A few years ago, the Attorney General of New York ordered Wal-Mart, Target, Walgreens, and CVS to remove ALL herbal supplements from store shelves. He prematurely claimed that testing showed nearly all of them to be missing the herbs listed on their labels.
Really, what do you expect from a big box or chain store where the motto is “Always low prices”?
“At the intersection of cheap and quick”, more accurately.
Convenience is King
It helps to remember why these stores exist. They’ve figured out that your attention span as a consumer is short. Lots of products and brands are competing for your dollars. So, you’re likely to make a choice based on what’s in front of you at any given moment, NOT based on hours of researching for the best quality (or price) product.
When I shop at a gas station and see a hot breakfast sandwich smelling so yummy, I know I’m getting a poor substitute for a real breakfast. But I buy it anyway, because I’m in a hurry and it’s convenient. I don’t have time to sit down for a restaurant or home-cooked meal, so I’m sacrificing quality for something that’s more important to me – convenience. In that moment, it’s good enough.
Good enough is ok when it comes to the occasional meal on-the-run. But for something you take every day to promote vitality and strength and health, it’s worthwhile to give more thought. To ask around.
When you shop at big box stores for health products, you have to know that health is not the business they’re known for. Their business is making money selling household and personal items you want at cheap prices.
Giving Us What We Want
Americans want herbal supplements, to the tune of $8 Billion in 2018. That number is growing rapidly for lots of reasons; mainly, an expanding public awareness of the human and financial expense that pharmaceutical meds have laid on us.
You want healthier alternatives, and you’re turning to dietary and herbal supplements in record numbers. Big business has picked up on these trends and served it up on a platter. There it is, the Echinacea you saw on your Facebook feed last week, touted by a doctor in scrubs, and it’s only $5.99. Why not try it?
After all, it’s safe. Some federal body somewhere is keeping herbal supplement manufacturers accountable for quality, right? Yes. There are regulations governing the claims made on labels and the processes of manufacturing itself.
It’s Not That Simple
But like every industry, some manufacturers take every cost-cutting shortcut they can get away with, and others stake their reputation on quality by pulling out all the stops. They take steps beyond what’s legally required to identify and ensure the purity of the plant matter in their products.
Those are the companies I want to stay in business. And you probably do, too. So why do some consumers accept questionable quality from their herbal supplements? Why is it ok to buy herbal products from a discount store that’s all about price-slashing?
I ran this by one of my clients, and here’s how she explained this phenomenon.
You have a mental checklist of what it means to be healthy. And that list includes maintaining peak performance so you can continue to “go, go, go”.
Take a daily vitamin. Check.
See the doctor once a year. Check.
Five servings of vegetables. Check.
Beyond the act of checking off healthy activities, there’s very little thought given to whether these practices have any value for you personally. If the TV doctor says its good, and your sister-in-law says it works, then it must be good for you.
It’s hard to blame people for checking boxes and choosing cheap. Access to reliable information about what’s effective and safe is hard to come by.
Too often, information about herbal supplements is provided only by the companies selling them– NOT an impartial way to judge reliability.
So what’s a discerning consumer to do?
Here are 5 Ways you can sort out herbal supplement quality:
- ASK your friends, coworkers and relatives where they buy their supplements and why.
- BE SKEPTICAL of pyramid and multi-level products sales. The products may be good quality, but they’re often very overpriced.
- Save your money and EAT THE FOOD EQUIVALENT. Concentrates and juices are easy and convenient, but they usually don’t contain any of the fiber and other materials that maximize the nutrition of that healthy food. Fresh blueberries beat blueberry supplements, any day.
- TALK TO YOUR HERBALIST. Their clients have taken lots of herbal products in liquid, capsule, tablet, fresh and dried plant forms, and they’ll be aware of brand names of the highest quality herbal supplements.
- FORM A RELATIONSHIP with an herbal or holistic provider. Get to know them, so when you need help making healthy choices, they can recommend alternatives to fit your budget and personal needs.
You can’t send a sample of every dietary or herbal product you take to a lab to verify its authenticity. And you don’t have to.
Working with a professional herbalist means you have the best chance of finding herbs that are appropriate, safe, and effective. Save yourself time and money.
Set up an appointment with Mo. Check!
How to Choose An Herbal Remedy That Works
If You Were a Plant, What Kind Would You Be?
Remember that creative, balanced, colorful, self you used to be? Yeah, me neither some days.
A couple kids, a couple jobs, and way too many take-out dinners have come between you and your younger, energetic self. It’s time for a deep Spring cleaning.
Before you jump on the juice cleanse bandwagon, consider taking a more radical step for deeper health gains.
