Categories > Men’s Health

Mindfulness and Neuroplasticity

What is Neuroplasticity

90% of the Brain’s activity occurs beneath conscious awareness. Even though it may seem that we have control over how we think, feel & behave, we often get swept away by strong emotion & react in ways that automatically occur out of unconscious habit. 

Neuroplasticity is the brain’s ability to change & grow. The brain is continually reshaped by our life experiences & our thoughts. How we focus our awareness determines which networks in the brain become strong & which ones become weak & lost.

Mindfulness & Neuroplasticity

So the more we worry, the better we become at worrying. But if we practice being calm, clear & focused, then we increase our capacity to settle our mind & nervous system. This allows us to take information in with more clarity, accuracy & objectivity, enabling us to manage challenging situations more skilfully.

When we cultivate our mindfulness skills, we still experience negative feelings, but mindfulness actually rewires the brain and strengthens the neural pathways for resilience. It helps us to be less reactive to stressors, to manage and recover more quickly from stress, and to decrease the negative impacts of chronic stress on our bodies. 

Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction

MBSR is an intensive 8-week, once weekly, group program developed by Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn and associates at the University of Massachusetts Medical School in 1979. It is now an internationally acclaimed program with a growing body of research supporting its psycho-physiological benefits. 

It is also used as a standard in studies researching the benefits of Mindfulness, including (but not limited to) reduction of inflammation and stress, and increase in immunity. 

Through practical training in mindfulness, cognitive behavioural and self-regulation skills, participants learn to cultivate a different relationship with stress and to develop skillful and healthy strategies in response to challenging situations. 

Upcoming Program

Monday evenings
Sep 12 – Nov 14

Join us for this fall’s 9-week program with Hannah Marsh and Dr. Alda Ngo, who are both Certified MBSR Facilitators with the Centre for Mindfulness Studies.

This will be a highly interactive web-based program using Zoom.

REGISTER HERE

WHEN

Mandatory Orientation:
Monday, September 12th
5:45 – 8:30pm PT | 6:45 – 9:30pm MT

8 weekly classes:
Mondays, Sep 19 – Nov 14 (No class October 31)
5:45 – 8:15pm PT | 6:45 – 9:15pm MT

Day of Mindfulness Retreat:
Sunday, Oct 30
8:30am – 1:30pm PT | 9:30am-2:30pm MT

WHO

This psycho-educational program is suitable for anyone looking for practical tools to deal with chronic stress and its negative impacts on the body as well as to improve their overall health and well-being.

COST 

Sliding Scale* $325 – $400 – 475 + GST

*Please pay more, if you can, to help support those less able to pay.

Accessibility is important to us, scholarships are also available to those for whom cost is a barrier.
Please contact us for more information: hannah@beinghere.ca

Cancellation policy

Cancellations received prior to the first session (Sep 19th) will be refunded minus a $100 processing fee. No refunds will be issued after that date. 

We reserve the right to cancel this program due to unforeseen circumstances; if this should occur, registrants will be granted full refunds.

REGISTER HERE

Registration Deadline: Monday, September 5th

Whole Family on CBC Radio

Listen to Whole Family Health’s Dr. Alda Ngo and Dr. Caitlin Dunne from PCRM speaking to Canadian Infertility Awareness Week 2022.

From CBC RadioActive: This Saturday, a virtual event is taking place to help those struggling to have children. Dr. Caitlin Dunne is a Reproductive Endocrinologist, and Co-Director of the Pacific Centre for Reproductive Medicine, and Dr. Alda Ngo is a Doctor of Chinese Medicine and Acupuncture. They will be bringing their expertise on infertility to the discussion and join us to tee up the event.

For more information on how we can support you on your fertility journey, please contact us for a free 15-minute Q&A Consultation.

It Takes Two: Sperm-Related Infertility

When it comes to enhancing fertility, it is so important for both partners to be involved in the process of optimizing their overall health.

