Could you ever imagine yourself as being ‘sugar deprived?’ Do you find yourself unable to sleep soundly throughout the night, getting up frequently to urinate, feeling exhausted the next day with frequent memory lapses – or what about instead of feeling a boost of energy from a reasonable aerobic workout, you find yourself dragging through the rest of the day?
You could be glucose (i.e., sugar) deprived and suffering from that denied hit of fast energy necessary to power your nervous system, heart, and muscles. This can affect not only your quality of life, but also your health.
Both the heart and the brain require a substantial amount of glucose (sugar) to function well. A constant pumping action of the heart means that it needs a steady supply of energy. Many runners who suddenly die of cardiac arrest at a comparatively young age could be because they ran out of fuel to keep their hearts working.
The primary metabolic substrate for the heart is fatty acids. However, up to 30% of myocardial ATP is generated by glucose and lactate, with smaller contributions from ketones and amino acids. Although glucose is not the primary metabolic substrate in the heart at rest, there are many circumstances in which it assumes greater importance such as during ischemia, increased workload, and pressure overload hypertrophy. The brain is so rich in nerve cells that it is the most energy-demanding organ, using half of all the sugar energy in the body.
Many know the wisdom of having at least a piece of fruit before beginning a strenuous workout. The same is also true when undergoing long hours of intense thought. The greatest demands for fuel mainly come from our muscles and nervous system, especially the brain. We know that glucose is one of the few substances that readily passes the blood-brain barrier (BBB) and like the heart, the brain works throughout the night, including during sleep. We need energy in the form of a steady supply of glucose to the brain to sleep soundly. When it runs out of fuel (i.e., glucose), the result is insomnia, disturbed sleep, being unable to get back to sleep, and not feeling rested when awakening in the morning.
The liver is in charge of processing sugar into glucose through a process called glycogenesis, in which glucose is formed through the breakdown of glycogen (the stored form of sugar). Glycogenesis is what prevents us from experiencing hypoglycemia when we run out of fuel during the day. It is possible to run out of stored fuel (glucose) when we are asleep or if the liver is underfunctioning. Thus, a liver imbalance is one of the most common causes of insomnia and sleep disturbances.
Of course, by sugar or glucose, I’m not speaking of refined sugar which robs our body of nutrients and which is unfortunately present in practically everything and is added to foods to get us to want more. Refined sugar is a pro-inflammatory substance that many believe to be toxic and one of the primary causes of alcoholism and addictions generally. (Anyone who finds it difficult to control a sugar habit should consider using honey or sucanat, a commercially available brand of clean, evaporated sugar cane juice. These sugars have real nutritional value when consumed in moderation.)
Refined white sugar is bad, but there are beneficial uses for whole, unrefined sources of sugar such as honey and pure unrefined evaporated sugar cane such as Indian jaggery which in Central and Latin America is called panela. This sugar has all the vitamins, minerals and enzymes from the whole sugar cane plant.
Honey is a well-known remedy for insomnia. Composed of equal parts glucose and fructose, it is the glucose that feeds our brain for the first have of the night and the fructose after it is converted to glucose in the liver that continues to supply fuel to our brain for the second half. It is recommended to try taking two tablespoons full of raw honey before retiring, alone or with tea or warm milk. Honey contains the amino acid tryptophan, which helps sleep and this, in turn, converts to serotonin, the happiness neurotransmitter which helps us to awaken refreshed.
Powdered herbs mixed with honey is one of the simplest and most efficient ways to take herbs and are used in traditional cultures throughout the world. I often recommend this way to take herbs. Unfortunately, the antisugar phobia applied to all sugar including honey and whole evaporated cane juice keep people from using herbs mixed with honey, called an 'electuary,' or in syrups.
Certain ‘power fruits’, namely longan, goji berries and/or jujube dates can be taken before retiring are also extremely useful for insomnia and taken during the day, counteract sudden mood shifts and depression which often is accompanied by a drop of energy. I recommend you purchase a pound of these three dried power fruits.
My favorite is longan berries (Dimocarpus longus pericarp; Chinese: Long yan ru). These are closely related to litchi fruit which probably has similar properties. They are commonly called ‘dragon eyes’ because of the dark pit in the center of the translucent fruit.
