Tuesday, December 17, 2013

How to Tame Menopausal Symptoms Naturally

I'd like to start by stating that Menopause is not a disease that needs to be "cured." It is something that every woman goes through at some point in her life, either naturally or due to surgery or chemotherapy. What your experience of Perimenopause and Menopause is depends on the state of balance in your life and in your health; the more balanced you are, the fewer and milder the symptoms you will experience. However, you are probably reading this post because you are experiencing at least one symptom, so let's get down to it.

Like I said, the key to taming Menopausal symptoms is balance. Stress, poor diet, lack of appropriate exercise, and poor sleep can all play a part in taking you out of balance, so try to take control of what you can.  If it is within your power to make better choices (go to bed earlier, ask for help, take a yoga class, go for a walk) then try to do that to the best of your ability. Stress happens, what matters is how you handle it.

In terms of diet, start with a healthy diet, rich with dark green, leafy vegetables, berries and other fruit, as well as other seasonal vegetables, like squash, pumpkin and root vegetables. Small amounts of grass-fed beef, pasture raised chicken and eggs, brown rice, quinoa and legumes will round out the basics. Eat organic and non-GMO when possible. To specifically target menopausal symptoms, which you can read about in my previous post, you will want to eat foods that build Yin and Blood.

Foods that Build Blood:
  • Barley, oats, rice
  • Apricots, cherries, dates, figs, raspberries, grapes
  • Beets, collards, kale, swiss chard, spinach, yellow squash
  • Aduki beans, black beans, kidney beans
  • Eggs (especially the yolk), beef, liver, octopus, oyster
  • Mushrooms
Foods that Nourish Yin:
  • Millet, alfalfa sprouts
  • Asparagus, sweet potato, string beans
  • Cranberries, strawberries, lemons, limes, mulberries
  • Aduki beans, black beans, black soybeans (ideally fermented), black sesame seeds, walnuts
  • Clam, duck, oyster, pork, eggs (especially the yolk)
  • Rosehip, algae, seaweed, marjoram, nettle, salt (high quality sea salt)
If your symptoms are mostly heat related (hot flashes, night sweats, irritability), also adding cooling foods like melon, cucumber, mint and yogurt can help tame the heat. Even if you are running warm however, be cautious with too many cold or iced foods or beverages in the cold weather. You don't want to put out your digestive fire, just cool the rising heat. Keeping most of the food in your diet cooked and warm, but not hot or spicy (see the "avoid" list below). If you live in Hawaii or somewhere else that is warm all the time, you can get away with more cooling foods to balance the warmth of the environment. Here in the Northeast U.S. (where as I am writing it is currently snowing) cooked foods will be better.

Other useful foods and supplements are:
  • Organic, non-GMO fermented soy products-- miso, natto, tempeh
  • Flaxseeds, licorice, black cohosh: they have phytoestrogens or plant estrogens which may be helpful in balancing the drop in estrogen that happens at menopause.
  • Pycnogenol-- can help with hot flashes and night sweats
  • Omega 3 foods-- Flax, chia, hemp, salmon, anchovy, walnut
  • Vitamin D3 (especially for depression, mood swings, irritability, and especially in colder Northern climates in Winter). Adults can take 2000-4000 IU daily when sun exposure is minimal.
For additional support, avoid the following:
  • Alcohol--it produces dampness and heat in the body (you don't need any additional heat).
  • Stimulants like coffee or black tea; green or herbal tea is okay.
  • Spicy foods like cayenne, dried ginger, cinnamon, black pepper, mustard, horseradish, chili. These increase internal heat and make you sweat (you don't need any help in that department).
  • Artificial sweeteners and sugar. These increase inflammation in the body, which can produce more heat as well. They are also just not good for you.
Acupuncture and yoga can also be very helpful when it comes to managing the symptoms of Perimenopause and Menopause. They can help you sleep better, manage stress and balance your hormones so that you feel better and can better cope with daily life.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Perimenopause--The Fiery Beast

Perimenopause is that time in a woman's life when your fertile days are limited. During this in between stage, women are usually still getting periods, sometimes regularly, sometimes more frequently, sometimes less frequently. Hormonal shifts can cause all sorts of symptoms, which can be explained from a Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) point of view.

