How “Chinese” Organs Are Different

Back in the 1970s my father, who is a retired osteopathic physician, took acupuncture classes at Tai Sophia University—the oldest school of traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) in the United States. It was books on acupuncture on his shelves that I saw as a child that inspired me to study this esoteric medicine.

When I asked him why he did not pursue studies in this field he told me that he couldn’t “reconcile the opposing theories of the body (when compared with allopathic medicine) that TCM espoused.” Indeed, the majority of people brought up in the West cannot, either.

To this day I find it interesting when I describe TCM and its patterns of disharmony to people. Most people give me blank stares or uncertain nods. My patients try to understand what I am describing to them, and often have to ask a series of questions until they are able to grasp the general concepts of health I am attempting to get across. Yet these theories are thousands of years old and are continually applied to billions of people in Asia. And the Asian culture is not suffering for it…

Several of my patients are physicians, psychologists or chemists and their doubting stares are plentiful. I know ahead of time that when we get to the lecture part of their consultation I will have to work hard at convincing them of TCM’s concepts of the body. And I do. In some of my articles I also get feedback from readers who cannot fathom what I am sharing, thinking I am ignorant of basic anatomy and physiology. Quite the opposite is true.

The issue is that TCM does not hold the exact same views of the organs and their functions as Western medicine does. This is where the confusion arises in those whose understanding of the body is grounded in Western ideas of biology, anatomy and physiology. Can there really be a different view of the organs even though science has proven them to be a certain way? Indeed there can, when a broader view of the body is taken.

You see, when TCM developed in ancient China, no autopsies were carried out for fear of disrespecting the deceased ancestors. So what is known about each organ was discovered through thousands of years of clinical observation. As a result, the functions of one specific organ in TCM may include the functions of several organs in terms of Western medicine. And the functions of one specific organ in Western medicine may be contained in the functions of several organs in TCM. It’s a matter of terminology, since names like “kidney” and “spleen” were not used when TCM was developed, yet are now imposed on its ideas to help people understand and reconcile TCM and allopathic theories of wellness.

In a nutshell, organs are not only viewed as individual units in TCM, but also as concepts of physiology and pathology. This can all be explained through the concepts of zang-fu organ pairing, the meridian complex, the diurnal flow of qi (energy) and the five element theory. Let’s look at each briefly.

Zang-Fu Organ Pairing
TCM divides the internal organs into zang (nurturing, yin) and fu (transporting, yang) groups. The five Zang organs include the heart, liver, spleen, lungs and kidneys. Preserving vital substances is their common characteristic.

The six fu organs consist of the gallbladder, stomach, large intestine, small intestine, urinary bladder and so-called ‘triple energizer’ (the combined thoracic, abdominal and pelvic cavities). Transmitting and digesting water and food is their shared characteristic.

The theory of zang-fu organs is concerned with both the physiological functions and the pathological changes of the organs, as well as the interrelationships between them. And these functions and relationships are rooted in the pairing of the zang-fu into the following yin/yang groups: lung and large intestines, stomach and spleen, heart and small intestines, urinary bladder and kidneys, pericardium and triple energizer and gallbladder and liver.

Thus, problems with one organ may affect its partner. A simplified example is when someone has fear or anxiety about public speaking and experiences shallow breathing. Soon they also experience intestinal cramps. In Western terms we say these two things are a result of stress. While stress may be the cause, the relationship between the lungs and large intestines is exemplified.

The Meridian Complex
The meridian energy channels are the pathways in human body through which qi (vital energy) and blood circulate. They form a specific network that communicates with the internal organs and the limbs and connects the upper body to the lower body and the exterior to the interior portions of the body.

Since the meridians are distributed over the entire body, they are what link the zang-fu organs, the orifices, the skin, the muscles and the bones. That is, they bring the body into an organic whole that allows it to carry on and coordinate its systematic activities.

Each organ has a specific meridian that stems from it and connects it with its paired organ and to various parts of the body. This explains why the heart is seen to not only pump blood but also to affect mental functions (the heart meridian goes into the brain).

The Diurnal Flow of Qi
Qi is the vital energy of the body and each organ produces Qi that affects certain activities in the body. This energy moves through the body via the meridian complex. And the energy in each organ meridian is said to be at “high tide” for a two-hour period in a 24 hour cycle, before moving into the meridian of its paired organ.

The lung meridian is most active from 3 a.m. to 5 a.m. The large intestines (its paired organ) are most active from 5 a.m. to 7 a.m., and so on. This explains why people with certain respiratory diseases tend to awaken and wheeze or cough between the hours of 3 a.m. and 5 a.m.

Most of my patients who wake up with headaches between those hours find that it is due to oxygen deprivation caused either by sinus congestion or from sleeping with their nose buried in their pillows. In other words the headaches are caused by oxygen deprivation when the lungs most need oxygen while at high tide.

The Five Element Theory
The theory of the five elements holds that the world is made up of five basic substances: wood, fire, earth, metal and water. All things and phenomena in nature—as well as in the organs, tissues, physiology and pathology of the human body—can be classified into one of the five elements.

Among the five elements exists the relations of promotion and restriction. The element that promotes is called the mother, while the element that is promoted is called the child.

Since earth produces metal it is called the mother of metal. Since earth is produced by fire it is also called the child of fire. Earth organs are the spleen and stomach, metal organs are the lungs and large intestines and fire organs are the heart and small intestines.

Restriction refers to bringing something under control or restraining it. For example, the element restricting earth is wood (fallen trees cover earth), and the element that is restricted by earth is water (earth absorbs water). This in part explains why excess anger, frustration or obsessions which affect the liver (wood) can cause digestive upset which, in TCM, is the domain of the spleen (earth).

Promotion and restriction are inter-dependant. Without promotion there would be no birth and development. Without restriction, excessive growth would result in harm and damage. When TCM views organs, not only are their pairs important, but so is their element designation and how they play on other organs.

There’s More Than Meets The Microscope
When understood and taken as a comprehensive system, the TCM concepts of the meridian complex, zang-fu organ pairing, diurnal cycle of qi flow, and the five element theory can explain why the organs as viewed in Chinese medicine hold more functions than can be “proven” by biomedicine, where their functions are reduced to individual micro units. I offer two examples.

In terms of TCM, the liver stores blood, regulates the flow of blood in the body, controls the tendons, connects to the nails and opens into the eyes. Thus, the Chinese concept of “liver” refers to an entire energetic system, not merely to the organ itself. And this is why excess, deficiency and stagnation associated with the liver can effect blood circulation, the brain and nervous system, the digestive system, the endocrine system, the muscles and the tendons.

The spleen is another good example of differences, since in the West it is not seen as having much use to the body. However, the Chinese concept of the spleen holds a seat of great importance to health. In TCM, the spleen is responsible for transformation of food energy into qi and blood, and the transportation and absorption of water and nutrients through the body. It also insures that blood is held in the vessels and that organs do not become prolapsed.

Thus, the spleen covers the entire digestive system, water metabolism, blood circulation, up-bearing of clear energy to the brain, as well as controlling the muscles and limbs.

In Summary
From the above concepts we can see how a problem with one organ can influence another or several others in ways not normally associated with the organs specifically. And this is why TCM doesn’t reduce signs and symptoms to specific diagnoses based on biological function. Terms like bi-polar disorder and migraine headache and cirrhosis of the liver are not used in TCM. Rather, we use concepts like “liver qi stagnation” or “heart blood deficiency” to describe and explain a syndrome or pattern of disharmony in the body that has many causes and effects… and therefore needs a broader view and approach to heal.

While wellness is viewed in more generalized and metaphoric terms in TCM, it is precisely these concepts that allow its practitioners to construct a holistic view of the body, its illnesses and to treat the whole as opposed to the part. Understanding a new concept of long-held beliefs is difficult, but can also be quite rewarding.

—Dr. Mark Wiley

Gentlemen: Is Your Sex Life Killing You?

Sex feels good, and the proper amount of sex can help maintain physical and emotional health. But balance is the key. Both having too little or too much sex can lead to unhealthy conditions. Let us look at the effects of too much sex, too little sex, and what the proper amounts should be based on your age and condition.

How Much Sex Is Too Much?
The theories of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) warn that a man who engages in too much sex can become what is known as “kidney jing deficient.” Jing is a term that refers to the body’s essential fluids, distilled by the kidneys from what we eat and drink. The kidneys are thought of as the body’s “batteries” and the place where jing is stored. Chinese health theory suggests we are actually equipped with enough jing (life essence) to live 120 years. The problem is we exhaust this essence through poor diet, lack of rest, lack of exercise, the effects of stress, disease and… an unhealthy amount of sex.

Signs and symptoms of kidney jing deficiency include a weakening of the bones, hair loss, a graying of facial color, loosening or loss of teeth, soreness in the lower back, weakness of the legs (particularly behind the knees), poor memory, loss of libido, impotence and a general lack of sexual desire. If you are suffering from any of these signs and symptoms, perhaps you should consider if too much sex is killing you… or at least weakening you.

With too frequent ejaculation, jing (semen, the essence of pure fluids and life energy) is depleted from the body. Moreover, as a man passes middle age, the excessive loss of jing can cause the disastrous effects described above. Like contact sports, sex is a young man’s game. Middle aged and older men need to retain their jing (semen essence) and ejaculate less frequently. (There is an entire art in Yogic and Taoist traditions of men learning to come to orgasm while not releasing a single drop of semen. (More on this in another article)

Two-thousand years ago Su Nu Jing, the classic text on TCM, was published. It advised how much sex/ejaculations are safe for a man to have. For example, a healthy 20-year-old can ejaculate twice per day with no adverse effects. Also, to maintain proper health, the 20-year-old should have a minimum of one ejaculation every four days.

The following chart suggests the sex guidelines from that classic text:

Age
Minimum
Average Health
Good Health
20+Every 4 days1X Day2x Day
30+Every 8 daysEvery other day1x Day
40+Every 16 daysEvery 4 daysEvery 3 days
50+Every 21 daysEvery 10 daysEvery 5 days
60+Every 30 daysEvery 20 daysEvery 10 days

 

Of course, these are rough guidelines set forth within the theories of TCM. This gives you an idea of the frequency a man should have sex in order to maintain good health and balanced emotions.

The average 20-year-old male who is engaging in masturbation three times a day is probably overdoing it. This could possibly affect his grades (poor memory) or affect his tennis match (with weak knees and sore low back).

If you are a 40-year-old executive thinking of having that affair with the 24-year old-intern, you might want to consider if you are in good enough health to survive an extramarital affair. You could wind up suffering from hair loss, aging of the face, low back soreness, weak legs, poor memory, loss of libido, impotence and lack of sexual desire that could cost you your career and your health… not to mention your marriage (if applicable).

How Much Sex Is Too Little?
Keep in mind that no sex at all is unhealthy. Psychologically, it can cause resentment, depression and anxiety. Sex is important for relationships, not just emotionally, but for the organ systems as well. Ladies, when men tell you they feel like they are dying from lack of sex, it’s partially true. In reality, the choked up emotions and lack of connection can cause him to suffer what is known in TCM as liver qi stagnation.

According to TCM theory, the liver functions to move the qi (life energy) freely in the body. So, liver qi stagnation is a pathogenic flow of qi manifesting in some of the following signs and symptoms: feeling of distension in the chest and hypochondrium, sighing, hiccup, melancholy, depression, moodiness, unhappiness and feeling of a lump in the throat. Often the etiology of this syndrome includes emotional problems, a state of anger, frustration and/or resentment.

If this condition persists it can grow into what is called liver fire. The signs and symptoms associated with live fire include irritability, anger, shouting, ringing in the ears, temporal headache, bitter taste in the mouth, dream disturbed sleep, a red face and red eyes. This is the result of long-standing emotional states of anger, resentment or frustration. This can cause problems like high blood pressure, tinnitus, insomnia, migraine headache and the like.

Good sexual relations are a part of good health. Overdoing it can be detrimental to health, and so can too little of it.

My advice: Be happy and be wise in the ways of lovemaking.

—Dr. Mark Wiley

Turmeric: Nature’s Powerful Anti-Inflammatory Root

Some of the best Indian food I’ve ever tasted was cooked in London. I always knew that the British loved Indian cuisine and that they once held governance over India. What I didn’t know was that curry was introduced to Indian cuisine by the Brits. (Just a little fun fact to chew on.)

In countries like India where traditional cultures are thousands of years old, there are deep traditions of cooking daily meals with medicinal roots and herbs. These herbs act as preventive measures for sustaining good health, and prevention is the cornerstone of India’s traditional Ayurvedic medicine.

Turmeric is one such medicinal root that has made its way into a vast number of Indian recipes. Aside from your standard chicken or goat curries, there is a whole list of Indian dishes that contain flavorful thermogenic ingredients like cardamom, coriander, ginger, cloves, chili and turmeric. Not only are the recipes tasty, the ones containing turmeric are especially healthful.

Research by Sarker and his colleagues notes turmeric’s powerful anti-inflammatory, anti-tumor and antioxidant properties. Moreover, the United States National Library of Medicine (NLM) and the National Institutes of Health (NIH) have this to say: “Laboratory and animal research has demonstrated anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, and anti-cancer properties of turmeric and its constituent curcumin.”

It is true that inflammation is a natural response your body has to potentially damaging stimuli. Catch a cold or sprain an ankle and the immune system kicks in and produces swelling to guard while healing takes place. But often the body does not know how or when to stop the inflammation and this causes too much fibrin in the tissues that can lead to pain and stiffness. If left untreated, it can become a chronic health issue.

Unlike aspirin or ibuprophen, turmeric’s curcumin reduces inflammation naturally, without damaging the liver or kidneys. It has been found especially helpful in treating conditions like arthritis, sports injuries, irritable bowel syndrome, Crohn’s disease, tendonitis and various autoimmune diseases. Some research even suggests that curcumin may also help those suffering asthma, inflammatory bowel disease and yes, even cancer.

Since turmeric’s curcumin component is an anti-inflammatory as well as an antioxident agent, it has been used for treating wounds, digestive disorders, liver issues, arthritis and in the prevention of cancer. Statistics also show that Asian children experience less incidence of leukemia than their Western counterparts and it seems a diet rich in turmeric may be the reason why.

Recent studies show that rats that were prone to multiple sclerosis developed very few if any symptoms after being given curcumin. The journal Science reported in their April 23, 2004, issue that curcumin has countered the genetic damage that leads to the lung disorder cystic fibrosis in mice test subjects. It was also shown that curcumin protects against alcohol’s damaging affects on the liver as well as harmonizing the stomach and digestion.

