Holiday fun and an antioxidant blueberry facial mask

I gave myself last weekend off–with July 4 on Sunday, I knew my practice would be slow, so I decided to take Friday and Sunday off. I love being active in the city, so I planned to do a different fun thing for each day.

I did a few hours of paperwork in my office in Davis Square on Friday, which was O.K. because I spent the afternoon biking the Minute Man Bike trail from Somerville to Lexington.

It was a beautiful day, and I hung out for a spell in Lexington.

Saturday’s activity was a walk from Central Square, up Main Street and over the Longfellow bridge into Boston.

My destination was Boston harbor.

Sunday morning was yoga with David at South Boston Yoga. It was super sweaty! We sweat more and more easily in the summer because our body’s energy (or “qi”) is up at the surface so it can open and close the pores and keep us cool. Which is what sweating is–your body keeping you cool.

Since I had spent so much time outside, I decided to give myself an soothing blueberry antioxidant mask to repair my skin from all the sun exposure. Here’s my recipe. The quantities are approximate–the goal is to have a smooth and creamy mask with a medium-thick consistency. It should be easily spreadable but not runny.


You should always patch test any home made beauty products before you smear them all over your face.

Antioxidant blueberry facial mask

1/4 cup blueberries
1/4 cup plain yogurt
1 tsp honey
a few drops of Vitamin E (optional)
1-2 tbsp cosmetic clay of your choice (I used Betonite clay).

Combine first three ingredients in a blender and blend well. Pour blueberry/yogurt mixture into a bowl, and stir in clay a little at a time until desired consistency is reached.

To use: Spread thin layer of mask onto clean skin. Relax for 5-10 minutes. Rinse.

Leaky Gut Syndrome

Nancy (not her real name) came to see me for acupuncture to treat her lupus symptoms of chronic neck and upper back pain. She had a host of other issues, too–anxiety, poor sleep, low energy, intermittent joint pain–but the neck and upper back were the worst.

When someone has pain, Chinese medicine believes that there is usually an element of stagnation present–blood stagnation, dampness causing stagnation, maybe cold causing stagnation–and we do a treatment to move that stagnation, and strengthen the patients qi so that their bodies can keep battling stagnation off of the treatment table.

When I agreed to work with Nancy, I encouraged her (actually, I practically begged her, at almost every visit) to get tested for Celiac disease and food allergies. I have seen in my clinical practice that a condition called “leaky gut syndrome” can be the cause of autoimmune diseases like lupus and rheumatoid arthritis. Leaky gut syndrome can occur when someone has an overgrowth of candida, or if they are consuming food that their body can’t tolerate. Overuse of oral antibiotics can be a factor, too, since they destroy all of the “good” bacteria in the intestines, leaving them weak and inflamed. The small intestine becomes porous and toxins leak out into the body, stimulating an autoimmune response.

Western medicine has not gotten on board with the idea that a leaky gut could have anything to do with autoimmune disease. I can’t say that it’s the only cause, but I’ve seen it in a few patients.

Nancy finally had to get allergy testing after two severe allergic reactions that sent her to the emergency room for anaphylactic shock. Her first test showed that she was allergic to at least 90 different things. No wonder she was so sick!

Food intolerances are not a part of Chinese medicine, but digestive health is believed to be one of the most important keys to well-being. People with digestive problems often have dampness, which can lead to pain. So, while we don’t have traditional explanations for a problem like leaky gut syndrome (at least not that I’ve encountered), it fits into our medical theory that problems with the intestines can make problems in the rest of the body.

To avoid another experience with anaphylactic shock, Nancy needs further testing to check for other allergenic foods. Her doctor has her eating the foods that she seems least allergic too until they can get more test results. Unfortunately for Nancy, it’s only 2 items–dairy and eggs.

It’s a difficult and depressing situation for her, and she’s hungry and getting tired of eating only eggs and dairy products. But, her pain is already starting to recede. For the first time in years, her neck is not in excruciating pain all the time. I expect that as her body detoxes (and as she is able to incorporate other foods into her diet), she will feel better than she ever has.

