Chinese Medicine considers preventative care as important as treating the disease itself. If we cultivate our health we can prevent illness and injury from occurring and minimize their consequences when 'disease evils' do attack us. Join Kath Bartlett, MS, LAc as she shares thoughts, news articles, recipes & tips derived from a wide variety of source material, as it relates to Chinese medicine and cultivating optimal health for the body, mind and spirit.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Case Study: Acupuncture for Peripheral Neuropathy

Case Study:

Successful Acupuncture Treatment for Peripheral Neuropathy

As a Sequela of Chemo-Therapy

I have been treating this patient weekly with acupuncture following a total hysterectomy due to endometrial cancer. After the first month of treatment the patient (let’s refer to her as Gwen) began a 6 cycle course of chemo-therapy, administered at 3 week intervals. Gwen responded well to acupuncture, and the side effects of chemo were minimal: fatigue, headache, diarrhea, sensation of heat in the chest and throat.

After the forth chemo treatment Gwen began reporting that the tips of her fingers and toes felt slightly numb. Peripheral neuropathy is a known side effect of chemo-therapy. As the symptoms were mild, and other side effects of the chemo therapy were more prevalent, especially fatigue, I continued addressing the other symptoms and did not begin treating the neuropathy at this point.

After chemo treatment #6 Gwen began to notice the neuropathy in the balls of her feet and then traveling up into the ankles. Gwen’s healthcare practitioners told her the chemo-induced neuropathy is due to disintegration of the myelin nerve sheaths, and is often irreversible. Obviously Gwen did not like this prognosis and asked me if the neuropathy could be addressed with acupuncture.

I was concentrating on the fatigue, low hemoglobin and platelet counts, but added in a few points to the treatment to address the neuropathy. This was acupuncture treatment #20.

The following week Gwen began preparations for radiation treatment one month later. However, the neuropathy was her chief concern.

I do a style of acupuncture called Balance Method ™. With this style we do not needle the affected area directly. To treat the feet, we place the acupuncture needles in the hands. I used what we call a ‘shotgun’ approach, needling the upper limbs from the elbows to the fingers. I used the three yang meridians on the right and the three yin meridians on the left. One week later Gwen noted that the neuropathy “is more concentrated in the feet and ankle area, both dorsal and ventral, not as much in lower leg now”.

I repeated the acupuncture treatment, but this time only needling from the wrists to the fingers. The following day Gwen noted, “Numbness still in two feet, but seems a little better, mainly in toes and just in foot, not ankle or lower leg. Notice a buzzing in left foot, almost like electricity.”

I repeated the last treatment and added Zheng Gu Shui, a Chinese patent, alcohol based liniment that has herbs which improves blood circulation. I applied the liniment to the affected area, wrapped her feet in a towel and placed a TDP heat lamp over the bundle. I have continued the Zheng Gu Shui wrap on all subsequent treatments. I also began needling the sensory line on the scalp, which targets neurological issues. During the treatment Gwen reported increased sensation in the feet. The following day Gwen noted, “Feet feel better after acupuncture. . . Feel more neuropathy in foot but now not so much in leg.”

I repeated the treatment the following week. The next day Gwen reported, “Neuropathy seems slightly better. More in foot with very little in ankle.” Again I repeated the treatment one week later. Several days after the treatment Gwen notes, “Neuropathy is mainly in the feet, top and bottom”.

At this point Gwen began a series of five semi-weekly radiation treatments. I continued the weekly acupuncture treatments addressing the neuropathy. Several days after the acupuncture treatment Gwen notes “ Maybe feel more on bottom of the feet”. At this point I added e-stim (electrical stimulation - a battery pack is connected to wires with alligator clips that attach to the needles to add additional stimulation) to the scalp needles. Gwen reported an electric vibration sensation two days after treatment. She requested that I discontinue the e-stim with the acupuncture treatment.

After this last treatment (#10 for the neuropathy), Gwen finished the course of five radiation treatments with little to no side effects. Several days after neuropathy treatment #10 Gwen noted “neuropathy in feet from toes to middle of the foot”. Later that week Gwen notes “Feet feel a bit stiffer in toes and in the bottom of the foot”. After neuropathy treatment #11 the affected area had further reduced to the ball of the foot to the toes, top and bottom (plantar and dorsum). After treatment #12 Gwen noted, “Neuropathy is mainly manifested in feet, felt underneath ball of foot (metatarsal area) and toes.”

After two additional treatments Gwen reported the affected area was in the toes, and that they felt tight and stiff. At this point I added an internal, granulated herbal formula to strengthen the body from the aftermath of seven months of surgery, chemo and radiation treatment, address chronic rhinitis and the neuropathy. Gwen tolerated the herbal formula without any side effects.

Neuropathy treatment #15: Gwen reports decreased paresthesia: she feels a prickly sensation with pressure on the ball of the foot, bilaterally. She describes her symptoms mainly as tightness in the toes, second and third toes and plantar surface of the feet are primarily affected. Accordingly I changed the acupuncture in the hands. I needled the palmar aspect only, distal to the transverse palmar creases and in the fingers to the second metacarpal, to ‘mirror’ the balls of the feet and toes. As the treatment is uncomfortable I have not needled the tips of the fingers, distal to the second metacarpal joint.

This patient’s treatment is in progress. This is her status after one course of acupuncture treatment for neuropathy. KB

Monday, October 31, 2011

Pearls from the Pema Chodrum Retreat: Living Beautifully with Uncertainty & Change

I attended a Pema Chodrum retreat this weekend entitled "Living Beautifully with Uncertainty and Change". Ane Pema, if you don't know, is a celebrity Buddhist nun and inspirational speaker who has written many popular books about adapting to and handling the troubles life brings. During the weekend retreat she offered many pearls to help one adapt to
the curve balls life throws at us.

