What Should I Eat To Stay Well

We are bombarded almost daily with information about what to eat and what not to eat. So, who’s word should we trust?

What Should I Eat To Stay Well

Family eating dinner at a dining table

In this article I will attempt to answer this question through the long lens of Chinese medicine. The idea of food as medicine goes back at least as far as the publication Recipes for Fifty-Two Ailments (ca. 200 BCE), recommending as it does recipes for different medical conditions. Sun Simiao’s Prescriptions Worth a Thousand Gold which was completed in the 650s has a chapter on food. This contains 154 entries divided into four sections – on fruits, vegetables, cereals, and meat – in which Sun explains the properties of individual foodstuffs with concepts borrowed from contemporary medical texts.

We will look at some of these ideas through modern eyes to help make sense of our dilemma. Although each food item will have different effects on your body, it is possible to draw broad conclusions. It can be helpful too to see each food item in the context of the place and time of year that it grows naturally.

Fruits

These are often cooling, due in part to the high water content. This makes for the perfectly refreshing summer food. Tropical fruits such as pineapples are often more cooling that our local varieties. Too much fruit is not well suited to waterlogged individuals (e.g. those with oedema).What Should I Eat To Stay Well

Tip: Try to blend fruit rather than juice it so as to preserve valuable fibre. Serve at room temperature to help digestion.

Nuts and Seeds

These are packed with nutrition for powering new plants, which makes them a good source of energy for humans. Many varieties are heavy and oily which can help moisten sluggish bowels.

Grains

These are basically grass seeds. The old texts hold that grains build and vegetables cleanse. Grains include wheat, oats, rye, quinoa.

Tip: Try and eat a variety of grains, avoid too many refined ones (especially wheat).

Beans and Pulses

Sweet and nourishing. These can be helpful to drain excess fluids from the body and will combine well with grains. Soya beans, especially in the form of tofu or miso is a south east Asian staple and is wonderfully nourishing.

Vegetables

These are known to be cleansing, especially when raw. This form though is not recommended, especially in colder weather as it is harder work for the digestion.

Root vegetables are nourishing and warming since they are a store for the plant during winter. It is for this reason that they are popular in winter stews and casseroles. Carrots, celeriac, celery and fennel are great digestives. Brassicas are mild tonics and are useful for moving the digestive system.

Dark green leafy vegetables are a great source of nutrition for building blood.

Meat

Meat is the most blood nourishing food. Best eaten in small amounts as its heavy fatty nature can lead to stagnation. Slow cooking and good seasoning can aid digestibility.

Dairy

Sweet and rich but can be hard to digest, affecting especially the lungs. Fermented forms such as yoghurt are easier to tolerate and have probiotic properties. The warming effect of butter can help blood circulation.

Herbs and Spices

As well as providing additional flavour, herbs and spices can be used as a digestive (cardamom, cloves, cinammon), to warm (ginger), cool (mint), dry up phlegm (fennel seeds, lemon zest, rosemary), or act as a blood tonic (parsley).

And finally, it may be helpful to think of a good diet as comprising three elements;

  • General dietary factors
  • Your personal constitutional requirements (for example improve circulation)
  • Eat according to the season.

So that is it. We have looked at the properties of some common food groups in relation to your health. I trust that this will provide you with a broader perspective and trigger some interesting conversations around the dinner table.

Bon appetit!

Please call Martin Dean Acupuncturist on 07969 41 31 58

For further resources: http://www.meridianpress.net/

[What should I eat to stay well]

Why Is My Tongue Sore

Patients will sometimes ask me why their tongue is sore and what they can do about it. Their GP may have diagnosed a bacterial infection or perhaps prescribed a medicine to ease symptoms. Are there any other perspectives that might be helpful in this situation?

