alpenglow acupuncture

Delivering high-quality, personalized acupuncture and Traditional Chinese Medicine services to the awesome people of Wheat Ridge, Golden, Arvada and Lakewood, Colorado with flexible appointment options to fit your lifestyle and budget.

Men Have Hormones Too!

We sure do talk about women’s hormonal health a lot around here, but I know that men have hormones too! Here, I will walk you through some of the most important hormones for a man’s health, and then share some tips on things you can do to keep these hormones optimal. 

Men, meet your hormones:

Testosterone

This is the hormone that we most associate with men. When it is low, you can experience fatigue, depression, sleep problems, low sex drive, bone loss and/or irritability. It naturally declines with age, but it has also been found to be low in younger men. Some of the reasons for this include taking certain medications such as pain relievers, statins, steroids or sleeping pills, eating a poor diet, and exposure to endocrine disrupting chemicals in the environment. 

DHEA

DHEA is the precursor to testosterone that is produced in our adrenals. It is also responsible for improving bone density and depression, and is key in slowing the aging process. Working to increase DHEA is one of the best ways to improve testosterone levels naturally. 

Cortisol

Cortisol is a stress hormone that is also produced in our adrenals. It should peak first thing in the morning, and then steadily decrease during the day. When we are exposed to chronic stress, cortisol levels can remain high, disrupting our energy levels and ability to sleep. High cortisol is also associated with belly fat, which is the worst type for our health. 

Insulin

Insulin is the hormone in charge of keeping our blood sugar balanced. When our insulin is elevated, it causes decreased production of DHEA in the adrenals. Cortisol can decrease insulin levels, which will lead to elevated blood sugar as well. 

Tips to balance these hormones (if you’ve ever read anything we’ve written, I don’t think you are going to be surprised 😀):

Stress Reduction

Stress reduction techniques like deep breathing, yoga and getting out into nature have a beneficial effect on all these hormones. Most importantly, it helps to boost DHEA and decreases cortisol.

Diet

Eat healthy fats
Eating healthy fats, like avocados, olive oil, nuts, seeds, coconut products, & purified omega-3 fish oil supplements can help to increase DHEA.  

Get your protein
Healthy protein sources to boost DHEA production include free range chicken, turkey, and eggs, grass-fed red meat and wild-caught fish.

Eliminate sugar and refined foods
Sugar and refined foods increase insulin and cortisol levels and decrease DHEA. Just say no!

Exercise

Exercise of any type will help balance these hormones. Starting off with an intense aerobic program can increase cortisol levels, however, so it might be smart to work your way up in intensity if you haven’t been exercising. Weight training is especially great for improving insulin uptake. 

Sleep

Getting enough good quality sleep will also help improve cortisol, DHEA and insulin levels. 

Avoid endocrine disruptors

More and more data is showing that endocrine disruptors, such as phthalates, that are in our environment can have a negative impact on our health. Avoiding plastics as much as possible, and definitely not heating food up in plastic, are ways to cut down your exposure. Looking for natural fabrics and materials for items in your home and drinking pure, filtered water out of glass or metal containers will help too.

Acupuncture and Herbs

And, of course, I would be a bad health care professional if I didn’t mention that acupuncture and herbs can help to regulate these hormones. Inserting acupuncture needles in specific points can trigger a cascade of hormones that work to harmonize the entire endocrine system. Herbal formulas created just for you can also decrease cortisol, battle insulin resistance, and improve both DHEA and testosterone levels.

So, guys, do you feel like you’ve gotten your turn? 

As always, feel free to call, email, or chat with us about any of this at your next appointment. 


Not-so-hot Flashes

Hot flashes are a real drag. We’ve all had them. Some are medication-induced, some are due to nervousness or anxiety, but most are a side effect of a hormonal imbalance. They are the first symptom you think of when discussing menopause, but the truth is, anyone can experience them, male or female. No matter what the cause, I’ll be discussing how we view hot flashes in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) and what steps you can take to help your body regulate itself without having to resort to hormone replacement therapy (HRT). 

Typically, hot flashes and other menopausal symptoms are a result of low estrogen in the body. People often experience night sweats, insomnia, anxiety, dryness, irritability, low energy, brain fog, etc as a side effect of hormonal imbalance.  In TCM, we refer to the process of menopause as “Kidney Yin Deficiency.” The kidneys (in Chinese medicine) are responsible for hormone function and as the body ages, the hormones naturally diminish. The yin, or nourishing fluids of the body, start to decrease as a person gets older. As those decrease, the body’s ability to regulate its temperature also decreases. Thus: hot flashes (day or night) and unpredictable sweating.

There are statistics that show that women in America experience menopausal symptoms at a much higher rate than in different parts of the world. For example, approximately 75% of women in the US and UK experience noticeable discomfort going through menopause versus 10% of women with symptoms of menopause in Asia. So what gives? Why are we so afflicted over here? 

The ancient Chinese truly understood this flux of hormones in the body. Because of that, Asian cultures have used food and Chinese herbs for centuries to regulate their systems a little better; therefore, they experience less discomfort than our Western world. Foods that nourish the yin aspect of our systems include things like warm, cooked foods, kidney beans, sweet potatoes, meat, tofu, miso soup and some cheeses. Now I should say that I don’t often recommend an excess of soy, but using it therapeutically for this specific condition could be of benefit. From a Western perspective, using soy products as a food source can affect the low levels of estrogen. Incorporating organic, non-GMO, fermented soy into the diet can mimic estrogen in the body, so it has the potential to take the edge off of the pesky hot flashes or any other menopausal symptoms you experience. 

Chinese herbs and acupuncture/moxibustion are another great way to treat hot flashes. Moxa (processed mugwort) is traditionally used to nourish the yin of the body, so it’s a great modality to incorporate into your treatments if you or a loved one suffers from hot flashes. Herbally, we typically use a traditional formula called Liu Wei Di Huang Wan for hot flashes. Remember that the temp in your body doesn’t turn on and off like your thermostat in your house, so be patient. Sometimes it takes a while to get the body to regulate!


Calling All New Moms! Acupuncture for Lactation Support

Here at Alpenglow we see many new moms looking to use acupuncture and Chinese medicine to support lactation. Time and time again we have seen acupuncture work incredibly well for new mothers with hypogalactia, or low milk secretion levels.

As many new mothers know, the postpartum period can very much be a mixed bag. It can absolutely be a time of intense beauty, intimacy and connection with your new baby, as well as can generate a sense of awe and empowerment from the act of growing and bringing a child into the world. Additionally, there can also be a lot of stress, change, and transition. A new baby completely changes your world. A new routine, a completely new focus, a changing relationship with your partner, a new relationship to your own body and psyche - the psychological, emotional, physical and spiritual changes a new mother goes through can be intense, deeply felt, and at times harrowing. This can be compounded by a difficult pregnancy and labor situation, financial stress and apprehension about work/life balance now that a child is in the picture, and managing family and friends who are eager to see the new addition to your life. 

All of these factors, including the many bodily and physiological changes a woman goes through in the process of gestating and delivery a baby can tax and deplete the body’s energy. This is one of the big factors we see underlying a lot of insufficient lactation presentations in the clinic. The beautiful thing about receiving acupuncture is that it helps stimulate your body’s natural capacity to self-regulate and heal, and during the postpartum period this translates into relieving symptoms of fatigue, boosting energy levels, boosting the mood and calming the mind, and promoting and increasing milk production. 

A course of acupuncture treatments to support lactation may include a recommendation to come in twice per week to start. Treatments spaced closer together in the beginning can help to increase the efficacy of the acupuncture to start off with. Once milk production has increased and become stable, treatments can be tapered off to once a week and every two weeks after that. New mothers can also bring their baby into the clinic as well, who can (hopefully!) rest and nap while mom is receiving an acupuncture treatment. Acupuncture treatments are always holistically oriented, meaning that they are meant to not only support such physiological processes such as lactation, but also help to address your whole entire sense of wellbeing in  body, mind, and spirit. It’s a chance to receive some nurturance and support at a time when you’re giving so much to your new baby. 