Ane Pema began the weekend Friday night with a metaphor about the river of life. She explained that our tendency is to seek the safety of the shoreline
. However our mistake is in our grasping to hang on to the perceived security there. Life, she continued, takes place in the flow of the river, and we can't be afraid to jump in. She could not guarantee that in the river we wouldn't get banged up a bit, repelling on boulders and trying to keep our heads up in the rapids. but the river is where life happens, and where growth occurs. Clinging to the shoreline inevitably causes suffering and pain. We most certainly will get bruised and our hands and arms will get weak in our attempts to hang on to the branches to keep from becoming swallowed up by the flow of the river. On the shoreline we are stagnant. In the river, we move forward wherever life takes us.

I found this metaphor liberating, contemplating that we need to let go of the fear that keeps us clinging to the shoreline of familiarity and a false sense of security and that we must allow ourselves to jump in and flow down the river of life. That we cannot escape the suffering of the river by clinging to the shore. That the clinging to the shoreline is painful and though riding the river will also involve suffering, we must accept that and embrace the flow of the river.

Saturday morning Ane Pema opened with an exercise. She asked us to to remember an interaction that involved difficult feelings and pain. Not an incident that was a 10, but something smaller, a 2-3 (on a 1-10 scale). And to think about the incident and to feel the negative emotions that arose during the uncomfortable situation. Next to ask oneself who is in control here? Are the emotions in control of oneself, or am I in control of the emotions? And to remember this when difficult situations arise triggering negative emotions: who is in control? not to allow the emotions to control us, especially not to allow the negative emotions that often rapidly arise to cause us to do or say something unskillful that would cause pain for ourselves or others.

As we got in touch with the negative emotions and the pain the situation caused us, we ask the emotion to stay while we feel the intensity of the pain and ask ourselves "do i want others to experience this pain?" "do i want to do or say something that would cause this type of pain to arise in others?". its a compassion practice. in answering the questions, we remember in the future to pull back when triggered by negative emotions. "who is in control here"? so that we don't react and unwisely do or say something that will escalate the situation and bring more pain and suffering to oneself and others.

Its a high spiritual task, that requires putting the matter in which we deal with a situation ahead of the principal or substance at stake during times of conflict.

Hearty food for spiritual contemplation.

After lunch Ane Pema began by talking about charnal ground meditation. Tibetan Buddhists have something called a sky burial practice. Because of the permafrost in the Tibetan mountains, the ground is too hard to bury bodies, and there is not enough fuel to cremate the bodies of all of the dead. So the Tibetan Buddhists began a rite of sky burial. Apologies in advance for the graphic description of the practice here. The Tibetans put the bodies on a high mountain peak for the vultures to take away. But because you wouldn't want the vultures to drop grandmas leg bone in farmer Jone's field, the monks first cut up the bodies into small pieces. The sky burial site is called the charnal ground.

As you can imagine, the charnal ground is not a pleasant place to hang out and during warmer weather is rather unappealing to the nose.

The monks developed a meditation practice called Chu practice, where they go to the charnal grounds to meditate on the strong emotions that arise while being there: aversion, fear and so forth. They watch the emotions arise to examine the emotions: where and how do they arise? how do they feel? are they solid? and do they dissipate? they do this Chu practice to learn how to deal with arisal of negative emotions.

Ane Pema emphasized that you have to go to the charnal grounds and sit amongst the cut up bodies to do this practice. you can't do it by imagining the charnal ground, or going to a serene cemetery with the neatly mowed grass and tombstones with bouquets of flowers lined up in orderly rows. you must do it in the gruesome surroundings on the charnal grounds to fully feel the emotions that arise in that place.

So Ane Pema suggest to let life and the fear that arises during uncertainty be a charnal ground practice. When the fear arises, sit with it, examine it, and watch it as it grows and subsides. Ane Pema pointed out that the emotions cannot exist without a story to feed them. Take away the story and the emotions dissolve. We feed anger with our story of righteous indignation and morality plays of right and wrong. We feed hurt with stories of victimhood or neglect, rejection and so on. We feed anxiety with stories of loss, lack (of security), and helplessness. Take away the story and the emotion dissipates. To take away the story, one must discipline one's mind through meditation not to keep thinking the repetitive thoughts, to stop obsessive thinking.

And one must let go of the shoreline and not be afraid to jump into the river. To do this, one must accept that in the river suffering is inevitable and we do get hurt. But grasping and clinging to the shoreline is not an effective method to avoid life's suffering. Grasping, clinging and attachment to the security of the shore only produces more suffering. Living in the river is a charnal ground practice. the pay off is liberation. KB

Photo by kevin 1040 Flickr Creative Commons 2.0

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Savory Chickpea Stew

In an earlier post with a recipe for Red Cabbage Salad I referenced the macrobiotic chef I interned with who made delicious meals for the students at my acupuncture college, Pacific College of Oriental Medicine. I was able to wrangle a few recipes from Nancy for some of my favorite dishes. This Chickpea Stew can also be made as a soup, omitting the squash and the seitan. Its a hearty, one-dish meal, for autumn and winter.

In Chinese dietary therapy, we recommend eating differently during each season. In the spring and summer one eats lighter foods and above ground crops. In the autumn the yin begins to rise. Yin energy represents darkness, cold, quiescence, feminine, earth, sweet, substance and blood. During the autumn season the cool yin begins to assert itself from the warm yang energy of summer. In the yin seasons of autumn and winter we want to nourish yin dietarily, by emphasizing root crops, growing in the earth. 

Sweet squashes harvested in the autumn nourish yin. Warm, hearty stews, especially made with root vegetables are particularly beneficial to consume in the cool, yin seasons of autumn  and winter.

This Savory Chickpea Stew nourishes the earth element, pertaining to the Spleen and Stomach due to its sweet flavor and golden color. You will relish the subtle blend of flavors. In Chinese medicine we talk about the five phases and organ systems. Each has a season, color, flavor, organ, emotion and sound associated with it. This stew will benefit those with digestive conditions due to weakness or deficiency. Speak to your acupuncturist to find out if you have an excess of deficient problem. 

Deficiency is characterized by weakness and fatigue. Those with Spleen Qi Deficiency will commonly experience bloating, gas, belching, fatigue, especially after meals, over-thinking, worrying, racing thoughts, cloudy or foggy-headedness. Thinking is a function of the Spleen system in Chinese medicine. Those with weak Spleens tend to worry, and conversely excessive worrying weakens the Spleen.

