Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Lifestyle Changes Can Cut Breast Cancer Rates

Mary Cissy Majebe, O.M.D.

This was the headline in the March 26, 2010 USA Today. As Western science evolves, it confirms knowledge handed down for centuries in Chinese medicine (CM). Western science continues to affirm CM knowledge, rather than refuting its wisdom. For example, CM linked the Kidney Qi to the bones long before Western science taught us that the kidneys secrete the hormone erythropoietin, which stimulates bone marrow to produce red blood cells, long before we knew the connection between calcium and kidney function.

These headlines lead me to reflect on the causes of disease from a Chinese medicine perspective. In Chinese medicine, diseases are generally attributed to three primary causes:
1) Internal Pathogenic Factors
2) External Pathogenic Factors
3) Miscellaneous Factors.

External Pathogenic Factors are the six environmental factors: cold, heat, wind, damp,dryness and summer heat. Bacterial conditions can be transmitted via the wind, and this wind was the "cause of 100's of diseases" based on the oldest Chinese medicine text, the Nei Jing, written in 220 BCE. I am always amazed that the Chinese knew of air-borne conditions long before access to the "scientific tools" that now confirm their knowledge.

Internal Pathogenic Factors relate to those things that we are consuming on a daily basis. This has to do with not only the foods that we are consuming, but also the emotions that we are consuming. These are the lifestyle factors that are becoming more of a focus in many of our lives.

Miscellaneous Factors include genetics and also the toxic influences that are now proliferating in our world. We know that there are onco-genes that are associated with a greater likelihood of a cancer diagnosis. I believe that we are just beginning to scratch the surface of understanding the toxicity of chemicals, pesticides and other noxious substances in our environment.

SO, HOW DO WE PROTECT OURSELVES FROM CANCER??? This question could be assigned the same answer as the question of, HOW DO WE PROTECT OUR CHILDREN FROM HURT AND PAIN? We do the best we can with what we have.

We exercise, pray, do progressive relaxation or meditate.
We eat as organically and clean as possible. Yet, we are still subjected to chemical and toxic influences daily. So, how do we negotiate this journey of life amidst all of the perils that lie ahead?

We wake each morning, knowing that it is a gift to be alive and walking and sharing this journey with each other. We acknowledge that our time here is limited, and we embrace each precious moment. We meet each other with love and hopefully learn to meet ourselves with love and acceptance.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Herbal Medicine: The Mulberry Tree In Chinese Herbology

David Treviño, L.Ac.

One of the most useful plants in Chinese herbal medicine is the white mulberry plant, Morus alba. Since ancient times, the Chinese have used this plant for raising silkworms, which utilize the tree's leaves as their main source of food. Chinese medical practitioners have used several parts of this plant for centuries to treat various health conditions. The Chinese term for the mulberry plant is sang. The plant parts used in Chinese herbology include the fruit (sang shen), leaves (sang ye), and the root bark (sang bai pi).

Additionally, the silkworm fecal matter (can sha) created after the worms have eaten the leaves is an important medicinal derived from this plant. Each of the plant parts has unique characteristics and diverse therapeutic uses.

Mulberry fruit is a sweet, gentle, and cooling blood tonic that enhances the nourishing, cooling, and moistening (Yin) aspects of the Liver and Kidneys. Chinese medicine utilizes this herb to treat deficient conditions such as anemia, dry constipation, and the premature graying of hair. The ability for this fruit to treat deficient conditions may be due to the fact that it contains significant amounts of vitamin A, B1, B2, C, protein, lipids, and anthocyanins.

According to Subhuti Dharmananda, president of the Institute for Traditional Medicine (ITM), the high levels of anthocyanins found in mulberry fruit, "may improve blood circulation and other body functions to alleviate many symptoms that arise under deficiency conditions." In China today, Morus fruit is bottled as a beverage and marketed to improve the immune system, enhance general health, and promote longevity.

Morus leaves are sweet and cooling like the fruit, but also have a bitter flavor. The leaves enter the Liver and Lung meridians, where the cooling and bitter properties remove externally contracted heat conditions (as occurring with a cold or the flu) with symptoms such as fever, sore throat, headache, sore-watery eyes and cough.

