Why sitting is so bad for you: the neurology in a nutshell

By Dr. Paul Rankin

Recently I have been asked repeatedly why sitting is so bad for you.  Most people seem to think its a problem of conditioning or of cardiovascular health.  And while sitting does no doubt  impact on your fitness, what sitting really does is impact your brain.

Here is a quick and simplified explaination that I use in clinic with my patients.

First, most of the input to our brain comes from the joints and muscles of our bodies.  This input is increased greatly when we stand and weight bear.

Second, standing upright is an active process.  That is every second of standing occurs because our brains are overriding underlying primitive reflexes that made us flex forward while we were developing.  Think the fetal position.

Third, our ‘automatic’ nervous system is divided into two parts.  The sympathetic nervous system and the parasympathetic nervous system.  The sympathetic system operates under stressful times.  It turns off our digestion, growth, elimination and repair functions, and tuns on our muscles, cardiac and respiratory systems.  It gets us ready to run or punch.  Think fight or flight.  Our parasympathetic system does the opposite.  It is responsible for repair, digestion, and elimination.  We should be operating in a parasympathetic way 80% of the time and in a sympathetic way 20% of the time.

Fourth,  the input to our brains from standing goes to other areas of the brain that help turn the sympathetic systems off, allowing the parasympathetic systems to repair and heal us.

So, when we sit we turn off the input to our brains.  This means we stop being actively upright, so the muscles of our backs get weak, and the muscles of our shoulders, neck, chest and laps get tight.  So our posture changes, our heads go forward, and we start to get back into the fetal positions.  Our tight necks and chests make it difficult to breathe, our heart rates go up.  And our sympathetic systems are not turned off.  This means we do not repair, digest, eliminate or grow correctly.  Here think about chronic diseases such as chronic fatigue, and irritable bowel, and degenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s and cardiovascular problems like heart attack and stroke.

While I know that I have over simplified in this blog post, what I am trying to get across is that there is a neurological component to sitting that connects poor posture to poor health and chronic diseases.

Chiropractors are experts in detecting this connection between poor posture and poor nervous system function.  This is the good news.  You can do something about this.  If you sit too much, and are concerned about your health now and in the future, come and see me.  We will work out a plan for you to correct your posture and get your nervous system working as it should!

Physical Injuries according to Chinese Medicine

By Dr. Paul Rankin

Traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) categorizes injuries into two main groups which are external injuries or attacks and internal  injuries or attacks.  This article is going to be discussing the external attacks to the body.  External attacks on the body are most often described as acute injuries or diseases by Westerners.  These include the sprains and strains that one can get by accidents or sports for example.  These types of injuries are often the blunt forces, or traumas like falling on ice or getting kicked in the side.  But these types of injuries can also be further divided into other types of external attacks on the body.  Some of these other attacks include for example sunburn, a heat attack, frostbite, a cold attack, or even pain while out on a windy day, a wind attack. Similarily what Westerners would classify as infectious diseases are also classified as external attacks in TCM.  In other words TCM sees many different possibilities for problems from the outside world to affect us. But how are we affected?

One central idea of TCM is the idea or energy called ‘qi’.  One specific type of qi is ‘wei qi‘ which is described as defensive or protective qi.  This is an energy that circulates near the surface of our bodies and helps keep attacks out.  One way that western people can think of wei qi is as our immune system.  If we have a strong wei qi or immune system, we won’t be affected by the external attack, and we won’t get sick.  If we have weak wei qi, we get sick easily and often, or if the attack is just too strong and our wei qi can’t resist the attack, we also will be affected by it.

Lets look at a simple example.  I have worked with martial artists for many years.  These individuals are in amazing physical condition, they have very strong wei qi, but they are often injured, the attack is stronger than their wei qi.  These athletes often come to me with pain from their injuries.  If the pain is mild, TCM would classify the attack as pain syndrome where there has been an interruption in qi.  The severity of the injury could mean that different levels of qi are being involved (recall that wei qi is only one type of qi and there are several and they function in different ways and in different parts of the body).  If the injury is severe, then not only could qi be damaged or blocked but blood could also be damaged or blocked.  Blood in TCM includes what Westerners think of as blood but also has a broader meaning.  For the purposes of this article it is sufficient to say that blood is a deeper and denser type of energy.  So for example, the martial arts arm bar that caused swelling and bruising is an obvious example of damage to both qi and blood.

A more complex example of an external injury or attack would be a person who works in very cold conditions like in a freezer.  Over time this persons repeated exposure to cold attacks could lead to rheumatoid conditions like osteoarthritis.  It is interesting to note that this type of person’s symptoms will be worse on cold days, which mimic the original cold attack.

Although we have been talking about acute syndromes it is important to note that external attacks often don’t stay in the exterior of the body.  The previous example speaks to this.  Although the worker in the freezer started out having problems because of the environment in which he or she was working, eventually the external attack became an internal problem which lead to pain and dysfunction when not even in the cold environment.  So what can one do to prevent simple problems from becoming more serious?

The first answer is to avoid the external attack in the first place of course.  Dress appropriately, where sunscreen, and avoid getting kicked in the side!  If you can’t avoid the attack, here are some simple tricks for helping yourself.  First, gentle exercise.  Movement is therapy.  Often be resuming normal and gentle movement your body can repair the damaged qi and get energy circulating again.  Secondly apply the opposite therapy to the external attack.  If you suffered a hot attack, apply cooling, if you suffered a cold attack apply gentle warming etc.  Lastly, if your injury was more serious or is starting to become chronic seek professional help.  There are numerous therapies available to quickly rectify your external attack.  Acupuncture, herbs and gentle body work to name a few.

It is always so much easier to fix a problem early as opposed to late.  Please feel free to contact me with any specific questions or concerns.

Why Do Healthy Women Keep Weight On After Pregnancy?

