Health Column October 2018

Food for Thought: An Examination of Diet & Digestion
The Importance of Diet & Digestion


Even an acute poison can become an excellent drug if it is properly administered. On the other hand, even a drug, if not properly administered, becomes an acute poison. — Charaka Samhita

In the above quote from the classical Ayurvedic medical text Charaka Samhita, the word "drug" can easily be changed to "food." One of the most common questions encountered in the clinical setting is, "What is the ideal healthy diet?" I personally do not believe there is one single diet which is "the best" or "most healthy." A multitude of factors come into play when the 
of diet is considered—genetics, lifestyle, and cost, to name a few.

One of the key factors I target when asked this question is to evaluate the digestive capacity and digestive health of the patient. From a TCM perspective, this would be primarily the Spleen Qi / Yang (although many organs are involved) while from an Ayurvedic perspective this would be primarily the Agni. When patients ask me for the mythological perfect diet, I steer the conversation on to the topic of ideal digestion. An ideal diet is a diet that is digested well.

The Diet Craze
We can use the latest diet craze as an example. I see many patients who are now interested in trying or are currently using a Keto themed style diet. The overall standard breakdown for such a diet is 70-80 percent of calories from healthy fats, 20-25 percent of calories from high-quality protein, and 5-10 percent of calories from fiber-rich carbohydrates. The subject of a Keto diet is a large topic and will not be covered here; however, the basic nutritional structure of this diet can be used as an example of using digestive efficiency to determine the type of diet which may be best for a particular patient.

There are several standard ways to evaluate the health of the digestive system in Ayurveda and TCM, and these evaluations should be used with every patient's respective dietary approach. This is one of the most unique and important ways a TCM practitioner can help a patient above and beyond generic approaches to diet or avoid falling prey to "diet cults" espousing a one-size-fits-all myopic approach. The basic foundational ideas of TCM must not be forgotten, abandoned, or replaced by novel clinical "tricks." To quickly and effectively evaluate the health of the digestive system in both TCM and Ayurveda, the tongue must be examined closely for color, shape, and coating. I will use the Keto dietary paradigm as an example. As mentioned earlier, the strength and efficiency of the digestive system must always be examined when a patient begins a new diet or is considering implementing a new dietary approach. Most patients turn to a Keto diet in an attempt to lose weight quickly and are usually switching to the Keto diet from a high carbohydrate-based diet. We know from TCM that the strength and vitality of the Spleen plays a fundamental role in the metabolism and digestion of carbohydrates. The sweet taste can potentially strengthen the Spleen or damage the Spleen depending upon the quality and quantity of the source of the sweetness—keep in mind there is a large difference between a sweet potato and a soft drink when the health of the TCM Spleen is considered.

The Keto Diet
Most often, in my clinical experience, individuals who are turning to a Keto dietary approach are most often consuming large amounts of sugars and/or suffer from blood sugar issues. The attractiveness of the Keto diet is the promise of a lower carbohydrate diet correcting such blood sugar issues resulting in weight loss, hormonal balancing, and insulin regulation. However, for this to occur, the patient must be able to digest the larger amount of healthy fats and high-quality proteins. In other words, the patient must possess strong Spleen Qi / Spleen Yang or Agni. To evaluate this, the tongue examination is crucial. Does the tongue have deep teeth-marks? Is the tongue body swollen? Is there a thick sticky coating on the tongue? Is the tongue body scarlet red? All of these factors should be considered when I patient is considering switching to a higher fat / higher protein diet.

If any of these issues are occurring with the tongue body/tongue coating, the clinician should council the patient on methods of foods, acupuncture, and herbal options to boost the Spleen Qi / Spleen Yang, clear Dampness, or clear Damp Heat and/or Liver Depression Qi Stagnation. This same evaluation of the tongue can be done as the patient follows the Keto dietary approach over a longer period of time as well. If after weeks or months on the respective Keto diet, the patient's tongue begins to show teeth-marks, become swollen and/or have a sticky thick coating with a scarlet body, the patient should shift back to an easier to digest bland Spleen friendly diet. Attempting to treat these pattern presentations by herbal medicine or acupuncture alone are often not as effective as shifting the diet back to an easier to digest Spleen friendly diet. Clinicians can also use this approach for a patient on a higher carbohydrate diet as well. If the aforementioned tongue presentations appear on a higher carbohydrate diet, the clinician may counsel the patient to shift to a lower carbohydrate / higher protein diet until the tongue presentations shift back to a state of digestive balance.

Raw Foods
Clinicians can also use this method to evaluate patients following or considering following raw food diets. Raw foods can be very hard for the Spleen to digest and if any of the aforementioned tongue signs begin to appear in a patient on a raw food diet, the clinician should counsel the patient on an appropriate Spleen friendly diet shifting away from a raw foods diet until the tongue returned to a more normal presentation. By monitoring the health of the tongue before and during a significant dietary change, the clinician can help the patient avoid long-term problems or acute/future Spleen Qi issue.

