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By West Norwood Therapies Team, May 16 2019 09:34AM

Acupuncturist Philippa summers considers the view from her allotment and how this interpretation of nature and environment mirrors Chinese medicine's approach to our bodies.



I have recently found an unexpected place of peace, tranquillity and contemplation in the heart of London. It is particularly beautiful at this time of year, with spring flowers, fruit trees in blossom and song birds in full chorus. Sitting on a hill above the worst of the pollution with spectacular far reaching views across the city, it is a world of discovery and unexpected surprises. Today we found lizards beneath some wooden boards. It’s an allotment, or rather a share of one, which is even better and far more manageable, in a stunning location close to Brockwell Park. I frequently use metaphors of nature, landscape and environment to illustrate the way that Chinese Medicine views the body. Working on the allotment has fuelled those ideas.


The allotment is quite different from my garden. More mess and earth, getting down and dirty in the soil, with plenty of muck involved. I’ve learnt a thing or too already from the other plot holders generously sharing tips on what grows well up there and how to improve the soil. It’s clay, which is rich in minerals but heavy, and by adding well rotted horse manure and straw the texture and drainage is improved. It feels good to look at the soil more closely, feel its texture rich in fat worms, and know the difference it will make to the health of the plants and the taste of the produce if the slugs don’t get there first.


The muck is like eating really good fresh vital food, as opposed to processed foods and vitamin pills, the equivalent of chemical fertilisers. An organic approach to gardening builds strength in the plants naturally so that they withstand pests, akin to having a healthy immune system. Nurturing and nudging health in positive directions through good nutrition, appropriate exercise, adequate rest and relaxation, affects how we feel in body, mind and spirit. Even when it comes to genetics, we now know that how we live influences which genes are switched on and off.


People often ask if acupuncture can help, such and such a condition. Of course, acupuncture is better suited to treating some things than others, but it is the bodily landscape that is at the heart of a Chinese Medical diagnosis and treatment, rather than the condition. The landscape - be it hot, cold, dry, damp, stagnant, depleted, etc - creates the conditions in which certain imbalances are more likely to arise and progress. The disease label is very often not as important as the landscape against which it has arisen. Two people with migraines may have very different types, arising from very different bodily landscapes and they will be treated differently. A landscape that gives rise to stomach pains in one person, may cause anxiety in another and the treatments may be very similar. So the landscape, rather than the disease label, is more important when it comes to treating with acupuncture and often has more influence on how easily a health issue will resolve. By addressing the imbalance people often find that their overall health and wellbeing improve, not just the issue that they sought treatment for.


Chinese Medicine sees the body as an interconnected whole, where every part of the body is interrelated, and each part exerts an influence on the whole. With climate change we can see just how delicately balanced and interdependent the whole planet is. This too is reflected in our small allotment, with its lizards, foxes and insect life. Our bodies are not so different, as an example I think of the influence that a healthy gut biome has on brain function.


I find the Daoist view, where the internal landscape of the body is influenced by the same forces that influence nature, to be enlightening, inspirational and nature is a great teacher, as well as a great healer. We often give priority to nurturing our physical health and we can do the same for our mental health and wellbeing. Being out in nature is a soothing counterbalance to the bustle of city life. I have found that tending the allotment and looking out over the view in quiet contemplation, or while hanging out with friends, is food for mind, body and soul, both literally and metaphorically. I certainly wouldn’t do it for economic reasons – at an hourly minimum wage it probably works out about £100 a spud!





By West Norwood Therapies Team, Mar 3 2019 06:00PM

Acupuncturist Philippa Summers looks at the menopause and shares why she is happy that International Women's Day is running an event called 'Why the menopause is everyone's business'


It’s International Women’s Day on the 8th of March and we have much to celebrate. We have an increasingly more powerful collective voice, creating waves of change in so many areas. The theme this year is #betterbalance and there is so much more to be done to create a gender balanced world. Women in their middle age and older are often underrepresented, take a look at the IWD gallery for starters, but I am pleased to see that one of the IWD events is on menopause, ‘Why the menopause is Everyone’s Business’. It is a topic that deserves to be better understood by everyone, so that women are supported at work and at home through this period of their lives.