By Dr. Paul Rankin

“Baby is healthy, Mom is healthy”, every one breaths a sigh of relief and contentment.  Why is it then so often the case that Mom has not lost the healthy weight that she gained as a result of the pregnancy?  She watches what she eats, she exercises when she can, God knows she is active and busy with the baby, but the weight won’t budge.  What gives?

I’m sure this scenario resonates with many readers.  It certainly comes up often in my practice.  There is a simple explanation that Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) offers.

According to TCM the main organ that produces the blood needed for the growth and development of the baby during pregnancy is the Chinese spleen.  The Chinese spleen is also the main organ of digestion.  This is the key.  Making a baby is hard work and often the spleen can become fatigued.  When the spleen is fatigued by just having produced a baby it has a hard time performing its other function of digestion.  Digestion according to TCM is really the process of separating waste products from useful products and then transporting the waste products out and the useful products to where they are needed in the body.  If the spleen is weak or damaged, as often happens after pregnancy, (not even to mention the loss of blood that can occur during delivery), it has a hard time doing these functions.  What happens is the waste products are not separated from the useful and not transported out.  They stay around as extra unwanted weight.

A good clue to know if this is happening is by looking at the diet of the Mom.  If the diet is appropriate and there is exercise and general good health, my first inclination is to look to a weak spleen.  Once the weakness of the spleen has been established, we can decide how best to get it working and active again.  Generally this takes the form of acupuncture and herbs and some dietary changes specific to the new Mom.  Once the spleen is up and doing its job, separating the waste from the good and transporting waste out, the weight disappears and stays off.

Dementia, Alzheimer’s Disease and Early detection with Chinese Medicine

By Dr Paul Rankin

There are few occurences more devastating to self and family than the loss of memory and self-sufficiency. As the population of North America and Europe ages, the prevalence of dementia is rising. Soon there will be no one who does not know some one who has been touched by this problem in his or her life.

The rate of the progression of dementia is variable but tends to follow the following sequence of memory loss. First the loss of the sense of time and date, followed by the loss of the sense of location and lastly by the loss of the sense of identity of others and self.  So early symptoms might be not being able to recall the date, or day of the week.  Later symptoms could be not knowing where one is or being unable to recognize previously know places.  Lastly is the inability to know friends and loved ones.  Other common mental problems associated with dementia can be sleep disturbances, mood changes and sometimes hallucinations.  There are also numerous physical symptoms that often appear with the mental ones.

Unfortunately, there is no cure to Alzheimer’s and dementia and the western medical approach to dementia is often palliative.  It is limited to helping with the physical symptoms and helping the individual suffering to perform activities of daily living such as eating and grooming.  Inevitably the process of dementia continues and the symptoms worsen.  Healthcare providers, caregivers and loved ones are often slowly worn down and often become frustrated.  Part of the frustration for caregivers and loved ones can come from the false sense that nothing is being done and every one is simply waiting.  Often the time to arrive at a diagnosis is lengthy.   And when the diagnosis does come, often nothing changes.  This is a personal frustration of mine as a practitioner.  I have great respect for any healthcare professional who deals with dementia and its consequences.  I am not advocating one system of care over another, in fact, I am advocating exactly the opposite.  I believe that different practitioners can offer different options to the care of patients with dementia.   And I think that it is through open communication and the sharing of resources and knowledge that improvements in the prevention and treatment of dementia will take place.  Let me explain this by illustrating a common occurrence in my practice.

Sometimes in my practice patients will wait for a western medical diagnosis to their dementia before starting treatments with me.  They are understandably worried and want to “know what is going on”.  By this they mean that they want a western medical diagnosis. Once this has happened they then expect there will be a clear course of action.  Unfortunately, often be the time a western diagnosis is arrived at, the symptoms are quite advanced and hope of recovery is diminished.   And furthermore, once a western diagnosis is given, it doesn’t necessarily mean that the treatment will change.  I think all clinicians will agree that time is of the essence in treating dementia.  Earlier treatment means a better chance of slowing the progression of the disease. I also believe that this is where Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) can be of great benefit to suffers of dementia.

Using Chinese medicine a practitioner can arrive at a traditional Chinese medical diagnosis of dysfunction years ahead of a western diagnosis. Yes, often years ahead.  I realize that this may sound unbelievable to some people. Please allow me to explain further. Sometimes dysfunctions or imbalances in the body and mind that could eventually cause the symptoms of dementia can be spotted and corrected well before full-blown dementia is apparent.  Remember dementia is a process and not an on and off switch.  If early imbalances in the process of dementia can be identified, they can be corrected and later severe problems can be avoided.  Let’s have a look at what a TCM approach to dementia or Alzheimer’s disease would be.

The most common presentation of a sufferer of dementia is a man or women in their seventies or eighties who has had some other chronic disease.  Commonly co-occurring diseases include diabetes or heart and stroke conditions.  Often there is weight change, urine system changes, sleep disorders, anxiety, and low back or knee pain.   At this point we need to talk a little about TCM and its approach to understanding how the body works. (For more information please see my posting “What is Traditional Chinese Medicine”.)  Although the symptoms of dementia might be the same in two different persons, according to TCM the cause might not be the same.  This is sometimes a difficult idea for Westerners to entertain. We in the West, are accustomed to having one cause, one solution.  For example the idea of one bacteria causing one disease and treated with one type of drug.  Let me put it to you this way.  I think that most of us would agree that even two people with dementia or Alzheimer’s disease, that have similar symptoms, are not showing exactly the same symptoms and signs.  In Western medicine this would be accepted but not be relevant to the changing of the classification of the disease or diagnosis.  This is exactly opposite to TCM.  These differences in other signs and symptoms are how the practitioner of TCM can come to conclude that different causes are at work in the two dementia sufferers.  This is not a mater of semantics or abstract classifications either.  These other signs and symptoms, that would lead the TCM practitioner to change his or her thoughts on the cause of the dementia, could mean very different treatment plans for the two dementia sufferers.  Let me continue to illustrate this with some examples.