Thousands of scientific articles on the efficacy of curcumin are found within the NIH and NLM’s PubMed MEDLINE database. These show curcumin to be effective in the treatment of inflammation, wounds, cancer, heart disease and as a preventive measure against arthritis, Crohn’s disease, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), neurological diseases, Alzheimer’s disease, multiple sclerosis, type-2 diabetes, cataracts, cystic fibrosis, scleroderma and many others.

As if that list were too small, as reported in the Journal of Alternative & Complementary Therapies, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Agricultural Research Service lists nearly 80 biologic activities associated with curcumin, from anti-HIV to anti-ulcerogenic actions.

My advice: Everyone enjoy Indian food containing turmeric at least once a week as a symptomatic and preventive measure.

—Dr. Mark Wiley

References:
Cronin, J.R. "Curcumin: Old spice is a new medicine." Journal of Alternative & Complementary Therapies: Feb. 2003, pp. 34-38.

Egan, M.E., et al. “Curcumin, a Major Constituent of Turmeric, Corrects Cystic Fibrosis Defects.” Science, 23 April 2004 304: 600-602 [DOI: 10.1126/science.1093941] (in Reports)

National Institutes of Health. MedlinePlus Herbs and Supplements: "Turmeric (Curcuma longa Linn.) and Curcumin," US Department of Health and Human Services; Natural Standard Research Collaboration: 2008 ed.: www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/druginfo/natural/patient-turmeric.html

Sarker, S.D., et al. "Bioactivity of Turmeric," Turmeric: The genus Curcuma; Medicinal and Aromatic Plants—Industrial Profiles, edited by Ravindran, P.N., et al. Boca Raton, FL: CRC Press, 2007.

One Cause, Many Ailments: How One Simple Imbalance Can Lead To Many Chronic Problems

When considering the assessment and maintenance of health, there are radical differences between the methods of Western and Eastern medicine. On a broad scope, it can be said that where Western medicine focuses on content (specific body parts and their associated symptoms), Eastern medicine focuses on context (the symptoms as they relate to and effect the entire body).

Consider this list of 10 ailments. Did you know that all of them can be caused by (or stem from) the same underlying condition? Can you guess what it is? Give it a try; here’s the list:

  1. tension-type headaches
  2. tempero-mandibular joint (TMJ) dysfunction
  3. “knots” in the back of the neck
  4. “rocks” in the shoulders
  5. “sore” chest muscles
  6. irritability
  7. poor sleep
  8. chronic “achy” feeling
  9. numbness or tingling of the arms and/or hands
  10. trigeminal neuralgia (facial pain)

Give up? The answer is Forward Head Posture (FHP). All 10 problems can be associated with this same underlying cause.

FHP Described
FHP is one of the most common postural problems we experience on a chronic basis. It is our modern lifestyle that is responsible for it—as we’ll see in a minute. In essence, FHP is the result of either repetitive forward head movement, or the carrying (holding) of the head in a position that is forward of the shoulder plum-line.

Proper postural alignment finds ankles, knees, hips, shoulders and ears all falling along the same vertical central line. The relatively heavy head must rest directly on the neck and shoulders, like a golf ball on a tee. Yet, FHP finds the head sticking out, jutting forward of the shoulders, with the ears in line with the chest or front of the deltoids.

Cause And Effect
FHP can be caused by many things. Here is a list of five of the more common ones:

  1. looking down toward your hands while typing or reading
  2. looking into a microscope
  3. sitting improperly with shoulders rounded and back hunched
  4. driving with your head more than 2 to 3 inches from the headrest
  5. carrying a backpack or heavy purse slung over one shoulder

These are not all of the causes of FHP, but enough to make the point. The problem is that repeated forward and/or downward facing postures cause concurrent hypotonic (lengthening) and hypertonic (shortening) of several major muscles (i.e., lavater, rhomboid, trapazious, pectoral), degeneration of cervical (neck) vertebrae and irritation of cervical nerves.

According to literature from the Mayo Clinic, “FHP leads to long term muscle strain, disc herniation, arthritis, and pinched nerves.” (Mayo Clinic Health Letter, V.18, #3, March 2000)

Did you know that pinched or irritated nerves, tightened muscles and isometric contraction (which occurs when the neck must hold upright a forward leaning head), all cause pain as a result of “stagnation of blood, fluids and qi energy). And when there is blockage or stagnation, there is pain.

What You Can Do
Now that we’ve identified a single underlying cause of many problems, the next step is correcting the problem. And what better way to do this than following the simple idea of returning the body to homeostasis: That is, rebalancing what is imbalanced. Here are four simple things you can do to correct (balance) FHP.

• Lying Head Raise: Lay face down on the floor with your hands overlapped and held on your lower back. Lift and extend your head and shoulders up, while squeezing your shoulder blades together. Hold for three seconds, and repeat 15 times. Do this three times per day.

• Chin Tuck: Hold your shoulders straight. Stick your chin out to the front and hold for three seconds. Pull your chin in as far back as it will go and hold for three seconds. Repeat six times. Do this three times per day.

• Chin To Chest Stretch: Overlap your fingers and place both hands behind your head. Use your hands to push your head down so your chin goes toward your chest. Do NOT lower your head and then press with your hands, as this defeats the idea of the stretch. Hold the stretch for 20 seconds and return to the upright position. You should feel a stretch between your shoulders. Repeat three times. Do this three times per day.

• Doorway Stretch: Stand with both feet parallel behind (but in the center of) a door frame. Place one arm 90-degrees along the side of the doorframe facing you. If your right arm is touching the frame, then your right foot takes a long step forward. Be sure to bend your knee, as if you were really trying to walk forward. You should feel a nice stretch across your chest. If not, turn your body to the left. Hold for 20 seconds. Repeat three times then switch sides. Do this three times per day.

Here are a few simple ways to adjust your daily activities to prevent FHP from taking hold in your body—or returning after balance is achieved:

  • Make sure the top of your computer screen is level with your eyes, and about two feet away from your face.
  • Be sure to carry a back pack squarely over both shoulders to balance the weight distribution.
  • If you carry a heavy purse or duffel bag, it is better to sling it diagonally across the torso.
  • Have ample lower back support while sitting or lying for prolonged periods, as a lax position leads to slouching, which can lead to FHP.

Conclusion
You may remember from a previous article that we discussed three causes of pain, illness and disease as stemming from a deficiency, excess or stagnation in the body? Well, FHP leads to all three at the same time. Excessive forward head posture leads to lengthening of upper back muscles (excess), which causes shortening of pectoral muscles (deficiency), which leads to impinged nerves (stagnation), which leads to pain. And all this simply because the body does what it has to in an effort to maintain balance.

It’s better to maintain balance on our own and to prevent such imbalances to take hold in the body. When the body does it on its own… it hurts so much more.

— Dr. Mark Wiley

The Tongue Tells All

The tongue is an amazing body part. It helps us speak, eat, keeps the mouth and lips moist and, by its condition, tells us our state of health. In traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), examining the tongue is one of the primary diagnostic tools. Yet in Western medicine it is largely ignored, with the physician using a depressor to hold it down to look past the tongue and at the throat.

The tongue offers TCM practitioners an unusual keyhole into which they can learn various things about the state of your organs, blood and interior body. It displays clues on its surface that reflect various things, such as relative degrees of blood movement, qi (energy) strength, dampness, heat, toxicity and so on.

These things manifest on the tongue precisely because the tongue first comes into contact with the food we eat, and this food changes our bodies on daily basis. The tongue, according to TCM theory, is also “the outlet of the heart.” As such the color of the tongue is related to the state of the blood. For example, a pale-colored tongue can indicate a basic blood deficiency or anemia.

When a TCM practitioner examines the tongue they are looking at such things as body color, texture, coating, cracks, lines, teeth marks and relative moisture or lack there of.

Following are examples of 10 different syndromes and the tongues they manifest, what they mean and what symptoms may be present.

Which Tongue Are you?

Normal—A normal tongue is pink in color, is moist, has no deep cracks or lines and perhaps a thin white coat or no coating at all.

Blood Stasis—A person experiencing blood stasis may experience such symptoms as cold limbs, varicose veins, painful legs, headaches, chest pain and liver spots and their skin may lack its normal luster. Their tongue body color will be purple and may have black spots on it.

Blood Deficiency—A person experiencing blood deficiency may experience symptoms such as dizziness, fatigue, palpitations, poor concentration and memory, insomnia and women’s health issues. Their tongue will be pale and have very little, if any, coating.

Qi Deficiency—A person who is experiencing qi deficiency may have such symptoms as fatigue, poor appetite, spontaneous sweating, shortness of breath, over-thinking or worrying. Their tongue body will be pale, have a few red dots on it, a thin white coating and have teeth marks on its edges.

Qi Stagnation—A person experiencing qi stagnation may be stressed, have a tendency to be depressed or upset, have a general unstable emotional state and experience premenstrual tension syndrome. Their tongue will have a thin white coating and its tip will be red.

Damp Retention—A person experiencing damp retention may have such symptoms as bloating, feeling of fullness in the chest, abdominal fullness and a feeling of being heavy or lethargic. Their tongue will be pink and swollen and the center will have a greasy white coating.

Heat—A person experiencing heat will feel hot, sweat easily, be thirsty, constipated, irritable, bad tempered and have skin problems. Their tongue body will be red and they will have a thin yellow coating on it.

Damp Heat—A person experiencing damp heat will usually have skin problems, urinary tract infections, clammy skin and be angry and uncomfortable. Their tongue will be red with a greasy yellow coating.

Yang Deficiency—A person with yang deficiency may easily feel cold, tend to need warming up, have a pale complexion, back pain, may panic easily, have low emotional feelings and possibly be impotence or infertile.

Yin Deficiency—A person experiencing a yin deficiency may have hot flashes, night sweats (as in menopause), insomnia, irritability, ringing in the ears and irregular menstruation. Their tongue will be red, have many cracks in it and have little or no coating at all.

Now that you have a basic idea of the ways in which various health issues manifest on your tongue, have a look at it. I examine mine in a mirror every morning to decide how my body is doing and what I should eat for breakfast and lunch.

My tongue tells me a lot about myself. What does yours say about your health?

—Dr. Mark Wiley

Can The Way You Sleep Cause Pain?

How To Position Your Body During Sleep for Less Pain

We all know why sleep is good for you. It relaxes the body, calms the nervous system, regulates breathing and induces the relaxation response. It allows the body some down time to repair itself.

The power of restorative rest and sleep is strong and wide reaching. In fact, symptoms of diseases like fibromyalgia, migraine headaches, chronic fatigue and the flu are decreased while we sleep. But did you know that improper sleep can be a cause of pain and suffering? Poor sleeping posture is the reason for this.

While there are many ways to sleep and many products that allow us to sleep in those ways, there are actually only two healthy positions for engaging in sound slumber. Before we look at those let’s review some of the more common sleeping positions and why they are harmful to the body.

Stomach Sleeping
Stomach sleepers, well… sleep on their stomachs. Usually they have one or both arms extended over their heads, their face turned either to the left or right side, and one leg is generally bent.

There are so many problems with this posture. First, sleeping with the arms extended over the head raises the shoulders into the neck, causing cramping, poor circulation and pain. It also skews the trapezius muscles and skeletal system, compressing the thoracic outlet where the brachial plexus of nerves from the neck travel down the arms to the hands.

Secondly, when the arms are raised the nerves are irritated and nerve function is either inhibited or excited. It’s a neurological and vascular response that affects the brachial plexus of nerves that travels from the neck and down the arms. The effect is tingling and/or numbness in the arms or hands. Ever make up with pins and needles in the hands or a “dead” arm? This may be why.

Third, sleeping with the neck turned to one side creates unbalanced muscles, wherein one side is hypertonic (contracted) and the other is hypotonic (extended). This leads to neck strain, cramping, pain and often headaches.

Fourth, the bent leg stretches one leg and hip all night, while the other remains prone. Again, we have imbalance that can lead to hip pain and leg pain.

And last, but certainly not least, stomach sleeping offers too little support for the abdomen, allowing the stomach to fall forward and the lumbar region of the back to sag. This can make your gut seem bigger than it is, simply because of poor sleeping posture. It also created spinal compression and lower back pain.

Comfortable or not; this position has got to go.

Back Sleeping
Back sleepers are onto something. The back is one of the two best ways to sleep because it can offer solid support for your entire musculoskeletal system.

Problems arise for back sleepers, however, when they do not place pillows under their knees. If you are lying on your back and your legs are straight, there is insufficient support for the lower back allowing it to arch too high.

If you sleep on your back with one leg bent, you probably experience the same hip, lower back and/or knee strain and pain as do the stomach sleepers who sleep in this way.

You should always place two pillows under your knees for support and one pillow under your head. Keep in mind, too, that pillows are for sleeping support, and not just for comfort. Your head should be placed squarely on your pillow, and the pillow should be pulled down enough so that it touches your shoulders. If your pillow is not touching your shoulders you run the risk of not supporting the cervical vertebrae and neck muscles and pain can result from spasm or nerve impingement.

Side Sleeping
Side sleeping gets my vote for best sleeping position… if done correctly. To begin, side posture should mimic the fetal position. That is, both knees bent and with hands held close to the body. This is a normal and inherent sleeping posture.

Errors in side sleeping occur when one leg overlaps the other. This causes an imbalance in the hips that can lead to tightness and pain in the hip flexors, IT band, low back and knees.

Another common error is sleeping with hands under or over the head and scrunching the pillow so your head is elevated. Symptoms from this can include neck and shoulder pain, stiffness, headaches, tingly or numbness in the arms or hands.

Side sleeping is the best because it allows the body to maintain a proper and corrective posture for several hours. What you should do is place a pillow between your knees to create proper distance between them, thus keeping the hips in proper balance. The legs must be parallel, so the hips remain square and there is no strain on the low back. A pillow should be placed under the head and pulled to the shoulder for optimal neck support. The hands should be parallel and below the eyes.

Who knew there was so much to sleeping posture? I’ll bet if you give these corrections a try then after a while your daily neck strain, shoulder pain, headaches, hip and low back pain and arm tingling may just start to correct itself.

Sweet dreams!

— Dr. Mark Wiley

Piriformis Syndrome Followup: Four Ways To Release The Lower Back

Last week’s article on piriformis syndrome, Your Lower Back Pain Or Sciatica Might Actually Be Piriformis Syndrome, created quite a bit of interest from readers wanting to know more. Indeed, it seems many people who think they are suffering sciatica or other lower back pain ailments are actually feeling the side effects of a tightened piriformis muscle. And while many physicians are quick to throw drugs and surgery at such problems, many times the answer is as simple as releasing lower back muscular constriction, which is in large part due to piriformis syndrome.

