Saturday, December 27, 2008

Insomnia and Chinese herbs

By Kenneth Tan and John Lew

Dysfunctional bedtime will throw you off for the next day, or even the whole week. Don't let insomnia ruin your life. While sleeping pills may be a quick solution, prolonged use may lead to addiction and worsening insomnia conditions. Instead, turn to natural remedies such as herbs to help treat your condition.

“The current technological progress has made it possible for the curative powers of the herbs to be reduced to powders so the traditional preparation of boiling for hours is no longer needed,” say Eu Yan Sang integrative health physician and traditional Chinese medicine practitioner John Lew. “Now, you can either mix it in water or swallow as a capsule.”

The following are six common body syndromes to insomnia and the herbs which will fix it.

PROBLEM 1: You have a highly-strung nervous system and when you sleep, you have a fearfulness of the dark. Palpitation with fear is a common sign, coupled with dreaminess, fearful of disturbances, involuntary sweating and short breath. The tongue is usually pale with taut and thready pulse.

THE CAUSE: Your heart and gallbladder systems are weak. “When the heart-qi is weak, the mind is easily disturbed. And when the gallbladder-qi is weak, the whole person finds most things scary and fearful,” say Lew. Also, deficiency of qi makes breathing to be short and sweating more profound.

THE SOLUTION: To strengthen the heart and gallbladder, first of all, ginseng ( 人参; Ren Shen) boosts the qi of heart and gallbladder systems. Poria (茯苓; Fu Ling), poria sclerotium with hostwood (茯神; Fu Shen) and polygala root (远志; Yuan Zhi) reinforce spleen (strengthen digestion and absorption of food), dissolve phlegm and tranquilize the irritated mind. Grassleaf sweelflag rhizome (石菖蒲; Shi Chang Pu) stabilizes and calms the mind; yet at the same time brings more awareness to the heart. Wild jujuba seed (酸枣仁; Suan Zao Ren), sour in taste, related to the channels of heart and liver, nourishes liver, cools the heart and tranquilizes the mind. Rhizome of anemarrhena (知母; Zhi Mu), bitter in flavor and cold in property, purges heat and gets rid of irritation. Chuanxiong rhizome (川芎; Chuan Xiong), pungent and fragrant in flavor and warm in nature, regulates the blood by promoting the flow of qi. If palpitation and irritation gets severe, add raw dragon’s bone (生龙骨; Sheng Long Gu), raw oyster shell (生牡蛎; Sheng Mu Li) and Cinnabar (朱砂; Zhu Sha: Contains mercuric sulfide, not to be taken in large dosage or for a long time to avoid mercurialism. To be refined into powder with water but not to be decocted in water).

The formula has the effects of nourishing the blood, tranquilizing the mind, inducing sleep and calming down fever.

PROBLEM 2: Despite feeling fatigue around the limbs or the whole body, you cannot sleep well and you feel moody and slightly irritated. Your face shows sallow complexion with poor appetite. The tongue can be pale with thin and whitish coating, and thready and loose pulse.

THE CAUSE: The late hours reduce your liver’s effectiveness in detoxifying blood, depriving your heart and spleen of good blood. “The qi and blood in the heart and spleen systems are lacking, causing palpitation, amnesia; sometimes even night sweat, recurrent mild fever, anorexia,” says Lew. “This body type happens frequently to men and women undergoing menopause.”

THE SOLUTION: In this suggested formula, ginseng (人参; Ren Shen) and astragalus root (黄芪; Huang Qi) serve as principal herbs, have the effects of tonifying qi and invigorating the spleen. White atractylodes rhizome (白术; Bai Shu) and prepared licorice root (炙甘草; Zhi Gan Cao), sweet in flavor and warm in property, assist ginseng and astragalus root in enriching the source of the production of qi and blood by reinforcing the spleen and replenishing qi. Chinese angelica root (当归; Dang Gui) is good at enriching the liver to promote the generation of heart-blood. Poria sclerotium with hostwood (茯神; Fu Shen), longan aril (龙眼; Long Yan) and wild jujuba seed (酸枣仁; Suan Zao Ren), all being sweet and neutral in nature, function in nourishing the heart and tranquilizing the mind. Honey-parched polygala root (蜜炙远志; Mi Zhi Yuan Zhi) relieves mental stress by means of restoring normal coordination between the heart (fire) and kidney (water). Aucklandia root (木香; Mu Xiang) regulates the flow of qi and prevents qi-replenishing herbs and blood tonics from causing stagnation of qi. Fresh ginger (生姜; Sheng Jiang) and jujubae Chinese dates (大枣; Da Zao) tonify the spleen and regulate the stomach (better digestion and absorption), coordinating the effects of other herbs in this suggested prescription.

