Blog : Nutrition

Understanding the Causes of Disease

Differences between Western and Chinese Medicine

Chinese medicine is a science and medicine in its own right, with its own stringency and strictness of diagnosis and treatment similar to Western medicine, with procedures and protocols based on centuries of observation of how the universe works The ways of understanding the body's relationship to health and disease are very different between Western Medicine and Chinese Medicine. Chinese medicine focuses on increasing health to unseat disease, and supporting the body's inherent qualities to regain health.

Much of Western science is the direct product of the reductionism of Grecian origin. The scientific approach assumes that one must break a thing down into its smallest component parts or behaviors in order to understand it. This way of looking a problem involves a deductive reasoning process. Western science attempts to assess its cause and effect relationships in a linear or sequential fashion in order to measure, quantify, describe and hopefully predict phenomena. The process of Western science looks something like this:Hypothesis/theory (guess) -> experiment (experience) -> Laws. (Quantitative).  Whereas the process of Eastern science looks like this: Natural phenomena (laws) -> experience (experiment) -> Thesis. (Qualitative).  Both yield highly accurate information about totally different aspects of reality.

Chinese medicine uses the method of inductive reasoning that is associative and synthesizes, recognizing the inter-relatedness of simultaneous events, to interpret and treat disease. The question in Chinese medicine is not, “what bug is causing this disease?” so much as “what weakness or interrelated conditions are causing this person to be susceptible to it?”.

To use an analogy, let’s suppose that we walk into a room in our house only to find lots of flies in that room. Western Medicine might apply some bug spray to control the flies. A solution in classical Chinese Medicine would be to examine what the flies are attracted to. Upon observation we notice that someone left a ham sandwich in the room, which the flies are feeding on. Treatment would focus on removing the ham sandwich, so the flies have nothing to eat. Then we would ask the question, how did the flies get into the room in the first place. We look around and see that there is a crack in the window, so we fix the crack.

The goal of Chinese medicine is simply to restore balance. Chinese medicine does not treat disease, it treats individuals whose imbalances manifest in certain symptoms as the body attempts to regain balance. Illness is seen as an imbalance between internal influences such as diet, exercise, rest, and emotions; and external factors such as weather, trauma, microbes or poisons. Health is not just the absence of symptoms, it is a state of being in balance.

The preferred ways of restoring balance and staying healthy are the simplest ones. A balanced healthy, nourishing diet, lots of clean fresh air, adequate rest and regular sensible exercise are all a healthy body needs to stay healthy. When we get further out of balance than our normal internal mechanisms can restore, outside means may need to be employed to restore that equilibrium. That's where acupuncture and herbal medicine come into play.

Causes of disease

Your body is designed, like any other living system, to stay healthy and in balance. All of its mechanisms are programmed for survival. This is called homeostasis. Although your body has many elegant mechanisms by which to maintain balance, it constantly encounters things in the environment which can upset that balance. Extremes of temperature, physical or emotional stresses, microbes and toxins, can throw the body out of balance. A healthy body is in balance and is able to resist disease.

Before looking at the causes of disease, it's important to understand the relationship between ones inherited constitution, immune system and harmonious functioning of the body and mind (ie, health), and pathogenic factors that can unseat health.

When the constitution is strong and pathogenic factors are relatively weak, we can more easily resist the harmful effects and not become ill. We are better able to remain unaffected by those around us who suffer from colds and can better handle emotional and physical stressors. Even if the pathogen is strong, a person with a strong constitution may be able to battle it vigorously with high fever, and rapid recovery. Note that a high fever indicates a the body is fighting the disease with vigor.

However, if our constitution is weak, exposure to even a mild pathogen may cause us to become ill. We may catch infectious disease more easily and may be more affected by emotional and physical stress. When we do become ill, the symptoms may be milder because we don't have the same strength to fight the disease. The illness may also last longer, and may be able to penetrate further into the body creating a more chronic condition.