Mulberry leaves are also used to stop bleeding in patients who are vomiting blood. Western studies have shown that decoctions made from fresh mulberry leaf can inhibit several bacteria including Staphyloccocus aureus, Escherichi coli, and hemolytic streptococcus. New research shows that mulberry leaf extracts may play a role in the management and treatment of diabetes.

Similar to the leaves of this plant, Morus root bark is sweet and cold in nature and enters the Lung meridian. The difference between Morus leaves and the root bark is that the latter is indicated for coughs that have hot phlegm. In Chinese medicine, hot phlegm occurs when the body's physiological fluids in the Lung are heated and congealed in reaction to a pathogen. The phlegm can then turn white, yellow, green, or even gray depending on the severity of the heat.

Morus root bark has the ability to help the body transform the pathological phlegm with a downward directing function, which settles coughs and wheezing and facilitates urination to eliminate excess fluid. In fact, this herb is commonly used for the treatment of edema, especially when it is around the eyes.

According to John Chen, author of Chinese Medical Herbology and Pharmacology, the water and alcohol extracts of Morus root bark "have a marked diuretic effect by increasing the excretion of water, sodium chloride, and potassium." Other pharmacological effects of this herb include inhibiting bacteria such as Staphylococcus aureus, Salmonella typhi, and Baccillus dysenteriae.

Because of its sweet, acrid and warm qualities, the silkworm fecal matter is effective for the treatment of pain in the extremities and abdomen caused by Wind and Dampness. Chinese medicine considers this type of pain in the extremities as Wind-Damp Painful Obstructive Syndrome. Wind refers to the tight or pulling nature of the pain (like a spasm) and the dampness to the swelling in the joints, which is often exacerbated by damp environments or damp weather. The silkworm's fecal matter has a warm quality, is able to dry the damp obstruction and the acrid quality helps increase the blood flow to eliminate muscle aches and pain.

Believe it or not, silkworm fecal matter is also used in Chinese medicine to harmonize the stomach. Its sweet flavor harmonizes the stomach, and the warm and pungent properties help eliminate any fluids that may be obstructing the normal flow and function of the stomach. For these reasons, this herb can stop abdominal cramping and transform the dampness that is inherent in diarrhea and vomiting. Finally, this herb is commonly used to treat itchy skin and eczema. The acrid and warm properties help bring blood to the skin, dry the secretions and promote healing.

Morus albae is a unique plant in Chinese herbal medicine. This plant's fruit, leaves, root bark, and the silkworm fecal matter created from the leaves, all have unique characteristics. They have been used effectively for centuries and currently are important herbs in Chinese medicine. Morus albae's diverse therapeutic ability to treat a range of conditions make this a remarkable plant in the Chinese pharmacopeia.


Chen J., Chen, T.
Chinese Herbal Medicine and Pharmacology. City of Industry, CA: Art of Medicine Press, 2001.

Bensky, D., Clavey,S., Stöger,E.
Chinese Herbal Medicine Materia Medica. Seattle, Washington: Eastland Press, 2004.

Dharmananda, Subhuti, Ph.D.,
Fruit as Medicine. Director, Institute for Traditional Medicine, 2004.

Murata K, Yatsunami K, Fukuda E, et al. "Antihyperglycemic effects of propolis mixed with mulberry leaf extract on patients with type 2 diabetes."
Altern Ther Health Med, May-June 2004;10(3):78-9.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Treating Pain: Fibromyalgia

Karen Litton, L.Ac.

Various rheumatology studies have estimated that 3 to 6 million Americans suffer from fibromyalgia. That is one in every 50 Americans. Over 80% of sufferers are women over 50 years of age. The prevalence of fibromyalgia is second only to osteoarthritis among rheumatic ailments. The pervasive pain of fibromyalgia is challenging to both the patient and doctor.

Western medicine does not know exactly what causes it. There are no diagnostic tests such as x-rays or blood tests to detect it. The symptoms of it may overlap with the symptoms of other conditions. These are some of the reasons it is difficult to diagnose from a Western standpoint.

