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by Erin Hallstrom
Do you struggle to fall asleep or have difficulty staying asleep? Do you wake feeling exhausted? If so, you’re not alone! According to the NIH, insomnia affects roughly 30 percent of the population. Recent research has found that artificial light disrupts endocrine function and reduces the sleep hormone melatonin, thus leading to acute or chronic insomnia.
What is melatonin and how does it affect sleep?When light enters the retina of the eye, it is first transmitted to a region of the hypothalamus called the suprachiasmatic nucleus (SCN). The SCN is the part of the brain primarily responsible for circadian rhythms, including sleep-wake cycles. The signal is ultimately relayed to the pineal gland, where melatonin is produced.
The release of melatonin is triggered by darkness and inhibited by light exposure. When melatonin is cruising through your body, its purpose is to make you sleepy. Levels of this hormone should rise and fall in accordance with the natural light and dark cycles of a normal day. As such, melatonin secretion should begin to rise around sunset, peak at around 9pm, remain elevated throughout the night, and then taper off to undetectable levels by around 9am. When the eyes are exposed to excessive light after sunset, it essentially tricks the body into believing that it is morning and it down regulates melatonin production, thus leading to trouble sleeping.What are the side effects of decreased melatonin secretion?
Decreased melatonin secretion affects more than just sleep. It can also increase hunger, leading to poor food choices and late-night eating. Lack of quality sleep can also be associated with poor memory, difficulty concentrating, anxiety, depression, high blood sugar, reduced fat metabolism, indigestion, heartburn, and reduced repair and detoxification functions.
Use light to your advantage to regulate your sleep-wake cycles.
At night, make your environment dark:Turn off electronic devices, including cell phones, tablets, computers, and televisions, 1-2 hours before bed.
Install an app, such as f.lux, that coordinates the brightness of your e-device screens to your external environment.
Minimize light sources in bedroom by installing blackout curtains and either dimming or covering up alarm clock.If you wake to use the bathroom during the night, install a night light to avoid having to turn on bright overhead lights.
During the day, expose yourself to light: Get outside for 10-20 minutes in the morning to expose yourself to sunlight.
Eat breakfast in a sunny spot.
Open your blinds and allow sunshine to stream in.Light exposure (or lack thereof) is not the only contributing factor to insomnia.
If you incorporate these suggestions and are still struggling to fall asleep or stay asleep, it might be worthwhile to explore the role of diet, exercise, stress, and emotional health to achieve a good night’s sleep.
Russart KL, Nelson RJ. Light at night as an environmental endocrine disruptor. Physiology & Behavior. 2018;190:82-89. doi:10.1016/j.physbeh.2017.08.029.
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Acupuncture in Boulder with Dr. Jack Schaefer DACM, LAc providing alternative medicine and Traditional Chinese Medicine to the Boulder, Louisville, Superior Colorado areas.
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The injection of various healing substances into the body either under the skin or in the muscles.
Acupuncture and Chinese medicine can be a very effective way or treating IBS
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Acupuncture and Chinese medicine can be powerful allies in the management of asthma.
Acupuncture and Chinese medicine are useful treatment methods for arthritis.
The use of acupuncture and Chinese medicine can be a very effective method in the management of allergies.
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If you watched the summer Olympics in Brazil there is no doubt that you saw the purple circles on the backs of many of the US swimmers. Those marks are caused by a form of therapy we called cupping. This has since become one of the most asked about therapies in our clinic.
In this blog I thought I would take a second to explain how cupping works. This amazing form of therapy is so useful that many western physical therapists and massage therapists have begun to adopt this classical Chinese medical technique.
In Western science it is called myofascial decompression. That is just a fancy way of saying what the goal of the treatment is. The process of cupping is to create a small vacuum in the cup while it is attached to the body. This vacuum pulls and stretches the skin, connective tissue, and muscle apart. This stretching apart creates space which allows for better blood circulation. The improved circulation releases muscle tension. It is also thought that it creates a local vasodilation. Additionally, because there is some bruising that takes place, your body will send white blood cells and macrophages to the area. These are sent there in an attempt to heal the trauma of the bruise. However they will also heal the local injury that you had before received cupping in the first place. This is especially important with chronic injuries. When any injury has existed for a long time, the body will sometimes start to ignore it. Cupping this helps the body to re-recognize that there is a problem there.