I will use two examples of patients who eventually could be given diagnoses of dementia to hopefully explain how TCM can be of use in the understanding and treatment of dementia. The first patient is a man in his early seventies who is suffering from diabetes, and has a history of heart and stroke disease.  Early signs and symptoms of his disease process began with some anxiety, dizziness, weight loss, excess salivation and trouble with problem solving.  The second patient is a woman also in her early seventies whose initial problems were mild depression, chronic low back and knee pain, weak bladder, severe hot flashes and insomnia.  In both of these cases dementia was not present and would not be present for possibly years to come.  Clearly however there were health concerns.  These concerns can be seen in terms of dysfunctions and dys-harmonies  in the body and mind according to TCM.  Both these individuals show some early disturbances to the mind or “shen”.   Anxiety, depression, insomnia, and unclear thought processes tell us that.  The differences between the two patients however speaks to different routes to this disturbance.  The man’s problems relate ultimately to what Westerners would call digestive issues and the woman’s to what Westerners would call hormonal.  The specific imbalances in TCM relate to dysfunctions in different Chinese organs.

These two examples would be treated with different approaches. The man would be treated with acupuncture and herbs that deal with the mind but also with the organs associated with digestion. The woman would be treated for the mind and for the organs that deal with growth, development and reproduction. In essence the approaches would be different but the outcome would be to correct the underlying problems and to correct these problems’ effects on the mind.  This would make all the difference.  One treatment would not work for both problems, even though both problems might share similar symptoms.

It is my hope that this brief article sheds some light on the TCM approach to dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.  The key is to recognize that there is not only one cause of these problems and that the earlier the intervention the more likely is the chance of a successful outcome.

Irritable Bowel Syndrome and Chinese Medicine

 By Dr. Paul Rankin

From my doc: ‘Go spend some time in Disney Land!’
Myself: ‘Heck doc, I can’t even make it to Food Land.’

-unknown IBS sufferer, from ibstales.com

    Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a condition involving bloating and cramping pain of the abdomen and large intestine with constipation or diarrhoea or both, often with mucus in the stool.  It affects about 20% of the population and affects women more than men.  It is often worsened by certain foods and by stress.  It differs from Ulcerative Colitis which is a inflammatory disease of the bowel wall with deep ulcers and bleeding and can have systemic effects like anaemia, weight loss, skin lesions and joint pain.
IBS can be life altering with people often having to plan ’emergency’ washrooms along their daily travel route, just in case an episode occurs.  There is no known western medical cause for IBS which leaves many of its sufferers frustrated.  Typical western approaches to IBS include diet changes, stress management, and medications.

The purpose of this article is to present IBS from a Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) perspective, and to offer people with IBS some ideas as to how it may be successfully managed.

A unique principle of TCM is that more than one problem can cause the same symptoms.  This is unlike traditional western medicine which often looks for one cause for one disease.  For example, one bacteria or one missing protein causing one disease.  And while this can an effective approach for some problems, it is not reasonable to assume it will work for all problems.  In TCM each person’s body is unique and people with different imbalances may produce the same symptoms.  IBS is a good example of this.  Let’s look at IBS and its possible causes in more detail.

When a TCM practitioner attempts to understand the problems of his or her patient the first thing that he or she does is to take a detailed account of all areas of the patient’s body and mind.  The purpose of doing this is to try and understand the whole body and all its systems to look for imbalances in function.  These imbalances in function often are related, with one area affecting another.  And furthermore, often the imbalances can only be understood in relation to one another and to the rest of the body.  Let’s take diarrhoea as an example of this.

Diarrhea involves the dysfunction of the large intestine.  But the type of dysfunction can be different.  For example if a patient had diarrhea with watery stools, abdominal sounds and felt cold, its most probable a cold imbalance in the large intestine.  Compare this to the patient who also has diarrhea but has difficult defecation, dark yellow stool, and smelly stool with a fever.  This person’s diarrhea is most likely due to heat in the intestine.  Or for example is the person whose diarrhea contains undigested food, is worse after eating, and is weak in general.  This person’s diarrhea is most likely due to weakness of the TCM spleen and stomach organs.  So you see how the same problem can have a different cause according to TCM.

The issue of IBS being worsened by different foods is an interesting one to TCM practitioners.  I often have patients who come to me who have been tested for sensitivities to certain foods, or supplements.  They often have a long list of things that they have been told they have to remove from their diets.  What they are rarely told is why this has happened, and why it wasn’t the case before, and what they can do to correct it.  What I tell my patients is that it is not a problem of diet, it is a problem of digestion.  The reason that they are now sensitive to all these things is because, according to TCM, there is a dysfunction in their digestive system.  When we correct the dysfunction, the sensitivities will go away. (It’s important to note that I am not talking about immune response allergies, but sensitivities).  Often after working with me, patients are able to have those foods that they were so sensitive to before.

One possible digestive dysfunction with IBS is the TCM idea of dampness.  The watery stool with mucus in it is a good clue that this person’s body, or more specifically digestive system and the TCM spleen organ, is unable to separate the nutritious parts of food from the waste parts of food.  When this dysfunction occurs, dampness, i.e. the waste products stick around, further interfere with digestion, and can produce symptoms like mucus in the stool.

Another possible IBS symptom is a worsening of the condition when under stress.  In TCM, unlike western medicine, there is no distinction between the emotional and the physical aspects of the person.  In fact, in TCM specific organs have specific emotions attached to them.  The emotion of worry or anxiety is attached to the main digestive organ, the TCM spleen while stress and frustration is attached to the TCM liver.  When we experience these emotions too much, the organ that they are associated with can work incorrectly.  So the person with IBS issues who experiences worry and frustration is causing further damage to the organs of digestion and causing a worsening of his or her symptoms.

