How We Study The Microbes Living In Your Gut

I am a great fan of TED talks – modern ideas for the modern world as I like to put it. A platform for some of the world’s brightest thinkers. In a previous blog I wrote about a diet to encourage healthy gut bacteria ‘The Microbiome – Bugs That Count’ with the principle that for optimum health we should cultivate the widest possible variety of these ‘good’ bacteria. Amongst other things these trillions of microbes contribute to our immune system, aid digestion and protect us from infection.

How We Study The Microbes Living In Your Gut

Living In Captivity

In his thoughtful TED talk, ‘How We Study The Microbes Living In Your Gut’ Dan Knights explains how primates in captivity have less variety in their gut bacteria than those living in the wild, and how this is connected to the poorer health of those individuals in captivity. He also relates the rather alarming finding that most US (human) citizens have even less diversity than primates in zoos. In essence the modern world is facing a decrease in gut bacteria diversity!

Watch video   How We Study The Microbes Living In Your Gut

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Acupuncture As Good As Drugs For Constipation

A large Chinese randomised control study carried out recently found acupuncture as good as drugs for constipation.

Three Different Point Combinations

Researchers tested three different acupuncture point combinations and compared these against the drug Mosapride. 684 patients were randomly assigned to one of the four groups.

Acupuncture As Good As Drugs For Constipation

The acupuncture patients were given 16 sessions over a four week period. In each of the three groups treatment points were stimulated by passing a pulsed electrical current through the needle. This technique allows for increased acupoint stimulation over needle insertion alone.


After four weeks all four groups experienced significantly improved bowel movements, but at eight weeks the three acupuncture groups were showing significantly better bowel movements than the drug group. Stool consistency improved equally in all four groups.


Among the points that were chosen for this study Stomach 37, known as ‘Upper Great Void’ refers to the large bowel. This point, located on the lower leg is known for its ability to regulate the large intestine, and when used in combination with another point used in the study (Large Intestine 11) is said to lubricate the passage of the stool. This point combination was first discussed in a text book (The Spiritual Axis) compiled in the first century BC.

Acupuncture As Good As Drugs For Constipation

For more information on this study click here.


Giving elderly patients regular acupuncture could help take pressure off stretched NHS, say experts

Giving elderly patients regular acupuncture could help take pressure off stretched NHS, say experts
I have reproduced here an article published by The British Acupuncture Council on 16th July 2018

Elderly patients with co-morbidities should be referred for regular acupuncture sessions to help reduce pressure on the NHS, the British Acupuncture Council (BAcC) says.

Significantly Fewer Deaths

The comments follow a systematic review, published in BMJ Open, which showed that continuity of care resulted in ‘significantly fewer deaths’ among patients and halved the risk of an emergency hospital admission.
The BAcC claims that the ‘continuity of patient-centred care’ provided by regular acupuncture, delivered by the same practitioner, over a considerable period of time helps relieve symptoms, reduce medication and improve wellbeing of elderly patients, therefore reducing their risk of hospital admission.

Mark Bovey, research manager at the BAcC, says there is significant evidence suggesting acupuncture is effective in relieving pain in conditions such as back pain, osteoarthritis, fibromyalgia and other musculoskeletal complaints and acupuncturists could be playing a much bigger role: ‘National health services across the developed world are struggling to cope with increasing numbers of old people with chronic illnesses. Conventional health and social care resources are overstretched and polypharmacy is rife, with its attendant side effects and interaction complications. Acupuncture could offer a useful additional resource.’
He highlights a report, Long-Term Acupuncture Therapy for Low-Income Older Adults with Multimorbidity: A Qualitative Study of Patient Perceptions, which was carried out in California last year and published in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine.

The qualitative study, which involved 15 patients aged 60 years and older suffering from at least two chronic conditions, showed that a substantial number of participants were able to reduce their medication and maintain physical and mental health. In addition, they developed a strong trust in the clinic’s ability to support the totality of their health as individuals, which they contrasted to the specialised and impersonal approach of conventional medicine.
‘What is perhaps most interesting,’ Bovey comments, ‘is how the acupuncture clinic became the main health hub for these people. They were diagnosed and treated, there was social and emotional support, practical advice and referral to other community resources. This was a one-stop, holistic service, the sort of coordinated care model that the NHS is striving for, and patients yearning for.’

Giving evidence to a 2013 House of Commons health committee investigation into how the NHS could better manage elderly people with long-term conditions, the late Dr George Lewith, former professor of health research at the University of Southampton, said conventional medicine could ‘learn a lot’ from complementary medicine.

Whole Person Approach

‘Being nice to people and approaching them as whole people has a big effect on their symptoms. [The whole-person approach] could be delivered within regular medicine [ . . . ] We need to learn the lessons from complementary medicine and deliver them better conventionally, but you are not going to get GPs who are working 14 hours a day within the current health system, and who are all pretty disillusioned, to have increased compassion,’ he said.

Giving elderly patients regular acupuncture could help take pressure off stretched NHS, say experts

Keywords: Giving elderly patients regular acupuncture could help take pressure off stretched NHS, say experts.

Fine Tuning The Controls: Stress

Patients who book in for acupuncture treatment don’t usually ask for needles – they are much more likely to ask for help with a condition, for example stress. Here we talk about fine tuning the controls: stress.

According to Google, stress is ‘a state of mental or emotional strain or tension resulting from adverse or demanding circumstances’.

If we look at the potential causes of stress, we will end up with a list as long as our arm. There are usually however contributory factors resulting from the way we perceive the world around us. Inserting needles into acupuncture points to free up stagnation can help to engender a feeling of calmness, creating a break in which real change can take root.

Patients ask what else they can do to help. It is at this point that I will discuss the traffic light approach.

Fine Tuning The Controls: Stress

In this model we are invited to rate the issues that demand our attention according to three labels – full control, partial control and no control. For example, we have no control over the weather, have full control over whether we submit our annual tax return, but are likely to have some control over the final tax bill (depending how we fill in our form).

The Wrong Label

In my experience, stress symptoms seem to point all too often to key tasks and decisions that we have attributed to the wrong label. A feeling of pushing against a brick wall may be just that, trying to change something we have no control over.

So here is my suggestion for you. If you are a habitual list maker why don’t you experiment with labelling each task according to the traffic light system. This technique will free you to focus on those items you have some or full control over and improve your efficiency. If you find this helpful please leave a comment here.

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Fine Tuning The Controls: Stress

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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?