Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Omega 3 and Chinese Medicine

Omega 3s get a lot of press these days, and for good reason. They are Essential Fatty Acids (EFAs), which means our bodies don't make them, we need to get them from our diet. The reason they are so important is because they do a lot for our bodies: they lower triglycerides; improve heart health and prevent stroke; improve mood and brain function for conditions like ADHD, depression, Alzheimer's and dementia; and most importantly they reduce inflammation which plays a part in many of the above conditions, as well as asthma, allergies, skin disorders, Rheumatoid and Osteoarthritis.

Omega 3s are abundant in many great foods, like salmon, sardines and other cold water fatty fish; flax seeds/oil; chia seeds; walnuts; and krill oil. Ideally they are consumed in organic form, or wild caught for the fish and krill to minimize contamination with pesticides or mercury.

From a Chinese Medicine perspective, Omega 3s seem to do the following things: Clear Heat, Leech out Dampness, Calm the Shen (Spirit),  Clear Phlegm/Open the Orifices and Moisten Dryness.

  • Most sources of these EFAs tend to be oils, so moistening makes sense. They lubricate to improve movement, like with arthritis, they keep the skin moist and supple, and they may also help with constipation by moistening the Intestines.
  • Inflammation is often seen as heat in Chinese Medicine. Signs of heat are when a body part feels hot to the touch or feels internally hot, there is redness (like with skin rashes or boils), fever, or when a condition gets worse with either the application of heat or in hot weather. Cooling the heat makes skin calmer (less red), allergic eyes less red and irritated and stops this type of pain with arthritis (Rheumatoid arthritis often has a heat element).
  • Inflammation can also have a damp quality to it. Damp signs usually have a "wetness" element to them, like joint swelling or skin eruptions with pus. You can also have Dampness in the head creating foggy or unclear thinking or systemic dampness which creates a fatigue where you feel really heavy and sluggish. It is also possible to have both Dampness and Heat.
  • The Shen is the Spirit in Chinese Medicine. It is connected both to the Heart and the Mind, being related to mood and emotions. Good Shen is seen as a "brightness" in the eyes where the person is clear and calm and content. Disturbed Shen can present with a person having a dull look in their eyes or wild "crazy" eyes, like with mania. By Calming the Spirit, you feel less agitated or anxious, less stressed, more relaxed. You feel internally "brighter" and more alive. 
  • When you feel foggy-headed or your brain is not functioning properly (like with dementia) it is almost like there is a veil or clouds blocking your brain from working correctly. In Chinese Medicine that is Phlegm, which is a thicker, stickier level of Dampness. By clearing Phlegm from the Orifices (in this case the Mind and the Eyes--where you see the Shen) you can think more clearly. It is like removing the veil or blowing away the clouds in your Mind. The Brain functions more clearly and appropriately.
The ideas of Dryness, Dampness and Phlegm are all pathologic concepts, not to be confused with normal and natural moisture. In a balanced system there are equal amounts of Heat, Cold, Moist and Dry. Problems arise when there is too much Heat to balance out the Cold, so rather than warming the body you have a radiator that is overheating. If there is too much Cold to balance out the Heat your body isn't cooling itself, it is freezing. When there is too much "Moistness" it becomes pathologic Dampness or in more severe forms, Phlegm. Dampness and Phlegm are no longer moistening the body, they are just clogging up the system.

It is important to have just enough of one to balance the other, as is with the priciples of Yin and Yang. It seems that Omega 3 Fatty Acids help you maintain that balance.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Save Yourself From Stress Part 5--Trauma: Big and Small

I recently attended the Veterans and Trauma conference at The Omega Institute in Rhinebeck, NY (wonderful place, I highly recommend it). I listened to speakers from all different modalities (Western as well as Holistic) speak about different ways to treat trauma, as well as new research being done to help returning soldiers (and previous war veterans) cope with reintegration and PTSD.

One of the speakers, David Feinstein, Ph.D., spoke about Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT) which is a mind/body technique that employs tapping on acupuncture points to help "rewire" the brain to release the fear or trauma that is trapped in the body. The body holds onto trauma (whether big or small) and can cause either big or small drains of energy that you may or may not be aware of. The idea is to tune into these traumas and tap on them so they are no longer sucking your energy and preventing you from moving forward in your life. The traumas can be big, like a rape or exposure to war, or small(er), like your parents divorce or a minor fender bender. Each of these events will impact you on some level if you never fully processed them when they originally happened.

During the session with Dr. Feinstein a woman got up who had a significant phobia that was a 10 on the 1-10 scale. After 1 round of tapping it dropped to a 5, after the 2nd round it was a 3, then after the 3rd round it was a zero. She was searching for the fear within her and could no longer feel it. While she was tapping on herself, we, in the audience, were tapping on ourselves and my personal issue went from a 6 to a 1. Even though as a group we were focusing on the woman with the phobia, we all received benefit. Interesting stuff.

This was not my first experience with EFT; I've been using it (with a coach) once or twice a month for the last couple of years. Over that time I've felt like my emotional life has improved more and more. The "baggage" I've carried around with me my whole life is releasing and I can move on with a little more freedom, less fear, less anger, more strength and more confidence. Interactions that would previously trigger me into rage or fear no longer have that power over me.

I like to use the image of a garbage can for how we deal with our "stuff": we all have garbage cans inside of us where we put emotions and memories that we don't want to deal with. If they aren't dealt with and processed, they have to go somewhere so we stuff them in The Can. Over time The Can fills and we keep stuffing more and more in there. At some point The Can overflows and you need clean up the mess. That mess can often show up as physical pain (neck, shoulders, migraine, lower back, sciatic, etc.) or other symptoms (insomnia, anxiety/depression, stomach upset or irregularity, chronic fatigue). It gets to the point where your body is screaming out for you to deal with your "stuff."

In terms of Chinese Medicine, that emotional baggage causes stagnation of Qi flow; often times this Qi has been stagnant and perhaps dormant (or deep lying) for many years or even decades. Emotions can cause all sorts of stagnation and imbalances that can wreak havoc in our lives, overtly as physical symptoms (as I mentioned earlier) or subtly as drains to our energy. It is like leaving your phone charger plugged into the wall even though there is no phone attached; these tiny drains over time wear you down. When you can "unplug" them you feel lighter and more energized and your related symptoms start to dissipate.

Undoing these triggers can take time, but if you suffer from any chronic conditions, it might be another way to help you feel better; the body and mind are connected after all.