Search results for TCM

Does your mental energy need a boost?

Posted by on Jan 10, 2011 in diet, memory/learning | 10 comments

Mental energy. That elusive construct that is defined by our mood and feelings of fatigue or energy, our motivation, determination and enthusiasms and our ability to sustain focus and attention. I don’t know about you but I find that my mental energy is not always optimum. Moreover, I am not surprised;  between physical, work and life demands, I am often overworked, overextended and overstressed. Personally, I find that downtime, exercise and creative endeavors help to refuel and refresh. However, can foods do the same?,

According to researcher Michael C. Falk from the Life Sciences Research Center in Bethesda, MD, part of the challenge in determining whether or not certain substances can enhance mental energy is the diverse number of methods used to measure effect. So, a lack of proof of the benefit of a particular substance might be partially related to the method. Nevertheless, in a recent study, he and his colleagues identified the most widely studied substances in diet and supplements: Ginko biloba, ginseng, glucose and omega-3 fatty acids and examined how they might be impacting the different facets of mental energy.

The findings:

Ginkgo biloba Ginko has been used in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) for centuries, mostly for age-related declines in cognition, dementia and for Alzheimer’s. Unfortunately, it hasn’t shown much promise in this regard, but some data suggest that it might have use in improving mood, boosting how quickly individuals process information, and even improve attention. Less clear, however, how much should be taken and in what form (i.e. supplement or extract) or the length of time before results are seen.

Ginseng Like Ginkgo, ginseng is another herb that is common to TCM, either alone or in combination with others. An important challenge when using ginseng for medicinal purposes is that it quality is highly variable, which is why, similar to other herbs, you need to look for standardized formulations. When it comes to mental energy, the verdict is still out and research studies are inconclusive. The question remains, however, whether or not this is due to the fact that claims that it boosts mental prowess are false or that the actual ginseng being studied is too varied in quality and the part of the plant from which study formulations are derived are inconsistent.

Glucose Sugar. Not only is it an essential energy source for the body but it is the brain’s primary energy source. And yet, the studies that have looked at the effects of glucose on brain function, memory or even mood are all over the map and according to researchers, not very well documented. So before you start in on the next sugar buzz, you might want to find another boost for your mood, fatigue or focus.

Omega-3 fatty acids I love fish oils. Researchers continue to study them because their utility is so broad, although the source of omega-3, dosage and ratio of EPA and DHA appear to be important factors in terms of mood (i.e. depression in particular) and mental energy. Overuse of fish oils can also impair the ability of blood to clot and depress overall immune functioning. Still, out of the dietary components that researchers studied, omega-3’s were by far the one most backed by clear data. Most recently, they’ve also been shown to help prevent stroke. In so far as mental energy goes, the researchers note that evidence suggests that fish oils may help delay or reduce cognitive decline in the elderly or improve verbal fluency. Less clear is whether this benefit is stronger if the they are taken earlier in life before cognitive decline. And of course, there is litte agreement on whether or not fish oils supplements convey the same benefits as obtaining the through dietary sources.

The upshot is that the evidence is scattered, inconclusive and downright shoddy in some areas. And mental energy might need more than certain foods to reach its optimum level. Personally, I’m going to stick with my current program to maintain the mental mojo. But I’m open to suggestions. What about you? How are you dealing with the overworked, overextended and overstressed paradigm?

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Wednesday Bubble: Time to debunk the hype about traditional Chinese Medicine

Posted by on Sep 15, 2010 in menopause, new approaches | 2 comments

This week is dedicated to the debunk – debunking the absolute need for anti-anxiety medications (it may be your flashes, not your mood), debunking the myth underlying the lack of published data supporting the use of traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM, e.g. acupuncture and herbal medicine) and debunking the one-sided, endless loop about hormone replacement therapy.

Because Wednesday falls in the middle of the week, I want to focus on traditional Chinese medicine, which is considered part of the offerings that fall under the umbrella of “complimentary and alternative medicine.” As a practice, TCM was created roughly two thousand years ago and refined in the centuries that followed. And yet, Western practitioners continue to question its value because they claim that there is no real evidence supporting its therapeutic effectiveness. No evidence? A quick search on Google yields countless databases, with one example housing over 400,000 studies and abstracts, many of which have been published in reputable Chinese biomedical journals over the past several decades.

The challenge and the solution

Unquestionably, the evidence doesn’t look quite as strong when strict Western methodology is applied to Eastern philosophies without addressing their distinctions. In fact, a prime example of what happens when the paradigm shifts is the ACUFLASH study, which as I reported earlier this year and late last, demonstrated the benefits of acupuncture when the investigator practitioners were allowed to incorporate some invidualized therapy into the mix.

So what exactly does that mean – to incorporate individualized therapy into the mix?

A unique aspect of the ACUFLASH study was the ability of the practitioners to work within a defined framework but with the addition of directing therapy to each participant’s specific needs. In other words, the practitioners met before treatment and agreed on the specific symptoms or conditions they would include in the study as well as the specific acupuncture treatment points they could work on.  This organized system meets some of the strict criteria of Western scientific study. However, they could then choose which of the the treatment points would most benefit a given participant’s system imbalance as well as provide  possible diagnoses and  self care recommendations (e.g. soy, herbs, physical activity and relaxation techniques) which participants were free to add at their own discretion. This ability to work within the confines of both Western and Eastern practice resulted in significantly beneficial results.

TCM versus Western Medicine

TCM and other similar philosophies emphasizes various body systems that together, form a network or grid connected by a meridien, if you will, as well as the relationship of the body to its social and natural environment.  Its primary focus on maintaining health and enhancing the body’s ability to fight off disease. TCM will not focus, for example, on treating specific pathogens but rather, on addressing non-specific factors that create disturbances or imbalances within a certain network. TCM also examines how these imbalances may occur in unique parts of a specific system, such as the heart and blood vessels and small intestine (all of which are part of the heart system) and how they change over time. Western medicine, on the other hand, focuses primarily on treating morbidities, or symptoms related to various conditions and diseases.

Another point of distinction is that while Western practice is geared towards treating specific causes and symptoms of a disease, it doesn’t do so well when the causes or influences are less specific or more importantly varied. Sexual desire, or lack thereof, is a perfect example. It’s been demonstrated time and again that certain aspects of menopause or aging, for example, sexual desire, are not only related to physiology but also to environmental factors. And while the addition of estrogen can certainly help to keep vaginal juices flowing, so to speak, it can’t address social, psychological or behavioral factors that might also be influencing that desire.

I have said it before and I’ll say it again: my dream will be fulfilled when East meets West. I’d like to see greater integration of of the two philosophies and less push back from the Western Medical Establishment against TCM. Calling it a ‘sham,’ because it doesn’t fit into the traditional mold, calling it snake medicine because it isn’t based on medical school learnings, and refusing to examine published scientific papers that have been translated, however roughly, into English, does a disservice to the patients who might benefit from the integration of the two.

Since when are hot flashes and mood swings ‘pathologies,’ symptoms of a disease that requires drug treatment?

Isn’t it time to separate fact from fiction, hype from hope and myth from truth. TCM isn’t a sham. And menopause? It can truly be addressed without drug therapy.

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