Often we only see one partner at our clinic seeking specialized care in order to optimize their fertility. However, optimal fertility takes more than just one person. Statistically, sperm-related infertility contributes to upwards of 40% of infertility cases (1). 

Sperm Parameters On The Decline

The quality of sperm has been taking a downward trend for decades. For example, in 1992, the average amount of normal sperm morphology (shape) was at 15% (2). Today, The World Health Organization considers normal sperm morphology to be at 4% – implying that it is normal that 96% of sperm do not develop and mature optimally.

A meta-analysis study published in 2017 cites that among 43,000 people in North America, Europe, New Zealand and Australia – sperm counts per mL of semen had declined by more than 50% between 1973 to 2011. Furthermore, total sperm counts were down by almost 60% (3).

Reasons for Worldwide Decline In Sperm Health

A recent 2020 review suggests that lifestyle changes, pollution, environmental/work factors, the increased use of electronic equipment, and dietary factors contribute to the quality of sperm (4). A high BMI, smoking, drugs, and STI’s can also contribute to the decline. Fortunately, studies show that regular acupuncture treatments, as well as lifestyle, and education changes can increase chances of conception. 

Acupuncture Improves Sperm Health

Fertility and Sterility published a comparative study (2005) with 40 participants with low sperm counts, poor motility (movement), and poor morphology (development)(5). 28 of the participants received acupuncture twice weekly, for five weeks. The data showed a significant increase in normal sperm morphology and total motility in the group receiving the acupuncture treatments. The study concluded that acupuncture could benefit one with infertility factors by improving sperm quality.

In a 2008 randomized controlled trial, 231 candidates with oligospermia (low sperm count) and asthenospermia (reduced motility) were divided into three groups (6): the first group received a 3+ point protocol with electroacupuncture, the second group was supplemented with Chinese herbs, while the third group received both electro acupuncture and herbal treatment. The outcome measures were semen density, vitality, and acrosomal enzyme activity. The effective rate of increase in these measures for groups one and two were 67.6% and 68.3% respectively. But with with the combination treatments in group three, there was a significant increase in effectiveness of 84.6%   

A 2003 prospective controlled and blind study researched the use of acupuncture as an adjunct to moxibustion therapies in patients with abnormal semen concentration, morphology, and motility (8). The patients were randomized into a test group that received the acupuncture and moxa treatments as well as a control group that didn’t receive the treatments. The results showed a significant increase in percentage in total functional sperm for the group who received acupuncture with moxibustion. 

How Does Acupuncture Benefit Sperm Health

Acupuncture has a cumulative effect, and in some cases depending on infertility factors, may need more time and consistent treatments to resolve. You wouldn’t expect to have a six-pack after one workout!

At Whole Family Health we base our treatment plan protocols on evidence-based fertility studies, tailored to your unique manifestations. 

Acupuncture is able to increase blood circulation and nerve conduction to the reproductive organs. The reproductive organs are then able to optimally produce and mature the sperm, regulate the temperature, and induce proper hormone signalling. 

Depending on your timeline, and if you are doing IVF treatment, our treatment protocols are based on research. We recommend treatments anywhere from once to twice weekly for 5 – 12 weeks, keeping in mind that it takes 72-90 days for sperm to fully mature. By working with you during this key preconception spermatogenesis period we can create the best conditions for the sperm to develop and grow to their peak potential. 

Lifestyle, environment, and what you put into your body can have great influence on sperm quality. Fertility specialized acupuncturists listen to your fertility journey to help provide lifestyle, diet, and supplement recommendations to optimize your sperm health. 

For more information on how we can support your fertility journey, feel free to contact us for a free 15-minute Q & A consultation.

