Chinese Medicine Weaves Spring with the Wood Element

Written by: Shira Dobratz L.Ac. 

Spring. Warm breezes. Birds chirping. Flowers and sunshine. Nature reminding us of hope and new beginnings.

In Chinese Medicine spring is tied to the element of Wood.  Twigs and plants that grow up through the cracks of measured cement pavements, and the way plants and trees respond to wind both give insight into the Wood element.  Lush green life on a mission for sunlight can not be stopped! No matter the wind, trees hold their ground, firmly rooted into the earth, yet with free and easy response to the strength and direction of the wind. This is the wood element doing what it's designed to do and being what its designed to be, centered, goal oriented, flexible, courageous and resilient.

We have similarities to the journey of greenery. We too are on a mission to grow, we too have a propelling need to be nurtured and sustained, we too face many obstacles in our desire to thrive,  we too feel tested by the pressure and intensity of many winds upon us. Strong emotions like stress and frustration can surface for many of us in that process.   Seeking balance in this season includes turning from harsh and relentless self-direction and instead towards peace, harmony,  and supple reactions. Slowing down in the spring can give us time to harness the creative vision, strategic brilliance, courage and confidence that are gifts of a healthy Wood element. In balance we are not caught up in a frenetic and exhausted knot from all the movements and changes, excitements and pressures, but instead can move through the diverse winds with grace, ease, and kindness to others and ourselves.  

Acupuncture and Chinese herbs can help balance these energies within us, as well as Pranayama, Yin styles of yoga, fresh fruits and green leafy vegetables, whole grains like brown rice with ghee or sesame oil, a decrease in alcohol and caffeine consumption, drinking plenty of water, getting a little extra rest, soaking in salt baths, and beginning collaborative endeavors with friends or family. 

Libido Recharge Part III

Written by Dr. Dana Price DOM, Dipl. O.M., L.Ac.

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For part three of our Libido Recharge blog series I would like to explore a far too common reason for low libido- “I’m too tired for sex”, which in Chinese medicine translates as Yang deficiency. This is the common pattern of living a lifestyle on the go, working too much and not getting enough rest and downtime, and then when sex does cross your mind, you just don’t have it in you.

With Yang deficiency, women can feel like their metabolism has slowed, they are gaining weight easier, they tend to be tired and low energy, and often feel cold easily. Yang is the warmth, active, moving, extroverted energy that we all have. So when we deplete our Yang through taking on too much, overwork, lack of exercise, stress and excessive adrenaline, or chronic illness we don’t have much energy left for sex.

So what can you do to rebuild your Yang deficient low libido?:

Diet: Non-wheat complex carbs with a small amount of high-quality protein (vegetable) is best as well as cutting out dairy, fruit juices, and fried or fatty foods.

Foods that rebuild the Yang are: Carrots, mushrooms, onions, leeks, sweet potatoes, ginger, cherries, apples, bananas, quinoa, lentils, black beans, cauliflower, kale, brussels sprouts, walnuts, and cabbage.

Exercise: Don’t exercise when you are tired and get at least 30 minutes of moderate exercise 5 times a week.

Avoid Caffeine: Caffeine gives a “false” energy and can make you feel more run down when it wears off.

Cut Down on Alcohol: No more than one drink per night and 3 drinks in a week.

Avoid Excess Salt: Salt in a small amount boosts the Yang but in large amounts depletes it. Check your labels and avoid processed foods which are high in sodium.

Acupuncture and Chinese herbs also work great to boost the Yang

Lets Talk About Vaginal Tissue Health

By Leigh Lewis, ND, L.Ac.

Many women experience changes to their libido and sexual function due to changes in hormones that occur throughout life. Post-partum and perimenopause are frequent times when hormones plummet and this can causes lower desire and changes to the vaginal tissue that can cause discomfort with intercourse.  Other hormonal, like thyroid, or nutritional, like iron, deficiencies can contribute to this issue as well and should be screened for.

Medications can be a cause of sexual function issues, notably birth control and antidepressants, and there may be alternatives that have less impact. Alcohol and marijuana use can have negative impacts as well. Finally, it is important to consider relationship factors that may be playing a role; a couple of sessions with a qualified therapist can greatly help investigate & address this area. If discomfort is deep in the pelvic area, a specialized physical therapist may be able to assist you.

There are several ways you can address these issues on your own before consulting a physician:
For vaginal dryness or pain with intercourse: RepHresh or Replens, both available OTC at many pharmacies. These products are not lubricants, but actually restore vaginal tissue health without hormones. Try for twice a week for one month and see if the improvements decrease your symptoms.
For low libido: Maca (Femenessence) is a Peruvian herb that has been used traditionally to improve libido. Try 1000mg per day for a month to see if you notice an effect.

