Whether physical or mental, we all experience stress to varying degrees. Stress plays a huge role in our everyday health and can aggravate health conditions that we already have. Routine, chronic stress can in the long run lead to serious physical and mental health consequences if not managed properly. Consider these facts: Up to 90%
Acupuncture is an effective treatment option for regulating hormones and can help: Hormone-related moods such as depression, anxiety, irritability, and anger Improve night sweats and insomnia so that you sleep better and wake up feeling more rested Improve energy and mental clarity during the day Regulate the menstrual cycle to correct symptoms of PMS and PMDD, painful
Anxiety is defined as a vague, uneasy feeling, with its source unknown or non-specific to an individual. The uneasy feeling is mainly associated with anticipation of danger and dread to a level that the normal body functioning is impaired. The anticipation is normally accompanied by factors such as tension, restlessness, breathing difficulty and tachycardia. Generally,
A hormonal imbalance occurs when there is too much estrogen relative to progesterone in a woman's body, also referred to as estrogen dominance. In a normal cycle, estrogen and progesterone hormones work together to maintain a woman’s menstrual cycle, each playing an important role. When a hormone balance occurs and estrogen levels are too high, it
Perimenopause, also called the menopausal transition, is the natural shift in a woman’s reproductive cycle toward menopause, or ceasing of the cycle. When a woman has gone through 12 consecutive months without a menstrual period, she is considered to have reached menopause, and the perimenopause period is over.
Women start perimenopause at different ages, and may start noticing changes in the 40s or even as early as the 30s. During the menopausal transition, the body's production of estrogen and progesterone fluctuates. These hormonal fluctuations are at the root of the changes experienced during perimenopause. These changes may include menstrual irregularity and menopause-like symptoms.
With perimenopause, a woman’s cycle may become irregular, becoming shorter, longer, heavier or lighter, or more or less than 28 days apart. About 65-75% of women experience hot flashes. Sleeping problems are also common, often due to hot flashes or night sweats. Some women experience mood changes such as mood swings, irritability or depression. Fertility decreases, there may be changes in sexual function and desire, and vaginal and bladder problems may also arise such as infections or urinary incontinence. Other health problems that become a concern with declining estrogen levels are loss of bone and higher risk of osteoporosis, and changing cholesterol levels and increased risk of heart disease.
Treatment for perimenopause symptoms will typically involve hormone therapy, oral contraceptives, or progestin therapy. Hormone therapy is less commonly recommended today because of its associated health risks, and contraceptives or progestin therapy may not effectively resolve symptoms for all women.
Acupuncture: A Safe and Effective Approach
Acupuncture is an excellent option for ensuring a healthy transition through this period of a woman’s life and is of benefit to many of the common symptoms. Menopause is a natural stage in life and the healthier a woman is overall, the healthier and smoother this transition will be. For this reason, acupuncturists don’t look at perimenopause as problematic, but rather view the symptoms and their severity as indicators of a woman’s health and possible internal imbalances that may be at the root of these symptoms. A woman in ideal health would transition through menopause with no discomfort at all (and indeed, many women do). However for many women, factors such as diet, stress, overwork, emotional upset, and exercise habits can all contribute to health, stress levels, and the overall experience during the menopause transition.
Getting to the Root of the Problem
An acupuncturist’s first task then, is to determine which internal imbalances are causing the symptoms that a woman is experiencing. Symptoms such as hot flashes, night sweats, insomnia, irritability and depression, nervousness and anxiety, fatigue, heart palpitations, digestive issues, joint pain or stiffness, osteoporosis, loss of sex drive, and vaginal dryness are all signs that the body is not functioning at optimum health and that imbalances need to be corrected.With menopause and aging, the organs most involved are the kidneys and the liver. The kidney functioning naturally begins to decline as we age, and the liver is involved in regulating the menstrual cycle as well as balancing our emotions.
