foods leave your stomach, your body treats this partially digested food as foreign. The resulting immune response can result in food sensitivities and fatigue. You begin missing out on some of the nutrients and fats that your body needs. In addition, partially-digested foods often ferments in the intestines causing more gas. Added to this is the upset of the balance of friendly bacteria needed for a healthy immune system and antacids can contribute to colon problems."
{"Digestion Problems," Women's Health Letter, Nan Fuchs, PhD, Feb. 2002}

In short, the best thing you can do for your digestion is to stop taking antacids.

So What To DO?  Try these 10 Tips.

1.  In Chinese Medicine the adage is "Drink your food and chew your drink." This means chew your food so well that it is liquid before swallowing.  And sip your water, taking your time, instead of gulping.  Interestingly, chewing each bite of food 50 times helps digestion dramatically, brings conciousness to eating, and slows down your eating which can also help in dropping excess body fat.

2. Take raw, unfiltered, organic  apple cider vinegar--2 tablespoons up to three times per day in warm water.  While it is acidic going down, it becomes alkalyzing in your system.  It is also thought to help when antacids have been used to excess, as it is balancing.   If the taste is too strong, add a teaspoon of honey to help it go down.

3. Avoid your triggers!  They are different for everyone.  The usual suspects are coffee, alcohol, (especially red wine), spicy foods, tomatoes, carbonated drinks, and chocolate.  One of the biggest culprits and something most every human should avoid: deep fried food.  Even something as healthy as ginger root which is often touted for its stomach soothing properties can aggravate acid reflux, as can peppermint oil.

4. Food sensitivities can often cause digestive upset.  Gluten, dairy, soy, and sugar can all be triggers.  I recommend cutting them all out for a week and then adding them back in one at a time to see if any cause disruption to your digestion.  Or ask your doctor for a blood test for food allergies.

5.  As we age, our body produces fewer digestive enzymes and less stomach acid.  Taking a digestive enzyme supplement daily can be very effective at normalizing digestion.  There are lots of good ones out there.  I like All-Zyme Double Strength (a plant source supplement) by Rainbow Light, but the important thing is to find a food based supplement with a combination of amylase, protease, lipase, and cellulase.

6.  About half the population over 60 has insufficient stomach acid.  This condition, called hypochlorhydria, can present with indigestion, brittle nails and hair, rosacea, asthma, food allergies, bacterial and yeast overgrowth.  Hypochlorhydria can also be caused by H2 blockers, antacids like Tums, and proton pump inhibitors.  This can usually be quickly helped with supplemention of Betaine HCl 500-1000 mg per day with meals.

7.  Pure 100% Aloe Vera juice is very helpful for settling the stomach after eating, and also a great way to regulate bowels.  It is cooling, alkalyzing, and soothing to mucosal tissue.

8.  Exercise regularly and your digestion will follow suit. 
9.  Dao yin, a special form of Qi Gong, designed to be done lying down, incorporates a belly-massage technique that is wonderful for digestion.  It works well.  With firm pressure, rub one or both hands in a circular motion over the abdomen, encircling the navel in a clockwise direction.  It is recommended to be done 81 times while lying down at night.

10.  Eat and drink everything at room temperature or warmer.  In Chinese medicine we say that the stomach is constantly trying to reach 100 degree soup.  In fact, soup is one of the best, most easiliy digestible things to eat.  The spleen and stomach become stressed by too many raw foods, according to CM theory.  Steaming, roasting or baking are your best bets. You will be surprised how much this one habit helps indigestion better than anything else.  So no ice cream, no cold drinks from the fridge, no cold salads. 

Questions?  Comments?  Post below, and please share.

Call to make an appointment 828-582-5403.  Lara Ferguson Diaz, L.Ac., Dipl.O.M. (NCCAOM)  is an acupuncturist in private practice partnering with Integrative Family Medicine of Asheville.




Monday, February 25, 2013

6 Simple Shortcuts to Slow Food

We all know basically
what we should eat.  Real food, slow food, local, unprocessed fare.  When I talk to my patients about diet, they always say they know they shouldn't eat fast food, no soft drinks, or candy bars. But the amount of readily available, cheap industrial food and the shortage of time for most people muddles mealtime.  In general, I think a big struggle for many people is the basics.  Our body intuitively knows what makes us feel good or not.  But when the bag of chips beckons, how hard it can be to turn a deaf ear.

