alternative medicine

You've Been Labeled

Are you limited by that phrase, “You Have…”? Have you looked up the percentage of people “cured”? Do you have this “answer” so now you feel like you know how the rest of your life is going to be? Or you have this “answer” so now you know the path to treat it?

YOU HAVE BEEN LABELED. You have been put into a category. You have been thrown into a massive group where everyone is the same, and not individually thought about.

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YOU ARE NOT THE SAME. Your “DIAGNOSIS” is not the same as someone else's “DIAGNOSIS” with the same name.

So instead, if for example, all you knew is that your body is cold on the inside and has a buildup of fluid, would that change your outlook? Does that feel more manageable? Does that feel like something you can overcome rather than the daunting label?

Have you been labeled? Do you feel like it limits you or does it empower you?

My Swollen Lymph Nodes Were a Sign of So Much More

I remember that moment like it was yesterday. I was lying on a hospital bed, getting an ultrasound on the lymph nodes in my neck—swollen six times the normal amount—the cold gel shocking to my skin, my brain on overdrive whirring through all of the horrifying possibilities that could be revealed through this device. “It’s cancer,” I told myself. “I should just prepare for that.”

The room was dark and eerily quiet. My wife, Anne, was with me, and I could feel how nervous she was, yet trying to remain strong so we both didn’t lose it. As soon as the test was over, the technician left to go “talk to the doctor.” “What does that mean?” I remember saying to Anne. (Hint: That’s never good when they say that.) So I just laid there terrified. The technician came back and told me I was all set and that they would be calling me with the results—no indication was given as to whether I was ok or what was going on with my lymph nodes. I couldn’t even process the walk back to our car, and I barely made it to our vehicle when I just broke down. Anne and I held each other, crying, reassuring ourselves that everything happens for a reason and all will be ok.

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This was the final straw to a frustrating, scary moment in my life, but let’s rewind a bit. In May of 2015, I went in for an adjustment with my chiropractor. While she was feeling around in my neck, she noticed that the chain of lymph nodes on the right side of my neck was severely swollen. I noted how concerned she looked when she asked me how long it had been like this. “I have no idea,” I said admittedly. She immediately recommended that I get a blood test done to rule out anything major and I could feel her dancing around the word ‘cancer.’ Holy. Shit. What the hell was happening to me?

Before the swollen lymph nodes, I had been experiencing numerous things over the course of many years. I had daily aches and pain in my whole body, feeling more skeletal than muscular. I constantly felt like I was out of alignment, and frequented the chiropractor weekly, sometimes multiple times a week. Specifically, the problems were in my neck, shoulders, right knee, right big toe, and lower back. There had been times where I felt like I was having a heart condition. I felt like my breath was being somewhat constricted like I couldn’t take a full, deep breath. I had a few panic attacks. Feeling tired and brain fog were everyday occurrences for me. I lost weight, which was crippling to my confidence since I had always been “too thin” by most people’s standards. And on top of all of this, my mood and spirit were affected. I was feeling anxious, nervous, worried, and agitated.

The catalyst that triggered everything for me was when I contracted a virus a few months prior. My gums were extremely swollen and my entire mouth was covered in sores. They were everywhere—on my tongue, under my tongue, on the roof of my mouth, on the inside of my cheeks, on my throat—and were searingly painful. It hurt so badly that I could hardly eat or drink anything for days. The pain was so intense that it was all I could focus on. And on top of that, all of the tension it created in the muscles of my mouth, face, and jaw added fuel to the fire. After being told to "wait it out" by a doctor, Anne took action and went to our local apothecary to ask the pharmacist if there was anything that I could help relieve the pain so I could at least get some food down. They recommended that I try applying myrrh oil to the sores. I applied some and it burned like hell, but then, RELIEF! This was my saving grace while the virus ran its course. After suffering for about a week, the symptoms stopped, and I thought I was out of the woods. Emphasis on ‘thought.’

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I started noticing that after every meal, my tongue would burn with a searing pain. It wasn’t until a few days of this that I decided to look at my tongue in the mirror (hello, Captain Obvious!). I was shocked at what I saw. It looked like someone slashed my tongue with a knife all over the place, and there were burns on it as if a cigarette had been extinguished on the surface. This went on for a couple months, and I was completely dumbfounded on what to do. I was lost, directionless, and in pain. It was around this time that I went in for the chiropractic appointment I mentioned earlier, where my chiropractor noticed that my lymph nodes were swollen six times the normal size.