When a person with IBS comes to me for help, and we have ruled out pathological problems, when then set about to understand what areas of the whole body are imbalanced.  Once we have identified these problems, we can go about correcting them and dealing with the cause of their IBS.

If you or someone you care about is suffering from IBS, please consider a TCM approach to identifying and correcting the imbalances that are causing this condition and interfering with their life.  Call Dr. Rankin today.

Osteoporosis and Chinese Medicine

By Dr. Paul Rankin

Although approximately 80% of osteoporosis sufferers are women, as the longevity of the male population increases, the disease will assume increasing importance in men.”

-Gro Harlem Brundtland, from brainyquote.com
 This post is a companion article to the post Menopause and Chinese Medicine


Most people are aware that osteoporosis is related to bone loss and calcium.  What I hope to explain in this article is the explanation of osteoporosis by Traditional Chinese Medicine (TSM).
Osteoporosis is the gradual loss of bone density.  It is the thinning of the amount of bone that makes up the structural components of bone.  It is important to understand that bone is not a dead mineral like a rock, but a living and changing tissue that adapts to its environment and responds to conditions of the rest of the body.  In fact bone is in a constant state of being laid down and taken up by our bodies.  I had a great teacher who during a lecture about the skeletal system, simply jumped off a one foot high lecture stage and declared to the class, “There, I just broke all the bones in my legs!”  What he was demonstrating was that undoubtedly his jump had damaged the bones of his legs at a microscopic level, causing tiny fractures, and his bones would now go about their regular duty of repair and replacement.  The point was that bones are alive and constantly changing.

Part of this change does involve calcium, which is a main component of bone, and of teeth, and also found in most parts of the body like in blood and muscles.  It is involved in many vital chemical processes of the body (beyond the scope of this article) one of which is maintaining the acid levels of the body.  (We will come back to this idea below).  Bones are good places to store calcium, but because calcium is so important for so many body functions, if other areas of the body need calcium and we are not getting enough of it, our bodies will take it from our bones.  This leads to bone loss.  But how do we not get enough of it in the first place?

Problems with calcium, which can lead to problems like osteoporosis can be grouped into categories such as, not enough calcium getting into the body, because of diet, problems of too much calcium getting out of the body, because of for example blood or kidney issues, or problems of calcium absorption.  This last category is by far the most common one.  Most people know that Vitamin D does play a role in calcium absorption and this is vital, however there are other reasons why people have problems absorbing and processing calcium.

At this point I would have you review my last article Talk 3: Menopause.  Recall here I was discussing hormones and how changing hormone levels can affect all aspects of the body.  Recall I was also discussing how in TCM, the TCM liver, TCM kidney, and TCM spleen are often associated with these issues.  The same can apply to this topic as well.  In TCM, the kidney is responsible for bones, teeth, hair, urine, growth and development, and sexual function.  A lot of these functions are grouped under the hormonal system in western medicine.  Recall also that the TCM liver is responsible for ensuring the smooth function of all the body’s organs.  Again, this aspect could be seen as ‘hormonal’ in function.  The TCM liver is also, like the TCM spleen, an organ of digestion.  In fact, the TCM spleen is the primary organ of digestion, absorption, and separation of nutrition from waste.  In TCM when the spleen is weak, waste products are not eliminated from the digestive system and accumulate in what is known as dampness in TCM.  Another way of explaining dampness to a western audience is to return to the above mention of acid and base balance in our bodies.  Too much dampness typically means too much acidity.  This is another way of saying that there is imbalance in the body.

So if a patient is coming to me with a problem of osteoporosis, and western pathologies have been ruled out, we can assume that the TCM kidneys are involved.  But we must also determine why the TCM kidneys are not doing their job.  Is this a case of TCM liver problems? TCM spleen digestive issues? Both? Or less common reasons?  A detailed interview and exam will help us determine exactly where and what kind of imbalance is occurring.  Then the appropriate treatment such as acupuncture or herbal formula can be determined for the exact problem with each patient.  In this way, a uniquely tailored treatment addresses the exact cause of the osteoporosis.

If you are suffering from osteoporosis as one in 4 women, or 1 in 8 men over age 50, and are unhappy with your current treatment options, please call Dr Rankin for a consultation today.

Menopause and Chinese Medicine

 By Dr. Paul Rankin

 “Women know when they’ve got the menopause but men don’t quite know. They know it afterwards.”

Omar Sharif, from brainyquote.com

The topic of Menopause is one of the more common topics of discussion among my patients, both male and female!  This stage of life and the changes that it can bring are of great concern to most women, regardless of their age.  There is some apprehension on their part and a seeming inability to find an adequate explanation for these changes through traditional western healthcare providers.  This is understandable.  The subject of menopause is complex and can seem confusing.  I hope with this article to provide some explanation of this process through both a western medicine and Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM).


Most women have some understanding that menopause is related to changing hormone levels in their bodies.  And most women realize that the whole body can be affected during the process of menopause. Firstly lets look at what hormones are and what they do in a very general way.  It is convenient to think of hormones as ‘keys’ that our body produces in response to changes in us and in our environments.  These keys have the ability to fit into locks on and in our cells that tell the cells of our bodies when and what types of proteins to make. The timing and production of these proteins can determine the function of the cells of our bodies. This happens throughout the body and changes according to what our body’s perceive to need to respond to the changes and challenges of life.  In more scientific words, when our bodies perceive changes, hormones are produced to unlock the genetic expression of protein synthesis at a cellular level throughout the body.  As you could see, this can have dramatic and far reaching effects on our lives.

When there are problems with how our body perceives the changes of life, or how hormones are made, or how they interact with the rest of the body, or what the body produces in response to the hormones, problems occur.  As you can see there are many levels where things can go wrong.  When things go wrong, the functions of the bodies systems change, and symptoms can develop.  Let’s look at some common symptoms of menopause. This list could be thought of a list of symptoms that develop when things go wrong. This list was taken from http://www.project-aware.org, a menopausal association.

