Mmm...mmm...how we love this hot and sweet, zesty, vinegary recipe!
Fire Cider is a popular herbal folk remedy. The tasty combination of vinegar infused with herbs is an especially pleasant and easy way to boost natural health processes, stimulate digestion, and get you nice and warmed up on cold days.
Because this is a folk preparation, the ingredients can change from year to year depending on when you make it and what's growing around you. The standard base ingredients are apple cider vinegar, garlic, onion, ginger, horseradish, and hot peppers, but there are plenty of other herbs that can be thrown in for added kick. This year there were lots of spicy jalapenos and vibrant rosemary in the garden, so we used those along with some organic turmeric powder and fresh lemon peel. Some people like to bury their fire cider jar in the ground for a month and then dig it up during a great feast to celebrate the changing of the seasons.
Fire Cider can be taken straight by the spoonful, added to organic veggie juice (throw in some olives and pickles -- a non-alcoholic, health-boosting bloody mary!), splashed in fried rice, or drizzled on a salad with good olive oil. You can also save the strained pulp and mix it with shredded veggies like carrots, cabbage, broccoli, and fresh herbs to make delicious and aromatic stir-fries and spring rolls. We like to take a tablespoon each morning to help warm up or triple that if we feel the sniffles coming on.
HOMEMADE FIRE CIDER TONIC RECIPEIngredients
By Kiley Gwynn
I know that washing your face with oil may sound a little odd at first, but trust me—this ancient secret is a great way to cleanse and nourish your skin! The reason oil cleansing works is basic chemistry, specifically, the principle that like-dissolves-like. Using nourishing organic oils to clean your face helps break up the grime that gets caught in your skin’s natural sebum. Ready to get started? Let’s go!
Select a Base Oil: One of my favorite base oils for oil cleansing is organic jojoba oil. It’s wonderful because it’s very similar in structure to our skin’s natural sebum. Fun fact: jojoba oil is a liquid plant wax and not an oil! This makes its shelf life and stability considerably higher than many other actual oils. Organic avocado oil, pumpkin seed oil, sunflower oil, sweet almond oil, and olive oil are marvelous base oil choices as well.
Customize for Your Skin Type: One of the best things about oil cleansing is that you can customize the blend to fit your specific skin needs. If you have normal or slightly oily skin, using only a base oil might be perfect for you. If you tend to have drier skin, a blend of one part nourishing oil to three parts base oil can help bring your complexion back into balance. If you have combination or very oily skin, start with a blend of one part astringent oil to five parts base oil. Depending on your skin type, you can increase the astringent oil up to a ratio of one part astringent oil to three parts base oil. If your skin feels tight when you’re done cleansing, reduce the amount of astringent oil in your formulation.
Fine Tune Your Blend: It might take a little trial and error to find the perfect blend for your skin. We recommend starting with small batches with just one or two oils. Below is my tried and true recipe to get you started. However, the combinations are almost endless.
Nourishing Homemade Oil Cleanser RecipeIngredients
How to Oil Cleanse
As with all changes to your beauty routine, it may take your skin a week or two to be happy with the new practice. Some people experience an occasional blemish as their skin adjusts. This doesn’t mean oil cleansing won’t work you. If you experience more than a few stray blemishes, tweak your recipe and try again. It took a few tries for me to find the perfect blend for my complexion, but now that I've dialed it in, I’ll never go back to soap
By Ellen Vora, M.D.
We live in a culture that is conditioned to think If you don't feel well, reach for a pill. In general, I buck against this mentality. I believe it's possible to fundamentally heal from depression, anxiety, ADHD, and even bipolar disorder using other strategies—strategies that require a lot more than just taking a pill or two a day.
I my years as a holistic psychiatrist, I've learned that true healing comes from comprehensive, effortful diet and lifestyle changes, like shifting toward a real food diet, getting to bed early enough that you get a full night of sleep, moving your body, engaging with your IRL community, limiting your social media use, connecting with nature, drinking water, getting exposure to sunlight and fresh air, and escaping the trap of perpetual busyness by doing less. No pill, whether a synthetic prescription drug or natural supplement, takes the place of these changes.
