Boston Acupuncture – 3 Ways to Perfect Your Wellness

Acupuncture and Chinese Medicine are often utilized when there is an immediate health issue that people need help resolving. But what role does this wonderful medicine play in the preventative medicine theater? Surprisingly enough, it can play a large one. If you are already healthy there are several ways that you can use a bi-monthly or monthly treatment to help you perfect your wellness.

1) Your acupuncturist does more than listen to you talk about your health issues. They typically look at your tongue, feel your pulse, and palpate areas or channels of the body that might indicate an imbalance. Sometimes, there are subtle signs that might indicate a minor imbalance in an otherwise healthy individual. That stressful time at work, while not interrupting your sleep or causing an upset stomach yet, shows up in the body and the diagnostic tools an acupuncturist uses can uncover this hidden problem before it becomes unhidden. By carefully assessing the state of every patient, even healthy ones, the practitioner can provide behind-the-scenes care for issues that a patient might be prone to in the future.

2) The best time to strengthen the body further and build resistance to disease is when the body is already healthy. We don’t give vaccines to people that are already sick do we? No, we give them when they are relatively healthy and their body can build an adequate immune response to the vaccine. The same principle applies in acupuncture and Chinese medicine. The best time to strengthen the system is when the system is already strong otherwise you are always taking two steps forward and one step back. Two steps forward in fighting the illness AND strengthening the system but one step back as the illness continues to affect the patient, but at a lower level. Seeking treatment when already healthy is the real basis for preventative medicine.

3) A lot can change in a couple of months without acupuncture treatment. By sticking to a regular treatment plan, even if it is every two to three weeks, your acupuncturist can monitor your health more effectively and you can mention those little annoyances and have them remedied before they turn big. Besides, we want to send a message to the body that the way you feel after acupuncture treatment isn’t just in response to decreased pain or fighting off a nasty cold but also in response to being healthy and having your body work as it was meant to; without pain or disease.

Preventative medicine gets a lot of press these days. Whether it is through eating correctly, exercising thirty minutes a day, meditating or getting massages regularly, you can stay healthier longer with a dose of it. Acupuncture and Chinese medicine are great compliments to these healthy practices and can do a lot to help you perfect your wellness.

Category : Acupuncture &Blog &Chinese Medicine &Prevention &Uncategorized &Wellness

Boston Acupuncture – The Tree of Acupuncture Treatment

One of the things I love most about acupuncture is the way that its treatment style makes sense. In Chinese medicine, the physician is there to help prevent disease and by accurately uncovering the root issue of a patient’s main complaint, they can help head off any future health issues that may come up as a result. Unfortunately, in the American culture many of the patients that seek acupuncture and Chinese herbal medicine treatment are already struggling with a health issue that is causing enough of a problem in their daily lives that they need to seek help. They often come to acupuncture and herbal medicine after months, or even years, of western medical treatments that help alleviate the symptoms but leave them without any true way to make progress towards freedom from a health condition, medication or potential surgery. The Chinese medicine doctor and acupuncturist treating these patients has their work cut out for them but it might be helpful to learn a little bit about the way treatment is constructed so that patients can have realistic expectations of how acupuncture and Chinese herbal medicine should be used as a complementary medicine.

Chinese medicine divides health issues into two categories. The first category is the branch symptom and the second is the root cause. The branch symptom is often the main complaint that a patient may present with. It could be low back pain or insomnia or anxiety. The main complaint must be fleshed out further through questioning, palpation and observation because even though a symptom may have a simple name, each case is complex and varies among patients. After all, pain located at the hip joint and radiating to the low back and down the leg is different than pain caused by muscle spasm. This is where Chinese medicine shines. The acupuncturist will be able to distinguish the what, where, when, and how of the main complaint and develop a treatment plan to suit that particular case. Acupuncture isn’t just about treating the here and now issue you might be experiencing. It goes much deeper than that.