The formula is effective for promoting digestion and absorption, strengthening metabolism, consolidating the mind, regulating excitement.

PROBLEM 3: Hyperactivity and prone to emotional swings and irritability when under stress, with possible signs of depression. Insomnia occurs with possible back and joint pain. Palpitation, nocturnal emission, dry stools can be observed. Tongue impression is reddened with little or no fur accompanied by thready and rapid pulse.

THE CAUSE: Your body is lacking fluid, particularly yin and blood, causing an upsurge of internal heat. “This internal heat turns into heart-fire of the deficiency type. The person isn't really having excessive heat,” comments Lew. “This constant mild heart-fire irritates the mind and causes all the corresponding symptoms.”

THE SOLUTION: Dried rhizome of rehmannia (生地黄; Sheng Di Huang) is used in larger or double dosage to nourish yin and blood, tonify the kidney and the heart. Together with figwort root (玄参; Xuan Shen), not only do they nourish yin, they also clear pathogenic fire to have the deficiency-fire suppressed and the mind tranquilized. Herbs such as red sage root (丹参; Dan Shen), Chinese angelica root (当归; Dang Gui), ginseng (人参; Ren Shen) and poria (茯苓; Fu Ling) invigorate qi, enrich the blood and tranquilize the mind. Arborvitae seed (柏子仁; Bai Zi Ren), wild jujuba seed (酸枣仁; Suan Zao Ren) and polygala root (远志; Yuan Zhi) reinforce the heart and the spleen to calm the mind. Lucid asparagus root (天冬; Tian Dong) and ophiopogon root (麦冬; Mai Dong), sweet in taste and cold in nature, produce an moistening effect to clear deficiency-fire. Schisandra fruit (五味子; Wu Wei Zi) astringes qi and promotes the production of the body fluid to avoid the dissipation of the heart-qi. Magnolia vine fruit (桔梗; Jie Geng) carries all the ingredients in the formula upward. Cinnabar (朱砂; Zhu Sha) tranquilizes the mind. If nocturnal emission takes place, add cassia bark (肉桂; Rou Gui) to redirect the fire back to kidney-yang.

The above suggested formula gets the yin and blood nourished, the fire of the deficiency type reduced, and thus the mind tranquilized at the same time. It induces sleep without causing drowsiness and achieve the effects of enriching the yin and blood.

PROBLEM 4: Besides sleeplessness, the tip of your tongue is very red or takes on a yellowish hue. Your urine is also very yellow in color and has a very strong odor. You may also have severe palpitation, heart-burn sensation in the chest and lots of dreams.

THE CAUSE: There is too much heat in your heart. When this ‘fire’ is very strong, you will be very easily irritated. “Heart system is where the mind and consciousness reside. When the heart feels heat, the mind will sure feel much irritated,” says Lew. “The heart channel and the small intestine channels are directly linked. That's why the yellowish urine condensed from the heaty small intestine.”

THE SOLUTION: Cinnabar (朱砂; Zhu Sha) clears away heart-fire, relives floating the yang energy that floats on top of the heat and tranquilizes the mind. Coptis root (黄连; Huang Lian), which is very bitter and cooling in nature, clears away heart-fire and relives restlessness. These two herbs play leading roles in the whole formula. Chinese angelica root (当归; Dang Gui) and dried rhizome of rehmannia (生地黄; Sheng Di Huang) nourish yin and enrich blood. Rehmannia root can also replenish the kidney-yin so that it flows upward to help clear away flaring heart-fire. Prepared licorice root (炙甘草; Zhi Gan Cao) tonifies the spleen and regulates the stomach (better digestion and absorption as the above-mentioned herbs can be demanding for spleen and stomach functions). Licorice root also coordinates the actions of all other herbs. If the chest is tight and with numbness, add bamboo shavings (竹茹; Zhu Ru) to clear away stagnated fire in the chest. If constipation is severe with very yellowish and condensed urine, add rhubarb (大黄; Da Huang) and bamboo leaves (Zhu Ye; 竹叶) to guide the fire downward, and to purge the heat.