Below the Surface
Americans pay millions every year for cleansing products that claim to boost the body’s power to ‘de-toxify’ and purge toxic waste.
Call me a skeptic. But 3 days of juicing and pooping are a pretty inadequate attempt to fix a lifetime of bad habits and all those environmental chemicals, absorbed and excreted along with your daily body waste.
What if you could really clean house? Get into those corners that never see the light of day. Yeah, deep tissue. But even deeper than that. Clean out all that toxic emotional waste that’s been dragging you down.
As Spring approaches, we come into the Wood element season, according to Chinese 5-element theory. Your Wood element organs are your Liver and Gallbladder. Some pretty fierce emotions come up when these organs are out of balance.
How do you know if your Liver or Gallbladder are out of harmony as Spring approaches?
9 Signs That You Need a Liver Cleanse:
- You feel stuck and mildly depressed – you feel the need for change, but can’t take the first step.
- You’ve lost your sense of direction or purpose in life – you’re asleep at life’s wheel.
- People you love and trust often feel the brunt of your anger and arrogance.
- You’re always making excuses for not taking steps to achieve your dream in life.
- You feel especially irritated and crabby at everyone around you right now, for no particular reason.
- It’s been years since you did something creative – write, paint, sing, act, dance.
- You’ve been stubborn, inflexible, and unwilling to adapt to a new situation.
- Black, brown, and gray are your main wardrobe colors (even if they ARE slimming).
- Resentments over old injustices keep coming between you and others.
Spring Cleaning Your Mind and Heart
Instead of feeling powerless and stuck, open the emotional gates with a gentle, 2-week Liver cleanse. Purge your body’s hidden waste and revive sluggish emotions. Adopt easy, seasonal food guidelines that align your body, mind, and soul, with Spring.
Start thinking of yourself as a balanced human, with all the qualities of a healthy Wood element – creative, forward-thinking, forgiving, flexible, vibrant.
Even if you’ve never thought about cleansing before, there’s a healthy plan that fits your lifestyle. Contact Natural Healing Omaha at firstname.lastname@example.org for a personalized, guided cleanse appointment.
Spring back to the old you this season.
Read more about seasonal cleansing: Wake up Your Liver This Spring!
Tony and I meet in a small room once a year for a couple hours, and what we do is enough to satisfy both of us for another year. I feel so good after we’ve spent time together. We don’t waste time on small talk. We get right down to business.
Tony is my health insurance agent.
We get along great, because we agree completely on one very important thing – the best way to lower health costs is to take care of yourself.
Taking His Own Advice
Tony’s an ambitious guy, and he makes it a priority to keep my health insurance cheap. He’s gotta make a living, just like me, so he makes it his job to keep me happy. I’m not his typical client, as you can imagine.
And he’s not your typical insurance agent. We had our annual insurance review recently, and I noticed that Tony, who is 70 years old, looks as good or better than he did last year. From the smile on his face to his enthusiasm for work, he’s one of those rare people you know you’re gonna like right when you meet ’em.
“Did you lose weight?” I asked him.
“About 12 pounds,” he answered in his typical no nonsense, matter-of-fact tone. Then he excitedly shared that he recently took up practicing yoga at home 4 days a week. “I want to improve my flexibility and strength so I can keep golfing 3 days a week.”
Can you believe this guy?
My 70-year old insurance agent is practicing downward dog to his “Yoga for Wimps” CD 2 hours a week, between a 15–minute recumbent bicycle warm-up and 15 more minutes of stretching and hamstring work.
The Power of Inertia
For the same reason that I want my healthcare providers to be the picture of health, I appreciate that my health insurance agent practices what he preaches. And does he ever.
What keeps a guy like that working – and working out – at his age? It’s like that law of physics – an object in motion tends to stay in motion. His philosophy is “use it or lose it”.
People fascinate me, especially the ones who live in ways contrary to popular habits. On my morning walk one day, I greeted this guy who had paused his daily jog momentarily to pick up trash from the street. During our brief conversation, I discovered he’s long past retirement but still teaches at a local university Math department.
What compels him to jog in his 70’s? “You gotta keep moving to feel young and healthy.” Today, after our usual quick exchange of hellos, he proudly announced that he’d beaten his one and only health problem (insomnia) by quitting soft drinks. This guy totally gets it – he’s exercising his power to choose health.
Uphill Battle Worth Fighting
I’m 52 next year, and staying in shape and good health takes a bigger commitment than it did 20 years ago. This is truer every year.
Up through my 40’s, I could take a 45-minute walk 5 days a week and that kept me at a consistent weight, without too many reasons to see a doctor, other than yearly checkups.
These days, I need twice as much exercise, plenty of daily herbs, and I have to be on guard about everything I put in my mouth. Weight goes on SO easily and comes off only with serious struggle. And it’s not just me. Women around my age tell me this every day.