If these do not help, consider making an appointment here at ilumina to discuss pharmaceutical options. After ruling out any contributing factors, we can discuss possible hormonal therapies like bio-identical estrogen, testosterone or DHEA. These hormones have all been shown to be helpful for improving libido, orgasm and/or decreasing vaginal discomfort by improving tissue integrity. There are topical and oral forms available and some options are covered by insurance.  If vaginal tissue atrophy is the main concern, I have been very successful using both hormonal & non-hormonal compounded combinations.  Finally, a brief word about safety: most low dose topical hormone formulations used to treat local vaginal issues are not absorbed systemically and therefore are not considered to carry the same risks as menopausal hormone replacement therapy, even for breast cancer survivors.

Another pharmaceutical option is Addyi (flibanserin), a daily medication that has been shown to improve sexual desire. The side effects are generally minimal and it should not be taken with alcohol, but it may be good options for those women for whom none of the above has been helpful.

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Most importantly, seek help:

though this is a sensitive topic, we are here to help you with all facets of your health and that includes sexual health & wellbeing.

 

 

Acupuncture and Transfer Day

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By Charlene Hagner M.Ac., Dipl. O.M., LaAc.

       Transfer Day can be full of many different emotions. Women can have a range of emotions from excitement, anxiousness, and even a range of both. Having a moment to breathe and experience some relaxation before and after the transfer is wonderful, and a small benefit compared to the biological benefits of acupuncture on the day of transfer. Acupuncture increases the blood flow to the uterus. Research has been done, by using a Doppler to detect blood flow before and after treatment, showing an improvement of blood flow to the uterus and ovaries after a treatment. Treatments given before and after transfer help to improve patients' response to IVF medications, and the chances of pregnancy.

A two year case study, involving our clinic and a top rated Fertility Clinic in the valley, showed a 10% increase of pregnancy rates when using Acupuncture day of transfer. ilumina Healing Sanctuary has continued a valued reputation with fertility doctors in the valley for two decades, and we support in making the process as easy and comfortable as possible.  All of our practitioners have extensive experience in IVF transfers and supporting with acupuncture in a clinical setting. 

It is important to contact us when you know the date of transfer to reserve the time for transfer day services. We meet with patients 45 minutes ahead of the frozen embryo transfer, so the Acupuncturist has plenty of time for the treatment and the patient stays an extra 30 minutes after the transfer to receive the second acupuncture session. 

Let us know how we can support you through your fertility journey. Call or email us with any questions. 

Acupuncture Throughout Your Pregnancy

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Acupuncture’s positive effects on regulating menses and improving fertility have been known for many years, but acupuncture, Chinese herbs, diet and massage can also have many benefits throughout the pregnancy and beyond.

First Trimester
As early as the first positive home pregnancy test, acupuncture can help decrease risk of miscarriage and alleviate several of the well-known early symptoms of pregnancy, though while encouraging, can have a negative impact on a woman’s quality of life and ability to carry out daily tasks at work and home.

  • Fatigue
  • Nausea & vomiting
  • Headaches
  • Mood swings
  • Sleep disturbance

Second Trimester
The second trimester is often entered with a sigh of relief as the risk of early miscarriage and intensity of morning sickness decreases at week 12. However, as your baby grows in size, this increases demand on blood supply and pressure on surrounding organs leading to several new symptoms.  Some are diagnosed with blood sugar or blood pressure issues, and we can provide nutrition advice and acupuncture for this as well.

  • Back pain
  • Congestion and nose bleeds
  • Headaches
  • Constipation
  • Heartburn
  • Weight gain
  • Increased susceptibility to infections

Third Trimester
As weight gain continues with the increased size of your baby, the same symptoms that can cause problems in the second trimester increase in intensity with additional issues that can significantly interfere with your quality of life and well-being.  Also, keep in mind that while acupuncture can help decrease these symptoms, it can also be helpful for breech presentation and labor preparation in the final weeks before delivery.

  • Fatigue
  • Leg pain
  • Swelling of hands/wrists and feet and ankles
  • Shortness of breath
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“Fourth” Trimester
Here at ilumina, we like to be conscientious of the months after delivery and the issues that can creep up after you are back at home with your newborn.  Sleep deprivation and the resultant fatigue and moodiness is expected, but knowing when to ask for help and making time for yourself in key in helping you care for your baby.  It may also be time to have labs to check for thyroid dysfunction and nutritional deficiencies that are common in post-partum.  Finally, in addition to helping with energy and mood, acupuncture can help with lactation, muscle aches, and menstrual issues as your cycle starts up again.

Is It Me or Is It Hot In Here: Symptoms Associated with Perimenopausal Hormal Changes

By Leigh Lewis ND, L.Ac.

