Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Unblock Flows to Overcome Depression

It is a near certainty that you suffer from some kind of depression sometime in life. Most episodes of depression resolve as you shake yourself free; others become prolonged and evolve into clinical depression requiring medical treatment.

From the point of view of Chinese medicine, both kinds of depression usually involve impediments to natural flows in your body. Hence the secret of overcoming depression is to restore healthy flows.

Mild Depression
Mild transient depression happens easily in a stressed society in which a fast pace of living and societal expectations tax our emotions. It is also common among the retired and aged who do not live active lives and may lose a sense of purpose and experience diminished self- worth. Sadness or frustration from the loss of friends and loved ones, or from relationships that hit a rough patch, can also be triggers for depression.

Exercise, qigong, yoga, relaxation, and a change of environment can be therapeutic, as is talking to friends, relatives and counsellors to release pent-up emotions and sort out personal problems. But the most important role is played by the person himself who must make the effort to snap out of the depressive state: allow emotions and thoughts to flow naturally and the body to return to a balanced healthy state.

Certain herbs with soothing and calming may be helpful. Chinese herbs which help to improve qi flow include chaihu柴胡, xiangfu香附, foshou佛手, hehuanpi 合欢皮and rose flower玫瑰花.

A simple recipe for a calming cup of herbal tea uses rose and jasmine flowers, which have the actions of soothing the liver, dispersing qi stagnation and hence, improving qi flow and alleviating symptoms such as chest tightness, tension and anxiety.

Clinical Depression
At what stage the episodes of mild depression evolve into clinical depression is not well defined. The Singapore Health Promotion Board uses the following criteria “persistent sadness, loss of interest in all or almost all activities, decrease or increase in appetite; unintentional weight loss or gain, difficulty in sleeping or sleeping excessively, restlessness or feeling agitated, fatigue, difficulty concentrating, frequent thoughts of death or suicide, feelings of worthlessness or excessive guilt.” But psychiatrists appear not to have a consensus on the definition of depression. What may happen in practice is that when doctors see a number of these symptoms, they make a judgment as to what anti-depressant drugs to prescribe. These drugs are powerful and patients can develop dependencies on them, hence they should be taken under strict medical advice.

Western medicine views genetics, chronic illnesses, hormonal imbalances and stress as possible underlying causes of depression. Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) takes a different approach. The TCM term yubing 郁病 refers to a group of conditions arising from blocked flows in the body, leading to sadness, anxiety, panic, mood swings, or autism, or a combination of these symptoms. Although yubing does not exactly correspond to the Western medical meaning of depression, they have many conditions in common. For convenience, the term depression used below refers to TCM yubing.

Yu 郁refers to stagnation of qi in the body and is the main underlying pathological mechanism of depression. A common cause of qi stagnation is the emotional factor. Excessive anger and emotional stress can lead to stagnation of liver qi, which may progress into liver fire if no treatment is given. Anxiety may result in the stagnation of spleen qi, which causes the production of phlegm and dampness that further impede the flow of qi. Another contributing factor is weakness or “deficiency” of blood and nourishment to the heart, resulting in symptoms such as insomnia, paranoia and anxiety. This is sometimes seen among menopausal or postpartum women who are also low in yin and qi.

TCM treatment for depression is holistic in the sense of identifying blockages and imbalances and resolving them with herbal medications to restore qi flow. Common prescriptions used in treating depression include chaihushugansan 柴胡疏肝散, xiaoyaosan 逍遥散for alleviating depression associated with blocked qi flows in the TCM gan (“liver”) whereas ganmaidazao tang 甘麦大枣汤is generally used in blood deficiency syndrome. Caution: consult a TCM physician to identify the underlying condition (syndrome) and the appropriate formulation to use rather than try to self-medicate.

Lifestyle changes are also an important part of the treatment regimen. Our body is like a water pipe along which water flows smoothly when things go well. If flow is blocked, pressure builds up and the pipe may burst. Without an outlet for our emotions, depression may result. Social interactions, group exercise sessions like qigong and yoga, and regular walks in peaceful environments all help with healthy emotions and improve the flow of qi.

For emotional health we must have work-life balance, and the pursuit of happiness should reign over an obsession with material achievement. Sounds like a tall order for driven Singaporeans, but we ignore it at our peril!

Authored by Hong Hai and Karen Wee

Monday, June 3, 2013

TCM for Sound Sleep

More Info in PDF Here...
Article by Hong Hai and Karen Wee

A good night's sleep solves many problems, but lack of sleep not only causes tiredness and distress but over the long term contributes to many chronic illnesses. It has been estimated that 1 in 3 persons has difficulty with sleeping at some stage of life. For the elderly, it is one of the most prevalent conditions that affect health and the enjoyment of life.