Jake Fratkin, and acupuncturist and naturopath in Boulder, has a great article about leaky gut syndrome. You can also go to his website here.

Dr. Andrew Weil has a brief posting here.

Rice Porridge for a happy tummy

Congee or Jook is a special rice porridge eaten throughout Asia when someone is sick or feels the need to eat simple foods to cleanse the system. Traditionally, it is made of white rice cooked slowly in a large quantity of water, i.e. 1 cup of rice cooked in 3-8 cups of water for however long it takes to become a thick porridge. It is extremely bland and very gentle on the system.

I often make congee with whole grains, and then I add other things for flavor. For breakfast, I might add some dried fruit and nuts, and maybe a spoonful of agave nectar or honey. For lunch I like to add some sesame oil, soy sauce, cooked edamame, spinach, and if my tummy feels up to it, some chopped green onions. If you have the time, it’s nice to soak the grains to help make them easier to digest. I like to use brown rice, and often add other grains like quinoa or millet. If you are not avoiding gluten, whole barley and wheat berries are nice, too, but they work best when you soak them ahead of time, and add the maximum amount of water when you cook them. Whole oats, or even steel-cut oats are a nice addition, too.

Whole grain congee is not tradional, but I think that when you soak the grains, and cook them for a long time, they can be gentle to your system, and more nutritious than traditional white rice congee.

Maki at JustHungry.com give a recipe for a new year’s congee that includes 7 greens. You can read her posting here. The recipe is below:

Recipe: Nanakusagayu using local greens

Makes 4 servings

Since this is such a simple dish, make sure to use the best quality ingredients you can. The quality of the rice in particular is important, as is the rinsing and drying process. Use fresh greens and a salt that really tastes good.

* 1 cup white medium grain or Japanese style rice (see Looking at Rice).
* Mixed dark leafy greens
* 8 cups water
* Sea salt, to taste

Rinse the rice with several changes of water (see How to wash rice) until the water runs clear. Drain the rice into a colander, and leave for at least 30 minutes to dry.

Wash the greens. If you are using any slightly bitter or tough greens like kale, collard greens, daikon radish leaves (not sprouts), turnip greens, puntarelle or cabbage, blanch them briefly in boiling water, drain and refresh under cold running water. Tender greens can be used as-is. Chop up all the greens. You should end up with about 1/4 cup of cooked greens or 1 cups of raw greens, or a mix of both.

Put the rice and the water in a heavy bottomed pan (traditionally you might use a donabe or earthenware pot, but I just use a cast iron enameled pot). Bring up to a boil, then lower the heat to a gentle simmer.

Cook, while stir up the rice from the bottom of the pan occasionally as it cooks, so that it doesn’t burn or stick, for about 40 minutes, until the rice porridge is creamy, like a loose risotto. Add 1 tsp. salt and stir. Just before serving, add the prepped greens and stir in well. Serve piping hot, with additional salt on the side that people can add to taste to their bowls.

Congee cooks up nicely in a crock pot–just set it up before bed and you’ll have a nice porridge in the morning. I make mine on the stove and reheat it as needed (though Maki doesn’t recommend this. I find it works just fine for me).

Plastic Surgery: One (Extreme) Cure for Migraines?

The New York Times recently had a story about how migraines disappeared in 80% of people who had plastic surgery in the forehead, temples, or back of the head. Wow!

Now, I’m not sure how I feel about surgery for migraines, but if it truly produces significant improvement, then it’s nice to have that as an option. Acupuncture also works well for migraines. I don’t usually see a total elimination of migraines, but a big reduction in frequency and severity. The nice thing about acupuncture versus plastic surgery is that it does not have any of the risks associated with surgery.

Read more at the New York Times.

Another Healthy Cool Summer Bev: Agua Fresca

Agua Fresca, a beverage made from melon, water and lime or lemon juice, is a wonderful way to keep cool in the heat of summer. Gourmet foodie blog Smitten Kitchen describes how to make it.

In Chinese medicine, melon has cooling energy. But be careful: while refreshing, it’s best not to have melon with breakfast as it is too cold for a morning stomach just heating up to digest food all day. Save melon for later in the day.