Today’s article is a response to the many queries we received on this syndrome and exercises that will help. Below I would like to share with you four sets of therapeutic corrective exercises you can do on your own.

If you can manage to perform these three times per day, in just a few days you will begin to feel lasting relief. After just a few weeks the body will self-correct and imbalances in posture due to muscular-skeletal issues related to piriformis syndrome should be corrected. Let’s look at each exercise now.

1. Pelvic Tilting
Pelvic Tilting

The purpose of this exercise is to warm up the area of the lower back by bringing heat and blood into the lumbar and sacral areas. Begin by sitting on a firm chair, toward the front with feet planted firmly on the ground (fig. 1). Allow your body to slouch slowly by titling your pelvis forward. Allow around three seconds to tilt to full slouch then hold that position for three seconds (fig. 2). Next, tilt your pelvis backward, swaying your low back to lift your upper body upward. Allow three seconds to reach full height then hold that position for three seconds (fig. 3). Repeat this slouch-and-sway movement set continuously for a total of 30 repetitions.

2. Piriformis & Hip Flexor Stretches
Piriformis & Hip Flexor Stretches

This next set of stretches works on releasing tightness in the piriformis and gluteus muscles in an effort to release compression on the sciatic nerve. Begin by sitting on a firm chair, toward the front with feet planted firmly on the ground (fig. 4). Place the ankle of your right foot over the knee of your left foot. Many of you will have very tight hips and using your hands to hold the leg in place will help here (fig. 5). Allow your hips to relax in this position for 10 seconds before pulling your knee toward your chest with both hands (fig. 6). Hold this stretch position for 10 seconds then release the knee slowly to its former position. Next, press your right hand down on your right knee, holding for a count of 10 seconds (fig. 7). Release and relax for 10 seconds, then press again this time counter-pressing your right knee into your right palm for 10 seconds (fig. 8). Release the contraction and relax in position for 10 seconds. Lastly, rest your forearms on the thighs of their respective sides and bed forward from the waist (fig. 9). Hold the forward position for 10 seconds then slowly return to the starting position (fig. 4). Perform this sequence, slowly and steadily, for a total of three repetitions.

Remember to repeat with the opposite leg.

3. Balanced Squats
Balanced Squats

Now that the previous exercises have warmed up the body and loosened the hips, we can continue with these squats. Stand up straight with feet a shoulder’s-width apart, toes pointing forward and holding onto a steady chair or counter for balance (fig. 10). Slowly and steadily bend your knees and flex your hips to lower your buttocks toward the floor (fig. 11). It is important to keep your knees behind your toes while lowering for balance and also to avoid straining the knees (fig. 12). Hold the lowest position to can maintain without using the chair as a crutch (it is for balance, not resting on). Hold this lower position for five to 10 seconds (fig. 13), then slowly and steadily rise to the starting position (fig. 10). Relax in the upright position for 10 seconds then repeat the squat for a total of three to six times, as your ability allows.

4. Gravity Leg Hanging
Gravity Leg Hang

Now that the muscles and tendons are looser and blood is moving we can move on to the final “stretch” exercise in this series. Begin by lying on your left side close to the edge of the sofa, with a pillow under your head for support (fig. 14). Create an X-shape by reaching back with your right hand to grab the cushions (or bed sheets) for balance. Slowly slide your right leg off the sofa, stretching the quadratus lumboratum (fig. 15). Allow the leg to drop as it will—do not strain—and allow gravity to work. Because this is a “passive” stretch, the muscles in the lower back will release quickly as your body will sense little threat to the position. Hold for one minute before slowly returning to the starting posture. Next, lie with your back facing out, grabbing a cushion (or sheets) for balance (fig. 16). Slowly allow your right leg to slide backward off the sofa, stretching the psoas muscles to balance the frontal stretch (fig. 17). Again, allow gravity to do its things as you relax in this position for one minute. Do this only once then change sides and repeat with the left leg.

As a rule, even though pain is felt in a specific area or a diagnosis for something has been given; other areas are also responsible for the imbalance. With regard to sciatica and lower back pain, piriformis syndrome is often the likely candidate.

However, stretching only the piriformis muscles will not in itself be the answer to the problem. Other muscles like the tensor fascia latte, quadratus lumboratum, gluteus medius and maximus and the psoas also play a role in creating imbalances. While it is the piriformis muscle that compresses the sciatic nerve, it does not become tight or in spasm on its own. The other muscles must also be released from spasm and returned to normal resting position to allow the piriformis to also relax. By taking 10-15 minutes to do the above simple stretches at least once, but ideally three times per day, you will feel relief in no time; without drugs and without surgery.

— Dr. Mark Wiley

Your Lower Back Pain Or Sciatica Might Actually Be Piriformis Syndrome

How often do you hear yourself saying things like: “I have hip pain,” “My lower back hurts,” “Pain is shooting down my leg,” “There’s numbness and/or tingling on the top of my foot,” “I have sciatica,” and so on…

Well, you’re not alone. In fact, these are frequently recited phrases in doctors’ offices, physical therapy clinics and healing centers the world over. When patients present their symptoms to me they offer many of those descriptions and curative measures they’ve been instructed to carry out. Their physician has told them to take anti-inflammatory drugs, such as ibuprophen, or to use ice. Sometime the doctor recommends physical therapy, wherein the therapist designs a series of strengthening exercises to solve the problem.

By the time the problem reaches my office, the patient has already swallowed the over-the-counter pills and gone through a lengthy course of physical therapy or chiropractic care… all with little lasting effects. Sometimes the problem has become worse.

When I hear phrases like those mentioned above, I already know what the person has “tried” prior to seeing me. I also know that they will tell me the problem is not “fixed.” If it was they would not be here. The first thing I do is perform a series of orthopedic tests on their piriformis, a muscle largely overlooked by the mainstream medical community.

The Piriformis MuscleThe piriformis muscle originates at the front of the sacrum (the part of the spinal column that is directly connected with or forms a part of the pelvis). It passes out of the pelvis through the greater sciatic foramen. It inserts into the upper border of the greater trunchanter (ball) of the femoral shaft (thigh bone). It is used to rotate the thigh laterally when such a motion is called for.

What this means is that this one muscle, if dysfunctional, has the ability to negatively affect a number of places on the hip, low back, legs and feet. Since the piriformis attaches the femur to the sacrum, if it is hypertonic (tight, contracted, in spasm) it can cause the foot to splay. That is, the foot of one or both legs will tend to point outward when walking. And this causes pain in the hip.

If the piriformis is contracted it can compress the sciatic nerve, thus causing what is described as “shooting leg pain.” Often, those who are diagnosed with sciatica actually have piriformis syndrome. Sure their X-rays may show some disc herniation, and the doctors will tell the patient that is the cause and recommend surgery. But this is not necessarily the case.

People live the entire lives with disc herniations and have no pain from them. So the presence of herniation uncovered by magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) when sciatica is present is a correlation and not necessary a cause and effect situation.

When the piriformis tightens it can also cause the hips to rotate either to one side or diagonally, thus causing the pelvis to be askew, which can be a cause of both lower back pain and hip pain.

On the other hand, if the piriformis is too loose or flexible (hypotonic), it will cause slack in the connection of bones and allow play to occur. This can irritate nerves and muscles and cause severe pain.

So how does the piriformis become too tight or too loose? Well, the most common cause is sitting for prolonged periods of time. The human body was designed to stand and walk, not sit with 90-degree flexion at the hips and knees. When sitting, the muscles, tendons and ligaments in the front of the pelvis become hypertonic (shortened), and those on the rear become hypotonic (elongated). Elongated muscles tend to contract naturally as a defense against poor posture and this results in spasms.

Sitting for prolonged periods at a desk or while driving a car also reduces the amount of blood and body fluids moving through the contracted areas of the waist. In Chinese medicine we call this “stasis” or blockage of blood, fluids and energy. And where there is no free flow there is pain. Conversely, where there is free flow there is no pain. If you want to get rid of the pain you need to release the tension and allow flow.

I see hypotonic (hyperextended) piriformis in some yoga practitioners who are either too eager in the stretching exercises or are under the misguidance of an unqualified teacher. Muscles should be stretched only within their normal range of motion. When stretched too far they can become torn or slack and this causes pain and injury.

And while strengthening exercises such as those used in physical therapy are good, strengthening a muscle that is hypertonic is asking too much of it while in its dysfunctional state. It is better to go through a regimen of stretching, Thai yoga massage, muscle energy technique or tui-na Chinese bodywork to first work out the hyper tonicity before strengthening the muscle.

The next time your low back, hip, buttocks, leg, shin or foot is bothering you, ask your physician/healer/therapist about the possibility of the piriformis being the culprit. It just might be, and getting a jump on it early on will shorten the healing process and prevent the problem from becoming chronic.

— Dr. Mark Wiley

What’s In Your Food?

You’re in the food store and get lost in all the claims about what is healthy and not healthy for you. So you make your way to a vitamin shop or Whole Foods and try your luck there. But when you grab a bag of this, or a bar of that and turn it to check out the label… you are just as lost. What IS all that stuff in there?

In this article I’d like to discuss the worst and the best ingredients in the so-called healthy bars and drinks. I hope you will find this information helpful in your healthful shopping adventures for the healthiest foods for you and your family.

MSG—These initials mean Monosodium Glutamate. It is the main flavor enhancer in your local Chinese take-out place. Like Mrs. Dash, MSG enhances flavor especially in frozen and processed foods… and causes people who are allergic to it to experience headaches, rashes and muscle pains. In fact, the American Academy of Pediatrics removed MSG from all products for infants under the age of one after injections into lab animals showed nerve cell damage!

Despite the fact that MSG has been proven a poisonous substance, it is so widely used that you might not even think where it might be. Cans of tuna? You bet! Turkey breast cold cuts? Absolutely, in some brands! And the result: an increase in neurodegerative diseases like Alzheimer’s, a serious rise in cases of asthma, Parkinson’s disease, migraine headaches and heart trouble.

Bottom line: Stay away from MSG. Check the label of everything you buy and avoid the brands that include it. And when ordering food from a restaurant, they are obligated by law to NOT include MSG if you specifically tell them you are allergic. Sounds like a plan.

Maltodextrin—Maltodextrin is essentially a powder derived from potatoes or corn and when combined with other spices and ingredients it becomes a tasty coating for snack foods. This powder food additive is found in items like flavored potato chips, pretzels and crackers.

While the FDA says this chemical is “safe,” it does not label it as being either healthy or unhealthy. That is, the content amount found in food is so low that it barely counts. Yet, in large quantities it is not healthy. So what is “non toxic” in one bag of chips may not be so healthy when one eats several bags of chips, pretzels, crackers in the course of a week, a month or a year.

And while the matodextrin processed in North America is derived from potato and corn, the Asian equivalent is manufactured from wheat and is thus not gluten free. This means that if you are prone to migraine headaches, candida or have Celiac disease… you should stay away from snacks imported from Asia.

Again, check the labels. If an item contains maltodextrin it will say so and if it contains the wheat-based form, this must also be noted on the package. In moderation, the sweet or savory aspect of this additive can be delightful. But over-consumption is unhealthy. Not just because it is a chemical but because the foods it is used to flavor are, themselves, not on the diet plan of any serious wellness program!

High Fructose Corn Syrup—This sweetener has been called the main culprit in the rise in childhood obesity in the United States… but has been given a clean bill by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Talk about bipolar! No wonder we don’t know what is going on with our health. Well, here’s the scoop…

High-fructose corn syrup (HFCS) is corn syrup that has undergone enzymatic processing to convert its glucose into fructose. This fructose has then been mixed with regular corn syrup, which is 100 percent glucose, and the result is a sweet liquid known as HFCS.

This liquid is the sweetener found in just about every cold beverage in your local convenience store, including iced tea, sodas and energy drinks. Not only that, but it is also found in so-called healthy foods like tomato soup and yogurt, and less healthy items such as salad dressings and cookies.

Yes it’s true that the FDA did a 30-year study and found a correlation between HFCS and obesity and that it is worse for your health than plain sugar. Yet the Corn Refiners Association has launched an aggressive advertising campaign to counter these criticisms, claiming that HFCS "is natural" and "has the same natural sweeteners as table sugar.”

Well, if you have any questions, just look to two of the largest-consumed beverages, Pepsi and Snapple. Both have ditched the nasty stuff and gone back to sweetening their drinks with plain old sugar. Stay away from the HFCS, it will make you fatter than sugar!

Partially Hydrogenated Oils—Whatever you do, stay clear of hydrogenated and partially hydrogenated oils. They are unnatural and very unhealthy. You see, the original oil is subjected to hydrogenation, which changes its molecular structure. This allows the oil molecules to harden thus giving it a longer shelf life, which is why manufacturers like it. But the changed oils are actually closer to plastic than to oil, and the hydrogenation process kills the omega-3 and omega-6 essential fatty acids, which are the healthy parts of the original oils.

What this means is that the body does not get the desired antioxidant affect of consuming oils, and the new hydrogenated oils are then treated in the body as fatty foods that the bloodstream can’t process. The result is fat stored in the body. Excess storage of fat in the body and arterial plaque build-up, then, are the big issues with partially hydrogenated oils.

Avoid foods containing partially hydrogenated oils at all costs. Check the labels on spreads, crackers, cookies, cakes and even some so-called fruit snacks.

The bottom line is you should eat natural foods and fresh foods and always read the labels. When in doubt, write down the ingredient and do an online search. You just might be surprised at what you find!

The ones listed above are the worst ingredients found in the foods you eat. These are the “foods” that the FDA says are okay to feed Americans. Yet, we are becoming sicker faster than ever before and suffering long, slow deaths from heart disease, obesity and high cholesterol levels.

Now I want to tell you about the best ingredients to look for in the foods you eat. These are among the best foods you can eat and should be included in your daily diet. Let’s take a look at what they are.

Whole Grain–­Before we get to whole grain, let’s first look at “enriched flour” products. These are the breads and rolls and pastas that are first stripped of their outer grain portion, removed of their nutrients and bleached of their natural color. The product is so poor and so value-less that they are “enriched” with vitamins and nutrients. Ridiculous! Forget these products, they are scams and unnatural.

What you should be grabbing for are whole grain products. These are carbohydrates that are made from the entire grain and contain the original vitamins, nutrients and fiber and are thus good for digestive regularity, normal blood sugar levels, healthy cholesterol levels and optimal brain function.

When checking out the ingredients on carbohydrate products, looks for those where the first ingredient listed says whole grain, whole wheat, whole meal or whole corn. These will be in the form of bread, pastas, hot cereals, brown rice, bulger, buckwheat, spelt and wild rice. The United States Department Of Agriculture (USDA) suggests that each of us get at least three servings of whole grains every day.

