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.

Filtering by Tag: women's health

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!

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.

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.


"Balancing" Hormones


If you have ever come in to see me and asked me to balance your hormones, you know what I’m going to say - what does that even mean?! Do you want a special acupuncture point that will supercharge certain hormones, cut off others, and magically makes all your symptoms go away? Do you think “hormone imbalance” looks the same for everyone? And if we could just “balance” these poorly behaved home wreckers, life would be rainbows and puppies?

I feel like we have been led to believe that there is a way for our hormones to stay constant and even and we will just sail through life. But that’s not how hormones work! They aren’t static - they ebb and flow, just like anything else in nature. Look at the ocean, look at the seasons, look at pretty much anything in the environment and you’ll see; nature (and humans) are always changing.

Let’s think of it more as getting our hormones coordinated in a delicate dance. In general, they respond to what is going on in our body and act accordingly. Do they go all wacko on their own? Rarely. Instead, we have to look at possible triggers. Here are a few, along with their fixes:

  1. Dietary triggers and gut imbalance.
    Hidden food sensitivities and a lack of good bacteria in our intestinal lining have been linked to hormonal issues like diabetes. Avoiding common allergens for a period of time, as well as cutting out sugar and refined foods, can go a long way to rebuilding your gut health. Adding in a probiotic and good spices such as garlic and turmeric can help in the repair. Also, make sure you aren’t skimping on healthy fat - it is an important building block for many hormones.

  2. Environmental triggers.
    There are over 80,000 chemicals in our environment, and some of them are well-known contributors to disease. The scary thing is that tens of thousands of them have not been competently studied. The best you can do is do your best (hey, that sounds like Yoda, or Yogi Bear): go organic as much as possible, switch out your cosmetics and cleaning supplies for greener versions, drink filtered water out of glass or stainless steel, eat a lot of cruciferous veggies and add organic lemon to your water to help your liver detox.

  3. Stress and lack of sleep.
    Time and time again, I see this play out in clinic. When we are able to get stress levels down and sleep quantity and quality up, symptoms such as hot flashes, moodiness, skin issues and more are resolved. Just do it!

  4. High levels of inflammation.
    Most often caused by a poor diet and sedentary lifestyle, inflammation wreaks havoc on all body systems. Eating a whole foods diet with a concentration on vegetables and fruit can help bring that inflammation down and put out the hormonal fires (literally - we often see hot flashes as part of this pattern). Getting moving can help muscles take up extra blood sugar and over time can help to lower insulin resistance as well as inflammation.

Sometimes these lifestyle interventions don’t work quickly enough or well enough on their own. That’s where acupuncture and herbal medicine can help to get things moving in the right direction again. Most often, these modalities are only needed for a period of time to help the body heal more quickly while we work on modifying the lifestyle behaviors to stop contributing to the symptoms.

Now, don’t worry. It’s okay if you come in and ask me to balance your hormones. Just don’t be surprised when I ask for more detail in terms of symptoms so that we can get to the bottom of what’s going on and treat your pattern accordingly. And you can bet I’m going to make you get more sleep and eat more veggies!

The Yin and Yang of Hormones

As we all know, hormones are an extremely complicated system in the human body. They relate to weight fluctuations, sleep patterns, growth and development, all of our metabolic processes, digestive patterns, and our moods! Like Karen was saying, hormones should ebb and flow like the ocean; or have a fluid movement throughout a person’s everyday life. It’s a very delicate balance of what should be high and what should be low at any given time- hour to hour, or day to day (like insulin and cortisol), or month to month (like estrogen, progesterone, testosterone, etc). You want the body to cycle through all of its functions with as much ease as possible. From eating to sleeping to digestion-- hormones are the key that make everything work properly!

This patterning of hormones relates to Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) very well. At the most basic level, TCM is based on the theory of yin and yang. Both of these entities are completely separate, but they also rely on each other to function. Yin being the nourishing aspects of the body: blood/ body fluids and the yang being the movement or how well things move in the system, like circulation. If there’s too little or too much of either, symptoms might pop up.

For females, the month to month flow of hormones can be a tricky balance. Certain hormones spike to trigger ovulation, some drop in levels to trigger the start of a menstrual cycle and some maintain throughout the month to ensure neither of those are happening! One example of a hormone imbalance (known as a yin deficiency in TCM terms) is low progesterone or estrogen that can manifest as hot flashes and/or night sweats. Women typically experience this specific issue around menopause; however, it could happen at any time. Those hormones can also be out of whack in males as well, but because they don’t have a menstrual cycle, symptoms show up a little differently. It can be linked to low sex drive, increased body fat, fatigue, hair loss, etc. Another hormone-related issue we see is when people have adrenal fatigue. They burn themselves out early in life and later down the line they have no energy. This is referred to as a yang deficiency in TCM. In practice, we use a lot of moxabustion (that herb we burn occasionally) to help boost the yang of the body and give people more energy. Click here to read more about the yin and yang connection to hormones.

Luckily LOTS of hormone-related symptoms are treatable with acupuncture and Chinese herbs! The first thing I do when people feel like they’re hormones are out of balance is put them on a formula we love called “Liver DTX.” Along with cleaning up the diet, this formula helps detox the liver, an organ responsible for processing all hormones of the body. From there, we work subsequently to make sure the flow of yin and yang are behaving properly! Other dietary and lifestyle changes are applicable too. If you’re curious what might benefit you specifically, ask Karen or me next time you’re in for a tune up!

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