1. Hot or cold flashes
2. Rapid heart beat
3. Irritability
4. Mood swings
5. Trouble sleeping
6. Loss of libido
7. Irregular periods
8. Dry vagina
9. Fatigue
10. Anxiety
11. Feeling of apprehension
12. Difficulty concentrating, confusion
13. Memory lapse
14. Incontinence, especially when coughing, sneezing etc.
15. Itchy skin
16. Aching joints, muscles
17. Increased muscle tension
18. Breast tenderness
19. Headaches
20. Gastrointestinal issues
21. Bloating
22. Depression
23. Worsening of existing conditions
24. Increase in allergies
25. Weight gain
26. Hair loss or gain
27. Dizziness
28. Changes in body odour
29. Electric shock sensation
30. Tingling in extremities
31. Gum problems
32. Burning tongue, bad taste in mouth
33. Osteoporosis
34. Changes in fingernails
35. Ringing in ears

These were very common symptoms experienced by women during menopause, and as one can see, they affect the whole body and many different systems. Because there are so many different areas of the body affected, it is logical to assume that the cause of these far reaching symptoms must be something that can reach all areas of the body.  Because the hormonal system is so far reaching, it is understandable why western medicine looks to hormone problems to explain menopausal symptoms.

In TCM the functions of the body are also ascribed to various organs.  Unfortunately for English speakers, the names of the TCM organs are translated into English to names of already existing organs.  For example the TCM heart doesn’t mean the same as the western anatomical heart.  This is true for the other major organs of the body.  We are now discussing the TCM organs. If we were to assign the above symptoms to their TCM organ the list would look like this.

Symptoms associated with the TCM Liver:

3. Irritability
4. Mood swings
10. Anxiety
11. Feeling of apprehension
12. Difficulty concentrating, confusion
17. Increased muscle tension
18. Breast tenderness
19. Headaches
20. Gastrointestinal issues
21. Bloating
22. Depression
23. Worsening of existing conditions
24. Increase in allergies
25. Weight gain
26. Hair loss or gain
27. Dizziness
29. Electric shock sensation
30. Tingling in extremities
32. Burning tongue, bad taste in mouth
33. Osteoporosis
34. Changes in fingernails
35. Ringing in ears

Symptoms associated with the TCM Kidney:

1. Hot or cold flashes
14. Incontinence, especially when coughing, sneezing etc.
26. Hair loss or gain
27. Dizziness
33. Osteoporosis
35. Ringing in ears

Symptoms associated with the TCM Heart:

2. Rapid heart beat
3. Irritability
4. Mood swings
5. Trouble sleeping
10. Anxiety
11. Feeling of apprehension
12. Difficulty concentrating, confusion
13. Memory lapse
30. Tingling in extremities
32. Burning tongue, bad taste in mouth

Symptoms associated with the TCM Spleen:

9. Fatigue
15. Itchy skin
16. Aching joints, muscles
24. Increase in allergies
25. Weight gain
27. Dizziness
28. Changes in body odour
29. Electric shock sensation
30. Tingling in extremities
31. Gum problems
32. Burning tongue, bad taste in mouth

So we see that these same symptoms can be seen to be related to dysfunction of these Chinese organs.  This is how the Chinese can account for so many different symptoms in many different parts of the body.  This is the whole body imbalance that makes up the syndrome of menopausal symptoms.  And in fact as we saw, the TCM liver is responsible for the majority of menopausal symptoms.  In TCM one of the most important roles of the liver is to ensure the smooth flow of energy or qi.  This can be understood as ensuring the smooth and correct functioning of our bodies systems.  If liver qi is interrupted in its flow, function is interrupted in the body.  This is another way the whole body can be involved in menopause.  If the liver is not working properly, any part of the body might not work properly.

Furthermore, these problems don’t just start to develop during menopause, its just that as we age, our margins of error are smaller.  In other words, problems that we once could compensate for during our younger days, we can’t compensate for as we age.  It is the problems for example such as PMS, or menstruation problems, diet and digestive problems, or mental health problems, that we have as a younger person that are clues to imbalances in these organs that will eventually lead to the symptoms of menopause.

But don’t despair!  Imbalances at any age can be corrected.  Our body’s natural state is balance, and with a little help we can get you back there.  The first step is to rule out any medical pathology.  This is done by conventional western tests by your GP or specialist.  Once we know that there is nothing pathological responsible for your symptoms, we can then work on identifying the areas of imbalance.  As seen from the sample lists above, this involves grouping symptoms that you are experiencing to the specific organ responsible for the function.  Further testing involves detailed questions, tongue and pulse analysis and testing with the Acugraph (please see Acugraph web page for more information).

Once we have identified which imbalances are present we can put a plan of management together that is unique to your specific set of imbalances.  Treatments can then involve, acupuncture, herbs, adjustments, exercises, or diet recommendations.

Aging is natural, and so is aging without the intense symptoms of menopause.
If you or someone you care about is experiencing the frustrating symptoms of menopause and would like a personalized explanation and treatment of these symptoms, please contact Dr. Rankin.

Understanding Stress and Chinese Medicine

By Dr. Paul Rankin

 

“Stress: The confusion created when one’s mind overrides the body’s basic desire to choke the living daylights out of some jerk who desperately deserves it.”  Author unknown

 

Of all the topics to be covered in this lecture series, the topic of stress must surely be the most prevalent.  It seems that no one is immune from stress in his or her day to day life.  It is the most common reason people come to see me and it plays a role in virtually all clinical pictures.  But although we have all felt it in our lives, it is seemingly hard to define it exactly or to do anything about it.  For many people it’s just part of life. The purpose of this lecture is to discuss what exactly stress is from first a Western perspective, and then from a Traditional Chinese Medicine perspective, and then to offer some strategies to lessen its impact on our lives.