Importantly, good nutrition and calorie intake is so important to meet the energy requirements of feeding a new baby. New mothers need in the range of 5,000 calories per day. A great resource for supporting postpartum nutrition is Maga Mama’s The Fourth Trimester Food Program (https://www.magamama.com/the-fourth-trimester-food/). Healthy fats, protein, and nutrient dense whole foods are key. And I hope it goes without saying, but it is so important to know that struggling and working with breastfeeding and lactation is no way a personal failing. It’s not personal! It happens, it’s totally okay, it can be worked with, and there is a lot of support out there. Growing and bringing a baby into the world is no small feat. It’s truly an incredibly thing. New moms need all of the love, encouragement and support just like their babies, and we are so happy to be able to support moms and their little ones here at the clinic.

Missed Connections

Our human (and non-human) connections are never black and white, so talking about relationships is a tricky one. Depending on your personality type, where you fall on the Myer’s Briggs test, or the Enneagram, connection could come easy for you or not at all. What we DO know concretely, is that friendship and connection to others is essential to our health and overall happiness in life. For proof: see Karen’s article on all the health benefits on friendship.

To no one’s surprise, I’m an extrovert and a 4 (yes, I have a dark side for all of you Enneagram fanatics). Because of that, connection to others comes semi-naturally to me. I am happy to have small talk with a stranger or a stump in the ground, no problem. However, there have been times in my life where I have been absolutely terrified to meet new people and figure out how to cultivate a connection with them. The most notable example of this was when I was in college and about to leave for my semester abroad. I was signed up for Semester at Sea, which was a group of 700 students traveling the world by ship. I should mention, I knew no one else that was going. Leading up to the trip, I was SO excited, couldn’t wait, ready to leave and start my adventure… then WHAM. The night before I left I had a full-blown panic attack. Questions were running through my head: Who will I be friends with? Will they like me? What if they don’t? What is my exit strategy? The truth was, there was no exit strategy. I was forced to put myself out there and find friendships that were worth having. There was no cell phone service in the middle of the ocean, no computers, just good old fashioned conversation and fun! I was forced to make friends or else I would be stuck in my room for 4 months. And that doesn’t work so well for an extrovert. Fast forward: I met an amazing group of people that are still a huge part of my life 12 years later. And even better, a few of them are responsible for introducing me to my husband! 

There are a few things I want to point out from this particular scenario that seem important when talking about ways to cultivate connection with others. First, we are ruled by technology in this modern day in age and the chains that comes along with it. We are over-stimulated and under-connected in a really big way. Yes, we have “friends” on Facebook and Instagram, but that will not nourish you in ways like having human contact will. In fact, I would argue that it does the complete opposite. So all of my recommendations are coming from a place where you should put the phone down, and engage with intention. 

The second thing I want to note is the idea of taking a risk. I knew in my core that that trip would define the rest of my life, and I was right. The reward was well worth all of the discomfort I experienced. For our introverts or people who struggle finding connection with others, some of the recommendations I’ll have will be out of your comfort zone. Know that we ALL have lines that we avoid crossing in order to feel “safe”. My opinion is, to grow as individuals, we must push our boundaries a bit! 

Here are a few ways to connect with others: 

  1. First and foremost: to find connection with anyone, put the cell phone or tablet down. There is nothing more distracting than someone on their smart device, so pair this first rec with any of the following ones!

  2. Hug someone. Physical touch has incredible benefits for the body and mind. It helps reset our nervous systems and makes us feel loved. 

  3. Volunteer with animals. I believe that connection can come from all sorts of places. If animals bring you more joy than humans, go volunteer at a local shelter or foster program and find the connection you’re craving. 

  4. Along the same lines as #3, find some time to help with the homeless or the elderly in a nursing home. It can be incredibly nourishing to my spirit when I’m able to go and help with those who don’t typically have much connection with others. It brings them joy, and brings me joy. Double boost! 

  5. Try something new with a friend. Putting yourself in an unfamiliar situation with someone builds a bond. You both don’t know what to expect, so you have to get through it together. Think of the stories and conversations that will come from that. 

  6. Have some deep, thought-provoking conversations. It challenges your mind and skills to listen, observe, and develop your empathy and dive deeper into a connection with someone. 

  7. Make eye contact with people. Whether you’re having a deep conversation or passing someone in the street, eye connection is key. They say the eyes are the window to the soul, so connect with everyone you see! And don’t forget to smile. 

  8. Be your genuine self. There are enough people in this world, but only one YOU. People want to know who you are and what you stand for. The more genuine you can be, the better. 


What are the ways you have gotten out of your comfort zone or connected with others? Do you have a favorite way to unplug and recalibrate? Share your stories next time you’re in the office!


Closeness, Connection, and Boundaries

In East Asian medicine, certain emotions are correlated with different organ systems. For quite some time while in graduate school studying acupuncture and for quite a bit longer after, I didn’t fully understand these relationships. I thought they were fairly arbitrary, made-up, and full of woo-woo nonsense. I even spent a few years studying a branch of East Asian medicine that takes these correspondences very seriously called Five Element Acupuncture, and I still was not all that convinced. 

But I had a very interesting experience in a training not long ago that convinced me to reconsider my thinking in a very deep way. In this training we spent time fine-tuning our ability to use our hands and feel the visceral organs of the body. Doing this requires the person palpating to have a soft, non-judgemental presence and to engage the tissues of the body in a way that doesn’t cause them to guard or go into defensive mode. While my partner was practicing on me, I could feel the resonance of certain emotions reverberate through my body as my partner was gently making contact with that organ. 

Does that sound weird? Yes, it is kind of weird. But where else do we experience emotions but in our own body? Our body is the arena where our whole emotional experience plays out - the good and the bad. 

In East Asian medicine, grief and sadness are the emotions associated with the Lungs. In the Five Element tradition, the experience of awe and reverence are also associated with the Lungs. For me, that gives meaning to the expression that something “takes your breath away.” In this particular training I was taking, while my partner was placing their hands on the lobes of my lungs, I could feel this particular resonance of sadness. This made a lot of sense, because I had been ruminating over a certain relationship issue that caused me a great deal of sadness to think about. While feeling into this strong emotional experience in my body, I was able to acknowledge it, honor it, and give it space to be. 

Excessive worry and empathy are associated with the digestive system (also known as the Spleen and Stomach in East Asian medicine). Excessively worrying and fretting about an interpersonal issue can deplete the energy of this organ system, leading to digestive upset, diarrhea, bloating, fatigue, and susceptibility to catching colds and other bugs. 

Joyfulness, compassion, as well as feeling emotionally shutdown are associated with the Heart and Pericardium. The Heart is considered “The Supreme Controller” in East Asian Medicine - the seat of compassion and joyfulness. While structurally the Pericardium is a fibrous membrane that encloses and protects the Heart, it is also thought to have a larger psycho-emotional role in terms of protecting the Heart’s capacity to experience joy and vulnerability in relationships. Very often I have seen patients who have had protracted interpersonal distress in their life - with their partner, a coworker, or a friend or family member - lead to a very particular kind of burnout and exhaustion that is indicative of Pericardium pathology - neck pain, headaches, feelings of tightness in the chest, and a recurring feeling of anxiety. 

Anger, irritability, and the ability to set clear boundaries are all emotions that correlate to the Liver and Gall Bladder. Individuals who are healthy and balanced with this organ system are able to set boundaries in relationships without being overly reactive or responding with a disproportionate level of anger. 

And finally, fear is associated with the Kidneys and Bladder. This gives credence to why people feel like they are going to pee their pants when they get really scared. Deep fear, especially traumatic fear, energetically depletes the Kidney system in East Asian Medicine. 

In East Asian medicine, emotional health isn’t separate from physical health. It’s all connected, just as we are connected to other people and to each other. When we are taking care of our wellbeing and in a healthy relationship with our own interior emotional world, this has the ability to reverberate out and affect our relationships with other people and our world. 

The Health Benefits of Friendship

Did you know that National Friendship Day is coming up on August 4th? Are you wondering why I even care? Because social connection is one of, if not THE most important factors in health and longevity. Good old face-to-face hanging out and socializing. You know, friendship. Here are some of the ways that spending time with our friends benefits our health:

Lowers Stress

Spending time with friends has been shown to decrease your levels of cortisol, a stress hormone. Whether it is sharing the burden of your troubles or just relaxing and having fun, social connection helps to lower stress and improve mood. 