The second category is the root cause. Just as a branch and the leaves of the tree can give a clue to the overall health of the tree and its hidden roots, acupuncturists use the main complaint and other diagnostic tools like questioning and palpation to get information about the overall health of the patient’s system. They know that even though several patients may have similar main complaints, each person may not have the same wellness base. Addressing the root cause through treatment takes time because it often requires lifestyle changes in addition to the acupuncture and Chinese herbal therapy the patient receives but the goal is to bolster the system little by little so that one day the patient will notice that not only has their main complaint vanished but that they might be sleeping better, have more energy, feel more grounded or just be able to recover from the daily stress of life more quickly. Most acupuncturists will address the root cause of an issue slowly through repeated treatments and pay more attention to the branch main complaint because most patients are looking for relief there first and foremost. But given time and patience, overall root health can be adjusted.

There are always obstacles to this style of treatment. Oftentimes patients are taking medications that have side effects causing the main complaint. Some very common side effects that become main complaints include insomnia and fatigue. The medications are important to the patient’s health and should never be stopped unless under the direction of a physician but it is often the acupuncturist that ends up fighting a losing battle. By addressing the root issue of the main complaint the Chinese medicine doctor may alleviate some of the problems caused by the medication while still addressing the symptoms of the main complaint.

The interaction between the branch and root components of a patient’s health is a key piece of what can make acupuncture treatments successful for so many varied health concerns. Recognizing how a particular root issue will give rise to the present, and even future, branch complaint is the job of a trained and licensed acupuncturist. As a patient you can rest assured that your treatment is always addressing not only your main complaint but also the root cause of the problem. And so acupuncture treatment is a great way to get more health bang for your hard earned buck.

Category : Acupuncture &Acupuncture Theory &Blog &Chinese Medicine &Prevention &Uncategorized &Wellness

Boston Acupuncture – Reishi Mushroom, Is It Magic?

This month we will take a look at a Chinese herb that inhabits rotting wood near the surface of the deep, dark forest. I am talking about the reishi mushroom, or Ling Zhi in Chinese herbal medicine nomenclature. The reishi mushroom is well known as a powerful immunity booster and has been revered as a magic medicinal. How do the eastern and western characteristics of Ling Zhi match up?

In Chinese medicine, reishi mushroom is unique because it travels to the five Yin organs of the body. Its nature as a sweet and slightly warm medicinal nourishes the energy of the kidneys, liver, spleen, heart and lungs. The primary actions of the reishi mushroom are to nourish the heart and quiet the spirit and it is often used to treat insomnia. Also related to the heart are its cardiovascular functions of lowering blood pressure and cholesterol.

Western research into the properties of the reishi mushroom reveal that it may have a significant impact on the T and NK cells of immune system. Proliferation of these cells is especially important in patients diagnosed with cancer or HIV and AIDS. In addition, many people use Ling Zhi as an immune boost when they feel a cold or the flu coming on since it may be able to interfere with viral replication. Cardiovascular benefits may include an ability to lower blood pressure by opening up arteries travelling to the heart and increasing blood flow. The liver is involved in the production of cholesterol and reishi mushroom extracts may be able to inhibit cholesterol production thus lowering blood cholesterol levels.

It is possible to eat reishi mushroom but many people will take an herbal extract supplement in pill form that is easier to consume. Dosage information is limited so speak with an herbalist before consuming and of course, talk with your physician before taking any new herbal medicine so you can be aware of any drug interactions and weigh any risks yourself. The diverse and nourishing aspects of Ling Zhi are the most mysterious characteristics of this ancient medicinal that has been used for over 2,000 years in Chinese medicine. With such glowing reviews, maybe the reishi mushroom should be a part of your natural health and wellness plan.

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Boston Acupuncture – Protect Heart Health with CoQ

Last week I wrote a blog article about protecting your heart and lowering your cholesterol using acupuncture. I mentioned a lot of information about how Chinese medicine views cholesterol levels and the way that acupuncture and herbal medicine can help you combat cholesterol levels that are creeping into the moderate to high range. I also remarked that one way western medicine controls high cholesterol levels is with statin medications. If you are one of those patients, there is one supplement that you need to know about. It’s called Coenzyme Q and it has some major implications for controlling high blood pressure and cholesterol levels.

