by David Scrimgeour, Licensed Acupuncturist & Practitioner of Chinese Medicine
In my practice, insomnia is one of the most common disorders I see these days. It’s not surprising given that over 40% of adults suffer from sleep disorders with 15 – 25% experiencing chronic insomnia. The rates of insomnia are growing astronomically as more people experience prolonged states of high stress, anxiety, poor diet, over-work and too little exercise. Once sleep, which was the great restorer, is affected, other health issues tend to escalate.
Not only does insomnia rob people of their restorative sleep, but there are some troubling side effects that spill into the waking hours as many people suffer from daytime functional impairment including decreased attention, memory, alertness, executive function and reaction speed. In addition, people often feel tired and drowsy during the day, tense, unmotivated, anxious, and have digestive issues, cardio-vascular disorders and headaches.
What are the causes of insomnia?
Stress appears to be the number one contributing factor to sleep disturbances. When a person is stressed or anxious, the body’s “fight or flight” mechanisms take over even if there is no real threat. Adrenaline and cortisol are released, the heart beats faster, one becomes hyper-vigilant and mentally alert. Unfortunately, this isn’t the time to escape from the tiger – this is the time to sleep. There are other reasons why people don’t sleep well, including:
Resorting to Sleeping Pills
Sleep medications are often turned to when people cannot sleep, but there are some troubling side effects. In addition to being addicting, benzodiazepines (Valium, Xanax, Clonopin) and even Ambien can lead to residual daytime sedation that can affect a person’s cognitive function, including concentration, memory and alertness. There is often reduced learning ability, memory as well higher risks of traffic accidents. Given these downsides, many people are turning to Acupuncture and Chinese herbs to treat sleep issues naturally. In many cases, the results are more effective and longer lasting than the alternatives.
Acupuncture and Chinese Medicine address the root cause of insomnia and sleep disorders.
In Chinese Medicine, sleep is part of the natural rhythm of the body, and proper sleep is necessary for the body to repair and regenerate itself. During the day, yang qi dominates as it provides vital energy for the body’s physical and mental activities. It keeps us warm and alert. As the day turns into night, the cooling, and nourishing yin qi dominates. This helps slow down the activity of the body and mind so that it is relaxed and calm for a good night’s sleep. However, excessive stress, worry or intense emotions disturb the “spirit” -- making it difficult to fall and stay asleep. If the “kidney” energy (adrenals) and “heart” (mind and brain) are out of balance, you have a restless “spirit” and will not be able to sleep. What is needed is to balance the “kidney”, “heart” and “liver” to calm the “spirit” with acupuncture and Chinese herbal medicine. The result is a deep, restful sleep that comes naturally.
Acupuncture helps restore sleep in two ways:
First, it calms the “spirit” when there is an imbalance in the body’s energy system. This enables the body to calm down, relax and fall asleep. Secondly, acupuncture regulates the autonomic nervous system or the involuntary functions of the body. When the sympathetic nervous system is activated, it controls the body’s responses to a perceived threat and is responsible for the “fight or flight” response. Once the sympathetic nervous system is upregulated, it becomes impossible to relax because of the adrenaline and cortisol pumping through your body to keep you alert. Acupuncture has the effect of bringing your body into the parasympathetic mode, which controls homeostasis and is responsible for the body’s digestive, rest and sleep functions. In this mode, you can relax and fall asleep.
Chinese herbal formulas are very effective for insomnia.
With herbal medicine, it is a process of first calming down the nervous system with a specific herbal formula that will calm one enough to be able to sleep. Once a person is able to start sleeping better, we work on the underlying imbalances. For chronic insomnia, it is essential to address adrenal deficiency with a Chinese herbal formula that can restore function to the adrenals over time. Supreme Immune Tonic by Six Persimmons Apothecary, is an excellent formula for adrenal deficiency. Once the adrenals are functioning better, sleep is restored and a person’s energy, vitality and mental acuity are also improved.
There has been a great deal of research on acupuncture and sleep disorders solidifying the fact that acupuncture was significantly more effective at improving sleep quality and duration when compared with no treatment, sham acupuncture or medications. And, combining acupuncture with Chinese herbs was even more effective than acupuncture alone.
David Scrimgeour, L.Ac. practices Acupuncture and Chinese Medicine in Boulder, Colorado. He is available for phone/zoom or in-person consultations. He can be reached at www.davidscrimgeour.com or 303-413-9596.
Acupuncture and Chinese herbal remedies are proving to be the most successful treatments for Alopecia or hair loss in women.
Western medical treatments for alopecia usually include corticosteroid injections or topical steroid creams which may decrease the hair loss if it is caused from inflammation. Hair loss often improves during treatment but often recurs once treatment is stopped because the underlying cause has not been addressed.
Chinese medical doctors see that alopecia and hair loss are caused by a deficiency of blood, blood heat or blood stasis which causes the hair follicles to be undernourished. Deficiency of liver qi and kidney qi may also cause alopecia because the liver stores the blood which nourishes the hair and the kidneys produce bone marrow which is responsible for the growth of hair. Treatment focuses on acupuncture and herbs that will move and nourish the blood while nourishing the liver and kidneys.