But there really CAN BE short cuts to slow food!  Here are 6 little ideas to help eat healthy, whole foods meals in a streamlined way.

1.  Belong to a CSA. (Community Supported Agriculture). That means you pay up front and local, usually organic produce is delivered to your neighborhood weekly. This puts fruits, vegetables, and sometimes healthy meats and eggs in your hands that you might not otherwise buy and puts you in a position to be creative with food.  It was through my CSA share that I came to terms with turnips and beets.  And now I can't do without them!  Check out:

2.  Use that crock pot.  I'm a fix it and forget it queen.  Think chili, vegetable stew, ratatoullie, lentil stew, or chicken soup, even hot cereals can be prepared the night before so you can wake up to breakfast already made.  And a crock pot full of  goodness can usually mean at least two meals for the family.

3.  Baked vegetables are fast food.  You can do this in a heartbeat with sweet potatoes, squashes, carrots, beets, the list is endless.
A.  Stab it with a fork
B.  Slap it in a baking dish,
C.  Toss it in the oven at 400 degrees for an hour.  Spend that hour doing whatever you want, but come back to some fragrant deliciousness at the end.  Don't forget the real butter, or olive oil, or balasamic vinegar.

4.  Embrace the smoothie.  Got a blender?  Have some extra leafy greens that you don't want to mess with steaming,  some berries?  Avocadoes, bananas, cucumbers, pears, whatever you love, toss it all together with some juice or almond milk or hemp milk and drink to your health!  I like adding a little unsweetened cocoa powder, or vitamin C powder, or chlorella to breakfast smoothies. 

5.   Cook ahead. If your weeks get like mine, make dishes you love ahead of time, freeze in portions, and take for lunch or pull out for a quick dinner when you're under the gun.

6.  Just ONCE, each week, just one meal, make a big plate of steamed greens for dinner.  Just kale, or kale with swiss chard, or whatever greens your CSA delivers, make that your meal. Try it and tell me how good you feel.  (I love steamed greens tossed with lots of fresh lemon juice, olive oil and salt and pepper.  Or with tahini dressing.  Creativity wins this one.)

Anyone else have any ideas?  Please share!

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

How to Make Your Own Face Cream

I gave up store bought skin creams years ago when my sensitive skin seemed to react to everything, and I realized during a certain physiology lecture that everything I was putting on my skin was quickly absorbed into my bloodstream.  My rule of thumb has become, "If you wouldn't eat it, don't put it on your skin."  And if you've scrutinized the ingredient list of most moisturizers, you know that they are often industrial ingredients and petrochemicals which at best (ultimately) dry out our skin and at worst cause disease.  Check out this link to find out what chemicals in your skin care routine can cause cancer:

That said, if you don't buy it you must make it.  What ensued was a long process of trial and error.  What I realized with my delicate and acne-prone, yet still dry and occasionally crinkly skin was that I needed to be careful.  Most of the natural skin care cream recipes I came across requred beeswax, which clogs pores, and some variety of oils including castor oil which can cause breakouts for me.  So here is what I discovered:  there are many different oils available and are all very different.  What I found to be the best, hands down, for a variety of conditions, is moisturizing, nurturing, and yet not pore-clogging is coconut oil.  This amazing substance, solid at room temperature is wonderful and incredibly healthy oil with which to cook, nourish the hair,  help clear wrinkles, eczema, and psoriasis.  It helps speed wound healing, and even seems to even out the texture and tone of skin. 

For most skin, here is a customizable recipe for an easy-to-make, delightful face cream that I love and use daily. 

Find a few small 2-6 oz jars you can have ready to house your mixture.

In a double boiler combine

  • 2 cups of virgin, organic coconut oil.  This may be softened in a pan of hot water first.
  • 1/2 cup liquid oil of your choice.  (jojoba if you break out easily, olive oil for mature skin less likely to break out, almond oil for very dry skin.)
  • 10 drops of Neem oil (excellent for dry skin, any skin inflammation and restoring skins natural elasticity.  It has a strong smell, so essential oils are necessary to add with this ingredient.)
  • 25 drops essential oil.  Combine two or three as you like:  lavender essential oil for calming the skin, especially sun-damanged skin.  Rosemary, sandalwood, carrot seed, or jasmine essential oils for mature, dry, wrinkle-prone skin.  Patchouli for scar tissue.  Roman chamomile for cooling inflammation, redness, especially with eczema or psoriasis.  (avoid clove, cinnamon, and cypress ess.oils which can burn or are photosensitive.)
  • In a cheesecloth (optional) you can simmer any of the above whole herb for 15 minutes, squeeze out in the final product.
Except for the essential oils, stir these ingredients together in the double boiler until liquid and fully mixed.  If you want to simmer whole herbs, allow to simmer longer.  Pour out into containers and let sit to cool uncovered for 15 minutes.  Now add the 25 drops of essential oil split evenly between jars and stir thoroughly. (Note: some essential oils are stronger than others.  Use your descretion in amount per container.)   Cover immediately and let sit overnight to harden fully.  Keep any oils that you don't use or give away in the fridge until you are ready to use.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Perils of Perfection