Western medicine, so often good at saving lives, will sometimes compartmentalise issues, and so a sore tongue is a sore tongue. Isn’t that obvious, I hear you ask? It is a cornerstone of Chinese Medicine that our wellbeing depends on the efficient functioning of interrelated systems, presided over by our internal organs. A delicate balance is struck between these organ systems which operate like a team. When one member misbehaves it may affect the whole side. Yin and yang, and the five elements are ancient models that describe these associations in detail and form a framework for our understanding of human functioning. To illustrate this point, our lungs hate being dry, but unless the kidneys take away any excess moisture they will flood (pneumonia). Hence the lungs and kidneys work in partnership.

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In regular practice acupuncturists rely on a variety of indicators to assess a patient’s state of health. We ask questions (how are your bowels?), make observations (you are looking a little pale today) and assess through touch (pulse diagnosis). And of course there is tongue diagnosis.

Why Is My Tongue Sore

The tongue represents a complete microsystem – that is a representation of the whole organism. Whilst a sore tongue may just be the result of accidental biting, by carefully observing the it we can arrive at observations about the patient’s state of well-being. Specifically we can make observations about energy levels, hydration and blood flow. Similar microsystems include the hands, ears, feet (foot reflexology exploits this), eyes and the abdomen. Tongue diagnosis is a pillar of acupuncture and Chinese medicine. To take an example if the tongue is dry we may assume the patient’s tissues are dry. By observing which part of the tongue is dry we can make further assumptions about which part of the body this pertains to.

Broadly speaking the tip of your tongue represents your head and the very rear your lower trunk and legs. ‘But what about my sore tongue?’ I hear you ask. This commonly points to anything that triggers the build up of heat, such as  weakening of specific organs from (for example) worrying or aging. As well as soreness your tongue will probably be dry and your urine dark. You may suffer from night sweats.

Acupuncture treatment will focus on nourishing the affected systems and reducing the heat. You may be advised to avoid dietary factors such as spicy foods and eat easily digested food such as porridge, fish, vegetables and soup.

Give us a call today on 07969413158

Also see related blog If Only We Knew How To Listen

[Why is my tongue sore]

 

Rewriting The Constitution

What do we mean by rewriting the constitution? When we look in a dictionary, the word constitution is described as the composition, configuration or form of something. In the context of human beings, we talk about having a strong or a weak constitution. We are effectively referring to the aggregate of a person’s physical and psychological characteristics.

rewriting the constitution

To treat a disease first find the root

When discussing illness and disease Chinese Medicine will talk about the root and the branch (the ben and biao in Chinese). The latter term refers to the ‘outward sign’ or ‘manifestation’. This could be a symptom such as dizziness or headaches. In assessing a patient we would also try to find the root (which is the original cause of the problem). This could for example be a weakness of the Kidneys, which would show up in a number of presenting signs such as the sound of the person’s voice and their facial colour. It is left to the skill of the acupuncturist to deduce the type of disharmony from the signs.

Often just treating the root is sufficient to clear the branches. As the expression goes ‘to treat a disease find the root’. In our example treating the kidneys may clear both the dizziness and headaches. Or we may treat both root and branch together.

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Treating the branch without treating the root is however rarely satisfactory. Gardeners will recognise that removing the stem and leaves of a weed, but not the roots often results in the weed reestablishing itself.

The way Chinese Medicine approaches treating imbalance, developed over many centuries, is an elegant way to treat disease. It consistently leads to longer lasting results compared to treating just symptoms. And often treating the root will clear up several symptoms at the same time.

[Rewriting The Constitution]

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If Only We Knew How To Listen

In an age of technology where medical marvels emerge at a seemingly prolific rate, it is sometimes good to remember that our bodies tell us what they need when we are unwell. If only we knew how to listen . From hair to skin, taste to smell the body is talking to us all the time in its very own language.

If Only We Knew How To Listen

Have you ever noticed how your hair lacks condition when you are feeling below par? In Chinese medicine there is a saying that the state of the Kidneys [system] is reflected in the hair on the head. Your locks may feel lank, dry or just lifeless. Ask yourself – does this match how I feel in general? What will I do differently?

