November 2013 archive

Happy or SAD this holiday season? Seasonal Affective Disorder

To everything, there is a season. Our physical and emotional health is no exception. Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), which is nationally recognized during the month of December and throughout winter, is an example of how a change in seasons can affect our wellbeing.

Between 4 and 6 percent of the U.S. population suffer from SAD. It is more commonly observed in those who live at high latitudes (areas farther away from the equator to the north and south). Seasonal changes are generally more extreme in these regions, supporting the idea that SAD is caused by changes in sunlight availability.

Seasonal Affective Disorder can occur during summer with limited symptoms such as weight loss, trouble sleeping, and decreased appetite. Winter symptoms tend to be more severe. They include fatigue, increased need for sleep, decreased energy levels, weight gain, increase in appetite, difficulty concentrating, and increased desire to be alone.

The Yellow Emperor’s Classic of Medicine states that, “People and nature are inseparable.” The TCM yin and yang forces of the seasons coincide with those of the body. While yang’s warmth, activity, and brightness work throughout the spring and summer months, yin’s passivity, coldness, and darkness begin in autumn and continue until spring equinox. Therefore, the winter months, which represent the height of the yin cycle and the water element, can cause those whose constitution tends toward yin to feel the effects of this season more acutely.

Energetic imbalances, which are associated with emotional and physical disturbances in the body, can become more pronounced after a change in weather and sunlight. Western medicine currently treats seasonal affective disorder with light therapy and sometimes with antidepressants. The downside to these therapies is that they carry side effects such as eyestrain, headache, irritability, fatigue, insomnia, palpitations, high blood pressure, and reduced libido. Also, these therapies do not address the underlying problems, but merely offer symptom relief.

Acupuncture, which has shown promising results treating depression by releasing serotonin and noradrenaline-norepinephrine, has no side effects. Together with a treatment plan created by a licensed acupuncturist, acupuncture can improve balance of mood and energy, relieving the patient from the burdens of a depressed, unbalanced system.

The winter months are associated with the Kidney system, which is the base of qi, our vital energy. The Kidney creates fire and warmth and provides energy to other organs. As our bodies use up energy keeping warm, they begin to crave quick sources of new energy in high calorie foods, which are stored as fat to keep the body warm. These foods do not sustain energy levels in the body, nor do they properly nourish the Kidney, and with this energy depletion we tend to feel more lethargic and sensitive to our surroundings. This is why winter is a time to seek replenishment of body, mind and spirit.

Nourishment in all areas of life is especially important during the winter months when SAD is most common. Although many people head indoors during winter, it is important to continue outdoor activities to expose yourself to daylight, and to take part in activities that support inner balance. Physical and mental stress, as well as poor sleep and nutrition, further deplete the body’s energy and leave you susceptible to illness. You should rest and conserve energy, but also spend time with friends and loved ones, cultivate your inner dialogue and eat a well balanced diet. Eating less fruits, increasing whole grain intake and plenty of warming foods such as soup, is a great way to nourish the Kidney system.

Oriental medicine can restore the balance our bodies seek during seasonal transitions. While the tendency is to look inward or become preoccupied with one area of our health, such as maintaining energy and keeping warm, it is important to remember that balance in everything from your diet to your living environment is essential in sustaining a positive outlook and a healthy mood.

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Sheng Jiang aka Fresh Ginger

Sheng Jiangrf-2015
Fresh Ginger

Alternate Names:
Pharmaceutical: Rhizoma Zingiberis Officinalis Recens
Botanical: Zingibar Officinale Rosc.
Japanese: shokyo
Korean: saenggang
Common: fresh ginger rhizome

You may have heard that ginger is great for digestion but do you know that recent studies have shown that it may also reduce inflammation in the body? Ginger has been shown to have similar effects as COX-2 inhibitor medications used to treat arthritis. Also, research at Johns Hopkins has shown that ginger has the potential to slow the progression of brain cell loss in Alzheimer’s disease or any dementia.

Continue reading below to learn what Robert Pendergrast, MD has to say about this amazing herb. The following is an excerpt from his article, Health Benefits of Ginger:
Powerful Ally Against Inflammation.

“As an anti-inflammatory, the benefits of ginger are unquestioned. In history, the traditional medicines of both India and China have valued ginger against arthritis and rheumatic complaints. From modern medical research, we know that laboratory studies show that ginger blocks the formation of inflammatory compounds such as leukotrienes and prostaglandins (very much like the COX-2 inhibitors which are conventional arthritis medications ). And as you might expect from this, there are some case reports in human medical literature of reduced pain and swelling in arthritis (both rheumatoid and osteoarthritis).

That anti-inflammatory property of ginger is significant from the standpoint of preventing brain disease. Here’s why. We know that Alzheimer’s dementia is associated with increased inflammatory markers in the brain, and that specifically a compound called TNF-alpha increases its activity in the brain in Alzheimer’s. A 2004 article in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine (authored by some researchers from my alma mater, Johns Hopkins) showed that a ginger extract has the potential to slow the progression of brain cell loss in Alzheimer’s disease. So while we have no clinical studies in humans showing that ginger can impact Alzheimer’s or any dementia, the data suggest that a ginger extract could prevent some of the damage to brain cells that marks the progression of Alzheimer’s disease.”

Looking for a way to add some ginger to your upcoming Thanksgiving meal? See my facebook page,