The Role Of The Spleen

The use of food as medicine in Chinese culture and the role of the spleen can be dated at least as far back as the  Western Zhou dynasty (11th c BC to 771 BC) where food and beverage hygiene were one of the four specialities a doctor could follow (as well as internal medicine, external medicine and veterinary). The ‘Yellow Emperor’s Classic of Internal Medicine’ describes how

used in the right combinations, everyday food can prevent illness.

The Role Of The Spleen

It is with this in mind that we can view the idea of ‘going on a diet’ with fresh eyes. A quick Google search of the word ‘diet’ defines it as

the kinds of food that a person, animal, or community habitually eats.

 

It may come as a surprise when your acupuncturist starts talking about your spleen as an essential part of your digestive process, after all many people live perfectly well without one. In Chinese medicine the ‘spleen’ is a set of functions involved in the breaking down of food into useful ‘fuel’ and the transporting of it around the body. You may liken the former to the function of a compost heap and the latter to a lorry driver who takes the compost away.

Current dietary advice is to eat 5 portions of fruit/vegetables a day, to cut down on fat and sugar and to reduce ‘bad’ fats. We instinctively know that too much of one thing may be detrimental, but what else can Chinese medicine theory bring to the party?

To delve into this further, let us take the example of chronic diarrhoea, with undigested food passing through the gut. In many such cases there is an underlying spleen weakness. Essentially the breaking down of food is being impaired and the lorry driver is out of control. So how might we address these issues purely through dietary adjustment?

This reveals, in my opinion, some of the essential differences between Western and Eastern dietary practices. In the Eastern model food choices and practices may be advised which reduce the load on the digestion. For example to avoid overeating, especially late at night, and to chew everything well. As the old expression goes

breakfast like a King, lunch like a Prince, supper like a pauper

Foods to avoid might include excessively fatty and deep-fried foods, dairy products and raw or chilled foods. But of equal importance are foods which help to strengthen the spleen function. Many of these foods are yellow/orange in nature (which is often said to be the natural colour of the Spleen). Especially helpful examples are:-

apples, apricots, kiwi, lychee, peaches, pineapple, bamboo shoots, spinach, turnip, oats, tomatoes, brown rice, barley chestnuts, walnuts and pumpkin. Spices such as cinnamon, cloves and nutmeg.

These choices are summarised in more detail in the accompanying diagram, but in general the spleen appreciates a freshly prepared range of nourishing foods. If you are in doubt at this stage what to eat, why not try the colour test. Take a look at your dinner plate and look for a balance of the five colours, which are:-

Red (orange), yellow, blue/black (which includes most foods from the sea), green and white (eg onion, garlic).

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Mindfulness and Meditation With Buddhify

How things have changed! The art of meditation, once the realm of hippies and buddhists is now mainstream, rebranded as mindfulness. This is a basically the art of being in the here and now, and is the mental equivalent of going to the gym. Benefits are said to include reduced stress, better focus and improved sleep.

I have been testing a new kid on the block. Buddhify is available for Android and iOS smartphones, and according to its authors :-

“is the most convenient, best value and most beautiful meditation app available today. It is helping people around the world reduce stress, be present & get better sleep in even the most busy of lifestyles. Peace of mind for just the price of a cup of coffee with no hidden or additional costs.”

Mindfulness and Meditation With Buddhify

When you first open up the app’s colourful wheel (see picture), you are confronted with a series of choices based on your current activity. These include going to sleep, working online or eating. For example, ‘waiting around’ brings up 3 meditation options ‘stereo’, ‘curious’ and ‘base’. Ranging from 5 to 11 minutes in length these are audio tracks which will take you through a range of guided lessons based around this scenario. The tracks are thoughtful and relevant to modern living – a lifetime away from the ‘imagine you are in a meadow’ meditations of yesteryear.

According to its authors, Buddhify comprises “over 80 custom made meditations for wherever you are”.

Altogether I found listening to Buddhify a surprisingly pleasant and thought provoking activity. The voices are very pleasant to listen to – both male and female – and not an American accent anywhere! For these reasons I have been recommending Buddhify to some of my stressed acupuncture patients, and the feedback so far has been positive.

Buddhify website

The Four Pillars of Health

What are the four pillars of health and how can they help us? Dr Rangan Chatterjee, 38, a GP from Oldham, and presenter of the BBC’s ‘Doctor In The House’ series was recently interviewed on the BBC Breakfast TV sofa. He asserted that most GPs these days are too busy to properly investigate complicated medical conditions, and it is therefore much easier to prescribe a pill. As part of his TV experiment Dr Chatterjee was allowed the luxury of spending time with patients in their home environment. As a consequence he was better able to get to the bottom of their medical issues, with some heartwarming outcomes.Four pillars of health

The four pillars he described are:-

  • Eating
  • Moving
  • Sleeping
  • Relaxing

It all sounds too easy, but what can we really learn from this approach? We are bombarded with health messages on a daily basis. Which ones should we really pay attention to? Let us take a look at each pillar in turn.

Nearly every day there is a new story in the media about healthy eating, which frankly can be really confusing. For me the key questions are about how often you eat freshly cooked food? Perhaps convenience wins over quality. Are do you allow adequate time to ‘rest and digest’ at mealtimes?