We must remember in TCM that the Spleen is the root of a large array of health issues, acute and chronic. By monitoring the quality of the tongue body and tongue coating, the clinician can help the patient stay one step ahead of disease and discomfort and more effectively counsel patients nutritional questions while staying safely within the scope of practice for TCM practitioners. 

The Science Behind the Efficacy of Cosmetic Acupuncture
BYyKim Peirano, MSOM, LAC

The beauty industry continues to 
boom and grow constantly, from topical creams, lotions and potions all the way to cutting-edge cosmetic surgeries. Some treatments simply fail at being effective, while others may be effective but very costly and invasive; and finding a more natural treatment that is actually effective can be a difficult task. Cosmetic acupuncture is a multi-faceted treatment, aimed at treating the entire person in a holistic approach.

Aging should be considered a chronic, whole body process, so when we are looking at how to slow down that process it is critical to look at the entire picture. Utilizing only a cream or serum will have limited effect if the person continues to smoke cigarettes, be perpetually dehydrated, or in a constant state of elevated stress.

Our lifestyle in 
and of itself, has a dramatic effect on how we look, so it should be no surprise that much of the benefit of cosmetic acupuncture lies in its' holistic approach. When we approach skin care and anti-aging skin care in particular, there are a few goals we need to keep in mind, and a treatment that adheres to these goals helps us administer effective skin care that produces desired results, while also avoiding injury to the skin structure so that the effects can last without repercussions later on.

Holistic Balance
First and foremost, we want to balance cell function in the body and skin.  This goal is often neglected in topical or medical beauty treatments because those treatments are only focusing on the skin and not the entire person. Acupuncture treatments for any condition help to stimulate this process of balance and being.

Physiologically the body is lowering oxidative stress, decreasing stress hormones, increasing cell longevity and ATP synthesis, and triggering dopamine release. Acupuncture helps to supply skin cells with the essential building blocks they require by improving digestion and regulating stress, this enhances the nutrition we receive from our food and also increases blood flow and lymphatic drainage to the face. The function of the full body acupuncture treatment can be considered anti-aging in and of itself due to its profound effects on regulating the body's response to stress.

Fibroblasts Are Key
Needling into the face also produces an incredible effect on the body and the skin itself. We can consider the process of needling the skin wounding the body, and our body's immune response to such a wound can produce an anti-aging effect when done precisely and correctly. A wound in the body - like that from an acupuncture needle - stimulates the division of fibroblasts - fibroblasts are responsible for making collagen,
elastin and glycosaminoglycans (GAGs), which all cause ideal features in the skin - firmness, tightness, and plumpness, secondary to good hydration.

In the medical beauty world
this process is usually stimulated by ablative therapies like IPL, chemical peels, fraxel laser etc. The problem here is that these treatments can also cause thinning of the epidermis plus loss of dermal papillae due to their overly invasive nature. Acupuncture needles are minimally intrusive to the skin, directly targeting the areas we want to see improvement in with intradermal needle threading in wrinkles. By stimulating the immune response through needling, we help to signal the cell what to do by releasing growth factors and stimulating fibroblast division. Through intradermal needling we can direct exactly where we want the body to send collagen, elastin and GAGs, thus producing an effect that helps to minimize fine lines and wrinkles.

Preserving Integrity
Great skin care aims to preserve the integrity of the epidermis. Acupuncture, 
microcurrent and LED therapy are all minimally invasive treatments that maintain the integrity of the skin while simultaneously treating it. There is no downtime or peeling that occurs with the treatment, thus allowing the skin to remain fully intact and functional, offering the most benefit from the treatment without having to undergo a recovery period.

By preserving the integrity of the skin, we also preserve the dermal papillae, this layer is important in supplying the exchange of oxygen, nutrients and waste products between the epidermis and dermis, and is also responsible for providing strength between the layers.  When this layer is compromised, a separation between these layers occurs and this is how wrinkles are formed. Acupuncture needles produce minimal damage, the most common undesired side effect is bruising at needle sites, and the skin remains intact and strong, enhanced by the treatment as opposed to weakened by it.

Muscle Training
While all of the effects of a cosmetic acupuncture treatment produce wonderful results in a safe way for the skin itself, we cannot forget about the importance of the muscles of the face. The musculature of the face is complex, consisting of 57 muscles which lose their tone and mass as we age. We also often wind up training the muscles of our face to contract in a certain way which results in an undesirable breakdown of the dermal papillae between the dermis and epidermis - the classic "11" lines between the eyebrows are a great example of this. Cosmetic acupuncture treatments aim to address these issues of the muscles - triggering some muscles to re-engage, bringing tone back into the muscle resulting in a lifted appearance, and triggering other muscles to disengage - relaxing these muscles helps resolve and soften wrinkles.

The Takeaway
These four key components to healthy, effective anti-aging skin care are what make cosmetic acupuncture such an all-around successful treatment. Treating skin care holistically is of utmost importance,
because the health of our skin is dependent upon the health of our entire body. Ignoring any one of these treatment strategies results in a less than desirable treatment, perhaps producing results, but with severe side effects and damage to the skin, or not producing results that are satisfactory to our patients.
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