I watched my dad exercise every day until he died jogging at age 60 – 15 years longer than his father and brothers lived. He set a good example, and I decided a long time ago that I wouldn’t quit exercising, no matter how lousy I felt.
Walking, yoga, Qi Gong and hiking make me feel energetic. When I feel good, I’m likely to eat well and feel optimistic. I try not to resent the time it takes. Of course, sometimes I’d rather be spending it on my butt watching TV or eating vanilla sugar wafers. Man, I love sugar wafers. But they don’t love me.
Some days it’s a struggle and some days I look forward to the time outside or on the mat, sweating and swearing at my yoga teacher under my breath – “Oh pleeeease, not another plank”.
The Lesser of Two Evils
Staying healthy as we age takes a bigger chunk of our time and attention. And some days that kind of sucks.
But it doesn’t suck as much as being sick all the time.
If you need help getting well enough to start working out, let’s talk. Adaptogen herbs can restore the strength and energy you’ve lost to chronic illness or poor lifestyle habits. You can read more about adaptogen herbs in this earlier blog.
The next time I see Tony will be around Christmas next year. And that’s soon enough. He’s already given me the gift that keeps on giving – a cheaper monthly premium than last year and a good reminder to keep moving.
I’m planning for plenty of healthy years ahead of me.
Related Post: An Ounce of prevention and a Pinch of Attention
LouAnn suffers from painful arthritis and persistent fatigue.
LouAnn’s been coming to see me for a year, but around 6 months ago, her progress started to level off. When this happens, sometimes it’s because the client is tired of taking herbs and constantly having to monitor their health habits and practices.
Getting healthy when you’ve been struggling with chronic illness can be a chore. It’s like a full-time job with no vacation.
But LouAnn takes her personal health seriously. She never takes a day off from the herbal and lifestyle plan we put together.
Definitely not a quitter.
No one to blame
But something happened. She stopped improving. For a month or two, whenever she visited me, we’d try to sort out why no changes were happening.
“Did you stop taking your herbs?” No.
“Has your life been extra stressful lately?” No, not particularly.
“Are you still exercising?” Yep, still at it.
Do you ever feel like just when you have a grasp on something, you have to return to the basics and re-learn what you thought you knew?
It was so tempting to take her lack of progress personally.
Digging deep for answers
Instead of blaming and quitting, or seeing another practitioner, LouAnn talked about her stalled progress and asked if I had anything else in my bag of tricks. She wanted me to go deeper, talk to my colleagues for ideas, do some research.
Rather than guessing based on what I already knew, I questioned what information was missing. Then I leaned into the complexity of her health history. Outside our regular appointments, I had hours of extra work to do.
I set her file aside and in my down time, I dug deep into my herbal resources – professional books, textbooks, practitioner guides and Chinese Medicine philosophy – for answers.
It paid off.
Studying clients like LouAnn, with complicated health histories and unusual symptom patterns, has made me question my assumptions. And in the end, it’s rearranged what I understand about ALL of my clients.
I’m glad my practice is attracting clients with more complex concerns.
Otherwise, my clinical skills might get a little stale.
I might start to think I know everything.
Today, I’m back to blogging just long enough to tell you that I’m still here.
I’ve just been a little quiet lately. Questioning my assumptions.
Sharpening my herbalist skills. Coming up with a new plan for LouAnn.
Thanks for hanging in there with me…
Related post: Are You Listening Or Just Waiting Your Turn?
Lily was bursting with excitement when she returned for her second visit to my office. “Could those pills you gave me work really fast – I mean, like overnight?” she asked, only half-ready to believe my answer.
During Lily’s first appointment, she shared that since her first child was born, her PMS has been hellish. For a week before her period, her face, back, and chest breaks out in painful acne.
She braces herself for a 7-day migraine that forces her to miss work at least one or two days every month. The headaches are bad enough, but the breast tenderness and swelling make certain movements – like holding her daughter up close – very painful.
And then there’s the cramping.
These aren’t your ordinary ‘pass me the hot water bottle’ cramps you can wait out. We’re talking severe, put-me-out-of-my-misery muscle spasms. Over-the-counter pain medication barely takes the edge off, but Lily is afraid to take a dose large enough to make a difference.
It’s no wonder she was a little skeptical about the quick action from her herbal formulas. How can anything as gentle as a plant relieve such horrendous PMS?
Getting Comfortable with Natural Healing
Those gentle plants have been a reliable source of healing care for every culture that’s ever existed. Lily’s never seen the power of herbs growing up in her modern family. Today’s medicine is all she’s ever known.
