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.
This spring, plant an herb that is not only an ornamental but also a powerful medicinal: ophiopogon. Known as Japanese turf lily or mondo grass, it is usually planted as a decorative border for its long, narrow, downward pointing and curling leaves. Few know that the tuber, a small white bulb, is filled with a sweet juice that has many healing properties.
In Traditional Chinese Medicine, ophiopogon is classified as a Yin tonic. That means it is cooling and moistening for Heat symptoms due to Dryness and Deficiency, similar to “burn-out,” like running a car low on oil so the engine heats up and eventually burns up. In the body, the person may feel hot or feverish in the evening or night, on and off exhausted, dry burning eyes, dry tongue, mouth and lips (especially at night), a burning sensation in the chest, palms and/or soles of the feet, chronic dry cough, and thirsting and wasting disorders (pre-diabetic and TB-type conditions). I have listed more symptoms of Yin Deficiency here:
Yin Deficiency is a lack of cooling, moistening Fluids with resulting depletion (fatigue, exhaustion, emaciation or thinness) along with specific types of Heat and Dryness signs, including: night sweats, malar flush (redness and burning heat along the cheeks and nose), burning sensation in the palms of the hands, soles of the feet and in the chest, afternoon fever or feelings of heat, restless sleep, dry throat or thirst at night, agitation, mental restlessness, dry cough, dry stools, and scanty dark urine.
Ophiopogon is specifically used as a Yin tonic to promote the secretion of fluids in treating dry coughs (with or without thick or bloody, difficult-to-expectorate sputum), fevers, palpitations, insomnia, constipation, excessive thirst, and dry throat, tongue, mouth, or stools.
I have definitely found it to be the very best herb for a dry cough, either during an acute condition or after. The person usually feels some lung congestion, but the phlegm is difficult to expectorate, or there’s no evidence it’s even present. As well, there’s probably also low energy. Those who have ever experienced Yin Deficient Heat (a dry condition) concurrent with Phlegm (a wet condition) know how tricky treatment of these can be. To have an herb that clears Phlegm while moistening at the same time is a gift indeed.
Ophiophogon works brilliantly in these cases because it cools the Heat that dries the Phlegm, making it congeal so it doesn’t expectorate. It also moistens the stuck phlegm, making it easier to pass through and out. Afterward, the person will experience energy again and their chest will feel normal.
I’ve also used ophiopogon at the first signs of fever in those with Yin Deficiency as well as the aftermath of those fevers. It is classically used for this in the formula, Ophiopogon Combination (listed below). As well, it is given to moisten the intestines for dry constipation, and treats dry mouth, throat, lips, and eyes. However, it has many other valuable uses.
I have found ophiopogon reduces restless leg syndrome, especially at night, to improve low energy (without fever or an acute condition), and to moisten dry, burning eyes (especially at night). It is fabulous for sleep problems as well, when sleep has an “in and out” or trance-like quality so you feel like you’re not asleep and yet you are at the same time. Sometimes it can also help when one wakes at night but has difficulty falling back asleep, particularly if there’s also thirst or a dry mouth/throat present.
Whether or not you need ophiopogon’s specific healing properties, it is a beautiful ornamental to have in your garden and you never know when someone else might benefit from it. So plant ophiopogon this year and enjoy its beauty while knowing it holds potent medicine under the ground for those who need it.
Mai men dong (Chinese) Family: Asparagaceae
Also named: Japanese turf lily, turf lily, mondo grass, Ophiopogonis Radix
Energy and flavors: Slightly cold, sweet, slightly bitter
Organs and channels affected: Lung, Stomach, Heart
Chemical constituents: Ruscogenin (steroid sapogenin), B-sitosterol, stigmasterol, B-sitosterol-D-glucoside, ophioside, sugars, mucilage
Properties and actions: Tonic, antibacterial, sedative, antitussive, lowers blood sugar, diaphoretic; tonifies Yin
Contraindications: Loose stools, acute stages of Wind-Cold pathogenic diseases, Cold or Damp conditions
Ophiopogon (mai men dong) 15–20g
Rice, Oryza (jing mi) 15–20g
Ginseng, Chinese (ren shen) or American (xi yang shen) 6–9g
Pinellia (ban xia) 6–9g
Licorice (gan cao) 3–6g
Jujube dates (da zao) 5 pieces
(As pinellia is only available to practitioners, substitute with chickweed aerial parts (Stellaria media) or marshmallow root (Althaea officinalis). Chinese herb substitutes include glehnia root (Glehnia littoralis - bei sha shen) or lily bulb (Lilium brownie - bai he).