Sharpens Your Mind

A feeling of loneliness may be associated with increased risk of Alzhiemer’s disease. In a 2012 study in the Netherlands, researchers found that those who reported feeling lonely at the beginning of the study period were more likely to develop Alzheimer’s. It is interesting to note that it was the perception of loneliness that was the factor here, not necessarily the reality of being isolated. 

Strengthens Immunity

People with strong friendships tend to have better immune systems and inflammatory responses than those who don’t. This reduces the risk of acute illness, arthritis, cancer, cardiovascular disease and even helps wounds to heal more quickly. 

Increases Happiness

This one seems obvious, but you can really ramp up the benefits by hanging out with people who are quite happy themselves. It really does rub off! So does spending time with those who are less happy, so you may want to avoid those Debbie Downers. 

Improves Overall Health

Friends make us happy, happy people tend to make better lifestyle choices, and having a good circle of friends can help keep you “on the wagon,” whatever that wagon may be. Friends can also lead you down the path of destruction, but are those really your friends? Stick with those who lift you up and help make you a better person and you’ll see the benefits!

Extends Your Life

You may have heard of the research on “Blue Zones,” the areas in the world with the highest concentration of people who live to be 100+ years old. There have been many reports on the foods they eat (and don’t eat), and the types of exercise they tend to do. But perhaps the most important factor in these centenarian’s lives is that they have surrounded themselves with friends and family who share the same values. They often offer and receive help from those around them, and take good care of each other. They are also more able to express their feelings to their friends and family. 


These are just a few of the benefits of spending time with your good friends. Next time you are hanging out with your friends, see what other benefits you find. I’d love to hear what they are.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to go improve my health. My friends are waiting.

PS. If you were wondering, social media has not been shown to have the same benefits. So get out there and spend time with your friends in the real world!


Intermittent Fasting 101 - A Brief Overview

As I alluded to in my last article, I have been playing with intermittent fasting recently. I kept seeing information on it blowing up many of my acupuncture groups, and like I said last time - I thought “there is no way I could do that!” which is my personal signal that I need to try something.

There are many different ways to fast, but first let’s define what it means to fast - it’s an absence of food and caloric drinks. So on a typical fast you may consume tea, black coffee and water and that’s it. 


Intermittent fasting means that you are fasting for regular periods between normal eating. There are many different lengths:

12 hours

This used to be the way we ate in our country. We would have our regular 3 meals spaced out throughout the day, and finish eating within 12 hours of breakfast.

16 hours (16/8)

This is probably the most popular version of intermittent fasting - it incorporates 16 hours of fasting followed by an 8 hour eating window. Most people achieve this by skipping breakfast, but some choose to skip dinner. You can still eat 3 meals within the eating period, it’s up to you!

20 hours (20/4)

Some people find this length of fasting the most beneficial to them. I think you just have to play around with the different windows and see what works well for you.


Why do intermittent fasting?


Fasting improves insulin levels

Fasting lowers insulin levels and improves insulin sensitivity, reducing insulin resistance. This is good because insulin resistance is linked to a lot of diseases and conditions such as PCOS, diabetes, alzheimer’s, stroke and abdominal obesity. 


Fasting can increase adrenaline and speed up metabolism

This is the primary reason I wanted to try intermittent fasting - the reports of increased energy levels. Instead of leaving you tired and sluggish, curled up in the fetal position on your couch, fasting actually gives you more pep in your step. For me this also took a reset of my mindset, but once I wrapped my head around the science, it made sense and I was able to stick with it. 


Human Growth Hormone Increases

Waning HGH levels have been associated with many aging processes, so increasing this hormone by fasting may help slow down the clock. 


My personal experience with intermittent fasting 


I was so surprised when I started to do this - my energy levels DID go up. I didn’t get all hangry and I didn’t waste away. I did it by cutting out breakfast (or pushing it a little later into the day), and I still enjoy breakfast 1-2 times per week. But I have to admit that the days I eat breakfast I don’t feel quite as peppy. 


Of course, continuing to eat well is an important aspect of this type of eating. Lots of veggies and whole foods are key. If you think that you can do the 20/4 fast and eat junk and still see great results...well, just feel free to let me know how that goes. :-)


The D Word

Ever since the 30’s we’ve all been through the ringer of what the FDA deems as “healthy” when it comes to the food we eat. Every food group has had its turn on the list of shame. First, fat was the devil. Then it was sugar. Next was dairy. And now, carbs are currently taking a hit. It’s hilarious to look back at it now, after 40 more years of research, to see what trends were completely bonkers and what actually had some substance behind it. I think we’re finally starting to grasp how the body works, how to optimize our health, and how to maintain a healthy weight.

I often get really funny looks from new patients in clinic when I ask “how is your diet?” at that particular portion of our intake. Many of them respond with…. “I’m not on a diet,” with an uneasy look on their face like I’m administering a lie detector test. Obviously the word “diet” has many connotations. When we talk about it, ultimately we just want to know WHAT you’re eating.

There are so many different ways to eat based on your budget, lifestyle, ethics, health concerns, etc. Some people eat everything! And if that works for you - have at it. However, if you’re one of those that is constantly chasing the scale trying to get in shape, or looking for alternatives to relieve various symptoms, some of the diets listed below might be a good option for you. I’ll go through a few of the current fad diets, so you all have an idea of what each means and what would be the benefit of eating that way.

Paleo

The paleo diet is based on “what a caveman (or woman) would eat.” The theory is, early humans were foraging and eating what they could find and kill, so that represents the cleanest form of food. Paleo has a higher emphasis on protein from meat and carbs coming from veggies. Processed foods aren’t allowed on the paleo diet.

YES: All veggies, fruits, fat, nuts, seeds, and meats. (Yes, bacon included).

NO: Grains of any kind, corn, soy, legumes, dairy, sugar.

Now, this one has varying degrees of intensity. If you’re doing a Whole30, which is a super strict paleo cleanse for 30 days, you’re more restricted in what you can have. If you are trying to find a healthy balance, and be less restricted, then supplementing with things like organic local honey in your tea, cooking with organic butter (Kerrygold is my personal favorite) and eating nuts and seeds, is 100% fine.

I gravitate towards the paleo style of eating because to me, it makes the most sense. It removes the 3 heavy-hitters (sugar, dairy, grains) that so often contribute to inflammation in the body. You’re not eating processed foods, so it becomes more of a lifestyle shift as well, by cooking lots of the meals you consume. This is most often my recommendation to people trying to lose weight, identify allergens, target symptom inducers, or just to be healthier overall. If you aren’t a meat eater however, this might not be the best fit for you.

Keto

The ketogenic diet is similar to the paleo diet, with a few distinguishing characteristics. The goal is to use FAT instead of CARBS to shift your body into “ketosis” or a metabolic state to create and use its own energy. In this way of eating, the macronutrient distribution in your diet dramatically shifts. Keto has a higher emphasis on fat instead of protein, unlike the paleo diet. The macro breakdown looks like this: fats should be about 60-80% of the diet, protein at 20-30% and carbohydrates at 5-10% of the diet. I know all of you low-fat-diet people are screaming bloody murder out there. Remember: fat is our friend, not foe! In the keto diet, you have to stay within the very strict guidelines in order to actually achieve ketosis. Any variability might negate the body’s ability to actually get there, which nullifies the point of being keto.

YES: Fat, protein, dairy, limited fruits and veggies.

NO: Grains, legumes, sugar, most fruits, and starchy veggies.

Studies are showing that unless recommended otherwise by your doctor, the keto diet should only be utilized in small spurts of time. Because it is so heavy on the fats, people with high cholesterol, heart disease, or other conditions needs to be closely monitored in order to make sure serious health conditions are stable. Ideally, doing a two-week stint on a keto diet to jump-start your metabolism 3-4 times a year is ideal. In between those times, incorporating a paleo-like diet seems like a great combination to lose some substantial weight. If you want to read more about the difference between paleo and keto, go here. (link: https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/paleo-vs-keto#keto )

Vegetarian

Vegetarian diets are just like they sound -- all plant-based. There is really good research that says that eating a plant-based diet is the BEST way to eat. Even though I’m not personally a vegetarian, I try to pile on as many veggies as I can with meals so I’m getting all of that good fiber. The only questionable foods vegetarians can overdo are grains and soy products. Tofu and tempeh are commonly used as meat-alternatives for vegetarians. In moderation, this is fine, but both products are heavily processed and are estrogenic, so not necessarily the best choice for an every-day thing. You don’t want to mess with the hormones too much. Over time that can lead to some serious health concerns. If you need another good option, try jackfruit instead! Most vegetarians will still have eggs, which is a great source of protein for this category of people.

