Acupuncture and Migraine

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.

Acupuncture can help to reduce the frequency and intensity of migraines
Acupuncture can help to reduce the frequency and intensity of migraines

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.

The Evidence

Acupuncture has a proven track record of success and is recommended as preventative management of migraines by the Scottish Intercollegiate Guidelines Network (SIGN: http://www.sign.ac.uk/pdf/sign107.pdf ) and by the National Institute for Clinical Excellence (NICE: http://pathways.nice.org.uk/pathways/headaches/management-of-headaches#content=view-node%3Anodes-prophylactic-treatment&path=view%3A/pathways/headaches/management-of-migraine-with-or-without-aura.xml).

One of my patients was kind enough to write this on my own Facebook timeline about her experience of acupuncture for migraines:

Gem GD Suffering from 1-2 stress related migraines a week and now down to 1 every 4 months all thanks to Jill Storstein

You can read more about the evidence of acupuncture for migraine by clicking on the links below:

http://www.abetterwaytohealth.com/the-uks-top-migraine-charity-is-about-to-reveal-a-safe-effective-drug-free-treatment-for-migraine/

http://www.acupuncture.org.uk/a-to-z-of-conditions/a-to-z-of-conditions/migraines.html

How can you find out more?

If you’d like to discuss how acupuncture could help you or book an appointment get in touch with Jill Storstein on 07772 501810 or use the contact form here.

Nausea in Early Pregnancy and Acupuncture

Early pregnancy is a strange time. It can bring up a range of emotions – sometimes unexpectedly. I remember finding out I was pregnant with my first child. I was in a good relationship, at a good stage in my life to have a child and although not exactly planned, it wasn’t a surprise either. Nevertheless, I felt shocked and terrified for a good while before I felt happy about it. Once it had sunk in, I still felt adrift and very lonely as I adjusted to my new reality… Then there are the physical changes to contend with I was fortunate enough only to experience mild nausea, but I

© Can Stock Photo Inc. / AndreyPopov
© Can Stock Photo Inc. / AndreyPopov

know plenty of other women and patients who have had it a lot worse. Women can feel sick constantly, not just in the morning. Some just feel sick for much of the time, others are actually sick. I remember one friend telling me how she had vomited in the kitchen sink while doing the dishes!

Acupuncture has been shown to help reduce nausea and calm anxieties. In a large scale study conducted in Australia, traditional acupuncture was found to significantly reduce nausea and vomiting in women less than 14 weeks pregnant. You can read more on the findings of the study in this article from the Daily Mail here, and access the original study here.

There are several hypotheses about what causes nausea in pregnancy. It could be due to the change in hormone levels of hCG and oestrogen, or due to the brain stem’s reaction to these hormones. It has also been suggested that women who were deep down tired and under stress prior to pregnancy can be more likely to experience more nausea (Betts, 2006). This last theory would certainly fit with the Chinese medicine model which recognises that pregnancy can accentuate existing minor imbalances in one’s health. In this model, pregnancy can also  exacerbate emotional confusion or upset and cause pregnancy disorders.

Traditional acupuncture looks to support the whole person mentally and physically. It works to restore balance, bringing a sense of calm and helping to alleviate symptoms. Nausea in pregnancy is viewed as a result of rebellious Stomach Qi (energy) which can be caused either by an underlying weakness in the digestive system, emotional difficulties upsetting the natural flow of energy (Qi), or an excess of heat or phlegm. Sometimes it can be a combination of one or more of these. Acupuncturists treating nausea would be looking to address all the underlying causes as well as using points to address the immediate symptoms. Many women who have received acupuncture for nausea relief find they feel better soon after the needles are in and find coming for treatment twice a week initially, then dropping to weekly helps them get through those early weeks more comfortably. Dietary tips based on your specific Chinese medicine diagnosis may also help to lengthen and enhance the effectiveness of the treatment.

If you’d like to ask me more about how acupuncture could help you or you’d like to book an appointment you can either use this contact form here or call me on 07772 501810

There is an excellent advice sheet from one of the leading acupuncturists in obstetric acupuncture (Debra Betts) available here. This short film clip is also interesting about the use of acupuncture for nausea.

Jill Storstein DipAc, MBAcC is a member of the British Acupuncture Council with clinics in Edinburgh and Portobello.

References:

Betts D, (2006) The Essential Guide to Acupuncture in Pregnancy and Childbirth, The Journal of Chinese Medicine, Hove, East Sussex.

Smith C et al. (2002) Acupuncture to treat nausea and vomiting in early pregnancy: a randomized controlled trial. Birth, Mar;29(1):1-9.