Savory Chickpea Stew

3C Chickpeas, soaked overnight and drained
1 strips kombu
9 bay leaves (yea, that's correct, nine)
3 yellow onions, diced
olive oil
3 10" pieces burdock root, brushed & cut in rounds
6 cloves garlic, minced
3/8C white miso
3 lemons: zest
1 medium-large winter squash, cubed (butternut, acorn, kombucha, carnival)
12 oz seitan, cubed (wheat gluten product)
filtered water & 1 quart vegetable stock
minced parsley for garnish
cider vinegar

Heat olive oil in bottom of large pressure cooker. Saute onions and garlic with salt until translucent. Add burdock and squash and saute until veggies sweat. Add seitan and saute until slightly golden. Add chickpeas, kombu, bay leaf and cover with 1 1/2 " water/stock combination. Bring to high pressure and cook 30 minutes. Turn off heat and natural release pressure.

Pull out half the beans and mash or puree. Stir mashed beans into stew to give a hearty consistency. Add 3/4C soup to the miso and blend, then add back to stew. Stir in lemon zest. Add cider vinegar to taste to pop flavors. Garnish with minced parsley.

yield: 4 quarts

What is seitan? 
Seitan is a wheat gluten product found in the refrigerator section of the natural food store, near the tofu and tempeh. its fairly high in protein for a vegetable source: 6 oz contains approximately 20g.

Photo: Avlxyz, flickr Creative Commons 2.0

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Acupuncture and Chinese Medicine for Patients with Blood Cancers

I am giving a talk about acupuncture and Chinese medicine for patients with lymphomas and blood cancers on Monday, September 12 at 5p at the Wellness Resource Center, 50 Doctor's Drive, West Annex, Asheville, 28801.

This will be for a family support group for patients with blood cancers and their caregivers, offered through Mission Hospitals Cancer Services and The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society. 
 "This group is for people living with Leukemia, Lymphoma, Multiple Myeloma, Myelodysplastic Syndrome, or Primary Amyloidosis and also their caregivers who
live in the Asheville area and surrounding counties of western North Carolina." 

Group Facilitators:
  Leslie Verner, RN, BSN, OCN, CCRP - Cancer Outreach Coordinator
                                               Jere Howell, MS -Clinical Psychologist

      Date:  Monday, Sept 12, 2011       (Meets the 2nd Monday of every month)

       Time:  4:00 – 6:00 PM

       Upcoming Dates:  Oct 10,  Nov 14,  Dec  12

§         To register and get directions to the easy access location and parking, please contact Leslie Verner, RN, at 828-213-4656 or 800-443-2233.



 Please come and tell those with blood cancers or lymphomas you love about it.                                    KB

Monday, September 5, 2011

Developing a Loving Kindness Practice

A few months ago I finished a book I had been reading by His Holiness the Dalai Lama: How to Expand Love.  Since reading the book a year ago, I have been working on developing a personal or loving-kindness practice. My goal is to being to feel loving-kindness towards all living beings. A lofty goal to achieve, I have taken the first step at the beginning.

A loving-kindness meditation I was recently taught begins with thinking of a loved one and feeling the loving-kindness one feels towards that being: wishing this being love, peace, happiness, security and freedom from suffering, pain, and harm. The idea is to experience the depth and feeling of loving-kindness. Next one moves to a teacher or master, someone one respects, and again feeling the loving-kindness one feels for this person, wishing this person love, peace, happiness, security and that s/he will be free from suffering, pain, and harm. Again experiencing the depth and feeling of loving-kindness one feels for this respected person.

Next one moves to oneself, wishing this feeling of loving-kindness for oneself. That I will enjoy love, peace, happiness, security and be free from suffering, pain, and harm. Experience the feelings of loving-kindness, the wish of peace, happiness and security and desire to be free of pain, suffering and harm.

Lastly, one expands these feelings outward. If one is meditating in a group, wishing that everyone in the room will enjoy happiness and and the causes of happiness, be free from suffering and the causes of suffering. Alternatively one can work outward in the four directions, wishing peace and happiness for everyone in front of oneself, then in back, then to the sides: to the right, to the left.

Then one continues to cycle through the four phases, noticing what comes up during the practice. Initially I noticed a deep desire for peace and happiness, and freedom from pain and suffering. I saw that all living beings share this same longing, and that I wish all other beings freedom from pain and suffering, out of the same desire that I wished it for myself.

After one practices the meditation for some time, one will be ready to begin expanding it ever outward, first to neutrals: the supermarket cashier, the call center person, the bank teller and so on. People you interact with but don't have feelings for: either of love or anger.

Then one begins the harder work: wishing those towards whom one harbors feelings of anger or resentment peace, happiness and freedom of pain and suffering. Next one works with those one has deeper feelings of anger and mistrust, those one might consider enemies. This group is difficult, but worthwhile to master. 

His Holiness the Dalai Lama explains the steps of this practice in his book, How to Expand Love. It is an interesting practice of self-exploration, to be sure. Of course the ultimate goal is to take the practice off the cushion and into one's daily life. One could practice emanating feelings of loving-kindness outward in the four directions while sitting in traffic or at the grocery store line.

Recently while practicing I realized that all beings suffer, just like I, many suffer 1,000 times more. I try to remember this especially when interacting with those with whom there is a history of anger, resentment and mistrust. Just like me these people suffer. Remembering that those who have been a source of hurt or harm are also suffering helps one develop compassion towards those with whom relationships are difficult. I believe this is one of the steps towards forgiveness. I have found remembering this takes some of the edge off the sharpness of the negative emotions one feels.

I recently noticed myself harboring and fueling negative thoughts towards a party who has hurt me deeply. I saw that this destructive path was only causing further suffering for myself. The solution I found is to not allow the mind to go down this rabbit hole of misery. When I caught my mind going down the path of negativity, I stopped it and reminded myself that this path does not lead to enlightenment. It only leads to the hell realm, and I was only causing myself pain by traveling down it. To provide a healthier alternative for my active mind, I did the loving-kindness meditation. When found my mind wandering down the familiar path, I again reminded myself that this path only leads to more suffering. 

