Happy new year to all of you… I don’t know about you, but I certainly have a tendency to overindulge over the festive season – a bit too much chocolate and booze; late nights, long lies and much reduced activity! It has been a delicious indulgence…. However, I am now feeling the effects of these dalliances away from the path of healthfulness, and am eager to get myself healthy again. The key to getting yourself healthy in body and mind is balance in four main areas. This article will guide you through and is based on founding principles of acupuncture and Chinese medicine.
A peaceful and contented mind. Keep your mind stimulated with things you enjoy and love. Spend time with friends and family, have a laugh, pursue a hobby or passion. But also get the right balance between stimulation. Keep your mind healthy by managing your stress using therapies such as acupuncture and practices such as mindfulness or meditation.
Eat a healthy balanced diet filled with nutritious, real food. Eat real food including plenty fruit, vegetables and good quality protein. Avoid sugar, processed foods and reduced refined carbohydrates such as bread, pasta and white potatoes. Eat at regular intervals, don’t skip meals and don’t eat too late at night. Drink according to your thirst and activity. Enjoy your food and remember that the key to good health is moderation. Eating the occasional bit of chocolate is Ok (preferably dark organic), so long as you enjoy it in moderation and eat plenty of healthful, nutritious foods (see my previous blog for more information on healthy eating here). If you find you crave a lot of sweet foods, your digestive system is out of balance and acupuncture could help to address this along with some dietary adjustments.
Get moving – but don’t push your body beyond what you can manage. Find the right balance between exercise and relaxation. Some daily physical activity is essential for good health, but how much will depend on your individual constitution. Balance your exercise – cardio activities such as running and aerobics shouldn’t be the only type of activity you do, also do something more nurturing such as yoga, pilates or tai chi. And make sure you have some down time where you can rest and just be. If you have pain or physical injury – consider a restorative treatment such as acupuncture to help you recover.
Get enough sleep, but don’t over sleep. Getting a good night’s sleep is essential for a healthy mind and strong body. It is the time when our minds process the day’s events and our body repairs and regenerates. To get a good sleep, try to aim for 7 – 9 hours a night, ensuring you get to bed well before midnight. Avoid looking at screens before bed and don’t drink any caffeinated drinks after 5pm. Keep your room nice and dark and free from electronic gadgets. If you struggle with sleep, acupuncture can help.
Lifestyle and dietary advice form part of the therapeutic treatment in an acupuncture session. Acupuncture is a very versatile, safe and effective treatment that can be use to help treat not just symptoms but the underlying cause of those symptoms. It aims to help restore your natural balance and proper function in whatever way is needed. To find out more about living well, visit http://jillstorstein.com and follow me on Facebook & Twitter.
Acupuncturist, Jill Storstein is member of the British Acupuncture Council working at Albany Street Clinic, 36a Albany Street, Edinburgh EH1 3QH and Offizone, Kenmore Street, Aberfeldy PH15 2BL. To make an appointment go to the Contacts page or call: 07772 501810
A couple of weeks ago was Migraine Awareness week and it inspired this latest blog as it is a subject close to my own heart.
After the birth of my second son, I began suffering from frequent, debilitating migraines. After the birth of my third child I was having them so frequently I was rarely well. I seemed to be in a cycle of migraine and gradual recovery from it only to be hit with another one again. It was awful trying to look after three small children when at times, I didn’t even have the strength to walk across the room. I had tried several different treatments including the conventional triptans and beta blockers (which didn’t help at all), and other alternative therapies which helped a little. Various other stressful events happened in my life and I became seriously unwell with a chronic illness as well as still having the migraines regularly. I was really at my wits end when a colleague suggested I try acupuncture. The relief from migraines was almost immediate and to this day, I very rarely have migraines and on the odd occasion that I do, they are very mild and short lived.
I became fascinated by acupuncture and the philosophy behind it – the more I read, the more I wanted to know so I decided to study it for myself. I learned that Chinese medicine views health in a very different way to conventional western medicine. Conditions with the same diagnosis in conventional medicine such as migraine are considered symptoms of a variety of different patterns of ill health in Chinese medicine. These patterns can have different root causes due to a combination of constitutional tendencies when combined with lifestyle and dietary factors. Acupuncture seeks to address both the symptom (the migraine) and the underlying root causes.
Migraine in Chinese Medicine
In Chinese medicine, migraine – the symptom – is considered to be due to Yang Rising. Yang in this context, is energy or heat. The Yang rises from the torso to the head and can cause the aura and pain. The Yang rising can be due to an underlying deficiency or due to excess. If it is due to excess, there is too much of something that is generating too much Yang. This could be due to a build up of emotional tension that overflows and with a catalyst surges upwards causing the headache. Other excesses that can lead to Yang rising can be consumption of rich, spicy or greasy foods or too much coffee or alcohol or even being in too hot an environment. Where there is deficiency, it is because there is not enough of the Yin balancing component to contain the Yang. Deficiency can arise out of an underlying weakness or a combination of overdoing things and not eating well.