Image: https://www.instagram.com/ambarazcorra/

References

(1) PMID: 15049583
Male factor infertility: Evaluation and management
DOI: 10.1016/S0025-7125(03)00150-0

(2) PMID: 11387287
Semen parameters, including WHO and strict criteria morphology, in a fertile and subfertile population: an effort towards standardization of in-vivo thresholds
https://doi.org/10.1093/humrep/16.6.1165

(3) PMID: 28981654
Temporal trends in sperm count: a systematic review and met-regression analysis
https://doi.org/10.1093/humupd/dmx022

(4) PMID: 32168194
Reasons for worldwide decline in male fertility
DOI: 10.1097/MOU.0000000000000745

(5) PMID: 16009169
Quantitative evaluation of spermatozoa ultrastructure after acupuncture treatment for idiopathic male infertility
DOI: 10.1016/j.fertnstert.2004.12.056

(6) PMID: 19055284
Clinical observation on electroacupuncture and Chinese drug for treatment of oligospermia and asthenospermia of the male infertility patient]
https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/19055284/

(7) PMID: 14695986
Effects of acupuncture and moxa treatment in patients with semen abnormalities
https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/14695986/

Canadian Infertility Awareness: FREE ONLINE EVENT

SATURDAY, APRIL 30
2 – 4PM MDT

FREE ONLINE EVENT:

IN PARTNERSHIP WITH PCRM

Are you Trying To Conceive?

#1in6 people struggle with fertility in Canada.

April 24 – 30 is Canadian Infertility Awareness Week – an opportunity to honour and empower those struggling with infertility.

Join us for this free online event to de-stigmatize infertility and to support you as you navigate your fertility journey.

Join the Whole Family Health Fertility Wellness Specialist Team, in collaboration with Dr. Caitlin Dunne from Pacific Centre for Reproductive Medicine (PCRM) for this informative and empowering online event.

This event is open to anyone who would like to attend.

Saturday, April 30th
2 – 4pm MDT

To Register:
info@wholefamilyhealth.ca
780-756-7736

EVENT PRESENTERS:

NAVIGATING INFERTILITY TREATMENTS & BUSTING COMMON MYTHS ABOUT IVF

Dr. Caitlin Dunne
Co-Clinical Director of PCRM, Reproductive Endocrinologist

Dr. Dunne will speak to fertility treatment options and help to debunk common myths about IVF. She will also be available for a Q&A to answer your questions about fertility treatment.

INFERTILITY & STRESS

Dr. Alda Ngo
WFH Co-owner, Registered Dr of TCM & Acupuncturist, Fellow of the ABORMCo-Director of MindfulnessForFertility.com

Dr. Alda will discuss infertility stress and share some accessible tools and resources that will help to decrease stress and cortisol to increase resilience on your fertility journey.

NATURAL LIFESTYLE FACTORS

Christina Pistotnik
WFH Co-owner, Registered Acupuncturist, Fellow of the ABORM

Christina will share some natural and simple lifestyle factors that you can incorporate to support your overall wellness and fertility health.

ACUPRESSURE FOR FERTILITY

Catherine Woodlock
WFH Registered Acupuncturist

Catherine will share some acupressure points you can use at home to help improve circulation, manage hormonal symptoms and support your fertility.

MASSAGE FOR REPRODUCTIVE WELLNESS

Candice Cole
WFH Registered Massage Therapist

Candice will share self-massage techniques you can use at home to help you relax and alleviate tension build-up.

FERTILE FOODS – 5 NUTRITIONAL TIPS FOR FERTILITY

Kathryn Simmons Flynn
WFH Certified Nutrition Consultant, Founder of FertileFoods.com, Author of Cooking For Fertility and Co-author of The Fertile Secret

Kathryn will share her 5 top nutritional tips for nourishing fertility.

To Register:
info@wholefamilyhealth.ca
780-756-7736

No Resolutions? No Problem!

Let me first start off by saying I have nothing against the culture of “New Year, New Me”, but making a list of resolutions can be daunting, unrealistic, and unenjoyable.

If you’re not big into making New Year’s Resolutions that is completely okay. Unfortunately, societal pressures and obligation is what drives a lot of people to become a whole new, fancier, and better self. The big question for me is what is better and how long will it take until you are fully satisfied? Even once we achieve our goals, how long until we fall out of these good habits?