One morning when practicing the loving-kindness meditation I realized that the warm, peace of loving-kindness is where I would like to reside. That this oasis from the misery of the negative emotions: anger, resentment and ill will is where I wish to dwell. This desire increases my motivation to continue the loving-kindness practice. It is simply a more pleasant place to be. The payoff of harboring negative emotions is misery for oneself. Though fueling these emotions can sometimes be seductive, the place that path leads is pain and suffering. Practicing loving-kindness is the way to peace and happiness, for all sentient beings.                                        KB

Photo: acaben, flickr Creative Commons 2.0

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Herbal Poison Ivy Remedy

I learned
a couple of herbal poison ivy remedies in a Kitchen Herbs class I took a few years back. I don't have any feedback as to efficacy, so please add comments with your experiences.

There are two easily accessible Chinese herbs that treat poison ivy. Both are weeds that are ubiquitous in the summer. The first is Ge Gen, or Kudzu powder. You will find this in the macrobiotic section of natural foods stores. Ge Gen is the root of the kudzu vine, which grows over everything in the Southeastern United States: trees, bushes, signs and telephone poles.

You'll find the second in your backyard lawn: dandelion.

You can take dandelion and kudzu internally as a tea. Kudzu is a white powder, and can be used to thicken sauces. Use a tablespoon or so in a tea made with dandelion leaves. Drink several times a day. You can also use kudzu as a skin wash for legions (rash).

Dandelion can be steeped as a tea and added to bath water to sooth the skin. In Chinese herbal theory, dandelion clears heat and toxins, and hones to the Lung, which rules the skin. Poison ivy rashes are red and itchy, indicating heat toxins. You'll want a strong tea for this purpose. Fill the pot with the leaves, cover with water and steep for 30 minutes or so.

Ge Gen, or kudzu releases the exterior. Chinese herbalists also use Ge Gen to relieve neck and shoulder pain, especially associated with colds or cold weather.

Jewel weed grows in the Southeast and is also used to treat poison ivy, though not a Chinese herb. Mash the stems and rub the juice on the skin to sooth outbreaks, or as a preventative before or after possible exposure, as demonstrated in this You Tube video. KB

Muffit, flickr creative commons 2.0

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Warm Up Your Fruit Smoothies With a Little Ginger

I was in
nlife (Wholefoods) yesterday and noticed a juicing demonstration in the produce section. I know many like to juice, especially in the summer. As a vegan, lately I have been relying on fruit smoothies as a valuable source of protein: they are a convenient way to take protein powder. However, in Chinese dietary therapy, we advise against consuming cold, raw foods. So I advise adding a little ginger to warm them up. Here's why:

In Chinese medicine, the Spleen system is responsible for digestive function. The Chinese Spleen system includes other functions, including aspects of the immune system. We consider digestion a warm transformation: heat is required to break down foods into nutrients the body can absorb, and waste for excretion. Ingesting cold, raw
foods weakens the Spleen because it requires it to do extra work to raise the food to a temperature suitable for its transformative function to take place.

When the Spleen is weakened, one becomes fatigued because Qi (energy) is not being manufactured from foods due to poor Spleen function. Digestive problems occur, including loose stools, low appetite, pain and nausea. Immune function is weakened: allergies, frequent colds and flu are typical signs of Spleen Qi Deficiency.

So in Chinese dietary therapy, we strongly advise against eating cold, raw foods, which means no juicing. However, as a vegan, I understand the reason for smoothies. So if you feel you absolutely must juice, do it sparingly and add something warm: garlic, cayenne pepper or ginger. Ginger works well for sweet juices and smoothies and adds a certain spicy zing. As an added benefit, ginger is a digestive aid and warms the Spleen. Try adding 3 slices.

Please do not use frozen fruit or ice in your smoothies. This only makes the drink colder, causing more damage to the delicate digestive system. KB


Photo: Flickr Jose Carlos Cortizo Perez, Creative Commons 2.0

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Your Body is Your Garden: We Must Cultivate Our Health

I spent this holiday weekend planting my vegetable garden. Yes its a late start, bu
t I'm actually right on time for a crop of fall vegetables: spinach, chard, peas, beans, brussel sprouts, cauliflower, broccoli, lettuce, parsley and cilantro. I'm a novice gardener so it's a bit of Plant and Pray. I picked up a couple of vegetable gardening books, one of which, Dick Raymond's Joy of Gardening has become my new vegetable growing bible. I'm realizing why I haven't had auspicious success in my past efforts. Gardening is work. You don't just put seeds in the ground and wait to pick. There are a many techniques and cultivation methods one must employ to achieve a bountiful harvest.

While remarking about this to a patient today, and it occurred to me that cultivating one's health is a lot like gardening: You can't just go through life living however you please and expect everything to turn out alright, healthwise. Like crops in the garden, health must be cultivated. In the garden, there are three basic fertilizers: nitrogen to grow green leaves, phosphorus to develops roots, important for root crops like beets and carrots, and potassium important for growth and development of the plant and fruiting. Likewise we must fertilize our bodies by eating well: watch the documentary film Super Size Me to see what a diet of fast food causes, including obesity, depression and hypercholesterolemia.

We can't just eat whatever we want and expect to enjoy our health. Optimally a balanced diet of organic foods, mostly plants and avoiding greasy, fried, sugary and spicy foods. In Chinese dietary therapy we refer to the Qing Dai diet or Clear, Bland diet: a diet emphasizing litely streamed vegetables, free from rich sauces or heavy meals with gooey desserts.

In addition to the NPK (nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium) the vegetables require other nutrients and trace minerals, including calcium, magnesium, iron and zinc. Sound familiar? We need a wide variety of foods, including vegetables of all colors to provide all the vitamins and minerals we need.

Sea vegetables are loaded with trace minerals we don't usually get from other sources. Many sea veggies, such as wakame, kombu, hijiki and arame are high in calcium, containing 800-1300g/100g. For comparison, spinach and cow's milk have 93 & 118g/100g. The calcium in sea veggies are an easier form for your body to digest, and do not cause stone formation. In fact, in Chinese herbal medicine we use 2 sea veggies, hai zao and kombu to dissolve cysts, masses and tumors.