And I agree with Smitten Kitchen: leave out the sugar. Melon is plenty sweet on its own. If you do need more sweetener, I recommend agave nectar, a sweet, honey-like product of the agave cactus (tequila!), which has a low glycemic index so it’s gentler to the system.

Head over to Smitten Kitchen for the recipe and more info.

Found this tidbit via StumbleUpon.

EDIT: Before I could get this piece up on the intarwebz, Lifehacker beat me to it. But I still found it first! Ha!

Medicinal Mushrooms

Mushrooms like Reishi, Cordyceps and Poria have long been used in Chinese herbal medicine as tonics for the body. Modern research has shown that these and other varieties of mushrooms have immune building, cancer-fighting and anti-inflammatory capabilities. It’s important to try to include some in your diet–no need to try to over do it, just to have them be a regular part of your weekly or monthly diet.

Here’s a post from Dr. Andrew Weil about some mushrooms to try to incorporate into your life. Cordyceps is a great mushroom, but I haven’t had much luck finding it outside of my Chinese herb suppliers. When you can find it, it’s incredibly expensive (too expensive for me to stock it in my pharmacy). Reishi is pretty easy to find and much more affordable, so I would choose that over cordyceps. Shiitake and Maitake (also called Hen of the Woods) are expensive to buy fresh, but relatively inexpensive to buy dried. I add some dried shiitake and maitake to any soup stock I make (or, if I’m in a hurry, I boil them along with some whole garlic cloves in some Imagine Foods No Chicken stock for a quick almost-home-made tasting stock). I get my dried mushrooms from MountainRoseHerbs.com.

Here’s Dr. Weil’s post, and you can go the original here:

Mushrooms are a big favorite of mine because they’re delicious and often have medicinal properties. If you’re not allergic and don’t find them hard to digest, try these:

1. Cordyceps: A Chinese mushroom used traditionally as a tonic and restorative. You can add whole, dried cordyceps to soups and stews, or drink tea made from powdered cordyceps.
2. Maitake: This delicious mushroom provides anti-cancer, anti-viral and immune-enhancing properties, and may also reduce blood pressure and help regulate blood sugar. Find it dried or fresh in Japanese markets, gourmet stores or upscale supermarkets.
3. Reishi: Too woody and bitter to eat, reishi mushrooms are available in tea bags, capsules and liquid extracts. Animal studies have shown that reishi improves immune function and inhibits the growth of some malignant tumors. It also acts as a natural anti-inflammatory agent.
4. Shiitake: The shiitake has been found to have immune modulating, anti-viral and cholesterol-reducing properties. Certain extracts of shiitake mushrooms are used in Japan as adjunctive therapy to strengthen the immunity of cancer patients during chemotherapy and radiation. Find it – fresh or dried – in grocery stores and Asian markets.

Note: I advise against the regular consumption of cultivated white or “button” mushrooms because they contain natural toxins that may act as carcinogens.

NewYork Herb Pharmacy

We visited Chinatown on our last trip to NYC because I wanted to visit a Chinese herb pharmacy. We found this rather large, well-organized pharmacy, and were drawn in by the big barrells of ginseng that they had on display. The rest of the shop was filled with hundreds of different patent formulas (Chinese herbs prepared in pill form), as well as raw herbs that one of their pharmacists could use to fill a prescription.

Army Acupuncture

Ear Acupuncture Chart

Ear Acupuncture Chart

According to this article at the Chinese Medicine Times, the military is using acupuncture (primarily ear acupuncture) to relieve pain in wounded soldiers.  They’ve found that it helps reduce the amount of pain medication they need to administer, reducing that hazy sensation pain meds can produce.  By reducing the pain level overall, the body is better able to heal itself, so recovery is faster.

I’m pretty excited that the military is using acupuncture–perhaps this will lead to more wide-spread acceptance of acupuncture, and more insurance coverage across the country.

Here’s a link to the article: http://www.chinesemedicinetimes.com/forum/showthread.php?p=1224#post1224