Modern physiology, sprinkled with Chinese Medicine, explains how the Liver takes center stage in many PMS problems:
- Hormones that regulate your menstrual cycle are manufactured, regulated by, and excreted in the Liver
- At the same time, the Liver is very busy filtering out or metabolizing all the natural waste material circulating in the blood, including waste that comes in through food and fluids.
- The Chinese call your Liver ‘The General’ because of its commanding role in keeping blood (and hormones) moving in an orderly fashion.
- Anything that disrupts the smooth circulation of blood can interfere with menstrual cycles.
Your Liver is a fantastic, hard-working organ, but it can only take so much.
Pollutants in our air, water and food are a big source of strain on the Liver. So are heavy medication use, alcohol abuse, and fatty, fried foods, which disrupt the filtering mechanism, clogging up and slowing down the Liver’s waste removal functions.
Another Kind of Toxic
Lily has led a super clean life – no junk food, no drugs or alcohol, organic everything. She’s done a great job of protecting herself from outside stressors on the Liver. Strictly speaking, she’s a model client. So, what’s going on here?
At our first appointment, I asked Lily if she was in a nurturing and supportive relationship. Her answer helped us both understand the deep source of her pain.
For years, Lily has watched her husband’s gambling habit deplete their savings and nearly bankrupt them.
She’s ashamed of their situation, and keeps her worry, frustration and fear to herself. Whenever she tries to have a conversation about her concerns, she feels intimidated and manipulated by her spouse’s angry tone of voice. She feels trapped in this no-win situation.
Bottled Up Emotions
Just as pollutants, drugs and alcohol can impede the flow of blood through the Liver, unexpressed feelings take their own toll. The Liver holds the key to your creativity and free, healthy expression of emotions. What happens when you don’t speak your mind?
Anger. Frustration. Irritation. Depression.
Lily’s marriage to a gambling addict has given rise to a build-up of toxic emotions that have immobilized the free flow of energy through her body.
Without a free and easy flow of emotions, blood and Qi in the Liver become stagnant, leading to symptoms like:
- Painful and sharp or dull cramps
- Migraine headaches
- Depression and anxiety
- Clotted blood flow during periods
- Anger, frustration, and resentment
- Constipation and/or diarrhea
- Fibroids and cysts
- Skin eruptions like acne or rashes
- Breast tenderness and swelling or breast lumps
- The feeling of having a lump in the throat
- Erratic stools, bloating, and nausea
Notice how nearly all these symptoms describe something stuck – bloating, clots, constipation, swelling, cysts, stagnant emotions, intense pain?
Kiss Your Pain Good-bye
One answer to all this stuckness is to get moving. And one of the most enjoyable ways to keep the Liver energy moving is by having sex – but don’t take my word for it.
A neurologist at the University of Munster (Germany) published a study showing that sex relieves migraines in about two-thirds of sufferers. It’s a great example of how moving the pelvic organs decongests and breaks up congealed blood that causes pain.
Yoga, tai chi, and dance are other great ways to move stagnant blood, Qi and emotions, opening up your Liver’s energy flow for a more creative, happy life.
Find ways to communicate in difficult relationships by seeking counseling or reconnecting with activities you used to enjoy together. So much emotional pain can be avoided just by learning to speak your mind in a non-threatening way.
Roots and Shoots for Shooting Pain
Herbs like motherwort, dandelion root, cramp bark, lavender, white peony root, figwort, blue vervain (especially when there’s neck tension), and burdock root help smooth the flow of Qi through the Liver, activating movement of blood and fluid. Taking these and other herbs in the correct proportions can be tricky. An herbalist can assess which ones will offer you the safest short and long-term relief.
One of my favorite Chinese formulas for PMS is aptly named Free & Easy Wanderer [Xiao Yao San]. It unlocks the toxic emotions that become trapped when we feel unable to express ourselves. It releases pain and lifts mood, often relieving digestive stagnation along with trapped emotion.
Herbalism has so much to offer for all sorts of female concerns. You can get to the bottom of PMS pain with safe, natural, and effective relief – from Mother Nature herself.
Related Blog Posts in this Series:
Are You In Heavy Period Hell? 10 Herbs and 6 Foods for Relief
Is this you?
“My period is like clockwork – it comes every two weeks.”
“Seven days of hell, that’s what I call it.”
“It’s like a crime scene every time I go the bathroom.”
You don’t put up with horrible periods because you have some twisted relationship to pain and misery. You don’t know what else to do.
You’ve worked with your doctor, tried multiple combinations of hormones, maybe even put yourself through major or minor surgery looking for solutions.
The Queen of Period Problems
One of the most distressing and exhausting problems for women is heavy periods. What does heavy mean?