There is a lot of confusion both among women and their health care practitioners regarding perimenopause. Literally, perimenopause is “around menopause”; menopause being defined as the spontaneous, permanent ending of menstruation, literally one day, typically the day that is one year after the last menstrual period, usually around age 50, but can be anywhere between age 40-60.  Clinically then, perimenopausal symptoms can be described as any symptom that happens around a woman’s last menstrual period. Unfortunately, menopause is not like a light switch, where one moment you are pre-menopausal and the next you are post-menopausal. It is in fact quite the opposite: erratic hormone production fluctuates from day to day and month to month causing changeable and varied symptoms.  

Several studies have documented that symptoms may begin up to 17 years before cessation of menses and may last for several years after.  As such, if the average age of menopause is 50, some women may start to experience these symptoms as early as 33. Many factors may impact this transition, from genetics, to thyroid function to lifestyle habits and some women enter into menopause through surgery or medication and, for the latter population of women, the symptoms may be more severe and dramatic.

There are estrogen receptors throughout a woman’s body which helps to explain the varied symptoms a woman may have as estrogen levels start to decline as evidenced by this graphic:

Since hormone fluctuations can start in the 30’s for many women and others may experience unintended pregnancy in their 40’s, special consideration should be given to issues related to fertility. Some women may have difficulty achieving or maintaining pregnancy in the absence of these symptoms at any age, but age-related hormonal changes are a common cause. As such, contraception and/or fertility-preserving strategies should be a part of every woman’s assessment and plan during the perimenopausal transition.  Regardless of the cause, be it endometriosis, irregular menses or hormonal issues, acupuncture and select supplements and herbs may be helpful in improving fertility outcomes, either when used alone or in combination with conventional reproductive medicine.

When a woman suspects she is having perimenopausal-related symptoms, it is an excellent time to have a complete medical examination by a qualified health professional. The diagnosis of perimenopause can usually be made by reviewing a woman’s medical and menstrual history in addition to her specific set of symptoms and treatment recommendations can be made accordingly. Unfortunately for most women, hormone tests are usually not helpful in giving definitive information as to whether symptoms are related to perimenopause because levels change throughout the menstrual cycle. A single hormone level can be misleading since production does not fall at a steady rate, but varies greatly and therefore cannot predict or confirm menopause. Furthermore, normal hormone levels in the presence of hormone-related symptoms does not eliminate the likelihood that the women is perimenopausal. Some testing may be helpful with complaints of sexual dysfunction, fertility problems or when periods stop at an early age and some lab tests can identify other causes of symptoms that mimic or worsen the symptoms of perimenopause, such as thyroid disease or vitamin deficiencies, and diseases that can increase during perimenopause, such as cardiovascular disease and diabetes. Treatments should never be prescribed to “treat” hormone levels, but solely to alleviate symptoms and therefore hormone levels are unnecessary to determine or adjust dosing.

There are several treatment options available to women and there is no “one-size-fits-all” plan that will take care of all of the symptoms that may be associated with hormonal fluctuations. It is also important to remember that not all women will require treatment; perimenopause is not a disease and as such therapies should be directed at controlling symptoms. Therapies with less associated risk, like diet and lifestyle, should be tried first. There are several studies confirming the positive impact of diet, exercise, acupuncture, stress management and lifestyle changes for women with mild perimenopausal symptoms and should be first-line therapy. Vitamin and herbal supplements may be helpful in some women, but research is mixed and appropriate dosing and use of high-quality products is necessary to know if these may be effective. Finally, there are non-hormonal prescription medications that may do double-duty in decreasing perimenopausal symptoms while treating other conditions, such as depression and anxiety. The goal should be to help patient’s manage menopausal symptoms without needing a grocery bag full of medications or supplements by utilizing targeted therapies that are supported by research.

If hormones are being considered, a thorough assessment of a woman’s potential benefits vs. risks should be conducted. While risks are possible with any use of hormones, symptoms can negatively impact a woman’s day-to-day quality of life, affecting relationships with family and friends and performance at work and the degree to which this happens may outweigh these potential risks. Medical organizations devoted to the care of women agree that there is no question that hormone therapy has an important role in managing symptoms for many healthy women during the transition. There are several benefits to using hormones including decreasing the typical symptoms such as hot flashes, night sweats, insomnia, mood issues, “brain fog”, urinary symptoms, vaginal dryness and painful intercourse, preventing bone fractures later in life and lowering the risk of heart disease & diabetes if hormones are started early. However, despite some claims, there is no such thing as “risk-free” hormone treatment for menopause when used systemically to achieve these benefits. The potential risks include stroke, blood clots, and uterine and breast cancer. What we’ve learned so far about the benefits and risks comes from large groups of women, but each woman is unique. New studies are frequently published, so this topic is constantly in flux.

The question is whether it is the right choice for you. These decisions are nuanced and only after you and your doctor have a thorough discussion about your individual risks, benefits, and preferences can you make a decision that’s right for you.

The North American Menopause Society is an excellent resource for high quality information: http://www.menopause.org/for-women.