When you receive cupping there will usually be a small amount of purplish marking in the area where the cupping was. This marking usually goes away within a week. Traditional Chinese medical thought is that the worse the mark is, the worse the blood circulation is in that area. We will often reapply the cups after the marks have healed and see how much marking that we get again. This is done over and over until there is no more marking. That is usually a sign that the local circulation has improved and cupping is not necessary anymore.
Next time you are in the clinic we can talk about it and see if cupping is right for your complaint.
I just wanted to share a little more of my study trip to China with you all. This trip actually marks the 11th or 12th time I have been to China to further my studies. It has been a huge investment in time and money, but worth all of it. In the end it has helped me as a practitioner immensely. Hopefully the skills that I am learning on this trip will benefit all that come to our office.
I am currently in Beijing, where I have spent the most time in China until these last two trips. I am here to visit a few old friends and teachers and tie up some loose ends.
A good friend and I are planning on bringing a group of people to China in 2018 on a study trip. It will be open to the public. The focus will be on traveling to Daoist temples and learning about traditional Chinese culture, Daoism, meditation, tea, and a whole lot more. If you are interested in this let me know so that I can make sure you get the info as it comes together.
See you back in the states in a few days!
I just wanted to share a China update with you all. I arrived a few days ago and took a connecting flight to Wenzhou. It is a beautiful area on the coast pretty far south and not too far from Taiwan.
After getting here we got reacquainted with the temple that we stayed in last year and Huang Shifu the teacher we are working with. He is a unique Daoist Abbot who lived in a cave on a mountain for a few years meditating.
From him we are learning a lot, but the crown jewel is an old handwritten herbal manual that he got from his teacher. We are currently translating it in the hopes of sharing it with the west.
I will keep you abreast on what is happening here.
Information to help you take care of yourself without drugs or surgeries.
In the world of Traditional Chinese Medicine, the liver energy flows upward into the eyes. When this energy is flowing smoothly and working as it should, your vision is clear and sharp, you have efficient night vision and the eyes are bright and well-lubricated.
When out of balance, the liver can generate heat that rises upward. This heat can manifest in dry eyes, itchy eyes or eyes that are red and irritated. Think about how red one’s eyes can get after a night of drinking. Alcohol adds heat to the liver, which in turn rises upward and creates hot, red eyes. The facial flushing you see after a night of imbibing is also indicative of this heat.
When the liver blood is deficient, you will see symptoms of dryness throughout the body, particularly in the eyes. Dry, scratchy eyes are a sign of liver blood deficiency, and floaters (those little black spots that can appear in the periphery of your vision) are also indicative of this deficiency.
When liver blood deficiency becomes more pronounced, patients can develop something we acupuncturists refer to as “Internal Wind.” Wind manifests as symptoms of shaking, tics, tremors or issues such as rashes that move around from place to place within the body. You know that annoying eye twitch you get that you are convinced the world can see, even though everyone tells you they don’t notice it? Those tics are a sign the body is deficient in energy, and wind has developed to shake things up. Internal wind can also show up as issues that itch, such as dry, itchy eyes.
The kidney plays a role in keeping the body well-oiled and lubricated. If the kidney yin is lacking, you might experience dry, creaky joints, dry skin and eyes.
continued from last post...
The gastrointestinal tract acts as a “second brain.” It has the ability to constantly transform us. The Human Microbiome Project is an ongoing study confirming microscopic bacterial colonies in our digestive tract have very important jobs to do. The bacterial colonies help keep us healthy both physically and mentally. But because of human intervention, these bacterial colonies in our guts are becoming sick, depleted and are dying.