Through a woman's menstrual life she loses blood every month, sometimes in large amounts. Because of this, most women tend to run a little Blood Deficient. Her body has less than a month to make up for the blood loss and if her diet is low in blood building foods (dark green leafies, beef, beans, eggs, grapes, figs, dates), over time this insufficiency becomes more pronounced. Typical symptoms are:
  • dry skin and hair
  • vision problems (floaters, dry eyes, blurred vision)
  • constipation
  • empty-headedness/whole-head headaches
  • fatigue during or after your period
  •  palpitations
  • anxiety
Generally symptoms of Blood Deficiency involve some sort of dryness, since there is insufficient blood to moisten and nourish the body (hair, skin, muscles, internal organs) appropriately. As a woman moves toward menopause, the symptoms of dryness intensify as she becomes more and more deficient. When there is not enough moisture to cool the body, heat rises.

When people think of typical Menopause (capital M) symptoms they think of hot flashes, night sweats, trouble sleeping, brain fog and mood swings. Of course there are other possible symptoms, but these are the biggies. During perimenopause, you are moving in that direction; there is still enough Blood to have a period, but they may be occurring less often or have a lighter flow. Exceptions to this are when there are fibroids present (Blood Stagnation) which cause the blood flow to be very heavy, almost hemorrhaging for some women. But generally speaking, there is a trend toward drying out and heating up. Some women start to get hot flashes or night sweats in the premenstrual days, or have insomnia for those few days before the bleeding starts. This, of course, is in addition to any normal PMS symptoms she may be having. Like PMS, these symptoms typically subside once the bleeding starts.

It is the shift from Blood Deficiency to Yin Deficiency that marks the end of Menstruation and beginning of Menopause. Yin is the body's cooling substance that balances Yang's fire. When the Blood is that empty, the dryness goes deeper and develops into a Yin Deficiency and this is when the signs of heat...well, heat up. Many common symptoms include:
  • hot flashes (with or without sweating, day or night)
  • night sweats
  • insomnia--usually falling asleep is fine but there is frequent waking, due to heat, sweating, stress/anxiety or for no obvious reason
  • bursts of anger or mood swings
  • feeling generally warmer or every afternoon feeling like you are running a low fever
  • lower tolerance to heat in the environment
  • vaginal dryness and/or general skin and hair dryness
  • anxiety
The good news is that this is not necessarily your destiny. You might experience some, all or none of these symptoms. Many women's periods stop and they never have a single sweat or flash. However, any difficulty you have premenstrually (in terms of amount and severity of symptoms) will mimic any difficulty you may have in the transition to menopause; basically if you have easy periods, chances are high that you will have an easy transition from Perimenopause into Menopause. If you don't, beware the Fiery Beast! Luckily there are many natural options to look to for help and support, including Acupuncture, Chinese Herbal Medicine and Diet.

Next time I will be writing about dietary options for taming the symptoms of Perimenopause. If you would like to sign up to receive email notifications of my posts, please click this link to sign up. You can unsubscribe at any time.

Friday, October 4, 2013

PMS and acupuncture

Premenstural Syndrome, or PMS, typically occurs in the second half of the menstrual cycle, between Ovulation and Menstruation. It can last anywhere from a few minutes to 14 days, depending on the severity of the imbalance causing it. Imbalances can be caused by excess (usually stagnation of Qi or Blood) or deficiency, or both. Please review my previous post to learn about how a "normal" period is supposed to happen.

Premenstrual symptoms occur because of imbalances that are in the body already; they become heightened just before the period when Qi and Blood is building. If the symptoms are due to deficiency (insufficiency) it is because there is not enough Qi, Blood, Yin or Yang to support normal function. If the symptoms are due to excess (usually either caused by heat or stagnation), the build is increasing the excess thereby exacerbating the symptoms.