Longan berries have a long history of use for nourishing the blood, calming the spirit and helping to overcome insomnia. This is because they are high in readily available glucose which feeds the heart and quickly passes the blood-brain barrier to fuel the brain. I like to keep a bag of these handy and soak about 10 and taken them before retiring as an alternative to honey.
Another Asian fruit that is fast growing in popularity in the West is goji berries (Lycium chinensis). Like longan berries, this fruit is a blood tonic, and is especially good for the eyes because besides its natural sugar content is loaded with beta carotene. They work almost as well longan berries as a treatment for insomnia. However, goji berries are also a fruit I give to my diabetes patients to snack on throughout the day. They not only tonify Qi and Blood but also help regulate fluctuations in blood sugar for people with type 2 diabetes.
Finally the last super fruit that helps satisfy the body’s need for bioavailable glucose is jujube date (Zizyphus spinose; Chinese: da zao). These are commonly used in Chinese herbal formulas. They are eaten as a fruit and are popular throughout China as a confection. Jujube dates especially nourish and tonify Qi but they are also a treatment for insomnia and depression.
One of the simplest and most effective antidepressant formulas commonly used clinically is called ‘Gan Mai Da Zao’ taken either as a tea or convenient pills (‘wan’ in Chinese products). It consists of only three simple botanicals: licorice, sprouted wheat, and jujube dates. Simple but safer and far more effective than many pharmaceutical antidepressants, this formula is taken three times daily to relieve anxiety, depression, insomnia, hot flashes in menopause, and manic depression. Many companies sell this formula. My current favorite is Active Herb which markets it under the apt name of “MooDelight.”
Dried Longan, Red dates, and Goji Berry Drink
Combine the following:
Add honey to taste and have a cup twice daily, especially before retiring.
Oh, and one more perk many experience from taking longan berries or honey before retiring at night is less or no calls to the bathroom to disturb your sleep.
In Part I of this series I began the discussion about using of herbs to care for the caregiver. As a reminder, many herbs support your body-mind complex to assist in stressful times. They can increase immunity, help sleep, calm the mind and emotions, and treat issues such as anxiety, depression and disturbed Shen, all of which can easily arise during stressful caretaking situations.
As a reminder, Shen reflects the entire physical, emotional, mental and spiritual health of the body. It includes the capacity to think and act coherently and appropriately, the personality’s magnetic force or charisma, enthusiasm, innate vitality, and the joy to live life. It is distinguished by the sparkle in the eyes, an overall vivaciousness, and a will to live. As well, it’s the dynamic verve that enables us to surmount obstacles and make things happen.
According to traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), Shen is "’housed" in the Heart, so physical heart issues can affect one’s Shen and vice versa. There are no disharmonies of Shen in and of itself, yet because of its connection with the Heart, Deficient Heart Qi or Blood can weaken Shen. This appears as a lack of joy or enthusiasm in life, dull eyes, dislike of talking, muddled thinking, forgetfulness, insomnia, lack of vitality, depression, unhappiness, confused speech, or excessive dreaming. Extreme Shen disharmony results in irrational behavior, incoherent speech, hysteria, delirium, inappropriate responses to people or the environment, violent madness, or unconsciousness.
Herbs that nourish the Heart Blood also nourish Shen. However, the true remedy for Shen problems is addressing emotional and spiritual issues through counseling, prayer, affirmation, meditation, play, changing jobs, taking holidays, and whatever else is needed to nourish the Spirit and Heart.
Disrupted sleep can lead to Shen disorders. To treat chronic insomnia or sleep issues, most herbs must be taken during the day as well as at night and for several days before they’ll work. Stronger sedative herbs, however, should only be taken a couple of hours before and right at bedtime and avoided for daytime use; they are not for short naps but for longer, restful sleep. Others are simple relaxants and may be used during the day to ease the effects of stress.
When to use each herbal category
For quick and easy reference, I’ve created a chart of herbs in specific categories so you can easily choose which is best for your needs. Here are the symptoms and treatment of each category:
Anxiety: Symptoms includepalpitations, sweating, dizziness, shortness of breath, insomnia, tremors, twitches, and muscle spasms. Other symptoms may accompany these such as digestive upset, frequent urination, diarrhea, headaches and fatigue.