That being said, there are certain supplements that can support the process of healing from depression. If you're trying to take a more holistic approach to managing your depression, and you want to use diet and lifestyle rather than pharmaceuticals, here are my go-to supplements to augment this process. Just make sure to always consult your doctor before making any changes to your treatment regimen or medications.
Curcumin, which is the active compound in turmeric (the spice that gives curry its characteristic golden color), is a powerful anti-inflammatory. Given that inflammation is at the root of so many modern cases of depression, this is a go-to effective treatment to improve your mood while helping your body get healthier. The best way to get the benefit of turmeric is to cook with it. Make a curry, and be sure to combine turmeric with black pepper for a synergistic benefit, or prep a turmeric paste and use that to make golden milk. If you don't think you'll be able to consume it consistently, then take curcumin in pill form. Curcumin is safe and effective, and you might see side benefits like improved joint pain or less digestive discomfort.
Rhodiola is an adaptogenic herb that supports your body in dealing with stress, which is at the root of so much depression. It has additional benefits by helping with adrenal fatigue, focus, and attention. While Rhodiola is very effective, it's not safe for everyone. I don't recommend Rhodiola for my patients on the bipolar spectrum, and it's not recommended during pregnancy or lactation. Rhodiola can also have interactions with certain medications like ACE inhibitors and some diabetes medications, so it's important to clear this one with your doctor.
SAM-e is not safe in all scenarios, but when it's indicated, it can be a huge help. Some people with depression have what's called a methylation defect at the root of their depression. SAM-e helps compensate for this defect and can have a tremendous impact on mood. I recommend starting at a dose of 400 milligrams daily and increasing by 400 milligrams every week. A good final dose is 1,200 to 2,400 milligrams daily. It's best to take it on an empty stomach along with a B complex. Some people get activated by SAM-e, which means it's not the right fit in those cases and it should be discontinued. It's not safe for folks on the bipolar spectrum, and it can't be taken in conjunction with some psychiatric medications, such as MAO-I's. It's definitely best to clear this one with your doctor before initiating it.
Probiotics are a very helpful augmentation in the treatment of depression. It's becoming increasingly apparent that a compromised gut flora is at the root of gut inflammation, systemic inflammation, and compromised neurotransmitter production, all of which contribute to depression. If you've ever taken antibiotics or are drinking chlorinated municipal tap water, it's probably worth your while to rebuild your gut flora. The first way to do this is by consuming fermented foods (e.g., sauerkraut, sauerkraut juice, beet kvass, kimchi, miso paste, natto) along with starchy vegetables (e.g., sweet potatoes, plantains). The second way to repopulate your gut is by taking the right probiotic.
5. Cod Liver Oil
There's decent evidence that omega-3 fatty acids (aka fish oil) can support brain health and improve mood. And sadly, many people are walking around with omega-3 deficiency. Signs of deficiency include things like brittle nails, dry hair or hair loss, slow wound healing, excessive thirst, and even those red bumps on the backs of your upper arms. Another good sign of omega-3 deficiency is if your diet consists of processed foods, fried foods, and other foods that are lacking in essential nutrients. If you do take cod liver oil, it's worth monitoring vitamin D levels, since cod liver oil contains vitamins A, D, E, and K in addition to the omega-3 fatty acids.
6. Vitamin D
When I do blood work, I find that nearly all of my patients are vitamin D deficient. Vitamin D deficiency contributes to a host of hormonal and inflammatory imbalances in the body, thereby contributing to depression. There's some controversy around what the correct vitamin D levels are, but one thing I feel fairly confident about is that a vitamin D level in the 20s or lower is too low. I'm generally a naturalist, and I prefer my patients get their vitamin D the old-fashioned way, from sun exposure. But in many parts of the country during the winter, sun exposure is on backorder. In those cases, I recommend a good liquid vitamin D3 with K2 supplement. Most people do well taking around 2,000 to 5,000 IU daily, with periodic monitoring of vitamin D levels by your primary care provider.
