The Enduring Promise of Spring

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“Part of you died each year when the leaves fell from the trees and their branches were bare against the wind and the cold, wintry light. But you knew there would always be the spring, as you knew the river would flow again after it was frozen.” – Ernest Hemingway, A Moveable Feast.

Even though winter still lingers for a few weeks more, in March we always begin to dream of spring. At least that’s what happens in cold and snowy Canada where I live. The occasional days of comparative warmth, the slightly longer days, the warm sun suddenly peaking out from behind the clouds, these things always bring an impromptu smile to my lips. And more than that, my heart begins to yearn, to positively ache, for spring. After persevering through this particularly difficult winter, my heart yearns even more than it usually does.

Spring has been relentless in its teasing this year. The periods of thaw have been fewer and farther between. When they do occur, it is only for a day or two, and then winter comes back to reclaim its territory with a vengeance. Temperatures have remained stubbornly low for protracted periods, and there hasn’t been this much snowfall in Toronto for close to twenty years. Spring seems to be hanging back in the sidelines, shyly delaying its entrance. But even as I impatiently wait for spring to finally gather enough courage to hit the stage, I am encouraged by the fact that spring will indeed come. That is a promise. The snows will melt. The trees will bud once again. The sun will smile on us, and the grass will begin to grow.

Having lived through these seasonal cycles for generations upon generations, our bodies respond to these weather cycles too. As winter’s cold begins to turn away from us, we no longer feel the need to eat hearty stews and heavy, starchy meals. Just as the snow begins to melt, our bodies also begin to thaw. And as our bodies thaw, they desire movement, just as a frozen river gradually gives way to the burbling of a steadily growing, trickling stream.

The organ in our body which is most responsible for movement is the liver, which is why spring is known as peak liver time. According to Chinese medicine, the liver is the organ which spreads qi, or energy, throughout our bodies. If there is still too much accumulation from the winter, too much heavy foods from the cold winter days, then it will be as if our livers are still frozen. There is too much accumulation there for qi to move properly, which is why spring is an excellent time to do some liver and gallbladder cleansing. We need to soften the accumulations that have gathered in our liver during those cold, winter months and release them so that energy can dance its way through our bodies again, making us hum with life.

The main herb in our Chinese Bitters tincture, Chinese gentian, is known for its ability to soften hardened congestion in the ducts of your liver and begin to release it, making new openings in your liver for energy to flow. After retaining a lot of congested bile in your liver for many months or even years, people can begin to feel heavy and sluggish, their brain can start to feel dull, they can begin to feel pain in their right side, and have digestive difficulties like bloating, gas, or constipation. And they can also have a tendency to become irritable or angry easily.

When our customers begin to use our Chinese Bitters tincture, they are often surprised at how much better they feel. They feel lighter and happier, their pain begins to go away, their thinking is clearer, their digestion and elimination has improved, and they have more energy and enthusiasm for life. One of our customers told us that after cleansing her liver with our Chinese Bitters tincture and doing some liver and gallbladder flushing, she felt as if she could skip for joy.

In these ways, we can see that internal stagnation doesn’t just show itself solely in our physical symptoms. Because our minds and bodies are so intricately connected, our mental condition is influenced by liver congestion as well. Depression, anger, irritability, and frustration are stagnant emotions. In each of these emotions, our minds are rebelling against a seeming inability of our body, or our life circumstances, to move and change. In the case of frustration, we believe that an action can be taken to resolve our problems, but we just can’t seem to figure out what it is.

With anger and irritability, we may know, or at least think we know what action needs to be taken, but for some reason or other, we are blocked from acting on it. And with depression, we begin to feel that there is no longer any action that can possibly change our lives. In all these cases, it can be downright shocking to discover that a little bit of liver and gallbladder cleansing can suddenly make our personal situations seem more manageable. Suddenly, we are able to let go of these stale feelings and see new possibilities in our lives that were veiled from us before.

While we have, so far, spoken only of stagnation in the liver, stagnation can develop in the gallbladder as well. Whenever bile flow in the liver has been sluggish for some time, bile will not be able to flow well into the gallbladder either, and gallstones can tend to form out of this stagnant bile easily. This is why liver and gallbladder cleansing is always combined. Because your liver and gallbladder work so closely together, your liver will never be completely healthy as long as there are still gallstones in your gallbladder. And as long as there are any blockages to bile flow in either your liver or your gallbladder, the flow of energy throughout your body can be impeded, and the above-mentioned physical and emotional problems can result.

If you are interested in doing some spring cleaning of your internal organs this season, liver and gallbladder cleansing is the best place to start. Complete instructions for how to do a liver and gallbladder flush are outlined in the gallbladder flushing section of our website. For best results, we would recommend the use of our Liver/Gallbladder Flush 4-Pack as preparation beforehand, as the herbs in these tinctures will help to soften any hardness in your liver or gallbladder area so that it can be released and these organs can begin to “breathe” freely again.