- Super absorbent tampons are a joke
- Backup pad protection is no guarantee you’ll contain the overflow, especially at night
- Embarrassing stains are so common that you never, EVER wear white pants
- You make frequent bathroom visits to check for leaks
Excessive bleeding can make it feel like the life is draining out of you, ounce-by-miserable-ounce. And often it comes with a crampy, dull, aching sensation, like your pelvic cavity is being turned inside out.
Now You See It, Now You Don’t
If you’re a client of mine, you’ve probably heard me talk about Qi [pronounced ‘chee’]. Qi is an elusive but vital energy source your body uses to support every breath, digestive function, and blood cell. It’s like wind – you can’t describe what it looks like, but you can see it’s effects.
You can see the effects of weak Qi in heavy bleeders. Strong body Qi keeps blood in the vessels. When blood is flooding out, and for that matter, when skin sags and the bladder or uterus prolapse, these are signs that your Qi isn’t doing its job of holding things in place.
Why does Qi Get Weak? It’s a bummer, but heavy blood loss, from childbirth or trauma, or even periods themselves, can deplete Qi. You end up in the proverbial vicious cycle. Blood loss takes Qi away, which weakens blood.
Number two, you pay a heavy price for long-term emotional and physical stress. Be honest with yourself – do you get regular exercise, uninterrupted sleep, healthy groceries? Have you dealt with the emotional issues behind the anti-depressant you’re taking? All this takes time, money, and commitment to self-care, and let’s face it – that’s a hard prescription to swallow. It’s easier to ask your doctor for a pill.
The Downside of Hormones
Hormone therapy can regulate monthly blood flow, but it doesn’t address what caused the problem. It’s symptomatic relief at best.
Tinkering with hormone levels, and procedures like ablation and hysterectomy, can and do halt heavy bleeding, usually for good. Months later, some women find that symptoms they ignored, like fatigue, insomnia, and weight gain, take the place of period problems. The symptom went away, but the nagging root cause is still there.
Here’s Where Herbs Do Their Magic
The herbal approach to hormone imbalances nudges your body’s built-in capacity to heal, without the risks associated with hormone replacement.
A classic Chinese formula for deficient Qi, Four Gentlemen, can relieve the most common side effect of excessive menstrual bleeding, fatigue. When you’re feeling bone tired, tonic herbs restore strength, improve digestion, and bring back your luster.
Blood loss starves the heart and mind of vital nutrition, robbing you of restful sleep and weakening your memory and focus. Blood tonics like the well-known Dang Qui, and lesser known rehmannia, white peony, and ligusticum, restore blood to a rich, nourishing fluid needed to keep your heart and mind sharp.
Relief from insomnia, poor memory, fatigue, and digestive weakness is a lot to ask from any hormone supplement or surgical procedure. Fortunately, this is where herbal and natural therapies do their best work.
Yes, Girl, Herbs Can Do That
While Chinese herbal formulas help rebuild Qi, herbs like yarrow, shepherd’s purse, raspberry leaf, eclipta, ladies mantle, tienchi ginseng, and even our kitchen friend, cinnamon, can lighten blood flow and tone the female organs. These herbs individually, or in combination, give you hour-by-hour relief from heavy bleeding.
Mineral rich herbs like nettle leaf and oatstraw gradually replace lost nutrients and freshen a sallow complexion. Yellow dock root releases stored iron into the blood, relieving mild anemia.
“Let Food Be Thy Medicine”
Naturally, food also helps to gently restore Qi and blood.
A nourishing diet of warm root vegetables including squash, beets, and sweet potato, fill your plate with color and your mouth with the mildly sweet flavor that strengthens Qi. Dark, leafy greens restore iron and other minerals to a weak, depleted blood supply. Beef and lamb are a protein power duo when you feel wiped out by your periods.
Self-Care is NOT a Luxury
Rebuilding Qi takes some time and patience. In the meantime, light exercise, rest, extreme self-care, and major de-stressing maneuvers have to be moved to the top of the list.
Start with something as simple as letting those calls rollover to voicemail and taking a few moments for a power nap. Do you have a supportive family member who might alternate meal prep or shopping duties with you?
Can you fit in a 20-minute walk after dinner? Exercise, rest, and support are not luxuries when you’re exhausted and weak; they’re a prescription for recovery.
Qi deficiency by itself isn’t a life-threatening matter, but ignored long enough, it morphs into a depleted immune system and lower resistance to disease.
Today is always a good time to start new habits that support a long, healthy life. If you’re tired of heavy, draining periods every month, choose something safe, natural, and effective for long-term relief.
Call today for an appointment that could change the way you think about health care. Period.