Coenzyme Q, often referred to as CoQ, is a very important part of healthy heart tissue and muscle cells. The powerhouse of the cells, the mitochondria (who remembers their 9th grade biology?), use CoQ to help them produce energy using the oxygen delivered by our respiratory system. Without it, the mitochondria suffer, cannot utilize the oxygen efficiently, and starve the heart muscle cells of the energy they need to keep your ticker….well, ticking. In addition, CoQ is a potent antioxidant. Despite our body’s need for oxygen, that essential element can be damaging to blood vessels. Think of how iron interacts with oxygen to create rust. CoQ can help prevent this damage. Finally, in individuals with high blood pressure, lower than normal levels of CoQ have been observed leading to the hypothesis that increasing CoQ through diet or supplementation can help lower blood pressure.

Many Americans use statin drugs like Zocor, Lipitor or Mevacor to help them control high cholesterol levels. These medications work wonders but as I mentioned in my previous blog post, they aren’t curing the problem but simply masking it. Patients typically remain on these medications for life. One of the biological side effects of the statin drugs is that they damage the body’s ability to make CoQ and effectively shut down energy production by the mitochondria in the heart muscle cells. Counterproductive I know, but a major concern. Another major issue is muscle pain that accompanies statin use. Since muscle cells have a high concentration of mitochondria, this makes perfect sense. The remedy to this is supplementation with CoQ for as long as the patient is taking the statin medication. Dr. Elson Haas in the book Staying Healthy with Nutrition recommends a dose of between 50 to 150 mg per day for patients on statin medications for high cholesterol.

Much of the research on Coenzyme Q has focused on heart health. The University of Maryland Medical Center has reviewed clinical studies and reports that show that CoQ can help stave off future heart attacks, treat heart failure, combat high blood pressure and high cholesterol and potentially help control high blood sugar for diabetics. Another research study in the American Journal of Cardiology showed a significant decrease in muscle pain, a side effect of statin drugs, as a result of taking CoQ supplements. Of course, it is very important to speak with your physician before making any medication changes and CoQ should be used primarily as a supplement for heart health and not a primary medication. Dietary supplementation might be another option and foods rich in CoQ include oily fish, such as salmon and tuna, and whole grains.

Since heart disease is the top cause of death in the United States, it is extremely important to utilize whatever means necessary to help promote healthy heart habits and treatments. In addition to western medical procedures and medications, alternative sources of treatment such as acupuncture and herbal medicine can be helpful as well. Certainly evidence for Coenzyme Q seems to be encouraging and I would recommend that anyone struggling with their heart health or concerned about developing heart disease in the future, to supplement with CoQ as needed.

Category : Acupuncture &Blog &Nutritional Supplements &Prevention &Uncategorized &Wellness

Boston Acupuncture – Lowering Cholesterol with Acupuncture

You’ve probably seen those commercials for cholesterol medications, typically statin drugs, which discuss the ways that you might develop high cholesterol in the first place. You know, the ones that show a piece of food that might contribute to high cholesterol and then show a photo of a family member who has an uncanny resemblance to that food. I, for one, would never want to have my photo compared to a deviled egg and find a strange similarity but the commercial gets its point across in a memorable way. High cholesterol and hyperlipidemia are often connected to two different things: dietary choices and genetics. However, statin drugs are not your only weapon. Acupuncture and Chinese herbal medicine can be used in combination with smart dietary choices to decrease cholesterol levels in the body and either delay medication usage or decrease reliance on it.

Hyperlipidemia is a term that refers to an elevated level of lipids, or fats, in the blood plasma. The lipids are transported to areas around the body by different proteins and these proteins are the ones that anyone with high cholesterol is familiar with. The main culprits are very-low density lipoproteins (VLDL) and low density lipoproteins (LDL). The proteins carry the lipids to the liver where they are converted to compounds suitable for immediate usage or for storage as adipose, or fat, tissue. Hyperlipidemia occurs when there is an issue with the conversion of VLDL and LDL in the body and too much cholesterol stays in the blood.