I had the blood test taken, and in the meantime, I scheduled a visit with my General Practitioner. My test results came back negative, and after examining me for about two minutes, my GP ordered that I have an ultrasound done on my neck. I was so scared when he told me that—the flat line of his mouth, his head shaking in concern, forever etched in my brain. We covered the ultrasound already, but what I didn’t tell you is that I had to wait a week to get my results back from my GP. A WEEK! Now, I’m not even going to get into all of the thoughts that popped into my head over the course of that week, but let’s just say it wasn’t pretty.

I showed up to the follow-up appointment with my doctor to review the results and he simply stated, “the results came back normal.” A huge wave of relief washed over me, but then confusion set in. The doctor continued to tell me in a short tone that he didn’t know what was causing the problem, that it very well may just resolve itself, but that he would recommend I get a biopsy on it. A new emotion bubbled up inside of me: anger. Why was this man telling me to get a biopsy when he knew it wouldn’t help and knew both my blood tests and ultrasound came back normal? Why would he order a super expensive procedure to have done when I am self-employed and barely have enough to cover a joke of a health insurance plan? And then it hit me. He was passing me off! He didn’t want to be liable for me. He didn’t know what to do for me, and therefore, was done with me. I was furious.

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On my drive home, I told myself that I was going to get to the bottom of this. Mainstream Western medicine failed me. There were all of these things signaling that something was wrong with me. My body was screaming, “Hey man, I need help here! Listen to me!” It was at this time that I decided to try different healing modalities. My first step was seeing a massage therapist who specializes in lymphatic massages. These sessions were incredibly powerful, but after three, even he saw that I needed more help than he could offer. My next step? I would give a Chinese herbalist that I had heard about a try.

In July of 2015, I walked into the shop/office located in Chicago’s Chinatown, and it felt like stepping into another world. Workers were busily divvying up concoctions for various patients; the scent of herbs and tea lingered in the air. During my appointment, the herbalist, Dr. Lisa, examined my tongue, pulses (“There’s more than one?”), my complexion, my posture, and so much more I was not aware of. Right off the bat, she told me foods that I needed to avoid, and also showed me foods to eat more of or add in. Everything she was addressing had to do with food and diet, and I ate it all up (pun intended). I left with an eating plan and a week’s worth of herbs and I felt so empowered. I felt like I finally won some control back over my health! I didn’t understand any of the concepts or reasonings behind her treatments at the time, but I continued to see Dr. Lisa for months. It was difficult to stay disciplined on such a strict, temporary diet.

At times, it made me feel isolated and alone. It was extremely difficult to deal with, and I felt like I lost a part of myself. I felt my sickness changing me. I wanted to bow out of every social situation in order to avoid having to talk about what I was going through or be the "problem one" of the group who had to specify exact requirements when ordering dinner. Anne was a huge help to me during this, always encouraging me and finding new recipes that fit the bill. After implementing Chinese food therapy and herbs for a while, my lymph nodes improved. However, I finally got to a point where my progress plateaued.

Six months later, I decided to also see an acupuncturist. I had acupuncture done once before, but nothing quite like this. After explaining everything that I was experiencing, the doctor went to work placing needles at various points on my body that seemed completely unconnected. He also performed cupping on my back and noticed that my body was toxic, apparent by the deep purple bruising that lasted for weeks. I had acupuncture done religiously for months, each appointment bringing about new discoveries. My acupuncturist pointed me to different foods, teas, and books to learn from. Anne and I couldn’t get enough! We found ourselves researching and learning all about Chinese medicine, specifically how food and diet play such a crucial role in overall health. One of the books the acupuncturist referred me to was Healing With Whole Foods: Asian Traditions and Modern Nutrition by Paul Pitchford. I dove in deep, reading for hours on end, and over the course of a few weeks I came to a section that addressed the danger of root canals.

(Left, January 2016) Severe bruising that lasted for weeks after my first cupping treatment.  (Right, May 2016) Minimal bruising from cupping that cleared in a day after months of detoxing.

(Left, January 2016) Severe bruising that lasted for weeks after my first cupping treatment.

(Right, May 2016) Minimal bruising from cupping that cleared in a day after months of detoxing.

This was a light bulb moment for me because I had a root canal performed on a molar three years prior, and my symptoms really intensified after that procedure. My mind was blown that it could be having such an affect on my overall health and this realization helped me start to connect the dots about a lot of things in my overall health that I had been experiencing for years. I decided to have my root canal tooth pulled out completely. I needed to get that toxic piece out of my body. The moment it was extracted, I felt lighter and more positive, almost like a weight had been lifted off me, and I knew immediately that it was absolutely the right decision. I listened to my gut and it did not fail me! After my root canal was removed, symptoms that I had been experiencing for years started to clear up—things that I never would have associated with a tooth. The constant pain in my right big toe was gone, the pain in my right knee greatly subsided, and the pain and occasional numbness in my right hand resolved. (Fun fact: my swollen lymph nodes and the root canal tooth were also on my right side! Coincidence? I think not.)