Researchers have recently published a study concluding that acupuncture combined with the herbal formula Huoxue Shengfa is safe and effective for alleviating alopecia areata. Their research was published in the Clinical Journal of Chinese Medicine in 2015.
In this study, participants received 7-star acupuncture treatments twice per week on the hair loss areas and they orally consumed the Huoxue Shengfa decoction three times per day for three months.
The test results showed that the total recovery rate for the treatment group was 90.32% with a recurrence rate of 9.68%.
The theory behind choosing the formula Huoxue Shengfa is that the doctors concluded that it is best to resolve blood stasis in order to treat alopecia areata. Resolving blood stasis helps to promote qi and blood circulation, thereby supplying vital nutrients to the hair. In this herbal formula, Dang Gui has been shown to regulate blood platelet aggregation and benefit the circulation in the blood vessels while Dan Shen helps to promote blood circulation and repair tissues. The other herbs in the formula also build or move the blood.
The 7-star acupuncture treatments promote blood circulation, especially to the scalp, reduce inflammation and improve follicle health. As soon as blood flow increases, nutrient levels at different areas of the scalp are replenished to encourage hair growth.
David Scrimgeour, Licensed Acupuncturist in Boulder Colorado, has used this protocol with his patients with success. “It works,” says Scrimgeour, “but you must be patient because it takes three months for the hair follicles and new hair cells to regenerate. I start seeing new hair growth around 7 weeks with good growth in three months.” Scrimgeour states that not only does the alopecia resolve, but hair all over the head becomes fuller and thicker. He also emphasizes that this protocol works for alopecia and thinning hair in women. It is not as effective for male pattern baldness. David Scrimgeour can be reached at 303 413-9596 or www.davidscrimgeour.com.
Scrimgeour recommends the Chinese herbal supplement Hair Restore (or Huoxue Shengfa) as well as Biotin (5 mg/day) which improves keratin or the protein that makes up hair and nails and N’Acetyl Cysteine (1,000 mg/day), an anti-oxidant that promotes hair growth.
In addition to the herbal formula and acupuncture, David Scrimgeour also recommends including an abundance of dark green leafy vegetables, quality lean protein, seaweed, and brightly colored foods that are valued for building the blood such as goji berries, dried apricots, purple grapes, blackberries and raspberries. He also recommends bone broths to support the liver and the building of marrow.
As far as protecting the scalp, Scrimgeour reminds patients to choose only a mild organic shampoo and use a water filter for the shower. People often think about the water they drink, but they forget that the water used on their hair and scalp daily may have heavy metals (especially if it is well water) or chlorine and fluoride (for city water).
Two other things you can do to promote scalp health and hair growth: every night before bed, massage your scalp for five minutes, and when you wake in the morning, do a headstand or yoga inversion poses to bring blood circulation to the head.
With Acupuncture and Chinese herbs as well as some of these recommendations, you'll soon be noticing new hair growth as well as a healthier scalp.
Your alarm goes off and it’s a struggle to get up. You have a full day of things you need or want to do but feel too tired to do them. After your morning coffee, you have a little more energy, but that wears off by noon. In the afternoon, you start to feel drowsy and turn to another cup of coffee or 8-hour energy – giving you a short boost. Then you hit the wall.
For centuries, people have turned to the prized Chinese tonic herbs, known as adaptogens, to replenish their energy reserves naturally, support the immune system and adrenals and bring the body back into balance. These are five of the most prized energy-boosting herbs to restore your vital energy.
Ginseng is not a stimulant but rather an adaptogen that supports the body’s natural response to stress, anxiety and physical and mental exertion. It helps replenish depleted adrenals and enhances energy, memory, focus and overall vitality. A recent double-blind study tested the effectiveness of panax ginseng in patients suffering from fatigue. The study concluded that patients taking ginseng experienced increased energy as well as greater improvement in cognitive function and lower levels of free radicals in the blood.
Cordyceps is one of the most valuable mushrooms for supporting the immune system, increasing energy and endurance. Research has shown that Cordyceps increases energy by raising ATP levels (the primary energy carrier in all living organisms), by lowering levels of lactic acid (which make us feel tired) and by increasing insulin sensitivity which gives cells more access to fuel for energy and also lowers one’s risk for diabetes in the long run. It is also a powerful tonic for the lungs.
Rhodiola is an adaptogen that strengthens the body’s response to physical, mental, and emotional stressors. In a study with physicians on night call it was shown that the rhodiola group had a significant reduction in stress-induced fatigue as well improved physical and mental performance. Rhodiola also improves exercise performance and endurance by activating the synthesis or re-synthesis of ATP and stimulating energy repair processes after exercise. In addition to increasing energy, Rhodiola enhances healthy sleep, lifts depression, reduces anxiety and helps keep blood sugar in a healthy range.