The Liver Qi is the motive force that causes the blood to flow during menstruation. Pain is often due to stagnation of Liver Qi. When Liver Qi is stuck or stagnant, it causes many common premenstrual symptoms, such as: headaches/migraines, TMJ or teeth clenching, breast tenderness, cramps, irritability/short temperedness, depression, bloating and restless sleep, just to name a few. Stagnation can occur due to excess (there are too many cars trying to drive down one lane on the road) or deficiency (there isn't enough gas in the tank for the car to run and it stops, causing a back up behind it). The best cure for stagnation is movement, but you want to make sure not to over do it, especially if your stagnation is due to deficiency; it will make it worse. Looking at other symptoms can help determine the type of your stagnation.

If your symptoms are accompanied by fatigue, bloating, sweet cravings, clumsiness and/or loose bowel movements, chances are your stagnation is due to deficiency. This type of stagnation will be made worse with exercise. The best course of action would be to increase the amount of rest you are getting, both with sleep and down time during your day. If you do exercise, gentle yoga, tai chi, walking or something low key is best, so as not to over tax your body. Also, eating warm, sweet foods to nourish your Qi. This is not an invitation to eat a tray full of fresh baked brownies (sorry), but to eat foods that have the sweet flavor, like sweet potatoes, pumpkin, carrots, squash, oatmeal, chicken, rice, salmon, turkey, licorice, fresh ginger and cardamom. If you also have symptoms of hot flashes, night sweats or insomnia in the days before menstruation, that is also due to deficiency but deficiency with heat, so be cautious with the warming herbs (ginger, cardamom). You would do better with foods like millet, asparagus, seaweed, lemon, lime, egg and cranberry.

If your symptoms are accompanied by severe lower abdominal pain, irritability, quick temper, mind racing, trouble falling asleep and intense premenstrual migraines, your stagnation is probably due to excess. This type will respond well to exercise, especially more strenuous exercise, like running, swimming, vigorous yoga, mountain climbing, basically exercise that really gets your heart pumping.

This is just a very basic, general overview; to get your specific diagnosis, see your local acupuncturist. Acupuncture can relieve stagnation due to deficiency and excess or when there is a combination of the two.  Not only can acupuncture address the physical symptoms, but also the emotional symptoms--mood swings, irritability, sensitivity or weepiness. If you find yourself suffering before your period every month, regular acupuncture treatments can help keep you in balance so that the symptoms are minimized or gone completely.

Monday, August 26, 2013

Premenstrual Syndrome (PMS)-- East meets West

The bane of many women's existence: PMS. Life seems to be going along fine and then "Aunt Flow" comes to visit and brings with her all sorts of physical, mental and emotional discomfort. Over the next few months I will be posting about different aspects of PMS, or Premenstrual Syndrome, but I will not be posting alone. I am joining forces with Naturopathic Doctor Joshua Lloyd, from Groton Wellness, to provide you with the most information possible: an Eastern and Western Holistic point of view. The discussion will be broken down into 3-4 parts so that the information will be easier to digest, and hopefully will leave you with some tools and understanding to help manage any symptoms you or a loved one might be suffering.

Let's start with what a balanced menstrual cycle looks like from a Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) perspective.

From the start of menstruation, the Liver Qi moves the Blood out of the Uterus (Bao Gong) and the  Sea of Blood (Chong Mai) empties. The blood flows smoothly, tapers off and stops over the course of 3-7 days. The blood is bright red without clots. There should be no pain or discomfort and it should not drain your energy; basically life should go on relatively normally, aside from the fact that you are bleeding. Once the bleeding stops, the body begins to rebuild Blood and Yin so that you are not left at a deficit. Approximately 7 days later ovulation happens from the swell of Kidney Yin becoming full and shifting into Yang. The next two weeks are ruled by Qi and Yang, which must stay full and keep moving. Then the Heart sends the Blood down the Bao Mai (Vessel) to the Uterus (Bao Gong-- Palace), which is then moved out by the Liver Qi, and declining Yang becoming Yin, causing menstruation. The cycle is complete.

Notice that there is no mention of cramps, irritability, breast tenderness, fatigue, bloating, insomnia, etc. These symptoms are not part of a "normal" menstrual cycle, they are an indication that the body is out of balance. Bleeding should start, go on for a few days then end, all without any other symptoms.