I continued to receive acupuncture appointments to help my body detox from years of toxicity and to aid in healing the root canal procedure. Slowly but surely I improved. I didn’t have an instant, “I feel better moment,” rather a slow realization that I was starting to not notice pain or certain symptoms anymore. My lymph nodes were still inflamed at this time, but they were down significantly, from six times the normal size to only twice the size.

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Four months later, my chiropractor was offering a new test to patients that tested blood, hair, and urine for metal toxicity. She felt like I would be a great candidate for it since my lymph nodes were still problematic. I decided to give it a shot, and low and behold, I had extremely toxic levels of various heavy metals. (we’re talking things like copper and mercury, not AC/DC ;) Their office put me on a supplement protocol, which I followed for 7 months. I was doing Chinese food therapy and acupuncture in conjunction with the supplement regimen, and my levels improved drastically! My lymph nodes FINALLY resolved, most of my pain was gone, my attitude improved, my confidence grew, and I had far less flare up with my tongue cuts and sores. I had even gotten to the point where I could start weight lifting to regain my strength.

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There was just one more thing. My tongue was still bothering me on more occasions than I would have liked. I decided at this point to switch to an acupuncturist that Anne was seeing who mentioned that she could help. After just a couple treatments with her and through taking prescribed Chinese herbal formulas, my tongue was noticeably improved. Now, I hardly ever have a flare up! I do want to let you know that I’m not completely healed though because I think it’s important—I’ve learned that I was sick for a long period of my life, and it takes time to recover from that. But I am healthier, happier, and more in control of my health than I have ever been in my life.

In hindsight, I now know that this all happened for a reason. My story is what ignited a new passion for me—to help guide others on their health journey by advocating for Chinese medicine.

I understand what it’s like to struggle with a health problem.

I understand how scary and frustrating it is to not have answers or anyone to listen to you.

I understand how lonely it can be.

I understand how it feels to be neglected by the Western medicine machine.

I get it.

This is why I do what I do, why I am here to listen, and why I want to help you. Because I was there too.

Be Wise,

Steve

 

My Experience of Treating Frequent Urination with Chinese Medicine

“I have a tiny bladder…” That’s the excuse I used to give for why I would need to go to the bathroom every hour. I’m not kidding when I say that I know where every bathroom is in the stores we frequent. And I’ll never forget the time I went to the bathroom at home before starting the hour and 25 minute drive to my parent’s house, barely making it the 45 minutes to the rest stop, and THEN proceeding to run into their house and immediately heading to the bathroom. The abnormal frequency I would need to urinate was driving.me.crazy.

Did you know that a healthy person should feel the need to urinate four to six times per day, and either just once or not at all during the night? If urinary frequency exceeds ten times during the daytime, or more than twice at night, it may be considered pathological. I did a tally and realized I was going at least twelve times a day and for sure once a night, maybe twice if I drank a lot before bed. “I’m too young for this,” I remember telling myself. I’m an active person, and it was really starting to cramp my style. I know I’m not alone in this; I’ve joked with many friends over the years about having “a tiny bladder.”

What I AM excited to share is that this year I decided to get serious about fixing the problem. I started seeing an acupuncturist/herbalist in April 2017 and over the course of the last three and a half months, she has successfully helped me get down to going seven times a day! I can’t express how free I feel; it truly is a relief (pun intended) that I have dreamed about for years. So many things we think we have to live with can be addressed using a combination of food therapy, acupuncture, and herbs. My body has been telling me for years that something was out of balance, and I finally listened!

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So what did I do? I began with removing caffeine (a known urination instigator ) for seven days. My acupuncturist said if it didn’t make a difference (which it didn’t) then there was something more “structural” happening on the interior.

In TCM there is Yin & Yang. To be in balance, we strive to have close to equal parts of both. In today’s “go-go-go” lifestyle we use a lot of Yang energy which burns up Yin. My acupuncturist likened it to candle wax (Yin) & a flame (Yang). If you keep burning the candle, all the wax gets used up. But you NEED that wax! In our body, Yin is important for interior functions and building new tissue. It is both lubricant and fuel. In my case it would help hold the bladder up and keep it strong. She noted through light abdominal massages that the tissue around my bladder was dry, hard, and weak–it wasn’t performing properly because the moisture was gone.