Acupuncture helps to move the body’s energy in its proper directions and amounts and to encourage these organs to function properly again. It has a regulating effect on the body, and promotes normal functioning of the various organs and systems at work in our body. By this principle, it can help to regulate hormone functioning, our sleep cycles, our energy, our digestion, and our moods. It is also a great stress reliever.
Promoting A Healthy Transition
With regular treatments we can begin to see a reduction in the severity of perimenopause symptoms and in the frequency that they are experienced, a sign that a healthy balance is being regained. Acupuncture can help with many of the symptoms of perimenopause, from hot flashes and night sweats to moods, energy, and stress, to digestive issues and joint pain. It is an excellent therapy for helping to ensure a healthy transition into menopause, embracing the changes that this new stage of life brings.
James Kaufman is a Registered Acupuncturist at Okanagan Acupuncture Centre, 1625 Ellis St, downtown Kelowna. He can be reached at www.okanaganacupuncture.com.
Seasonal Affective Disorder, or SAD, is a type of depression that follows a seasonal pattern, starting in the fall and continuing through the winter, sapping energy and making a person feel moody. Symptoms can include depression, changes in appetite (in particular a craving for sweet or starchy foods), weight gain, decreased energy, fatigue, a tendency to oversleep, difficulty concentrating, irritability, avoidance of social situations, feelings of anxiety and despair, loss of interest in activities, and a heavy or leaden feeling in the arms and legs. These symptoms generally disappear when spring arrives. SAD may be caused by changes to the body’s circadian rhythms, a change in serotonin levels (which affect mood), and a change in melatonin levels (which affect our sleep patterns and moods).
Severe SAD can be very debilitating, and even in its milder form, SAD can affect our ability to cope with daily life. Research suggests that between 2% and 3% of the general population may have SAD while another 15% of us experience a less severe type described as the “winter blues." Indeed, these winter blues are common for many Canadians, because of our much shorter days in the winter months, and particularly in BC where winters also bring overcast, gloomy weather. SAD may also be of concern for shift workers and for urban dwellers that may experience reduced levels of exposure to daylight in their work environments.
It is important to be aware of our sensitivities to the seasons and to adjust our habits and lifestyle accordingly in order to be able to live an enjoyable and productive life year-round. There are many things that we can do to relieve SAD or winter blues, and the best approach seems to be combining the things that work for you. People with severe symptoms of SAD may be recommended antidepressant medications combined with these lifestyle habits, as well as counseling and therapy.
People with SAD can benefit from spending some time outdoors every day, even for just a short duration and even in cloudy weather. Arranging the home or office for maximum sunlight such as keeping the curtains open, pruning back trees in the fall, and sitting near a window can help. Exercise is also very effective for relieving SAD, and daily exercise has been shown to relieve the symptoms of mild depression. Exercising in the morning may also help to regulate our bodies’ melatonin levels. Light therapy is also a common treatment for SAD, and involves daily exposure to a special type of bright, artificial light.
Acupuncture is a very effective option for treating SAD. Depression, anxiety, SAD, and other mood disorders respond very well to acupuncture, as do symptoms such as insomnia, low energy, irritability, and concentration. Because of acupuncture’s stress-relieving and relaxing effects, people suffering from SAD will often feel immediate relief following treatment. With regular, continued treatments, acupuncture can help to minimize and prevent SAD symptoms and help the body adapt to seasonal changes. Acupuncture works by helping our bodies to regain their healthy balance, influencing and correcting our various systems that are responsible for our sleep, our energy, our moods, our digestive system, and our immune system, among others. It is a gentle and health-promoting strategy that works not only to relieve symptoms but also as a preventative to improve health and prevent problems from arising.
SAD is an important reminder to us all to tune in to our body’s cues and to incorporate changes that reflect the changing of the seasons. Winter is a natural time for reflection and inactivity and we need take extra care to nurture ourselves at this time in order to maintain our health. Avoiding over-working and too much stress, increasing our exposure to light, monitoring our diet, sleep patterns and exercise levels are important for all of us. It is also worthwhile to find the strategies that work for each of us personally, whether that is light therapy, meditation, counseling, acupuncture, massage, or any other therapies that enable us to maintain both physical and mental well-being. For warding off the winter blues, acupuncture is well worth-adding to your winter regimen.
