Does Spring and Summer For You Mean Hay Fever?

Hay fever is a sensitivity to airborne pollens, dust mites, pets and so much more. Also known as seasonal allergic rhinitis, it is an inflammation or swelling of the nose lining with symptoms such as sneezing, nasal discharge, itchy and watery eyes, a runny or blocked nose, itchy ears, nose, and/or throat and headaches.

But then you probably know all of this. But what can Chinese Medicine (CM) bring to the party?

Developed over centuries, the theories of this system of oriental medicine view the problem from the perspective of the immune system rmore than the irritant. CM characterises the body into functional systems (named after major organs such as the liver), and their relative interactions allows us to identify disharmony between these functions. Treatment is aimed at restoring balance.

It is commonly believed that hay fever is due to a weakness of the Lung, Spleen and Kidney systems (which is not quite the same as the organ itself). This can make the body susceptible to the influence of climate – for example wind and cold – which can cause the familiar symptoms of runny nose, itching eyes and irritated sinuses. Think of how your eyes stream when you find yourself in a stiff breeze. 

Acupuncture for treating hay fever will often start with points to dispel wind from the nose (not the same as digestive wind), followed by points to strengthen the immune system.

So how effective is the treatment? The British Acupuncture Council have reviewed available evidence (click here) and conclude that ‘evidence from systematic reviews suggests that acupuncture and moxibustion may be a safe and effective treatment for allergic rhinitis with benefits over conventional medicine, that acupuncture can help to relieve symptoms of perennial rhinitis and that ear acupressure has a similar efficacy to antihistamines.

Look forward to summer without the hassle.

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The Microbiome Diet – Bugs That Count

Modern research shows us that we have more biologically important genetic material in our guts than in our DNA. It also seems that to be healthy we need a wide diversity of these bacteria. So how do we ensure such diversity? According to Professor Tim Spector when interviewed on Radio 4 recently, the answer is to eat as wide a variety of plant material as possible. This is the microbiome diet – bugs that count.

Although each one of us carries a unique mix of bacterial species (the so-called microbiome), it is true that they thrive on fibre – from fruit, vegetables and cereals. The key therefore is to eat well and with variety.

In this article I try to sum up some of the best foods to add into a microbiome friendly diet in order to promote gut bacteria diversity.  [Source:]


Fresh Vegetables

beets, carrots, cruciferous veggies, leafy greens, onions, peas, salad greens, sea vegetables, squash

Whole Pieces Of Fruit

The Microbiome Diet - Bugs That Count

apples, blackberries, blueberries, cherries, nectarines, oranges, pears, pink grapefruit, plums, pomegranate, red grapefruit, strawberries

Herbs, Spices and Teas

 The Microbiome Diet - Bugs That CountThe Microbiome Diet – Bugs That Count

turmeric, ginger, basil, oregano, thyme, green tea, organic coffee

Probiotic Foods

yoghurt, kefir, kombucha, kvass, cultured veggies

The Microbiome Diet - Bugs That Count

Wild Caught Fish Cage Free Eggs and Grass-Fed/Pasture Raised Meat

The Microbiome Diet - Bugs That Count

Healthy Fats

grass-fed butter, coconut oil, extra virgin olive oil, nuts, seeds

The Microbiome Diet - Bugs That Count

Ancient Grains and legumes/Beans

The Microbiome Diet - Bugs That Count

ansazi beans, adzuki beans, black beans, black-eyed peas, chickpeas, lentils, black rice, amaraneth, buckwheat, quinoa

Red Wine and Dark Chocolate/Cocoa (in moderation)


Refined Vegetable Oils

canola, corn, soybean

Refined Carbohydrates and Processed Grain Products

Pasteurized Dairy Products 

(devoid of natural bacteria)

Conventional Meat, Poultry and Eggs

Added Sugars

packaged snacks, breads, condiments, canned items, cereals

Trans Fats/Hydrogenated Fats

packaged/processed products, fried foods

Remember the key to a diverse set of gut bacteria is a diverse diet, as opposed to an exclusion diet.

This is the microbiome diet – bugs that count.



Acupuncture Point Zhaohai

In my own practice acupuncture point Zhaohai (also known as Kidney 6) is a very commonly used treatment point. What is it useful for? Located just below the ankle bone, in the jargon of acupuncture it is the best point

Acupuncture point Zhao Hai

Kidney 6

on the kidney channel to nourish Kidney Yin weakness. But what does this statement actually mean?

Let us break this statement down into easily digestible chunks. Yin is effectively one of a pair of opposing principles (the other is Yang) that serves to cool down or restrain movement, activity or warming in natural systems. In modern medical speak, this would be in some ways equivalent to the body’s parasympathetic nervous system.

A good example of yin in action would be to think of a helium balloon where a firm grip on the string restrains the balloon from doing what comes naturally – namely to soar up into the sky. Holding the string maintains equilibrium.