In addition, the gardener or farmer puts a great deal of effort into taking care of plants: covering to protect from frost or pests, planting the seeds at the proper time, trellising or hilling to provide support, building up the soil and so on.

Likewise we must take care of our bodies with proper lifestyle: making sure we get proper rest and don't overwork, exercising regularly, practicing meditation, yoga, qi gong and other stress management techniques and living in harmony with our environment.

My point is that just as the gardener takes care of the crops, we must cultivate health with right living and preventative care. Regular acupuncture treatments keep the body functioning in optimal condition and helps to manage stress, just as one takes the car in regularly for oil changes and tune ups. This becomes more important as the body begins the aging process, after 40y. We need to give it extra support, as the gardener fertilizes the crops to encourage strength and healthy growth. KB


Photo: flickr ItzaFineDay Creative Commons 2.0

Monday, June 27, 2011

FDA Warns Against Anemia Drugs for Cancer Patients: Chinese Medicine Effective Treatment

The FDA issued a strong warning that will go on labels for three widely used drugs that treat anemia for cancer and dialysis patients: Procrit, Aranesp and Epogen, saying the drugs cause stokes and cardiac problems and speed the growth of malignant tumors. Fortunately for these patients there is a safer therapy available that effectively increases blood cell production: Chinese medicine.

Several organizations have endorsed the use of acupuncture for cancer treatment. The National Cancer Institute notes western studies are beginning to be done that show efficacy of acupuncture in increasing blood cell counts:
Scientific studies on the use of acupuncture to treat cancer and side effects of cancer began only recently. Laboratory and animal studies suggest that acupuncture can reduce vomiting caused by chemotherapy and may help the immune system be stronger during chemotherapy. Animal studies support the use of electroacupuncture to relieve cancer pain. Laboratory and animal studies have also looked at how acupuncture works for cancer treatment, such as the role of acupuncture in stimulating immune functions, including increasing blood cell count and enhancing lymphocyte and natural killer cell activity.
The Mesothelioma society agrees:
Furthermore, animal cancer studies have shown that acupuncture spurs blood cell production and lymphocyte activity. The end result of these processes is an increase in immune functions.

Mesothelioma is a rare cancer caused by asbestos exposure, affecting the lining of the lung.

The Huffington Post also recommends acupuncture
for cancer patients to improve blood cell production:

Immune System Modulation: Many cancers and many cancer treatments cause a suppression of the bone marrow, the source of blood cells that are the army of the immune system. Acupuncture increases blood cell production and enhances Natural Killer Cells and Lymphocytes which leads to increased immune response and decreased risk of infection.

Chinese medicine improves red and white blood cell production, including lymphocytes and neutrophils. Though western studies emphasize acupuncture, herbal formulas are particularly important in raising blood cell counts. There are many blood building formulas with a proven track record. In my practice, I have seen blood cell counts markedly improve when acupuncture patients add Chinese herbs to their treatment plan.

Red blood cells are produced in the bone marrow. The bone marrow is part of the Chinese medicine Kidney system. Many kidney tonic herbs and formulas are known for increasing marrow. Chinese herbalists use a strategy of tonifying the Kidney, Blood and the Spleen to increase blood cell counts.

The spleen stores white blood cells. Chinese medicine considers the Spleen an important component of immune function. In Chinese medicine the Spleen responsible for extracting the nutrients from food necessary to build qi (energy) and blood. Patients with low blood cell counts usually suffer from fatigue, so building qi to improve energy is also an important component of treatment. Tonify the Kidney and Spleen improves fatigue. Peony root and angelica are commonly used blood tonic herbs. Ginseng is a famous qi tonic that builds Kidney energy.

I hope that patients and conventional medical practitioners will become more open minded about integrating Chinese medicine as a safe and effective option in treatment plans for cancer patients.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Acupuncture Reduces MS Symptoms and Improves Quality of Life

I'm going to be speaking to members of the Asheville MS Support Group on Thursday June 9th, 1:30-2:30 at West End Bakery on Haywood Road. In preparation I spent afternoon yesterday googling to see what is on the Internet showing acupuncture's effectiveness in treating MS. I posted many links on my facebook page and thought I would also include them on my blog so that they could be easily referenced in the future.

The MS Trust, a charity in the UK includes this thoughtful discussion about acupuncture for treating MS. Acupuncturist and author Jill Brooks includes a list of MS symptoms that respond well and those that have a mixed efficacy for acupuncture treatment.

Alien Sheng sums up acupuncture benefits for MS patients for the American Chronicle:
Acupuncture treatments for Multiple Sclerosis have had much success in reducing pain and decreasing spasticity. Another area of success is improved bladder and bowel control. The reduction of stress and the improved feeling of well being contribute to an improvement in quality of life. The acupuncture treatments must be given frequently in order to maintain the improvements of symptoms, but Multiple Sclerosis is known for its cycles of remission. During periods of remission, the frequency of the acupuncture treatments can be reduced.
This Acupuncture Today article discusses the use of scalp acupuncture for MS patients. They are many styles of acupuncture, including a number of different systems for using the scalp to map out the body. In one scalp system commonly taught in acupuncture colleges, to which the authors refer, there are motor and tremor lines on the scalp. Certain areas on the lines relate to different parts of the body: arms, legs, hands and so forth. I have used successfully used scalp acupuncture for various motor problems, including MS, Bell's Palsy, and Parkinson's disease. In this article the authors cite several remarkable case studies documenting immediate improvement in MS patients using scalp acupuncture.

Drs. Kopsky and Hesselink of the Institute of Neuroacupuncture in the Neatherlands discuss two cases of MS patients with bladder dysfunction (a common problem) which responded well to electoacupuncture. In electroacupuncture, a battery device with wires and clips are hooked up to strategic acupuncture points to increase stimulation of the needles during the treatment. Electroacupuncture is often used in pain treatments. I use it for labor induction and with scalp acupuncture for neurological disorders. Results are satisfying.