YES: All veggies, soy, grains, dairy, beans, legumes, fruit, eggs, and fish (if pescatarian).

NO: Meat

Vegan:

All the same information goes for vegans as vegetarians, but vegans take out dairy, fish, and eggs as well. There’s only a small percentage of people that really thrive on this type of diet. Most of the time, we see people who have tried going vegan and unfortunately, their digestion tanks and are chronically fatigued after a short period of time. On the other hand, some research shows that eating vegan or vegetarian raises the pH in the system and can be incredibly beneficial for someone who is fighting cancer. With a higher pH, the body becomes more alkaline. The theory is, cancer can’t thrive in an environment that is alkaline in nature. A list of acidic foods (which lowers the pH of the body) can be seen here https://www.healthline.com/health/acid-foods-to-avoid#highacid-food-and-drink. This list includes a lot of fish and meats, which are considered acidic.

YES: All veggies, soy, grains, beans, legumes, fruit

NO: Meat, dairy, eggs, fish

Intermittent Fasting

Intermittent fasting is a really interesting way to look at HOW you eat; not just WHAT you eat. This is something you can incorporate with any of the diets above or whatever diet works for you. Dr. Valter Longo is one of the premier doctors researching how intermittent fasting can benefit your health and longevity of life. According to his research at USC, there are a couple different ways to go about intermittent fasting. His ideas are that we give our body and mind a rest by sleeping every night, why wouldn’t we give our digestive tract a rest? If we’re constantly eating and digesting food, it never gets a break.

He came up with a couple of ways to go about trying intermittent fasting: The first way is to do a 5-day water cleanse to reset the system. Heavy exercise or work during this period of time is not recommended, as you can imagine. This seems really, really hard and crazy-making. I pride myself on experimenting with all sorts of diets and intermittent fasting, but I haven’t worked up the courage to try this one yet. If I decide to try it, I’ll make sure I update you on my findings! There’s a good chance someone might have to bail me out of jail by the end of the 5 days though. Or check to make sure my husband is still alive…

The second way is MUCH easier and I personally incorporate this trick at least 3 times a week. Here’s how it works: you have an 8 hour window to eat and fast for the other 16 hours of the day. For example, I’ll often have my first meal at 12:00 pm and my last meal or snack by 8:00 pm. The hours can vary based on your schedule/ bedtime/ wake time/ etc. It’s easier than it sounds, due to the fact that you can have plenty of fluids or a cup of coffee in the morning. That helps curb the cravings for food and help reset the metabolism.

To find out more information about Dr. Longo’s findings and programs, listen to this podcast I found fascinating. https://goop.com/the-goop-podcast/is-intermittent-fasting-the-key-to-health/

All in all, my advice is to do your research and TRY different kinds of diets. It’s really fun to experiment and see how you feel adding or subtracting certain things into your daily routine around food. Like Kailey said in her article, it’s about the quality of life and appreciating the ambivalent middle. My only recommendation is to stay away from any “diet” that sells you premade meals or food. I’m not talking supplements, but actual meals or meal-replacements. Those tend to have high amounts of sugar and ingredients that are less than ideal. Say it with me: Real food = real health. If you experiment with these diets and/or the intermittent fasting, let me know! I love hearing stories of people trying new dietary things and how it makes them feel. Give it a try!


How to Shift Your Eating Habits for the Better and Not Hate Your Life

Eating. We all have to do it to stay alive. Until Google or Apple or one of the other big technology companies can upload our brains into a giant computer simulation and we can opt-out of having a digestive tract entirely, we all have to find ways to balance good nutrition with our increasingly busy and complex lives.

Even though I work in healthcare and practice East Asian medicine, I can admittedly be a little ambivalent when it comes to the topic of nutrition. Maybe it’s because I spent too many years living in uber-healthy Boulder and got tired of being asked what I thought about Michael Pollan’s ‘Food Rules’ for the ten-thousandth time, or for being made to feel unenlightened for committing some perceived dietary sin, such as eating cheese fries. I grew up in the Midwest, and I am pretty sure that at a certain point in time while I was in high school my blood tests would have registered the amount of Doritos and Chipotle I was consuming on a regular basis.

But I can also very much appreciate the very real relationship between good nutrition and improvement in quality of life. For many people struggling with chronic pain, psycho-emotional distress such as anxiety and depression, and autoimmune conditions, high-quality nutrition can mean the difference between barely functioning and regularly suffering, and having a high quality of life and accomplishing what you need and want to do on a daily basis.

So this article is for those of us in the ambivalent middle. Those of us who know we can do a tiny bit better when it comes to how we feed ourselves. As the author Anne Lamott once said, “Food; try to do a little better.” Improving your diet does not mean having to move away to live on “Deprivation Island” all by yourself. Doing a few simple things can help improve your overall quality of life. This list is by no means exhaustive, but just a starting point with a few suggestions to consider.

Conquer Breakfast

If you really, really struggle in the breakfast department, as in you wake up every single morning and five minutes before you have to run out the door it occurs to you that it might be a good idea to eat something, or you regularly drive down I-70 with a microwaveable Starbucks muffin thingy in your hand, then just focus on breakfast. For 30 days, just focus on making some improvements with that one meal, arguably the most important meal of the day and the one that can set the tone for how you eat the rest of the day. Figure out what you want to eat in the morning. Maybe make it the night before. Read some articles online. Teach yourself how to poach the most exquisitely beautiful egg, or how to make the most delicious omelet. Spend some time on the weekends trying new recipes. Read about what other cultures eat for breakfast. Just start with optimizing one meal and go from there.

Vegetable-ize Your Life

This is a big one. A really big one. When I am regularly excelling in the vegetable-eating department, I basically feel like a different person. Happier. Way more energized. Lighter. I never utter a snarky word to my husband. Blue birds land on my shoulder. It must be what Gwenyth Paltrow feels like all of the time. Simply and utterly amazing. So how does one do this, you might ask - this eating-of-the-vegetables? Well, it definitely requires an open mind. Maybe you don’t like asparagus, or celery, or Brussels sprouts. But maybe you do. I didn’t grow up eating sweet potatoes and different types of squashes, and never thought that I would like them, and now they are a few of my absolute favorites. Maybe you just haven’t found a way to prepare certain vegetables - how to prepare them to your maximum culinary satisfaction. This might require experimenting with different recipes, or trying different preparations when you go out to eat at restaurants. Roasting vegetables in the oven is incredibly easy to do. There are YouTube videos galore on how to do this. Roasting vegetables requires minimal preparation and effort. It’s incredibly simple. One very easy (and admittedly lazy - lazy is good!) way to eat more greens is by keeping a few types of fresh greens on hand (arugula, spinach, and romaine are a good combination) and making a quick simple salad to go with whatever you’re eating. Chopped up and put in a bowl with a little bit of olive oil, lemon juice, red wine vinegar, and salt and pepper.

Don’t Let Yourself Get HANGRY

‘Hangry’ is the act of becoming irritable and bad-tempered as the result of being hungry. When I eat irregularly or go too long between meals, my husband says I turn into Audrey II from Little Shop of Horrors (“FEED ME SEYMOUR.”). I do not recommend letting this happen to you. Not only will you have to put all of your disposable income towards marital counseling, it’s a set-up for your eating to go completely off the rails - eating too much, eating too much of the wrong thing, torpedoing all of your good intentions to eat well. If you’re finding yourself hangry on the regular, there are some things you can do: Eat small meals every 3-4 hours. Keep snacks on hand - nuts, fruits and veggies, protein drinks. My experiences with being hangry (and I think I have enough to write a memoir at this point) have really driven home how important it is to have good food in the house and plan for the week accordingly. Otherwise I may find myself coming home at 8 o’clock on a weeknight, famished and hangry, and all kinds of foods that I would otherwise try to steer clear from start to look very tasty. Like all those cheese fries.