Soy Lecithin—A product of soybean oil and also extracted from soya beans, soy lecithin is used as an emulsifier in prepared foods. It keeps chocolate from crumbling or splintering, helps dough rise in baked goods and keeps spreadable “butters” and cheeses from separating.

This product has passed the muster of the American Dietetic Association. It was found not only safe, but also good for you. As a result, soy lecithin also comes in supplement form. You see, it’s packed with choline, which is found in eggs and is known to boost brain development while also preventing heart disease, lowering cholesterol and helps treat dementia. Not too shabby.

The bottom line is, the USDA says soy lecithin is a safe emulsifier. And keeping your intake below 3.5 grams per day will yield no known side effects. So if you have to grab a bite of a processed food, look for this as its ‘hold it together’ ingredient. Better yet… go for whole, unprocessed foods instead.

Disodium Phosphate—The liver and gallbladder are so important to your health and wellness. They help purify blood and break down toxins and fats. As far as food preservatives go, disodium phosphate is one of the better ones. In fact, it helps maintain proper pH levels in the body as well as metabolizing cholesterol.

Disodium phosphate is found in products such as frozen hash browns (to keep their brown color), canned tuna (for buffering and chelating), poultry and pork (as a scalding agent) and potato products (as a sequestrant).

On the whole it is best to avoid preservatives in foods as they are generally toxic to the body and harmful to the liver. However, disodium phosphate actually supports liver and gallbladder function and has properties that foster good health. So, go ahead and eat limited amounts of preserved meats, fish and potato products—just be sure they are preserved with disodium phosphate and nothing else.

Riboflavin—Who doesn’t know how vital the B vitamins are to the body? Like magnesium, the B-complex vitamins are essential to so many vital functions of the body. And riboflavin (B2) is among the most important of the group.

In fact, a deficiency of riboflavin can cause nervous system disorders and lesions on the skin and digestive tract. This water-soluble vitamin helps maintain normal cell function and proper metabolism and aids in the production of energy.

Vitamin B2 is found in both plant and animal tissue. As such, if you eat a well-balanced diet there will be no need to take a supplement containing this vitamin. Riboflavin can be found in meat, green vegetables and dairy products.

In conclusion, there are many healthy and unhealthy foods out there. But even among prepared foods, there can be healthy options. The choice is yours to make. So next time you are out shopping, or running to grab a quick snack, check the labels. Look for those foods containing whole grains, soy lecithin, disodium phosphate and riboflavin. They can do a body good!

Dr. Mark Wiley

How Traditional Chinese Medicine Can Help You

I am often asked by patients, friends and acquaintances whether or not I think traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) can help them with their problem. My answer is always a resounding yes. Help comes in many forms and many levels, and TCM offers health rewards in abundance. Here is how TCM can help you and why you should look into it.

To begin, traditional Chinese medicine offers, as its foundation, the promise of homeostasis. That is the understanding that the body wishes to exist in balance, that only imbalance causes pain, illness and disease, and that uncovering and balancing the imbalance is the only way to truly “cure” one’s self of anything.

Did you every wonder why ibuprofen worked for your pain yesterday but today it seems to do nothing? Have you ever wondered why sometimes you get headaches at the front of your head, while at other times it’s on top or on the sides of the head? Why last month your pre-menstrual syndrome (PMS) had you buckled over with cramps yet this month there is little cramping but lots of headache pain?

That is because the imbalances in your body are different at different times, and pain and illness are born out of those imbalances. Thus, taking the same medicine for a frontal headache as one at the base of the skull is nonsensical. Treating PMS this month the same as you did last month, even though the symptoms are different, just doesn’t add up. And when you do find relief it’s only temporary and the problem comes back another day.

TCM can help you with this. Actually, knowledge of TCM theories or an examination at the hands of a qualified practitioner can help you. This branch of medicine helps by identifying the specific imbalances in your body that are allowing the health symptoms to exist. Once the imbalances are identified they are viewed and understood as a pattern. And these patterns have different signs and symptoms attached to them. What’s more, the methods used to balance the pattern of imbalance are different. And it is these specific pattern-identifiable methods that will eradicate the health concern.

You might think it is difficult, in the throws of innumerable signs and symptoms that have persisted over many years or decades, to be able to identify a pattern. I often hear the following: “I have no pattern. I watch my health and there is no pattern of why or when the symptom arises, like when it rains or I don’t get enough sleep.”

That’s not the type of pattern I am speaking of here.

For TCM, pattern means a grouping of signs and symptoms that are matched with the patient’s specific pulse and tongue geography, skin tone and complexion, etc. It’s like opening the cupboard and finding crackers, soup cans, tuna and cereal, and opening the refrigerator and finding salami, milk, mayonnaise, bread, celery, mustard and butter.

The untrained eye would say there are a lot of unrelated things. The trained eye would see a complete recipe (pattern) for a tuna salad sandwich and soup and crackers amongst the clutter. TCM practitioners are trained to identify patterns of imbalance from the clutter of signs and symptoms.

Once the pattern is identified the practitioner can be certain of the underlying cause of the health symptoms, be they hemorrhoids, osteoporosis, insomnia or PMS. Once a pattern is discerned the signs and symptoms are intellectually set aside and focus is placed on what is needed to balance the imbalance, to return the body to homeostasis. That is, to make the body healthy.

Methods of healing are then prescribed such as medicated diet therapy (knowing which foods to eat and which to avoid to help the situation); Qigong energy work (self-regulating exercises and clinically administered treatments) to balance energy in the body; herbal therapy in the form of teas and pills to balance organs, blood and fluids, resolve masses and remove obstructions from the body; stretching and strengthening exercises to correct somatic imbalances that cause pain; mind/body exercises to quiet the mind, center the spirit, induce the relaxation response, reduce stress and so on.

The main things TCM can help you with are identifying what environment within your body is allowing ill health to remain there, and what you can do specifically and synergistically to return the body to homeostasis and live at optimal health.

Yes, the theories and concepts of traditional Chinese medicine are foreign and seem odd to Westerners. Yes, it takes an open mind to listen to a practitioner of these healing systems tell you about your health in terms you may not understand.

However, if you allow yourself to listen and then do research based on what you are told, you may find that the seemingly strange-sounding syndromes espoused in TCM are actually simple paradigms of health that can be shifted and resolved toward better health.

—Dr. Mark Wiley

No Difference: How Marketing Claims Don’t Hold Up

You heard the news and you bought the product. The promise of a liquid soap that can kill bacteria—99 percent of bacteria—was too good to pass up. Billions of consumer dollars later, and now experts say the claim is false.

According to the Associated Press (AP), a federal advisory panel found anti-bacterial soaps to be no more effective than regular soap and water.

Companies manufacturing these hand soaps are now being warned: Prove your claims or remove them from the packaging.

Hard to believe, isn’t it? Years of promoting liquid anti-bacterial soap as the answer to killing disease-causing germs—and now without the need for water! Some brands offer the type that is loaded with alcohol and dissolves dry right on your hands!

Yet an 11 to 1 vote by the panel that advises the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) concluded that they “saw no added benefits to anti-bacterials when compared with soapy hand washing.”

The irony? The advisory board also said that these anti-bacterial soaps are made from synthetic chemicals that could actually contribute to the growth of a strain of bacteria that is resistant to antibiotics.

That’s right; the soap that bills to kill 99 percent of germs is causing new super germs that our antibiotics can’t handle! Each year the flu virus gets worse and “anti-bacterial” soaps and cleaners just may be one of the causes.

Yet the advisory panel made no suggestion to the FDA to remove the products from consumer shelves. Their argument for allowing the products to remain is that their true risks versus benefits have not yet been determined.

But Dr. Alastair Wood, chairman of the Nonprescription Drugs Advisory Committee, said: “There’s no evidence they are a good value.”

And Dr. Mary E. Tinetti, another panelist, said unless these products can show benefits over soap and water there could be a strong movement to remove them from the market.

For now the FDA is considering what action to take. The so-called anti-bacterial soaps actually do clean your hands. And they are just as effective in doing so as regular soap and water. Yet, whether they kill 99 percent of bacteria and whether they are safe isn’t the problem. So, the FDA may vote to have such claims simply removed from the packaging for now.

You see, where anti-bacterials kill germs on the spot, soap and water separates them from the skin for rinsing down the drain. But they both do the same job of cleaning. Neither is more effective than the other.

And while the manufacturers of such products state that their benefits are better than soap and that consumers at home and at work need “choices” when deciding on what they clean with, they offer no proof to substantiate their claims.

And so the FDA is awaiting industry members to present substantial evidence that the anti-bacterials do as they claim and are not harmful to the consumers using them.

Until then, the choice is yours. And here’s another choice: mass produced vs. organic food.

A recent study suggests that organic food is no better than mass produced food… at least in terms of nutrients.

According to the latest long-term study of organic food versus mass-produced food, it seems there is no nutritional difference. It seems consumers in London have been complaining about the huge financial disparity between ordinary food and organic food and wanted to know if there was true health value for their financial investment.

Researchers from the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine conducted a systematic review of more than 160 scientific papers and studies published in the leading journals over the past half-century.

Their findings showed that “a small number of differences in nutrient content were found to exist between organically and conventionally produced foodstuffs, but these are unlikely to be of any public health relevance,” said Alan Dangour, one of the report’s authors.

Dangour went on to say: “Our review indicates that there is currently no evidence to support the selection of organically over conventionally produced foods on the basis of nutritional superiority.”

So what do I think of this? It makes no difference at all.

Sure, their research shows that the nutritional content of normal food is almost the same as organic food. So what? The reason I (and others) turned to organic food was to avoid the herbicides and pesticides that commercial farmers use to improve crop output and kill crop-eating insects.

We choose organic so that we won’t get cancer from eating an apple or salad that was grown in chemically-heavy soil or sprayed with toxic chemicals that will then enter our blood stream.

Recent reports showed that children who ate fruit grown with everyday commercial chemicals presented with traces of pesticides in their urine! And after a mere five days of switching to organic fruit, the toxic levels dropped drastically from their blood.

So you can save a few bucks by consuming commercially grown foodstuffs and you may actually receive the actual nutrients found in their organic counterparts.

But beware: having money in your pocket and nutrients in your system in no way reflects the toxic chemical levels you are also living with. Life is too short and too valuable to play games with. Again, the choice is yours.

What’s it gonna be?

—Dr. Mark Wiley

Fat-Burning Foods for Weight Loss

I hear it all the time: “I try to eat right and work out regularly, but I just can‘t seem to lose all the weight I want.” For some people, it’s the last 10 pounds and for others it’s the first 10. So what’s the deal?

Well, weight loss and the breakdown of food are linked to a properly working metabolism. That is, your body’s process of converting food into fuel. Some people are naturally lean, and chances are they have a “fast metabolism.” Other people just smell French fries and seem to put on weight; and they have what is called a “slow metabolism.”

One of the secrets to weight loss and continued weight management, then, is to obtain and maintain a fast metabolism. The first step to this is identifying those things that slow down your metabolism, and these include:

  1. Low levels of physical activity—Healthy weight loss depends on moving the body to increase heat to burn calories and invigorate digestion to break down food.
  2. The gradual loss of lean muscle tissue from that lack of exercise—While muscle weighs more than fat, it is healthy and also helps burn fat! For healthy weight loss you must increase your lean muscle mass, and this can easily be done with walking and doing simple chores about the house, like vacuuming and ironing.
  3. Not eating regular well-balanced meals—Every time you eat your metabolism is jump-started. Food is fuel, and eating starts processes in motion in the body for breakdown, digestion and elimination. Not eating regularly sends your body into starvation mode, where it begins storing fat!
  4. Fasting or dieting that restricts caloric intake for extended periods—This is unhealthy as it deprives the body of the essential nutrients it needs for optimal survival. Restricting calories depletes lean muscle tissue and when the diet is over people overeat in reaction to being “starved.”
  5. Insufficient daily protein consumption—Whether animal or plant as its source, it is advisable to consume protein every day. It gives energy and burns slower than carbohydrates, thus extending energy and stabilizing blood sugar levels.

Balancing the above five issues will help you turn a slow metabolism into a normal metabolism. But a normal metabolism is generally not sufficient for many people’s fat-burning goals. A fast metabolism, on the other hand, will help you reach and maintain an ideal weight and ratio of fat to muscle. And the basic ways of improving metabolism include:

  1. Weight and strength training to increase muscle tissue. The more muscle you have the more calories you burn throughout the day.
  2. Regular physical activity will turn up the heat and melt the fat calories away. Regular fitness is best, but even small things like taking brisk walks, raking leaves and cleaning the house at a faster pace… can burn more calories than taking an easier route.
  3. Keep hormones and blood sugar levels stable by consuming whole grain and low sugar foods while watching your saturated fat intake. Supplements can also help.
  4. Drink plenty of water to keep the system working optimally. Water, pure and simple, can flush those toxins that make the metabolism sluggish.
  5. Eat more frequently, but less each time. By consuming something every three hours you will maintain a steady level of energy while also keeping your blood sugar levels from dropping out. When blood sugar drops, unhealthy food cravings emerge.
  6. Eat foods that stoke your metabolism!

That’s right, there are actually foods and spices that can turn up your internal temperature, improve the breakdown of food and fat, remove toxins and increase your metabolism. The list includes drinks, foods, spices and supplements.

  1. Drinks… German researchers have proven that drinking 17 ounces of ice water daily can raise your metabolism by as much as 30 percent. This happens because it requires about 100 calories of energy to re-heat your body once it is cooled down. Just don’t drink it with food, or the food will sit in your stomach while your body tries to re-heat itself!
     

    On the other end is drinking hot green tea. The antioxidants in this tea will help eliminate toxins that cause metabolic sluggishness, and the drink itself has been shown in studies to also increase metabolism.

  2. Foods… Eating plenty of protein for energy and whole grain carbohydrates will do much to maintain energy, blood sugar levels and elimination schedules. The grains remove cholesterol from the blood and help maintain bowel function while the protein gives you sustained energy for exercise.
  3. Spices… Some people complain that healthy foods do not taste good. To them, I say: Spice it Up! Thermogenic spices, like the aromatics, stoke the metabolism while making plain food taste great. These pungent spices heat up your body, causing it to sweat and burn fat. So include plenty of chilies, mustard, allspice, ginger, garlic, onion, curries, turmeric, cloves, cayenne and other aromatic spices to your diet and your metabolism will speed up by around 40 percent for roughly the next two hours.

So there you have it; ways to balance and boost your metabolism for weight loss and optimal health. Avoid the pitfalls that contribute to a sluggish metabolism while at the same time doing what you can to increase metabolic functions. There’s never been a more tasty way to do it!