Fellow PCOM alumni, Kimberly Thompson, LAc (from my acupuncture college Pacific College of Oriental Medicine) discusses various Chinese pattern differentiations and applicable acupuncture points. In Chinese medicine, we use an individualized diagnosis method. I discuss briefly go into this concept on the Chinese Medicine page of my website. I also explain pattern diagnosis when describing treatment for specific conditions in blog post and articles.

I found a couple of instances where MS patients described there own experiences with acupuncture. The MS Resource Center in the UK discusses Kathy Kelvnik, a hospital coordinator who MS was so advanced she was rendered unable to work until acupuncture got her back on her feet again
Kathy Kevnick sought Dr. David Bilstrom's help after her MS left her unable to work. She couldn't walk. Steroids no longer worked. Neither did chemotherapy.
Weekly acupuncture sessions have helped Kevnick eliminate 80% of her medications and return to work full time as a hospital coordinator."It's changed my life. I had medical bills of $42,000 the year before I started acupuncture. Now my bills are acupuncture & massage therapy.

On Duane Perron tells his compelling story with MS and acupuncture treatment. He sums it up,"
Finding a good acupuncturist is like finding a good doctor....and it seems you have finally found your angel." KB

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Impermanance. Or Change You Can Believe In

I woke up this morning with a moment of clarity about impermanence. Impermanence is a Buddhist concept that many westerner's have difficulty grasping. But this morning I saw clearly how our refusal to accept impermanence maintains the bondage of our suffering.

We try to achieve materialist goals we set for ourselves: home ownership, a new car, steady, rewarding employment and so on. I'm not saying its wrong to strive for these achievements, but our mistaken belief that once achieved these things will last leads to our suffering when we lose them.

I suppose the recent tsunami in Japan, tornado's in Alabama and other southeastern states, and flooding along the Mississippi has made me realize how quickly we can lose everything we've worked for.

Home ownership is an American dream, and once in our grasp we spend much time investing our energy to customizing our homes to meet our desires. We work under the false assumption that the home will always be standing. Even if we do not live in a flood zone, we can lose our home to fire or our valuables to burglary. Yet we labor under the false assumption that we will always have our home and its contents until we decide to sell. When disaster strikes, we are mentally unprepared to lose all that we have labored to achieve, and thus suffer from our loss.

I am suggesting that our materialist approach to life, working to accumulate things, causes our pain when we inevitably lose them: a fine china platter breaks, a new car gets hit in the parking lot. We falsely assume that our cherished ones will stay in optimal condition, and consequently suffer when they inevitably degrade. This idea also applies to the people and pets we love.

I'm not saying it's wrong to fixed up a home, or buy a piece of artwork. What i am saying is that we should do so knowing that tomorrow the house could be lost, rather than working under the presumption that our treasured ones will be with us always, and in the same condition as they are in today.

This recession has shown that jobs are fleeting. We may even have to leave our painstakingly constructed cocoon to find employment in another city or state. It is our blindness to the impermanence of our situation that causes the pain from our loss of what we held dear.

Rather, I propose, if we operated under the premise that nothing lasts, we might live a more nomadic existence. Our priorities would shift so that we wouldn't focus on accumulation and we be more prepared to shift with life's winds. Consequently, change would be expected. We would be ready for it and would suffer less pain from loss.

Try it on and see what shifts for you. KB

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Boston - Style Baked Beans & Blue Cornbread

These baked beans are not really baked, but they are easy and mouth-watering delicious. I like to make a large quantity as beans freeze well, and these are winners at potlucks. I team it with Blue Cornbread, a favorite quickbread of mine that I've been baking for many years.

The (not) baked beans recipe comes from my dog eared and adored cookbook (the velveteen rabbit on my cookbook shelf), Peter Berley's The Modern Vegetarian Kitchen. Peter was the executive chef at NYC's Angelica Kitchen, my favorite vegetarian restaurant there, a standard established in 1976. The Angelica Home Kitchen cookbook is my also often used but not so dog eared favorite.

Boston (not) Baked Beans

I've used lots of combinations of beans here, all work well, so it's really up to your imagination and your pantry. Peter suggests pintos or northern beans. I like cranberry and rattlesnake beans, when i used to be able to find them. I like to do a combination of different beans. One year I tried 1/2 Lima's (believe it: they were good) with 1/3 navy, 1/3 northern and 1/3 white cannelini for the other half. My note in my books says "delicious". Another time i combined pintos and kidneys. I've also done all northern. It's a fool-proof recipe that works well no matter what you use. Most recently i did a black soybean, Appaloosa and red bean combo. I tend to think i prefer the white bean combo

dried beans, sorted and soaked overnight
2 onions, cut in half stuck with 4-5 cloves - peeling unnecessary
3 celery ribs, with leaves, broken in half
3 carrots, broken in half
9 cloves garlic, not necessary to peel
1 strip kombu
6 slices ginger root (3/16" thick)
2 bay leaves
1/3C olive oil
water to cover
3/4C maple syrup
1/2C tamari soy sauce
2T Dijon mustard
celtic sea salt
freshly ground blk pepper

Optional: first saute the veggies in the oil. or just combine the beans and veggies and salt a pressure cooker and cover with 1" of water. bring to a boil, skimming off foam. attach lid and bring to full pressure, reduce heat and cook 10 minutes.
release pressure by running pot under cold water. remove veggies and discard.

(i collect the discarded flavoring veggies and spices as well and veggie scraps in a bag in the freezer. when it gets full i use them to make veg stock. for more, see the last item on this post.)

heat the beans on a medium flame. add the syrup, soy sauce and mustard. cook, uncovered for 30 minutes or so until "meltingly tender". the liquid will thicken into a rich sauce. add pepper to taste. Voila.

Why Celtic sea salt?

this type of salt is loaded trace minerals from the sea, accounting for its grey color. many of these have few other dietary sources.

Why Kombu, and What is it?