7. Methylated B Vitamins (methylated folate and methylated B12)
As I mentioned when we were discussing SAM-e, some people have a methylation defect that contributes to depression. You can find out if you have this by having your MTHFR gene tested or by doing 23andMe and linking your results to a methylation analysis (an integrative or functional medical doctor can help you with this). If you have a methylation defect, a good-quality B complex containing methylated B vitamins such as 5-MTHF and methylcobalamin is essential to proper neurotransmitter function and good mood.
For some, it's even necessary to get your B12 as a monthly shot. Ask your doctor to test your B12 levels, and consider getting intramuscular B12 shots if you're very low. If you find that a methylated B complex makes you feel activated, that can mean we're barking up the right tree, but sometimes it can be too much too fast—some people need to build up their methylated B vitamin stores gradually. If this is you, it's worth working closely with a knowledgeable practitioner to find the right balance.
8. Hemp Oil
Let me add my voice to the chorus singing the praises of hemp oil. This is good medicine. The hemp plant seems to have co-evolved with humans to be a source of healing. Its anti-inflammatory and relaxing properties can be immensely helpful for depression. I instruct my patients to find a good-quality liquid tincture of high-CBD hemp oil and start with a dose of around 15 milligrams, increasing from there until they experience the benefit. It can take a few weeks of regular use to experience the full benefit. Research suggests that hemp oil is very safe, but it can cause sleepiness so it's still worth observing your body to make sure you're tolerating it well.
9. St. John's Wort
I'd be remiss if I didn't bring up St. John's wort (SJW) in a conversation about supplements for depression—it's kind of the original supplement for depression. The good news is that it's very effective (with evidence to support that it's just as effective as some antidepressants and often better tolerated). My only hesitation around SJW is that I think it should be by prescription rather than over-the-counter. It can have dangerous interactions with other medications (such as MAO-I antidepressants), and it can make birth control less effective. I'll typically have someone start at 450 milligrams twice a day for a month, then increase to 900 milligrams twice a day. With such a potent supplement, I would recommend working with an integrative practitioner to make sure you're using SJW safely.
10. Lithium Orotate
At full doses, lithium is a very powerful and effective treatment for bipolar disorder. At microdoses like 5 to 20 milligrams, lithium can be a gentle mineral that helps balance brain chemistry and improve mood. I don't recommend it cavalierly—I don't recommend it during pregnancy or lactation, and it's worth being in care with an integrative practitioner, paying extra attention to staying properly hydrated and following creatinine, TSH, and lithium blood levels. But if properly managed, this can be a useful strategy for depression treatment. I generally recommend starting at around 5 milligrams and slowly titrating up to a final dose of about 15 to 20 milligrams, taken at bedtime.
Like Rhodiola, ashwagandha is also an adaptogenic herb that supports the body's ability to cope with stress, which is so often at the root of depression. I recommend taking 225 to 500 milligrams twice a day for three to six months and then giving your body a break from it. It should soothe depression and anxiety, and it can even help you feel less overwhelmed by the stressors of life.
Depression is a way your body communicates that something is not right. Perhaps you're lacking community, perhaps you're chronically sleep-deprived, or perhaps your diet is inflammatory and lacking in nutrients. Depression tells us something is out of balance, and it's a call to action to identify the issue and address it at the root. This requires diet and lifestyle modifications and getting brutally honest with ourselves about how we're spending our time. Are we doing things that bring joy, fulfillment, and meaning to our lives?
A supplement will never be the silver bullet that addresses these fundamental causes of depression, but there are several supplements that are safe, well-tolerated, and helpful in the process of healing depression. I hope this list can give you some options to pursue on your path toward reclaiming your health and well-being.
BY ERIC KARCHMER
What is Infertility?
Female infertility is a challenging medical condition, and perhaps an equally complex psychological and social state of being. Chinese medicine offers some unique interventions for this hard-to-treat condition. The power of these treatments, however, is totally different than conventional fertility treatments. Chinese medicine therapies tend to work with a woman’s body; biomedical treatments take the opposite approach. They are generally arduous affairs, involving powerful drugs that radically alter a woman’s hormone production.
How Can Chinese Medicine Help with Infertility?