Let us consider too our skin. If we view this as the bag that wraps our body, it becomes a no-brainer that the wrapping somehow reflects the interior. Is your skin dry, mottled, podgy, scarred? Dryness frequently reflects insufficient fluid intake but may also occur as a result of stress interrupting the normal supply of nutrients to the skin layers. What life changes do we need to make to improve the situation? I find it curious that so many skin problems are treated topically without recourse to what is going on inside.

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If you’ve ever sat in a café and ‘watched the world go by’, you’d be aware that people have very different ways of walking. Next time you are in this situation take a look at how someone strolls and ask yourself the question ‘why are they walking like this’. Try mimicking their walk and become aware of which muscles you have to hold tight to act this out. If you are brave you could ask someone to do the same for you!

Common expressions such as ‘the face we present to the world’ and ‘face up to the reality’ make us aware of the significance we place on our countenance. You might recall an occasion when your best friend was feeling peaky. Something different about his/her face that you can’t quite put your finger on. Five element acupuncture uses the five palette colours of the face (red, yellow, green, white and blue/black) as one of the four key signs to figure out what is going on internally. For example when the red hue drains out of the face we see ashen grey. Think too of the sallow shade when someone has a stomach upset.

If Only We Knew How To Listen

There are numerous other ‘message channels’ you can tune into with practice including the pulse, tongue, finger nails, eyes and so on. It is like learning to appreciate a fine wine. Using the faculties of smell, touch, hearing and asking we can remove so much mystery from the human complex and tap into our hidden potential. Go on give it a try. Learn a new language. If only we knew how to listen.

[If Only We Knew How To Listen]

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Onions and Garlic – Acupuncture Medicine

Too Common and Crude?

According to Ayurveda – traditional Indian medicine – onions and garlic can be ‘stimulating to the desires’. For this reason it is usually avoided by those who practice meditation and other spiritual paths. In Chinese herbal medicine, garlic is often considered too common and crude to be included in classic herbal recipes. So why might we consider onions and garlic acupuncture medicine?

onions and garlic acupuncture medicine

Are Onions and Garlic Acupuncture Medicine?

So how should we regard onions and garlic? Does they have a good side? Could it be helpful for improving our health?

According to traditional Chinese acupuncture dietary theory onion and garlic, both of which hail from the Alium family, are pungent in nature and warming. This can help to move stagnant Qi (energy), activate the lungs and act as a digestive.They are considered excellent for improving circulation, and for resolving phlegm and dampness (fluid retention) in the respiratory system. This makes these foods a great asset during the autumn cold and flu season in the UK, set against a backdrop of increasing damp and cold.

onions and garlic acupuncture medicine

According to author Henry C. Lu ‘onion is used in Chinese folk medicine as a diuretic and an expectorant’. Other members of the Alium family including spring onions, chives and leeks offer up similar properties.

Feeding Gut Bacteria

An analysis of 64 studies by researchers at King’s College London found prebiotic fibres in onions and garlic which are known to have a positive effect on ‘good bacteria’ in the gut, specifically Bifidobacterium and Lactobacillus. These bacteria are required for a healthy digestive system to function effectively. Also refer to http://theacupunctureblog.co.uk/the-microbiome-diet-bugs-that-count/

At this time of year therefore a good addition to one’s diet would be a hearty vegetable soup created from a stock of onions, garlic and leeks. Enjoy good health this autumn.

[Onions and garlic acupuncture medicine]

I Can Never Get My Temperature Right

Bright Red And Rolling With Sweat

You never know what to wear. One moment you are frozen and the next you are bright red and rolling with sweat. You put on layer after layer of clothes so that you look like Michelin man! Your hands and feet are always blue and freezing cold.

Full or Empty?