This suggested formula has the effect of cooling and tranquilizing the mind, inducing sleep, regulating heart beat and nourishing the body.

PROBLEM 5: Your sleep is interrupted by a heaviness and stuffiness in your stomach, and acid regurgitation with fetid odor. Loss of appetite, nausea or diarrhea may be observed. And your tongue is coated in a greasy, thick yellowish substance. The pulse can be slippery.

THE CAUSE: There is too much food stagnation as a result of a late dinner and lousy supper. Sleeping on a full stomach interrupts natural slumber. “Improper diet and bad timing is the main cause of retention of indigested food,” says Lew, “this is especially true for those who tend to eat oily, greasy food.”

THE SOLUTION: In this suggested formula, hawthorn fruit (山楂; Shan Zha) is used to remove all kinds of food stagnancy. It's especially good at removing greasy food stagnancy. Medicated leaven (神曲; Shen Qu) is effective for promoting digestion and strengthening the spleen (the digestion and absorption). It's especially good at removing stagnated food related to alcoholic drinking. Radish seed (萝卜子; Luo Bo Zi) keeps the adverse qi downward and promotes digestion, great for food stagnancy due to grain food. Pinellia tuber (半夏; Ban Xia) and Tangerine peel (陈皮; Chen Pi) have the effect of removing stomach phlegms and arresting nauseous vomiting. Poria (茯苓; Fu Ling) strengthens the spleen and induces diuresis which in turn arrests diarrhea or loose stool. Forsythia fruit (连翘; Lian Qiao) clears away heat and scatters stagnancy.

This formula of herbs promotes digestion, helps proper movement of stomach and intestines, arrests vomiting, subdues inflammation. It gets rid of food stagnation that contributes to insomnia.

PROBLEM 6: A flushed face and plenty of heat phlegm in the body which irritates the throat and causes stomach wind. This heat phlegm takes on a green or yellowish color and your emotional condition is quite irritated causing fitful sleep. The tongue is red and the fur yellowish and greasy. Fast slippery pulse is observed.

THE CAUSE: Heat phlegm, which is an accumulation of eating too much spicy, fried and heaty food, is to blame for this. “And it's the combination of emotional irritation, gastric discomfort, palpitation and even bitter taste in mouth that cause you to have insomnia,” says Lew.

THE SOLUTION: Pinellia tuber (半夏; Ban Xia) lowers adverse flow of qi energy to regulate the stomach. It also eliminates dampness to resolve phlegm. Bamboo shavings (竹茹; Zhu Ru) clears away heat and resolves phlegm to relieve vertigo and heavy head. Tangerine peel (陈皮; Chen Pi) regulates qi energy flow and removes phlegm. We can use coptis root (黄连; Huang Lian), which is very cooling in nature, to reduce heat-phlegm. We can also use capejasmine fruit (栀子; Zhi Zi), which helps to purge liver and gallbladder fire and clear damp-heat, to further cool the emotion. For severe palpitation and over-alertness, add Nacre (珍珠母; Zhen Zhu Mu) and Cinnabar (朱砂; Zhu Sha) to calm the mind. If the phlegm is persistently heaty and of the excess type, use prepared arisaema (胆南星; Dan Nan Xing) and scutellaria root (黄芩; Huang Qin). The bitter taste and cold nature of these two herbs is stronger in clearing heat and resolving dampness.

The above prescription has the effect of heat-clearing, phlegm-eliminating, heat cough and asthma relieving. It's suitable for the syndrome of stagnation of phlegm and heat in the upper parts of the body, namely the heart and lung systems.

Tips (Overall):
1) For most cases, standard suggested range of daily dosage for each herbs can be referred to when prescribing the herbs.
2) You can boil the herbs in traditional ways or by opting for condensed extracted powder of each herbs which can be taken orally without boiling.
3) Cases presented are typical or representatives of obvious body types. Most of the people belong to combination of two or three body types, depending on degree of severity. And there are other body types mixed with other diseases. Please consult a physician of TCM for proper diagnosis of body syndromes (types) and other diseases.