That being said, most women in this day and age do not experience this version of the menstrual cycle. Most women experience some symptoms at various times during the month, both physical and emotional, which are caused by the above process not going as it should. If Qi, Blood, Yin or Yang are insufficient or excess, there will be problems, ranging from irregular menstruation, periods that are too heavy or too light (or non-existent), infertility as well as numerous other issues. One of the most common problems, with regard to the menstrual cycle, is Liver Qi stagnation, which presents itself most frequently between ovulation and menstruation. The next few posts will explore this issue in greater detail, focusing on physical, mental and emotional issues that often arise during this time. Every woman is different and can present differently during this premenstrual time. There are symptoms that are directly related to hormonal shifts and also symptoms that might seem unrelated but are really part of the same pattern. Any imbalance that exists during the rest of the month will become more pronounced premenstrually, and depending on the severity of the imbalance,  can really (thankfully temporarily) upset a woman's life.

My goal for the next few posts is to help you understand this premenstrual time a little better, from both an Eastern and Western point of view, to help you cope with your symptoms and to eventually guide you to improve your overall health. If you have any specific questions that you would like to have answered in these posts by either myself or Dr. Lloyd, please email me at jagoglia@integrativetherapeutics.com or Dr. Lloyd at drlloyd@grotonwellness.com.

Dr. Lloyd is a naturopathic doctor who graduated with his degree in naturopathic medicine from Bastyr University in Seattle, WA.  Bastyr is one of only four nationally-accredited naturopathic medical schools.  Before medical school, he graduated with high honors from the University of New Mexico with a Bachelor of Science degree in Exercise Science.  He has an extensive research background that he uses to stay on the cutting edge of natural therapeutics and natural remedies.

Dr. Lloyd treats patients of all ages with a wide variety of health concerns, including Lyme disease, chronic inflammatory complaints, cardiovascular problems, thyroid and adrenal troubles, sleep problems, digestive complaints, and mental health concerns. He utilizes a comprehensive approach to help alleviate symptoms while investigating and correcting the causes of declining health.

Friday, July 26, 2013

How Do I Get Rid of Phlegm?

Whether due to allergies or illness, we've all had to deal with Phlegm at some point in our lives. A child's runny nose, sinus congestion and coughing up "gunk" are just a few common types of Phlegm. According to Chinese Medicine there are two main causes: diet and the environment. Diet is often the cause of chronic presentations, like with allergies, whereas, according to Chinese Medicine, the elements in your environment cause illness (you can read more on that here).

The Spleen is in charge of Transforming and Transporting fluids in the body. When it is working properly, it provides moisture to the skin, hair, eyes, blood, etc. When it isn't working properly, the fluid can accumulate and become Dampness, which can present as foggy thinking, low energy with a heavy, draggy feeling to it, achy muscles, joints and general pain that is worse with humid or damp, rainy weather. With long standing accumulation and Spleen weakness, the Dampness can congeal and become Phlegm which is stickier and more tangible. Phlegm is what congests your nose and chest or becomes nodules such as lipomas, cysts and other non-blood related "lumps and bumps."

Whether the Phlegm or Dampness is due to illness or allergies, diet is critical. What you eat can either improve or worsen your symptoms. Phlegm is a Yin substance which means it is slow moving, sticky, sluggish and Cold. You can have Phlegm Heat conditions, but that usually occurs when the Phlegm has been stagnant for long periods of time, and like friction in a car engine, Heat results. In and of itself, Phlegm is Cold and improves with Heat as it starts to dissolve and move. Eating warm Sweet foods will support the Spleen and will help your body prevent further Phlegm from accumulating, or prevent Phlegm in general. Unfortunately, this kind of Sweet does not include refined sugar, candy or brownies (sorry); I'm talking about foods like sweet potato, beetroot, squash (summer and winter), rice, millet, grapes, coconuts, Wild Atlantic salmon and organic chicken; these foods are sweet in terms of the 5 flavors--Sweet, Salty, Pungent, Bitter and Sour (there is technically a 6th flavor, Bland, associated with the Spleen, but it is a secondary flavor). Bitter foods like alfalfa, celery, radish (especially Daikon), green tea and lemon (technically sour, but helps with Phlegm), can help drain Damp and Phlegm that is already there.