Related Blog Posts in this Series:
Herbal Relief for PMS-related Acne, Cramps and Migraines
Yesterday, I felt like I was gonna burst out of my jeans. I’ve never felt so bloated and miserable without actually being sick. Ladies, you know what I’m talking about here – it was a fat pants day, all the way!
And you know what?
LOTS of people are having these kinds of problems right now. This week.
When Spring starts, all hell breaks loose in stomachs everywhere.
I see it every season, especially at the start of Spring and Fall. Patients who normally don’t experience digestion problems will start reporting heartburn, headaches, indigestion, constipation, irritability, and the queen of digestive distress – BLOATING.
Why is this so common this week? We can turn to Chinese Medicine for some wisdom on this weird seasonal phenomenon.
The Chinese tell us that the short two-week period between seasons is when the Earth Element is most active. Of the 5 Elements, Earth is the one that regulates digestion, keeps us rooted and stable, and makes sure we crave tonifying foods.
Maybe you’ve noticed you’re more hungry the past week or so? That’s your Earth element saying ‘feed me so I can keep you going’. Springtime demands nourishment for new growth. Not the kind of growth that puts on pounds or sprouts leaves.
You’re coming out of a dark, cold, inactive season into one that’s sunny, warmer and allows more movement and waking time. You’ll need more fuel for those more physical, energy-burning activities. A healthy digestive system will signal you to ‘load up’ for the work ahead.
The trouble starts as you give in to your bigger appetite. Your digestion says ‘whoa, hold on there, pal, I need to catch up’. Next thing you know, you end up bloated and stuck very quickly.
What’s the remedy for this temporary backup? Probably not extreme dieting or over-the-counter anti-gas products, which can throw a delicate system into even more imbalance.
Instead, try one or more of these Spring Bloat Busters:
- Fennel seed tea – boil 1 Tbsp of fennel seed (yep, you’ve probably got this in your spice cabinet) in 1-2 cups water for 15 minutes. Strain the fennel seeds and drink the ‘decoction’ (tea). By morning, most of the bloating should be relieved.
- Epsom salts – Run a bathtub full of warm water or fill a shallow bucket with warm water and add 1-2 cups Epsom salts (if you like essential oils, you can find lavender or eucalyptus scented salts in any pharmacy). Soak yourself or just your feet for up to 30 minutes, enjoy a good night’s sleep and feel relief when you wake up.
- Digestive Teas – one of my all-time favorite teas is Eater’s Digest, created by a company called Traditional Medicinals and formulated by herbalists. This blend isn’t just delicious – it’s medicinal. With peppermint, fennel, ginger and other ‘carminative’ herbs [a fancy term for digestion-mover] this is the tea for ‘fussy’ tasters. My kids instinctively choose this tea in the evening, probably because it helps soothe their stomachs after a big meal.
- Go Chinese – for stubborn digestive systems that don’t respond to simple remedies, Chinese herbal formulas will gently strengthen the Earth element while stimulating ‘chi’, blood and fluid to move. Many people feel a gentle bump in energy when they take the formula that’s right for their constitution. Ask an herbalist what formula is for you.
- Eat green and bitter – pucker up baby, ‘cuz bitter, leafy greens like kale, beet greens, mustard greens, chard, spinach, dark salad lettuces contain digestion-stimulating elements that increase bile production. Bile breaks down stubborn food congestion, unclogs you and gets your gut moving again.
- Hold your horses – pull back the reins on those heavy, winter-style meals. Load up instead on vegetables, berries and lighter fare like chicken, fish and meatless meals.
- Move it – Expansion and contraction of muscle is a natural way to squeeze out gas and relieve bloating. Yoga, walking and simple stretching work equally well. I remember giggling in a yoga class when the ‘wind-relieving pose’ did exactly that for the guy on the mat next to me!
Without doing something radical, my jeans fit more like normal today. A few simple practices like the ones listed here, and a good walk this morning straightened me right out.
There’s no need to suffer with abdominal bloating and indigestion. Try a simple, natural remedy first. If the problem persists, get ahold of me and we’ll talk it through until we discover what’s best for you.
Find answers to more of your digestion questions in this related blog – Has Your Digestion Taken a Vacation?
As a student in herb school, I remember learning about a system of medicine where families would pay the village doctor to keep them healthy, but once a family member became ill, the service was free. What a brilliant twist on today’s approach to medicine – provide incentive to keep you from becoming a patient.
I’m not suggesting you pay me in chickens to keep you well all year. But if you could correct unhealthy patterns before they become disease, would you? If you could switch the focus to staying well instead of insuring expensive fixes to preventable problems, wouldn’t that make good sense?
Today, I saw a client who totally gets this approach. She isn’t suffering from any serious problems, eats a healthy diet, does work she loves, and is in a fulfilling relationship.
