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So, you’ve heard of yin and yang, but the other major system of balance is the five elements. The Guanzi, a text attributed to the philosopher Guan Zhong who lived during the 7th century B.C.E., observes that “the human being completes physical form after five lunar months and is born after ten.” Chinese theory is big on cycles of 5.

Lots of Chinese theory comes from the 5 elements, wood, fire, earth, metal, and water. Wood burns to make fire, whose ashes become earth, from where metals are formed, which enriches water, which nourishes trees (wood). Wood is cut by metal, fire is extinguished by water, earth is penetrated by wood (tree roots), metal is melted by fire, water is channeled and contained by earth. Yes, I know the periodic table and modern anatomy and physiology exist, but these simple interactions can explain a great deal of imbalance in the natural world and its microcosm in the human body.

Any basic acupuncture or Chinese medicine book will likely have a table of correspondences. Each season also has associated organ and meridian systems, sense, tissue, emotion, body fluid, color, pathogenic influence, and taste (which also speaks to dietary recommendations). Autumn is metal, associated with the lung and large intestine, nose, skin, grief, mucus, white, dryness, and pungency.

The lung is the tender organ, and a lot of traditional fall tips involve building the immune system and staying covered. It’s all about avoiding that autumn cold, so do keep a light scarf or jacket around for when you go from the 90 degrees outside to 60 degrees inside. Even if you don’t believe in cold actually leading to catching one, why deal with the shock to your system? Pungency means spices, so have that PSL, but maybe skim, maybe soy, easy on the sugar. I have seen a lot written about fall cleaning instead of spring cleaning, organizing, downsizing, and letting things go. The paired organ to Lung is Large Intestine, so I will let you make your own poop joke.

Rat lungworm transmitted by traditional Chinese remedies! Is the impression I get from some of the headlines. The New York Times has a story in Global Health with a close up of a caterpillar. If you actually read the story, it closes with

 

some traditionalists boil them in teas or pickle them in wine to use as home remedies.

“In my opinion, it would be rude to tell the customer, ‘Don’t eat them raw,’” [Dr. Lingli Lu, neurologist] said. “It would say the customer is stupid.”

 

And it’s true, one of the items in the pharmacopoeia is a venomous caterpillar. I don’t really remember it in my studies, since that was over a decade ago, and it wasn’t common. But I do remember that the ingredients of our nasty brews (except delicate aromatic herbs like mint) were boiled for at least 20 minutes.

The NYT story features a 2012 incident in Guangzhou. From unregulated folk medicine, with someone who didn’t think to prepare it properly. But rat lungworm has infected Americans in the United States. One of the google blurbs said it was “endemic in the southeastern US,” though the CDC doesn’t mention it. There have been cases in Hawaii, though. So where might rat lungworm live if not in rats and centipedes? Slugs and snails, and those babies are super tiny! Honolulu Family published notes on avoiding the wee beasties. In short, don’t drink out of the hose, wash wash wash, look at your produce carefully, freeze or cook your veggies. Chinese dietary theory says eating too many raw veggies is bad for you anyway.

My takeaway from this is that there are lots of things to worry about, but unless you live in slugland*, this probably shouldn’t make your top 100. Close ups of many legged creatures and fears of exotic illnesses sell papers, though**. And definitely don’t let it give you a bad impression of acupuncturists and herbalists! I get all my stuff from GMP certified sources, properly processed, in sealed packages. I don’t have the storage space to deal with nasty brews anyway; anything I order for you will be in a pill.

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*For my bf, who may well be freaking out about the arugula from my garden: no incidences in Texas that I know of, I haven’t had so much snail/slug trouble this year, and I always triple wash my harvest.

**Don’t “fake news” at me, though; the NYT is a fine source, and there were no lies here. I am just fleshing out the story in its relevance to me.