 

A standard medical definition of stress is “a physical, chemical, or emotional factor that causes bodily or mental tension and may be a factor in disease causation.”  Basically this means, anything that causes any physical or mental tension and that may cause disease is stress.  I would change this to: stress is anything that causes physical or mental imbalance and eventually causes dysfunction and or disease.  One example of a physical stress that is easy to understand, is the aptly named repetitive stress injury.  A common example of this is computer injuries.  Eight to ten hours pushing a mouse around and click, click, clicking uses the same portion of the same muscles over and over again.  This unnatural use creates an imbalance which leads to localized dysfunction, and eventually inflammation and disease.  Mental stress works in the same way, but it’s effects are much further reaching in scope.

 

Mental stress is triggered by the perception of change to the status quo, or in other words, to the perception of real or imagined imbalance.  “I’m going to lose my job”, “My wife wants out of our marriage”, “My kid is not home yet”, “We have to move house”, “I think there is something seriously wrong with me”.  All of these sentiments reflect the perception of serious change to how one’s life is currently being lived.  Without getting too technical, here is what happens inside you when these thoughts occur.  The higher centres of the brain, where these thoughts occur trigger lower centres to act.  This occurs both via the nervous system and the hormonal system.  These lower centres are the automatic centres, the non-conscious and reflex centres.  Major changes take place.  Essentially, your body goes into preparation for action to deal with the threat that the stress signals.  A very common analogy used to illustrate this is the “Flight or Fight” principle.  That is, your body prepares for any emergency by either staying and fighting it, or running away to fight another day.  We have all felt this at some time. This is the increased heart rate, elevated breathing, increased muscle tension and alertness that comes with stress.  What is also going on, that we are less aware of, is the shutting down of digestive functions, of the repair to tissues, the generation of cycles related to growth and fertility.  Essentially, all the nerves and hormones associated with growth and repair stop being expressed, and the nerves and hormones connected to aggression and fear are working overtime.  Now consider the quote at the beginning of this lecture.  It is often inappropriate or impossible to fight (let alone choking the living daylights out of) someone, or run away, and what happens?  There is no end to the expression of the fight or flight hormones, and what was supposed to be a momentary response to stress, ie fighting or running, never ends.  This is the adrenal or thyroid burnout so often experienced by so many people.   The constant state of stress and the nerves and hormones associated with it leads to no time for growth and repair. And we wonder why, for example, digestive problems and unexplained infertility are so common.

 

Now let’s look at stress from the perspective of TCM.

 

As we have all experienced at some time or another, it is most often not appropriate to act out on the perceived stress we encounter.  Over time this lack of action most often leads to feelings of frustration and anger.  In TCM, the emotions of frustration and anger are intimately related to the ‘liver’.  As the frustration grows, so does its impact on the normal function of the Chinese liver.  One major function of the liver, that is interrupted, is its ability to maintain the smooth flow of energy or qi.  Essentially this means that the livers job is to allow the functioning of other organs to run smoothly.  For this reason the liver is often called the ‘General Organ’.  As a general in the army order and controls the rest of the army, the liver controls the rest of the organs.  Most of us have experienced this dysfunction of the liver.  This is experienced by the tightness in the shoulders, the tension band like pain across the temples or the bloating and pain under the ribs.  This pain and dysfunction is a result of the liver’s energy getting stuck because of the frustration.  Sometimes this stuck or stagnated energy from the liver overflows from the liver and overacts on other organs disrupting their function too. Remember that the liver’s main function is to ensure the smooth flow of energy in all the organs.  It follows that when the liver’s energy is stagnated, other organs energy or functions will also be affected.

 

Two very common organs affected by the liver’s overacting are the spleen, and the heart.  When the liver overacts on the spleen, digestive problems occur.  This is the bloating, gas, and urgent diarrhea often experienced by some people during times of stress.  These conditions are often diagnosed as irritable bowel disorders.  When the liver overacts on the heart, insomnia is a common complaint.  Sometimes, more than one problem can develop which are all related to the liver’s dysfunction which in turn was related to frustration which came from the inability to act on the stressful situation. To recap, just as in Western medicine, in Chinese medicine stress causes an imbalance in the functioning of the body.  Over time this dysfunction can cause disease.

 

Now that we have discussed a brief explanation of the imbalances that stress can cause, I hope to offer some tips on dealing with the problem.

 

Obviously the first way to deal with stress is to change the situation.  This is easier said than done.  Nevertheless, sometimes what is perceived as stress by one person may not be by another and by communicating the situation can be changed.  If the situation cannot be changed, sometimes a change in perspective will easy the perception of stress.  A useful technique is to ask yourself is what is happening will matter to you in a year’s time?  Maybe the road rage you are experiencing is not that important.  Is it worth the effects that stress can have to your body?  Another technique is to picture yourself and your situation as if you were watching it from a camera place above your head.  Visualize what you are doing and where people are around you. Next imagine that the camera has raised up by 10 metres.  Now visualize the surrounding building, all of the other people and maybe the street outside.  Continue to raise the imaginary camera to a height of 500 metres and continue to expand your picture.  Now include the surrounding city and traffic etc.  Again raise your point of view to 5 km above your head.  Now imagine all the people going about their day.  As you do this process most times you will start to realize that your problems are only one part of the story that is taking place all around you all the time.  Most times this helps to put your issues into a healthy perspective.  Although techniques like these can often help with the effects of stress.  I by no means am saying that people need not seek help when they feel overwhelmed.  Seek professional help when you need it.

 

Lastly I wanted to mention a couple of ways that are commonly used in treating the effects of stress with Traditional Chinese medicine.

 

Perhaps the most famous acupuncture point used to ‘unstick’ the stagnated liver qi is the point Liver 3.  Liver 3 is located on the top of the foot between the first and second toe about an inch back from the web.  This point allows the liver to get back to smoothly controlling the energy or function of the other organs.  This point is often combined with a similar point in the web of the thumb and first finger.  Gentle massage of these points by yourself or treatment by acupuncture greatly calms the upset liver energy.  These points can be combined with other points that help the other symptoms that a person may have.  For example, if the liver was overacting on the spleen, a point on the side of the body below the ribs called Spleen 14 is often used.