Have you ever had a conversation with your GP or practice nurse about taking more exercise? What was the outcome? Perhaps you started with good intentions but something more important came along.

four pillars of healthAnd on the topic of rest, the sleep council (http://www.sleepcouncil.org.uk/) notes that ‘nearly half of us are getting just six hours sleep or less a night. And an alarming four out of five people complain of disturbed or inadequate – or ‘toxic’ – sleep’. Go to their website for answers to these and other sleep related issues.

According to an online dictionary, the word relax means ‘to make or become less tense or anxious, to make (a rule or restriction) less strict’. Which rule could you relax? For all you schedulers out there, do you ever pencil in R & R breaks?

Here is a tip to make your four pillars work for you. I like to score each one from one to ten (where ten is perfect), and then write alongside each score one action I can take that will improve my score. Go on and have a go.

Martin Dean is an acupuncturist with over 23 years practice experience who practices in Nottingham. www.acupuncturepaincentre.co.uk

Why I Love My Job

Patients often pick up that I really enjoy my work. This got me to thinking what it is about the practice of Acupuncture that fires me up.

why I love my jobFirstly I have to say that this ancient approach to wellness didn’t come about overnight. Constant development of ideas by Chinese thinkers and doctors over more than two millenia has given us a wide-ranging system of medicine that rather thoughtfully tries to explain what it is to be human with all our faults. It is about real people’s lives. And such a system naturally requires constant study and updating by the modern practitioner. It also draws to the attention of the acupuncturist – the agent of change –  the need for self-development.

In a week where the daylight coming through the window has begun to take on a warmer hue and the very air sounds different, I am remined how we advanced human beings are still affected by the relentless march of the seasons. As it is without us, so it is within.

The ‘Yellow Emperor’s Classic of Medicine’, much of which predates the birth of Christ, describes in detail how we are affected by seasonal variations, and guides us in working hand-in-hand with nature. I am blessed to be able to pass on some of this wisdom as I understand it. Amongst my patients, farmers are the group most readily able to relate to this concept, with their close association with the land. All too often the solution to seasonal variations in how we feel inside is to turn up the heating, switch the electric lighting on and carry on with our normal routines. The enlightened soul might perhaps modify his/her behaviour according to the specific nature of each season.

So being an acupuncture practitioner isn’t neccesarily an easy job. And patients don’t always get better, or respond according to textbook theory. It would be surprising if they did! But many do and this is a regular reward that never grows dim. In truth attention to detail and careful use of the senses – sight, listening , touch and even smell – can go a long way towards allowing us to better understand each other.

The way of healing is so profound. It is deep as the oceans and boundless as the skies. How many truly know it?

If only we were perfect!

 

 

Cold Relief Tea

It is that time of year when many of us reach for the lemsip and tissues. Statistically the autumn season is a peak time for respiratory diseases, due it is said to the changes in temperature. It is for this reason that ancient acupuncture texts often associate the lungs with the season of autumn.

Cold relief tea

Beat Those Autumn Sniffles

This recipe uses the principles of traditional Chinese medicine to produce a cold relief tea which drives cold out of the body and ‘releases the exterior’. It may not be an obvious choice of brew but this is just the tonic if you are showing the first shivers of a cold. After drinking the tea I would recommend you cover yourself up and sweat it out.

Please note that this tea is not suitable if you show signs of a high fever.

Ingredients
Fresh ginger 2 teaspoons
Cinammon bark 1 teaspoon
Garlic 1 clove
Spring onion 1
Cayenne pepper 1/4 teaspoon
2 cups water
Simmer the first two ingredients and add the rest before the end. Sweeten if desired. Enjoy!

 

For more information on Chinese food energetics click here.

Acupuncture Point Xue Hai An Unsung Hero

Acupuncture point Xue Hai (usually referred to as Spleen 10) is surely something of an unsung hero. It is amongst the most commonly used acupuncture points. Located on the inside of the leg just below the knee, its name translates as Sea of Blood. As you would expect it is used for treating disorders of the blood – its manyfold uses in this context include regulating menstruation, benefitting skin disorders (by moistening otherwise dry skin), and treating painful conditions distinguished by stagnant blood.

Acupuncture Point Xue Hai An Unsung Hero

To give an example, painful or irregular periods characterised by large clots can be eased with this point. In effect it promotes smooth circulation and discharge of  menstrual blood.

When combined with other points Xue Hai can also be used to treat blood deficiency (similar to anaemia). Typical symptoms of blood deficiency might include dizziness on standing up, ‘floaters’ in the vision, brittle nails and fatigue. So how does this work? In Chinese medicine, Xue Hai lies on the Spleen channel. This organ/system is responsible for the transformation of ingested food and drink (as a part of the digestive system) into blood. It is for this reason that the provision of acupuncture treatment would normally be accompanied by a proper discussion about diet.

And finally Xue Hai can help skin conditions where internal heat causes so-called ‘heat in the blood’, a characteristic of many skin conditions (for example painful, hot sores).

Is acupuncture Point Xue Hai An Unsung Hero? I will let you be the judge of this. Do you have a favourite acupuncture point?

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