Hysteria: This is a state of mental disorder characterized by emotional excitability, emotional outbreaks, disturbances of sensory and motor functions, and intense agitation, anxiety, or excitement.
Calmatives: These nourish the heart and calm the spirit (Shen). They are useful for nervous disorders, stress, relaxation, and simple sleep problems. They are better for weaker individuals and less acute conditions.
Nervines & Sedatives: Nervines nourish the nervous system, calming the nerves and relieving muscle spasms, nervousness, anxiety, insomnia, emotional instability, pain, cramps, spasm, tremors and epilepsy. Sedatives are stronger than calmatives. They are used to alleviate nervousness, palpitations, insomnia, and irritability.
Strong sedatives: Generally minerals, these herbs have tranquilizing effects that weigh down and calm the mind to treat palpitations, insomnia, anxiety, Shen disorder, nervousness, irritability, fright and hysteria. They are typically used for more short-term acute conditions, as over time they can injure the digestion.
Regulate heart: These herbs regulate the heart function and should be used in appropriate doses.
Increase immunity: Herbs that increase immunity tend to be adaptogens that enhance endurance, energy and strength so the body handles stress better.
Herbs for the Caregiver
The following may be found as patent medicines in pill form from Mayway online, either in the Plum Flower of Min Shan brands:
Conception Vessel 4, called guan yuan or "origin pass"is located approximately two inches above the top of the pubic bone on a straight center line down from the navel. It is approximately directly opposite Governing Vessel 4 located between the 2nd and 3rd lumbar vertebrae on the spine of the back. Like Governing Vessel 4 with which it is often used, it is a foundation point for the entire body and an intersection point for the Conception, Spleen, Liver and Kidney meridians.
Conception Vessel 4 treats all deficiencies of Yin, Yang, Qi and Blood. A major point for Kidney-adrenal deficiencies, it treats low back pain, bone disorders, early morning "cock-crow" diarrhea, rectal and uterine prolapse, incontinence, and frequent night-time urination. It treats all menstrual irregularities with Deficiency, Cold and/or stagnation (pain), scanty menstruation, and pale blood. It also treats infertility, impotence, seminal emission, amenorrhea, and bleeding during pregnancy. Finally, restoring warmth and Qi to the dan tian below the navel is used for chills, profuse sweating, shortness of breath, and unconsciousness.
While it should not be used by the untrained on women who are pregnant, it is used near or during the time to ease delivery.
The last point I will discuss in this series about moxa is an "extra" point, meaning it is not on a meridian. It is called Shimian, meaning "lost sleep," and is located in the middle of the sole of the heel of the foot. This is a point where stick-on moxa is best applied. It is used primarily for insomnia. It restores the natural circadian rhythm of the body, treating difficulty in falling asleep, staying asleep through the night, and assuring sleep that is adequate and refreshing. This point happens to be in a direct physiological line with the pineal gland, enabling the production of melatonin to induce a deep, sound and restful sleep. It can be used for insomnia issues caused by stress, noise, extreme temperatures, environmental change, sleep schedule problems, jet lag, certain medications, caffeine, and general overstimulation of nervous energy.
This works as an ongoing or as needed treatment and in my experience is more effective than drugs, sleeping pills or herbal sedatives. It can be safely used in combination with either of these.
This point could threaten the profits of the pharmaceutical sleeping pill industry if more came to realize is value. Sleep is golden and is, along with food, drink and activity, one of the pillars of healing and health. This simple treatment alone, which anyone can do just before retiring to bed at night, will prove of tremendous benefit.
I sincerely hope that I’ve done an adequate job describing the value of moxabustion for self-use and clinical use. For many conditions, it is more powerful than acupuncture, and with the modern advances of smokeless moxa and stick-on moxa it is very easy to administer. Please see my previous blogs on moxa for back pain, colds and flu and moxa on Stomach 36 for energy and increased immunity (this latter blog includes links for purchasing moxa).
Following are some Youtube videos you might want to check out to see moxa applied on a live person.