Mindset Matters

A few months back, I was fascinated by a story I heard on the radio while I was driving around town. They were talking about the increase in accessibility of genetic testing and the ability to learn about our genetic risks for certain diseases. The problem with getting this kind of information is that just because you have a certain gene, it doesn’t mean that you will 100% for sure develop the condition that is associated with it.

A serious concern they discussed on the program is that there have been studies showing that mindset may affect gene expression, so finding out you have genetics for a certain condition may actually lead you to develop that condition.

They cited a recent study on mindset and exercise. In the study, the researchers told participants that they had genes that set them up to respond poorly to exercise. In subsequent testing, the subjects did do worse than before - they got tired sooner and even had decreased lung capacity. The thing is, they didn’t actually have those genes. It was all mindset that created those changes.

In another study, researchers were testing exercise and the “placebo effect” (which also translates to “mindset.”) Here’s the abstract from the study:

“In a study testing whether the relationship between exercise and health is moderated by one's mind-set, 84 female room attendants working in seven different hotels were measured on physiological health variables affected by exercise. Those in the informed condition were told that the work they do (cleaning hotel rooms) is good exercise and satisfies the Surgeon General's recommendations for an active lifestyle. Examples of how their work was exercise were provided. Subjects in the control group were not given this information. Although actual behavior did not change, 4 weeks after the intervention, the informed group perceived themselves to be getting significantly more exercise than before. As a result, compared with the control group, they showed a decrease in weight, blood pressure, body fat, waist-to-hip ratio, and body mass index. These results support the hypothesis that exercise affects health in part or in whole via the placebo effect.”

The effect that the brain’s beliefs and emotions can have on physiology isn’t exactly news. In 1988, the New York Times published an article about a man with multiple personality disorder. When he drank orange juice, most of the time he would have an allergic reaction, breaking out into hives. However, one of his personalities could drink orange juice and have no allergic reaction at all. This phenomenon was supported by clinical experience - medicating people with multiple personalities can be extremely difficult because the different personalities can react differently to a medication.

Our thoughts and emotions can change the physical structure of our brain, which in turn can change the physiology within our entire body. They say that “neurons that fire together wire together.” By firing new sets of neurons with new thought patterns, we can actually rewire our brains.

What does that mean for us? It is great news! In addition to what we are doing to physically heal our bodies, like acupuncture, supplements and a clean diet, we can harness the power of the brain to have an even greater effect. Here are a few examples of ways I reframe thoughts to my advantage:

Thought: “My back is so messed up.”
Reframe: “My body has the ability to heal this pain.”
Thought: “I need to watch my weight.”
Reframe: “I eat and move to fuel my health.”
Thought: “I am so stressed.”
Reframe: “Whoops! I did it again. What can I cut out? I got this!”

One of my latest experiences with mindset was when I decided to try intermittent fasting. I used to think that if I didn’t eat every couple of hours, I would experience a blood sugar crash and turn into a raging you-know-what. After reading research into the benefits of fasting, I decided to give it a shot. After all, another one of my beliefs is that if I think there is no way I can do something, I had better give it a try. :-)

So after a couple of days of cutting down my eating hours (for more info on this topic, stay tuned...I think I just found what I’m going to write about next…) I found that I can actually be just fine without stuffing food in my face all day long. All because I read research that told me so.

Your turn! Think about any deeply held beliefs you have that may be holding you back. Is there a way to turn them around to create new pathways in your brain? It takes commitment, but the results can be amazing. All you have to do is believe.

Self-Talk

Self-talk is kind of a funny subject, and if it makes you roll your eyes or cringe on some level to think about reciting positive affirmations to yourself, and the cheesy factor is just too high, you’re not alone on this one. But it’s a worthy topic of exploration for many reasons.

Self-talk is about how you talk to yourself about yourself. It’s the always running internal monologue, the voice in our head, the constant commentary that is ever present between our ears. It may be something you’re aware of, or it may be something you’re not very conscious of, just like background chatter that we barely perceive. But it can have a very strong impact on how we think about ourselves and how we move about in the world, and it is closely linked with our perception of our self.

It’s especially easy to become familiar with your self-talk when you do something you perceive to be a mistake or embarrassing - if you berate yourself for messing up, being clumsy, foolish, being too loud, being too quiet, too shy, or “too much.” We may even lapse into calling ourselves names that we would never think to call someone that we cared for and loved.

Why become familiar with your inner monologue? Because it can exert a pretty big influence on our lives. It can really run the show. If you spend your time looking at Facebook or Instagram, and before you know it your self-talk is a raging dumpster fire of jealousy, self-loathing, and compare-and-despair - that’s an altogether very unpleasant and painful experience. Negative, painful, and critical self-talk can be a catalyst for depression, anxiety, and feelings of low self-worth. It can feed into and perpetuate feelings of helplessness and despair. It can perpetuate personal suffering and color the way we see the world and our place in it.

Just becoming aware of what you are saying to yourself is the first step. And it’s huge. You’ve got to give yourself credit for doing this. One of the ways to start to become familiar with your inner monologue is to engage in a meditation practice. You have a front row seat to that little voice that is constantly chattering all day long. You could also go to therapy. Or journal. Or look at yourself in the mirror and see what you start to tell yourself about yourself. There are many ways to start the process.

By doing this you are not at the mercy of this constantly chattering little voice in the background, always running the show. You can choose to listen to it when and if you want. You can disengage from it. You can see how it operates, what it is triggered by, what sets it off and what calms it down. You can even laugh at it. And most importantly, you can also work with it, influence it, and sculpt it to become more compassionate, clear, and wise.

Becoming aware of and reflecting on how we talk to ourselves is a fascinating journey into what it means to be a human being. It’s always interesting. And it’s a relief to know that we can make a better and wiser relationship with it.

Visualization

Happy spring everyone! I’m feeling the pull of the season change in a big way. Time to stretch, move, cleanse, re-focus and repeat. Anyone else? This is the part of the year I get really motivated to get things done and set some new goals. Recently, I sat down and tried to think on what motivates me and how I want to achieve it. I realized that it all starts with my mindset. I am a visual person, so I know I have to get my head in the right place in order to achieve anything else physically or emotionally. This is referred to as “mental training” and scientists and doctors are discovering it can be a game-changer when it comes to success.

Published in Psychology Today, you can find studies that prove that using your mind to visualize goals is almost as good as doing them! In one specific study of weight lifters, they saw significant data that the brain was activated in the SAME way when lifting hundreds of pounds vs. when they were just visualizing it. Say whaaaat??!  In the same vein, there have been other studies that show statistical increase in muscle tone for those who visualize a muscle being used while working out vs. those who don’t. Incredible! Note to self: picture 6-pack abs anytime I’m exercising and maybe one day I’ll have some!

There are tons of ways to use visualization and even more ways it applies to our productivity. I recently listened to a podcast on the Goop channel (Gweneth Paltrow’s health-conscious company) and she interviewed a woman named Bonnie St. John. I had never heard about her before, but as the podcast continued, I learned that Bonnie was the first African American to win medals at the Olympics in 1984…with one leg! She also graduated magna cum laude from Harvard and had a number of other incredible life achievements. Talk about motivating. During the interview, she was going through a few of her favorite “life hacks” for her listeners in order to have a big impact on their focus, drive and goals.

The one tip that really stuck with me was an exercise to help push you through the mindset of limiting factors. She calls it “reversing.” This is a good one for all of you visual people out there. Here’s how it works: take a note card and write a limiting factor or obstacle that you’re facing on one side of the card. Then on the other side of the card, write the complete opposite. One of the examples she uses was writing “I need a higher degree, but I don’t have time or money to go back to school” and then on the other side write the opposite: “I have time and money to go back to school.” Her point is that writing the complete opposite statement suspends your brain’s belief in the negative obstacle that you THINK is true, but it doesn’t have to be. If you stop that pattern, you make room for ideas or ways to make the opposite come true. Very, very fascinating stuff. To learn more about her ideas and work, Bonnie’s book is called Micro-Resilience: Minor Shifts for Major Boosts in Focus, Drive, and Energy.  Check it out or find the podcast for more inspiration!