In Chinese medicine, hyperlipidemia falls into the category of symptoms caused by excess phlegm dampness and a deficiency of spleen qi. The phlegm dampness is considered a branch symptom since it often develops due to the root issue of spleen qi deficiency. When the spleen qi does not function correctly, it is unable to remove the nutrients from the meal effectively and the excess is left over as lipids, or phlegm dampness, traveling in the blood. Three main factors can lead to a decrease in the functionality of the digestive system and its engine, the spleen qi. The first is an improper diet. An improper diet can tax the digestive system and make it difficult for the spleen. The second is stress. Typically over worry, anger or frustration are reactions to being under constant stress. Worry directly injures the spleen and anger or frustration injures the liver which has a close relationship with the spleen. Just think about how your digestive system might feel a little off when under periods of stress in your life. The final factor is constitutional or genetic. Each person is born with a certain amount of yin energy in their body and as this yin declines it can damage the liver and kidney system, leading down the road of excess phlegm dampness. Regardless of the factor, Chinese medicine, like western medicine, believe that improper dietary choices are the major pre-disposing factor for high cholesterol and hyperlipidemia. Here are some of the best foods for lowering cholesterol levels from the Mayo Clinic.

Recent research into the effectiveness of acupuncture on reducing high cholesterol levels has focused on the usage of one particular point, Stomach 40, which is well known to practitioners as a key point to remove phlegm dampness from the system. The research conducted on mice produced results that the researchers concluded could physiologically explain how acupuncture could lower cholesterol and triglyceride levels. In addition to this acupoint, other points located around the body are well suited to decreasing stress levels, transforming dampness, and supplementing spleen qi. A number of herbs have been found to decrease plasma VLDL and LDL as well. These include reishi mushrooms, angelica root, and notoginseng.

As a practicing acupuncturist, I never recommend that patients remove themselves from their medication without consulting their doctor first but if you are watching your diet, exercising, limiting your stress levels and are still not seeing results from your medication, then acupuncture might be an option for you. In addition, many people taking medication have cholesterol levels within acceptable ranges due to the medication itself. If they were to come off the medication, the levels could potentially spike back up. This is a little more of a touchy subject for me as a practitioner. I recommend that patients commit to a treatment plan and dietary changes geared towards decreasing their cholesterol to levels below those produced by medication alone and then speak with their physician about decreasing their dosage. Of course, it is important to remember that you are also getting other health benefits from the acupuncture beyond just the cholesterol lowering capabilities.

So if you are concerned about the potential for high cholesterol or are tired to having to take medication everyday for it, acupuncture and Chinese medicine just might be the thing for you. I’d be happy to develop an acupuncture treatment plan and recommend simple changes that you can make to your diet that can decrease cholesterol levels in the future.

Category : Acupuncture &Acupuncture Research &Blog &Chinese Medicine &Prevention &Uncategorized &Wellness

Boston Acupuncture – Research on Acupuncture Shows It Works

A recent article that appeared in the journal Medical Acupuncture reviewed current research that has to deal with acupuncture and what they found was certainly encouraging. The joint investigation conducted by the University of Maryland School of Medicine in Baltimore and Shanghai University of Traditional Chinese Medicine looked at all the data available from recent research projects conducted using acupuncture. Their conclusion was that acupuncture appeared to be better than the standard of care for many common pain conditions and they also commented on the trends towards more acceptable and standardized acupuncture research projects that have an implication on possible clinical application.

In addition to the article, I regularly get updates about acupuncture research and there are some exciting applications developing in its use in liver fibrosis, infertility, and osteoporosis treatments. Another slant to current research focuses on hashing out a mechanism for locating acupoints and measuring the way acupuncture works. This research has included oxygen measurements at points along the body as well as using functional MRI and brain wave analysis technology.

It is beneficial to see that the research into acupuncture has progressed to a point where it can be more readily accessible and acceptable to the scientific community. This can only translate into improved acupuncture treatments in the future for the general public. To read more about this exciting article and the recent advances in acupuncture research, Click Here….