James Kaufman is a Registered Acupuncturist at Okanagan Acupuncture Centre, 1625 Ellis St, downtown Kelowna, BC. He can be reached at www.okanaganacupuncture.com.
Depression, also called major depression, major depressive disorder and clinical depression, is a medical illness that involves the mind and body, affecting how a person feels, thinks and behaves. It is characterized by low moods and a loss of interest or pleasure in normally enjoyable activities. Other symptoms may include preoccupation or over-thinking, irritability or frustration, feelings of worthlessness or guilt, poor concentration and memory, withdrawal from social situations, reduced sex drive, and insomnia, as well as fatigue, headaches, digestive problems, reduced appetite (or in some cases increased appetite), and an agitated or lethargic behaviour.
About 16% of adults in Canada will experience depression at some point in their lives, with women being twice as likely to suffer from depression as men. The risk of depression is increased with certain conditions such as Parkinson’s disease, stroke, multiple sclerosis, chronic pain, cardiovascular illnesses, and the first year after childbirth. Depressed individuals have shorter life expectancies than those without depression, in part because of greater susceptibility to medical illnesses and suicide.
The understanding of depression has evolved over the centuries. Although the causes are still not yet fully understood, a variety of factors are believed to be involved. These include biological differences (people with depression appear to have physical changes in their brains), the levels of certain neurotransmitters in the brain, the body’s balance of hormones, genetics, early childhood trauma, and major life events such as the loss of a loved one or high stress. The most common treatments for depression are psychotherapy, anti-depressant medication, and electroconvulsive therapy, used only as a last resort.
Acupuncture is an excellent option for the treatment of depression, as it is very effective in both relieving the symptoms and in resolving the condition with continued treatments, and without negative side effects. Chinese medicine (TCM) takes a much different approach to depression and focuses much more on the overall functioning of the body and how the various organs and systems are working in relation to each other. According to TCM, there are different causes and mechanisms for depression in different people. For some people it has to do with mental-emotional causes such as continued stress, frustration or worry. Other factors can be either too much or too little exercise and activity. Or it may be due to other diseases in the body, or age or body type. In others it may be faulty diet or lifestyle factors.
By identifying the particular pattern of depression, an acupuncturist can effectively diagnose and treat the depression based on each person’s unique causes and symptoms. This allows for a very effective treatment that is catered to the individual’s needs, from using the appropriate acupuncture points to diet and lifestyle recommendations that can support healing. Acupuncture, particularly when combined with Chinese herbal formulas, is a very effective treatment option for depression and can help a person to regain their lost health and recover from the debilitating symptoms of depression. It can be used as a complement to conventional depression treatments, or as an effective alternative.
Like other chronic conditions such as diabetes, depression is a complex condition that takes time to develop in the body and is caused by many factors. For this reason, there really is no “quick fix”, whether tackling it with acupuncture and Chinese medicine, medications, counseling, or some combination of these. Acupuncture takes time to have an effect on chronic conditions, and the body takes time to heal.
For this reason, it is important to be committed to the healing process, to be patient with our body as it takes time to heal, and to expect some bumps along the way as we are faced with life’s stresses. Typically with acupuncture a series of treatments is needed, on a regular schedule over the course of a few months to achieve lasting results. While depression can be a disabling condition which adversely affects a person's family, work or school life, sleeping and eating habits, and general health, there is hope that we can regain both our health and our happiness.
James Kaufman is a Registered Acupuncturist at Okanagan Acupuncture Centre, 1625 Ellis St, downtown Kelowna, BC. He can be reached at www.okanaganacupuncture.com.