She’s a model client, and frankly, seeing her was a no-brainer. Until I understood what she was asking from me.
She wanted a different kind of client-provider relationship than I’m used to having. Instead of struggling to correct problems, she wanted my support and guidance to stay well.
She saw me as someone who could step back, look at her whole life, her daily practices, her dreams for the future, and offer some advice on how to stay in the good health place she’s in.
In the end, what she wanted was help managing her enthusiasm for the projects ahead of her, without getting overwhelmed and disorganized.
Health care isn’t about insuring against what might go wrong. It’s what you do to prevent that: exercise, schedule down-time, stay in community, laugh, work, eat a variety of foods, and check in with someone who asks what you’re doing right, not what’s going wrong.
Who’s keeping you accountable for your own good health? Is there someone you can call to ask about minor concerns before they become major problems?
For years of vitality, not a future of prescriptions and surgeries, start now with a baseline herbal assessment, then follow up regularly to stay on the health track.
You can expect to feel healthy and vital as you age, and if that’s not the message you’re getting, then it’s time to see someone who practices health, not medicine.
What are your practices for staying healthy? Do you follow a special diet, workout plan or spiritual practice that keeps you well? Share your comments here and let us know what’s been working for you.
Jan sat down across from me with a familiar look on her face. Hope. Resignation. Confusion. Overwhelm.
And next to her, in one of those reusable grocery store bags, was a jumble of every health food store supplement she’d bought in the past 6 months, some still unopened.
This was how Jan understood her health problem up until now – as a collection of deficiencies that she could supplement her way out of. It’s a pretty common misunderstanding, and it’s not her fault.
We fall prey to this thinking because we’ve been trained to think of wellness as a one-for-one proposition.
If anti-depressants are for depression, and statins are for high cholesterol, then there’s probably a vitamin, mineral, anti-oxidant, enzyme, or protein for every disease, symptom or syndrome.
That’s a piecemeal approach that never gets to the bottom of things. When heartburn, bloating, headaches, pain, insomnia, rashes, are viewed as unrelated and disconnected problems, each with their own separate solution, we miss the big picture.
When you take a this-for-that approach to health, you never see the patterns that emerge from looking at the bird’s eye view – like the tendency of your problem to be spasmodic, or worse in cold weather, or have a damp quality, or that stress makes it flare up. These patterns provide subtle clues to the remedy or healing method for you.
Instead of asking what pill goes with what symptom, ask what’s the nature of your misery?
- Is the problem worse or better with heat?
- Does it stay in one place or move around?
- Is there pain, and is it sharp and stabbing or dull and achey?
- Does the problem get worse when you feel tight and tense?
- Are there other symptoms that mimic the sensation, frequency or severity of the issue?
Your problem has unique qualities that distinguish it from everyone else’s. So it makes sense that the remedy you take to feel better matches YOUR variety of trouble.
Let’s look at digestion, for instance. When symptoms like heartburn, gas, abdominal pain, bloating, belching, diarrhea, constipation, cramping, or hemorrhoids get to be a regular thing, it’s time to look for patterns and apply some general rules:
Cold makes things loose, clear or white, mucusy and slow. If your digestion or stool has these qualities, you need a remedy that warms things up. Herbs like fennel seed, cardamom pod, cinnamon bark, thyme leaf, sage leaf, oregano leaf, horseradish, ginger root, rosemary leaf, garlic bulb and black pepper introduce warm, stimulating, toning properties, lessening the constant need for over-the-counter anti-diarrhea products and even relieving a constantly runny nose.
Heat makes things activate. That’s mostly a good thing, until there’s too much heat. That looks like burning or heat sensations, hot burps, irritation, bleeding, redness and swelling (anywhere in or on your body). Look for herbs that cool and calm the heat– lavender flower, mint leaf, basil leaf, dandelion root, plantain leaf, elder flower, marshmallow root.
Most of these herbs for heat coat and soothe irritated tissue, especially in the digestive tract, reduce swelling, and allow heat to clear. This can eliminate or reduce the need for anti-inflammatory medicines or antacids, which deplete essential stomach acid and worsen digestive irritation over time.
When energy gets stuck, there’s usually cramping, pain, gas, bloating or constipation. Choose herbs that relax tissues and allow the ‘Qi’ to flow. Anti-spasmodics like cramp bark, skullcap, wood betony, hops, and oat seed blend well with the hot or cold herbs mentioned earlier, depending on which category you fall into.
When both your mood and your stomach are fussy and irritable, choose herbs that soothe, heal and calm your over-sensitive nervous system: catnip, chamomile flower, lavender flower, oat seed, meadowsweet, peppermint, anise seed, blue vervain, and lemon balm.
