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.

 

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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.

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.

The Adaptation Diet

I have a new book to be released in early February, The Adaptation Diet, which details how to control excess stress hormones including cortisol, leading to weight loss. reduced risk of heart disease and diabetes and improved adaptation to stress.

The diet is based on 30 years of clinical experience and hundreds of research articles. The key aspects to control cortisol are to reduce inflammation, stabilize blood sugar, avoid food allergies and use large amounts of adaptogenic foods.

On this blog I will post summaries of  research on nutrition that is in agreement with the ideas of The Adaptation Diet.