I believe goals and practices can be set at any time, new years is overrated. I used to have this nonsensical rule that I could hold off starting my goal until the beginning of the next week. More often than not, the beginning of the week would roll around and I would lack all motivation and push starting further and further away. Not much was getting accomplished, and I was feeling bad for procrastinating something that would essentially benefit me.

Movement

While I’m not big into listing off numerous long-term goals, I want to reinforce how important movement is to incorporate in your daily life. For myself, and possibly many others, my long term/life-long goal is to improve my mobility to benefit my physical and mental health. Movement is so important to the body as it promotes cardiovascular health, fights back anxiety and depression, and releases endorphins.

Back in November, every morning my muscles felt tense and stiff, as if I did an intense workout the night before. Except I hadn’t – I had barely moved.

Since the pandemic, I had become more sedentary than ever. I knew I had to start moving more. But I wanted it to be fun and not painful. Also, it was in the middle of a week in November, no official way to start a daily practice. I truly did debate just holding it off until the New Year, but that made no sense. I was feeling so stagnant and fatigued.  

I started practicing some basic yoga I had remembered from previous yoga classes I took. It felt so refreshing to start moving again, the practice only took around 20 minutes and the next morning I was stiff, but in the areas I had stretched. This wasn’t the same groggy stiffness I was used to either, it felt like the muscles were finally being used again.

Because it felt so good and it put me in a relaxed mood afterwards, I made a conscious effort to be kind to myself and avoid discouraging myself. Moving everyday started becoming a daily practice, some days would last an hour and others 10 minutes. But I gave myself patience and the space to grow. 

Online Resources

I am so grateful for the vast content you can find online. While the internet’s endless content can be a blessing and a curse, I chose to really utilize all the free, low barrier entry ways to experiment with personal growth.

Putting on yoga videos and guided meditations have become a fun daily ritual I’ve adopted. There’s an endless stream of really awesome daily full body workouts (without equipment), Tai Chi lessons, and Qi Gong (breath-work) practices that are just clicks away.

Don’t forget to modify those videos to your speed (practice 10 minutes a day first and then increase when you’re ready), you don’t have to start on hard mode. You just need to begin! 

Baby Steps

I recommend baby steps. Take your goal day by day.

Start by making small adjustments and if those are working out for you and you’re happy, then you can move forward with what’s comfortable. It’s okay to respect your limitations and give yourself room to grow. You don’t have to race or push yourself to the extreme. It’s totally okay to have off days, but just remember that doesn’t mean you failed or gave up. 

Habit Forming

Consistency will help it get easier and ease it into your daily lifestyle. A study published in the European Journal of Social Psychology (2009) found that it takes a person 18-254 days to develop a new habit, and around 66 days for a new behaviour to become automatic.

Everyone’s journey is unique, and it doesn’t have to be linear. But once that habit is set, it becomes a daily ritual you’ll miss when you can’t practice it. Set those positive daily intentions and affirmations in the morning to help motivate you. It’s okay to be your own cheerleader. You’ve got this!

To find out more ways to support your health and wellbeing, contact us for a free 15-minute phone consultation.

Image @aolanow

References

DOI: 10.1002/ejsp.674

Massage Therapy For Stress & Headaches

Did you know that massage therapy is about so much more than relaxing muscles?

How Massage Therapy Works

Massage activates arterial and venous blood flow in the lymphatic system and in the connective tissue and muscles.

It also increases circulation and helps to correct postural stress from long periods of sitting. This can be especially important and beneficial for those who have sedentary desk jobs. 

A registered massage therapist works on these systems and the nervous system, to relieve sore and tight muscles from over-stimulated nerve pathways between muscle fibres and the brain.

We all intuitively know that human touch is therapeutic, here is a little research to support this:

Massage Therapy Decreases Stress

Research published in the International Journal of Neuroscience shows that massage therapy leads to decreased cortisol and increased serotonin & dopamine levels.

Basically, massage therapy leads to the biochemical signature for decreased stress and increased relaxation in the body.