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Anti Inflammatory and Pain Relieving Foods

Many foods promote anti-inflammatory action. For the most benefit, eat fresh, whole foods rather than trying to get these ingredients in supplements. Here are some examples:

  • Ginger - Not only is ginger a potent anti-inflammatory with pain reducing action, it also helps reduce intestinal gas and reduces nausea. Add freshly grated ginger root to stir-frys, and try making your own ginger tea by chopping fresh ginger and putting it into boiling water to steep for 10 minutes (we don't recommend ginger tea bags because the powdered ginger is too hot). You might also try ginger lemonade made with grated ginger, lemon juice, honey and water.
  • Turmeric - Turmeric is a culinary spice that is a major ingredient in Indian curries, and makes American mustard yellow. This orange colored relative of ginger contains more than two dozen anti-inflammatory compounds. See the Recipe of the Month for a great way to use turmeric.
  • Berries - Considered one of the healthiest foods we can eat, all kinds of berries have anti-inflammatory effects.
  • Fish - Select those fish that are high in omega-3 fatty acids such as Black cod (aka butterfish or sablefish), salmon and sardines.
  • Cruciferous vegetables - These veggies contain potent anti-inflammatory compounds. Bok choy, cabbage, kale, broccoli, brussel sprouts, cauliflower, and collards are all great choices.

Foods to avoid:

Reading ingredient labels on food products is the key to eliminating these inflammation producing foods from your diet. These are some of the worst offenders.

  • Sugar – well known to promote obesity which is an inflammatory condition. Look for natural substitues like stevia, honey, and maple syrup and only use in small amounts.
  • Vegetable cooking oils – Most vegetable cooking oils contain a high ratio of omega-6 fatty acids to omega-3 fatty acids which promotes inflammation. Instead opt for olive oil, coconut oil or macadamia oil that are higher in omega-3 fatty acids.
  • Trans fats – while many products have removed trans fats, they can still be found in fried foods when cooked in partially hydrogenated oils, and in some processed foods. Trans fats are especially bad for us and are highly inflammatory. Be sure to read labels and make sure there is no partially hydrogenated oil or vegetable shortening in the ingredient list.
  • Commercial Dairy Products – commercial dairy is a common allergen that can trigger inflammatory responses in the body. As much as 60% of the worlds population has difficulty digesting modern milk products. The exceptions here include non-pasturized and non-homogonized products such as kefir and yogurts that are fermented and have beneficial bacteria.
  • Feed lot raised meats and processed meats – Commercially raised animals are fed an inflammatory diet of grains that are low in omega-3 fatty acids and high in omega-6 fatty acids. They are also given hormones and antibiotics to keep them from getting diseased in extremely tight living quarters. Opt for grass fed meats instead. Likewise, the link between processed meats like those smoked, cured or chemically preserved you find in the deli section, have not only been linked to chronic inflammation, but are also linked with cancer. Avoid them altogether.
  • Artificial Food Additives, Preservatives and Chemicals - Some artificial food additives like aspartame and monosodium glutamate (MSG) can trigger inflammatory responses, especially in people who are already suffering from inflammatory conditions. If the ingredient list reads like a science experiment, then you probably want to pass.

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Foods to help you sleep

Many times sleep issues can be attributed to an imbalance of the Shen of the body. As we've mentioned in other posts, the Shen is the mind, which is governed by the Heart organ system. Whether the imbalance causing your sleep problems comes from stress, worry, fright, illness, or digestive problems, here are some foods that you can add to your diet to help strengthen the Heart, thus calming the Shen, and help your body and mind be at rest.

1. Salmon

Salmon is rich in Omega 3 fats and is full of Vitamin B6. Omega 3 fats provide rich nutrients for the Heart and mind. Vitamin B-6 also helps in the natural production of melatonin (our sleep-inducing hormone).

2. Cherry Juice

The deep red pigment in cherry juice contains proanthocyanidins which can also slow down uptake of tryptophan. In addition, proanthocyanidins can help with the reduction of inflammation in the body.

3. Bananas

The potassium and magnesium in bananas help to promote sleep heart health and cognitive function. Bananas are also a great source for vitamin B6, which helps produce melatonin.

4. Sweet Potato

The National Sleep Foundation says that the addition of complex carbohydrates to the diet makes the amino acid tryptophan more available to the brain.

5. Chinese Jujubes

Delicious and nutritious, this beautiful red fruit is also known as the Chinese Date. They are one of the vital ingredients in Chinese herbal formulas nourish the heart and the Shen. Regular dates (from the date palm) also contribute to good sleep because like turkey, they contain a lot of tryptophan.