Kombu is a sea vegetable, sold in the macrobiotic section of natural food stores, and co-ops. When cooked with beans, it aids their digestibility and also adds valuable trace minerals we normally would not include in a daily diet. 100g provides 800mg of calcium, 300mg iodine, 150mg phosphorous, a whopping 5800 mg of potassium & 430 ius of vitamin A. Keep in mind that 1 strip of kombu weighs about a half a gram. After cooking the beans, pull out the Kombu and either compost it or finely chop it and mix it into your pet’s food to add the trace minerals to their diet.

I am fortunate to come from a family of cooks. Both my grandmothers made delicious meals. My maternal grandmother was considered a gourmet in her day. I remember standbys she made, like potato, split pea and lentil soups, apple butter and apple sauce, kidneys (i didn't touch them, but apparently my mother requested them), spaghetti sauce (gravy), lots of jams and so on. She would come to our house once a month for a week, cook up a storm, and load the pantry until her next visit. it would sure be nice to have her around to do that for me, as an adult. she was helping my mother raise a family. that was her generation. so i lived in a house full of home cooked food. no packages or cans, that was her conviction.

my mother is not so much a gourmet, she makes solid wholesome staples, like fresh green salads, steamed veggies, rice. she to served her family fresh, balanced meals. typical a meat, generally broiled chicken, lamb chops or beef, a steamed vegetable and a starch or grain. nothing stands out for the latter category, but i am sure that it was represented on the plate. my father, typical male, liked to bar-be-que: chicken, steaks or ribs. he always enjoyed cooking and has taken over the kitchen in retirement (to my mother's great joy). he also is a gourmet and adventurous. you name it, he makes it, really.

so true to my genes, i began cooking as a teenager, taking over for my working mother. i got tired of late, simple meals so started getting creative: coq au vin, ratatouille, if the picture looked appetizing i wanted to try it.

however, when as a young woman i changed to a vegetarian diet, i found cooking impossible. i couldn't just modify all the ingredients and turn the dishes into veg-friendly offerings: it didn't work. i couldn't rely on a no-brainer, broiled meat and a veggie, and couldn't find an easy plant based protein to sub for the meat.

i was living in NYC at the time, and fortunately discovered the Natural Gourmet Cooking School, where i learned to cook again, this time vegetarian. i have favorite dishes i'm still making from those invaluable classes.

This cornbread recipe comes from one of their basic series cooking classes, this one taught by Tim Aiken. I've done some modifying over the years, and now have this standby that i still make often.

Blue Cornbread

2C blue cornmeal

2C spelt flour

2T Baking pwd

2C water

1/2C coconut oil, melted

1/3C raspberry brown rice syrup

1t sea salt

preheat oven 400.

whisk wet (and salt) and dry ingredients together in separate bowls. add the wet ingredients to the flours, blend well. pour into a 9x9" baking pan and bake 400 for 10 minutes (8 min convection). reduce heat to 375 and bake 30 min (23 min convection) until lightly browned. cool and cut into squares. serve with Earth Balance margarine.

Why blue cornmeal?

i have an adventurous palate, and like to try anything different (yellow and purple cauliflower are favs). so when i saw the blue cornmeal, i wanted to give it a try. i think its a little heartier and more flavorful than yellow.

i use spelt flour to avoid wheat (even though its a cousin). i use the pastry flour, its lighter for baking.


use pampered chef stoneware baking pans. they don't require greasing and they are easier to clean. the company recommends against soap. just soak in warm water and loosen and remove any stuck food with a brush. KB

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

The Formula For Longevity

(Translated from a Chinese scroll)

For a person to live 100 years should not be uncommon,
Less meat, more vegetables, and warm tea makes a healthy spleen [digestion],
To live a healthy long life has a secret,
Picky eating and over drinking over time becomes disease,
Go to bed early, wake early, over-sleeping has no benefit,
Use medicinal herbs [medicines] carefully,
When you are ill, seek medical care,
There should be balance between work and rest,
Work and rest should have regularity,
Keep a positive outlook and an open mind,
When encountering things, don’t rush,
Be sure to breathe plenty of fresh air,
Less stillness and more activity will increase your vitality,
Your environment should be neat and clean,
Get plenty of sunlight,
Martial arts and qi gong will bring out your exuberance,
Music, chess, calligraphy, and painting strengthen the mind and make the body healthy,
Running and exercise have great benefit,
Be disciplined with your diet,
Smoking and drinking should be avoided,
Physical work can prevent illness and dispel disease.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Asparagus Risotto

Asparagus were on sale at Greenlife/Whole Foods in Asheville this Saturday. In honor of the vernal equinox, i picked up a bunch and made my yummy spring risotto. This is a hearty dish. I combined a couple of recipes i found in 2007 & 2008 in the NY Times and did my own thing with them. One is the Pope's Risotto, a dish developed for the Pontiff's 2008 spring visit to NYC. Age 81 at the time, the Pope requested bland dishes that were light and seasonal, so this asparagus, peas and fava bean risotto was developed to suit the papal entrails.

The other is from my favorite food columnist, Mark Bittman's The Minimalist. Typical of his recipes, this Asparagus Risotto is simple, easy and mmm, mmm good.

so here's Kath's Yummy Spring Risotto with Spinach/Onion Pesto Sauce

For the Risotto:
1 bunch asparagus, cut into 1" pieces, tips reserved. remove any thick stems.
1 1/2 lbs Arborio rice
4C veg stock
2C water
2T olive oil
3T Earth Balance margarine
1/3 medium red onion, medium-small dice
1 portabello mushroom cap, large dice
1/2C peas (frozen OK)
1/2C white wine
1+t Celtic sea salt, to taste
3-4T vegan Parmesan
3-4T hemp nut seeds
1/3-1/2C toasted pine nuts

For the pesto:

1C packed spinach leaves, washed
1/4-3/8C packed sliced chives: 2-3
1/2C+ olive oil
1/4t Celtic sea salt

Steam half a bunch of the asparagus stalks (no tips) until soft, approx 5 min.

Put stock & water in separate pans and heat on low.

In a large, deep stir-fry pan, heat the oil and 1T of the margarine on medium heat. When its hot, add the onion, stirring occasionally until soft, about 5 min.