To rejuvenate these gastrointestinal bacterial colonies, many people are turning to TCM for help. Acupuncture and Chinese herbal formulas are great methods of reviving our gastrointestinal Qi. The stomach and spleen are the two main pathways TCM practitioners focus on when treating somebody who exhibits digestive Qi deficiencies. TCM can help to repair the Qi of the spleen and stomach meridians. But TCM can’t do it alone.
This is where fermented foods come into play. Fermented foods have been around for centuries as well. Fermentation is one of the oldest attempts to preserve food. But in today’s world, fermented foods, like sauerkraut, kimchi and yogurt are being utilized to help restore the healthy bacterial colonies found within the gastrointestinal tract. In fermentation, bacteria or yeast feed on natural sugars found in foods. This makes certain foods easier for the gut to digest and allows for the nutrients to be absorbed during digestion. People who do not ingest fermented foods can actually develop immune deficiencies which can lead to serious illness and disease. For instance, sauerkraut, which is fermented cabbage, actually has anti-carcinogenic components that can help prevent cancer. Yogurt can help prevent colorectal cancer, breast cancer and yeast infections. Kimchi has been shown to help improve symptoms of asthma and other allergic reactions, while also lowering LDL or “bad” cholesterol levels.
Incorporating fermented foods into the daily diet and getting regular acupuncture treatments that help balance out the body’s Qi, can lead to a very healthy gastrointestinal tract. And when the gut is happy, the body is happy.
The modern world is changing every single day. Because of this constant state of change, our bodies are frequently having to adjust. We have a food supply being degraded and depleted of nutritional content, which in turn, causes our bodies to become depleted. Our soil and water is contaminated with antibiotics and deadly fertilizers. All of which become part of the food chain we rely upon. Because of this, antibiotics are failing and superbugs like MRSA are on the rise. Lack of nutrition and the overuse of antibiotics are just a couple of the things wreaking havoc on our intestinal health. But there are ways to combat this and keep the gut healthy. Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) has been around for thousands of years and the approach of this medical system is to treat the patient holistically. TCM has been shown to be effective at treating a wide variety of ailments, including digestive issues. Part of this is because TCM focuses heavily on diet and nutrition.
Qi is equated with energy and every organ, pathway and cell in the human body is composed of energy. For the body to function properly, Qi needs to be sufficient at all times. One of the best ways to maintain sufficient Qi is through our daily diet. Science is proving what TCM practitioners have known for centuries, our digestive health is vital for the cells of the body to function optimally.
part 2 continued
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While the flu is actually not a season, we have become programmed to think of it as the months of November through March. On average, the flu hospitalizes thousands every year, especially the young and elderly. There are also a number of deaths related to the flu, mostly due to people already having compromised immune systems.
The flu, also known as influenza, is a highly contagious respiratory infection that is caused by a number of viruses. To date, there are approximately 26 to 30 different known strains of the flu virus. This is one of the reasons the flu vaccine has only mild efficacy. The flu vaccine itself, typically only covers five to seven strains of the flu. Symptoms of the flu include fever, coughing, a sore throat, fatigue, muscle aches, pains, runny nose and watery eyes.
The good news is we can avoid the flu by implementing healthy habits and taking care of ourselves throughout the year. The best way to treat a disease is to avoid it. Traditional Chinese Medicine is a great tool to have in the toolbox for preventing the flu. Utilizing botanical Chinese formulas and acupuncture treatments can be very beneficial in keeping the flu at bay.
Regular acupuncture treatments help boost immunity, while balancing and regulating the body’s energy. Studies have shown acupuncture can reduce the incidence of upper respiratory tract infections and shorten the length of time that somebody is ill.
TCM herbs are also a great way to ward off the flu. Two herbs in particular are specified for strengthening Qi and boosting the immune system. The first is huang qi and the other is dang shen. There are a couple of other herbs commonly used as antivirals too. These are banlangen and daqingye.