Fibromyalgia is characterized by wide-spread muscle pain and stiffness. This pain can be accompanied by fatigue, non-restorative sleep, balance issues, dizziness, and pain that is worse with stress/physical activity/and weather changes, especially cold and damp. Some degree of pain is always present. It can be in the hips, low back, shoulders or legs. The condition can be triggered by emotional stress, medical illness and trauma.

Fibromyalgia is also thought to be associated with a variety of other symptoms such as Irritable Bowel Syndrome, dysmenorrhea, and restless leg syndrome. Western medicine treats these conditions with lifestyle modifications, drug therapy and other modalities.

Numerous Western research studies have evaluated the effectiveness of acupuncture in the treatment of fibromyalgia. In June of 2006, a Mayo Clinic study found that acupuncture significantly reduced the symptoms of fibromyalgia. Because Chinese medicine takes an individual approach to diagnosis, there are numerous possibilities as to why a person develops this type of pain syndrome.

Chinese medicine does not treat a specific disease known as "fibromyalgia" per se. What it does treat is the unique expression of fibromyalgia that is particular to each individual based on their own signs and symptoms. Through a detailed analysis, your acupuncturist will consider your combined group of symptoms and how they are expressed in the body.

If an individual's sleep and dizziness issues are accompanied by pervasive pain in the muscles and joints of the body, your practitioner will design a treatment plan focusing on the underlying cause of this set of symptoms. Another individual could have an entirely different set of conditions that are combined together.

A Chinese medicine practitioner will evaluate the energy flow in the different meridians where the imbalances are thought to arise, looking for areas of deficiency and stagnation. This energy flow is known as qi, and it flows through meridians, which correspond to a particular organ or a group of organs. Too much, too little or blocked qi can lead to health problems. Thus Chinese medicine will have a different diagnosis for each individual evaluated, with an individual treatment plan for each.

While adjusting the circulation of qi and blood through an acupuncture treatment, your practitioner may also want you to include herbal medicine, as appropriate. Particular herbs can be chosen, which also help to relieve the pain and address your system's imbalances. Other therapies that might be included are heat, massage and cupping. Cupping is a suction technique used on muscles to move the qi or help to release the muscle groups. All of these additional modalities can help to reduce pain.

There are a number of things which you can do on your own to help with the pain in the body. One activity is to walk. Walking moves the qi in our Liver meridian, which is responsible for overall qi flow in our body. Even though the pain may tell us that moving will aggravate the symptoms, generally an even walking pace and a walk outside will do a lot to move our qi stagnation, which ultimately helps relieve some of the pain symptoms.

Your practitioner will also talk with you about changing what is stressing you in your life. Looking at your stress level and determining how to reduce it in your life is important. When we are stressed, we tighten and decrease the circulation of the qi and blood in our bodies. Stress also uses up the body's resources that could be used for healing. Yoga, Tai Chi, Qi Gong, and stretching are therefore helpful.

Specific stretches can help to relieve painful areas of the body.
If your pain is in your shoulders, for example, there is an easy stretch to help keep the shoulders open. Take a rope or a long belt and grasp it in your hands. Act as if you want to pull the rope in two, creating a tension in the rope. Then, with the rope taut, hold your hands in front of your body and slowly raise your arms overhead and back behind your body, continuing to hold the rope in your hands. Make sure that the rope is long enough, so that this is an easy motion to make. Keep your arms completely straight, without bending the elbows. Doing several of these stretches over the head, back behind the body, and to the front again will open up the flow of energy in your arms, thus helping relieve the pain.

In addition, there are a couple of
liniments available at the clinic that can be rubbed into the shoulders or hips or knees to provide some pain relief. Two of these are White Flower Oil and Dit Da ointment.

Another area your practitioner may focus upon is your
diet. You may be asked to fill out a diet sheet. This is an examination of what foods make up your meals. For example, if we eat a diet, which is more acidic (such as tomatoes, sugar, etc.), then this can add to the heat and stagnation in our joints. Eating a more alkaline diet, with more vegetables and other foods, may be suggested.

All of these different modalities can complement each other in achieving relief from this complex illness.