—Dr. Mark Wiley

Congress Attacks Natural Supplements!

I spent another afternoon in disbelief, reading over a dozen emails regarding Congress’ improper use of the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act (DSHEA). They misappropriated the act to pull Ephedra from the market. And now they’re trying to oust vitamin E!

Next stop… the rest of the alphabet.

In fact, there are so many levels to this issue that I have included many valuable links for you to get the full story from all sides. And since the story is so vast, I will present it as an ongoing series. This is just the first installment.

Since the beginning of America’s founding we citizens have been avid users of natural products for health. At the same time, we’ve been clamoring for our government to keep the bad stuff off our shelves. And while the times of dishonest “snake oil salesmen” are mostly gone, the day of the government ban is on the horizon.

But this has not always been the case.

With Best Intentions…

In 1958, the FDA added the Food Additive Amendment to the Federal Food, Drug & Cosmetic Act (FD&C). This was done to ensure consumer safety against unsafe supplements and their untrue labeling or misrepresentation of their benefits. We Americans spoke up for the protection of our health and lifestyle choices and our cries were heard.

In 1995, former President Bill Clinton signed the 1994 Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act (DSHEA). It was another amendment to the FD&C. In essence, the Act makes sure that since natural supplements are considered “food” as opposed to “drugs,” they remain available to consumers who wish to include them as a part of their healthy lifestyle choices. And since Congress cannot control how many carrots you eat, it shouldn’t control the amount of vitamin A you consume, either.

The passing of DSHEA was thus considered a massive victory for consumers. The act was Congress’s answer to consumer concerns about their health. In fact, Clinton stated, “The passage of this legislation… speaks to the diligence with which an unofficial army of nutritionally conscious people worked democratically to change the laws in an area deeply important to them.”

With the Riches Come the Spoils

It seems the passing of DSHEA also created a loophole for non-health-friendly members of Congress and the FDA to take our health choices from us.

You see, while these bills appear to protect the public, they actually make it easier for government agencies to control supplement use… or take them off the market completely! And it seems that while it’s the FDA’s job to protect consumers from fraudulent claims being made against the guise of “studies,” it has done nothing in the case against natural herbal, vitamin or mineral supplements.

At least five bills have been introduced in Congress in recent years that would affect your right to access dietary supplements. In fact, only the Hatch Harkin Bill S.1538 proposed the FDA should support the DSHEA rather than fight against it, or merely stand by and do nothing. However, the bill recognized that the FDA requires more money to do its job. It proposed $100 million in funds be allocated for this purpose.

The most recent bill is the Dietary Supplement Safety Act S.3002, introduced in February by Senator John McCain (R-Ariz.). The bill would change existing mandatory serious adverse reporting regulations, requiring even minor adverse effects to be reported so that the FDA could arbitrarily pull supplements off the shelves or reclassify them as drugs, according to jbs.org.

Opponents of the bill say the regulations would be ripe for abuse, with minor, unrelated or trumped-up evidence of adverse effects leading to supplements being classified as drugs and pulled off shelves.

Trumped-up “evidence” and certainly misuse of herbals was the cause of the Ephedra ban. Ephedra, known as ma huang in traditional Chinese medicine, has been a staple in formulas used to treat asthma, bronchitis and other lung diseases. In the proper dose and for the proper use (inducing sweating to relieve damp heat in the lungs), ma huang is a strong and natural aid for health. But when formulated in much higher doses for use as a metabolism enhancing agent in weight loss supplements… serious problems occurred. And now, because of misuse, the herb is off the market in the U.S.

In fact, the Washington law firm, Hyman, Phelps, and McNamara, P.C. believes the Ephedra rule will endanger all vitamins. Read their “Legal Opinion Regarding FDA’s Ephedra Rule.”

Vitamin E is the target of a similar smear campaign. Yes, that’s right, the same vitamin E used in skin care products and as an immunity aid against free radicals. The government is now calling it “risky.” Yet the cases presented as “proof” were people who suffered pre-existing diseases.

You see, these bills include the Adverse Event Reporting (AER), which is not necessarily bad. However, AER is now being used by dishonest people (in the government and outside of it) as an excuse to bring the industry (and our rights) to its knees. Anti-vitamin stories are surfacing as “proof” that supplements should be banned. These include deaths not related to supplements, but the people happened to also be taking supplements of some kind. And this is the gist of the vitamin E situation.

United We (Must) Stand

It is imperative that we not allow Congress, the FDA, the media or unscrupulous individuals to keep us from seeking and maintaining optimal health by regulating or banning natural supplements. They are only food in another form. They are part and parcel of the daily health choices we make that come with America’s freedom.

The implementing of AER for herbs, minerals and vitamins is as nonsensical as implementing it for a turkey sandwich! The FDA is more worried about the amount of vitamin E we take than the true and severe side effects of synthetic pharma drugs. I find that disturbing. And if this passes, perhaps hundreds of thousands of people could start blaming supplements for their ailments. And the resulting class action lawsuit would be devastating not only to supplement manufacturers’ insurance costs, but to the accessibility of such supplements in the future.

Our only hope is to fight back and stand up for our health rights. Imagine, no more One A Day®, no more calcium tablets, no more B-complex.

In response to the actions of Congress, the Nutritional Health Alliance has activated the Save and Strengthen DSHEA campaign. Visit the NHA site and access the names and addresses of your Congressmen and Senators. Sample letters are there to view, as well as necessary phone and fax numbers.

We need your help. You need your help. Let’s all take a few moments and do our part before it’s too late.

—Dr. Mark Wiley

How Stress is Killing Us… And 10 Things You Can Do About It

Stress is one of the leading causes of illness in the United States. Indeed, nearly 66 percent of all signs and symptoms presented in doctors’ offices in the U.S. are stress induced.

The effects of stress include nail biting, anxiety, a racing mind, obsessive thoughts, compulsive behavior, unending worry, muscle tension and spasm, poor appetite or too great an appetite, digestive disorders, constipation, insomnia, poor blood flow, belabored breathing, neck pain, shoulder tension and the possible onset or continuation of bad habits such as dependence on alcohol, drugs, painkillers, food and caffeine.

Any one of these things by itself can trigger any number of different types of illnesses. But when these forces of antagonism are combined (as they generally are when triggered by stress), the health problems often become chronic and insufferable.

The Psychology of Stress

Stress is an interesting phenomenon. It means different things to different people. What we each individually consider to be stressful is largely a matter of our perception. Indeed, our perceptions are our realities and so what we think is posing a threat is actually doing so by virtue of our established belief system. Moreover, there are many kinds of stressors—physical (the response to being frightened), emotional (loss of a loved one), psychological (obsessive thoughts), spiritual (loss of faith) and psychosomatic (the need for attention).

Physiologically, stress is responsible for initiating the fight or flight response in the face of perceived danger. This means that when we are confronted with a danger, our body automatically prepares us to deal with the coming stressful situation by focusing our attention, pumping more blood into our muscles and sending adrenaline through our system to ready it for action. It is precisely this response that helps protect the body and return it again to homeostasis. However, too much stress, or stress left unresolved for too long a time, can lead to biological damage.

You see, at the onset of perceived danger the body is quickly jolted into fight or flight mode, which means stress hormones such as adrenaline and cortisol are pumped into the bloodstream. However, at the conclusion of the danger episode, the body does not as automatically calm down and return to homeostasis. In fact, it takes a great deal of time for the body to return to so-called normal conditions. But often this cannot happen because another stressor may present itself (e.g., sitting in traffic, standing in line at the bank, missing a deadline) and this will send our body into “code red” mode all over again.

The effects of such prolonged or recurring stress is that it keeps the autonomic nervous system from balancing, which can lead to problems with the gastrointestinal tract, the digestive system, the respiratory system and the neuronendocrine system. Stress can also lead to depression, anxiety, muscle tension and insomnia. All of these are known triggers of various mental and physical (mind/body) illnesses and diseases.

A Stressful Example

The vicious cause and effect cycle of stress is readily seen in our workforce, wherein productivity and the meeting of deadlines and bottom-line expectations lead us down a harrowing headache path. Consider the average day in the life of a corporate worker: Wakes up early, skips breakfast and rushes to the office; begins harboring stress and anxiety while watching the clock sitting in traffic; sits all day at the computer and talking on the phone; takes breaks not to stretch and take deep breaths of fresh air, but to artificially stimulate the body to work harder through taking a cigarette and coffee break. After that it’s back to work pushing productivity in an attempt to meet expectations wherein stress and tensions rise and take hold of the body; after work, to relax—office co-workers are joined for happy hour—wherein the body is nourished with more caffeine, cigarettes and now alcohol. Round and round, day after day, until the body rebels and “tells” you something is very wrong by way of an ulcer, gastrointestinal disorder or chronic pain in some manifestation.

Stress is killing us!

Ten Stress Busters

The idea behind living a stress-free life is to remove the things in your life that are causing you to be stressed. Of course this is easier said than done, but it is truly the only way to not have stress. Here are 10 simple things you can do on a daily basis to reduce the symptoms of stress.

  • Walk outside for at least 20 continuous minutes every day.
  • Take the stairs whenever possible.
  • Take 10 deep belly breaths every hour.
  • Drink plenty of pure water—at least 10 glasses a day.
  • Avoid sugar and caffeine in all forms.
  • Regulate sleep and wake cycles to a consistent daily routine.
  • Prioritize your life, work, family and personal time and activities.
  • Do six shoulder shrugs whenever you are tense.
  • Realize that when people criticize and judge they are labeling an “image” of you and not you personally.
  • Realize that you are worth so much more than the sum of your titles, money and belongings.

A good stress-relief program should be sought and followed. Good programs generally include various forms of meditation, visualization, qigong, yoga, acupressure and bio-feedback. Not all programs contain everything, but engaging in any or some of these will go a long way to reclaiming years for your life.

—Dr. Mark Wiley

Curious About Alternative Treatments for Pain? Try These!

People are always asking what are the best alternative treatments for their pain conditions. Given the vast number of modalities available under the “alternative” label, it is no wonder people feel overwhelmed when trying to choose the best one for them.

In this article we’ll look at an overview of some of the best natural, non-invasive therapies for pain. They each have their own focus and methodology, and based on your specific signs and symptoms, the correct treatment for you should jump right off the page.

Massage Therapy: There are literally hundreds of styles of massage. Which one is best for you will depend on your comfort level. Standard massage is good, moves toxins through the body and is relaxing. But it often does not correct structural problems or offer enough correction in the range of motion. And, it is limited range of motion and inflammation that are causing pain.

It is a good idea to use the Internet to look for an individual trained in some of the more specific massage methodologies like deep tissue, neuromuscular technique, Thai massage and myofascial release. Any of these specialties offer much more in terms of somatic correction when combined with standard massage.

Qigong Therapy: Qigong is an ancient Chinese system of energy cultivation. Also called “breath work,” qigong exercises balance energy in the body through coordination of thought, breath and movement in specific actions. The nucleus of qigong is the exercise of consciousness and vital energy. Regular practice of qigong exercises aid in regulating the functions of the central nervous system. Along with exercising and controlling one’s mind and body, qigong influences one’s physical states and pathological conditions. There are both practitioner applied and individual self-regulating qigong methods.

If you are in serious pain and can find a reputable local practitioner, make an appointment. If not, there are good qigong instructional programs available. Look into them. By calming the nerves, regulating blood pressure, relaxing the muscles and slowing the mind, the body can relax, move more blood and release its tight muscle holds. Less pain is not far behind!

Polarity Therapy: Like qigong, polarity therapy also sees the human body as being comprised of “life energy.” However, polarity therapy takes the view that the energy body is in a state of constant “pulsation,” with positive and negative poles and a neutral position. These poles and position form a kind of energetic “template” along the body on which a practitioner can apply touch and pressure to alter the pulsations and derive pain relief and better general states of health.

While it shares common ideas with acupressure and qigong, polarity therapy is more aligned with Indian Ayurvedic medicine and modern osteopathic and chiropractic theories of the body. When people have gone through the complete series of acupuncture or qigong treatments recommended by their practitioner and have not found substantial relief, trying polarity therapy may be the next best modality to embrace. Often times, a person’s polarity (positive/negative energy poles) is reversed and one or more polarity sessions can correct this.

Acupressure and Acupuncture: All Chinese body-healing practices are based on the idea that energy flows through the body in channels called meridians that transport energy and life essence from organ to organ. Where there is low energy or fluid blockage there is pain and soon disease.

Acupressure is the non-invasive and non-needle offspring of acupuncture. Both work on the same theory, and in both cases, the practitioner will either “needle” or apply finger pressure to specific points on the body. Using a correct “prescription” of points, the practitioner can in effect change the energy in a patient, open their channels and help their energy move more freely. Again, when energy moves freely… there is no pain or disease.

Acupuncture and acupressure are both widely practiced today and worth looking into. They have been around for 5,000 years and have helped millions of people… not too shabby!

Hypnosis: There is nothing more powerful than teaching your brain how to control pain and encourage healing. There are many forms of hypnosis and in some states only licensed psychologists can perform hypnosis on patients. The basic idea of hypnosis is to switch off the ideas in the mind that prevent one from achieving set goals. And issues like, “I am always in pain” and “Nothing ever helps” are negative mantras that keep one’s mind and body locked in the pain cycle. The sooner these thoughts are released and replaced with positive ones, the faster the pain relief and recovery begin.

Look online and see what is available in your area, but be sure that “pain” is on the top of their list of specialties rather than hidden under a dozen other areas like smoking, anxiety, weight loss and others.

Herbal Medicine: Chinese herbs promote healing through the bloodstream and meridian complex by balancing organ energy. Over several thousand years of use with millions of patients, herbalists have derived specific "patent formulas" for nearly every health condition… including pain. These formulas contain an average of four-to-six different herbs each—some for stimulating blood, others for coating the stomach, others for pulling the herbals to lower parts of the body. These Chinese herbal remedies are not single-dose herbs for problems, like we see in the West. Many herbs are combined into each formula to provide a well-rounded method of stopping the symptom while at the same time balancing the body to keep it from returning.

Since there are many types of pain (e.g., tendonitis, bruising, flesh wounds, headache, etc.), there are many pain formulas. Having the correct diagnosis will go a long way to choosing the correct formula for your pain. An herbalist will tell you if merely calming the liver or boosting kidney function will relieve the pain over time, or if an actual analgesic pain formula is needed along with a blood-moving formula. Thus, it is advised that one see an actual herbalist before attempting to self-diagnose and prescribe herbs.

Inversion Therapy: Two thousand years ago the Greeks discovered that hanging upside down at various angles for various amounts of time helped citizens with back pain. And today, inversion therapy is helping millions of people with tight muscles, herniated discs and sciatica.