In the context of our body’s physiology, a weakness of this restraint system would result in symptoms such as hot flushes (especially in the evening) with flushed cheeks, a dry throat, poor sleep and a general feeling of agitation. It is simply a disturbance of the body’s normal regulation. This will of course be familiar to countless post-menopausal women!

Adding the term ‘Kidney’ refers to functions that are centred around the low back, but also along the pathway of the kidney meridian, and would point additional symptoms such as a sore back and weak knees.

Kidney 6 is essentially a great cooling point, especially if the individual also suffers from back and knee problems. It may also help to settle an agitated mind.

So here’s to acupuncture point Zhaohai.



Unexplained Infertility Uncovered

As a fertility acupuncturist, a high proportion of my patients will present with ‘unexplained infertility’. If it has a name we can fix it, right? Well, perhaps.

Forgive me for splitting hairs but surely unexplained infertility is a non-diagnosis? What if your dentist described your toothache as ‘unexplained facial pain’? Subfertility can in some ways feel just as painful.

Unexplained Infertility Uncovered

When a couple who have been struggling to conceive visit their GP, the doctor will request a range of standard tests to check, for example fallopian tube integrity, verify hormone levels and measure sperm quality. If no specific cause or identifiable medical condition can be identified as the root problem a diagnosis of unexplained infertility will be given. According to some sources 25% of infertility problems may be unexplained.

The next step would be to recommend treatments such as IUI or IVF. The latter, though sometimes funded by the NHS, will often be paid for by the patients. Over time, the more unexplained infertility patients I began to see, the more I began to wonder if there was something missing. 

On their first visit to me, I will typically spend 90 minutes discussing a couple’s situation with them. As an acupuncturist I am trained to ask detailed questions in order to build a detailed picture. Areas I cover may range from stress, emotional health and reproductive health, to nutrition and health/general fitness. Although I do not profess to be expert in all these fields, I will recommend additional expertise where the need is obvious (for example in nutrition).

Unexplained Infertility Uncovered

In practice, couples may have a single issue but more often a number of lesser issues present. In the latter case I am reminded of the ‘marginal gains’ approach which the Team GB cycling squad used to great medal winning advantage in the 2012 Olympic games. The principle revolves around the fact that small improvements added together make something bigger.

Common findings include:-

  • A cold lower abdomen (resulting in reduced circulation to ovaries and uterus)
  • Digestive problems that could affect egg quality
  • Extreme fatigue
  • Inability to sustain progesterone levels during the luteal phase
  • Constitutional night sweats and overheating which might lead to poor follicle maturation

I have discovered that many of these factors can be elicited from a full and detailed case history and from careful analysis of basal body temperature charting (I wrote about this in an earlier blog). This process can uncover further issues such as luteal phase defect and zig-zag temperatures. From this information the unexplained often becomes a little better explained, thus opening additional options.

Let me be clear – I am in no way criticizing the excellent work of fertility doctors and embryologists. The ability of clinics to manipulate and encourage the processes of life is quite frankly a modern marvel. I am arguing instead for a more holistic approach that allows room for the human dimension. Pioneering clinics such as The Zita West Clinic make the case that the holistic approach really does work and that having a baby is a whole-body experience.

I  wish to stress that I do not have all the answers,

but unexplained infertility means

we have lots more to discover,

so let’s all work together to plug the gap

in our understanding


Martin Dean is available for consultations by telephoning 07 969 413158.

Pluggerz For A Good Night’s Sleep

There is nothing more valuable than a good night’s sleep. But how can we effectively block out external sounds that range from snoring, to next door’s dog barking at the moon to refuse collectors emptying the bins?

Why not wear earplugs, I hear you say. But in my considerable experience, the regular variety fashioned from soft conical foam and favoured by workers in noisy environments falls short of expectations when it comes to sleeping. They are obviously not designed for side sleepers and have an annoying tendency fall out in the middle of the night. Their ability to attenuate sound is also quite limited in practice – surely a major requirement in earplugs.

Enter Pluggerz as sold by Boots. I was apprehensive of these at first, especially as I was expected to pay around £8 for two pieces of plastic that resembled Christmas trees, packaged along with a small carrying case. But as the manufacturer points out ‘they have a unique filter that helps remove background noise without completely blocking the ear so you can still hear important sounds like your alarm clock or baby crying’.

They can also be used over 100 times and are ideal for side sleepers. Too good to be true? I put them to the test. After following the instructions I was soon able to insert them with ease. They are very comfortable to lie on when side sleeping. Another surprise was how effective they are at blocking out sound. The ‘skirts’ of the device act as soft baffles and tuck themselves into your ear easily and conmfortably. One downside however was that I had to move my alarm clock closer as I failed to hear it going off the first morning!

But ultimately the most important thing was that I slept like a baby. For a light sleeper like me, there were no interruptions, just peaceful sleep. And my verdict? Worth every penny.