Foods to avoid when you have Phlegm are foods that are hard to digest: wheat and other gluten grains (rye, barley, some oats), dairy (especially from a cow--sheep and goat dairy are less problematic, but should still be avoided), nuts and nut butters, cold or iced food or beverages, sugar and artificial sweeteners. The worst food to have is cold dairy, like ice cream. All of these foods encourage inflammation and mucus production by damaging the Spleen; when your system is already weakened (shown by illness or allergies) these foods will only encourage your body to make that much more Phlegm. For people with healthy Spleens some of these foods are fine to eat in moderation, but when your Spleen is compromised, they are best to be avoided. If you are unsure about the state of your Spleen, you can ask your local acupuncturist, or look for symptoms like: fatigue, low appetite, loose stools or constipation, achy muscles, symptoms that are worse with rain or high humidity, foggy thinking or lots of phlegm (allergies, needing to blow your nose every morning, chronic throat clearing, post-nasal drip).

Start with your diet. If that is not enough, Acupuncture and Chinese Herbal Medicine can greatly improve your health by strengthening your Spleen and reducing Phlegm. First food, then medicine.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Cancer and Acupuncture

Cancer is becoming more and more prevalent in today's world. Much of the food in grocery stores (read processed, sugar laden, chemical laden, genetically modified) is creating an environment in our bodies that prevents us from being able to keep cancer from growing out of control. All of us have cancer cells in our bodies, but most of the time they are turned off. Pollution from chemicals in foods, in our hygiene products, and in our environment can turn these cells on and start the growth of a tumor. Whether the tumor continues to grow or ceases depends on many variables. It is hard to live in the world today and not be impacted by cancer, either directly or by knowing someone who has it or has had it.

Can acupuncture cure cancer?

Unfortunately the answer is no. There are Chinese Medicine Oncologists who have received specialized training in Chinese Medicine Oncology (mostly in China), but for the most part, acupuncturists in the United States don't cure cancer or even treat it per se. However, acupuncture can make a person's experience with Western cancer treatments much easier and less painful. Whether or not a person with cancer chooses to do surgery, chemotherapy and/or radiation, they can still benefit from acupuncture to help cope the side effects of the various treatments.

People undergoing chemotherapy and radiation often have to suffer through a number of side effects including (but not limited to): fatigue, nausea/vomiting, muscle or joint pain, trouble sleeping, anxiety/depression, lack of appetite and bowel or digestive irregularities. Sometimes these symptoms can be so severe that they interfere with the person's ability to continue their cancer treatments. Surgeries can often leave a person in a lot of pain, even with pain killing medications.

In Chinese Medicine we look at the side effects of chemo or radiation on the body and help reverse those effects. Chemo and radiation can cause a build up of Heat in the body (nausea, vomiting, digestive irregularities, anxiety) as well as deplete a person's Qi (fatigue/exhaustion, lack of appetite, trouble sleeping) or cause Qi to stagnate (pain, depression, bowel/digestive irregularities). By looking at a person's response to their cancer treatment the acupuncturist can figure out how this particular person is being affected and treat accordingly. When it comes to surgeries, acupuncture and moxibustion can help the body recover, reduce pain and help with scar healing. Surgeons are often amazed at how quickly and how well our shared patients' scars heal as compared to patients not receiving acupuncture.

Acupuncture can't cure cancer, but it can help a person withstand the treatments that might cure their cancer. As it stands today, chemo and radiation treat the cancer without regard to the person; acupuncture treats the person. The stronger your body, the easier it is to tolerate the cancer treatments and hopefully the more successfully you will heal.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Sports Injuries? Yes, acupuncture can help.

Spring and Summer are the two most active months of the year, in terms of we humans getting outside and playing. Golf, tennis, swimming, surfing, soccer, lacrosse, you name it, we do it. That is why this is also the time of year when the number of sports injuries goes up. People who were dormant in Winter months come out of hiding, out of shape but raring to go. It is common for people who are getting back into exercise to try to do what they used to do before they became deconditioned, and they get hurt. Strains, sprains, bumps, bruises, pulled muscles. They can be a pain in the...neck. Thankfully acupuncture offers solutions to getting you back out there sooner, helping your body heal itself.