Relieving back pain is the primary reason for considering inversion therapy, as it gently creates space between the vertebrae, lengthens the spine, relieves nerve pressure and stretches tight back muscles.

In addition to pain relief, regularly inverting will help you avoid the "shrinkage" that naturally occurs as a result of gravity over a lifetime. It also improves circulation and lymphatic drainage because when you’re inverted, gravity helps blood to circulate and the lymphatic system to clear toxins faster, easing the aches and pains of stiff muscles.

Trigger Point Therapy: Trigger points, a type of muscle stiffness, are the result of tiny contraction knots that develop in muscle and tissue when an area of the body is injured or overworked. Everyone has trigger points; the question is to what degree.

If you have lingering pain, tightness or restriction of certain movements, it is a good bet that you are experiencing the affects of a trigger point. Massage therapy is usually insufficient when trigger points have a hold on your body and are the cause of your pain. What is needed for relief here is sufficient deep sustained pressure to the "knotted-up area." As the trigger point is worked out, your body will undergo soft tissue release, allowing for increased blood flow, a reduction in muscle spasm and the break-up of scar tissue. It will also help remove any build-up of toxic metabolic waste.

Trigger point therapy can be received at the hands of a manual therapist trained in its method. There are also good self-treatment trigger point systems that can work just as well, or better. With a self-treatment trigger point system, you can apply pressure to the trigger points several times per day until relief is found.

To begin exploring these modalities, do an online search and read the Wiki pages. Call local practitioners for a consultation. The more information you have the better you will be able to choose the right one.

—Dr. Mark Wiley

The Dirty Dozen: How 25 percent of Americans are Dying from the Food They Eat

Given our fast-paced, stressed-to-the-max lifestyle, it is no wonder that 25 percent of Americans eat at fast-food restaurants every day! That’s one in four people opting for low nutrition, high calorie, bad tasting, done-in-a-jiffy food. And it’s killing us.

Diseases like obesity, high blood pressure, fatty liver and high cholesterol are more prevalent in today’s high-tech health-conscience society than in the past, when we were ignorant about such things. And there’s truly no excuse for it!

One look at Eric Schlosser’s documentary, Fast Food Nation, tells the tale in all its devastating morbidity. Forget about E.coli and sub-standard working conditions and the tumors cut off the sides of beef before processing it for burgers done “your way.” Forget about the cheap toys restaurants like McDonald’s and Burger King use to attract the kids, and by extension the family, in for a potentially life-shortening meal.

Let’s talk good health and stick to the facts. In terms of food, that means keeping a tight leash on calories, fat, cholesterol and sodium. And if we Americans are too tied to our fatty burgers and deep fried chicken, or we’re just too pressed for time and money to make the necessary change… then at least we can face the enemy armed with the truth about our fast-food indulgence.

I was in the process of researching the nutritional facts from 12 of the more popular chains when a copy of Aramark Corporation’s “Guide to Fast Food” came across my desk. In this little gem I found the “tale of the tape” on 20 of the country’s most popular fast food chains. Starbucks, too! And if you think eating at Subway is good for you because of that guy from the commercial… think again. And if you think chicken served in these restaurants is a better choice than beef… you’ve been misled.

Of the 20 fast food restaurants listed in the guide I’ve culled information from 12, and I call them “The Dirty Dozen.” Below are some tables based on the information published by Aramark, as provided by the franchises themselves, or found on their websites. I call these tables, “The Worst of the Worst” (i.e., things never to eat), and “The Best of the Worst” (i.e., things almost never to eat). I then list the worst and best from the selected Dirty Dozen, in terms of overall numbers of calories, fat, cholesterol and sodium.

The Worst of the Worst

 
Calories
Carbs (g)
Fat (g)
Cholesterol (mg)
Sodium (mg)
Baskin-Robbins Chocolate Shake
750
80
43
115
290
Boston Market 1/4 Dark Meat w/ Skin
320
2
21
180
460
Burger King BK Big Fish Sandwich
710
67
38
105
1110
Dairy Queen Grilled Chicken Filet Sandwich
310
30
10
50
1040
Domino’s Pepperoni Hand Tossed (2 SL)
448
55
18
38
776
Dunkin’ Donuts Blueberry Muffin
490
76
17
75
610
KFC Hot & Spicy Chicken Breast
505
23
29
162
1170
Krispy Kreme Glazed Devil’s Food Donut
390
41
24
5
250
McDonald’s  Biscuit w/ Bacon, Egg, Cheese
540
36
34
250
1550
Subway
6" Subway Club, Cold
294
40
5
30
1250
Taco Bell
Taco Salad w/ Salsa
850
65
52
60
1780
Wendy’s Big Bacon Classic
580
45
31
95
1500

 

The Best of the Worst

 
Calories
Carbs (g)
Fat (g)
Cholesterol (mg)
Sodium (mg)
Baskin-Robbins Ice Daiquiri Scoop
130
33
0
0
10
Boston Market Steamed Vegetables
35
7
0.05
0
35
Burger King Small Hash Browns
240
25
15
0
460
Dairy Queen Fudge Bar (No Sugar Added)
50
13
0
0
70
Domino’s Cheese hand Tossed (2 SL)
375
55
11
23
776
Dunkin’ Donuts Low-Fat Bran Muffin
260
59
2
0
440
KFC Mashed Potatoes w/ Gravy
120
17
6
0
440
Krispy Kreme Original Glazed Donut
210
18
16
40
800
McDonald’s Hash Browns
130
14
8
0
330
Subway Veggie Delight
200
37
2.5
0
500
Taco Bell
Taco
170
12
10
30
330
Wendy’s Small French Fries
270
35
13
0
85

 

The Worst and Best of the Worst

Highest Calories 890Pizza Hut—Medium Stuffed Crust Cheese Pizza (2 slices)
Lowest Calories 35Boston Market—Steamed Veggies
Highest Carbohydrates (g) 0Pizza Hut—Medium Cheese Stuffed-Crust Pizza (2 slices)
Lowest Carbohydrates (g) 0Boston Market—1/4 White Meat, No skin, Without Wing
Highest Fat (g) 52Taco Bell—Taco Salad w/ Salsa
Lowest Fat (g) 0Baskin Robbins—Ice Daiquiri, Regular Scoup
Highest Cholesterol (mg) 250Burger King—Croissan’wich w/ Sausage, Egg, Cheese
Highest Cholesterol (mg) 250McDonald’s—Biscuit w/ Bacon, Egg, Cheese
Lowest Cholesterol (mg) 0Plenty of items with no Cholesterol, such as plain baked potato, steamed veggies, salads without dressing, water
Highest Sodium (mg) 2,180Pizza Hut—Medium Stuffed Crust Cheese Pizza (2 slices)
Lowest Sodium (mg) 10Baskin Robbins—Ice Daiquiri, Regular Scoop

 

And the big looser is… Pizza Hut. It ranked No. 1 on three of the Worst of the Worst lists. And that’s no great achievement!

Ok, so now you know that what seemed “good” (e.g., chicken, turkey, fish) is actually bad when prepared the fast food way, in terms of calories, fat, carbohydrates, cholesterol and sodium content. And you also know that what these chains serve up as “good for you” food is as boring as a collection of ballpoint pen tops. But you’ve just got to eat fast food because time and money are rooting for the dark side. So where does that leave us…

Well, here are some tips, if you absolutely MUST eat fast food:

  1. Go for the salads, veggies, potatoes (no sour cream or bacon)
  2. Broiled is better than fried
  3. Never eat anything breaded
  4. Deep fried is out of the question
  5. Water is the only drink for you
  6. Hold the salt, there’s plenty already in there
  7. No desert, thank you.

But the real issue here is being responsible and taking control of your own health and wellness… and by extension, your longevity. How about working on time management and money allocation? How about preparing your lunch the night before and brown bagging it a couple days a week? Then, with the money you’ve saved on food, and the time you’ve saved going to the death chain, you can treat yourself to a better-for-you meal at a nicer restaurant with more choices.

In the end, the fast food restaurants and the doctors you’ll see for your cholesterol, blood pressure, diabetes and cancer don’t give a damn about you. It’s only you and the ones that love you who care. And if you don’t care enough about yourself, then how about taking care of No. 1 for the people who love you?

So it’s time again to eat and a decision is eminent. You can easily choose the fast food road to death. Or you can make the lifestyle change necessary to extend yourself a healthy and happy life. It’s your choice.

—Dr. Mark Wiley

Vigorous Exercise Increases Risk of Heart Disease

In my search for the best in holistic medicine I have traveled the globe and spent time with healers of all types: shamans, psychic surgeons, qigong masters, faith healers, herbalists, bone setters… you name it.

While studying a method of qigong known as zhan zhuang (pile standing) in Asia, my teacher told me something very strange. He said: “This qigong exercises forces you to stand still and not move for a long time. Because of this, your energy will increase, your body will warm, and your muscles will strengthen. But you will not damage your joints from excessive movement, nor tax your heart through robust movement, nor damage the lungs through too rapid respiration.”

I have to say that I had trouble swallowing this last part and for the past 15 years I have been trying to reason out in my mind: why not increase heart rate and respiration? After all, isn’t the entire fitness industry in the Western world based on elevating heart rate, increasing lung capacity and burning calories from sweating and muscle strength development? Well, like with so many other things, it looks like the ancient Chinese knew what they were talking about.

Recent research coming out of New York University Medical Center suggests that the more often one engages in vigorous exercise the greater their risk of developing atrial fibrillation (AF). AF is a condition characterized by irregular, rapid heart rate, which affects people in many ways from simple fainting to heart failure and stroke.

But isn’t this always the way? First something is bad for you, then good for you, then bad for you again. Don’t raise the heart rate doing vigorous exercise, said the ancient Daoist masters. Train hard and break a sweat and elevate the heart, said the masters of sport science. Sweating and elevated heart rate lead to heart disease, now say the academics—but with more tangible and less metaphoric examples for the whys of it.

Odd thing is; there are always two sides to every coin. It’s not always so easy as good vs. bad, but the degree of good vs. bad on a continuum depending on who you are and where your health condition is. For relatively healthy people with no serious biological health issues, exercise has been proven time and again to balance the body and stave off potentially life-threatening diseases, like obesity and diabetes. However, if on the other hand you do have unrecognized heart disease, then exercise may cause you to die from sudden heart attack. And the leading cause of exercise-related death among high-level athletes is coronary heart disease!

Before you decide that you do or don’t have heart disease, there’s more to the study that is important for you to know. In the study there were exercise and non-exercise groups. Men who exercised long or hard enough to break a sweat five to seven days per week actually increased their chances of developing AF by an enormous 20 percent! And the non-exercise control group? No increase in their propensity for AF.

The big surprise is this: the participants who were in the “break a sweat” group were deemed to be “healthy,” and made up of men under the age of 50 who run on a regular basis. Common sense would say the opposite results should be the case. But no, the study clearly shows that the incidence of atrial fibrillation in men who jog increased by a massive 50 percent! And it was up by 74 percent in young men who break a sweat on a regular basis!

By now you may be worried about your own condition. However, it seems that AF is common and even expected in so-called healthy athletes. This is the case because cardiomegaly (enlargement of the heart) is so common in athletes that doctors don’t even tell athletes they have a condition that can lead to heart disease. Yes, in normal, non-athletic people, if their electrocardiograms showed these same signs the docs would be very concerned and let them know.

The long and short is this: the essence of the study indicates that breaking a sweat on a regular basis is bad for your heart. And history shows that marathoners and other top athletes die at a young age as a result of heart disease. And in China, where tai chi and qigong are practiced by millions, the rate of heart disease and young heart-related deaths is among the world’s lowest.

No wonder slow-burn exercises like walking, yoga, tai chi and qigong are considered as the safest and most effective exercises around the world. And the world is a whole lot bigger than the “experts” in the United States that get all the press.

—Dr. Mark Wiley

Bad Research or Media Lies? The Problem with Conflicting Health Information

We don’t know why, but poor health information surrounds us everywhere. Some of it is just down right lies. And the general public has no way of knowing if what they hear, read or see is authentic or bogus.

Is it the media sensationalizing information for a “compelling story?” Is it government agencies in cahoots with some industry looking to quash the competition? What if it’s the companies themselves misrepresenting their goods? Then again, it could be simple ignorance.

I’d like to share an item with you that recently came to my attention. A patient of mine told me about an article on acupuncture she had read in a major newspaper. She said that the article was positive toward acupuncture and mentioned that it is very effective for certain diseases. It also noted that acupuncture was being taken seriously by physicians of Western medicine—and many were now studying it. So far, so good.

But the article went on to say that given the trials conducted by these M.D.s, the only thing important to acupuncture was the insertion of the needles—anywhere on the body! So according to their reports, patients got better by mere virtue of a needle or needles being inserted into their bodies at random locations.

Ridiculous!

This is not the first time I have heard such claims made by physicians trying to dismiss 3,000 years of Chinese medical history, case studies and theory. It’s their way of saying Chinese medicine is not only childlike but its efficacy is based solely on the placebo effect.  This was the understanding I walked away with years ago after seeing a documentary on the subject hosted by Alan Alda.

In this documentary, a physician treated a patient with an illness using a single acupuncture point. The patient felt better. The next week the same patient was treated using a different acupuncture point. Again, the patient felt better. And I remember thinking, “Of course the patient feels better. Both points selected are indicated for her problem.” But the show’s message was: acupuncture must work on the placebo principle since both points worked.

The theory of Chinese medicine is based on relationships in the body between organs, fluids, oxygen, thoughts, etc. And since there are many causes for any given disease and many associated signs and symptoms, to be truly effective the acupuncturist must select acu-points that address not only the main problem, but also the symptoms and secondary problems.

Thus, one could use the “horary” acu-point for that time—the point in the body holding the most qi (energy) for the current time period. Or, they could select the “master point” for the particular problem. Or a combination of points on different meridian channels to make an energetic current in the body. And so on.

So we practitioners say, “Of course many points work for any given illness. They are supposed to! But to get rid of the problem or alleviate the pain for the long term, the correct points must be selected and sequenced. Otherwise, acupuncture becomes a symptom-chasing method of masking problems in the short term. And this is not its domain.

Furthermore, the idea that a needle inserted into the body at any location and at any depth will heal the body is ludicrous. And here’s why.

Acupuncture is a science based on understanding etiology and pathogenesis of disease and the flow of qi (vital energy) in meridians (pathways) and specific location of points on those meridians. Proper depth of needle insertion must also be mastered as well as precise location of insertion. If the needle misses the exact location of an acu-point, the patient will not experience the “arrival of qi.” With no arrival of qi, there is no curative effect. If you miss the point but stay on the actual meridian channel, you will still receive an effect, but not as strongly as if you were to hit the point and channel concurrently. If you insert the needle too far you can puncture an organ or artery. If too shallow, you miss the channel and fail to activate the energy.