Menopause can be extremely disruptive, with 7 out of 10 women in the UK experiencing debilitating symptoms. The wide ranging emotional and physical symptoms are often not recognised as being hormonally related with women feeling that they are going off the rails emotionally or physically falling apart. Hot flushes, sweats, sleep problems, mood swings, changes in libido, dryness of skin, thinning hair, vaginal dryness, joint and muscle pain and a slowed metabolism leading to weight gain, to name just a few symptoms. There is also an increased risk of osteoporosis and cardiovascular problems. It affects family life, relationships and work, in fact it can cause turmoil in just about every area of a woman’s life.


HRT can help with many of the symptoms and there are now many options. With specialist advice to tailor them to individual needs and monitoring they are now much safer than they were, but they are not a choice for everyone. For those women who cannot or do not wish to take HRT, acupuncture can help to ease them through this turbulent time and alleviate many of the physical and emotional symptoms.


So how can acupuncture help?

A recent randomised controlled trial from Denmark published in the BMJ looked at the effect of weekly acupuncture on hot flushes and a range of other commonly experienced symptoms. After just 2 weekly sessions hot flushes, emotional well-being and skin improved, after 5 weekly sessions sweating reduced, sleep quality was better and other physical symptoms also improved.


Studies of this kind, in order to be replicable, use the same set of points for every woman. In a clinic setting the choice of points would be adapted to the individual needs of the woman so the results are likely to be even more beneficial. Acupuncture also releases endorphins which can lift mood and help to alleviate some of the emotional aspects of menopause.


What else can you do to help?


It is helpful to adapt your lifestyle to your changing needs. Here are a few suggestions:


• Reduce intake of alcohol, caffeine, sugar, chocolate and spicy foods which can trigger hot flushes and aggravate other symptoms, and don’t smoke.


• Follow a healthy, balanced, varied, fresh, wholefood diet. Nutrition is a broad subject and everyone’s eating habits are different, so I would recommend seeking the advice of a specialist.


• Stay well hydrated by drinking plenty of water, don’t wait until you feel thirsty.


• Keep your bones strong with weight bearing exercise, like walking, dancing and jogging plus adequate calcium and vitamin D which may be hard to get from diet alone. Don’t forget the upper body, Yoga is an excellent weight bearing exercise.


• Stretch regularly. Yoga, Tai Chi, Qi Gong and Pilates all help to maintain flexibility. The breathing and mindful focus of these exercises deepens relaxation and calms the mind.


• Make time for fun, laughter and social time with friends and family.


• Take time to prioritise looking after yourself and do things that bring you joy.


Don’t ignore your symptoms and put up with them. Get some help and get your life back on track.


Lund KS, Siersma V, Brodersen J, et al

Efficacy of a standardised acupuncture approach for women with bothersome menopausal symptoms: a pragmatic randomised study in primary care (the ACOM study)

BMJ Open 2019;9:e023637. doi: 10.1136/bmjopen-2018-023637






By West Norwood Therapies Team, Sep 26 2018 08:00AM

Acupuncturist Philippa Summers shares Part 2 of her interesting and informative snapshots of Chinese medicine approach to digestion - get some helpful tips on what, how and when to eat - and why - in the autumnal months ahead.



In my last newsletter piece a couple of weeks ago I looked at the influence of the Earth element and associated organs, the Stomach and Spleen, on digestion. (Remember that in Chinese Medicine what is referred to as the Spleen is actually a mistranslation that is in fact the pancreas). In this piece I’d like to take a look at what you can do to support your digestion, especially with regard to supporting the function of the Spleen (pancreas). In Chinese Medicine is as much about how and when you eat, as it is about what you eat. The emphasis here is not on diet but on supporting Stomach and Spleen Qi to aid digestion.