The Chinese medicine approach is far gentler. In fact, the treatments generally leave women feeling better and more vigorous. The reason is because the Chinese medicine approach focuses on maximizing one’s fertility through balance. When a woman has difficulty conceiving, it is usually the result of some gradual, long-term changes to her body. A skilled practitioner must be adept at modulating, regulating, adjusting, harmonizing – all these terms are captured in the single Chinese concept of tiao 調 – the imbalances (as understood through the conceptual framework of Chinese medicine) that he or she discovers in the patient’s body. Whether the patient suffers from a recognized disease, such as endometriosis and polycystic ovarian syndrome, or has no clear-cut diagnosis, trying to achieve balance is almost always beneficial.
Chinese Herbs for Fertility Health & Support
DAO Labs Women’s Kit can be an essential part of this quest for balance. The Women’s Kit is important because it addresses two of the key dimensions of a woman’s gynecological health: Blood and Qi.
One of the fundamental principles of the Chinese medicine gynecology is that “Blood is the root of woman.” Commentators have understood this phrase to mean that Blood (which has a more expansive definition than the term in biomedicine) is central to physiological processes of menstruation, conception, pregnancy and childbirth. The challenge for women, however, is that many conditions can impact the abundance of Blood.
"When Blood is flourishing, the menses is naturally regulated and pregnancy is easily achieved". Healthy menstruation itself is considered a minor depletion of one’s resources. Childbirth and various gynecological conditions have even greater impact on the body. As the famous early 19th century physician, Chen Xiuyuan, once wrote: “When Blood is flourishing, the menses is naturally regulated and pregnancy is easily achieved.”
In addition to the ever-present concern about possible Blood deficiency, practitioners must also attend the state of a woman’s Qi. This is because Blood and Qi depend on each other, like yin and yang. Blood is famously known as the “mother of Qi,” i.e. the substance that carries and disperses Qi, while Qi is considered “the commander of Blood,” the force that causes Blood to move.
Your Qi & Your Flow
We sometimes mistakenly think that Qi means “energy” but a better translation might be “flow.” When doctors talk about Qi they are generally trying to understand why movement and flow in the body is impeded, sluggish, misdirected, or insufficient. This is important for fertility because a major obstacle to conception is an interruption to the ovulation process. From a biomedical perspective, ovulation requires a cascade of hormonal releases and physiological responses. When a woman’s body is under stress emotionally or physically, ovulation can easily be effected. From a Chinese medicine perspective the robust and unimpeded flow of Qi is essential to making Blood flourish, to making the ovulation process as smooth as possible, and thereby maximizing a woman’s chances of getting pregnant.
The two formulas in the Women’s Kit - Women’s Formula and Emotional Balance – can be ideal aids for a woman’s fertility because they address Blood and Qi respectively. When trying to improve one’s fertility, we recommend using the Woman’s Kit in the following manner:
Together these two formulas will restore Blood and facilitate the free flow of Qi, improving a woman’s chances of conception. (To learn more about the properties of these two formulas, please read the blog pieces I have written about each individual formula.) Working with your partner is also extremely important. Sperm has a relevantly limited life span in the body (a maximum of 5 days), so timing is essential for couples already struggling to conceive. Some women may want to use an ovulation predictor kit, track basal body temperature and cervical fluid, and use other methods to estimate the day of ovulation. We recommend trying the Women’s Kit for several months in a row for the best results. We have seen lots of wonderful outcomes from this regimen and wish you the best as well.
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Fertility Friday Podcast
By Eric Karchmer, Ph.D
Eric’s fascination with Chinese medicine started over 30 years ago when he ventured to China to teach English. His passion eventually translated into an unusual career in what he calls “academic medicine.” Before earning a Ph.D. in anthropology from the University of North Carolina (2005), Eric spent five years earning a Bachelor’s of Medicine from the renowned Beijing University of Chinese Medicine (from 1995 – 2000) and attended Princeton for his undergraduate studies.
Through his research, Eric has had the opportunity to both train with and interview leading doctors of Chinese medicine across China, and he is currently a professor of anthropology at Appalachian State University.
In today’s episode, we talk about the application of Chinese medicine on Menstrual cycle issues.
“When the stomach is running too hot or too cold, you can feel bloated. That’s why both spicy food and salad can make you feel bloated.”