Massage Therapy For Headaches.

The American Journal of Public Health published a study suggesting that muscle-specific massage therapy techniques significantly reduced headache frequency while the duration of headaches tended to decrease during the massage treatment period as well. 

Massage therapy is a functional, non-pharmacological intervention for reducing the incidence of chronic tension headache.

Contact us to find out more about how we can support you with massage therapy and/or to book an appointment with our wonderful registered massage therapist!

References:

Image: @lindbloomfloral

Stress-Free Clinic for Frontline Healthcare & Support Workers

As the holiday season unfolds, we want to take the opportunity to acknowledge, support & offer gratitude for the hard work & stress that frontline healthcare & support workers have had to endure throughout the pandemic.

On December 19th, Whole Family Health is honoured to be teaming up with the Mindfulness Institute to offer a Stress-Free Clinic Event to frontline workers.

The Mindfulness Institute, founded in 2010 by Dr. Catherine Phillips, Assistant Clinical Professor in the Department of Psychiatry at the U of A, is an Edmonton-based international resource for the latest information on mindfulness, and a leader in teaching and integrating mindfulness into personal and professional settings.

See registration details below.

ABOUT THE EVENT:

WHO

All frontline healthcare and support workers who have experienced increased stress due to the pandemic are welcome. (Proof of occupation/ workplace will be required.)

WHAT

We will be offering free evidence-based stress reduction interventions to all Healthcare Workers who register:

1. Acupuncture

One relaxation acupuncture session from WFH
Studies have shown that acupuncture brings on the relaxation response and reduces physiological stress-markers associated with the fight, flight or freeze stress response.

2. Mindfulness

One mindfulness for healthcare workers webinar from the Mindfulness Institute (accessed via link)
Research shows that physicians who undertook an 8-week mindfulness training program showed less burnout, better mood and emotional stability, as well as improved physician empathy.

WHEN

Sunday, December 19th
945am – 1pm

WHERE

Whole Family Health Wellness Centre

COST

Free!
Although donations to our December Menstrual Product Drive are welcome.

REGISTRATION
Register online for your free acupuncture session HERE
We look forward to seeing you then and you will receive a link to view the mindfulness webinar on December 19th too.

WHY

Stats Canada research confirms that there has been a rise in anxiety and stress among Canadians in response to the pressures of dealing with the pandemic. Different populations have been affected in different ways, and it’s evident that healthcare and support workers along our frontlines are among the most negatively impacted.

Many Whole Family Health clients are hospital and frontline workers, so we have become acutely aware of the increased stress you have been enduring during the pandemic. We recognize the psychological & physical toll it has taken on you and your bodies, working within our strained healthcare system and putting yourselves at risk to help others.

We want to extend our support and gratitude in this small way in the hopes that you may access some evidence-based resources.

We want to treat you to some moments of reprieve!

Healthcare burnout facts

  • An epidemic of burnout and discontent was already well documented among physicians and frontline healthcare workers prior to the pandemic. Approximately 1 in 3 physicians is experiencing burnout at any given time.
  • A recent Canadian survey finds that both nurses and physicians have experienced significantly higher levels of burnout, stress, depression and anxiety than they remembered feeling before the pandemic. 
  • A recent survey’s most striking finding and barometer of distress is that amongst 119 respondents, 50% of nurses and 20% of physicians expressed intentions to quit their jobs.

We would love to treat you to a relaxation acupuncture session! Register HERE.

Movember: Mental Health & Erectile Dysfunction

The Movember Foundation continues to work to destigmatize men’s mental health by bringing to light that men do experience mental health issues and that it is a real concern.

Stats Canada states that suicide rates are 3x higher in men than in women.

Mental Health not only affects people on an emotional and psychological level but on a physical one as well. Erectile Dysfunction (ED) is a common occurrence for those dealing with anxiety, depression, and high stress levels.