There are often times in our lives where we feel as if our hearts have become as cold and frozen as the winter. When something of importance was taken from us, or when dreams we once had have died, we can spend months or even years in periods of heart-wrenching pain. Eventually, this pain can give way to a barrenness, a desolation of spirit, which in some ways is even worse. But just as the seasons in the world outside us inevitably change, so too does our inward situation. In little spurts, now and again, there is a thawing, and green shoots of growth will suddenly appear. A new relationship begins, an old friendship is rekindled, or a new interest is formed, and our lives begin to green up again. Spring reminds us that no matter what situation we are in, no matter how stubborn or intractable our problems, new life will be breathed into us in time. This is a promise. The enduring promise of spring.



About the author: Rebecca Wong has been working in the herbal business since 2000.  She has received her training in acupuncture and herbalism from respected authorities Paul Des Rosiers and Vu Le at the Ontario College of Traditional Chinese Medicine in Toronto, and Michael Tierra at the East West Herb School in California.

Intranasal Insulin Shown to Improve Cognitive Functioning

Even people with insulin-resistance, an increasingly common health problem, were shown to have increased incidence of dementia.  This makes it more important than ever to keep your blood sugar levels within normal parameters.

 http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/09/110919163947.htm

Excerpt:  The study found that people with diabetes were twice as likely to develop dementia as people with normal blood sugar levels. Of the 150 people with diabetes, 41 developed dementia, compared to 115 of the 559 people without diabetes who developed dementia.

The results remained the same after the researchers accounted for factors such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol and smoking. The risk of dementia was also higher in people who did not have diabetes, but had impaired glucose tolerance, or were “pre-diabetes.”



About the author: Rebecca Wong has been working in the herbal business since 2000.  She has received her training in acupuncture and herbalism from respected authorities Paul Des Rosiers and Vu Le at the Ontario College of Traditional Chinese Medicine in Toronto, and Michael Tierra at the East West Herb School in California.

Ways to Improve Your Heart Functioning During the Cold Days of February

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There are few things I find magical about the month of February. If there is fresh snow on the ground, the pristine whiteness of my environment can sometimes coax an exclamation of beauty from me. It helps if the sun is shining and creates glints of light through the icicles on the trees. But by and large, by the time February has rolled around, I’m largely tired and exasperated by the continual presence of snow and cold. I’m tired of constantly shivering and shoveling snow out of my driveway. And while the days have lengthened some, night descends far too quickly, taking away whatever small amount of heat the sun brought with it, and dimming inclinations to stray far from home.

 

But as they say, “home is where the heart is”. For those of us in happy family situations, the cold nights of February bring us closer together. We share stories of our days and lives, laugh at each other’s jokes, and watch movies together, all while eating fattening food that brings us comfort during these cold, short days and long, dark nights. Maybe it is as much because of this, as of the presence of Valentine’s Day smack in the middle of February, that has caused February to be labeled “Heart Month”.

 

In Western medicine, the heart is known to be one of the most important organs in the body. Without its steady pumping of blood throughout our bodies, 365 days of the year, we would soon die. The other organs of our bodies depend on it for the constant influx of calcium, sodium, potassium salts, glucose, amino acids, oxygen, and many other raw materials, which are needed in steady supply in order to carry out the daily demands we place on them. What I’ve always found fascinating about the heart is its natural pace-making abilities. In the atrium of your heart, there is an “atrioventricular node” or AV node, that creates an electrical signal, much like the spark plugs in a car, which keep your heart pumping rhythmically.  So, it is not just when we fall in love that “sparks fly”. This happens with each beat of our hearts, for as long as we live. In every moment, we contain the spark of life.

 

In Chinese medicine, this same idea of “sparking” also exists in relation to the heart. Aside from its physical duties of “governing the blood”, which include its responsibility of transforming the food that we eat into blood itself, and ensuring that all tissues receive the blood they require, the heart is also said to house a spiritual aspect, known as the “shen”. Shen is defined by Giovanni Maciocia as being “the whole sphere of emotional, mental and spiritual aspects of a human being”. You can actually see a healthy “shen” in someone you know, without knowing anything else about Chinese medicine. This is the spark in someone’s eyes, manifested in the enthusiasm that they show for life itself. We all know people who have a lot of “shen”. And, sadly, we most likely also know people who have very little.

 

People with a small quantity of shen may very well have a weak heart. But more often than not, they simply have very little blood flowing into their heart. It could be said that the thing which animates the heart is the very presence of blood, and without it, the heart, mind, and emotions are dull and sluggish. Knowing that then, in order to invigorate the heart, it is necessary to increase blood circulation through it. And as so often happens in Chinese medicine, this requires the help of another organ in the body, for no organ can function on its own in our bodies without help, just as people cannot function in the world without the help of our loved ones. In the case of increasing the flow of blood to the heart, its dear friend and help-mate in this endeavor is the liver.

 

As is mentioned on our website, the liver is the organ which filters all of your blood. It does this during the night as you sleep, which is why it is important to eat your last meal of the day as early as you can. If your liver is still heavily involved with the digestion of your last meal, it will not be able to devote as much attention to filtering your blood of toxins. As a result, your heart can become heavy with toxins and difficult in flowing. Blood that is filled with toxins will not be able to carry as many nutrients and oxygen to the cells of your body, including those in your heart.