If any of these apply to you then acupuncture might be a helpful friend. But how does this ancient treatment deal with temperature regulation? To make sense of this let us boil the possible variations down into two key questions. These are –

  • Hot or cold?
  • Full or empty?

So what does this mean in practice? The distinction to an acupuncturist is important as each of the four possibilities requires a different treatment strategy. Distinguishing whether we are hot or cold might seem obvious – do we prefer a warm or a cold room, do we look pale or red and flushed, do we like our drinks hot or cold? Does heat or ice help? Do we wear more or less clothes than other people around us?

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But what about full or empty? Full conditions are generally stronger and give rise to fuller symptoms, with a stronger presentation. Empty conditions on the other hand arise from deficiency and may become worse when we are tired.

To give a couple of examples, mild menopausal night sweats are usually characterised as empty heat and often show their hand in the afternoon and at night when we are more tired. They come and go as flushes, as does the redness in the face.  Full heat would be exemplified by tonsillitis. Symptoms of this condition  include a sore throat aggravated by swallowing, along with  a continuous fever. The symptoms will often feel more intense than with the first example, and less inclined to variation. We may feel more restless.

The Red Tip Of This Tongue Indicates The Presence Of Heat

A similar set of principles applies to cold. It is curious to note that many of my fertility patients that exhibit low progesterone levels also present with empty cold. Commonly their abdomen will  be cold as will be their hands and feet.

Deciphering The Signs

The skill of the acupuncturist lies in deciphering the signs presented by the body which involves listening, touching, asking, looking and smelling. This will include a reading of both the tongue and pulse. Treatment such as clearing and nourishing will be applied as appropriate until the signs diminish. Lifestyle changes can help too. Foods can be added/subtracted to your diet to cool you (avoid ginger and chili), warm you (soups and stews, ginger, black pepper) and nourish you (miso soup, beetroot soup).

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You may also exhibit a combination of these symptoms (eg freezing during the day and hot in bed), which would require two parallel treatment principles. And yes men do get night sweats too!

Would you like to be better regulated? Call Martin Dean on 07969413158

[I can never get my temperature right]

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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Acupuncture Dosage Explained

According to wiktionary.org the word ‘dosage’ is defined as the administration of a medication etc, in a measured amount. So what might the measured amount be in an acupuncture treatment?

Acupuncture Dosage Explained

Acupuncture Dosage Explained

To help answer this question I went to the checklist at STRICTA.info (which offers reporting guidelines for acupuncture researchers). According to this some of the factors that can affect treatment strength are:-

  • Number of treatment points used
  • Depth of insertion
  • Amount of stimulation applied to the needle
  • Needle retention time
  • Needle thickness
  • Total number of treatment sessions
  • Frequency of sessions
  • Style of acupuncture (eg Western medical, Chinese, Japanese, Korean)
  • Any additional interventions offered (eg cupping, moxibustion)

In my experience, one treatment is usually insufficient – a larger dose is often needed. After all, you don’t expect to take just one tablet after a visit to your GP.

In a 2008 paper, Dr. Adrian White also argued that ‘the dose may be affected by the state of the patient (eg nervous, immune and endocrine systems); different doses may be required for different conditions’. It has been argued by others that where trials have shown little or no effect over placebo, this is due to an insufficient dose of acupuncture being given.

So how do we establish the correct dose? In clinical practice, this is usually determined by experience. I would generally give a smaller dose of treatment on the first visit, and also if you have a weaker constitution. Whilst it is normal to experience a little drowsiness after an acupuncture session, extended periods of drowsiness or sleeplessness may indicate too high a treatment dose. Over treatment is usually self-resolving in a few days at most and is not generally considered a safety issue. If you experience side-effects please discuss these with your acupuncturist.

As a patient you should always ask your practitioner how many sessions are anticipated and he/she should agree one or two treatment goals at the outset (eg significantly reduce PMS symptoms). In establishing a correct dosage I usually combine clinical experience with information gained from studies.