Other random ideas of how I use visualization in my daily life/goal setting:

  • Making a vision board using pictures and quotes

  • Write out a to-do list of things you want to get done during the day and check them off

  • Write out a goal list that includes the who, what, when, where, why and how you’re going to do it. Turns out, the more specific you get, the better. Paint the picture for yourself so it’s easier to move through the steps to get there.

  • Make a list of 10-20 things that you want to do before you die (must have a big picture, right?)

  • And now I’ll be visualizing my muscles working at the gym so I can burn more fat :)

Are you a visual person? How do you visualize goals and put that into motion? I would love to hear how you achieve this. Let me know next time you’re in for a tune up!

5 Years!

Planning our 5 year anniversary party has really gotten me into a reflective mood. I’m the type who is always looking forward, so it has been nice to take a moment and look at where we came from. I have been thinking back to when I moved over from Olde Town, hoping that others would see my vision - health and wellness care that is still affordable, but even more personalized.  I was so excited to bring back the other tools that we have in TCM - cupping, moxa, guasha, and more. I was a little nervous to make the leap, but I believed so strongly that we could make it happen. That we just HAD to make it happen.

I didn’t realize at the time just how much it would change my life as well. For the last 5 years, I feel like I have gotten to know my people WAY better than I could have before. I get to hear more about their lives and I get to learn more about what makes them tick. I’ve gotten to see babies born and loved ones pass on. I’ve gotten to celebrate and grieve with you.

You have taught me too. I’ve gotten some great advice about life. About how to survive being a mom and businesswoman. About how to best cut a pineapple. About how to be gentle with myself when I am not perfect taking my own advice. (This is where the holiday sugar fest comes to mind. Gah!)

I am also very thankful for the team we have created here. Elena and her otherworldy healing magic and unwavering support. Sarah, who has been such a rock and cares so much about everyone around her. Kailey, with her unbounded compassion and mindful presence. And Madison, who has kept us all together and can do absolutely anything we need while keeping that amazing smile of hers. They are my sisters on this journey, and I appreciate greatly what they each bring to the mission.

And, of course, I am thankful for my actual related-to-me-by-blood-or-marriage family. They have always been my biggest cheerleaders and always believed in me.

What a great 5 years. I feel like we’ve built such a wonderful extended family here, a fantastically supportive tribe, and I am so incredibly grateful. So thank you. Thank you so much for being a part of all this.

With gratitude,

Karen

Fertility Basics

As more and more women and men struggle with fertility issues, I thought it would be helpful to cover some fertility basics. If you’re out there reading this and thinking about having a baby, trying to conceive, or going through some medical intervention to help you along, this is for you.

Infertility is technically defined as the inability to conceive after 6 months to 1 year or longer, depending on the woman’s age and previous pregnancies. Unfortunately for women, the older we get, the more challenging it can be to get pregnant. Or that’s what your doctors tell you. However, I truly believe that depending on a mix of genetics and how well you take care of yourself, anyone can defy the odds!

First off, there are a number of issues that can cause infertility in women including ovulatory functions (whether you’re ovulating or not and the quality of your eggs), blockages (like tumors, fibroids, cysts, or adhesions), hormone dysfunction, endometriosis, and unfavorable cervical mucous (aka. a hostile environment). For men, they’re seeing a decrease in sperm count and morphology of sperm that really contributes to the inability to conceive. Side note: guys, DON’T keep your phone in your front pocket of your pants. They’re discovering that that might be contributing to the drop in fertility rates.

On average, 65% of couples conceive within the first 6 months of trying and 90% at 12 months of so. The numbers are in your favor! If you’ve been trying for a while and aren’t able to get pregnant, it’s always a good idea to go see your OB/GYN and get some blood tests run. They give us SO much information to work with and more accuracy in how we treat you with acupuncture and herbs. Here are some of the main tests we look at just to get a gist of what’s happening in your body:

  • TSH (Thyroid stimulating hormone). If these numbers are off, it could be a signal higher in the hormone cascade that you aren’t ovulating. So get your thyroid checked! This should fall between at 1.0 and 3.0 Iu/ml.

  • FSH (Follicle stimulating hormone): This is a hormone released by the pituitary gland close to the brain and can indicate the quality of the eggs. 10 mIU/mL or less is the magic number. Any more than that can indicate that some might have an issue conceiving.

  • AMH (Anti-Mullerian hormone): predictor of ovarian reserve. So the smaller the number, the less functional the ovaries are. Greater than 1.0, you have good ovarian reserve. Borderline numbers are around 0.7-0.9 and low AMH is considered to be down to 0.3 ng/ml.

Depending on several factors, like the results from the tests above or after a certain amount of time trying naturally without any luck (or if you’re in a same-sex partnership), often doctors will recommend using protocols such as Intrauterine Insemination (IUI) or In Vitro Fertilization (IVF) to help the process along. IUI is less invasive and is less expensive than IVF. Both processes function by engineering impeccable timing. For IUI, doctors place sperm inside the uterine cavity at the exact moment of ovulation to ensure the best shot at conception. Two weeks later you test and see if it worked! IVF is a much more invasive and lengthy process. It’s usually incredibly expensive and not covered by most insurances. Typically this process is 3-6 months in length and involves taking hormones, retrieving eggs, fertilizing them and re-implanting them inside the female to see if they take. For both IUI and IVF, some couples might have to go through multiple rounds of each in order to have a successful conception. Others have success in the first try.

PHEW! That’s most of the scary stuff… but the reality is, SO many of the women we see don’t have anything “wrong” at all. Lots of times, numbers and lab tests come back “normal” and yet they still aren’t getting pregnant naturally as quickly as they thought or hoped. We as acupuncturists and others in the alternative medical field, look at other factors that could contribute. Stress being the most prominent; but hormone disruptors/chemicals, diet, exercise, and sleep are all part of the picture. Bottom line: our goal is to bring your body into harmony and balance! From there, nature takes its course and you’re able to conceive and maintain a healthy pregnancy as it should be.

We live in a society that relies on instant gratification and that is NOT the case when it comes to fertility. When I see a new fertility patient, I tell them to give me 3-6 months of treatment with acupuncture and herbs in order to affect the new, complete cycle of follicles (which turn into eggs to be fertilized). There have been incredible studies done that prove that acupuncture and herbal medicine have had significant effectiveness in treating a plethora of fertility-related issues, including boosting the chances of pregnancy with IUI and IVF procedures! Heck ya!!

Things to remember when trying for a baby: don’t get frustrated and stressed! That will only work against you. I know, I know… easy to say, hard to do. The most important thing is to HAVE FUN during this process and be patient. Think about it- that’s how it should be! Watch the diet, remove toxic chemicals from your household, exercise a few times a week, and make sure you’re sleeping soundly throughout the night. If you or family or friends are having issues with fertility, please don’t hesitate to reach out! We are here to answer any questions and help you through your journey!

Endocrine Disruptors and Fertility

If you are thinking about getting pregnant or having a difficult time conceiving, it’s important to give some consideration to the increasing recognition of the impact of environmental toxins and endocrine disrupting chemicals on human health and fertility.

Researchers have tracked worrisome trends in increasing infertility rates over the past few decades, and the ubiquity of industrial chemicals that disrupt the human endocrine system are theorized as partly to blame. Although more research needs to be done, many organizations such as the American Academy of Pediatrics, Environmental Working Group, The Endocrine Society, the World Health Organization (WHO), and the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS), are in agreement that these hormone disrupting chemicals pose a risk to human health and fertility.

Healthy fertility depends on balanced hormone levels. Hormones are the chemical messengers that are secreted by different glands in the body directly into the bloodstream that help to regulate a wide variety of physiological functions in the body, including metabolism, sleep, growth and development, mood, and reproduction, amongst many others. Endocrine disrupting chemicals (sometimes called EDCs for short) disrupt normal hormone functioning in a variety of ways - from potentially blocking or interfering the way certain hormones are made or controlled, increasing or decreasing normal hormone levels, as well as mimicking naturally occurring hormones in the body such as estrogen. Research has found that EDCs have very negative effects on viable eggs in women as well as sperm count in men.