Eat well to keep well in Winter – Bone Broth and Chicken, Kale and Leek Soup Recipes

winter pic 4

We are into the darkest part of the year and there has certainly been a corresponding shift in the weather. It is important at this time of year to conserve our energy, slow down a bit and wrap up warmly. We tend to do this naturally anyway because our bodies are working that bit harder at keeping warm. In this modern age, we can lose touch with listening to what our bodies’ food needs are and allow generalized public health advice and marketing cloud our natural judgment and food desires. For example, in the supermarket fruit and vegetable isle and we still see a big selection summer fruit and veg such as tomatoes, lettuce, cucumbers and even melons. Raw fruit and vegetables are very cooling on the digestive system, which can prevent our bodies working efficiently and in the longer term can weaken digestion, our defenses and leads to a variety of chronic health issues including perennial runny noses, IBS and fatigue. Moreover, these foods are out of season and will have traveled many miles across the globe losing at great deal of vitamins (not to mention the carbon foot print!). So salads and summer fruits are best avoided in the winter.

At this time of year we need warmth and extra nutrients to keep healthy and our immune systems working well. So what can we do help support our health in the winter? Eating warm cooked food is essential. The body’s enzymes involved in digestion need to be at a particular temperature to work efficiently. If we are eating cold foods, our bodies need warm the food up to the optimal temperature – which uses precious energy. In addition to this, the cell membranes of many fruit and vegetables are tougher in their raw form. Cooking helps to break down these membranes so we can get the nutrients out. Soups are perfect winter foods and you can cram loads of nutrients into a soup.

My favourite soup of the moment is Chicken, Leek and Kale soup made with bone broth. Bone broth is a very nutrient dense type of stock and is made by boiling bones as you would a homemade stock but for a really, really long time. This helps to break the bones down and release all the nutrients that are locked away and that can be difficult to get in our natural diets. It contains collagen, glucosamine, calcium and magnesium to name but a few. Collagen and glucosamine are vital for the good functioning of our soft tissues, muscles, tendons and ligaments. They can also help to improve the lining of our guts.

In terms of Chinese dietary therapy, bone broth is wonderful for our Jing which is the core of our being and our foundation. It supports the production of everything else include our blood and bones. The combination of Chicken, Kale and Leeks is warming, good for helping to build the blood and boosts our natural defenses. The leeks also help to keep good circulation of energy and the kale helps to balance bodily fluids. All in all, it is the perfect winter soup, so easy to make and is a great use of the left over roast chicken.

Recipes

Chicken Bone Broth

Ingredients*

Left-over roast chicken carcass

1 tbsp Apple Cider vinegar

1 onion

2 stalks of celery (optional)

2 bay leaves (optional)

bunch of thyme (optional)

2 cloves of garlic (optional)

1 tsp sea salt

ground black pepper

water

Strip all the edible meat of the chicken carcass and keep in a tub in the fridge until the stock is ready to make into soup. Put all the rest of the bones, skin and cartilage into a large heavy based pot (with a lid) or a slow cooker. Cover with water and add the other ingredients. Bring to the boil, then turn down to a low heat and cook for a minimum of 3 hours but preferably about 18 hours to allow the bones to get really soft and the cartilage to dissolve. Check the water levels periodically and add more as necessary – it will boil dry on the stove if you don’t. After a few hours of cooking you should be able to easily break the larger bones either with your hands or a potato masher. Breaking the bones up helps them to break down more quickly.

Chicken, Leek and Kale Soup

Ingredients*

1 large leek, washed and chopped

Coconut oil or butter

150g Kale washed, thick stalks removed and sliced

left over roast chicken

750ml of Chicken Bone Broth

A glug of white wine if you happen to have a bottle open or a squeeze of lemon at the end.

Salt and pepper to taste

Gently sauté the chopped leek in some melted coconut oil or butter for a few minutes add the chicken, bone broth and wine if using. Bring up to simmering and simmer for about 15 minutes. Add the kale for the last 5 minutes of cooking. Adjust the seasoning as necessary and add a squeeze of lemon if you’ve not used wine.

*Use organic where available and funds allow.

Read more about the benefits of these ingredients here:

Kale http://foodfacts.mercola.com/kale.html#

Leeks http://foodfacts.mercola.com/leeks.html

Bone Broth http://www.thepaleomom.com/2012/03/health-benefits-of-bone-broth.html

Sources:

Hartwig D & Hartwig M, (2012) It Starts with Food: Discover the WHOLE30 and Change your life in unexpected ways, Victory Belt Publishing Inc. Las Vagas, NA

Leggett D, (2005) Helping Ourselves, A Guide to Traditional Chinese Food Energetics, 2nd Edition, Meridian Press, Totnes, England.

Pitchford P, (2002) Health with Whole Foods: Asian Traditions and Modern Nutrition, 3rd edition, North Atlantic Books, Berkley, CA

Understanding Yin and Yang Theory – Part 2: Yin and Yang Theory in Health and Chinese Medicine

The importance of Balanceskye

The theory of Yin and Yang outlined in Part 1 can be applied to health and is fundamental to the philosophy of Chinese Medicine. Throughout its development and evolution, Chinese Medicine has drawn parallels between patterns observed in nature and people. Lets take the example described in part 1 of the blog which demonstrated the importance of getting the balance between yin and yang right… Plants need the sun to grow – which is Yang – it is light, dry and provides warmth. However the plant also needs water, which is Yin, it is cooling and moistening. If the balance of sun and water is wrong the plant can either shrivel and die or become saturated and rot.