Pluggerz website

The Archer Releases His Grip

The archer pulls back the string and slowly but surely the tension builds until the moment of potential is reached. He then releases the bowstring sending the arrow on its purposeful way.

In this analogy the drawing back of the string with all its potential represents Winter and the actual release, Spring. Winter is the coiled force within the seed, all the processes beneath the soil which will lead in turn to the realised energy of a daffodil flower or a strong upward thrusting stem.

Spring though is so much more than a date in the diary, or a weather forecaster’s convenient definition. Each year has its own rhythm and surprises. Knowing when the seasonal transition actually occurs is as relevant today as it was in our ancestral past. At some level we will all change inside as the seasons wax and wane around us.

So what are the key transformations we might observe during this seasonal passage?

For a start growth in nature increases exponentially in a very short space of time. Lawns become a brighter shade of green and the sunlight begins to take on a warmer shade. As light intensity increases too we celebrate the demise of the dark, depressing winter months (even my solar powered pocket calculator starts working again). Dirt and dust become more visible so we feel the urge to spring clean. Spring-like days become more frequent (usually interspersed with Winter nips to remind us that it is a gradual hand-over). The buds on the trees begin to swell and open. Birdsong can be heard to increase in volume.

It is worth too taking on board that in order to experience the full vigour of spring, the preceding period of lying low represents a time to be still and to recuperate. Without this ‘recharge time’ a full-on Spring surge would be unsustainable. Our arrow would simply fall to the ground at our feet.

What are your favourite observations of this time of year?

A Theme For The Year

According to statistics only 8 percent of people actually keep their New Year’s resolutions. In ancient times Babylonians made promises to their gods at the start of each year that they would return borrowed objects and pay their debts. The Romans began each year by making promises to the god Janus for whom the month of January is named.

It is estimated that around a half of all New Year’s resolutions will be about staying fit and healthy. For others it is about relationships with family and friends or money.

At this time of year my wife and I choose to set a joint theme for the year ahead. In a previous year we declared that we were going visit as many seaside locations as possible. This turned out to be a most enjoyable year with numerous coastal visits,  both home and abroad. This year the theme is ‘simplicity’, allowing us to reflect on the many ways in which we needlessly over-complicate our lives.

Simplicity in the dictionary directs us to the words clarity, coherence and directness. Each of these reminds us that the best way from a to b is a straight line. Whilst there are clearly times where the meandering road has benefits, I am also mindful of the great strength in clarity of purpose. The great traveller will set out on the road equipped  with a clear route plan, but will also make allowance for the unexpected trips and falls he may encounter en-route.

What will you focus on this year? Who will you share it with?

A Crispy Kale Snack

A crispy kale snackHere is how to make a crispy kale snack that is quick and tasty.

We are often advised ‘for the good of our health’ to eat more vegetables. How many of us though really consume the suggested five portions a day? It is often quite difficult to achieve this when you have a discerning family AND only 24 hours in a day. One great way to pack a bevvy of vegetables into our meals is to make soups. Here is another idea – crispy kale.

Kale is often portrayed as the villain of the piece – the green chewy green vegetable  that usually gets pushed to the side of the plate. Here is a way to make kale sexy again and get this – it is very quick to cook. And here’s how.

Take a bag of kale and using your hands rip the curly leaves from the thick main stems. Throw these away. Place the remainder on a baking tray, lightly drizzle with olive oil (not too much) and toss around with your hands to evenly distribute the oil. Place tray in the oven at 150C/130C fan/gas 2 and cook for 10 to 20 mins. The kale is ready when it is crispy but not burnt. I really love this dish served as a starter, lightly seasoned with salt.




Introducing Acupuncture Point Kidney 1

Acupuncture point Kidney 1, Yongquan meaning bubbling spring in Chinese, is the lowest acupuncture point on the body. It is located on the lowest part of the foot where we make contact with the ground. This gives us a clue to some of its uses.

acupuncture point kidney 1

Acupuncture points are essentially way stations on a line (aka meridian or channel) which then connects to organ(s) within the body. It may also be helpful to think of this line as being associated with regulating functions within the body (for example, adrenal balance or adjustment of body temperature). Needles inserted into the points help carry this out.

One author describes Kidney 1 as ‘returning the unrooted back to its source’. The most obvious use of this point is in the treatment of menopausal hot flushes. Here sporadic feelings of heat rise to the face, chest and hands unrestrained. The use of Yongquan is like holding the string of a Helium balloon to stop it from rising. In China it is common to massage this point before bedtime , or to soak the feet in hot water to counter the upwards tendency to the head.

In the Chinese exercise form known as Qigong, directing the mind to this point helps us stay connected with the ground. In the jargon ‘it helps descend and root the Qi’. One version of this you could try yourself is to stand on a soft carpet in bare feet, close your eyes and feel (yes really feel) bubbling spring against the softness of the carpet. Enjoy.


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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