Two of the most commonly used EDCs are bisphenol-A (also called BPA) and phthalates. BPA was originally used as a synthetic estrogen added to animal feed to help fatten the animals up, and it is currently added to plastic to help soften it and make it more pliable. Phthalates are also used to soften plastic (sometimes referred to as a “plasticizers”), as well as a solvent in many cosmetic and personal care products.

But fear not! There are many practical and pragmatic choices you can make to help significantly reduce your exposure to these troublesome chemicals. Here are a few of the important things you can do to help reduce your exposure to EDCs:

  • To the best of your ability try to minimize your use of plastic beverage bottles, plastic cutlery, and foods prepared or wrapped in plastic.

  • Avoid heating (especially microwaving) foods in plastic containers, as heating plastic containers causes the EDCs to leach out of the plastic.

  • Avoid washing any plastic items in the dishwasher, as this also causes the plastics to soften and leach out chemicals.

  • Avoid canned items, unless it states that the can lining is “BPA-free.”

  • Use cosmetics and personal care products made of natural and organic products that state “phthalate-free” on the label.

  • Avoid products with fragrances and heavy scents - phthalates are found in many common household items in this category, such as air fresheners, dryer sheets, and scented candles.

  • Break a sweat. Researchers have found that we eliminate and clear phthalates from our system in the process of sweating.

  • Taking regular Epsom salt baths helps to cleanse and clear the the tissues of chemicals. Use two cups of Epsom salts per bath.

PCOS

PCOS (Polycystic Ovary Syndrome) is a condition that is estimated to affect over 5 million women in the US. It appears to be on the rise along with other chronic inflammatory disorders and diseases, so it is time to for us to take a look at what’s going on. Some signs of the disorder are excess weight, excess facial hair, loss of hair on the head, acne, and irregular or missing periods. In addition to these signs, clinical testing often shows elevated blood sugar levels, imbalances in sex hormones, and elevated cholesterol.

While the exact mechanism of cause for PCOS is still under investigation, it is known that a number of root lifestyle issues contribute to the condition. Here, I will walk you through a few of these problems and how to address them.

Blood Sugar Imbalance

Insulin resistance is one of the main features of PCOS, and it is also becoming associated with a lot of other inflammatory diseases. Now is it the chicken or the egg? Time will tell.

Either way, there is something you can do about it.

How do you know if you have this?

There aren’t always symptoms with blood sugar imbalance, but feeling tired and sluggish first thing in the morning or after meals can certainly be a sign. If eating something brings you out of your stupor, or you tend to get “hangry,” it’s probably blood sugar related.

What to do

The same advice we always give for everything holds true here too (broken record warning): get rid of processed foods, sugar, flour, dairy. Eat lean animal protein, veggies, nuts, and limited amounts of fruit and starches. Potatoes, sweet potatoes, rice and quinoa are not the enemy - just keep your portions limited to a total of about a cup per day.

Exercise also helps to regulate blood sugar, so get out there and get at least 10-15 minutes of intentional exercise a day. What do I mean by “intentional?” I mean that you are exercising for you and your body. This can be something as simple as a nice walk, but what you already do in a day, like walking from your car to your office, doesn’t count.

If diet and exercise alone are not cutting it, you can add in some supplements like inositol or NAC to help your body gain back control of your blood sugar and insulin levels.

Gut Health

Poor gut health leads to a LOT of diseases/disorders. Our standard western diet has done a lot of destruction to our intestinal microbiota (all those good little bugs in our gut that help us digest our foods). Without those guys helping us, we get inflammation inside the gut and out.

How do you know if you have this?

Digestive symptoms like gas, bloating, constipation, diarrhea or heartburn all point to poor gut health. Generalized achiness or pain can also be a sign, as the inflammation invades the rest of your body.

What to do

The same advice we always give for everything holds true here too (broken record warning): get rid of processed foods, sugar, flour, dairy. Eat lean animal protein, veggies, nuts, and limited amounts of fruit and starches. Potatoes, sweet potatoes, rice and quinoa are not the enemy - just keep your portions limited to a total of about a cup per day. (yes, I just copied-and-pasted from that paragraph above ;-))

One huge change that can really help your digestion is to SLOW DOWN your meals and chew your food thoroughly, as this is really the first step of digestion. Time yourself and see if you can make your meal last for at least 15 minutes.

If diet alone is not cutting it, you can add in some fermented foods (sauerkraut or kimchi, for example) or probiotics. Digestive enzymes can also be taken before meals to help you break foods down.

Adrenal Overload

The HPA axis has been in the natural health news for years now. Our reaction to daily life stressors is having quite an ill effect on our health. Our body truly doesn’t understand the difference between work deadlines or watching a scary movie and actually being chased by a tiger, so our stress hormones often flood our system even when we don’t think we are stressed.

How do you know if you have this?

Trouble sleeping, brain fog, daytime fatigue, and feeling “tired but wired” are all signs that your HPA axis is out of whack.

What to do

Re-think how you think about stress. Our perception that something is stressful makes it even worse. But try not to stress out about how thinking you are stressed is even worse for you. :-)

Get plenty of sleep and cut down or cut out caffeine.

Yoga, meditation, and acupuncture can also regulate the HPA axis as well.

There are also some great adaptogenic herbs to help get this system back in balance, like ashwagandha or eleuthero, or certain TCM herbal formulas. It’s a good idea to consult a health care practitioner (like us!) before taking something like this, though.

While PCOS can feel like a permanent disorder with a host of distressing symptoms, I really don’t think it has to be a lifetime diagnosis. With a good, clean diet and thoughtful self care, your body can come back into balance and those symptoms (as well as clinical test results) can often go back to normal.

Please let us know if you have any questions about PCOS or any other women’s health issues. As always, we are here for you!

Acupuncture for Endometriosis Support

March is Endometriosis Awareness Month. Endometriosis is fairly prevalent, believed to affect 10% of all women, or 176 million women worldwide. It is very under-diagnosed, with many women not even knowing that they have it, and very often finding out in the course of trying to get pregnant.

Endometriosis is a peculiar gynecological condition that isn’t very well understood. In endometriosis, some of the uterine tissue that is normally shed during menstruation (uterine tissue inside the uterus is called the endometrium) is found outside of the uterus and in other areas of the body, most often in pelvic cavity. This abnormal uterine tissue that makes its way outside of the uterus then acts as if it still lining the uterus - becoming thicker during the cycle and then shedding during menstruation.

This uterine tissue can form into tiny superficial patches, as well as into larger areas of lesions. The immune system can perceive these patches as a type of injury, and in the course of trying to heal it, can form scar tissue. These endometrial patches can form on the ovaries, fallopian tubes, on the pelvic side-wall (the peritoneum), the rectal-vaginal septum (an area of connective tissue that separates the vagina from the rectum), the recto-uterine pouch (a small cavity that separates the uterus from the rectum), the bladder, cesarean-section scars, and even the bowel, intestines, and colon.

The classic signs of endometriosis are intense menstrual cramps, pain during intercourse (especially during deep penetration), and infertility, but not all women who have endometriosis will experience these symptoms. Other symptoms include chronic pelvic pain, low back pain, painful bowel movements during menstrual periods, heavy or irregular bleeding, and fatigue. Another curious aspect of this condition is that the degree of pain a woman experiences can be very much unrelated to the severity of the condition. For example, small patches with a minor amount of spreading can lead to debilitating pain for some, while extensive spreading of lesions can produce no symptoms in others.

The causes of endometriosis are not well understood. One theory is that somehow endometrial cells can flow backwards out the fallopian tubes and spread throughout the pelvis - this is termed “retrograde menstruation.” Endometriosis can also be difficult to diagnose. Ultrasound can diagnose ovarian endometriomas (sometimes called chocolate cysts) but the most reliable test is laparoscopy, with tissue biopsy as confirmation.