With stress so common in our lives today, more and more people are suffering from anxiety. Ongoing anxiety can interfere with day-to-day activities and relationships and when this happens, it may be diagnosed as Generalized Anxiety Disorder. Anxiety can develop from a combination of stress, personality, gender, and life events such as an illness or past troubles. Those suffering from generalized anxiety experience symptoms such as constant over-thinking and worrying, restlessness, irritability, muscle tension, and fatigue.
Chronic anxiety can also lead to other health problems, such as headaches, insomnia, digestive problems, or teeth grinding. Of course, all of us worry from time to time about finances, family, health, and future, but it becomes a problem for us when we are thinking and worrying constantly or when it prevents us from relaxing or unwinding from our daily stresses.
Western medical treatment for anxiety usually is with medications and/or counseling or therapy. Lifestyle changes, coping skills and relaxation techniques can also help.
Acupuncture fortunately has a great deal to offer anxiety sufferers. Stress responds very positively to acupuncture, and so do the many stress-related health problems we experience, including chronic anxiety. Acupuncture has a regulating effect on the body- it works by normalizing the body’s internal systems and processes. One of those systems is our autonomic nervous system, which manages our body’s states of arousal (“fight-or-flight”) and relaxation (“rest-and-digest”).
Normally our body fluctuates somewhere between states of arousal/stress and states of calm/relaxation. However, ongoing stressors can leave our body in a state of chronic stress or anxiety, leading to health problems. Acupuncture helps to bring our body back to its calm, relaxed state of healthy functioning.
This is a western perspective of how acupuncture can help with anxiety. However, Chinese medicine (TCM) has its own language for talking about patterns of disease and offers a different perspective. A big difference between Chinese medicine and Western medicine is the way in which disease is viewed- Chinese medicine sees health and disease as a continuum. Anxiety is seen as an imbalance or excess of the emotion “worry”. Worry is a normal emotional state which enables concentration, memorization, and focus, however when worry gets out of balance it leads to constant thinking, brooding, worrying, and anxiety.
Anxiety can be caused by our lifestyle, if we have too many stressors or too often, or we can be prone to it due to a constitutional imbalance or weakness in the spleen, heart, lungs, or a combination of these organs. Excessive worry causes our qi-energy to get stuck and not flow properly. This, in turn, can injure the organs, causing additional symptoms, depending on the organ(s) affected.
By redirecting the body’s energy flow with acupuncture, we can help the body to correct internal imbalances and treat the cause of anxiety symptoms. Acupuncture also works towards emotional balance, so that we are better able to deal with daily stresses without falling into excessive worry.
Acupuncture is also an excellent complement to therapy or counseling, helping to relieve the physical symptoms of anxiety and calm the emotions while a person works through the behavioural aspects of their anxiety. Making lifestyle changes to reduce stress and to better deal with it can also contribute positively to treatment.
James Kaufman is a Registered Acupuncturist at Okanagan Acupuncture Centre, 1625 Ellis St., downtown Kelowna. He can be reached at www.okanaganacupuncture.com.
Menopause is the transitional phase of a woman’s life when menstrual function ceases, which typically spans a 2-5 year period. During this time, hormonal levels in the body are fluctuating, as estrogen and progesterone levels gradually decline and the body responds by producing higher than normal levels of follicle stimulating hormone (FSH) and luteinizing hormone (LH). The main symptoms likely to be experienced (with varying degrees of severity) are headaches, tiredness, lethargy, irritability, anxiety, nervousness, depression, insomnia, inability to concentrate, hot flashes, and sweating.
Menopause typically occurs between the ages of 48 and 55, but menopause is a gradual physiological process that really begins with birth, and the cycle of gradual maturation and decline of a woman’s reproductive system. This certainly agrees with theChinese medicine (TCM) view of menopause, in which menopause is not viewed as a syndrome so much as a normal transition in a woman’s life that is influenced greatly by a woman’s lifestyle, emotional stress, experiences, and dietary habits.