Did you notice, besides their ability to help with a better night's sleep, the thing that most of these foods have in common is the red color? In Chinese medicine theory, the color red dominates the heart organ system. Many foods that are red tend to help with dysfunctions relating to the heart system, such as anxiety, insomnia, and stress. 

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Tending the Garden for Improved Fertility and Bonus Recipe

As we discussed in our previous blog post about Fertility, "tending the garden" to create the optimal environment for a healthy pregnancy is the key to improved fertility.  Here are some dietary tips along with an easy recipe to start your day off right with good protein and leafy greens.

  • When pregnant, it’s generally okay to eat what you crave in moderation.  
  • Ginger, peppermint or lemon tea can help with with nausea and vomiting.
  • Avoid drinking or eating cold foods straight from the fridge and freezer as cold can make lack of circulation around the abdomen and uterus.
  • Increase the quality of your blood with Chinese red dates, beef soup or beef, eggs, beets and goji berries.  
  • Dark leafy greens are a great source of folic acid which is essential to prevent birth defects of the spine and nervous system.



  Thanks to Renee at Natural Fertility and Wellness -  


  • 2-3 TB friendly fat to cook in (butter, coconut oil, tallow, lard, etc)  
  • ¼ small onion, chopped
  • 1-2 cloves garlic, minced
  • ½ tsp red pepper flakes (more if you like more heat!)
  • 1 large handful fresh spinach
  • 1-2 pastured eggs whisk with a splash or 2 of whole milk or coconut milk (you can leave the milk out if you want too!)
  • Sea salt/pepper to taste


  1. Sauté the onion in the friendly fat for about 5-10 minutes with a pinch of sea salt to bring out their juices and sweeten them.
  2. Add the garlic and cook for a minute.
  3. Add the red pepper flakes and spinach to wilt in (should only take a minute or two!)
  4. Add the whisked egg and stir to combine. Keep moving the eggs around until they are done.
  5. Sea salt and pepper to taste. Add a sprinkle of raw cheese if you want!

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Here’s to a Healthy Heart

As you may be aware, February is National Heart Month.  What you might not be aware of is that Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine can play a huge role in improving your heart health.  In this article, we explain the Oriental Medicine perspective of the heart and share tips on incorporating time tested therapies into your health improvement plan. 

The Heart from an Oriental Medicine Perspective

In both Oriental Medicine and Western Medicine, the heart is known to have the function of pumping blood throughout the body to maintain life.  However, in Oriental Medicine it is thought of as the ruler, or Emperor,  of the other organs, and involved with mental and emotional processes.

There are 3 key characteristics of the heart system in Oriental Medicine:

The heart houses the mind and spirit.

The heart is considered the residence of the mind and spirit (the shen), and is often involved in psychological imbalances. The realm of the heart includes the full range of human mental activity or consciousness, including the thought process, emotional health, mental function, focus, memory, and spirituality. The process of thinking is accomplished by the heart and blood is the main foundation for mental activities.  When properly nourished and balanced, the heart maintains our innate wisdom, contentment, and emotional balance.  Some symptoms of heart imbalance include palpitations, shortness of breath, sweating easily, mental restlessness, insomnia, forgetfulness, chest pain, tongue pain, and burning urine.

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Juicing: Why It May Not Be The Best Choice

With the New Year comes resolutions to lose those holiday pounds and get healthier.  Many of our patients ask us about this diet or that diet, and many are trying juicing.  While it seems like it should be a healthy way to get lots of nutrients in a glass, and it has grown into a multi-million dollar business, there are several issues with juicing.  A colleague recently posted this article and we want to share it with you so that you understand why juicing is not all it’s cracked up to be.  We are constantly telling our patients to stay away from ice and cold beverages because they sabotage your digestive system (and therefore your metabolism), and since juices are typically taken cold,  that’s yet another concern with juicing that isn’t mentioned in the article.    Make sure you are making an informed choice and not just jumping on the next fad diet.  We continue to believe that eating whole foods in appropriate portions while staying away from processed foods is your best bet to move toward a healthier lifestyle.  

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