Eleuthero, also known as Siberian ginseng, can boost energy, sharpen mental concentration and help improve strength and stamina. It is a prized herb for athletes to naturally enhance their performance. Studies of Eleuthero’s effects on human performance show that the plant increases tolerance to a broad range of stress factors, including heat, noise and increased exercise. The extract of the eleuthero root increases energy, work output, endurance, athletic performance and mental alertness. It also shows remarkable protective benefits under conditions of oxygen deprivation, so it is beneficial for people who will be going to high altitudes.
As an adaptogen, gynostmma (or jiaogulan) increases energy, endurance, stamina while reducing mental and emotional stress. It also helps stabilize blood sugar by increasing insulin sensitivity. Considered the “herb of immortality,” gynostemma is also known to extend longevity, support the immune system, lower cholesterol, lower high blood pressure and improve heart function.So turn your fatigue into energy with these powerful herbs. You can try any of these herbs individually by boiling them in a tea. But there is a formula: Supreme Immune Tonic by Six
You feel unusually tired. You start sneezing. Your nose runs and you have a tickle in your throat. Chances are, you’re getting a cold and the virus is starting to multiply in your nose. And whenever you sneeze, thousands of globules loaded with viruses are expelled into the air. Welcome to the world of the common cold.
The common cold is the leading cause of doctor visits in the United States. In one year, the U.S. population contracts approximately 1 billion colds and this accounts for more missed work and school days than any other illness. Because there are over 200 different kinds of viruses that can cause a cold, by the time our body has learned to recognize one virus by its structure and prepare antibodies that will attack and destroy it, along comes another virus with a slightly different structure. This is why it is difficult for the immune system to defend against the common cold and why medical researchers have not been able to find a cure yet.
While a cure for the common cold has eluded scientists, there are some natural treatments that work extremely well to stop a cold in its tracks. The following are the most effective natural treatments for a cold.
Cold Nip is a combination of three classical Chinese formulas that have been used successfully for years for the common cold with the addition of three anti-viral herbs: Andrographis, Isatis leaf and Isatis root. Isatis leaf, Isatis root and Andrographis have long been used in Chinese Medicine for upper respiratory infections and have been shown in recent research to have potent anti-viral and anti-microbial properties. Chinese Medicine maintains that if you activate the protective defense of the body, the wei qi, the virus will not penetrate. So you want to start Cold Nip right away. People report that if they take Cold Nip at the first signs of a cold, it usually stops it before it has a chance to take hold. If the virus has penetrated to the sinuses, throat and lungs, Cold Nip will still help relieve symptoms and shorten the duration. It is also effective when used preventatively in crowded areas or when flying in a plane where a multitude of viruses are circulating throughout the cabin.
Supporting your Immune System:
One way to avoid getting a cold in the first place is to support your immune system. Supreme Immune Tonic has the kings of the Chinese herbs that will help support the immune system on a deep level. Take 2 capsules twice a day during the winter months if you are susceptible to colds and the flu.
Neti pot: Since viruses replicate in the nasal passages, help your immune system to move them out by using the neti pot two to three times a day. Add a pinch of sea salt and a pinch of baking soda. The salt water restores moisture to nasal passages, lessens the inflammation of mucous membranes, washes out existing pathogens while both salt and baking soda make the environment inhospitable to the viruses and bacteria. Make sure you tilt your head at the right angle so that water only drains through the opposite nostril (you do not want it to drain back through the nose and throat). After using the neti pot on each side, blow your nose several times. All discharges should come forward and out – do not snuff up into the sinuses. Saline rinses are highly recommended by National Jewish Health; however, they recommend using boiled or purified water to ensure against the risk of bacteria or amoebas in tap water.
Gargling with Salt water: This is effective for a viral sore throat and helps reduce the soreness and shorten the duration of a sore throat. Both viruses and bacteria struggle to survive in a high-salt environment.
Probiotics: Current research indicates that taking a daily probiotic during the winter months helps prevent contracting upper respiratory infections.
Zinc helps the immune system function more effectively. Research suggests taking 15 mg 2-3 x day at the onset of a cold will help stop a cold and reduce the symptoms and duration. Oral zinc is recommended over zinc nasal sprays since several people have experienced a loss of smell with zinc nasal sprays.
N-acetylcysteine (NAC) can be effective when every cold seems to go to the chest and turns into bronchitis. NAC thins mucus and has mucolyptic and expectorant properties.
What to eat and drink when you have a cold?
Every morning squeeze the juice of one lemon into warm water and add a teaspoon of raw Manuka honey. Be sure to drink plenty of fluids throughout the day, but avoid dairy and orange juice since they seem to increase the amount of mucus. Freshly squeezed carrot and vegetable juices are also recommended, and a good homemade chicken soup with plenty of vegetables and shiitake mushrooms will support the immune system and also make you feel better.
With these natural recommendations, you should be able to say good-bye to your cold if you catch it early enough or at least reduce the symptoms and shorten its duration.
Kathy Thorpe, CHom is a Classical Homeopath and a natural health writer and blogger who has been writing about alternative approaches to health and wellness for the past ten years. Prior to that, she taught English at U.C. Berkeley and at the University of Colorado. She can be reached at 303 583-0179