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Boston Acupuncture – Treating Diabetes with Chinese Medicine

Previously I wrote about the increased rates of obesity in the United States and the way that acupuncture and Chinese herbal medicine can help control this issue. One of the diseases that often develop in overweight and obese patients is diabetes. As current numbers of obese or overweight individuals increase, so do those developing diabetes. Numbers estimated by the CDC in 2010 stand at 25.8 million individuals, or 8.3 percent of the U.S. population. Perhaps even more alarming are recent statistics on diabetes and pre-diabetes in adolescent. In the journal Pediatrics, it was reported that the number of cases jumped from 9 to 23 percent in the last decade alone. Staggering to say the least. How can acupuncture and Chinese medicine help you as a patient here in Boston? What other changes do you need to make in order to reverse the course of diabetes damage?

Diabetes mellitus (DM) is a syndrome that is characterized by an abnormal secretion of insulin which can elevate glucose, or sugar, concentrations in the body to dangerous levels. This can cause kidney and nerve damage as well as accelerate plaque buildup in the arteries, artherosclerosis. There are two main types of DM, Type I and Type II. Type I DM is characterized by a patient need for insulin shots to prevent diabetic coma and death. It can be considered an autoimmune disease and a potential genetic predisposition for Type I diabetes may be triggered by a viral infection. Type II DM patients do not need insulin shots for survival although they may take them based on their case. This form of diabetes is the one that is of most concern because it is potentially able to be controlled through a proper diet and physical and stress relief exercises. In fact, it is estimated that 85 percent of Type II diabetes are overweight when diagnosed. Symptoms of diabetes include strong thirst and hunger, frequent and copious urination, and ironically enough, weight loss. It is typically diagnosed by a combination of factors which include elevated fasting blood plasma glucose levels along with the above symptoms.

Interestingly enough, Chinese medicine considers DM to be a wasting and thirsting condition which reflects the weight loss and strong thirst or hunger seen in the symptoms. The treatment strategies address these two separate components of the condition. The wasting component represents a lack of Qi and Yin. During this stage of treatment, the acupuncturist or Chinese herbalist is seeking to supplement the spleen or kidney energy that produces Qi and Yin for the body. Strong thirst and hunger indicates an exuberance of Heat in the system so clearing the body of this Heat is of upmost importance in the beginning stages of a DM diagnosis. Aside from the theoretical implications of acupuncture and Chinese herbal treatment for diabetes, there are some immediate results that can be obtained, with blood glucose levels changing drastically just after treatment. I have had patients report, with smiles on their faces, that a treatment produced such results and this typically validates the therapy for them in a concrete and objective way.

As is often the case with situations like obesity, diabetes, and heart disease, acupuncture and Chinese medicine should not be used exclusively. It is very important to incorporate dietary and lifestyle changes to get true lasting results. Some simple dietary tips I give patients include 1) eliminating sugar or refined sugar products, 2) avoiding “junk” foods, 3) reducing alcohol, caffeine, and tobacco use, 4) eating foods made of complex carbohydrates, such as fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, that release glucose into the system slowly, 5) eating some sort of protein between meals to satiate hunger more effectively and 6) losing weight by decreasing food intake and increasing exercise. Another great resource online is the work done by Dr. Mark Hyman on reversing “diabesity” using dietary and lifestyle changes.

If you are struggling with diabetes and the damage it is doing to your body, the good news is that there are ways that you can help control or even reverse it. Acupuncture and Chinese herbal medicine can be a tool in your arsenal to combat diabetes but it is up to you to start the journey down the path to improved health and wellness. Good luck and if you have any helpful tips on how you are battling diabetes successfully, please comment on this blog post and share them with our community.