Rebuilding Yin is a slow process, but extremely important. When Yin is deficient, we need to avoid foods which stimulate us to use up energy we don’t really have, like stimulants and the more heating and drying pungent spices that release energy from our body (e.g., peppers, cinnamon, garlic, onion, etc.) We need to eat Yin-promoting foods which combine deep and subtle nourishment with moistening and often cooling qualities. Yin foods travel deeply into the body replenishing our core and soothing our overworked system. They include many deeply nutritious foods: creatures/plants from the seabed, nuts, seeds and beans, and many cooling fruits. Since building Yin is a slow process, it was important to treat me with more than food. In addition to acupuncture to help strengthen me internally, my herbalist also prescribed certain herbal formulas to help build Yin. While I am a huge proponent for treating as much as I can with food therapy, I truly believe I wouldn’t have had the success I have had thus far without seeing an acupuncturist/herbalist.

Be wise,

Anne

10 Tips on How To Eat Well + Support Digestion

Food is so much more than just the fuel our body needs to keep going. Each item we eat plays an important role in our body and the balance we all need to stay healthy. However, it's not just what you eat, but HOW you eat that is equally influential.

We'll begin by discussing the spleen, the central organ of digestion in Chinese medicine. It is the means by which we meet our nutritional needs. Through the digestion process the spleen adapts food to nourish and support our system by converting food into usable substances within our bodies and sending them to where they are needed. The following guidelines for eating well are ways we can support and keep our spleen strong, healthy, and working properly.

1. JOY

Enjoying the food we consume is the first step to being fully nourished by what we eat. If we are happy when we eat and happy in our relationship with food, then guess what? Our bodies will actually accept the food more effectively into our system! For many of us, it can be more important to heal our relationship with food than it is to change what we eat.

2. POSITIVE ATTITUDE

Do you feel guilty when you eat a piece of cheesecake? Or dead inside because you’re “forced” to eat kale? (Am I the only one who actually enjoys eating kale?!)

Each of us have these beliefs of ‘good’ vs. ‘bad’ foods. The foods that may be ‘good for us,’ you may not enjoy eating, and the ones that are ‘bad for us,’ you eat with guilt or avoid them with resentment. But did you know that eating is just as much of a mind game as it is a stomach filler? The attitude that we have towards the food we eat will instruct our Spleen what to do with it.

The Spleen is the mother of digestion, it extracts nourishment from all the food we eat to support our body’s needs. The stronger our Spleen function, the better it is at extracting nourishment from all the food we consume, whether it be ‘good’ or ‘bad’ for you. To get the most out of eating, try to accept the food with a positive attitude once you have made the choice to eat it.

3. RELAXATION

We’ve all heard it before. Slow down, take a break, sit and enjoy your meal. Our digestion works best when we are focused on our meal, not working, driving, or watching TV. (Guilty!) This is more than just an ancient tradition. It’s science!

In order for our bodies to properly digest food, it must be in parasympathetic mode. This fancy phrase means your nervous system needs to be in a relaxed state in order to turn on all the digestive processes–from stomach acid production to the muscle contractions of the intestines. If you eat in a rush or while busy doing other things and your body can’t reach the parasympathetic mode, over time it can cause damage because it’s not able to digest your food properly and extract all of the nutrients from your food to support your body.

Before your next meal, try taking a little time to relax your posture and maybe take a few quiet breaths. It is helpful to uncross your legs and sit up straight. Hunching over compresses our digestive organs and hinders the passage of food through our body.

4. CHEW WELL

There is a saying, “The stomach has no teeth.” Thorough chewing allows foods to be mixed with saliva and chewed until liquid to release their full nutritional value. This lessens the work our digestive organs have to do. Without adequate chewing you can feel heavy or dull, develop gas, and even be undernourished.

Chewing also warms chilled or raw foods–which can put a lot of strain on digestion due to exerting a lot of energy to warm those foods up in order to begin the digestion process.

To get started in the correct habit of chewing, try counting the chewing of each bite 30-50 times! This will be difficult to do at first. It’s a great activity to realize just how little you are chewing! I did this and couldn’t believe how long it took to eat. It over doubled the actual meal time, which I usually flew right through. But I also started to notice how much better I felt after a meal, especially one in which I was eating meat. I wasn’t getting nearly the amount of intestinal distress or burping. I don’t chew every piece 30 times now, but I make a conscious effort to chew as much as possible before swallowing. You know you've chewed enough when the food is has become enough of a liquid that it starts to slide down your throat before you've even begun to swallow.