Place all ingredients in a pot and cover with 5 cups of water. Simmer until reduced to 2 cups. Strain tea; set liquid aside. Now add 3 cups of water to the cooked herbs and simmer again until reduced to 1 cup. Strain and add liquid to the first 2 cups of tea. Drink 1 cup, three times a day.
This formula treats nausea, vomiting, thirst, dry throat and mouth, dry skin, dry, non-productive cough, spitting of saliva, dry mouth and throat, hiccups, five palm heat, red tongue with no coat, and a weak and rapid pulse.
What's that sound? Why won't it go away?
Tinnitus, commonly known as "ringing in the ears" and the perception of sound where no external source of sound is present, is a surprisingly common affliction. You may not know that complementary medicine offers treatment options for this condition, including herbs. Furthermore, Traditional Chinese Medicine recognizes four different types of tinnitus with four different herbal formulas matched to each specific type.
This month, I am pleased to feature a blog post by East West grad and teacher Holly Hutton, who outlines several herbal treatment options for tinnitus, along with diet and lifestyle suggestions.
Go to Holly's post, "Tinnitus-Ringing in the Ear, Treatment Options From Many Traditions" for a clear elucidation of the complementary approach to this common condition.
Arthritis, joint and back pain is so prevalent throughout the world that there really is no point to describe how many sufferers there are. It is safe to say that if you are around the age of 55 or older you probably have some form of arthritis somewhere in your body.
From a Western medical perspective there are two broad forms of arthritis, osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis.
Osteoarthritis is joint pain primarily caused by a gradual loss of protective cartilage. This can be caused by physical injury, mechanical stress or metabolic abnormality that can gradually break down the cartilage that cushions the ends of the bones from rubbing against each other. This is the most common type of arthritis.
Rheumatoid arthritis is the most severe type of inflammatory joint disease. It is an auto-immune condition where the body’s immune system attacks its own tissues, which in turn damages the joints and surrounding soft tissue. This is a chronic form of arthritis that leads to stiff, deformed joints of the hands, arms, legs and feet. It is the slowest and most difficult to treat.
Western medical treatment involves the use of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS) such as aspirin, ibuprofen and steroid-based drugs such as corticosteroids and immune-suppressive drugs. All of these have long-term adverse side effects and some have short-term adverse effects such as stomach irritation, gastritis and ulcers.
TCM classifies both types of arthritis as “Bi syndrome” disease. Bi means for “blockage.” Thus in TCM all such pains are considered to be caused by some sort of blockage. What is blocked or what causes blockage in arthritis, and for that matter back pain, which is considered in the same category, gets us into some strange concepts and terms (from a Western physiological point of view).
The most common type of arthritic pain is caused and aggravated by coldness and dampness. No wonder that individuals with this type of arthritis complain that their symptoms are worse in cold, damp weather, but also by wind. Heat, a fourth TCM cause, occurs as resistance from the continued effects of Cold-Damp-Wind causing blockage.
Western rheumatology hypothesizes that one of the major reasons why cold and damp weather aggravates most people’s arthritic pains is because of changes in air pressure. Specifically, it is the change of barometric pressure which is the weight of the atmosphere that surrounds us. This pressure occurs when barometric pressure drops before bad weather sets in and cause the joints and cartilage of our joints to expand. This theory is given by Dr. David Borenstein, MD, FACP, FACR, a rheumatologist and clinical professor of medicine at George Washington University Medical Center and past president of the American College of Rheumatology. Still, many people claim that weather does not affect their arthritic pains.
The virtue of the Chinese description of “Bi Syndrome caused by Cold-Damp-Wind” is that it leads the herbalist to select the most appropriate herbs which are classified in TCM as treating Coldness, Dampness, Wind or Heat.
Cold pattern arthritis (Cold Bi) is characterized by severe joint or muscle pain in a fixed location. It is relieved by the application of warmth.
Damp pattern arthritis (Damp Bi) exhibits symptoms of pain, soreness, swelling of the muscles and joints, and a feeling of heaviness and numbness in the limbs.
Unlike Cold Bi, Wind pattern arthritis (Wind Bi) is characterized by pains that move from place to place, or joint to joint. It is described as being aggravated and caused by exposure to wind.
Heat pattern arthritis (Hot Bi) is characterized by severe pain and joints that feel hot, and look red and swollen. This type of arthritis is relieved by applying cold to the affected areas.