This theory and energy anatomy is so important that students of Chinese medicine spend years memorizing and training to locate point accurately, to needle them precisely. Moreover, acupuncturists become intimately familiar with several hundred different points, their effective uses en solo and in combination with others, and their contraindications. If these practices are not adhered to, patients would either fail to get better or they could get much worse.

And so the idea of inserting needles into the body at random to cure any illness or disease is pure fantasy. I’ve had patients tell me they went to another practitioner for their sinus problems, but felt no different after a dozen treatments. After one of my treatments, their sinuses were already draining. They ask me how this is possible when the same points were used by both of us. The answer: the former practitioner missed the points, even by a fraction in any direction, or by incorrect depth of needle insertion.

Acupuncture points are each named and numbered and indicated for specific problems. This is based on thousands of years of clinical experience and millions of case studies. And any acupuncturist will tell you that using points for stomachache will not help neuropathy; that points for acne will not help knee pain.

Thus, inserting needles at random locations to cure anything and everything becomes a non-issue. It is simply a false statement. If it was true, and I wish it were, then everyone who ever went to an acupuncturist would already be cured of all of their health problems. And each time you got a splinter, your body would suddenly be free of disease. For every bee sting, you would have one less arthritic joint.

So we are left with the problem of the media presenting to the public information on health that is bogus, misinformed and potentially hazardous. But is it the fault of the media to sensationalize a story by making it bipartisan? Or is the establishment offering the information and queering it for their benefit?

While the public has no real way of knowing, it is probably safe to assume both parties are at fault. In the end we can only take responsibility for our own health decisions. So if you are considering trying something for your health that is out of the mainstream, do as much research as you can, visit centers, talk to other patients, interview practitioners. Don’t rely on reports by opposing organizations or sensationalized media presentations. They’re only looking to push an agenda or make ratings.

Dr. Mark Wiley

Ancient Fighter of Rheumatoid Arthritis!

Each year, more than 2 million Americans suffer excruciating pain from inflamed and swollen joints, crippled hands that can’t hold a glass and even complete loss of some of their joints. The cause: Rheumatoid arthritis (RA). And within five years, 7 percent of these RA sufferers will be seriously disabled­­—and those are the ones who are currently on doctor-prescribed prescription drug therapy.

RA is a “systemic” disease. Simply put, it affects the whole body. Besides the tissues around the joints, RA also affects the glands of the eyes and mouth, the lining of the lungs and the pericardium (the protective area around the heart). It can reduce both red and white blood cell count, which lowers a person’s immune response to viruses and infections. Rheumatoid nodules (hard lumps) can appear around the elbows and fingers, frequently becoming infected. And the most serious complication is blood vessel inflammation, or vasculitis­­—impairment of the blood supply to the tissues, which leads to tissue death.

The traditional course of treatment has been a mixture of rest, exercise and a two-pronged drug therapy attack. While no one would dispute the benefits of relaxation and exercise, the drugs used to treat RA have serious side affects—possibly even death. And the sad fact is they do not even cure the disease! At best, the drugs can mask an RA victim’s pain or slow the disease’s progress. And even at that, they are not 100 percent effective.

Worldwide research toward finding the cause and cure for RA is very active. And at last the hard work appears to be paying off. Scientists at Case Western Reserve University (CWRU) carried out two impressive studies. The first shows that a cup of tea—specifically green tea—not only reduces the severity of RA but also, in some cases, prevents it all together! The second study offers even more promising hope as to the healing power of green tea for RA sufferers.

RA is non-discriminating as to whom it affects. Yet research is finding ethnic background and race do play a part in progression and outcome. It is likely, however, that this is due to societal factors rather than biological ones. RA is more prevalent in women than in men. Approximately three times as many women will suffer from this life-robbing disease than men. Any age group can be affected, but onset is usually around 40 to 60 years of age. There is a form of RA called juvenile rheumatoid arthritis which usually affects children under the age of 16.

The truly sinister aspect of this disease is the extreme difficulty in diagnosing it. There isn’t one test that doctors can use to determine if someone has RA. Nor do all cases display the same set of symptoms. There are cases (approximately 10 percent) where the patient has an immediate initial flare up. Usually, though, the progress of RA is slow and insidious. So when the person is finally diagnosed, she can have already suffered irreparable damage.

With the findings now coming out of CWRU, this agony may soon be a thing of the past. What has already been proven to combat cancer is now showing it can do the same for RA. Next to water, tea is the second most consumed beverage in the world. And if that tea is green, it might possibly save your life, which is a far cry better than damaging your body with synthetic drugs.

Toxicity of Bio-Med Treatments

The usual prescription for a patient diagnosed with RA is bed rest and a regulated exercise program. But the mainstay of treatment is a two-tiered drug therapy. The first tier consists of what is known as non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs). These range from common over-the-counter analgesics—pain medications like aspirin and Bufferin®—to similar prescribed drugs which do nothing but lower the level of pain. Meanwhile, the person’s body is still slowly crumbling away.

Once the cornerstone of RA therapy, NSAID usage is declining because these drugs have been found to be more toxic than once believed. A recent study from the University of Pennsylvania Medical Center found that some of the new NSAIDs just recently approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) might increase the risk of heart attacks, strokes and other harmful cardiovascular problems! Additionally, almost all NSAIDs can cause serious gastrointestinal side effects—including ulceration, bleeding and perforation—at any time and without warning.

Second-line drugs are called disease modifying anti-rheumatic drugs (DMARDs). These drugs actually address some of the causes of arthritic pain, such as inflammation and swelling. The belief is that their use may help prevent any further damage to the joints. But the price RA victims pay for this “cure” can be very high.

Among the least harmful side effects of the more commonly prescribed drug, Methodtrexate®, are headaches, upset stomach, loss of appetite and mouth sores. More dangerous is the drug’s potential to reduce the patient’s white and red blood cell counts and even to cause kidney damage! Cytoxan®, another commonly used DMARD, can increase the risk of developing leukemia and bladder cancer and can cause temporary or permanent sterility in both men and women!

From the work being conducted at CWRU and other laboratories, scientists are now learning that they don’t have to use a sledgehammer to knock out RA and that something as gentle and soothing as a cup of green tea can do the job nicely.

Nature’s Healing Bush

It’s old news that green tea has natural medicinal qualities. In 1211 A.D., the Buddhist monk Eisai wrote about the healing wonder of green tea in his book, Maintaining Health by Drinking Tea. Green tea, like all true tea, comes from the leaves of the camellia sinensis tree. And 90 percent of the world’s supply of tea is still produced in China.

What makes green tea so powerful is a chemical compound called polyphenol, which occurs naturally in plants and works as an antioxidant. Polyphenols work to protect the body from the oxidative stress that causes diseases. Specifically, the polyphenol epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG) is an extremely powerful antioxidant. In fact, EGCG antioxidant activity is more powerful than the antioxidants found in vitamins C and E.

After 15 years of working with green tea in his cancer research, Dr. Hasan Mukhtar started looking at the possible benefits this drink could have for people with RA. Realizing that both disorders were inflammatory in nature, his team began testing to see if green tea would have the same healing affect on RA as it does on cancer and cardiovascular disease.

His first paper, Prevention of Collagen-Induced Arthritis in Mice by a Polyphenolic Fraction of Green Tea, was presented to the National Academy of Sciences in April 2005. The results were astounding. Out of the 18 mice that were given green tea extract, 10 never developed any arthritic symptoms and symptoms in the remaining eight were a much milder form of arthritis. The amount of green tea given was the equivalent of drinking four cups a day. Lead author of the paper, Dr. Tariq M. Haqqi said, “Taken together, our studies suggest that a polyphenolic fraction from green tea that is rich in antioxidants may be useful in the prevention and onset and severity of arthritis.”

Three independent and controlled experiments were conducted. Using a widely accepted animal model that is very similar to RA, the mice were injected with collagen to induce arthritis. Two groups were studied for 40 days, while a third was examined for 85 days to verify that the green tea did not simply delay the onset of the disease.

Green tea, unlike the more widely used black version, is not fermented. Instead of crushing the tea leaves, thereby removing the polyphenols, green tea is first dried, and then heated. One teaspoon steeped in hot (not boiling) water contains anywhere from 100 to 200mg of EGCG. Milk should not be added, as it negates the tea’s beneficial properties. According to this study and others that were done for other diseases, two to four cups a day is usually recommended.

In a second study, researchers found further evidence that green tea is a powerful tool in the fight against RA. They discovered that the polyphenol ECGC could protect human articular chondrocytes from being destroyed in what is known as apoptosis, or cell suicide. These chondrocytes are cells that are responsible for releasing cartilage, the very thing that RA attacks. Dr. Haqqi said this exciting discovery, coupled with their earlier study, offers RA patients new hope. Though the existing damage RA may have caused will not be repaired, it seems green tea will aid in halting any further progress. And by sipping several cups of green tea every day, those who are genetically predisposed to RA may never have to suffer from its disastrous effects.

Human trials are currently being developed. In the meantime, however, Mukhtar and Haqqi both strongly encourage people to start drinking green tea. Nobody has shown any form of toxicity associated with tea, and with the tremendous amount of data showing its many beneficial qualities, it is a wise and wholesome preventive measure.

Yours in self-directed wellness,

—Dr. Mark Wiley

Is Non-Compliance Keeping You Sick?

It’s an all too common story. People suffer from long-term pain and illness, so they go see a doctor or healer for help and then expect the problem to somehow magically disappear without substantial effort on their part.

The problem is most health issues—especially chronic ones—almost always demand time and patient effort to correct. Some of you may disagree, as one of my patients did (let’s call her Laura).

Laura was excited about the migraine program I put her on and was garnering results for the first two weeks. Then she started to slip back to her old symptoms. I asked her if she was doing what I asked of her, every day. She said that no, her schedule did not permit her to do everything I asked. I told her we are partners in her health. I am the director and she is the doer. She disagreed. Here’s how part of the conversation went.

“As a healer, Laura, it is my job to educate you about your health concerns. It is my job to instruct you as to how lifestyle modifications including diet, exercise, sleep, thoughts and work habits can affect your health for better or worse. It is my job to do whatever I can manually to your body and energy to assist in the healing process.

“However, it is your job to help yourself. Eighty percent of this corrective effort and healing process is in your hands. You are responsible on a daily basis for doing what needs to be done to change your cycle of pain into a cycle of wellness.”

Her reply: “I disagree with you, Dr. Wiley! How can you expect a patient who is in pain to be able to do what you ask? We come to you for help, and we expect you to make us better. It is your job, not ours.”

Wow! Her last comment leads me to the point of this article. Non-compliance is not only a big issue, for some it is also a symptom.

When you are dealing with powerful pharma drugs, generally your pain or ill health symptom will go away as long as you take the meds. The pain or rash or high blood pressure may return, but if you take another pill, it again will disappear. And since it shows faster results, you would think that patient compliance with Western medicine should be better than that of alternative therapies. The opposite is true. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) reports that billions of dollars per year are lost in the health industry due to patients not filling their prescriptions.

They couldn’t even make a trip to the pharmacy! No wonder they don’t exercise, meditate or attend all of their acupuncture or chiropractic visits. Yet for those individuals seeking alternative therapies for their health concerns, compliance plays an even more central role.

For starters, remember that the money you spend may be your own. Most alternative practitioners do not (or cannot) accept insurance. So patient compliance involves hard-earned out-of-pocket cash being spent on treatment, herbs, supplements, gym memberships, personal trainers, life coaches and so on.

What’s more, most alternative practices view the body as a whole system and, as such, bringing the body back to wellness, back to wholeness, requires a synergistic approach. And this approach includes hands-on treatments—be they massage, acupuncture or Rolfing®—and also modifications of daily lifestyle and activities, as well as diet and herbal or supplemental requirements, and the carrying out of mind and/or body exercises.

One would think the person choosing natural methods of correcting imbalances in the body is ready and willing to do whatever they need to carry out the wellness protocol. But unfortunately, this is not always the case. 

I can’t tell you how many hundreds of times patients have said to me, “I’ve tried everything, and no one can help me. I did acupuncture a few times, and it didn’t work. I changed my diet, and that didn’t work…” etc. Yet after questioning, I find that they only attended three acupuncture treatments when the course of treatment was a minimum of 10. And that they “watched” their diet and decided they could just eat what they wanted “within reason,” when in fact the dietitian was clear that specific foods must be avoided and others should be added.

If you are not willing or able to carry out the directed healing approach, then how can you expect to get better from that approach?

If a patient requires a strengthening of their core muscles (abdomen, hips, low back) and are also told that they absolutely must refrain from drinking caffeine and consuming dairy products, they must do it. There is nothing in the world any healer can do to make this happen for them.

When chronic back pain is due to weak muscles or a muscle imbalance, it is only the patient who can strengthen those muscles. If too much caffeine in the diet causes headaches, it is the patient alone who must remove that substance from her diet. It is not ok to have just "that one cup" in the morning and to skip the gym when you don’t feel up to it. It’s causing your pain and making you sick!

It couldn’t possibly be more obvious. Many health problems are partly (and often mostly) self-induced. This means that people cause their own problems, or at least aggravate them or do things to prevent them from being corrected. 

So I’m afraid I found it difficult to sympathize with Laura. She refused to do what was asked of her for her own benefit, yet complained she was not seeing the results she expected, despite the fact, for the first few weeks, she did most of what was asked of her and had experienced definite relief.

With this in mind, I have learned to ask patients a new question when I conduct their initial examination: “Will you do what is asked of you to help yourself correct your problem?” If not, then non-compliance becomes one of the symptoms I try to correct—mostly through patient education.

In closing, let me offer this advice to people seeking alternative therapies. If you are willing to try something different, then be just as willing to take personal responsibility for your own health and wellness to carry it out. When you are instructed to do certain things, please do them. If you don’t take the advice of the wellness practitioner how can you expect your health to improve? If you don’t feel better, and you have not done what is asked of you, don’t blame the practitioner or the modality. You can only hold yourself responsible for letting yourself down. 

Nobody cares about your health and well-being more than you do. You are the one who must live with your health issues every day. Therefore, it is only you who can “fix” them. The acupuncturist, chiropractor, massage therapist, personal trainer and dietitian are simply offering assessment and guidance. It falls on your shoulders to put that knowledge and those programs into practice to make a difference in your life.

Come on, you can do it!