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5. RESIST STUFFING YOURSELF

I’m lookin’ at you burrito baby. I used to think I could “save” my calories. Ya know, eat less today because tomorrow you want to stuff your face with pizza and tacos? Then my trainer likened your stomach to a gas tank. It only holds so much before it just starts spilling out all over the ground.

Overeating at any one meal causes a temporary pile up of food waiting to be processed, and this causes an internal stagnation. As a result, we feel tired while our energy is being used to digest the excess food. (This is where drinking 1 tsp unfiltered apple cider vinegar in ⅓ c water throughout the day comes in handy!) If this is a habit, our spleen becomes overstrained and may produce mucus or a buildup of internal heat—otherwise known as damp heat—a very common problem in a culture of plenty. So, I challenge you to stop eating just before you are full.

6. DRINK LESS WHILE EATING

Sip–don’t gulp! In Chinese medicine the spleen is the central organ of digestion. Digestion is the process of converting food into usable substances within our bodies and sending them to where they are needed. The stronger our spleen is, the better we are able to absorb and put to use the food that we eat. The spleen does not like too much fluid with a meal. A little warm fluid while eating is helpful, but too much DILUTES THE SPLEEN’S ACTION AND WEAKENS DIGESTION. A teacupful (roughly 6 oz) is generally sufficient. Most fluid is best consumed between meals. So...are you a sipper or a gulper?

7. HOLD THE ICE

Have you ever been to Europe and were aggravated that you had to specifically ask for ice? Well, let’s flip that frown upside down and talk about why they are actually doing you a favor!

The spleen’s digestive process needs warmth. In Chinese medicine this is called the ‘Digestive Fire’. A prolonged or excessive use of chilled fluid or food (that includes raw food!) can weaken the spleen because it’s essentially dousing the fire. A weak ‘Digestive Fire’ can eventually lead to a collapse of spleen function. What does this mean for you? Simply, poor digestion. Your body won’t be able to properly extract all the nutrients from the food and use them in your body if your spleen is weak and not performing properly.

One easy win is to hold the ice, and try drinking room temperature drinks as much as possible.We keep our water filter on the counter instead of the refrigerator. At first it was an adjustment as we are conditioned to think that ‘refreshing’ = cold. After getting used to it, I feel refreshed just by consuming liquid in general. And bonus! It really helps with teeth sensitivity to stop consuming those icy beverages.

8. EAT DINNER EARLY

Well, to be honest, Chinese medicine recommends lunch being the biggest meal of the day and dinner be the smallest. For me, it’s a real struggle to overcome societal norms. I like to cook and don’t have time for it during the day, so it makes the most sense to eat my bigger meal for dinner. (Like most of us are used to, I’m sure.) But at any rate, eating dinner earlier than 6/7pm is important.

When we eat later at night, our system is naturally slowing and cooling down–the food sits around for longer in the digestive tubes, resulting in Stagnation. In an effort to burn off and get rid of this food sitting around, the body creates internal Heat which can also burn up the Stomach moisture/cooling lubricant known as Yin. When internal Heat burns up Yin, we don’t have a good reserve of quality nutrients to build new tissue and repair and maintain our bodies.

9. CHOOSE FRESH, STRONG FOODS

Buying local (and organic) isn’t just about supporting your regional farmers. It’s also healthier for you! As food gets transported to its destination it begins to lose some of its nutrients. The longer a food is stored before it is eaten the less it has to offer to our bodies. Food can also be damaged by chemical preservation, excessive processing, and genetic manipulation. So choosing local and organic foods when you can is important. I wish I could afford to buy everything that way, but the reality is, it is expensive. But being mindful of it, and doing it when you can is better than nothing! Also, keep the foods you are buying strong by not microwaving them and killing their vitality and strength with radiation.

10. TRUST YOUR BODY

Sometimes (let’s be honest, most of the time) we crave things we shouldn’t be eating, but in each of us there is a deeper level of knowing what we need. As we bring our awareness to our eating, we can begin to feel what our certain needs are, what truly nourishes us. While you’re learning what is appropriate for your body, you’ll probably need to be guided by more analytical judgments, but as we begin to listen to our bodies, we can begin to make choices from what it is telling us. What makes us feel good at the deepest level is good for us. With practice we can eventually learn to separate our cravings and addictions from our intuition and deeper levels of guidance.

Be wise,

Anne

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10 Tips on How To Eat Well + Support Digestion