Y’all, in my line of work, I see plenty of stress, depression, anxiety, and frustration. Lately I see more. I feel more. I’m not even that much of a news junkie, and I have been absolutely speechless for the last month +. I will get back to regularly scheduled programming in a little bit, when talking about wellness doesn’t seem quite so out of place, but for now, here is a link and a thought. You will die, and your government will fall. But either one, probably not today, so live your life.

Watermelon, or xi gua, is well known as a great remedy to cool down. One of my professors even recommended that women who had hot flashes should eat it daily. According to Southwest Acupuncture College, “To relieve heat exhaustion, the outermost layer of the rind is used as opposed to the sweet, juicy part of the fruit. In addition to clearing heat, watermelon promotes urination and reduces jaundice.”

But in some states, you definitely want to buy your melon whole.

Somebody asked me if I did facial rejuvenation acupuncture, and without thinking of the irony, I replied, “That’s really a younger practitioner’s game.” Frankly, as I have been taught, it is. I don’t have the patience, the eyesight (I don’t absolutely require reading glasses…yet), the knuckle control (I’ve bitched about how my hands are prone to arthritis before, and I don’t tend to do more than 30 needles in a regular session), or the back flexibility to lean over someone and do near a hundred extra small (yes, yes, acupuncture needles are tiny. Facial acupuncture needles are tinier.), precision (regular acupuncture is going a certain depth into muscles with a few millimetres of leeway. Facial acupuncture targets the dermis.) needles to the face. Frankly, recreating Hellraiser seems easier.

I was working on an older woman and mentioned that when I work both sides, I like to end face up so the patient has a chance for the sheet wrinkles to settle before facing the world. She said something to the effect of, “If you’ve made it to my age without wrinkles, there is something wrong with you. Life is reflected on your face, and if it hasn’t made an impression in 60 years, you haven’t had much of one.”

Which is not to say I don’t understand vanity or that I won’t work on your face if you ask me. Facial cupping is a great way to manually smooth the skin and bring extra circulation to the complexion. It’s also great for your sinuses. Some of the deeper wrinkles between the eyebrows or in the nasolabial groove can benefit from threading a pin through them. Both of these are best if you’re not wearing makeup. As with all facial work, it’s best if you’re not wearing makeup, with me, with another practitioner, or at home.

Diet for depression. Is it just me, or does this sound a lot like every other recommended diet?

Loneliness and health Maaan, they didn’t even bother to survey my people. (GenX represent!) So, unless you’re the most extreme introvert, here’s some more fun general health advice other than “eat better food, sleep more, and get a little exercise.” Hang out with your friends at least once a week.

Social media’s not social Get off your phone and into your life.

Yeah, yeah, I skipped blogging in April, but I have been getting other things done. Like my cholesterol retest! Here it is: Total: 152 HDL: 75 LDL: 64 from Total: 210 HDL: 74 LDL: 116

Now, I am a big believer in honestly weighing the cost/benefit and trying not to get knee jerk or emotional. I have heard that statins can mess up your muscles and had a friend who got untenably dizzy with them. Which is not a great statistical sample, so if I needed (this was 18 months of “No, really, Doctor, I’m going to change my diet and exercise; I’ll get those numbers down.”) to go on statins, I would, but I’m glad I don’t have to. Natural, by the way, also has side effects.

Did you know glucosamine can raise cholesterol levels? I recently stumbled onto this. Crap. Osteobiflex was my go-to for helping my hands. Fortunately, I have been good about alternating  my phone typing position (type one thought with thumbs, type the next with pointer finger, and if you’re writing a novel, go get a keyboard!), and it’s been months since I’ve taken one. Yet another reason not to let yourself get texter’s thumb, y’all.

Carbs are not the enemy, but it’s good to limit sugars. Fat is also less of a bogeyman than we were led to believe in the 90s, but no need to go overboard there, either. I’ve been trying to get lots of fresh vegetables, whole grains, and fiber. I got into a really good groove exercising before I had surgery (a blog for another time), but it’s been 4 months, and I’m still not back into it properly. I am tracking my sleep with an app and mostly improving, though my geriatric cat does still sleep with me, and he wakes up with a pretty reliable 4am coughing fit. Poor old boy is not the picture of genki anymore. 🙁

Cholesterol, weight, depression, pain, all kinds of stuff, and the advice is the SAME. Eat a balanced diet, exercise regularly, and get enough sleep. I know. I think you know. It’s just the doing it!