There are many characteristics of the modern western lifestyle that can lead to increased menopausal symptoms. Emotional stress is an extremely important cause of menopausal problems, as worry, anxiety and fear all weaken the kidneys and lead to yin deficiency. Considering the increased stress posed on women through work and family in the past 40-50 years, it is not uncommon for many women to deal with ongoing overwork and stress both physical and emotional, all of which contribute to a woman’s experience during menopause. Other impacts of a fast-paced lifestyle can be poor or rushed meals, and not having the time or energy for regular exercise or stress release.
From a Chinese medicine perspective, menopausal symptoms are generally due to a decline of the kidneys as we age, often as either a deficiency of kidney-yin, kidney-yang, or both, each of which will present its own set of symptoms. Sweating in the middle of the night indicates a kidney yin deficiency, whereas sweating in the early morning upon waking indicates a kidney yang deficiency. A kidney yang deficiency will also be accompanied by a feeling of cold, especially in the feet, whereas a kidney yin deficiency will be accompanied by a feeling of heat, particularly in the chest, the palms of the hands, and the soles of the feet.
A kidney yin or yang deficiency pattern may also be combined with other patterns of imbalance, which might involve the liver, a stagnation of qi (energy), deficiency of blood. These imbalances can contribute to other menopausal symptoms: hot flashes, insomnia, irritability, depression, nervousness and anxiety, fatigue, palpitations, nausea, diarrhea and constipation, and stiffness, bloating, cramps and joint pain, among other symptoms.
Acupuncture offers a more natural approach to managing menopausal symptoms. Whereas some types of menopausal treatments may have negative side-effects, acupuncture can help to manage symptoms without any negative impact on health, indeed by bringing the body into a more balanced state of functioning, health can actually be improved. Acupuncture can help to relieve menopausal symptoms to make this transition a much more enjoyable and comfortable time of a woman’s life.
James Kaufman is a Registered Acupuncturist at Okanagan Acupuncture Centre, 1625 Ellis St, Kelowna, BC.
Headaches are a common ailment and can make life very difficult. Headaches can have a wide range of causes, but often the causes are not well understood by Western medicine, and in most cases do not have an identifiable underlying physical cause. To make matters worse, headaches can often be a rebound effect of the very medication that people take to relieve them. Medications are usually the standard treatment method, however some chronic daily headaches are resistant to all medications.
Fortunately, acupuncture can offer both immediate as well as long-term relief. In Traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), a number of factors are always considered in headaches. These are constitution, emotions, overwork, diet, accidents, childbirth and external pathogenic factors (such as common cold). There are a few ways to diagnose the cause of headaches, one is according to the where the headache is located on the head and which meridian is being affected, another is according to the pain type.
A headache on the top of the head is part of the liver channel and is commonly due to a liver-blood deficiency; this type of headache gives a dull pain and will usually improve when lying down. A headache on the sides of the head indicates gallbladder channel and is commonly due to too much heat or fire in the liver. This headache will be sharp and/or throbbing.
Headache behind the eyes, a frequent location for migraines, is also due to liver-blood deficiency if the pain is dull, or liver heat if the pain is sharp and severe. The forehead is part of the stomach channel and is either a stomach deficiency if the headache is dull, or stomach heat if it is sharp.
The back of the head is part of the bladder channel and if headaches in this area are chronic, it usually indicates a kidney deficiency manifesting on that channel. An acute headache on the back of the head is most commonly due to exposure to cold weather and usually indicates the beginning stage of a common cold.
If the whole head is affected and the pain is chronic, it is due to a kidney-essence deficiency. The kidney essence is said to nourish the brain, if it is deficient and the brains lack this nourishment there will be a chronic dull headache with a sensation of emptiness.
When diagnosing according to pain type, dull pain means deficiency. A feeling of heaviness is characteristic of dampness or phlegm obstructing the head and preventing proper circulation. A distending headache that is throbbing, bursting, or pulsating is typically due to the liver (liver-heat). Stabbing headaches with a sensation of very intense pain and fixed in one location are due to blood stasis. Stiffness or tension headache is commonly due to overactive heat in the liver if chronic and invasion of cold if acute.