There are multiple causes of insomnia. The most common causes are stress and anxiety, but insomnia can also arise from underlying illnesses like asthma, metabolic disorder, hyperthyroidism and depression.

From the point of view of traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), certain states of imbalance in the body are associated with difficulty in falling asleep, maintaining sleep throughout the night, and poor quality of sleep. These symptoms are captured in the term Bumei. The imbalances, or syndromes, that cause insomnia are many and varied.

Most of them fall under two categories:
1. "Fire", characterized by restlessness and vexatiousness, and
2. Weaknesses in blood and qi depriving the heart (related to the brain in modern physiology) of the nourishment necessary for good sleep.

Four imbalances causing insomnia commonly seen in Singapore are described here. The first two are known in TCM as excess syndromes, comprising excess heat or “fire" in the heart or liver. These are treated with medications that mainly purge or dissipate the fire. The other two syndromes are deficiency (weakness) syndromes in the liver, heart and spleen. These may be relieved with tonics.

In the excess syndrome called "exuberance of heart fire"arising from prolonged stress, the heat in the heart is stirred up. As the heart in TCM terms controls the mind, sleep is disturbed. Symptoms include irritability, dry mouth, coloured urine, a bright red tongue tip, thin yellowish fur on the tongue surface, and an elevated pulse rate. Treatment is with herbs that clear heart fire such as huang/ian, pearl powder, with shengdi and danggui added to nourish the yin and blood of the heart. The mind can also be disturbed by fire that is transformed from qi stagnation in the liver.

Liver qi stagnation is commonly triggered by anger or frustration. It is has been observed that some women are more vulnerable to getting upset over irritations, small or large, that crop up in daily life. They are therefore susceptible to liver qi stagnation that ignites liver fire, affecting the heart and consequently disturbing the mind. Symptoms may include irritability, hot temper, dizziness, headache, redden eyes, tinnitus, dryness and bitterness in the mouth, poor appetite, constipation and a red tongue with yellow fur. The therapeutic principle is to purge liver fire and promote the flow of liver qi. Herbs such as longdancao and huangqin can help to purge the liver fire, and chaihu and Xiangfu can be used to soothe liver qi.

Insomnia can also be caused by deficiency syndromes in the kidney, yin or in the spleen and heart (comm). The former commonly afflicts menopausal women as well as the elderly. In menopausal women, this may produce symptoms of hot flushes and night sweats. In general, the level of yin in the body tends to decline with age, resulting in yang gaining ascendancy and producing sleep disturbing heat. Symptoms include soreness and weakness in the lower back and knee, tinnitus, and irregular menstruation for women. The prescription liu weidi huang wan may provide relief by nourishing kidney yin and purging heat. The other kind of deficiency, that in the heart and the spleen, is common among both young and middle-aged who do not maintain work-life balance. Too much anxiety at work damages the spleen (which in TCM theory controls digestion), While idleness and the pursuit of hedonistic pleasures injures the heart, leading eventually to qi and blood deficiency. Symptoms may include heart palpitation, forgetfulness, poor appetite, dizziness, lassitude, abdominal bloatedness, loose stools, a pale complexion and a tongue with thin fur.

Herbs That Help to Calm the Mind

Dangui Herb

Tonics such as dried longan and danggui can be used to nourish the blood and the heart. Huangqi, Dangshen and Baizhu eur are good qi tonics that strengthen the spleen; calmatives such as Suanzaoren and Yuanzhi can be added for added effect.

Dried Longan Herb
While herbal formulations to relieve imbalances can alleviate insomnia, the better long-term solution is to cultivate health to remove the underlying causes of these syndromes. Clinical trials conducted in the West reveal that meditation give health benefits by promoting the body's parasympathetic nervous system which has the role of calming the mind. In Chinese medicine, meditation is achieved through qigong exercises that focus on breathing and concentrating the mind on special points called Dantian on the body. Qigong is also thought to improve blood circulation and qi flow, and to strengthen the internal organs.

On average we spend about a third of each day in bed sleeping. Sleep occupies such a large proportion of our lives that it makes sense to pay close attention to it and find natural ways of improving its quality.

The authors are TCM physicians at the Renhai Clinic which offers TCM health assessment, health cultivation advice, tuina/acupuncture, and medical consultations. For more information, call Renhai at 6227 9238 or visit 

Cancer Management With Chinese Medicine

Significant advances made by Western medicine in the treatment of cancer are well-documented, but little has been written in English on complementary holistic treatment with Chinese medical methods that manage its symptoms and ameliorate the side effects of surgery, chemotherapy or radiotherapy.