The same can be said for people, we need to live a balanced life. We can use the theory of Yin and Yang to understand what balance means. A good illustration is Hot (Yang) and Cold (Yin) in people. If it is too hot, people become red, to cool themselves down, they need more water due to increased sweating. If the heat continues people can become irritable, get headachy, agitated and so on. If people overheat, it can lead to serious illness such as dehydration and heat stroke. There are similar impacts on the other end of the scale if it is too cold. When someone gets cold, they shiver and lips can go blue as blood is stored in the trunk to conserve heat, eventually they can become sleepy and even hypothermic. However, we as humans have ways to keep warm in the cold and cool in the heat – we naturally try to keep ourselves at the right temperature. We put on jumpers and coats when it is cold or sit in the shade and drink ice drinks when it is too hot.

There is another dimension to this – not everyone will feel the heat and the cold to the same extent – some will be able to tolerate the heat much more than others and similarly, others can tolerate the cold much better than others. From a Chinese medicine perspective, this is due to the balance of Yin and Yang in the individual. Yang is warming, so someone who is lacking in Yang will feel the cold much more than someone who is lacking in Yin. Yin provides basis for the cooling and moistening function in people so if this is lacking, the person may experience symptoms of heat and dryness. This might manifest in agitation, anxiety and restlessness. The Yang deficient person on the other hand, in addition to feeling the cold may also feel sluggish and tired.

The theory of Yin and Yang in health does not just apply to Hot and Cold, but can be applied widely to every part of our lives. If we think about activity and rest – activity is Yang and rest is Yin. If we do not have enough activity in our lives and oversleep and lack exercise our Yang energy can’t move causing us to become more lethargic. The stuck Yang energy can create stagnation and doesn’t flow to the organs and muscles as it should resulting in reduced functionality. On the other hand, if we are overactive and work too much we don’t have enough restful, Yin time. We may also feel tired but struggle to sleep and switch off. Overtime, the over use of our Yang side – this heating, active function, can deplete the Yin as it overworks trying to keep the Yang in balance. This can result in sleeplessness and feelings of anxiousness or an overly active mind.

This is why living in balance is so important for our health. However, lives tend to be complicated and living a life in balance is not always possible. We can try to mitigate it by making adjustments where we can, but where we can’t and imbalance arises, illness or lack of wellbeing can occur. Traditional acupuncture addresses these imbalances in the body and mind’s function. By stimulating carefully selected points, the acupuncturist can move stuck energy, sedate overactivity or restore good function as needed for the individual. This can make significant improvements to our sense of wellbeing.

Understanding Yin and Yang Theory – Part 1: The Basics

Yin and Yang
Daoist Yin and Yang symbol

The theory of Yin and Yang is one of the most important paradigms underpinning Traditional Chinese Medicine. Yin and Yang are complementary opposites which define each other. They exist only in relation to each other and each contains an aspect of the other. The famous Daoist symbol depicting Yin and Yang accompanies this article and elegantly describes the theory. The symbol shows Yin and Yang intertwined with each other in a continuous circle. Each has a dot of the other demonstrating that each contains an aspect of the other and has the potential to transform into the other.

Everything in the Universe can be categorised as being either Yin or Yang. Perhaps the simplest example of this is night and day. Night is Yin and day is Yang. To understand what day means – when the sun is up and there is light, we need to have night – the time when the sun is down and the sky is dark. The contrast between the two enables us to understand the significance of each. Moreover, Day will transform into night and night back into day. Another good example of this are the seasons. We have just passed the Summer Solstice – that wonderful time of year that makes living in Northern Europe worth while with the long days. The summer solstice is the time of maximum Yang – the time when the days are as long as they can be – but yet, within this Yang time, there is Yin because we still have night.

Some more examples of Yin and Yang are below:

Yin                      Yang

Dark                     Light
Water                   Fire
Cold                     Hot
Slow                     Fast
Activity                Rest
Female                 Male
Death                   Life
Chronic                Acute
Stillness               Movement

 
A further factor of the theory is that Yin and Yang are relative. For example, dawn is Yang in relation to night, but Yin when in relation to day. Water is Yang in relation to ice, but Yin in relation to steam.

The balancing of Yin and Yang can be seen throughout nature and in Daoist philosophy is necessary for a healthy environment, life and universe. Take the weather and growing vegetables for example, if you have too much sunshine and not enough rain, vegetable plants will wither and die. Similarly if you have too much rain and not enough sun, vegetables can rot or will be feeble and bitter. A balance of sun and rain is essential for healthy plant growth.

To be continued in my next Blog: Yin and Yang Theory – Part 2: Yin and Yang Theory in Health and Chinese Medicine

Springing Forward

Changes afoot this Spring for Jill Storstein Acupuncture
Changes afoot this Spring for Jill Storstein Acupuncture

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:

http://www.knotstressed.com/eastern-acupuncture/

http://www.knotstressed.com/fertility-acupuncture/  

http://www.knotstressed.com/jill-storstein/

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.