As an acupuncturist, I would be looking to ascertain whether your migraines were underpinned by deficiency or excess or possibly a mixture of the two and I’d be finding out more about your lifestyle, your general health, your menstrual pattern (in women) and your eating habits. This is because common triggers for migraines can be: eating and drinking too much or certain foods; skipping meals, emotional factors like stress or anger; tiredness; and hormonal imbalances.
Example of an Excess Migraine Patient
Some key signs and symptoms that one might see in someone suffering from an excess type migraine could be extreme irritability and prone to shouting outbursts of temper, red face, tending to feel the heat, restless sleeper and the headache would likely to be severe and pounding, on one side, probably around the temple and eye. Someone suffering from this type of migraine would be likely to have triggers such as eating too much rich or greasy foods, drinking too much alcohol or coffee, being in a hot environment or being under additional stress.
In this instance, Acupuncture treatment would focus on a selection of points that helped to clear heat in the system and reduce stress and suggestions would be made for stress management, lifestyle adjustments and reduction of heating foods and drinks.
Example of a Deficiency Migraine Patient
It is most often women who suffer from deficiency type migraine headaches and they can often, though not always be related to her menstrual cycle. This person would be likely to feel tired a lot of the time, have difficulty getting to sleep at night, suffer from episodes of lightheaded-ness or dizziness, get blurred vision and dry eyes, and feel weak, especially after missing a meal. Someone suffering from this type of migraine is likely to have triggers that include skipping meals, overdoing things, lack of sleep or feeling particularly tired, certain foods may trigger migraines such as wheat or cheese and a female patient may find that she gets migraines during or after her period.
In this instance, Acupuncture treatment would focus on a selection of points that would strengthen the digestive system to help improve the uptake of nutrients and strengthen constitutional reserves. Advice might include some dietary adjustments, ensuring the person is eating enough and enough of the right sort of food and that enough rest is built into the day and increase sleep.
Example of a Mixed Deficiency and Excess Migraine Patient
The mixed migraine patient is likely to share some similarities to the deficiency and the excess patient but their symptoms of tiredness and temper may not be quite so extreme as the other categories. This patient may have a busy life and feels stressed and irritable a lot of the time. They may find they have enough energy whilst at work or for other essential tasks but feel exhausted when they are finished. Their headaches often start at the end of a particularly stressful day or week and are likely to be painful at the time and leave them feeling exhausted afterwards.
Acupuncture treatment would focus on reducing stress and strengthening core reserves. Advice would be likely to include relaxation techniques and additional sources of support for stress management as well as doing appropriate exercise and some dietary recommendations to help improve energy.
Acupuncture for Everyone
Everyone is unique and has his or her own complex pattern of health, and every migraine sufferer has their own individual set of circumstances that underlie and trigger their migraines. My role as an acupuncturist is to identify what is out of balance in your individual set of circumstances and provide you with individualised treatment and advice.
Today marks the start of National Fertility Awareness Week. 1 in 6 couples have difficulty conceiving. Sometimes some simple changes to diet and lifestyle or even a clearer understanding of our reproductive systems can help. However, for others, some form of assistance might be needed.
Acupuncture has grown a solid reputation for supporting fertility for both men and women. So much so that many mainstream fertility clinics recommend and offer acupuncture to support fertility. This article considers what optimal fertile health looks like through the Chinese medicine lens and how divergences from this can give helpful clues to an acupuncturist to help formulate a diagnosis and prepare a treatment plan and inform dietary tips or lifestyle modifications that can help to improve fertility.
Traditional Acupuncture is a branch of Chinese medicine, which is an excellent model to use to understand fertility. Chinese medicine is based on very simple principles that can be combined and interwoven to understand the very complex reality of an individual’s fertility and broader health.
The Yin and Yang of the Menstrual cycle
One of these sets of principles is the ebb and flow of Yin and Yang. This elegantly mirrors the different stages of the menstrual cycle. Yin is still and quiet, nurturing and moistening – it is the preparation phase. Yang is more dynamic and warming, it is the active growing phase.