While the onion is cooking, puree the steamed asparagus stalks in a food processor (yes, u get to use it :), adding enough water to get a smooth paste.

When the onion is soft, add the rice and cook, stirring occasionally, until glossy, about 5 min. Add the wine, stirring until the liquid bubbles away. Add salt. Begin adding the warmed stock, 1/2C-1C at a time, stirring occasionally. Each time the stock has about evaporated, add a little more.

While the risotto is cooking, blend the pesto ingredients together in the food processor: put the veggies in the bowl and add the olive oil in a stream thru the hole at the top.

When the risotto has cooked about 15 min, add the remaining asparagus and tips, mushrooms and peas (if using fresh peas).

When the risotto becomes tender with a slight crunch (after about 30+ of cooking time) add the asparagus puree and peas (if using frozen). Remove from heat, add the Parmesan, remaining butter, hemp seeds and pine nuts, stirring well. add salt and pepper to taste. Serve with a spoonful of pesto over the top. Enjoy. KB

Why Celtic sea salt?

this type of salt has more trace minerals, many of which have few other dietary sources.

Why hemp seeds?

Hemp seeds are high in protein, especially important for those on a plant based diet. You can stir it into rice and grains and sprinkle over veggies and salads. they are about the size of sesame seeds, with a mild flavor.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Why Gou Ji Berries?

Gou Ji berries have become a health trend in the past few years. These small red berries were plucked out of Traditional Chinese Medicine's (TCM) Materia Medical (catalogue of herbs and other medicinal substances, like shells and animal products). I've seen it included in a range of products and snack foods, such as smoothies and trail mix. Their popularity has shot up the price and reduced its availability. Lately I have discovered that several of the natural food stores in Asheville, NC are not able to obtain it for their shelves. But contrary to popular belief, this tonic herb should not be
used for general consumption.

In Chinese herbal medicine, Gou Qi Zi, Lycii Fructus (lycii berries) tonifies Liver and Kidney yin and blood and brightens the eyes. Yin and yang are polar opposites and in Chinese medicine we use the concept of yin and yang to help explain and treat disease processes in the body. Yin refers to female, quiescence, cool, darkness, earth, feminine, night, moon and water. In the body, substance and blood are yin.

The kidney organ system in Chinese medicine house the root of yin and yang in the body. It also rules the aging process, from conception, through puberty and maturation, as well as decline until eventually we die because the kidney energy has exhausted itself.

The liver in TCM stores blood. For women, at the time of the menses it sends the blood down to the uterus to be expelled. The liver channel begins at the big toe and travels up the inside of the leg, through the genitalia, up the side of the torso to the chest. Then it goes internally up to the eyes and top of the head.

Gou Qi Zi nourishes the qi (energy) and blood of the liver and kidneys. We use it for gyn issues involving deficiency and to tonify the liver and kidney systems when they are weak. It is a commonly used herb for those undergoing radiation and chemo therapy, which burns yin and blood.

In Chinese herbal medicine, we classify herbs according to their temperature. Cinnamon, cardamon, nutmeg, cloves and Sichuan pepper are all warming herbs. Mint and watermelon are cooling. Generally speaking Gou Qi Zi is considered a neutral herb: neither warm nor cold. Of interesting note is a personal antidote mentioned by Zhang Zi-Chun in Essays on Medicine Esteeming the Chinese and Respecting the Western. As a neutral herb, Gou Qi Zi is not considered to have the ability to clear heat. However Zhang disagrees, citing a personal experience when he was waking up feeling hot and drinking a pitcher of water throughout the night. He began chewing 30g of Gou Qi Zi before bedtime. He continued to waken during the night, but didn't feel warm and he reduced his water intake by 50%.

This scenario is commonly seen in perimenopausal women. Traditional Chinese herbalists often include Gou Qi Zi in formulas when treating perimenopause to tonify the kidney yin. This example may show some ability of Gou Qi Zi to clear heat for these women. I frequently use the root of this plant, Di Gu Pi, Lycii Cortex to clear heat for hot flashes.

Because it goes to the eyes, Gou Qi Zi is commonly used for eye problems due to deficiency, such as weakness, floaters and blurred vision. For this purpose, a tea can be made with Gou Qi Zi and chrysanthemum flowers (Ju Hua), using a 10-25 berries and a few dried blossoms. Gently simmer in filtered or deionized water for 10-20 minutes and drink 1-2 cups daily.

Ron Teeguarden notes that good quality berries are thick, bright red, sweet and tender. If they are brownish or dry and crunchy they have been stored too long. (2) The berries can be added to soups, stews and grains, up to a handful per day. Be sure you have blood and yin deficiency before using, by checking first with a traditional Chinese herbalist. KB


1. Bensky, Clavey & Stoger, Chinese Herbal Medicine Materia Medica, 3rd Edition, 2004 Eastland Press, p760.

2. Teeguarden, Ron, Chinese Tonic Herbs, 1985 Japan Publications. p.97.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Chinese Herbal Medicine vs Prescription Drugs

Chinese Herbs work differently than prescription medicines. Drugs generally work to suppress a symptom, not cure a disease. An example is diabetes, cholesterol or hypertension medications that control blood sugar, lipids (fats: cholesterol) or pressure only while you take them. If you stop the drug, the symptom persists.

In contrast to pharmaceuticals, Chinese medicine works to cure the disease. The herbs are slower acting: often they do not provide the immediate effect people have come to expect from drugs, such as pain killers or mind altering drugs: anti-depressants, anxiety and insomnia medications. This is because Chinese medicine is working at a deep level to change the bodily processes perpetuating the disease. Turning the ship is a longer term process than whitewashing over a symptom. Therefore it commonly takes a few days, or 1 -2 weeks to begin seeing results with Chinese herbal therapy. Unlike drugs though, Chinese medicine is often able to cure the disease so that in time the drugs and herbs can be withdrawn and the disease & associated symptoms do not reappear.

Another benefit of Chinese medicine is that it does not cause the undesirable side effects seen from prescription drugs.

For more about Chinese herbal medicine see the Chinese Herbs page of my website: KB