Along with TCM, there are other things we can utilize to avoid catching the flu. Regular exercise, ample sleep and a proper healthy diet are two of the best things anybody can use to stay disease-free. Exercising enough to break a sweat without overdoing it has been shown to reduce the incidence of the flu. So incorporating practices like tai chi, qi gong and yoga can actually reduce physical and emotional stress, while strengthening the immune system and preventing disease.
Eating a healthy diet is essential for preventing any disease, not just the flu. This includes eating a very balanced diet rich in vitamins, minerals and antioxidants. Foods that contain beta-carotene are especially helpful at boosting the immune system. Carrots, broccoli, sweet potatoes and garlic are good examples of beta-carotene rich foods. Also drinking at least 64 ounces of water on a daily basis is highly recommended. Ample fluid intake helps the body flush out invaders and toxins, while keeping the mucus membranes and upper respiratory tract healthy enough to fight off the virus.
Taking advantage of what TCM can offer, while incorporating healthy daily habits will insure this upcoming flu season passes by without wreaking havoc on any of us.
There are two types of essence:
1.Pre-natal is from your parents and can be likened to one’s basic constitution and DNA.
2. Post-natal is what is transformed from the food you eat and lifestyle.
The second you have more control over health-wise. Ideally, there is a nice balance of kidney yin and yang energies, but if there is yin deficiency, there will be symptoms such as heat, sweating, dryness, irritability, insomnia and low back pain. If there is yang deficiency there are more cold signs such as cold extremities, cold and painful lower back, increased urinary frequency, fatigue, premature greying, water retention and low libido. There can also be an emotional component manifesting as increased phobias and anxieties. Many of the above mentioned symptoms can be tied to the thyroid and adrenal fatigue in Western medicine.
How to care for your kidney this winter:
Keep warm: The kidneys are affected by exposure to cold. Try a nice scarf to protect your neck from the elements, and keep your feet and low back warm in those frosty winter months. Moxibustion, which is heated mugwort, is a wonderful supplement to acupuncture that warms particular acupuncture points on the body.
Eat warm: Foods that are beneficial to the kidneys (in moderation) tend to be dark in color such as black beans, sesame seeds, seaweed, kelp, lamb and beef. Other beneficial warming foods include ginger, cinnamon, miso soup, soybeans, walnuts, chives and Goji berries. It’s best to see your acupuncturist or other health care professional to get an idea of foods that are good for your particular constitution, as some of these foods can be harmful if taken in large amounts (kelp and seaweed, in particular). It’s also best to not eat too many cold, raw vegetables or cold smoothies. Also try to ingest food and drink at room temperature. There are wonderful herbal formulas to assist the kidneys that your acupuncturist can include in your treatment plan.
Light exercise: Light exercise such as tai qi, qi gong or walking has wonderful health and anti-aging benefits and won’t cause exhaustion.
Avoid overwork, overexertion, high stress: Overdoing it depletes your kidney energy, and you might experience ill effects of burnout that are usually associated with adrenal fatigue. Ancient Chinese medical texts also recommend curbing excessive sexual activity to keep kidney energy strong and vibrant and to increase longevity.
The organs in Chinese medicine are more than just a physical representation. The organs include not only their physiological function, but also mental, emotional, spiritual and elemental qualities that align with nature and the seasons. Let’s explore the kidneys.
The kidney element in Chinese medicine governs water and is associated with the season of winter, where the energies are turning from the hotter yang months to the more yin of winter. Each organ has an element associated with it: liver and wood, stomach and earth, kidney and water, for example. There is also an emotion, a color and flavor associated with the organ system. For the kidneys, the emotion is fear, the color is dark or black and the flavor is salty. It also opens to the ear, has the direction of north and is paired with the bladder. The kidney element houses willpower and manifests in the teeth and luster of the hair.
The kidneys are the body’s root and contain both yin and yang energies. Yin is associated with what is dark, still, cold, feminine and is inward. Yang is more outward, hot, bright, moving and masculine. The kidneys control reproduction, growth and development and are associated with bones and marrow. The kidneys are said to store jing, which is likened to essence, what you’re born with and what’s inherited from your parents.
See the rest in part 2...