Yours in self-directed wellness,

Dr. Mark Wiley

Chinese Herbs for Irritable Bowel Syndrome

Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) affects more than 37 million Americans today. That’s approximately 18 percent of U.S. citizens, most of them in their 20s and 30s. IBS presents either as diarrhea or constipation and there are both mental-emotional components and food components to the syndrome.

The theories of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) hold that there are several “patterns of imbalance” that can cause IBS. These patterns are differentiated by sets of symptoms and are thus treated with different patent herbal formulas.

In terms of the mental-emotional causes of IBS, TCM distinguishes several syndromes. “Liver qi stagnation” is among the most common cause wherein the stress or emotional upset “stagnates” the liver energy, slowing the release of blood and overheating the spleen and stomach.

This imbalance is made worse with emotions and stress, and its symptoms include alternating diarrhea and constipation, irritability, depression, mood swings, tension and spasm in the neck and upper back, epigastric pain, abdominal pain and/or bloating, hypochondriac pain, cold fingers and toes.

An effective Chinese patent herbal formula for this type of problem is Chai Hu Shu Gan Wan (Bupleurum Soothe Liver Teapills).

Another syndrome is known as “liver qi invading the spleen.” With this syndrome there is a marked emotional component that worsens with stress and emotional upset.

Symptoms include abdominal pain and cramping, irritability, anger, moodiness, depression and recurrent, explosive diarrhea. The diarrhea here is a physiological response of the body to prolonged, repeated or severe emotional and psychological stress. After the diarrhea episode the person usually feels better, if only temporarily.

A strong herbal formula for this is known as Tong Xie Yao Feng Wan (Calm Wind Teapills).

Another form of IBS—predominate diarrhea type—is known as “liver qi stagnation with food or damp stagnation in the intestines.” This syndrome presents with indigestion, flatulence, belching, acid reflux, abdominal distension and pain, tendency to constipation, sluggish bowels or alternating bowel habits.

This type of IBS is typical among office workers who are habitually stressed, overworked and sedentary, leading to a slowing down of peristalsis due to hyper tonicity in the gastrointestinal system. Chinese herbs, such as Mu Xiang Shun Qi Wan (Saussurea Qi Promoting Pills), help this syndrome.

The dietary side of IBS is two-fold, concerning both what you do and do not eat. A diet that is high in sugar, alcohol, caffeine, dairy and fatty foods and low in water, fiber and alkaline foods will cause constipation by drying and food and damp stagnation in the stomach and intestines.

Thirty grams of dietary fiber, 2 quarts of water and plenty of green leafy vegetables every day should re-balance the problem. But you must also slow down on and ideally discontinue the intake of foods and beverages that dehydrate and also cause dampness (phlegm-rheum) in the body.

If you have access to a TCM practitioner or acupuncturist, a proper diagnosis can be made and the proper syndrome-specific herbs can be advised. If not, then consider IBS as a syndrome composed of a set of symptoms and see which from the above you fit best into. Then search herbal formulas on the Internet to read more about their actions and any possible side effects.

Whether you choose the Chinese herbal approach or not, dietary changes are a must. IBS is a concern that is intimately connected to the foods we eat and forget to eat. And a little change can go a long way!

—Dr. Mark Wiley

Trying Alternative Medicine Is A Waste Of Time!

It must have been 27 years ago that I had my first experience with so-called “alternative medicine.” I was 13 and had been suffering chronic daily headaches and mid-back pain for half-a-dozen years. I was already seeing Philadelphia’s best mainstream medical professionals, taking a plethora of prescription meds, being put through dozens of tests, scans, protocols…. to no avail.

My father (who is an osteopath) then took me to see a chiropractor, and do you know what happened? Within minutes my back and neck felt so much looser! My restricted movement was returned within normal ranges. And I also started taking natural supplements. Over all, it was an amazing feeling…

I went back several times that week for adjustments and, at home, attempted the exercises I was instructed to do. But the pain, and my suffering, returned and continued on. This is not surprising. In fact, it is a common occurrence when people try alternative therapies.

Why This Happens
The problem is that many people turn to alternative therapies as a last resort. They have had little success with mainstream medicine, have become desperate and now are expecting a miracle cure or at least a fast turnaround of their signs and symptoms.

While I served as director of the Integrated Energy Medicine healing center in Philadelphia, I did thousands of examinations, consultations and treatments using alternative therapies and herbal medicines. I would have been delighted to offer patients both a miracle cure and fast results… if such were possible. And many times I was successful in “curing” someone in short order. But with other cases, the sheer depth, difficulty and timeline of the problem made that task impossible.

Let me explain why some patients experience great success while others simply have little to no change in their signs and symptoms and find alternative therapies to be a waste of time.

A Different Model
In general there is a vast philosophical and procedural difference in the approaches of mainstream medicine and alternative therapies. Mainstream bio-medicine uses a disease-based model of health. That is, patients see their primary care physician when they are ill, the doctor diagnoses the illness (disease) and then prescribes a protocol of curing that disease. Often there is no cure… but pain and other signs and symptoms are “managed” by prescription medication and/or surgery.

Alternative therapies, on the other hand, work from a wellness model. That is, the focus is on returning the body to homeostasis (balance) and maintaining that balance to ensure good health and long life. They proactively accomplish this through diet, exercise, mind/body techniques, herbs and supplements, massage and so on. All are methods of alleviating pain, illness and disease by restoring balance to the body. If you have back pain and take a supplement, the pain will probably remain… for a while. But if you follow a protocol of regular supplementation with safe stretches and perhaps acupuncture or chiropractic care… the body will rebalance and the issues will resolve. But this takes time.

Generally speaking, many alternative therapies aim at rebalancing the body to restore health. Chinese medicine uses herbs to balance blood, energy, body fluids and organ function. Acupuncture uses needles to open meridian lines and correct energy imbalances. Chiropractic uses manual adjustments to realign the spine to allow correct functioning of the nervous system.

Don’t Try… Do!
So why does the title of this article claim that alternative therapies are a waste of time? Well, actually, they are not. But the “trying” of alternative therapies most certainly IS. You see, there is a difference between “trying” and “doing.” Trying means “you didn’t do” something. Let’s examine some common statements I’ve heard in my practice, and what they really mean.

Statement: I tried to call you and cancel my appointment. Translation: I did not call you.

Statement: I tried acupuncture, but it didn’t help. Translation: After a few visits I was not cured and so decided not to continue and follow the protocol to the end.

Statement: I’ve been really trying to eat right and do my exercises. Translation: I eat right once in a while, and I exercise when I remember to do it.

Trying means not doing. And if you are not fully engaged in the doing of alternative therapies… seeing them through to the end… following the protocol… doing what you have been instructed to do… then they will not “work.” Not because they failed you, but because YOU failed you.

You see, the therapies themselves are not the problem (unless you have chosen to follow the wrong therapy for your health issue). They are also not time-consuming. Rather, it is the body that takes time “to allow" the method to take hold and effect change and reestablish balance. But this takes time because the body likes to stay where it is, as it requires little effort to do so. After repeated treatments, or a period of time spent doing exercises or taking herbal supplements, the body finally realizes that it is actually easier to be in a state of homeostasis (balance) than to exist in a state of imbalance. It then “lets go” of its old unhealthy holding pattern. Now it can fully embrace a healthy pattern, and positive change can take effect.

Think of it like working out at the gym. If you are out of shape and lift weights you will be sore. But little by little you will be less sore after the exercise. If you only lift weights once in a while, your muscle size, shape and density will not visibly change.  But if you stick with it (“do” it), you will notice your body changing in positive ways.

Internally this is what is happening with alternative treatments. Each day, each treatment, each bottle of supplements, each breathing exercise and dietary change brings you one day closer to the body allowing them to take hold and the body stepping out of its own way to effect a cure.

They’re No Last Resort
The worst part is, people still look to alternative therapies as a last resort, and mainstream pharma drugs and surgery as a first choice. This is perverse. Using the big guns for the beginning of a problem (depending on severity) is ridiculous. My feeling on maintaining a balance between mainstream and alternative medicine is this: Everyone needs to get a physical each year, including blood and urine tests. If a problem is found they should seek alternative, non-toxic, non-invasive methods to balance the body. After a period of time they should have more tests run to see if the problem is better or worse. If better, continue with alternative medicine. If worse, and in the red zone of health, then turn to mainstream medicine for help. Not the other way around.

As it stands, alternative practitioners tend to get chronic cases, and after years or decades of toxic drugs and surgeries have truly damaged their patients’ body. And they are left to balance these bodies, in short time, at low costs and with high hopes.

It’s time people reframe their minds on this issue. So the next time you feel un-well, seek out alternative therapies first. But you must DO it and not simply TRY it. It takes time, effort, discipline, but in the end being balanced means being healthy.

And taking personal responsibility to do what needs doing—and not depending on a doctor to do it for you—is the greatest gift you could ever give to yourself.

—Dr. Mark Wiley

Seven Ways to Prevent Chronic Headaches

According to the World Health Organization (WHO) there are two headache types and 13 headache classifications. If you have been seeing a doctor for treatment or have been doing some research then you’ve probably come across a number of terms, like migraine headache, cluster headache, tension-type headache, allergy headache, sinus headache and so on.

Despite the advances in medical science, an astonishing 25 million Americans suffer from migraines! And a whopping nine out of 10 suffer from other headaches as part of their daily lives! The headaches are accepted as inevitable parts of life and sufferers swallow prescription drugs as a matter of habit, just as they brush their teeth without giving the action a second thought.

The problem is chronic headaches and migraines take their toll, not only on the body’s ability to maintain a state of homeostasis or wellness, but on the ability to think logically, see clearly and to feel and act appropriately. The impact all of this has on one’s quality of life is shattering: jobs lost, relationships ruined, motivation diminished and happiness disintegrated.

Not all headaches are the same. Not everyone experiences headaches and their symptoms the same way. The same trigger does not always trigger the same type of headache. What’s more, headaches encompass physical, physiological and emotional dimensions. In short, headaches are complex conditions that need a comprehensive approach to achieve their banishment.

Despite what you may have been told, the particular label you place on a headache is less important than taking a multi-pronged approach to returning your body to its natural, balanced state in which headaches are less likely to occur.

After personally suffering from painful migraines for nearly 30 years, I devised an “integrated mind/body approach” to prevent headaches of all kinds from taking hold in the body. Indeed, the key to ending headache pain is proactive avoidance of its causes rather than reactive treatment of its symptoms.
 
Major headache triggers include chemicals in food and beverages and even toxins in the body and air, as well as harboring stress and missing sleep. In order to reestablish cellular balance, one must remove the toxins and stressors that tax the body or learn to deal with them in new ways. For most people, this means a major lifestyle change. Here are seven ways to start:

Be Mindful of Dietary Choices
Eat more fresh items and fewer processed foods. Also, try eliminating suspected food triggers one by one from your diet for two to three weeks and monitor what happens with your headaches. Common culprits include cheeses (such as Brie, feta and Gorgonzola), pickles, chocolate, dairy products (goat as well as cow), alcohol (beware the notorious red wine headache), processed meats (bologna, pepperoni, salami, hot dogs, etc.), raw onions, peanuts, raisins and products that contain MSG.

Stay Hydrated with Plenty of Water
When we become dehydrated, the digestive system, lungs, liver and kidneys can no longer do their jobs as effectively, and this can lead to headaches.

Drink plenty of water every day to help your body expel hazardous chemical residues and toxic build-up. Water cleanses the colon, flushes the liver and kidneys and empties the bowels. I recommend two quarts of bottled or filtered water daily. Please note: caffeinated coffees and teas, carbonated sodas and sugar-filled fruit drinks don’t count toward that total!

Break the Patterns of Stress
Stress, in its many forms, is a leading cause of headaches. So to control headaches, you must break the pattern of stress. Fortunately, there are many ways to go about doing this.

To reduce tension and tightness in the shoulders, neck and back, which can lead to headaches, see a massage therapist or do daily gentle stretches. A chiropractor can work with misalignments that can occur as a result of constantly tensed muscles. I also recommend meditation and deep breathing to quiet the mind and relax the body’s nervous system. Many people benefit from tai chi, yoga, qigong or other gentle exercises that stretch the body and soothe the soul. Find whatever stress relievers work for you—it could be walking, biking, ice skating or whatever.

Taking a multiple B vitamin at least twice daily also helps fight the stress reflex. For many, a magnesium supplement may be useful as well.

Take Deep Breaths
In addition to stress relief, deep breathing ensures a continuous flow of fresh oxygen into the body. Many people’s breathing is too shallow, which means they don’t take in enough oxygen. To get more oxygen into your system I recommend progressive relaxation.

Lie down comfortably with your arms at your sides, and inhale as you tense your toes. Hold for a moment and then exhale as you consciously relax them. Gradually and slowly continue up the rest of the body, mindfully tensing and relaxing the feet, calves, thighs, etc., as you inhale and exhale.

Get Sufficient Sleep
Everyone knows we get cranky and headachy when we don’t get enough sleep. To prevent headaches it’s essential to establish deep and constant sleep patterns.

If you must drink caffeine, avoid it six hours before bed. Also avoid overly stimulating activities such as intense exercise. Stop working at the computer at least an hour or so before bed. Instead, establish a regular, soothing routine, such as taking a warm bath and reading a good book before retiring.

Engage in Regular Exercise
Exercise reduces stress, releases endorphins and dopamine, improves blood flow, works through muscle tension and keeps the body firm and supple. Engaging in simple, regular activities such as brisk walks and simple stretches will go a long way toward preventing headaches, as well as improving health overall.

Exercise at the same time every day, buddy up with a friend or group for accountability and support, and consider a trainer (if only for a few sessions) to help you establish a safe, personalized program. Even very easy, do-it-yourself stretches are beneficial for headache prevention. For example, try the chin-to-chest exercise. To stretch and release tension in the shoulders and upper back, use your hands to gently push the back of the head forward until your chin touches your chest. Repeat several times daily.

Know Your Number
Most chronic headache sufferers can’t seem to find definitive relief from their pain by simply adhering to the above-mentioned suggestions. Unfortunately, the problem is more complex and what I tell patients is that the problem is compounded by multiple trigger combinations.

For me, my trigger number is four within a 24-hour period. I can have coffee, milk and sweetener with no problem, but if I get stressed: Bang! I can eat a hotdog on a white bun, drink a beer and I am fine. But get up with less than eight hours sleep and a headache will show itself. So, when living a lifestyle based on prevention it is important that you know your number… that magic digit that indicates how many triggers you can have in a day or week before the headache returns. And with that knowledge and the right amount of discipline you can keep the pain away forever.

With the above lifestyle changes you can reduce the frequency and severity of your headaches. The time to make the change is now. I wish you the best in this life-changing endeavor.

Yours in self-directed wellness,

—Dr. Mark Wiley