I've had many patients limp into my office and walk out feeling better. The sooner you get treatment, the better, but even after a month or two of limping around, you can get significant relief.

Acupuncture works differently than pain killers and NSAIDs (ibuprofen, acetaminophen, etc.). While it does help with the pain, it is not just deadening the pain, it is increasing blood flow to the area so that the body heals itself. The concept of increasing Qi flow to release stagnation (which is the cause of pain according to Chinese medical theory) is why the pain goes away. NSAIDs have been shown to slow healing according to recent studies. Acupuncture actually improves and encourages the healing process. It improves blood circulation, decreases swelling, relaxes the muscle tissue and can improve overall function of the painful area. In my experience, the only time acupuncture doesn't work for injuries is when something needs to be dealt with surgically, like reattaching a tendon. After the surgery, however, acupuncture can help with healing.

"Jane," a 50 year old female, came in to see me with a sprained ankle, that after 4 weeks of rest, ice and taking it easy, hadn't improved. She was limping and in significant pain. She just wanted to be able to get back to her step aerobics class which she loved.  After I treated her with acupuncture and moxa, she was able to walk without a limp. After 2 treatments she could stand on one leg on that foot. After 3 treatments she could do step aerobics without jumping, and after 4 treatments she was back to normal with no restrictions in movement.

I have many other stories just like this one, where after no change or improvement in their injury, people get better and back to their lives with acupuncture. Not all sports or other types of injuries take 4 treatments, some more, some less. I've had people recover in one treatment while others take maybe 10-12. It all depends on the nature of the injury (how acute or chronic), how soon after injury you sought treatment and how significant the injury really is (minor sprain or full muscle tear or bone break). How does acupuncture work? Scientists are still working that one out. As far as I'm concerned, Qi flow = no pain. That is how I practice.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Support for Boston

As a former Bostonian (well Brookline-ian at any rate) the events at the Marathon on 4/15 hit close to home. Many people were hurt, some killed by a completely senseless act. This can leave one feeling anxious, unsure and downright scared. Acupuncturists in and around New England are offering up their services to help anyone suffering from PTSD, or Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. This can have symptoms ranging from agitation and anxiety to insomnia, hyper-vigilance, trouble relaxing or feeling calm in one's body, or even emotional numbness. These symptoms can present immediately after a trauma (Acute Traumatic Stress), but can often not show up for a few weeks to a month later.

Acupuncture has an amazing ability to help the body out of a state of Fight or Flight, and back into a state of feeling in control. The NADA protocol (created by Michael Smith and used by the National Acupuncture Detoxification Association) is a very simple treatment that uses 5 acupuncture points in each of the patient's ears. This protocol acts like a "reset button" for the nervous system. It helps people feel better physically and emotionally without having to talk about or relive the trauma. Counseling and talk therapy can help one make sense of an event like the Boston Marathon bombings, but the trauma itself can stay lodged in one's body. People can get re-triggered and re-traumatized long after the initial event has passed. This is what many soldiers experience after having fought in a war. During the war they can compartmentalize their emotions and do the job they need to do. PTSD often sets in after they have been home for a few months, once they've had some time outside of the chaotic environment and things start to sink in. This can also happen to First Responders (Police, Firefighters, EMTs or other emergency workers), who never know what kind of scene they are approaching.

Humans have emotions. Turning them off temporarily is an effective coping technique to help someone do a job that might be horrific but needs to be done to save a life, for example. But, when the dust settles and the emotions kick back in, it can sometimes be more than one person can bear. Getting support and realizing that you are not alone can help one's peace of mind.

I co-founded Veterans Acupuncture Care (VAC) Metrowest in 2008 (with Christine Lee) to support veterans, active military and their family members with stress and trauma. In 2010 we opened our doors to First Responders, both active and retired, and their family members. The people who serve our country and its people both locally and abroad need support too; VAC is a group of volunteer acupuncturists who offer some of that support.