1) This solution of Insomnia appears in MIND & BODY_The Roots to Snooze, on page 76 and page 77 of Men's Health magazine, January 2009, Malaysia.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Attitudes of Life

Smile Attitude

Take a 10-30 minute walk everyday and while you walk, smile.
Walking with a smile on your face promotes positive stress-less exercise. Even if we feel depressed, just put on the smile, the physical smile will change our feelings. Oh, it's so liberating to walk in open park and along a lake.

Smile and laugh more. It will keep the energy vampires away.
Smiles and laughters are the best energy charger.

Try to make at least three people smile each day.
One of the very well defined goals of any day. When we're sad, we may need friends and family to cheer us up; when they're down, we're there for them to cheer them up.

No one is in charge of your happiness except you.
Just go and enjoy the swing. It's in our hands we make ourselves happy.

Attitude of Life

When you wake up in the morning complete the following statement, "My purpose is to... today."
It's difficult to have a specific and different purpose everyday. It'll be a bonus if we do.

Life isn't fair, but it's still good.
Personally I believe life is fair; just that we're not good enough to see it through. Life is fair and life is good. We just need to see better.

Live with the 3 E's... Energy, Enthusiasm, Empathy, and the 3 F's... Faith, Family, Friends.
Another inspiring conclusive notion of life

Get rid of anything that isn't useful, beautiful, or joyful.
Things should be practical, beautiful to the nature and happy. Sure.

Burn the candles, use the nice sheets. Don't save it for a special occasion. Today is special.
Many of us save the best for last. But it's hard to say if there's a last. Why not live at this moment? Every second is a new beginning.

Dream more while you are awake.
Dreams for all living beings.

The best is yet to come. Believe.
Positive mindset. Yet we must not be greedy.

Enjoy the ride. Remember that this is not Disney World and you certainly don't want a fast pass.
Make the most of it and enjoy the ride.
Enjoy the journey. We may or may not reach the destination. Enjoy the journey and let's not hurt too many beings on the way.

Realize that life is a school and you are here to learn, pass all your tests. Problems are simply part of the curriculum that appear and fade away like algebra class but the lessons you learn will last a lifetime.
Yes. Life is a school. We learn from our mistakes and try not to repeat them. We also try to help others.

However good and bad a situation is, it will change.
Don't be too joyous where there are good things; don't be too sad when there are bad things. For the goods and bads are just perspectives. One man's good thing is another's nightmare; one man's bad thing is another's fortune. See it through.

Do the right thing!
Excellent! Do the RIGHT things! Don't do the wrong things! What's wrong and what's right? Go with your conscience, and grow bigger conscience.

Each night before you go to bed complete the following statements:
"I'm thankful for..."
"Today I accomplished..."

Again, we may or may not have accomplished something,
do make sure we enjoy the righteous process and be thankful for it.

Friends & Family

Spend more time with people over the age of 70 and under the age of six.
They both give us great perspectives: End and Beginning of a journey. We come and we go. Shall we come and go again?

Your job won't take care of you when you are sick. Your friends will. Stay in touch.
Quite true. Always stay in touch. A "Hi' in ten years is fine. Ha!

No matter how you feel, get up, dress up and show up.
It's never about us. Just show up and our silent support will be felt.

Call your family often.
And say nice things. And listen patiently. Feel the true meanings and tones behind the voice...

Self Feelings

Remember that you are too blessed to be stressed.
We can keep on complaining, or we can shut up and do the right things.

Sit in silence for at least 10 minutes each day.
What does that little voice in us tell us?

Time heals almost everything. Give time, time.
In the mean time, get some temporary solutions and, shift our attentions off elsewhere.

What other people think of you is none of your business.
We have more important things to do in life.

Make peace with your past, so it won't mess up the present.
Learn to be responsible in things happen to us. Admit the mistake and never to repeat again.

Life is too short to waste time hating anyone.
Oh, we surely have something more happy and constructive to do. Don't we?

Don't compare your life to others'. You have no idea what their journey is all about.
Journeys are always 'personal' experiences. Enjoy them!