By EMILY LAURENCE
Even when you do your best to avoid dairy, greasy food, and anything carbonated, bloat can still happen. You’d think ordering a kale salad would be safe, but even that can sometimes lead to feeling ballooned. It hardly seems fair.
Thankfully, Traditional Chinese Medicine has some insightful reasons as to why unsuspecting foods might be the culprit. “When the stomach is running too hot or too cold, you can feel bloated,” explains Vie Healing founder Mona Dan, an acupuncturist, herbalist, and TCM expert. “That’s why both spicy food, which is hot, and salad, which is cold, can make you feel bloated.”
Incorporating spices and herbs can help bring balance to a dish—and your body. And the good news is that if the damage is already done, you can use an herb blend to neutralize the problem that’s already occurring. The key is knowing what to use. “In Chinese medicine, a single herb doesn’t make a big difference because a tiny amount can get lost, but if you have a blend, it creates a stronger force,” Dan says.
Dr. Eric Karchmer, Ph.D, has studied TCM for over 20 years and is in complete agreement. Drawing upon a popular herb blend that has been used in Chinese medicine for hundreds of years, he created an anti-bloating powder for DAO Labs with eight different ingredients, which work in harmony with each other.
Here, both experts share TCM’s all-star herbs to mix into your meals or sip afterwards as a tea to combat bloat.
Warming spices like ginger, cinnamon, and nutmegBoth Dan and Dr. Karchmer say ginger is great for making you feel less stuffed. “It’s a really important herb in Chinese medicine,” Dr. Karchmer says. If you’re having something that could lead to gut problems—such as cool dishes like a kale salad, smoothie, or sushi—one tip is to add ginger right into your meal to prevent bloating altogether. “On its own, sushi could cause bloating because it’s cooling, but adding ginger and wasabi help balance that out,” Dan says.
Since ginger is warming, it’s a good one to pair with other warming spices. Cinnamon and nutmeg are two of Dr. Karchmer’s favorites. “We tend to like them because of the taste, but they actually have a medicinal benefit too,” he says.
There’s a reason celebs love drinking lemon water or starting their day with hot lemon tea: Citrus is a great bloat buster. “There are a bunch of citrus fruits used in Chinese medicine,” Dr. Karchmer says. “Things like lemon and lime aren’t as common there, but they use orange peel, which has similar properties, in helping with digestion.”
One he used in the DAO Labs tea blend, red tangerine, has been known to support the spleen. “In Chinese medicine, we talk about the spleen and the stomach,” Dr. Karchmer says. “The spleen controls digestion, taking out the essences of foods and distributing them to the rest of the body, and the stomach puts things into the rest of the digestive system, moving things down,” he explains. “Herbs that support the spleen help get rid of dampness, which in Chinese medicine refers to fluids getting stuck.”
Dan explains it this way: “You know how it’s harder to move when it’s humid out and you’re just slower? The body is like that, too—everything moves slower and that can lead to bloat.” That’s why citrusy zests can help, well, get things moving. They help get rid of that dampness.
If you want to get a little more exotic with your TCM herbs, Dr. Karchmer recommends incorporating hawthorn berry, known as shan zha in Chinese, which is linked to helping with blood flow. Dan has her fave red berries too: goji and juju beads. “Anything that can help get the blood flowing more reduces bloating, which is why antioxidant-rich red berries are great for that,” she says. Looking for tea blends with a few red berry powders together can help knock out that full feeling after one too many helping at dinner.
The most important way to use TCM to get rid of bloating is to think about what will make your body feel more balanced. And then, mix your concoctions accordingly.
Keep Your Spleen and Stomach Balanced with this Simple Next Day Dish
By DAO Co-Founder and Chef Travis Metzger
As the New Year is here, resolutions are too. For some, our resolutions include going to the gym more, reducing our sugar intake or getting more sleep. But many of us, resolution or not, putting better food to our body should be a priority in 2019. Keeping your middle burner fired up keeps you balanced and how the food in his recipe not only heals the body, but tastes amazing as well.