Experiencing ED can also lead to a negative cycle of emotions creating more anxiety, low self-esteem and guilt (often associated with not being able to pleasure their partner). Therefore if you are experiencing ED, it is important to speak with your doctor about it, in order to get psychological support and/or to look into further causes. This is because there is also an association between ED and cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and obesity. 

Treatment Options 

Of course, there is always medication that can help with erectile dysfunction and most people think about that little blue pill – known as Viagra, that has been marketed so well to help solve ED.

However, if there is a mental health disturbance going on, it is more beneficial to deal with the underlying issues for prolonged effectiveness of resolving erectile dysfunction. 

Counselling 

There are different types of therapy that have been shown to help with erectile dysfunction. Evidence has shown that group, individual, or Cognitive Behavioural Sex Therapy (CBST) has helped to resolve ED (1,2). The best outcomes were seen when treatment was combined with psychological treatments and with medication (i.e. Viagra) compared to medication alone (1,2). 

Psychological treatment is most likely to be helpful for those who:

  • Wake up in the morning with an erect penis 
  • Are going through or have gone through a stressful major life event, such as divorce, separation, death of a loved one, change in job, or moving.
  • Grew up in an environment where sex and sexuality were considered negative, wrong, or “bad,” or who were sexually or physically abused as a child.
  • Lost a parent during early childhood.
  • Have a history of serious relationship problems.
  • Have a history of anxiety disorders 

Acupuncture

There is promising data to show that acupuncture can help with erectile dysfunction but the data is limited. A prospective study looked at the effectiveness of acupuncture in patients with psychogenic erectile dysfunction (3). 

The participants were placed in two groups, one group had acupuncture in the specific spots for ED. The control group was given acupuncture in other areas of the body that are typically used to treat headaches.

Over 60% of those in the group getting acupuncture in the ED treatment showed signs of improvement of their ED symptoms compared to the control group.

Some in the control group were allowed to crossover and receive the ED treatments as well. Several of those patients also showed improvement of ED symptoms.

Another 21.05% of the patients had improved erections with simultaneous acupuncture treatments with 50 gm sildenafil (Viagra). 

Now I know what you are thinking, where exactly do the needles go when treating erectile dysfunction? I get this question all the time, followed by another sheepishly asked question: “do the needles go near or in the genitalia?” The answer is a big “NO”. For ED treatment, acupuncture needles are placed in the legs, hands, abdomen and/or back.

Partner Support

The importance of communication and listening to your partner cannot be stressed enough. Providing support and taking an active role in your partner’s treatment will help them navigate things in a positive way and take some of the shame away. It will also be important to keep a positive attitude and be open to trying new ways of experiencing intimacy. Putting pressure on your partner will only lead them to have more problems with erectile dysfunction rather than resolving them.  

Contact us to find out more about how we can support you and if you would like to know more about Movember and how to support mental health please visit the Movember Foundation 

Research

  1. PMID: 32591219
  2. PMID: 17636774
  3. PMID: 14562135

Acupuncture & Stress : How Does It Work?

If you’ve ever had acupuncture, you’re probably familiar with the commonly reported state of relaxation experienced after a treatment or the general feeling of calm with regular treatments.

On the other hand, if you’ve never experienced acupuncture before, you might wonder how it could possibly be relaxing to lie on a table with needles inserted all over your body. That does not sound relaxing at all!

In 1979, the WHO published an official report listing conditions & diseases shown to be treated effectively by Acupuncture. Chronic stress was among the listed conditions. While acupuncture is widely used to treat chronic stress, the mechanism of action has been mysterious.

Ongoing research points toward how acupuncture decreases physiological stress in the body:

HRV

Studies point toward a correlation between acupuncture and improved HRV. Heart Rate Variability (HRV) is a non-invasive autonomic measure that indicates the body’s capacity to deal with stress.

A healthy heart is not actually one that ticks perfectly evenly. On the contrary – a healthy heart beats with variation in the time interval between consecutive heartbeats. Because a healthy heart adjusts its rate in response to the environment. Its ability to do so corresponds with a higher HRV, which is associated with better overall health, including mental health.