The Yin phase equates to the oestrogen dominated half of the cycle prior to ovulation. It is the first half of the cycle, and is preparing for ovulation by first shedding the endometrial layer from the previous cycle (the period), building the new layer for an embryo to implant into and ripening the follicles. It is responsible for governing the cervical secretions which need to be rich in potassium to fuel the sperm and loose and slippery for the sperm to swim through easily. The middle of the cycle is dedicated to ovulation when the follicle ruptures and the egg is released. The next phase is the Yang phase, the progesterone dominated half of the cycle. It dries up mucosal secretions to allow smooth passage the fertilized zygote and aid implantation. It facilitates the release of nutrients from the endometrial layer to nourish the embryo. If there is no conception and implantation, Yang is the motive force that builds to get the next period started to begin the new cycle.
Observing the Menstrual Cycle
A very useful fertility to tool to view the health of the menstrual cycle is charting. It can help a couple to know when the most fertile time is, and provide useful information for the acupuncture practitioner to track not only the length of the menstrual cycle, but also the length of the Yin/oestrogen phase and the Yang/progesterone phase. Charting is done based on your Basal Body Temperature (taking on waking at the same time each morning) and recorded on a chart. Below is a typical temperature chart.
It shows that in the first half of a typical cycle the temperature is lower than the second half. It shows that there is a dip in body temperature, a result of an oestrogen surge just in advance of ovulation. Around this time you should also see an increase in cervical mucous. Shortly after ovulation at the start of the Yang phase, there should be a spike in temperature, which should stay relatively constant for the remaining half of the cycle.
Charting is not for everyone, it does take dedication to taking the temperature every morning and paying very close attention to the cycle. However, there are other signs and symptoms that can be very informative – details that may not be considered as particularly relevant by a Western medical doctor – but can provide insightful clues into why a couple may be having difficulty conceiving.
Examples of signs and symptoms of particular relevance are: when and how your period starts and finishes; colour of blood; pain at any time during your cycle; headaches; cervical secretions; sleeplessness; mood. These signs and symptoms and temperature fluctuations help to understand the how the balance of Yin and Yang is in the individual and therefore where the focus of treatment should be.
For example, the first half of the cycle is very susceptible to emotional strain and can cause early ovulation (i.e. before day 14). Emotional strain can cause imbalances resulting in a slightly raised temperature, irritability and a degree of insomnia. Early ovulation can mean that eggs are being released before they are fully ripe and therefore either might not be fertilized or may not implant well if they are fertilized. Acupuncture treatment in this instance would focus on regulating your temperature, calming the mind and reducing stress.
Another example can be where the temperature is too low in the second half of the cycle and this can cause poor implantation or early miscarriage. In this instance treatment would focus on raising temperatures and nourishing the endometrial layer.
Each individual woman’s cycle is different and as such each treatment is personalized for whatever your particular set of circumstances might be. Advice around observing the fluctuations in the menstrual will help to maximize chances of conception and can be provided around diet and lifestyle for each individual’s health.
Acupuncture is not just used to support female fertility but male as well. There are a variety of signs and symptoms that can help to identify areas of treatment to focus on for men too. For example, men who experience feelings of coldness, fatigue and reduced sexual desire may well have sperm with low motility. In this case, treatment would focus on supporting the Yang aspect of a man’s health and advice around eating habits may be appropriate.
There has been research into how acupuncture can help support fertility naturally. Showing that it can:
be effective in regulating the hormones involved in fertility (Jin 2009, Huang 2009).
It can reduce the stress response, also known as “the fight or flight response” which can have a significant impact on the function of the reproductive organs and can inhibit ovulation (Magarelli 2008, Anderson 2007 ).
Increase blood flow to reproductive organs – improving the supplying of oxygen and nutrients to developing eggs in the ovaries and improve the blood supply to the uterus, thus making a healthier, thicker endometrial layer – which improves chances of successful implantation. (Stener-Victorin 2006, Lim 2010, Liu 2008)
It can work to counteract the effects of PCOS – balancing hormone levels, increasing ovulation and warming the uterus to improve blastocyst implantation (Stener-Victorin 2000, 2008, 2009, Zhang 2009.
Research into acupuncture for male fertility has shown that acupuncture can help to improve sperm maturation (Crimmel 2001), lower scrotal temperature (Siterman 2009), improving blood supply to the reproductive organs (Komori 2009).
More details on this research and full references can be found on the British Acupuncture Council website at the following links:
Its been a while since I’ve written a blog entry and what better time to write one than the start of Spring when the clocks have just gone forward. Chinese medicine theory developed over the millenia based on observance of patterns of symptoms in people and correspondences of nature with people. Spring is a season of change with the most dominant organ being the Liver which in the 5 elements, corresponds to Wood and is susceptible to Wind. It is also a time of growth and development. Interestingly both of these factors have been demonstrated in my own practice.
