Acupuncture Improves Unexplained Symptoms

Practicing Five Element acupuncture for the past 35 years I have often seen dramatic improvements in patients with symptoms that have defied easy diagnosis. Now a new study from England,  reported in the British Journal of General Practice,  has confirmed what I have observed in my practice.

In a group of 80 patients, those receiving Five Element acupuncture reported less pain, better energy  and fewer emotional problems. Many gained a new self awareness of what caused stress in their lives and how to deal more effectively with stress,leading to less medication use and better quality of life.

This self awareness and improved adaptation to stress often seen with this style of treatment, is discussed  in my book, Power of the Five Elements. These traditional concepts from Chinese medicine are very applicable to the types of life challenges we face today. For those not receiving Five Element acupuncture, the Five Adaptation Types presented in the book can provide insight into how to deal with stress and reduce stress hormones such as cortisol and lead to many of the same improvements in well-being as found in this study.

 

Lose Stress, Lose Weight

Sarah, a long-standing patient of mine was baffled. Despite eating well and exercising she had put on thirty pounds in the past two years, mostly around her midsection. In addition she was tired and achy, had poor sleep and worsening memory and concentration. And she was only thirty years old. The one thing that had changed in her life was a difficult divorce leading to on going stress with her ex husband and their two children.

Sarah is not alone in joining the ranks of the obese. Obesity is an epidemic that is sweeping the developed world. Excess weight is not only a risk for diabetes and heart disease, but recent research has shown obesity associated with increased cancer incidence and worse outcomes in those with cancer. Dietary habits are strongly linked to this new health challenge, especially the use of high glycemic foods (those that spike blood sugar), excess calories (supersized meals) and fats that stimulate inflammation (trans fats, baked goods, red meat and whole dairy not organically produced).  One common thread in all these dietary indiscretions is the effect on blood chemistry including elevating cortisol levels, the main stress hormone from the adrenal gland. (see The Adaptation Diet for more info.)However, as Sarah now knows, it is not diet alone that raises cortisol and increases the risk for obesity and disease. The other major trigger is chronic stress.

Cortisol is essential for life, without it survival would be impossible.  It is the main way we respond to any stress mobilizing energy through release of fatty acids, raising blood sugar, moving blood from the digestive system to the muscles. In addition cortisol suppresses the immune system, reduces inflammation and decreases sex hormone production. It is catabolic, breaking down muscle for energy. All these changes help survival, and normally after the stress is resolved, cortisol returns to baseline levels.

However, the stress we experience today and that experienced by our ancestors  and to which our body’s response is geared are different. In past generations stressful events were about survival: you either caught lunch or you were lunch. Today, whether the stress is a boss who does not respect you, a sick family member, a difficult relationship, or dealing with the onslaught of stimulation and lack of quiet time, the cortisol response does not resolve as it does after a fight or flight response.  Elevated cortisol continues to change the body and is associated with obesity, diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, depression, and increased cancer risks. This is what happened to Sarah.

To gain control over the stress response, Sarah used the information from Power of the Five Elements to understand her Adaptation Type. She learned that the anger and frustration she was carrying was so difficult to let go of because  she was a Wood Adaptation Type who has a very hard time with forgiveness and patience. Once she was able to see her behavior through this ‘map’. she followed exercises to enhance her ability to forgive and reduced her cortisol and eventually lost the extra pounds as well as learning to feel better about herself.

Chocolate and other Foods to Reduce Stress

I was recently interviewed for an upcoming book by Bill Gottlieb  on drug free healing. We focused on four food groups that studies have shown reduce stress by lowering cortisol levels as described in The Adaptation Diet. The first  is dark chocolate (at least 70% cocoa).  I’m sure many people will be thrilled to learn the benefits of chocolate. Studies have shown that dark chocolate is one of the strongest antioxidant foods. In addition, in a study comparing subjects listed as high anxiety compared to low anxiety individuals, dark chocolate reduced the levels of stress hormones cortisol and epinephrine while improving the overall metabolism.