Underlying physiological imbalances that predispose an individual to develop arthritic and lower back pains are described in TCM as coming from deficiencies of the Kidneys and Liver.
In TCM, the Kidneys include the adrenals so that any type of stress or fatigue, be it climatic, physical or emotional will cause the Kidney-adrenals to hyperfunction and react to regain homeostasis. The Liver’s job is to moderate the adrenal hormones caused by stress by breaking them down as necessary. The Liver also neutralizes toxins which cause internal stress.
This TCM Kidney-Liver organic function may be deficient due to congenital conditions or may gradually weaken with lifestyle abuse and age. Thus to achieve any enduring benefit from treatments, one would wisely add herbs to supplement and strengthen this vital internal TCM function.
Traditional diagnostic methods based on symptomology, tongue, and pulse are employed to determine the most effective treatment approach. However, in the case of arthritis and lower back pain, there is one formula which is in a unique small class out of the possible thousands of TCM formulas that I consider to be the “best bet” or "use first, refine later" group of formulas. It is Du Huo Ji Sheng Tang (Du Huo Angelica and Loranthes Mistletoe (Taxillus) Decoction).
How effective is it for these conditions? I would estimate that it will relieve joint pains at least 80% of the time.
It consists of the following:
Active Herb’s version of this formula is called Jointsjoy.
Another version, Solitary Hermit, is manufactured and sold as part of the Plum Flower herb line.
A Planetary Herbal formulation based on this formula and widely used in my clinical practice is simply called Lower Back support.
Any of these three products can be used with more than relative efficacy to relieve and cure musculoskeletal pains of all kinds.
I always love to make gifts when I can and especially love to receive handmade ones, too, as do many people I know. If you do as well, or are wondering what to give someone, here are a couple of holiday herbal treats you can easily make that are not only tasty but also healthy – fruit leather and trail mix. Now before you turn up your nose at these seemingly prosaic ideas, read on for they are not made with “normal” ingredients and are extremely nutritious and medicinal.
HERBAL TRAIL MIX
What could be easier than stirring together three items and pouring into a bag? All that’s left is the wrapping! This herbal blend can be eaten anywhere, anytime, even as an afternoon office snack or a dessert. As well, you can add the mix to cereals, soups or cookies. Together this mix replenishes energy and nourishes blood. It is especially good for teachers, students, sales folks, or those who study and/or talk a lot.
Mix together in desired ratio. For an especially tasty mix, first blanch the walnuts for five minutes in boiling water, strain, cool and dry. Then add to mix.
Goji (Lycii) berries
This small, red, sweet berry tonifies Blood, treating anemia, dizziness, poor eyesight, night blindness, blurred vision, sore back, knees and legs, impotence, seminal and nocturnal emission, tuberculosis and peri/menopausal complaints. Very high in beta-carotene, lycii promotes regeneration of liver cells, inhibits fat deposits in liver cells, lowers cholesterol, prevents atherosclerosis, and enhances immunity.
Longan Berries (Euphoria longan)
These delicious berries quickly tonify Heart Blood like no other herb I know, alleviating palpitations, anxiety, forgetfulness, and insomnia, particularly due to overwork or from excessive thinking, studying, reading, or talking (all of which use a lot of Heart Blood and blood sugar in the brain). These berries are high in glucose and sucrose, which quickly replenish blood sugar.
The Chinese use walnuts to strengthen the Kidneys for alleviating low back and knee pain and frequent urination. They also warm the Lungs, treating chronic cough or wheezing (the type that occurs when it’s harder to inhale than exhale, there’s dribbling of urine upon sneezing, or there are accompanying symptoms of low back ache, frequent urination and/or night-time urination).
Walnuts also act as a mild laxative, particularly in the elderly, anemic or those who feel cold. Constipation that doesn’t respond to normal herbal laxatives in people who are tired, anemic, cold, have clear, frequent urination, low back pain, low sex drive, lowered metabolism and/or edema of the legs usually respond to walnuts since they lubricate the intestines and provide enough heat and energy to move the stools.
While fruit leathers can be made from all sorts of fruit, this one is made with a fruit that is also quite medicinal and good for you: jujube dates (Zizyphus sativa, da zao). These plump red dates (or shriveled if they’re dried) are high in vitamins A, B2, C, calcium, phosphorous, and iron, and are great for quick energy.