A Flurry of Sore Necks and Painful Shoulders
I have had a lot of patients in my practice in recent weeks coming to me with neck and shoulder pain. In Chinese Medicine theory, the Liver is responsible for ensuring flexibility in our muscles and sinews and corresponds to wood, hence its vulnerability to Wind. Trees need to have some flexibility in them to be able to sway and move in the wind. If they are too rigid they will break in the wind or they will break if the wind is too strong. Wind is the element in dominance in the Springtime and so we need to be careful to protect ourselves against the Wind, by keeping vulnerable areas such as our necks wrapped up – particularly on windy days or in drafty places. If the wind gets in, and our Liver is not functioning as well as it could our muscles and sinews will have less flexibility and so be more susceptible to the wind invading and causing injury. So, it certainly does fit with Chinese medicine theory that I would be seeing more patients with this complaint just now.
Protecting your ‘Liver’
So what can you do to help protect against wind invasions and to help your Liver nourishing your muscles and sinews to keep them supple?
The Liver doesn’t do well under stress, whether its personal emotional issues, or work pressures. Make time for yourself to unwind and acknowledge your emotions. Even just closing your eyes for a minute and focussing on your breathing can help drain the tension from your neck and shoulders.
Keep the wind out! Seal up drafts in your house or work place and if you are outdoors, wear a scarf – particularly on windy days.
Drink plenty fluids – particularly warm drinks on cold days.
Get enough sleep – the Liver recharges and builds blood at night which is essential for nourishing your muscles and sinews to keep them supple.
Exercise to keep your energy and muscles moving – but don’t overdo it – to much could damage your muscles and sinews too. (And remember to keep your neck and shoulders covered if your outdoors in the wind)
Visit your acupuncturist! Acupuncture is great for keeping you energy flowing smoothly through your muscles and can be very relaxing.
Growth and Development for Jill Storstein Acupuncture
I also mentioned that Spring is a time for change and development. Things have certainly been happening for Jill Storstein Acupuncture. My practice is continuing to grow and getting more and more patients coming to me for treatment. It is about to grow even more. I have just joined the KnotStressed team of therapists. KnotStressed is a therapy centre who’s outlook is very similar to my own. They have three main areas they are particularly passionate about:
Helping to relieve tension, stress and ongoing chronic issues
Supporting women and their families through fertility issues, pregnancy, birth, the postnatal period and the menopause
Empowering people to take ownership of their well-being
I am very exited to be affiliated with them – I’ll still be working at my own clinics in Portobello and Clerk Street, Southside, Edinburgh but now have links to them so will participate in open days and you might see flyers with my name on the KnotStressed branding in addition to my own flyers. Find out more about KnotStressed and my practice with them at the following links:
This is a development and adjunct to my existing general practice where I treat whatever condition you come to me with.
Things are continuing to develop with my new clinic space at Natural Foods Etc. Their new website is due to be launched within the next few weeks and we will have having some promotional events later in the spring/early summer so look out for more updates.
And last but no means least, my practice is continuing to grow in Portobello. I am still based at GW Allans Pharmacy on the High Street every week. I do love working down in Porty – it has such a great community feel and being so close to the beach is just heavenly. I also get to meet all sorts of interesting patients with conditions such as back pain, gynaecological issues, urinary difficulties, insomnia and tendonitis. Its a real privilege to get to work through these difficult health issues that people face and to be a part of their recovery.
Traditional Chinese methods of preserving optimal health are grounded in the theory of maintaining a natural balance and living in harmony with our natural surroundings and environment. There are a variety of ways we can do this including living according to the seasons. We are almost at the winter equinox when the days are at their shortest and often their coldest. Our bodies are using a lot of energy just to keep warm so we must preserve our energy as best we can by wrapping up warmly and eating warming foods such as stews and soups made with root vegetables – it is not the time of year to be eating cold salads! Try warm salads with steamed or roasted vegetables instead. Drink warm drinks such as herbal teas rather than drinking cold water. We need to make sure we get plenty sleep and rest to conserve our energy. However, that doesn’t mean no exercise at all – it is good to get outdoors in the daylight for a walk or gentle run to keep our energy moving freely, reduce stress and keep our spirits up. By taking these steps we will help to keep our immune systems working well and wrapping up will help to avoid the cold getting into our muscles and bones and causing constriction and injury.
Keep healthy and enjoy the festive season!
Jill Storstein Acupuncture will be open on Monday 23rd December (3 appointments left), closed on the 30th and open again on 6th January.
This will be my website for my fledgling acupuncture practice. Currently writing copy for it and designing the art work. Do come back again and see it once it is set up.
As for my acupuncture practice… Well, premises have been found . I will be working out of GW Allan Pharmacy in Portobello in one of their treatment rooms. Start date now is dependant on confirmation of my licence from City of Edinburgh Council. Application is submitted and I’ll update with progress along the way. Can’t wait to get started!