 

A common herb used to help ease liver stagnation of energy is the herb “Chai Hu”.  A more familiar herb to western people is the herb peppermint, which also helps move liver qi.  Again as in the case with acupuncture, the herbs selected would be based on your unique situation and all of the issues that are being affected.  A specific plan of management for you would be worked out by the practitioner for your unique situation.

 

In conclusion, we have seen that stress can be understood both in Western medicine and TCM as an imbalance in the bodies systems.  In Western medicine this is described as an imbalance between the nervous and hormonal systems, where some hormones and nerves are being overworked to the point of burnout.  In TCM we have a very similar idea of imbalance, here caused by emotional factors affecting the functioning of organs leading to stagnation and energy imbalance.   Some techniques of perspective were offered to help deal with daily stress, and common acupuncture points and herbs were discussed as an example of treatment.  If you or someone you care about is experiencing the effects of stress now, please consider talking with Dr. Rankin to see if TCM is an appropriate approach to your situation.

Too Many Diets! Dietary Principles According to Chinese Medicine

                                                                      By Dr. Paul Rankin

According to Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) there are four paths to health.  These include proper exercise, mental attitude, rest, and diet.  Diet is so important in TCM, that it is said that in all diseases diet must be looked at first.  So, let’s take a brief look at Diet according to TCM.

In effect, foods can be thought of as weak herbs.  Foods, like herbs, have specific energetic qualities such as being hot, warm, dry, neutral, cool, cold, dry and damp.  So if you are cold, a warming food would help you, or if you have dryness, a moistening or damp food could help.  Also, like herbs, foods have specific flavors that have a direct relationship to internal organs in TCM.  For example, salty flavors most strongly affect the kidneys and too much salt can damage the kidneys function.  Likewise, eating too much of any one food, like taking too much of a specific herb, or an incorrect food or herb, can cause imbalances in the body.  Imbalances then lead to illness.

A useful way of picturing the digestive system as understood by TCM is to picture a pot with a fire under it.  The pot represents the stomach, and the fire represents the other digestive organs functions of ‘cooking’ or digesting the contents of the pot, that is food and drink.  Just as water can douse a fire, too many damp, wet, or cold foods can put out your digestive processes.  Likewise too much spicy or dry foods, or simply that 3rd course of your favorite meal, can cause your pot, or stomach to overflow.  It is easy to see how symptoms such as bloating and heart burn could be linked to cold and damp, and spicy foods respectively.  So according to TCM, the best foods to eat are the ones the will encourage the fire to burn evenly, and won’t cause the pot to overflow.  Following this line of thinking can lead us to some ideas that are different from traditional western ideas of proper diet.  For example, can you think of a colder, wetter and rawer meal than a salad straight out of the fridge?  This could surly put your digestive fire out!  Ah, but now I can imagine some of you are reading this and saying, “This is not true, I feel great after I eat my salad”, or “I can’t get enough hot sauce”.  And I don’t doubt you!  Here we come to the real strength of dietary recommendations according to TCM.  Every person is different!  It all comes down to your individual constitution and TCM diagnosis or pattern.  In other words, what is right for you may not be right for some one else.  There is no one diet fits all.  As an example of this, a person’s heartburn might be caused by too much heat inside, and hot sauce would make it worse, or another person’s same symptom of heartburn might be caused by her lack of energy in her stomach, and she needs the hot spices to help wake up her digestive system. Here we have the same symptoms, heartburn, having totally opposite dietary recommendations, because the cause of these two people’s symptoms is completely different.  Only by putting your symptoms in the context with the rest of your body can a TCM practitioner give you proper dietary recommendations.

So the purpose of the remainder of this article is this.  If you are healthy and want to remain that way, I will give you some general recommendations, and if you are currently experiencing some health issues you should still follow the basic recommendations but know that there are specific recommendations that you should also be following.  In other words, the following is advice for a healthy diet according to TCM.  There may however be additional recommendations given to an individual based on his or her health concerns by a practitioner of TCM.

The Basics

  • Eat widely and diversely, mostly vegetables and grains, especially rice, with small amounts of everything else.
  • Eat moderately and chew well.
  • It’s helpful to drink warm water or tea with meals.
  • Use a wide variety of spices moderately in cooking.
  • Eat organic when possible, and avoid artificial additives and preservatives.
  • Eat freshly prepared foods and within 24 hours of being cooked.

Diet Principles

  • Eat mostly cooked foods. (Raw foods take more energy to ‘cook’)
  • Favor soups and stews.  (They are most like the contents of your ‘pot’)
  • Avoid chilled, cold or frozen foods and drinks with meals.  Eat them sparingly between meals.  (Cold foods put your ‘fire’ out)
  • Avoid sweets.  (They damage the digestive system)
  • Avoid excess dairy, meats (especially pork and beef), nuts, eggs, oils, and fats.

In closing remember that diet is probably the easiest way that you have to help yourself and your health.  These basic recommendations are just that.  Both people and foods have specific attributes.  The specific nature of one food might be extremely helpful for one person, while aggravating another person’s condition.  And so once again, it comes down to knowing the individual person’s TCM pattern in order to know which diet to follow.

For an individualized TCM diet recommendation, please contact Dr. Rankin at dragonbone.  Let us help you to eat your way to better health.  Bon Appetit!

Insomnia and Acupuncture and Chinese Medicine

By Dr. Paul Rankin

 

“There’s more of gravy than of grave about you, whatever you are!’

-Ebeneezer Scrooge to a visitor one sleepless night.