The sky wasn’t clear, but it was too warm for snow. Yep, it was pollen. Those of us who are sensitive to cedar have been dealing with this for months, but spring is just around the corner, and so are seasonal allergies!

Can you needle my nasal passages open? Actually, I think I’ve gotten better at it. When I first started, about 7/10 people said that point is really uncomfortable (years later, I think maybe more people don’t find it uncomfortable than are hurt), but 9/10 people could breathe much better as soon as it went in. This point is called bitong, it is next to your nose at the top of the nasolabial crease, and it makes you look like you have whiskers when they’re in. >^_^<

What about this eye itch? And the drainage is killing me. Yo, me too. Like with a lot of things, people have varied responses to treatment. I know some folks who get by with a few treatments a year and herbs. I need Zyrtec more than not, so I’m jealous! Anyway, it may be allergies, and it may just be all the particulate in the air. With that in mind, it’s all about exposure management. I love the energy saving concept of drying laundry outside, but that’s a big nope if you’re trying to manage symptoms. Encase your pillows if you feel worse in the morning; you might be allergic to dust. Rinse off before bed (hair is an issue! I know. Perhaps experiment with a snood or something if you absolutely can’t rinse your hair before bed once you’re indoors for the day), and give your bedding a hot wash every week or so.

What else can I be doing to manage my symptoms? Whatever you’re doing, try to be consistent for a couple of weeks and see what happens. Some people take herbs or supplements like nettles or quercetin. If you have low vitamin D, you may be prone to more inflammation, which is going to make your face extra uncomfortable during hayfever season. Some people do better without dairy, and almost everybody would be better off eating less added sugar. If you do come to see me, remind me to give you some free chrysanthemum tea (really great springtime tea, and helps with the eye itch) and I have a wedge pillow for when lying flat makes it hard to breathe.

I’ve had a few new folks and a few regulars ask the question lately, so here’s a revisit for y’all who don’t already know the story.

Like many people, I had it done, got great results, and was totally fascinated by the process. Half my school was referred by their acupuncturist, I think. For me, I ended up moving away to Texas to figure out my life, and it’s just what I ended up doing.

What were you getting treated?

I made the appointments for side effects of antidepressants. I took several different kinds in my 20s, and whatever boost they gave me, they all had a bit of a breaking-in period. My appetite and sleep were almost always affected, whether increase or decrease. This particular drug was a doozy; I couldn’t keep my eyes closed, I could barely swallow, and I shook like I’d drunk a pot of coffee. I was desperate, but I was also curious. Would this be better than sedatives?

I bought the 5 treatment package and made a few appointments. I was shocked at how relaxing it was. Even when one of the pins was triggering a reflex, I laid on my back, bemused, as my right leg kicked the air until my acupuncturist returned to the room to take them out. It didn’t take two weeks for me to start having dreams, which meant I was sleeping. Preparing food and eating also was no longer an impossible chore. And I actually felt happier and more hopeful, which was usually why I was taking drugs!* For me, better than sedatives, but I was also unemployed, so 3+ extra hours in my week to go more than once for extra long sessions didn’t phase me one bit. And as I tried to think of what to do next, studying this seemed like a good thing to do.

So acupuncture isn’t just for pain?

I kind of consider mental imbalance a sort of emotional pain, and there is often physical pain involved! It’s funny you ask, since I often have people say they didn’t know it was for pain! I wonder if those people think there is a reason for acupuncture at all. I think people mostly consider acupuncture when something hurts. I also see people who have digestive disorders, Bell’s Palsy, reproductive issues, allergies, or just need to relax. A lot of times people ask if I treat [x] and it’s something I see multiple times a week. Other times people ask if I know anything about [y] and I have literally never heard of it. Better to ask in advance so we’re on the same page.