Plants know how to repair themselves and grow in cold, hot, soggy, dry, crowded or stressful conditions. They reach around obstacles for light, water and nutrients. In you, they gently nudge your built-in healing capacity.
Remember Jan? Jan was off to a good start buying and trying supplements one at a time. Her intention was to find a natural way to solve an imbalance before it became a disease with a name.
Like Jan, you might be looking for an answer to solve the supplement puzzle and avoid expensive medical visits, tests, and medications. Looking for patterns in your symptoms helps you decide where to start.
Next time you reach for a supplement bottle at your local health food store, ask yourself ,“Is there a plant with this name that grows in nature?” If it doesn’t grow in nature, it’s not an herb. If it’s not an herb, it doesn’t carry the healing energy of a plant that’s survived and thrived against all odds. Start over and look for an herb that matches your symptom pattern.
Multivitamins, CoQ10, fish oils, and iron supplements might be useful replacements for simple deficiencies, but they won’t stimulate your body to heal itself the way herbs do.
If you’ve been struggling with a chronic problem that’s not responding to ordinary dietary supplements, turn to the plants. Herbalism, and especially Traditional Chinese Herbalism, have safe, natural, and effective answers for many of today’s common ailments.
Tell me how you applied an herb to a health problem. Did it help? What was the result?
8 seconds. That’s how long I scrolled on Facebook to find a blog/link/post about the latest unhealthy food. Then, when I Googled the phrase ‘bad food’, I got 2.1 billion search results. Billion!
Food-fear is nothing new.
In the 70’s, we were warned that fat was bad for our arteries, so Mom switched us to margarine instead of butter. Remember how that margarine thing worked out?
Then, my dad’s doctor warned him against too much salt, so out the door that went. And forget about eggs. No way. Big killer.
In the 80’s, we counted calories, to drop the weight from the processed foods that replaced the evil fats we cut out in the 70’s.
In the 90’s, convenience was king, and we threw out all the rules and enjoyed our fast food lunches crammed into our 10-hour workdays. Life was all about success and big houses and keeping up with the Joneses.
Honestly, I don’t remember all the food fads over the past 40 years (and excuse me if I mixed up my decades), but some pretty lousy advice has been handed down under the guise of ‘research’ from food manufacturers, healthcare providers, and mass media.
I feel so guilty eating practically everything these days. Every food on the shelves, in the CSA box, or from the garden, has been so demonized.
Even something as purely healthy as an egg gets analyzed, researched, and questioned, until someone comes up with a ludicrous list of qualifications a simple egg should meet to enter our mouths:
- Omega-3 enhanced (what in the world did those poor chickens have to go through to qualify?)
- Gluten-free (seriously?)
- Farm-raised – is ANY farm strict enough to meet this standard?
- Local (that’s always nice, I guess)
- Fresh (doesn’t that go without saying?)
Once upon a time, eggs came in 4 sizes and by-the-dozen only.
Remember when the only bread choice we considered was homemade or store-bought? Now we worry about gluten, whole-grain, trans fats vs polyunsaturated ones, and food coloring. Since when does bread need to be colored?
For just one meal, I want to eat without running through the pedigree of my meal. I know I should be buying my food from local, organic farmers with free-range animal products and environmentally sustainable practices. I fully support these practices, but this takes an enormous amount of time. And a good plan.
And I’m working on it, little by little. I started by shopping the organic section of my grocery stores, reading food and farming blogs, and I’m finally going to join a CSA this Spring and see what THAT’S all about.
But for now, I’d like to pour a bowl of oatmeal without worrying about whether it’s organic or gluten-free, and top it with walnuts without wondering if they’re covered in pesticides, and mix it up with some organic milk that might not be from a farm nearby, and top it off with dried cranberries that probably have some sugar added because I couldn’t find the unsweetened ones I’m supposed to buy.
It would be a little slice of heaven to enjoy a warm spoonful of breakfast and not for a split second wonder if the grain is genetically modified.
I love to eat, but we’ve taken all the fun out of eating in our culture. Food is a minefield of potential cancer-causing, inflammation-inducing terror. No wonder everyone is so confused and stressed about what to feed their families.
Today, for just one meal, eat without guilt, or fear, or disappointment. Before you start your new eating habits – low fat, high fat, low sugar, no sugar, vegetarian, paleo, vegan, grass-fed – enjoy that juicy steak and baked potato smothered in gravy with a side of delicious, and sugary, gluten-laden pie for dessert with a smile on your face.
Life is stressful enough. Enjoy your food, even if it’s not the most healthy thing you’ve had this week. Then tomorrow, pick just one thing to do differently. Eat a little less, skip dessert, add a vegetable to your plate without worrying about who grew it. You’ll get there. It’s a process. One step at a time.