Endorphins


Acupuncture also stimulates the release of endorphins,  which are hormones secreted by the brain & nervous system that play a role in pain regulation & the general feeling of well-being. For example, we release endorphins when we laugh or fall in love.

Neuropeptide Y (NPY)

NPY is a neuropeptide secreted by the sympathetic nervous system, that is associated with the fight, flight or freeze stress response.

A study published in the Journal of Endocrinology in 2013 was designed to monitor the effects of acupuncture on blood levels of neuropeptide Y (NPY), to help explain how acupuncture helps to reduce stress on a molecular level.

Researchers found that acupuncture significantly reduces NPY.

Because rats mount a measurable NPY stress response when exposed to cold temperatures, they were used in this research.

Electroacupuncture (EA) was also used in this study, to ensure that each animal was receiving the same treatment dose. EA was applied to acupuncture point ZuSanLi (St36), commonly used to alleviate stress among other conditions.

There were four groups of rats used:

  1. A Control group – that was not stressed and received no electroacupuncture.
  2. A Stress group – that was stressed and received no acupuncture.
  3. A Sham-EA group – that was stressed and received ‘sham’ electroacupuncture.
  4. An Experimental EA St36 group – that was stressed and received electroacupuncture.  

The Experimental EA St36 group of rats that was exposed to stress and received the electroacupuncture was measured to have similar NPY levels as the Control group.

A second experiment was conducted where the experimental group was continually stressed while acupuncture was discontinued and NPY continued to remain low, indicating a cumulative, long-term effect from the acupuncture.  

This is only a sampling of how we are beginning to unravel how acupuncture helps to reduce stress and the negative impacts on the body. Research is ongoing and as we begin to understand more and more from a Western scientific perspective how it works – the 2500+ year-old body of clinical evidence that acupuncture is an effective intervention for dealing with stress continues to grow.

Contact us to find out more about how we can support you & your body with stress.

Sign up for our newsletter to get updates about our upcoming Free Stress Clinic.

References

PMID: 33512256

PMID: 15135942

https://doi.org/10.1530/JOE-12-0404

Traditional Chinese Herbs – How They Work

Herbal medicine has been used for thousands of years in countless cultures across the world. Many pharmaceutical medicines are even derived from different plant materials. Our natural world is truly a garden of medicine, which we enjoy exploring through the art of herbal medicine.

The ancient Chinese methods of diagnosing and prescribing herbs is very unique. From a Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) perspective, illness arises from a disharmony of the natural functions of the body. The body’s internal environment is a reflection of the external patterns of nature; similarly, humans are intrinsically part of nature.

Thus, through careful and astute observation, the ancient Chinese perceived the internal workings of bodily functions. Specifically, what tendencies cause imbalance, and what can help engage the body’s natural homeostatic tendencies.

What Makes Traditional Chinese Herbs Unique

Each herb has a combination of flavours which have certain actions in the body

  • Sweet – Tonify the body, harmonize digestion, moisten dryness
  • Pungent – Disperses pathogens, move stagnation and invigorate the blood
  • Sour – Astringe and stabilize
  • Bitter – Drain and dry
  • Salty – Softens hardness, scatters lumps, drains stools
  • Bland – Drain downwards, leach out dampness, promote urination. 

Each herb has a thermal nature

  • Herbs can be Warm, Cool, Neutral, Hot or Cold. This is why we often ask questions that help us understand your body’s thermal nature. 

Each herb has a tropism or direction in the body

  • Different herbs go to different places. For example – Ji Xue Teng goes to the fingertips and toes, Bai Zhi goes to the sinuses and forehead, and Bai Shao goes to the Liver. 

Herb combinations

  • Herbs are used in combination to enhance, accentuate, counteract or suppress common or opposing effects. TCM herbs are always prescribed in combination – often between 2-25 herbs are used together in a formula to specifically suit the patient’s specific constitution.