They tonify both energy and Blood, treating poor digestion, weakness, low energy, nervous exhaustion, insomnia, clear watery diarrhea, and poor appetite, digestion and memory. Nourishing to the Spirit, they calm and stabilize emotions when feeling irritable, sad or crying for no reason. They are added like licorice to sweeten and harmonize other herbs in a formula. After cooking the dates in a tea or soup, eat them for their full medicinal value (remove pits first). They help weight gain and help malnourished children thrive.
Cook dates with water, covered, over low heat for 20 minutes. Cool. Remove pits from dates. Puree mix. Cook down again if needed to thick pudding consistency. Spread over parchment paper on oven or dehydrator trays about ¼- ½” thick. Slowly dry in oven at 140 degrees for about 12 hours or in food dehydrator for about 8 hours. The fruit leather is ready when it’s smooth and no longer sticky.
For sweeter fruit leather, add honey to taste. If desired, use a strained herbal tea for the water, such as astragalus, to give more energy and boost immunity.
Goji berries and walnuts are easy to find as most health food stores carry them now. As well, many health food stores carry jujube dates and longan berries. If not, you can usually find them quickly by going to your local acupuncturist or they may be ordered from the following places:
There is one kitchen spice most of us could use more of in our lives: cardamom.
While there are different types of cardamom (see end for details), just the plain old spice you have in your kitchen cabinet will do. It is a powerful digestive aid that comes in quite handy, for maintenance or acute distress– which of course the holidays usually generate. But it’s best as a preventative, too.
Cardamom is a very ancient spice. It is the seed of the perennial tropical vine in the ginger (Zingiberaceae) family. In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), it is in the category of herbs called, “aromatic dispel dampness.” This means its aroma plus drying nature help to eliminate dampness in the digestive tract.
Symptoms of dampness include anywhere from a feeling of heaviness or edema to loose stools, diarrhea, poor appetite, nausea, vomiting, acid reflux, abdominal distention, chest fullness or an oppressive sensation in the chest, and lethargy.
Further, when dampness congeals over time it forms phlegm, which in turn creates tumors, cysts, soft lumps, nodules, cancer, numbness, tremors and paralysis.
As well, cardamom alleviates food stagnation, or food that is poorly digested and so congests and collects in the body. This condition may be either acute or chronic. The acute type is similar to the after-effects of over-eating at a holiday meal and can even cause pain in the heart region; the chronic type occurs when digestion becomes impaired and the body can no longer fully digest or absorb nutrients.
When food overwhelms the stomach, it results in such symptoms as sour regurgitation, reflux or vomiting, belching and/or hiccupping, and foul breath, or it passes on to the intestines causing foul gas, loose stool, or foul-smelling diarrhea. The partially digested food then lingers in the body, congesting the organs and channels and slowing the circulation of Qi, Blood and fluids.
Acute food stagnation in the upper part of the body can cause palpitations or stuffiness around the heart and in the epigastric region. Many folks go to emergency care thinking they are having a heart attack, but what they are really experiencing is acute food congestion in the stomach.
In the middle part of the body, acute food stagnation can cause lack of appetite, fullness and distention of the epigastrium relieved by vomiting; insomnia with a full feeling in the stomach region, unrelieved hiccupping, epigastric spasms, nausea, foul breath, sour regurgitation, belching, abdominal fullness, bloating, and poor distribution and/or assimilation of nutrients.
Still wonder if you have dampness? Stick out your tongue in front of a mirror. If it’s swollen and/or has teeth indentations on the sides (called scallops), then you have dampness. If you have a white or yellow coat, that’s also dampness. The thicker and greasier the coat, the more the dampness has turned to food stagnation or phlegm.
So, are you inspired to find a solution?
This is the reason I’ve outlined so many symptoms here: cardamom can treat them all. And because the holiday season is upon us, this is one spice to have on hand. It will save you many a discomforting hour and perhaps even a trip to some sort of emergency care.
And yet, cardamom is a great herb to include on a daily basis. Most people include a long list of dampening foods in their diets: iced drinks, cold foods directly from the refrigerator, smoothies, dairy, soy, soy milk, rice milk, oatmeal, cucumbers, flour products (muffins, bagels, bread, pasta, chips, crackers, pastries), excess raw foods, salads, yogurt, ice cream, potatoes, fruit juices, excess fruit in general, specifically bananas, citrus and persimmons – I could go on and on.
TCM uses true cardamom, or sha ren (Amomum villosum, A. xanthiodes, Elettaria villosa, Cardamomum villosum)) for the above symptoms as well as morning sickness and a restless fetus. It is also frequently added to formulas with cloying herbs to aid in their digestion.