This book explains the complementary approach using cases from the medical files of Professor Rencun Yu, who was trained in Western medical oncology but also practices Chinese medicine. In addition, introductory chapters explain the basic principles of Chinese medicine, while other chapters cover the prevention of cancers through appropriate nutrition and living habits. The book should command the attention of medical professionals as well as the layperson interested in preventing and understanding the illness.

There is no equivalent book in English that so skillfully combines an introduction to Chinese medical principles and cancer management for the general reader with detailed clinical studies of the crucial complementary role played by Chinese medicine in Western treatments for cancer patients.

Introduction; Principles of Diagnosis and Therapy in TCM; Chinese Herbs and Prescriptions; Cancer Prevention and Treatment Using TCM; Major Forms of Cancer and Case Studies; Diet, Exercise and Health Cultivation.

(i) Medical professionals, both Western medical doctors and TCM practitioners, particularly those practicing in Australia, Europe and America and
(ii) the lay reader who either wants general knowledge on how to prevent cancer or wishes to understand how TCM can help a friend, relative or loved one who suffers from the disease.
(iii) Also, libraries of TCM professional associations and teaching institutes.

Yu Rencun is Honorary Director and Professor at the Beijing Hospital of Traditional Chinese Medicine.  He was trained in Western medicine before undergoing an extensive course in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM).  He has been engaged in cancer research for over 50 years and treated numerous cancer patients in China and various parts of Southeast Asia.

He has been Advisor to the Oncology Committee of the Chinese Association for the Integration of Traditional and Western Medicine and the Singapore Thong Chai Medical Institution. For his outstanding contributions to cancer treatment and TCM, Professor Yu has been awarded over 20 prizes by the China Ministry of Health and the Beijing Municipal Government.  Professor Yu continues to treat cancer patients in China and Singapore.

Dr Hong Hai is Professorial Fellow at the Nanyang Technological University (NTU) and Senior Fellow at NTU’s Institute of Advanced Studies.  With graduate degrees in engineering, economics and the philosophy of science, Professor Hong later studied Chinese medicine and qualified as a registered TCM physician in Singapore and researched the scientific basis for TCM for his doctoral dissertation at the Beijing University of Chinese Medicine.  He practises at the Public Free Clinic and the Renhai Clinic.  Professor Hong has previously served as Chairman of the Government Parliamentary Committee on Health as well as Chairman of the Singapore TCM Practitioners Board’s academic committee.

More Info in PDF here...

Acupuncture: Theories and Evidence

Key Features of the Book on Acupuncture

- This book presents the latest clinical trials and theories on acupuncture, offering information and insights not easily available elsewhere

- Contains chapters written by some of the world's leading thinkers and researchers in this field

- An important addition to the scientific literature on acupuncture and a valuable resource for students, teachers, researchers and practitioners of this important treatment modality in modern medicine

Acupuncture is widely practised in the 21st century in scientifically developed countries for a wide range of ailments ranging from chronic pain, giddiness and high blood pressure to gastrointestinal disorders and sexual dysfunction. Yet the reasons for its vaunted efficacy remain a matter of controversy.

In traditional Chinese medical theory, the mechanism of action in acupuncture was understood in terms of the flow of qi and the balance of yin and yang through the body's meridians, a complex network painstaking charted but never found. Modern medical researchers have examined old and new needling points, and some view them as “trigger points” that stimulate physiological responses in the body. There is also clear evidence of strong placebo effects, although it has not been conclusively established that that this is either the main or the only significant effect.

This volume contains twelve articles covering the latest scientific explanations of the mechanism of acupuncture and critical reviews of clinical trials on its efficacy by leading scholars, including Edzard Ernst at Exeter, Lixing Lao at the University of Maryland, PC Leung at the Chinese University of Hong Kongand Thomas Lundeberg at Karolinska Institute.

About the Author:
Dr Hong Hai previously served on the TCM Practitioners Board and was Chairman of the board's Academic Committee. Trained originally in engineering, he subsequently completed graduate studies in economics, Chinese medicine, and the philosophy of science. He is co-author of the book Cancer Management with Chinese Medicine and editor of Acupuncture: Theories and Evidence. A frequent lecturer on TCM subjects, he has conducted courses at NUS Extension, UniSIM and the Confucius Institute. His main academic interest is in the theory of Chinese medicine from the perspective of Western philosophy of science. His principal clinical areas are health cultivation and active ageing, internal medicine, acupuncture and complementary treatments for cancer.

More Info in PDF on Acupuncture...

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Herbal Teas for Health

Tea for nourishing liver-kidney. Yin
Sourish in taste, this tea nourishes liver and kidney yin. Both wuweizi and shanzhuyu are astringent herbs that help to reduce spontaneous sweating. Wuweizi also calms the heart and boosts the immune system to prevent allergies. Red dates and wolfberries render a lingering sweet taste to mitigate the sourness. The amount of wuweizi can be reduced by half if the tea tastes too sour.