 

Charles Dickens presents a vivid example of a common sufferer of insomnia in Ebeneezer – older, and emotionally disturbed.  And while insomnia does occur with greater frequency as we age, and as we deal with emotional disturbances, it doesn’t have to.  The purpose of this article is to offer a different perspective on sleep disorders.  Namely via the perspective of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM).

 

Insomnia can be defined as “difficulty in sleeping, or disturbed sleep patterns leaving the perception of insufficient sleep”.  We are talking here about repetitive, chronic sleep disturbances, not the occasional poor sleep.  We are also talking about primary sleep problems.  That is poor sleep not related to pain or other disease.  In Western Bio medicine  insomnia is related to one of three categories; Initial Insomnia, Early morning waking, and Inverted sleep rhythm.  The underlying mechanism for both Initial insomnia and early morning waking is most often assigned to emotional disturbances, specifically depression and anxiety. The third category of Inverted sleep rhythm, feeling tired and groggy during the day and restless at night is assigned to inappropriate use of sedatives.  The typical Western Bio medical treatment for the first two categories of insomnia is to provide reassurance, encourage exercise, and prescribe sedatives.  See above regarding causal factors for Inverted sleep rhythms!  

 

During my years of practice, numerous patients at numerous times suffering from insomnia have found the Western Biomedical model lacking in their circumstances.  I have found that sometimes, it’s helpful to look at problems from other perspectives. Let’s have a look at insomnia from the perspective of TCM.

 

TCM is the oldest continuously practiced literate medical system in the world.  For newcomers to TCM it is important to understand that TCM is not being presented as a competing or favoured medical system compared to Western Bio medicine  but rather as complimentary.   It’s a different system that hundreds of thousands of people over thousands of years have benefited from.  Centuries of observations about how people work, and how they get sick and get better have been collected and modified over time bringing us to today.  As TCM is a different medical system, it uses different ways of explaining things, some of which might seem strange to us and some of which sound like common sense.  As an example, one central belief of TCM is that there is energy in the body and that this energy travels from the organs inside the body to the outside of the body in structures called channels or meridians.  These meridians link to each other, and the balance and movement of the energy in these meridians is linked to health and disease

 

Balance of energy is vital to health in TCM.  In fact, the definition of disease in TCM can simply be stated as imbalance.  The Chinese also divide insomnia problems into troubles falling asleep, and troubles with waking up early.  The Chinese take this distinction further though.  In TCM one way to discover imbalances is to consider if there is too much of one thing, or too little of something causing the imbalance.  In very general terms, trouble falling asleep in TCM is often a problem of excess, and trouble staying asleep is often an imbalance of deficiency.  Another trait of TCM is using unique descriptors for pathological problems.  Often these pathogens are described in terms of their actions on the body, for example what Biomedicine would call a fever caused by a virus, the TCM practitioner would call heat, or what Biomedicine would call a dry cough due to an infection, the TCM practitioner would call a dry attack.  Likewise TCM has assigned certain body functions to organs that are different than in Biomedicine.  Remember, TCM is a different system of medicine, and it simply classifies things in different ways.  Sometimes these different classifications can through light on issues not illuminated by Bio medicine   Let’s look more closely at how TCM classifies insomnia and what treatment options it has.

 

Another unique aspect of TCM is the non separation of emotions and the body. According to TCM specific organs have specific emotions and physical problems always lead to emotional ones and vice versa.  It is always this way, and so emotional issues are clues to the body’s functioning and the body’s functioning are clues to the emotions.  In the case of insomnia, the Chinese organ system most often affected is the heart system.  This is not the same as your Bio medical  anatomical heart, but the “TCM heart”.  The TCM heart also includes what we would consider mind and most mental functions and the emotion of joy.  What the Chinese would consider to be too much joy, in Bio medicine would be called mania.  What the Chinese would consider to be not enough joy, in Bio medicine would be called depression.  In TCM if the heart is affected, the mind is affected and the emotion is affected.

 

One way of having excess insomnia is if the heart has too much heat, or fire.  This is often caused by stress, but can also be caused by diet.  Who hasn’t experienced a night of insomnia after indulging in too much food or drink.  The excess energy is keeping the heart too active and not allowing sleep to occur.   Deficient insomnia can be caused by lacking certain substances that nourish and support the heart and mind. When the substances run out, you wake up.  Often this occurs at the same time each night, and you end up waking up at the same time each night.

 

There are various methods a TCM practitioner uses to figure out what kind of imbalance you may have.   The traditional methods involve asking a lot of questions and feeling your pulse and examining your tongue.  These exams can tell the TCM practitioner where your energy imbalance is by looking at each of the meridians in your body.  More modern methods include electronic meridian imaging, such as the Acugraph (for more information about the Acugraph please see the Acugraph web page).  At Dragon Bone, all these types of analysis are used to describe exactly what type of imbalance you have and then deciding how to treat it.

 

Acupuncture and Chinese herbs are two common methods of treating imbalances in the body.  Herbs, or acupuncture points are selected to help remove excess energy and or build up deficient energy in specific meridians and organ systems.  The acupuncture points or herbs selected will be specific for you alone based on your specific imbalance.  As an example of an herb used in an excess heart condition is the herb Long Gu, or Dragon Bone, which is literally a heavy calcified bone that will sedate and hold down the excess energy in the heart and bring calmness and sleep.  A common herb used for deficient insomnia is Suan Zao Ren, which is also known as Zizyphus.  This herb brings extra energy to the heart and nourishes it allowing it to function normally and calmly return to balance and let the natural pattern of sleep emerge.  Often exercises and diet recommendations are also given.  Once balance has been achieved the frequency of treatment by herbs or acupuncture points being used are changed or simply stopped.  Once balance is there the problems will not be.

 

In summary this brief article hopes to shed some light on TCM and its complimentary approach to the common problem of insomnia.  Once a proper classification of dysfunction and imbalance has been identified using traditional and modern techniques, a proper therapeutic course of action can be followed.  And who knows, maybe the problem is related to diet, and Mr. Scrooge was right!