Don't take yourself so seriously. No one else does.
Doing the things right is important; doint the right things is more important.

You don't have to win every argument. Agree to disagreements.
It's a matter of different perspectives. We can always strive for win-win.

Forgive everyone for everything.
Including yourself. And never to repeat again. Please.

1) All the above photos and carefully constructed wordings in the pictures belong to an unknown being. If anyone knows of their origins please drop me a line, thank you.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Breastfeeding, infant jaundice and Chinese herbs

I received an email from a concerned mother inquiring about the effects of Chinese herbs on breastfeeding mothers. Mary was particularly concerned if taking Chinese herbs for postnatal breastfeeding women could cause jaundice in babies.

Below is my reply to Mary:


Dear Mary,

Good day to you. It's always delightful to know more and more people are interested in traditional medicine. And that people realize again how important breastfeeding is.

An invalid idea: "Breastfeeding mothers taking Chinese herbs will cause babies to have jaundice" is an invalid statement or idea.

Physiological or pathological? First of all, many people are messed up with physiological jaundice and pathological jaundice. A physiological one is a normal one which usually begins from day 2 to day 3 and will disappear by itself in one or two weeks. As a matter of fact, physiological jaundice can take place anytime within one or two months. Some simple traditional remedies are sunbathing babies in the early morning, taking mild sugar solution, or phototherapy. A pathological one, of course, is more complicated and needs to deal with depending on the type of pathological changes: viral hepatitis, maternal-fetal blood type incompatibility, other infections or a thyroid problem.

The traditional explanations of having physiological jaundice are:

Possibility 1) Late bowel motion of newborns. For this type, early or more frequent feedings of breast milk to help infants pass the bilirubin in their stools may be recommended.

Possibility 2) Late or lack of breastfeeding by mothers. This jaundice occurs when the baby is not getting enough breast milk, either because of difficulty of breastfeeding or the mother's milk isn't enough yet. For this type, there's nothing wrong with the breast milk itself, it's simply because the baby has not enough to drink.

Possibility 3) Certain substances in milk. In 1% to 2% of babies, their jaundice could be caused by substances in the mother's breast milk. Some substances cause bilirubin to rise. This type usually begins from the first 3 to 5 days, and conditions improve over 1 to 3 months. If it's highly suspect case of such, and the bilirubin level rises toward the need of exchange transfusion, a mother can temporarily stop breastfeeding for 2 days, and resume after the jaundice subsides.

Boosting milk supply: There are certain Chinese herbs that boost a breastfeeding mother's supply of milk and thus allow young mothers who otherwise aren't able to breastfeed to do so. And if jaundice occurs after such cases should we blame it on late breastfeeding or consumption of Chinese herbs? Bear in mind that the newborn was late or not getting good supply of mother's milk at all initially. Could the physiological jaundice have taken place because of late or the lack of breastfeeding? Or the late bowel motion due to late or lack of breastfeeding (Breastfeeding helps first bowel motion)? Or more conveniently, some people will just blame it on the Chinese herbs.

Taking care of postnatal women: There are many postnatal illness or symptoms which have been treated with Chinese herbs. For these highly individual cases, the mother's body type or syndrome must be determined properly through face-to-face consultation before an appropriate therapeutic principle can be drawn on and thus the herbal formula prescribed. Herbs common for postnatal women usually possess the effects of nourishing yin fluid, promoting blood growth and circulation. They tend to strengthen the body constituent, encourage uterus contraction and prevent postnatal infections.

Traditional preparations: Some herbs do get into the breast milk, making milk yellowish in colour, and a few have milk withdrawal effects. Fortunately for us, or as in the wisdom of traditional Chinese medicine, these herbs aren't in the traditional preparation for wellbeings of postnatal women.

Traditional herbal formula for postnatal women's wellbeing are very safe. Many have been used for hundreds of years if not thousands. This is the reason these proven formulas are made into over-the-counters for the ease of availability. For treatments of more specific postnatal illnesses or symptoms, please consult TCM physicians for proper individual prescription.

I hope the info helps. And your effort in helping new moms to breastfeed and live a natural lifestyle is admirable. Keep it up please.

Do let me know if you have any other questions.

John Lew