Ayurveda also widely uses cardamom. It is given to eliminate mucus and for colds, coughs, bronchitis, hoarseness, asthma, and a loss of the ability to taste.
For those who want all the specifics, here they are:
Cardamom Fruit, Round (Amomum cardamomum, Elettaria cardamomum)
Bai dou kou (Chinese) Family: Zingiberaceae
Also named: cardamom cluster, Amomi Fructus rotundus
Energy and flavors: warm, acrid
Organs and channels affected: Spleen, Stomach, Lung
Chemical constituents: d-camphor, d-borneol
Properties and actions: carminative, stomachic, antiemetic, expectorant; aromatically transforms Dampness, directs Qi downward
Contraindications: Deficient Blood or Yin
Dosage: 3-6g in decoction (added in the last five minutes); 2-5g as a powder; 20-60 drops tincture (1:10 @40%ABV), TID
Cardamom Seed, True (Amomum villosum, A. xanthiodes, Elettaria villosa, Cardamomum villosum)
Sha ren (Chinese) Family: Zingiberaceae
Also named: grains-of-paradise fruit, Amomi Fructus
Energy and flavors: warm, acrid
Organs and channels affected: Spleen, Stomach, Lungs
Chemical constituents: 2-8% volatile oil comprising limonene, terpinene, dipentene, camphor, borneol
Properties and actions: antiemetic, carminative, antidiarrheal, aromatic, stimulant, stomachic, antiemetic; aromatically transforms Dampness, regulates Qi
Contraindications: Deficient Yin with Heat signs.
Dosage: 3-6g; Because of its essential oil content, Cardamom is added in the last five minutes of a decoction; 2-5g as a powder; 30-90 drops tincture (1:10 @40%ABV), TID
In my previous blog on treating H. pylori-induced stomach inflammation with herbs, I touch briefly on a fundamental difference between conventional and complementary medicine: namely, that conventional medicine prefers to identify an isolated pathogen or discrete named diagnosis which it aims to treat singularly; whereas complementary or traditional medicine relies on signs and symptoms, within the unique individual and their personal conformation, and how these elements fit into a time-tested model of healing.
Being an herbalist means learning to think like a herbalist, which apart from a special knowledge of the therapeutic properties of plants also means to not overly focus on the symptoms of a disease but also the particular unique physiological ‘terrain’ from which the disease and its symptoms arise. With Chinese medicine, this means treating ‘root (cause) and branch (symptom) based on principles of yin and yang. In Ayurveda, it means differentiating the individual’s underlying prakriti (doshic or humoral imbalance) from the vikruti (doshic disease imbalance).
There are several layers of healing. One is to disguise the symptom, another is to deal with the microbiological cause of the symptoms. Still another is to treat the “cause of the cause” which is the imbalances in the body that predispose one to develop such things as infections (like H. pylori overgrowth). Still another cause beyond these physical ones are the psycho-spiritual reasons one develops a disease.
Relief or “cure” can be achieved at any of these levels. The first treatment principle should be to relieve the symptoms, which is the most superficial level of healing; second, treat the “cause of the cause” being the most physiologically beneficial level overall: and then attention must be paid to the third, psycho-spiritual level, which is the most profound.
Only masking the symptoms, which is the usual approach in Western medicine such as when antibiotics and anti-inflammatory drugs such as cortisone are given, is fraught with possibly damaging side effects. This is why many people seek the herbalist or acupuncturist for the second and third levels of healing. Every healer has some facility to work on each of these levels but the herbalist and acupuncturist uniquely specialize on second “cause-of-cause” level.
The third, psycho-spiritual level may either be all encompassing or may provide other levels of relief beyond the physical.
Addressing all three of these levels, with respect to the individual patient’s particular physiology, history of illness and mental or emotional disposition, is the definition of “wholistic” healing to which most herbalists and traditional practitioners aspire. It is an approach which, in my opinion, is most likely to bring about the sort of transformation that leads to deep and lasting healing.
Recently, a colleague sent me the following question:
A friend in Canada tested positive for H. pylori bacteria. Of course, the Western doctor he goes to wanted to start heavy antibiotic treatment. Plus, he said he would need to be on some 'pill' for the rest of his life! He is refusing until he can seek out alternative answers to this. He is 70 yrs. old, does not have a hiatal hernia, just a bit of indigestion at times.