Eat breakfast and avoid heavy meals just before bed

The Earth element exerts its greatest influence between 7am and 11am and this is is the time of day when you can most effectively digest and transform your food to create the energy you will use for the day. A high protein breakfast will sustain you for longer – scrambled eggs with smoked salmon are great. If you are not in the habit of eating breakfast start with something light and build up to a regular routine. Avoid heavy meals late in the evening. There are several old adages that support this idea including “Eat breakfast alone, share lunch and give supper to your enemy!”


Chew well, eat lightly

Slowing down and chewing your food well is simple way to aid digestion. Chewing starts the digestive process in the mouth and well chewed food presents less work for the stomach and spleen. The mechanical motion starts mass peristalsis in the Colon helping to regulate your bowels. Overeating will congest digestion and is a major cause of stagnation and dampness. Stop just before you are full and you will find you have more energy available.


Relax and sit comfortably when eating

Allow space for the stomach by sitting straight to create space for the stomach by avoiding twisted and slumped postures, as in meals eaten off your lap while watching TV. Tension at mealtimes will hamper digestion so create a relaxed atmosphere. Take a few breaths before you eat as you contemplate and anticipate your food, this will get the digestive juices flowing.


Damp forming foods can be clogging and hamper digestion

Sugar, chemicals, refined carbohydrates, excess gluten, greasy and fried foods are damp forming and best kept to a minimum. Cheese and dairy, with the exception of cultured dairy like yoghurt, are also damp forming, but their dietary adjustment requires more careful consideration which may be worthwhile for people with weak Spleen Qi/Damp symptoms and related conditions. Old, stale, reheated foods also contribute towards damp so food should be fresh and full of vitality.


Eat Spleen nourishing foods

The spleen loves simple warm food based around complex carbs, like those found in lentils, chickpeas, beans, peas, root vegetables, sweet potato, corn, squashes and whole grain oats and brown rice. Complex carbs are packed with fibre, some soluble and some insoluble–which is essential in regulating the Earth element. The more complex the carbohydrate the longer the body takes to digest and the more it actually aids in stabilizing blood sugar. Simple carbs like refined grains, flours and pastas, and of course sugar, are too simple. They break down too quickly in the body often causing a spike in our blood sugar, which hampers the Spleen (pancreas).


In addition to the complex carbs the following foods, in smaller quantities, all help to support Spleen Qi: Chicken, ham, mutton, mackerel, herring, tofu chestnuts, dates, figs, cherries and molasses. Of course a much broader spectrum of food is required to complete a balanced diet but here I am focusing on spleen nourishing foods.


Include a few naturally fermented foods

Sauerkraut, pickled vegetables and natural yoghurt all contain probiotics and are good aids to digestion.


Eat Warm foods and avoid too much cold

Excess cold, raw foods and icy drinks that snuff out the digestive fire, can hamper our digestion. This runs contrary to modern trends advocating the nutrition of raw foods and juices, so balance them with warm nourishing soups and stews – the perfect Spleen foods. Add gently warming spices like cumin, cinnamon, caraway, fennel, nutmeg and ginger. If your digestion is seriously hampered, then eating nourishing good quality simple soups and stews on a daily basis is probably the best first step. Use a good quality stock, fresh ingredients and a few warming spices

.

Limit fluid intake at meal times

The Spleen is easily overwhelmed by too much fluid so limit intake to one glass of water or herbal tea at mealtimes. Drink plenty of fluids between meals instead.


Enjoy your food

Very importantly food should be enjoyed and the spirit in which one eats can have a profound effect on digestion. It is important to appreciate that food is nourishment and eat without guilt. An occasional rich indulgent slice of cake should be eaten with enjoyment and will be so much better digested when eaten with appreciation!


Exercise

The Earth element needs activity to function well. This certainly doesn’t mean you have to run a marathon. It means appropriate exercise for your situation. For some, a walk around the park is an excellent starting place. Stretching muscles both lengthways and across their fibres can help to eliminate damp from the muscles, so consider gentle exercises like yoga or tai chi.