Martin Dean B. Eng Lic. Ac MBAcC has over 23 years clinical experience as an acupuncturist, with over 10 years teaching experience.

 

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!

 

 

My Body Has Held Me To Ransom

“I can’t believe my body has held me to ransom for all these years”.

This is a sentiment I have heard expressed in so many ways over the years. As a man it is often difficult to truly appreciate what a woman puts up with each month, particularly when things don’t go smoothly. As an experienced fertility acupuncturist though I have treated many many women with a large variety of menstrual difficulties over the years and I have to say the results are often profound. Of course you don’t have to be trying to get pregnant to get help with your cycle.

So how could acupuncture help? Before starting it is a great idea to seek a medical diagnosis so do have a talk with your GP first in order to rule out anything more serious. On your first visit to an acupuncturist you will be asked a whole lot of detailed questions about your menstrual and general health to establish what is behind your symptoms and how best to move forward.My Body Has Held Me To Ransom

I have come to regard the female menstrual cycle as something which needs to ‘flow’ smoothly. This means for example that the monthly blood flow should be smooth and fluid (so no clots) and free from ‘stop-start’ bleeding. You should be largely pain-free and emotionally consistent for the whole month (so no mood swings or energy drops). Any other symptoms that occur during your menstrual cycle such as bloating (bowels not flowing well) or fluid retention (impeded fluid flow) will be taken into account.

In some of my more poetic moments I am drawn to consider my role as a ‘plumber’, opening taps, removing blockages, turning up the water pressure and improving heat distribution. To translate this into ‘acupuncture speak’, one of the most common diagnoses is ‘Liver Qi Stagnation’ which has amongst its symptoms, moodiness, fluctuation of mental state, a churning feeling in the stomach and feeling ‘wound-up”. Does this sound familiar? Yes we are talking about PMS. Treating acupuncture point ‘Liver 3’ (located on the foot) during the premenstrual phase often produces the most dramatic treatment outcomes. It is like opening a tap.

So go on – get your life back!

Martin Dean

07969 41 31 58

 

 

 

 

 

 

Neither Too Much Nor Too Little

Acupuncture texts devote a lot of space to the most appropriate arrangement of things in nature. According to the ancient Chinese principle of Yin and Yang, the world is composed of a delicate balance between polar opposites. Night and day are a prime example of this. We are not talking here about a fixed state of being, rather of a delicate interplay between these forces. We are effectively asking about what is normal.

Here are some questions an acupuncturist might ask you during a consultation session. Using your own experience of health, decide where do you think the balance should be struck in each case.Neither Too Much Nor Too Little

  • How often do you open your bowels?
  • Is there a foul odour (or perhaps none at all)?
  • How often do you sweat?
  • How well do you regulate your body temperature (taking into account the normal variations in climate)?
  • How many hours do you work in an average week?
  • How much exercise do you take?
  • How is your appetite ?
  • How are your energy levels?

The acupuncturists will also listen to you

  • Is your voice excessively loud or quiet?
  • If you have a cough, is it weak or explosively loud?

The practitioner will use his sense of touch.

  • What is your muscle tone like (flaccid, tight)?
  • What is your normal pulse rate (rapid, slow)?
  • Is your pulse strong, weak?

We could look for the following

  • Are you at your ideal weight?
  • Is your facial complexion pale, florid?
  • Are your physical movements slow or jerky
  • Is the body of your tongue moist, dry?

How did you fare? Are you perfectly balanced? At your first session with an acupuncturist, this type of questioning will give him an overall picture of your health. Treatment strategies will then be devised to help normalise these factors, and progress carefully monitored. For example if you have very chilly feet, treatment may consist of moxibustion (warming therapy) and a change to eating more warming foods. The key question might be ‘are you still wearing bedsocks in bed in June?’

What would you really like to change about your health? What could you do with more or less of?

The Acupuncture Pain Centre

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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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