There are other factors that can be used in understanding headaches such as what aggravates or eliminates the headaches, including time of day, activity/rest, weather, emotions, food, posture, time of month, and if there is relief or more pain with palpation.
Overall, this analysis gives an acupuncturist a very accurate picture of what is causing the headaches, therefore treatment is very targeted and effective. In fact, it is common for people to see relief after one or a few acupuncture treatments, although more treatments are often needed to resolve the problem. And long-term relief is possible- many patients reduce or eliminate their need for headache medication through acupuncture, demonstrating the effectiveness of this safe and natural therapy.
James Kaufman is a Registered Acupuncturist at Okanagan Acupuncture Centre, 1625 Ellis St, downtown Kelowna, BC.
Pre-menstrual syndrome or PMS, as it is often called, is the term used to describe the various emotional and physical symptoms occurring before the period. Symptoms can include depression and sadness, irritability, anxiety, lethargy, lack of concentration, aggressiveness, changes in libido, changes in bowel habits, skin eruptions, food cravings, crying, outbursts of anger, clumsiness, abdominal and breast distension, pain, water retention, weight gain, and insomnia. Symptoms vary in intensity, from mild to extremely serious, and duration, from one day to two weeks. Surveys estimate that 30-90% of women have experienced PMS at some point in their lives.
There is no clear treatment for PMS in the Western repertoire, as there is no universally-accepted definition of what PMS is or what causes it. Common theories include progesterone deficiency, vitamin B6 deficiency, elevated prolactin levels, prostaglandins, and excessive aldosterone levels. Treatment may include diuretics, anti-depressents, anti-inflammatories, progesterone, oral contraceptives, medications to influence the production of prostaglandins, and vitamin B6 supplements. However, most women experience some degree of PMS regularly and do not seek help for it, believing it to be a ‘natural’ or at least inevitable part of life. Many use their own tried-and-true methods of treatment that may include painkillers, anti-inflammatories, muscle relaxants, supplements, exercise, diet, stress reduction, and rest.
PMS is approached from a different perspective in Chinese medicine, and can be treated effectively with acupuncture. Chinese Medicine looks at one’s state of health according to the body’s internal balances; when there is imbalance, symptoms will occur. An imblalance of the liver is often at the root of many PMS symptoms because it plays a very important role in a woman’s menstrual cycle. The liver has a strong influence on the regulation and balance of emotions, it regulates the blood and supplies the blood for the uterus, and its overall regulation of energy and blood is relied upon for the functioning of all other organs. Symptoms of PMS can commonly be due to liver imbalances but may also relate to spleen and kidney imbalances, all of which may be caused by lifestyle factors such as emotional strain, poor diet, or overwork. Depending on the cause or causes, the specific symptoms experienced will vary.
Chinese medicine treatment begins with a proper diagnosis of the root causes of the symptoms. Once the causes of PMS are determined, acupuncture along with diet and lifestyle changes may be used to resolve the problem. Acupuncture is used to harmonize the body’s overall flow of energy, improve liver functioning, and regulate hormone functioning. Diet and lifestyle changes are encouraged to avoid aggravating the condition and to promote healing. Examples can include avoiding greasy, heavy or spicy foods, limiting caffeine, managing stress and removing stressors where possible, exercise, and improving the balance of work, family, and recreational time.
At Okanagan Acupuncture Centre, we have often seen clients for the treatment of PMS. With acupuncture treatments, many women experience less severe pre-menstrual symptoms, calmer and more easily regulated moods, increased energy, improved digestion and organ functioning, improved complexion, better sleeping patterns, and the reduction and eventual resolution of pain, bloating and other PMS symptoms. As the body is strengthened and rebalanced, symptoms will be alleviated, demonstrating that there are indeed effective methods for resolving health issues through natural, safe, drug- and hormone-free techniques.
James Kaufman is a Registered Acupuncturist at Okanagan Acupuncture Centre, 1625 Ellis St in Kelowna, BC.