It has become a staple of our lexicon:  "Pefect!  See you then."  Or "That dress looks PERFECT on you."  Harmless enough.  We say it all the time.  Yet words are powerful and we are reinforcing the myth of perfection.  Ours is a culture of superlatives.  Just ok is not ok anymore.  I noticed last night my grocery store added a freezer section entitled "Super Premium Gourmet Ice Cream." We need at least three emphatic adjectives in any situation to get our point across.  Why?  Yes, part of this is marketing.  An irritating symptom of free enterprise.  But what we create is an extention of ourselves.  In our lives, we are being pushed to be ever faster, bigger, better, stronger, super-duper, more.  What is this doing to us?

I know I'm not alone in the great effort to attempt to stop attempting to be perfect.  Since I'm not even in the same ballpark as perfect, why do I beat my head against the wall, working to get there?  Who today doesn't agonize over things they have little control over?  Or lie in bed at night worrying that things are not the way they "should" be.  Or that in any one of a million ways they are falling short of the mark in some way.  Our world is getting meaner, more disconnected, and more results-oriented than ever before.  And more impediments to our "success" arise everyday. 

In Chinese Medicine, the goal is equanimity--always to keep the body in balance with itself and in balance with nature.  Balancing yin, the cool, calm, internal feminine principle with yang, the fast, hot, external masculine is a challenge in a culture that is so skewed in favor of yang.  Our living in a very yang society shows up in our bodies.  I notice very little striving for perfect health.  Our health often takes a backseat to how much can be achieved, how much money can be earned and how much time can be 'saved.' 

I consider this to be a health crisis. I frequently see patients who are manifesting the stress of perfection-driven overwork and long hours into "idiopathic" pain, injury, disease, and mental emotional disorders. Stress, according to both Western and Chinese medicine, contributes significantly to most every disease process.  Unfortunate for those of us who live in stress-land, USA.  It often feels like the modern world will not accept anything less than perfection.

For women it's even tougher. Women also feel the insane pressure of needing to look perfect. If you've ever picked up a copy of any fashion magazine, or watched five seconds of TV, or any movie ever, you can't but know exactly what I mean. I know a woman who is seriously concerned about the shape of her bellybutton since she gave birth. She looks fantastic. But the bellybutton just isn't sleek anymore. It's slightly hooded.  For real?? What a waste of energy. The words anorexia, bulimia, and self-mutilation come to mind.  And I know that as a culture we can do better.  When did looking seventeen forever seem like a good idea?  A good friend told me of a sign she saw recently that moved her.  It read, "Start a Revolution.  Stop Hating Your Body."  I worry for my 7-year-old daughter who is already showing signs of body image discontent.  My work is cut out for me to help her learn to love herself, her body, and be ok with how she shows up.

For our individual and collective health, I would like to declare a moratorium on perfection.  It's killing us. I'm not saying don't do the very best you can in every moment. That is something worth striving for.  But let's celebrate our differences.  Let's embrace what makes us unique, not how well we fit in that cookie cutter or that box.  I am convinced on many levels, that complete self-acceptance and self-love is the most important ingredient to mental health.  It is also the pressure release valve for stress, which may, in large part, be an answer to all our health challenges.

We are human.  We all trip, stumble, and fall flat on our faces.  Every single one of us.  With a fair amount of frequency.  We are also capable of amazing feats of super premium daring, beautiful super sonic acts of kindness, and gourmet expressions of insane, ginormous beauty.  But let's be ok with them not being perfect.  I guess I'll have to be ok with this article not being perfect.  And I'm going to post it anyway.

My health advice today?  Chill.

Do you have any thoughts on perfection?  How to just be ok?  Post in comments.  I want to hear how you do it!