Acupuncture

Finally, if you are suffering from digestive issues then acupuncture may be able to help you. Along with diet acupuncture is very effective at improving Spleen Qi. There is a good research evidence for acupuncture as an effective treatment to help Irritable Bowel Syndrome and Constipation while many other conditions can be helped but the formal research to support this is still lacking.


Here’s to your happy digestion!


References:

Healing with wholefoods, Paul Pitchford

Recipes for Self-Healing, Daverick Leggett


Both books contain wealth of comprehensive advice, centred around Traditional Chinese Medical wisdom and plenty of delicious recipes.





By West Norwood Therapies Team, Sep 13 2018 09:00AM

Acupuncturist Philippa Summers shares some Chinese medicine wisdom around supporting your digestive system particularly around this time of year.



It’s Late Summer, the short 5th season in the Chinese 5 element calendar, the time of Earth and the harvest. The Earth element and its associated organs – Stomach and Spleen – play a central role in digestion. In particular the Spleen has a very broad digestive function with an influence throughout the body, very importantly on the quality of qi, blood and fluids. When Spleen Qi is out of balance there is a knock-on effect and many aspects of our health can be affected. Giving attention to the Earth element and the function of the Spleen is frequently a starting point of treatment, so it seems an appropriate time to take a closer look at digestion.


Spleen means pancreas

I should clarify that in Chinese Medicine the Spleen was a mistranslation and the ancient Chinese texts were actually talking about the pancreas. For continuity the digestive system has continued to be named as comprising Stomach and Spleen. The actual spleen actually comes under the role of the Liver in Chinese Medicine and is more concerned with storage of blood. So, whenever we use the term Spleen in Chinese medicine, think pancreas, and the important role it plays in secreting enzymes into the intestines and controlling blood sugar.


A Healthy Earth Element

In health a strong Earth element with good Stomach and Spleen qi provide nourishment for the whole body. It keeps us strong, active and stable with endurance and a good appetite and digestion. It also provides qualities that enable us to nurture ourselves and others, and fosters free thinking, imagination and creativity.



Spleen Qi


When the Spleen Qi is weak we often experience tiredness and a tendency to bloat after eating. Stools may be loose and appetite low or erratic with a tendency to food intolerances It can manifest in other ways affecting concentration, food intolerances, menstrual issues, anaemia, weak limbs and give a tendency to prolapse, such as haemorrhoids. Difficulty regulating weight can be part of the picture, either overweight without overeating or thin and unable to gain weight. If it is allowed to worsen then signs of cold can also appear – cold limbs and a chronic aversion to cold. The Spleen likes easily digestible simple warm food.


Accumulation of Damp and Phlegm


When the ability of the spleen to transform fluids is compromised ‘damp’ builds up which often manifests as feelings of heaviness in the limbs and joints along with soreness and aching. Our head may be affected with foggy thinking, a heavy sensation in the head, mental and physical stagnation and a feeling of being ‘stuck’ which hampers creativity.


As damp gets worse the fluids become thicker, more cloying, toxic and gooey often causing mucousy discharges and encouraging the proliferation of microbes in the body with conditions such as candida and thrush.


If they become even more congealed and stagnation builds up then they can progress to phlegm in the lungs or cysts in the genitourinary tract. Weak Spleen Qi, certain foods and also living in damp conditions all contribute.


Stomach Qi

The stomach is responsible for preparing the food we eat for absorption further down the gastro-intestinal tract. Erratic eating habits, rich food and overindulgence play havoc and can lead to acid reflux, heartburn, burning pains, gas and bloating. The stomach does not like to be hot and dry, so dehydration and too many of the hotter spicy foods can affect the stomach. So can flooding it with too much fluid at mealtimes, overdiluting the digestive enzymes. It is about getting a balance.



Next time: How to Support Your Digestion

My next newsletter piece in a couple of weeks will focus on things you can do to aid digestion and keep your inner Earth element happy and functioning well.






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