More and more women are turning to acupuncture to help address and diminish the symptoms of menstrual pain and endometriosis. Acupuncture, herbal supplements, and heat therapy (in the form of TDP lamps or moxibustion) can help to regulate hormone levels and the menstrual cycle, greatly diminish the symptoms of menstrual and pelvic pain, increase and support the the healthy supply of blood flow to the uterus, ovaries, and throughout the pelvic cavity, as well as work to diminish some of the other side effects that can come with severe menstrual pain - such as stress and anxiety, digestive upset, and fatigue.
Another lifestyle factor to consider if you experience symptoms of intensely painful periods or are trying to get pregnant is greatly diminishing or quitting alcohol (https://www.thetemper.com/the-top-10-health-risks-of-alcohol-for-women/) use altogether. A review of 15 studies concluded that the risk of endometriosis was increased 24% in those who drank alcohol compared to those who abstained.

Painful Periods

UGH.. painful periods.

Ladies, this is the worst, am I right? It turns out, dysmenorrhea (painful periods) affect around 85% of women out there. That is a staggering number. Theoretically, our cycles should not be painful at all, if you can believe that! The menses should come once a month and it should be a smooth process, without PMS or other complications. In the olden days, there were far LESS instances of pain with periods due to a number of reasons. However, in this modern time, we are constantly surrounded by things in our environment that disrupt our endocrine systems (aka. our hormones). I’ll get into what might be contributing to painful periods and what diagnoses we see mostly in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM).

Painful periods occur in the body because of one thing: stagnant blood and qi (energy) in the uterus. That means that there isn’t a smooth flow of either- things are stuck or blocked. But how does that happen exactly? We aren’t born with that pattern. Its formed over the course of our lives, based on what we expose ourselves to and how we treat our bodies.

The most common cause of period pain, according to TCM is called “liver qi stagnation.” It has nothing to do with your actual liver, but the Chinese energetics that is associated with that organ system. There are several things that allow for the liver qi to stagnate leading to pain with the cycle. If you are drinking too much alcohol, eating too many fried foods, are sedentary, or are constantly stressed or emotionally haggard, that can lead to “liver qi stagnation.” Our lifestyle dramatically affects the way we menstruate. Other symptoms of liver qi stagnation include breast tenderness/swelling premenstrually, mood swings (majorly in the way of irritability), anxiety, depression, and cramping that can start before the actual flow.

If this sounds like you, the best way to ease some of those painful periods are to get some exercise in! The week before your period is a great time to get acupuncture and cupping in order to get that stuck energy moving before your period starts. We have a great formula called “The Free and Easy Wanderer” that helps alleviate some of that horrible PMS and help aid in a healthier, less painful period.

Another cause for dysmenorrhea can be described as “cold stagnation in the uterus.” This is the typical qi and blood stagnation that we see with painful periods, but adds in an element of cold. This is typically felt as sharp, stabbing pain that is better with warmth. Cycles can also be heavier and clotted. If you have been exposed to the cold for some lengths of time, walk on cold floors with bare feet, eat raw/cold foods often, you might have an element of cold as a part of your pattern. Try using a heating pad once a day for the few days leading up to your period. You can also incorporate cooked foods into the diet and drink ginger tea daily to add an element of heat to your system as well.

Other environmental factors, like chemicals used in our homes or body products, can be linked to hormone dysregulation. They are discovering that phthalates, parabens, and fragrances used in lotions and makeup can mimic estrogen; therefore, disrupting our menstrual cycles. The same goes for chemicals in cleaning products or burning soy-based candles. The best bet is to switch to safer products! If you’re curious about what the toxicity level is of anything you use, the best bet is to go to EWG.org and look them up under the “Skin Deep” portion of their website.

If you or a loved one has painful periods, don’t hesitate to reach out! We have an arsenal of modalities and herbs that can be beneficial for this particular condition. Let us know if you’re struggling! We can help.


The Winter Blues and Blahs

Someone recently mentioned to me that they felt like this past January has felt like one long, continual Monday. This time of year can be tough for many of us. Even though we live in a very sunny state with mild days and warm temperatures even in the winter months, it is not uncommon for many individuals to experience a lower mood this time of year.

For some people this may warrant a clinical diagnosis by a primary care doctor or mental health professional of Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). SAD is a mood disorder that is characterized by depressive symptoms that occur at the same time each year during the fall and winter months. Symptoms can also include low energy, fatigue, feeling sluggish, intense irritability, having trouble sleeping, a marked increase or decrease in appetite, and a loss of interest in activities that typically bring enjoyment.

Feelings of low mood during the winter months can take us by surprise. Some people describe it as a feeling of “the veil coming down.” Life can start to feel very grey. For other people, they might experience symptoms of irritability or pervasive negativity. If feelings of hopelessness crop up, it’s very important to speak with your doctor or a mental health professional.

For those of us who struggle with a lower mood during the colder months, or just an overall sense of lower motivation and general unease, there are some things that can definitely help:

Light Therapy

Light therapy (also called phototherapy) is considered a first-line treatment for low mood that starts in the fall months. It involves purchasing a special light box that mimics the light found in nature, and sitting in front of it for an hour upon waking in the morning. The light positively supports chemicals in our brain that our linked to positive mood.

Check in With Your Doctor

Your doctor can run tests to rule out whether or not the pervasive low mood is linked to an issue with your thyroid, and can also check your Vitamin D levels. Contrary to popular belief, Vitamin D levels can even be low for those of us in sunny Colorado.

Exercise

You don’t need to blow it out everyday at a Crossfit class to get the benefits out of exercise. Moderate and gentle exercise will do. Moderate exercise has consistently been shown to improve the symptoms of low mood.

Herbs and Supplements

A licensed herbalist and acupuncturist can give you some great suggestions for supplements as well as herbal formulas that will support mood, energy levels, and balanced sleep.

Support the Mind-Body Connection and Manage Stress

Deep breathing and gentle yoga can help you get back into your body and lift your mood. Take downtime for yourself. Try to keep some space in your schedule. Recognize that this is the darkest and coldest time of the year and respect your need for quietude and deep rest.

Get A Course of Acupuncture Treatments

Weekly acupuncture treatments over the course of 8 to 12 weeks can not only help you make this time of year more manageable, it can dramatically improve your overall sense of well-being, boost your energy levels, improve your sleep, and lift your mood. Consistency is key in conjunction with lifestyle support.

2019: Year of the PIG

On February 5th, we’ll be celebrating the Chinese New year! That means, OUT with the year of the Earth dog (2018) and IN with the year of the Earth pig! This is an exciting time for all interested in the Chinese zodiac. The pig is the last animal in the 12-year line up, meaning it’s a really good time for enjoyment, celebration, and reflection! It also has a bit of good luck attached to it. How great does that sound??

If you’ve spending lots of time working, cultivating a career, building your empire, then now is the time to reap your rewards. Look back at everything you’ve done in the last few years (or full 12-year stretch) and give yourself the freedom to enjoy the place you are in your life! The pig is a social animal, so reconnect with lost friends or loved ones and celebrate all of your undertakings together. If you’re starting a new adventure in the year of the pig, you have luck on your side, and success is in your future! Ok, ok I know I’m starting to sound like a fortune cookie.

The Earth element in Traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) relates to nourishment for the body and mind. Because it’s the second Earth year in a row, we should continue to look at how we nourish ourselves. This can boil down to the food we eat, how much down time we have, and what we subject ourselves to emotionally.

In TCM, the spleen is the major organ associated with the Earth element. It’s the “sorter” of the body, separating the pure from the impure. Like I said above, that can relate directly to what you’re eating and how it benefits your body or how emotionally balanced we are. Do the people around you bring you joy? Are you doing something, whether it be hobbies or a job, that fulfills you? Are you getting enough sleep? Are you watching happy things on TV or dark, disturbing things? How does that impact your wellbeing? Oh wait… that last part sounds like me. :) My darkness detox is still going strong for anyone following along!

According to the Chinese zodiac, the pig is also the sign of wealth! So check in with your surroundings and ask yourself- what are you RICH in? It could be time with loved ones, your health, time carved out in your schedule for vacation, making good money this year… anything! For me, I am rich in deep sleep at the moment. Due to my “darkness detox,” I’m sleeping better than ever. What a dramatic change it has made in my overall enjoyment of life. Imagine that… My spleen is thanking me.

PSA: the little red envelopes full of surprises are making a comeback in the office too! Come in for a treatment the week of the Chinese New Year and see what surprise is in store for you! Maybe yours will be pig-themed. Hope to see you soon!

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