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Boston Acupuncture – Physical Presence of Acupoints

A recent research article measured changes in oxygen levels at the surface of human skin in relation to the commonly recognized locations of acupoints on the body. The research project was completed using a human subject after it was performed with similar points on a rabbit model. News stations have been eager to cover the use of acupuncture for animals and this just shows that the same points can be used between species. What does this mean for you as an acupuncture patient? Well, it supports the idea that there is actually a measurable difference between areas of the body that have acupuncture points located in them and those that don’t. A keen acupuncturist can pick up on these subtle differences by using their own knowledge of acupoint location and differences in the way the point feels. This difference is known as the “active point” and can differ from the book location by several millimeters. Now while this may not seem like a big space, think about how small the acupuncture needle is in the first place. The placement of a needle a few millimeters off can have an impact on the amount and type of therapy that is delivered. To read more about this amazing research, click here…

Category : Acupuncture &Acupuncture Research &Acupuncture Theory &Blog &Uncategorized &Wellness

Boston Acupuncture – Obesity, Weight Loss and Acupuncture

According to the World Health Organization there are 1 billion people globally that are overweight and 300 million that are clinically obese. According to the National Health and Nutrition Examination survey from 1999 to 2002, 65 percent of the U.S. population is obese or overweight and 30 percent are considered clinically obese. Recent reports on obesity by the CDC put the current levels at 35.7 percent in adults and 16.9 percent in children.

And while the  numbers  of obese individuals has leveled off after increasing in the past, there is still much to be done to combat the obesity epidemic in the United States. With these alarming statistics what can acupuncture and Chinese herbal medicine do to help with obesity and weight management?

Western View

Obesity is excess fat within the body and tissues. There could be many reasons that lead to obesity and overweight, which may include genetics and environment. Researchers have found that certain genes may cause individuals, up to 50-70 percent of those studied, to become more susceptible in becoming obese.

The environment has also been another major cause leading obesity and overweight. Obviously eating habits have changed significantly in modern times and there has been an increase of calorie intake and not enough exercise to burn the calories leading to accumulation of excess fat in the body.

The environment can include many other factors that can lead to weight gain such as work, stress, and other lifestyle habits. Research has shown that job related stress or psychological disorders like depression can contribute to obesity. However the main conclusion for the reason of obesity is the imbalance between the calories eaten and the calories burned off.

Untreated obesity can lead to a number of major diseases like cardiovascular disease, COPD and diabetes not to mention the strain it puts on the joints of the body. This arthritis and pain makes it harder to embark upon the exercise regimen necessary to improve metabolism and burn off excess calories.

Western weight loss programs can range from individual tailored exercises and diet plans to medical interventions such as surgery and weight loss medications. In order to be truly successful in managing weight and obesity, lifestyle change, such as eating habits, and physical exercise are at the heart of the matter. The American College of Sports Medicine recommends that adults expend 300 to 500 Calories per exercise session or 1,000 to 2,000 Calories overall during 150 minutes of exercise a week (that’s 21.5 minutes a day). It’s a lengthy process as well since most healthy weight loss programs start with losing 10 percent of weight from baseline within six months. Sorry, no Biggest Loser Program here.

Chinese Medicine View

In a study that looked at the use of complementary alternative medicine (CAM) for weight loss, 372 of 11,211, or 3 percent, respondents used CAM for weight management within the past 12 months.

From a Chinese medicine standpoint, obesity is related to several issues including righteous Qi deficiency, improper diet, lack of physical exercise, and constitutional factors. The righteous Qi is derived from the digestive engine of the body, the spleen, and when that engine is gummed up because of the burden of excess calories, it cannot produce the Qi necessary to give the body energy it needs to maintain a healthy metabolism. Obviously an improper diet low in nutrition and full of useless calories and sugar will pack on the pounds. Without physical exercise, stagnation of Qi and energy in the body will occur leading to fatigue, depression, and anxiety. Finally, the issue of constitutional factors addresses the hereditary link mentioned in the Western medicine section.

Oftentimes treatment will focus on a number of factors but each case is different and only a licensed acupuncturist will be able to diagnose it properly. It may involve draining or transforming dampness in the system to strengthen the digestive system and restore energy. Clearing heat in the body may alleviate an excess appetite or thirst and constipation. On the other hand, sometimes there is not enough warmth in the system and diarrhea and sore knees or low back can be helped by gently supplementing the body’s yang energy.