In addition to chocolate, other foods that are stress hormone tamers include fatty fish containing omega 3 fatty acids. When college volunteers were put through stressful tasks, those that had taken supplements of EPA-DHA, the key fats fish like salmon and sardines, they performed much better than those who did not supplement. Other foods we discussed include green tea which contains theanine an amino acid that improves brain chemistry and flaxseed which improve the feedback mechanism in the brain which controls cortisol production.

The bottom line is that you can eat your way to being less stressed, even using dark chocolate if you want. Increasing foods that reduce inflammation like organic dark-colored vegetables and fruits and eating a diet lower in animal protein will reduce cortisol and improve well-being.

Foods to Improve Adaptation and Cholesterol

When I do talks to the public one of the messages I give is to invest in your health and don’t let your cells go extinct. To protect your cells and organ function there are food groups which are not used enough in most people’s diet  that are extremely beneficial in improving cholesterol levels, blood sugar levels and reducing inflammatory hormones. First among these are legumes which include soybean, split peas, lentils, navy and other beans. These foods are rich in soluble fiber, protein and complex carbohydrates leading to improved markers of biochemical adaptation. Use one-half cup a day and your cells will be happy.

In addition, consumption of one-quarter cup per day of almonds, hazelnuts, pecan, walnuts and other tree nuts was found to improve levels of fiber, Vitamin E, calcium, magnesium, and potassium and lower intake of sodium.  Nuts should be consumed raw and organically grown. They can reduce total cholesterol, and LDL cholesterol and are a great source of protein. The high potassium and low sodium found in nuts can help with hypertension as well.

Simple dietary changes can go a long way towards prevention of stress induced disease and improve adaptation as described in The Adaptation Diet.

Stress and Diet

One of the greatest insights I have had with my patients in recent years is how much food and diet impact the level of stress they experience. I remember a patient that I first saw last year who had terrible insomnia and anxiety. Even sleeping medications had failed to do much good. When I looked at what he was eating, it appeared to me that he was setting himself up for his mood issues through his eating habits.

I put him on a detoxification diet with no simple sugars, caffeine,dairy, red meat or wheat products and asked him to come back in three weeks. He was a different person, less fidgety, more focused and much more at ease. In his words his mind had stopped running at 100 mph and he was feeling back to himself.

His story is not unusual. The function of the brain is dependent on good eating habits as much as the heart or any other organ and yet most of the time the first approach to treating emotional issues is a prescription, not a food diary investigation. In The Adaptation Diet I have detailed not only how to change eating habits but specific nutrients such as EPA-DHA and flaxseed powder that help the brain reset the stress mechanism and recover adaptation.

Optimism and Adaptation

In researching the scientific mind-body literature for my book, Power of the Five Elements, one thing stood out: having adaptive attitudes can have an enormous impact on whether a person maintains their health or develops a serious illness.   Optimism is one of the most important of all the traits identified as essential in staying healthy, something that can be developed even if it not one’s nature.

The optimist puts ‘bad’ events in perspective and do not blame themselves and are realistic about what they can control. They are able to move on and see the world in a positive light. A fascinating study by Seligman of baseball players in the Hall of Fame, found those with a pessimistic attitude (blame themselves, are self-centered and often feel hopeless), had  much greater  overall mortality rate than the optimistic players.

If you see yourself with the traits of a pessimist (see Power of the Five Elements for more details), you can work to develop the following traits of optimists: expect positive outcomes; do not give up in difficult situations; expect to be successful; feel they can fix what is needed to be fixed. Your health depends on it.

Ashwaganda and Adaptogens

I just returned from a fascinating trip to India where we visited among other areas, Kerala, in southern India. Kerala is famous for spices and tea plantations dating back to the time of the Roman empire. Cochin, the port city of Kerala, has been a center of commerce and home to successive waves of European traders for centuries. In the verdant hills of Kerala we toured a spice plantation which grew vanilla, black pepper, cardamom, ginger and ashwaganda, an important herb in Ayurvedic medicine.