Maintain Your Middle Burner at Breakfast
The ingredients used here will even help maintain your “middle burner fire” by keeping your spleen and stomach balanced. A key ingredient in this dish is honey, energetically, honey acts upon the stomach and spleen while having tonifying, soothing and nourishing properties. I like to use it as a sweetener instead of white sugar because it is sweeter, has a more complex flavor and is not as empty of nutrients as is sugar and therefore does not upset the bodies mineral balance as much as sugar. For centuries honey has been used as medicine as it works naturally to harmonize the liver, neutralize toxins and relieve pain.
The chicken in the recipe helps supplement the Qi and blood while warming you internally. It specifically affects the digestion by balancing the spleen-pancreas and stomach. Sweet potato fortifies the spleen, supplements Qi energy and removes toxins. Scallions, like garlic, have antifungal and antimicrobial effects but to a lesser degree. Cilantro can aid digestion and regulate energy.
We are using both roasted fresh green chiles and smoked chiles in this recipe. Capsaicin is a yang tonic and a fast acting vasodilator that widens the blood vessels and so enhances both blood and Qi circulation, the capsicum burn can be reduced by cooking. Warming to the internal organs, they can invigorate the stomach and stimulate digestion while having antioxidant properties.
This recipe is also great for using leftovers because you can substitute almost any protein, potato, grain or vegetable imaginable, of course the Chinese medicine aspects will change as the ingredients change but the dish largely remains the same. Examples of the many possible leftover substitutions could be shrimp, lobster, ham, turkey, smoked brisket, pastrami, pulled pork or even mock duck or tofu. Instead of sweet potatoes you could use roasted potatoes, hash browns, scalloped potato or au gratin, even mashed potatoes could work. Rice or other grains could be used as well and of course any vegetables that are available if you like. So as you can see, this will work well with whatever you happen to have in the refrigerator and as I always say, recipes are only guidelines and you should always feel free to use the ingredients you like or have available.
Sweet Potato Chicken Hash with Green Chile Hollandaise Topped w/ Poached Eggs
I love all types of hash style brunch dishes but especially this one because the different flavors go so well together. The sweetness of the sweet potato and honey plays nicely with the smokiness and heat of the chipotle, add in the lemony luxuriousness of the hollandaise with the green chile accent and you have yourself a very well balanced dish both from a flavor and textural perspective.
The scallion and cilantro garnish finishes with the perfect amount of freshness which will leave your guests thinking you worked all week putting this wonderful dish together, it will be our little secret that you used mostly leftovers.
Ingredients from a Chinese Medicine Perspective
Chicken – Sweet and warm, enters the spleen and stomach and kidney channels.
Sweet Potato – Sweet and neutral to cool, enters the spleen and stomach channel.
Chipotle and Green Chiles – Chiles treat the lungs, stomach, spleen and heart.
Honey – Sweet and glossy with a neutral thermal energy. Supplements the center, cooked honey moistens dryness and resolves toxins.
Scallions – Pungent, warm and bitter. Frees the flow of yang and resolves toxins.
Cilantro – Pungent and sweet. Supports the stomach, spleen, bladder and lung meridians.
Eggs – Sweet and neutral, chicken eggs nourish the blood, enrich yin and moistens dryness.
Butter – Salted butter is more warming and harder to digest while unsalted butter is more cooling and easier to digest.
White Pepper – A cooling pungent that can dry dampness
Serving size: 2
Prep Time / Cook Time: 15 minutes / 15 minutes
For the hollandaise, melt the butter on the stove top and set aside. I like using a blender for my hollandaise so simply add the six egg yolks and lemon juice to the blender, start the blender and very slowly add the warm melted butter in a steady stream. This should emulsify right away and you can adjust seasoning with the white pepper and a bit of salt.
Roast a poblano chile by placing it directly in the flame of a stove top burner or use a broiler until charred. Place in a small container and cover to allow the poblano to steam which will help release the charred skin and make it easier to remove. Remove the charred skin, stem and seeds. Cut into a small to medium dice and fold into the hollandaise.
To make the hash, dice your leftover chicken and sweet potato to a medium dice. Chop the cilantro and scallion using mostly the green part of the scallion. Place these ingredients into a medium sized bowl and add the honey and chipotle. For the chipotle I typically like to puree the contents of a small can of chipotle in adobo in a blender with just a couple ounces of water and use this puree in recipes as needed. Stir the hash mixture and add to a medium high saute pan until slightly browned and you start to get some caramelization on the sweet potato and chicken.