         Herbs                                   Weight Ratio         
五味子  Wuweizi                                 1
山茱萸  Shanzhuyu                             1
枸杞子  Wolfberry seeds                   0.5 
红枣      Red dates                           0.5-0.8          
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Tea for relieving phlegm-heat cough
Good for relieving cough due to phlegm-heat as it helps to clear heat and moisten the lung. Luohanguo, the monarch herb in this tea, also helps to resolve phlegm and promote bowel movement. Together with muhudie, also known as qianzhangzhi 千张纸, this tea also soothes the throat.

         Herbs                                   Weight Ratio         
罗汉果  Luohanguo                             1
木蝴蝶  Muhudie                               0.5
桑叶  Mulberry leaves                       0.75
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Tea for clearing summer-heat and resolving dampness
Ideal for a hot and humid weather, this tea combines three popular herbs. Lotus leaf is the most cooling for clearing summer-heat while job’s tears and white hyacinth bean skin resolve dampness, a common cause of illnesses in Singapore. White hyacinth bean skin can be replaced with its flower.

         Herbs                                   Weight Ratio         
薏苡仁  Job’s tears                               1.5
White hyacinth bean coat                 0.5-0.8
荷叶 Lotus leaf                                     1
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Tonic tea for qi and blood
A tea which balances qi and blood tonics to aid in the rejuvenation of a weak body. Longan meat is used in a higher amount to give the tea a sweeter taste, and also gives the tea a warmer nature. American ginseng can be added to replace liquorice to make the tea cooler and more soothing to the taste.

         Herbs                                   Weight Ratio         
黄芪      Astralagus                            0.75
龙眼肉  Longan meat                         1
红枣      Red dates                          0.25-0.5
Honey-baked liquorice                    0.25-0.5
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Tea for clearing liver-heat and calming mind
Helps to clear liver heat and nourish yin. It is the ideal tea if one has a mild cough accompanied by reddened eyes, irritability and sleeping difficulty. A cooling tea which is suitable for most Singaporeans.

          Herbs                                   Weight Ratio         
菊花     Chrysanthemum Flower          2.5
枸杞子 Wolfberry seeds                       0.5
红枣     Red dates                                   1
百合     Lily bulbs                                 0.5
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Tea for nourishing blood and regulating liver qi
Tonifies and nourishes blood with longan meat and red dates as the main herbs. Wolfberry seeds are added to nourish yin and make the tea less warm. Rose flowers help to regulate liver qi with a bonus action of enhancing beauty by promoting blood flow. Stressed ladies with blood deficiency body constitution would love this tea.

         Herbs                                   Weight Ratio         
玫瑰花   Rose flowers                         1.5
枸杞子   Wolfberry seeds                  0.75
红枣       Red dates                               1
龙眼肉   Longan meat                        2.5
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Tea for promoting digestion and lowering lipids
Looking for a tea to help digest a heavy meal? This tea can be easily made by boiling three herbs with hawthorn berry as the main ingredient for promoting digestion of fats/lipids. Research findings also suggest that hawthorn berry and lotus leaf can lower cholesterol levels. As hawthorn berry is sour, individuals who have weak stomachs should avoid this tea before meals. Pregnant ladies should also drink this tea with caution as hawthorn has the action of livening the blood circulation. Red dates are added for sweetening.

         Herbs                                   Weight Ratio        
山楂   Hawthorn berry                         1
荷叶    Lotus leaf                                 1
红枣    Red dates                                1.5
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

Tea for clearing liver-heat for better vision
Liver heat and kidney-liver yin deficiency are the two common causes for poor vision or reddened eyes. This tea comprises chrysanthemum flower and mulberry leaves to clear liver heat and wolfberry seeds to nourish liver and kidney yin. Xiakucao 夏枯草 can also be added to amplify the action of clearing liver heat. If you often burn the midnight oil and have reddened, dry and tired eyes, this may be the right tea for you.

         Herbs                                   Weight Ratio        
菊花      Chrysanthemum flower         5
桑叶      Mulberry leaves                    1
枸杞子  Wolfberry seeds                  2.4
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Tea for nourishing yin and soothing throat
This tea contains yin tonics that help to promote the production of body fluids. It is a good quencher of thirst due to yin deficiency. Yin deficiency increases the heat level of the body and dryness in the throat and mouth, thirst, vexatiousness, and even insomnia. This tea replenishes fluids and can also help to alleviate vexatiousness and insomnia by clearing away the heat.

         Herbs                                   Weight Ratio        
北沙参  Beishashen                           1.2
玉竹      Yuzhu                                    1
红枣      Red dates                             1.5
百合      Lily bulbs                               1
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