Though our guide emphasized that ashwaganda was the ‘Indian Viagra’, I knew it had many other important properties. Ashwaganda, as I described in The Adaptation Diet, is one of the most potent adaptogens, a group of herbs that supports healthy adrenal function and improves the ability to adapt to stressful circumstances. Studies show less adrenal enlargement, blood sugar elevation or cortisol depletion in animals pretreated with ashwaganda and exposed to stressful conditions. People treated with ashwaganda are less anxious in stressful situations. It has effects on androgen production,GABA levels in the brain as well as reducing inflammation and improving immune function.

Ashwaganda, along with the program outlined in The Adaptation Diet, can be an important tool in maintaining the ability to adapt to stressful circumstances.

Forgiveness and Health

One reason I wrote Power of the Five Elements was to bring to light some startling new research on the effects of long term stress on health. Bruce McEwen and other researchers found that once someone has been exposed to chronic  stress the brain actually resets the amount of stress hormone secreted. This leads to possible serious consequences such as diabetes, heart disease and cancer. The price one pays to adapt to stress is called allostatic load, something to avoid at all costs.

Luckily certain innate or acquired attitudes and behaviors such as forgiveness, leads to lower stress hormones and less damage to the body. In one study researchers measured  blood pressure and heart rate of seventy-one college students while they were thinking of times they had been lied to, insulted, or betrayed by family member. When they imagined forgiving the people who had wronged them, their blood pressure and pulse rate dropped dramatically.

By following these behavioral tips, it is possible to reduce the risk of chronic disease.


Power of the Five Elements

I have a new book coming out, Power of the Five Elements; The Chinese Medicine Path to Healthy Aging and Stress Resistance. It can be pre-ordered from North Atlantic Books and will be released April 6th,2010. Based on my thirty years of medical practice, Power of the Five Elements presents the Five Adaptation Types, a modern application of the Five Elements of Chinese medicine to reduce the stress response and prevent chronic disease.

The five types allow readers to identify through questionnaires and case histories their own energetic patterns for adaptation and to create strategies for reducing stress and improving health. Focusing on the fact that maintaining health and preventing stress-induced diseases such as heart disease, diabetes, and cancer, requires adapting successfully to changing circumstances, Power of the Five Elements offers a range of behavioral changes and exercises such as meditations and visualizations to enhance adaptive responses. It is essential reading for anyone under stress or at risk for chronic disease.

Mediterranean Diet and health

Dietary patterns close to the Mediterranean diet, rich in fruit and

vegetables and high in monounsaturated fats, reduce  features of the metabolic syndrome. The metabolic syndrome, also called syndrome X, includes high blood pressure, insulin resistance, truncal obesity (fat around the waistline),high triglycerides and blood sugar, and low HDL cholesterol. It is a major risk factor for heart disease and diabetes. Some recent studies, including one done by Balbio in Spain,  have demonstrated a 25 percent net reduction in the prevalence of metabolic syndrome following lifestyle changes mainly based on nutritional recommendations.

The Mediterranean Diet has the following characteristics:

Low-glycemic-index carbohydrates such as whole grains, fruits, and vegetable in large amounts

Minimal snacking between meals and no fast foods

Moderate consumption of red wine (5 ounces per day)

Olive oil as the principal fat, with significant amounts of fish, nuts,

and seeds and a balanced omega 6 to 3 ratio

Significant intake of fish, especially salmon and small fish like

sardines rich in EPA-DHA fatty acids

Little saturated fats from butter, cream, full-fat dairy, or red meats

Protein primarily as beans and lentils with moderate amounts of fish and poultry

Dairy consumed as low-fat yogurt, kefir, or cheese

Fat consumption is 25–35 percent of calories, with saturated fat less than 8 percent

Desserts are fruits, often fresh

Use of local produce, fish, and poultry with minimal importation from distant sources

Slow food approach, eating leisurely meals in a social setting with family and friends

These are some of the principles included in The Adaptation Diet, available early February from on-line book sellers.