In light of the recent events in Boston, VAC Metrowest is opening the doors to anyone affected directly or indirectly by the bombings. If you or a loved one feel traumatized by these events, and you live in the Boston/Metrowest area, feel free to come in for a free treatment on one or all of the following dates: 4/20, 4/27, 5/4 and 5/11. Our clinic is located at St. Andrew's Church, 3 Maple Street in Framingham and our hours are 10a-noon, last seating is at 11:30am. All walk-in, no appointments are necessary.

For more information about what we do, please go to www.vacmetrowest.com. If you are not in this area and would like to find support closer to home, New England School of Acupuncture has set up a database of acupuncturists volunteering their services in and around New England.

The events at the Marathon were horrible. My thoughts and prayers go out to the victims and their families. May your healing be swift and complete, physically, mentally and emotionally.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Self-Help for Headaches using Chinese Medicine

Everyone has experienced a headache at some point in their life. For some people it is a one time or occasional event, for others it is a chronic and sometimes debilitating condition.

According to Chinese Medical theory, any type of pain is due to stagnation: When there is pain there is no free flow; when there is free flow there is no pain. Headaches are no different in that respect. However there are many things that cause stagnation and stagnation can behave in different ways depending on what is causing it.

The two main types of stagnation are of Qi and Blood. Blood stagnation is more severe, leading to sharper more stabbing pain. Qi stagnation is usually milder in quality, even though it can still be a 10 out of 10 on a 1-10 pain scale; it tends to be more achy and diffuse.

Many things can cause stagnation. Internal organ dysfunction due to diet, emotions or trauma (physical or emotional) is one cause. Other causes are heat, cold, wind or damp/phlegm invading or being cultivated internally which prevent the Qi and/or Blood from flowing properly. When the elements invade the pain can have different qualities too: heat causes burning, hot swelling, "angry" feeling pain; cold is usually fixed pain that better with heat, worse with cold or ice; wind is pain that moves around or causes numbness; dampness or phlegm usually causes pain that feels achy, heavy and sluggish.

When it comes to headaches, not only is there variation in the quality of the pain, but also the location. Headaches can be anywhere on the head, and due to the many different causes there will be many different treatments. The best way to know what is behind your headaches is to visit your local acupuncturist and get treated. She or he can also guide you to certain foods and lifestyle changes that may help you get rid of headaches completely.

Here are several points on the body that may offer you some headache relief. If your pain is one-sided, use a point on the same side as your pain. You'll know you've found the point if it is sore when you press it firmly (sometimes it's very sore...):

LI 4--Many people know this as "the headache point," but it is really best for headaches on the front of the head (forehead, over the eyes or even toothaches). This point is located between the thumb and index finger on the back of the hand, at the half-way point of the bone between the big knuckles of the hand and the wrist.

LV 3--This is a great point to use for stress headaches, headaches behind the eyes, eye strain headaches or headaches on the top of the head. This point is located on the foot so it may be harder to reach for some people. Feel free to use the eraser end of a pencil or have a friend help you if your feet are out of reach. LV 3 is between the big toe and the second toe. Start where the base of these two toes join on the foot and slide your finger toward the ankle. The point is located at the "V" in the bones where your finger stops.

SI 3--This point is ideal for headaches that come up from the neck and are located at the back of the head, especially tension headaches from spending too much time hunched over a computer. This point is also very helpful with improving range of motion when turning your head left and right. It is located on the "pinky" side of your hand, just below the big knuckle at the base of your little finger; find it on the very side of your hand that would hit when you "karate chop."

GB 41--Another point on the foot, this is great for headaches on the sides of the head or temples, although is also useful for tension headaches coming up from the neck and shoulders. It may also help with headaches due to TMJ or teeth clenching. This can be combined with LV 3 and/or LI 4 to help lessen migraine pain. This is easiest to find by flexing the toes (lifting them and aiming them toward the ankle). The point is in a depression on the outside (little toe side) of the outermost tendon on top of the foot.

Hopefully these points will help you temporarily, until you can get in to see your acupuncturist (or between visits). Unfortunately headaches are common, but fortunately they often respond very well to acupuncture.