Helicobacter pylori is a common bacterium that many have with or without any noticeable symptoms. Recently a study found that Otzi, the 5,300-year-old ice-mummy, was also infected with H. pylori. Today it is estimated that it is present in about half the population.
H. pylori is known to produce an enzyme, urease, that allows the bacteria to live in harsh acidic environments such as the stomach. Urease reacts with urea to form ammonia which can neutralize enough of the stomach acid to allow organisms to survive in tissues for years. It is highly contagious and is transmitted through saliva, fecal contamination in food or water, and poor hygienic practices in general. As stated, the good news is that most people do not exhibit any symptoms. However, if enough of the stomach acid is neutralized, it can be a factor behind many acute gastrointestinal problems such as gastritis and GI tract ulcers.
I’ve been involved with the study and practice of herbal medicine since 1968. In all of that time, I focused on treating the patient more than the disease. This is because my model, traditional herbalism, does not focus on treating specific pathogens associated with a disease, but the whole disease complex itself.
In other words, a Western herbalist may treat gastrointestinal symptoms caused by H. pylori with herbs not specifically targeted to eradicating the bacterium, but with herbs that reliably treat ulcers, abdominal and acid reflux. An Ayurvedic herbalist might treat these conditions as a humoral imbalance of excess pitta. A traditional Chinese herbalist would treat it based on Eight Principles and pattern analysis. In all three models, there is no particular advantage in testing and discovering that the inflammation is caused by H. pylori.
Today, many complementary health practitioners seeking to impress their patients too often resort to describing their diseases based on a Western medical model. The problem is that herbs are more food-like than drugs, exerting a broader function on restoring homeostasis and health. Still, many herbs do have specific tropisms or indications. For the patient described above, look to herbs that treat symptoms of ulcers, acid reflux, belching, bloating, nausea, vomiting, and abdominal pain as symptoms of gastritis. All of these conditions are effectively treated with dietary and herbal treatment.
So while I’ve not treated H. pylori as a discrete entity, I have had a lot of experience successfully treating all the conditions previously mentioned. Because people have responded positively, I can only assume that the diet and herbs I prescribe regularly such as Triphala inhibit the growth of H. pylori.
Bitters, triphala, goldenseal, and coptis are among the many botanical remedies taken singly or in a formula for treating gastritis, acid reflux, and gi tract ulcers. These herbs treat a broad range of gastric imbalances but have also substantiated research that they are effective for H. pylori.
Berberine is a constituent of herbs such as goldenseal, coptis, barberry, Oregon grape and the Ayurvedic herb guduchi (Tinospora cordifolia). All of these have been shown to have broad-spectrum antibiotic and antipathogenic properties. Studies in vitro have demonstrated that berberine can inhibit H pylori. While these may not be robust enough to eradicate the organism entirely (if that is even possible), when used in a compound herbal formulation for gastritis, or in bitters, along with probiotic foods and a balanced diet, they will certainly contribute to a multilayered comprehensive gut healing regime.
Triphala, an ancient Ayurvedic healing compound consisting of three fruits, Terminalia belerica, T. emblica, commonly known as “amla” and T. Chebula or black myrobalan (Chinese: he zi), also has broad spectrum antipathogenic properties. Chebula or black myrobalan has been cited as effective against all harmful bacteria and specifically effective for inhibiting urease active of H. pylori.
The remaining two fruits in Triphala are also effective against H. pylori, especially amla (T. emblica). Amla fruit is one of the greatest antioxidants in the plant kingdom and is highly regarded both for its nutritional and for its medicinal benefits. It is claimed as one of the two or three highest known sources of natural tannins and Vitamin C which is impervious to both age and heating. Research confirms what native people of India have known for millennia, that Amla is good for the health of the whole body, especially the liver and GI tract. It is an effective treatment for gastritis, Crohn's, iBS, stomach and duodenal ulcers and to inhibit the growth of H. pylori in the stomach.
Tinospora cordifolia, called “guduchi” and “the body’s protector” is bitter, pungent and astringent with a post-digestive ‘sweet’ effect meaning that it is an antipathogenic herb with tonic-nutritive properties. It is one of the most powerful antipathogenic herbs of special benefit for inflammatory gastric disorders.
Deglycyrrhizinated licorice root (DGL) is a well-established anti-ulceration and mucosal healing agent. DGL can coat and soothe the intestinal lining and promote the healing of inflamed tissue and ulcers. Research suggests that flavonoids in licorice have impressive antimicrobial activity against H. pylori. The flavonoids have been shown to have antimicrobial activity against strains of H. pylori that were resistant to clarithromycin and amoxicillin, two of the primary antibiotics used in triple therapy. Some forms of licorice can elevate blood pressure but because DGL has low glycyrrhizin levels it is safe to take if you have high blood pressure.