Poach your eggs by bringing about two quarts water with vinegar to a simmer. Open each egg into individual cups. Using a large spoon begin to stir the water in a circular motion and add the eggs one by one. Simmer for about four minutes and remove with a slotted spoon or spider type strainer. Season with salt and black pepper.
Begin plating by placing the slightly caramelized hash on the plate, add two poached eggs to each plate and spoon the hollandaise around the plate. Garnish with chopped fresh cilantro and scallions and enjoy.
Acupuncture can be an effective treatment for depression and anxiety.
By Teri Goetz MS, LAC, ACC
An estimated 17.5 million Americans suffer from depression. People who want to know their options are seeking alternatives to anti-depressant medication. Of course, as an acupuncturist, I am interested in staying on top of recent studies and ensuring I can provide my patients with the most up-to-date information regarding non-prescription treatment options. There are some promising recent studies showing how acupuncture can treat depression, anxiety, and stress. Now there are clear biological explanations for the clinical evidence I have seen.
The Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA) states that “evidence for the use of acupuncture . . . to treat anxiety disorders is becoming stronger.” Reuters health reported on a study from the University of York in the UK. The study recruited 755 people with moderate to severe depression. Seventy percent of the patients had been on anti-depressants and continued on them throughout the study. The study concluded that both acupuncture and counseling (or both) had a strongly positive effect on depression, lowering the depression scale from an average of 16 out of 27 at the start of the study, to 9 for acupuncture and 11 for counseling at its conclusion. The benefits lasted 3 months after treatment had concluded.
So how does acupuncture work? The acupuncturist inserts fine needles into certain identified acupuncture points on “meridians” which run throughout the body and correspond to certain organs. Meridians can be thought of as a highway of energy, or “qi” in traditional Chinese medicine. Acupuncture works by getting rid of the roadblocks on this energy superhighway.
When there is congestion on the highway, energy gets backed up. When the meridians are clear (no roadblocks), the qi flows freely. Each meridian “homes” to an organ and each organ has certain associations, such as emotions, body parts, organs etc. For example, the emotion of the liver in Chinese medicine is anger. When the qi is blocked it can cause liver qi stagnation, which can result in anger. It goes both ways, though — when you’re angry a lot, you can block the flow of liver qi.
Western medicine has shown that acupuncture releases endorphins, and activates natural pain killers. Now we see that it affects other biological functions as well. Chinese medicine sees acupuncture as improving functioning by correcting blockages or imbalances in the organs.
A 2013 article in the Journal of Endocrinology presented the results of a series of animal studies done at Georgetown University Medical Center which showed that rats who endured stress conditions and then received acupuncture had lowered blood hormone levels secreted by the hypothalamus pituitary adrenal (HPA) axis (which controls reactions to stress and regulates processes like the immune system, digestion, emotions and moods and sexuality.) They also measured the levels of NPY, a peptide secreted during a “fight or flight” response.
The study’s author, Eshkevari, said, “We found that electronic acupuncture blocks the chronic, stress-induced elevations of the HPA axis hormones and the sympathetic NPY pathway…. Our growing body of evidence points to acupuncture’s protective effect against the stress response.”
I have seen patients whose anxiety-induced rashes almost disappear in two treatments. I have also seen acupuncture significantly reduce anxiety and stress as well as improve depression. It’s important to note that most of these conditions require an initial treatment protocol of 8 or more sessions. Once a significant improvement is reached, you can then move to a maintenance schedule.
Acupuncture obviously can’t always treat moderate or severe depression alone and you should consult your doctor before going off or reducing any medication. But, the evidence is clear: acupuncture can improve depression, anxiety, and stress.
The experience of acupuncture is, for most of my patients, quite pleasant and relaxing. Once the needles are in, the patient lies quietly on the table with low lighting, lovely music playing and often with aromatherapy incorporated into the process. The patients leave feeling “blissed out” — and a new phrase has been coined in my office. “Acubliss.” It’s real.
M.Om., Dipl. Acu (NCCAOM) L.Ac.
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