What did you do before you were an acupuncturist?

My undergraduate degrees are in computer science and math. I was in software development, which was lucrative until it wasn’t. (Times were pretty tough in the dot bomb era for a junior engineer in a niche field.) It is again, but I’ve figured out how to do this now. One of my favorite teachers also had an engineering background. His needling patterns often represented a strut. Not always (usually not, actually) needling in the area of complaint, but there was a logic behind the chosen points. Zeroes and ones, yin and yang, optimizing circuits, it’s not the job that changed, it’s the medium.

What are some examples of when your patients have had their lives changed?

The question I was actually asked was have I saved anyone’s life. Not in that sense, that I can remember. I lost my father last year, so I can say with some stoicism that everybody dies. But in student clinic, we had the mostly blind old man who started to look people in the eye when conversing, who could look out the window and count the cars in the street, who said one evening on being called to dinner by his wife, “Can I sit here and look at the Christmas tree some more? I can see it!” Early on in my career, there was the man with terminal cancer who couldn’t smell or taste from the radiation treatments. He got those senses back and really enjoyed his last Thanksgiving meal. Now, would I say I treat anosmia and blindness? Of course not! There are other conditions that I am extremely confident about being able to help, but I still say, “Let’s try it a few times and see what happens.” Those are just the most outstanding stories of when something cool does happen.

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*There is nature and nurture, and some people are going to be really helped by exercise, community, meaningful work, etc. Some people have a chemical imbalance, are doing all of the above anyway, and need drugs. I think, personally, I am somewhere in between, as are a lot of people. Never shame people for their broken brain chemistry or whatever disease. My career is in natural medicine, but I wince at the term “Big Pharma” and conspiracy minded talk. Prescription drugs are another tool in the box, often more powerful, sometimes with more side effects, but if they are a necessary net good for a patient, they should be used.

Cue Marvin Gaye, then Salt-N-Pepa, lol Now, I could go on all day about affirmative consent, getting tested, safe sex, it being a natural thing that doesn’t need to be shamed, but lots of other people have already said it, and I think you know the George Michael song! Please don’t get pervy and gross with me about this, ok?

Cardio isn’t really an acupuncture specialty of mine, but I’m just blogging in a timely manner about an essential wellness subject. Specifically, I want to call attention to how a good heart is essential for sex. I’m not just talking about love. Literally, good cardiovascular health is necessary for functioning genitalia. Think about all the blood vessels involved, right? Viagra was originally developed to be a cardiovascular drug (reducing high blood pressure and relieving chest pain, fortunately for the drug company, while it didn’t work for those, it had a highly marketable side effect).

No kidding, in first year Oriental Medical Theory, we learned there are guidelines limiting how often a man1 should have sex for optimal health. (Less often as they get older and/or health declines) Frequently listed in the patient recommendations for various conditions such as dizziness, low back pain, weak knees, and frequent urination, is to limit sexual activity. So, really, like weight, talking about sex can be a basic part of the intake interview, but people tend to either take it weird or try to make me uncomfortable, and it’s usually not worth the little diagnostic data. Centuries ago, for modesty’s sake, physicians used to treat women based on taking their pulse through a curtain, so there are plenty of other ways to gather information!

This post isn’t for new information, re: eat, drink, move, and sleep in proper quality and quantity.2  It does give another why, though. When you consider fitness, aesthetics, quality of muscle and blood vessel health, avoiding clots, strokes, and heart attacks, an added bonus is retaining sexual function.

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1The lower energy center, or the dan tian in women contains the uterus, while in men it contains the “room of essence.” The correlate to too much sex for men is excessive childbirth in women, and the idea is that a person needs adequate recovery time, or their health will suffer.

2 Here’s a longer article than I felt like trying to get into for a valentine’s day joke. It’s not bad reading, a light refresher if you’ve studied wellness according to east-asian tradition, and well linked to send you down the rabbit hole if you havent. 

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