As acupuncture and Chinese medicine has become more popular, there have been some studies performed looking at the treatment of obesity with acupuncture. One study demonstrated the effectiveness of electro-acupuncture for weight loss. 54 patients were separated into two groups; one doing sit-ups and the other doing electro-acupuncture. The study lasted 13 weeks and the electro-acupuncture stimulator was connected on the points on the abdomen. The results of the study showed that acupuncture was more effective than doing sit-up exercise alone. A recent blog article that showed up in Shape magazine outlines a sample electro-acupuncture weight loss treatment. Another study used auricular acupuncture for weight loss. The study was done using bilateral auricular acupuncture points with electrical stimulation. There were 55 patients studied and 63.6 percent showed a decrease of body weight. Despite these encouraging statistics, there still is a need for more quality research on obesity in the United States using acupuncture and Chinese medicine.

Acupuncture and Chinese medicine can provide an alternative treatment to help control weight problems. Besides acupuncture and herbal medicine, individuals must also exercise and practice correct dietary guidelines and recognize that weight loss is a process that yields gradual results. Acupuncture and herbal medicine, when combined with exercise and food therapy can greatly enhance the treatment of obesity and help individual’s manage their weight.

Article written using material in Acupuncture Today, 2010

Category : Acupuncture &Acupuncture Research &Acupuncture Theory &Auricular Acupuncture &Blog &Chinese Medicine &Uncategorized &Weight Loss &Wellness

Boston Acupuncture – I Spy With My Little (Strong) Eye, Goji Berries

If you’ve been in a Boston area Whole Foods, or any health food store for that matter, recently, you’ve probably seen goji berries. They are little dried fruits similar in size to raisins that have a deep red color. With a slightly sweet and tangy taste, goji berries are a great addition to trail mix and can be found in a delicious juice form as well. They typically come from the Himalaya region and are touted for their immune system boosting capabilities. Of course, you can imagine that a food with these properties might have attracted the attention of some intrepid Chinese herbalist thousands of years ago. Well, you’re right and goji berries are an important Chinese herbal remedy.

Goji berries, or wolfberries, are known as Gou Qi Zi in Chinese herbal medicine. They are categorized as being Blood Tonifiers and have a sweet taste but a neutral temperature. As a blood tonifier, gou qi zi is very important in preserving the health of an aging body and addressing issues that may come up as a result. This herb travels to the Kidneys, Liver and Lungs and its neutral temperature allows it to elicit change without causing too much strain on the digestive system. The kidneys and liver are two of the more important organ systems to enrich and supplement as the body gets older and the actions of this herb clearly address those organs. By enriching the kidneys, gou qi zi can treat knee and low back ache, diabetes and impotence caused by a decrease in kidney energy. Its actions on the liver focus a great deal on the eyes. The bright red color of the berries indicates a high content of beta-carotene and other anti-oxidants such as zeaxanthin, both of which are major promoters of increased eye health and vision. The goji berries actions on the lungs is derived from its sweet taste since the berries can be effective at treating cough similar to how a sweet cough drop or honey can help alleviate an irritating dry cough. If I ever end up with a dry cough, I find that a couple of gou qi zi berries in my morning tea can help moisten and soothe my throat.

Obviously touting an herbal remedy’s ability to protect the liver, help eyesight, improve sexual function, strengthen the low back and knees, and boost immune function is great, especially when it comes to selling dried berries or goji juice, but what about some scientific support for these claims. Unfortunately, there hasn’t been too much done aside from analyzing the chemical composition of the berries. That data has shown gou qi zi to be one of the most nutrient dense foods available and indicates a high concentration of beta carotene and other anti-oxidants that decrease the cellular aging process. In moderation, consuming goji berries daily might be a great way to boost your system and maintain your vision into old age.

I was introduced to gou qi zi in acupuncture school and have enjoyed them since then in teas or with some mixed nuts and chocolate chunks in a popular trail mix. They can be a little difficult to chew though and if you are interested in adding them to your regular diet, put them in a cup of tea or water and let them rehydrate. Your jaw and your eyes will thank you!

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