Sulforaphane is a naturally occurring chemical found in cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli, cabbage and brussels sprouts. Some studies have demonstrated that it can inhibit H. pylori. Eating cruciferous vegetables, especially broccoli sprouts, will ensure that you get plenty of sulforaphane, but it is also available in capsule form from several supplement manufacturers, including a product called Broccomax.
Some studies have suggested that Vitamin C may inhibit and even kill H. pylori but more research is needed to determine the optimal dosing and program duration. Even if Vitamin C does not eradicate H. pylori, it is still worth taking a controlled dose because studies clearly show that Vitamin C levels in the stomach lining can be reduced when H. pylori is present, largely as a result of the inflammatory and oxidative stress caused by the infection. Vitamin C is also an excellent nutrient for assisting with gut healing.
Vitamin U – also known as MSM – is found in raw cabbage. In fact, Vitamin U is not a vitamin at all. Cabbage juice has been studied extensively in Russia and other Eastern European countries for the healing of damaged and eroded intestinal mucosa. It appears to enhance the healing of damaged tissue and may assist in healing ulcers.
When I consider what the most useful single herb I know with these same antiviral, antibacterial, antifungal – in fact, every ‘anti’ property we would need to fight off harmful pathogens—is, it is Isatis tinctoria, an herb commonly known in old English as “woad,” meaning “weed.” As an ancient East - West cruciferous family medicinal herb, it happens to have all of the same antipathogenic sulfur compounds found in cruciferous vegetables and of course biologic MSM sulfur. Both the leaf and the root of Isatis are used in Traditional Chinese Medicine called da qing ye and ban lan gen respectively. These are classified as bitter and cold, which from an herbalist’s perspective means they are broadly antipathogenic and reserved for short-term use to treat the most stubborn pathogens such as viruses but are equally effective for bacteria and funguses as well.
Gao Jelly is a black, jelly-like substance made from Chinese herbs. Sometimes called Gui Ling Gao Herbal Jelly, it was traditionally comprised of 30-50 herbs. Today it is a popular chilled dessert, obtained from Chinatown shops in cans, plastic containers, or as a powdered concentrate. Because it has a bitter flavor, sugar is often added.
Legends abound around Gao Jelly, the most famous of which concerns the Qing Dynesty Emperor Tongzhi, who ascended to the throne at the age of five upon his father’s death (he reigned from 1861 to 1875). His mother, Empress Dowager Cixi, overshadowed his rule (from “behind the curtain”), and apparently all other aspects of his life as well, for when he had smallpox, he improved by taking gui ling gao but she convinced him to quit. He died soon after and she ruled as regent. (While she apparently used the country’s money for her own lavish desires, she did ban the binding of women’s feet.)
I don't know if gao jelly heals smallpox, but its traditional ingredients do nourish the Yin and Blood and clear Wind-Heat and Heat toxins. These qualities treat red, itching skin disorders, including acne, which is often what gao jelly is now used for. Supposedly its original main ingredient was the Yin tonic turtle shell from the plastron (bottom shell) of the golden coin turtle (the three-lined box turtle).
Instead, herbs such as honeysuckle, chrysanthemum, forsythia, siler, and schizonepeta are included, all of which clear Wind-Heat. Dandelion is added as it clears heat toxins, plus other herbs such as cooked rehmannia, atractylodes, or reishi for their tonifying properties. Pearl may be added, which enhances its skin beautifying properties. After the herbs are cooked, rice and corn flours are stirred in to thicken the mass to a jelly-like consistency.
In China today, gao jelly is prescribed by doctors who practice herbal medicine. At the Shanghai Longhua hospital where our East West group studied in May 2016, the doctors said the jelly is mainly sold in the winter, as that’s the best season to nourish the body. Even then, it is individually prescribed, including herbs specific for each person’s constitutional health needs. According to our Hong Kong graduate, Peggy Zih, there are different gao jellies for Qi, Blood, or Yang deficiencies and the base of the jelly varies accordingly. Usually the hospital makes up a month’s supply at a time and then the jelly may be re-prescribed and possibly changed if so needed. Overall, the turtle shell jelly is still the most popular one in China, as turtle shell nourishes the Yin and Blood.