One Thousand Questions

When you come for a visit with a Traditional Chinese Medicine Herbal Practitioner, they will ask you ‘One Thousand Questions’, because they want to know every single detail about your health.

With the myriad of details, we perceive the complex pattern that has brought them into imbalance. We can determine the thermal nature and the functional organ system imbalances. Then, we match the complexities of the constitution and nature of the imbalance with an appropriate herbal formula.

For example, if 7 people are struggling with headaches, each of these people will have different presentations: location of the pain, duration of the pain, nature of the pain, triggers for the headaches, different things that create relief or worsening of the symptoms, and more.

On top of the difference in manifestation of the headache, each person’s other signs and symptoms will be different too. The TCM practitioner takes all of these things into consideration, crafting a different custom blend of herbs for each person, ensuring that the formula matches the presentation of illness as well as the constitution.

With all of these complexities, you can imagine the process of deliberation required for each patient!

Classical Herbal Formulas

Many of the formulas we use are ancient formulations, dating up to 2000 years old. These classical formulas are then modified, depending on the patient’s unique constitution and situation as discussed above. Sometimes, we even write a formula from scratch if there isn’t one to fit a patient’s particular situation. There is a general hierarchy present for the herbs in each formula:

  1. The Emperor Herb – this is the most important ingredient of the formula and has the greatest effect on the principle pattern or disease. 
  2. The Minister Herbs – these herbs aid the Emperor Herb in the treatment of the main pattern and can also act as main ingredients to counteract a co-existing pattern.
  3. The Assistant Herbs – these herbs enhance the effects of the Emperor or Minister Herbs, directly treat a less important aspect of the pattern, moderate any toxic or unwanted effects from the Emperor or Minister Herbs, and sometimes even counteract the Emperor Herb if there is an opposing pattern.
  4. The Messenger Herbs – These herbs guide the action of the formula to a particular region of the body and harmonize the actions of the other ingredients. 

As you can see, the construction of an herbal formula is complex. 

Chinese Medicine Constitutional Approach & Epigenetics

In TCM, we have a concept called the Prenatal and Postnatal constitutions. Essentially, it is the same concept as epigenetics and DNA. The Prenatal constitution is everything that we inherited from the moment of conception,  from our parents – it is the genetic blueprint and DNA that makes up our physical body.

The Postnatal constitution is everything that we take in after conception – the air we breath, the food we eat and the thoughts we think. In short, our lifestyle turns on or turns off different parts of our genetic blueprint. It is in the interaction between these two, within the inner environment of the body, that the field of TCM works. 

Substances which interact with our epigenetics in a positive way are known as epigenetically active substances. Some substances, such as green tea or broccoli sprouts, are epigenetically active substances. This means that they have the ability to interact with our epigenetics in a positive way.

Research

Interestingly, in a study in 2011, researchers analyzed 3294 TCM herbs to find out if they have epigenetically active properties. To their surprise, they found that the 29.8% most commonly prescribed herbs have chemical constituents that interact with epigenetic related proteins!

Researchers also analyzed 200 herbal formulas to find out about their epigenetically active herbs. They discovered that each formula contains epigenetically active properties.

Interestingly, researchers found that when organized from the most actively epigenome interacting herbs to the least actively epigenome interacting herbs the results were consistent with the order of hierarchy used in each formula. These results remained the same even if the dosing is set to one gram each! This means that the most epigenetically active herb was exclusively the emperor herb and the least epigenetically active herb was the messenger herb. The pattern here is absolutely fascinating.

This research suggests that TCM herbs may even be influencing the interaction between our inner environment and our genetic expression. It also suggests that, perhaps, when the Chinese medicine practitioner is piecing together the complex patterns from the constellation of signs and symptoms, they are also treating the way the body’s inner environment can express the genetic blueprint.

At Whole Family Health our TCM specialists are always interested in discussing TCM and a care plan best suited for you. 

If you would like to book in for a free 15 minute consultation to discover if herbs would be a good fit for you, please don’t hesitate to contact us.

Resources

PMID: 21785634

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