An acupuncture friend of mine told me a story about a similar substance she found when studying in China in the late ‘70s/early ‘80s. In most food stores she’d see a big pot containing a thick, brownish-black substance. People would come in and get scoopfuls in paper packages and take it home to add to soups and stir-fries. She asked about it and learned that it was made of herbs, bones, eggshells, vegetable cuttings and so forth, all thrown into the pot and cooked a long time.
Rich in nutrients and therapeutic properties, people would use it as a basis for stock, much like an herbally-fortified glace de viande (a concentrated reduction made by boiling meat juices until they are reduced to a thick syrup and used to add flavor and color to sauces, like an ordinary brown stock). She used it herself and upon return to home, made her own and taught her patients to do so as well.
This is similar to old European or pioneer cooking where people kept pots of soup simmering on the stove (or in the stove “well”) for several days. They’d toss in all leftover food scraps, bones, eggshells and so forth to make a rich stock.
You can do the same! Make your own gao jelly by tossing together bones from leftover meals, eggshells, your desired herbs, and cook together on low for a day or so, scraping off any foam as you do so, just as you would make a bone broth (be sure to add vinegar at the beginning to leech the calcium from the bones and eggshells). When it’s done, add rice and corn flour to thicken, strain into a container and cool. Use as soup stock or add to stir-fries or other dishes. In this way you can choose your gao jelly’s therapeutic properties as desired to suit your family’s health needs or to keep you strong through seasonal changes.
How to use moxa: If using purchased moxa, remove its commercial paper wrapper first (but not the white inner paper) and light one end. Hold about ½” above the skin over your chosen area, the distance varying with the person’s tolerance and the amount of heat stimulation desired.
There are three methods of using moxibustion:
1) Hold the stick still and move when heat tolerance is reached, returning after a few seconds and repeating the process
2) Move the stick in a circular fashion to warm larger areas – this is especially good for soft tissue injuries, skin disorders and larger areas of pain
3) Rapidly ‘peck' the moxa stick at one small area without touching the skin. This enables the heat to especially penetrate deeply, very beneficial when strong stimulation is desired.
If several areas need treatment, alternate between them with one of the above methods. Continue until each area turns red, about 5-15 minutes.
While doing moxa, it’s extremely important to periodically scrape ashes off the stick into a container, so they don’t fall on the person's skin (or carpet, clothing, etc.) and burn.
How you extinguish moxa is extremely important; otherwise it can easily continue smoldering and cause a fire. To put it out, either gently twist the stick into a small jar of uncooked rice, or place it directly into an empty jar and screw on the lid. Alternatively, you can tightly wrap the lit end into a wad of tin foil. Sometimes the stick fits into a small-holed candleholder and placing the lit end inside that effectively puts it out. Whichever method you choose, do NOT try to put moxa out in dirt as it will continue to smolder, possibly causing a fire.
Do not burn moxa:
Take care not to burn the skin. If a burn does occur, immediately apply an herbal salve or aloe vera gel to prevent blistering; if a blister does occur, dress to prevent infection.
More uses for moxa
Moxa ashes very effectively stop bleeding (put 1 tsp. in water and drink for internal bleeding, or apply topically for external – beware, this can tattoo the spot for several months).
Moxa smoke beneficially treats sinus infections and blockages. Close one nostril and inhale the smoke into the open nostril. Alternate this process between both nostrils and continue for 3-5 minutes.
Moxa on ginger: For internal coldness, cut up a root of fresh ginger and place the pieces along the spine. Cut moxa sticks into ½” thick slices and set on mesh screens in boxes or cans (about 1” above their bottoms) with holes punched in the box or can bases. Place these boxes or cans over the cut ginger along the entire spine and light the moxa. After, cover this entire assembly with towels. The penetrating moxa-ginger heat will warm the entire body. Alternatively, this process can be done over smaller areas such as the abdomen. Moxa boxes may be purchased or self-made.
Make your own moxa
Moxa sticks may be made at home by picking and drying mugwort (usually from 7 to 14 years – the older the better - although you may use it within a few months), grinding it into a fine powder, sifting and filtering this to remove coarse materials, and repeating this entire process until a fine, soft, wooly powder results. Tightly roll this resulting “wool” in tissue paper to form a foot-long 'cigar'. A regular stick is about 1” in diameter whereas thunder moxa is about 3” thick.
Other: If moxibustion is not available and heat is needed, a hot water bottle, hair dryer, heated stones, or bags of sand or salt heated in an oven or on a wood stove are useful alternatives, although they can’t be used on inflamed areas like moxa can.