 

Additionally, if the bile ducts of your liver are congested with a lot of old and hardened bile, which is the residue of poorly metabolized food due to poor diet or stress, then when blood enters your liver to be filtered, it may have difficulty moving out again. And the direct recipient of the filtered blood from your liver is your heart. Hence, the root cause of poor blood flow in the heart is often congestion in the ducts of the liver.

 

Until it went out of print, we used to sell a book entitled “The Liver Causes Heart Attacks”, by a Dr. W.P. Neufeld. In this book, Dr. Neufeld described how every patient he ever had who died of a heart attack was later found to have a badly swollen and congested liver when autopsied. From this, he concluded that the root cause of most heart attacks is actually an unhealthy liver. And so, in order to strengthen and improve the functioning of your heart, it is wise for you to consider the health of your liver. As a filtration organ, the best way to improve the health of your liver is through liver and gallbladder flushing. Directions for how to do this can be found in the gallbladder flushing section of our website.

 

To assist us all in our struggle through the cold, dark days of February, it would be helpful to strengthen our hearts and thereby increase our shen. I’m sure we would all aspire to be a “shen-filled” individual, who not only exudes happiness and well-being, but inspires those same feelings in all the people around us. Aside from doing regular liver and gallbladder flushing, you can also strengthen your heart by eating foods which are known to nourish it. In Chinese medicine, foods which are red in colour are said to nourish heart functioning, which would include adzuki beans, red peppers, red dates, hawthorn berries, and strawberries.

 

According to Western medicine, foods which are high in anti-oxidants can prevent oxidative stress from free radicals, and thereby decrease the stress placed on the tissues of the heart. Common foods which are high in anti-oxidants include foods such as blueberries, raspberries, and blackberries, as well as dark green vegetables, such as broccoli, spinach or kale. Leafy green vegetables also have the advantage of being very high in magnesium, without which all muscles in the body, including the heart, cannot function properly. Whole grain oatmeal is another good food for the heart because its fibre is known to reduce cholesterol. The health-promoting properties of garlic should also not be over-looked when speaking of the heart, since garlic is known to decrease both blood pressure and cholesterol levels.

 

Finally, and most importantly, we can also strengthen our hearts and improve our shen by being grateful for, and taking comfort in, the loved ones by our sides during this cold, harsh month. Even with their sometimes frustrating habits, our friends and family members buffer us from the harsh realities of our lives. We know that with them to help shoulder our loads, and encourage us to see the humor in life, we are rich indeed.

 

 



About the author: Rebecca Wong has been working in the herbal business since 2000.  She has received her training in acupuncture and herbalism from respected authorities Paul Des Rosiers and Vu Le at the Ontario College of Traditional Chinese Medicine in Toronto, and Michael Tierra at the East West Herb School in California.

Article Which Dispels Fears about Moderate or Light Drinking.

For anyone who is concerned about the dangers of alcohol consumption, yet another study has shown that those who drink alcohol moderately live longer than both heavy drinkers and non-drinkers.

http://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/health-and-families/health-news/people-who-drink-alcohol-outlive-those-who-abstain-study-shows-8995879.html

Excerpt:

Research found those who did not consume any alcohol appeared to have a higher mortality rate, regardless of whether they were former heavy drinkers or not, than those who drank heavily.



About the author: Rebecca Wong has been working in the herbal business since 2000.  She has received her training in acupuncture and herbalism from respected authorities Paul Des Rosiers and Vu Le at the Ontario College of Traditional Chinese Medicine in Toronto, and Michael Tierra at the East West Herb School in California.

A Recent Study about Curcumin, One of the Natural Components in our Curcuma Tincture

Curcumin, one of the naturally-occuring chemicals in both turmeric and curcuma, the main ingredient in our Curcuma tincture, has been shown to kill fast-growing cells in the body.  As such, it is been shown to be effective in preventing the growth of cancer, and may also be an effective birth control measure.

http://www2.macleans.ca/2013/03/18/mellow-yellow/

Excerpt:

“Anything that is growing fast, it inhibits,” says Naz. This knowledge inspired him to test it as a spermicide. “I read studies showing it works beautifully in inhibiting cancer cells, which are fast-growing. The other fast-growing cells are sperm. They move fast and are highly energetic. I had this idea four or five years ago.”



About the author: Rebecca Wong has been working in the herbal business since 2000.  She has received her training in acupuncture and herbalism from respected authorities Paul Des Rosiers and Vu Le at the Ontario College of Traditional Chinese Medicine in Toronto, and Michael Tierra at the East West Herb School in California.

A New Year’s Message For Those Who Are Struggling to Change

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“Don’t you just love New Year’s?  You can start all over!  Everybody gets a second chance”.

The above is a quote from the well-loved movie, Forrest Gump.  Believe it or not, there are some people who actually hate this film.  They find the plot completely implausible, and it’s sentiments too saccharine.  Those criticisms may well have some merit, but I’ve always liked the film anyway because of the realness of its secondary characters, Jenny and Lieutenant Dan. Of course the plot is unrealistic, but the emotional traumas that Jenny and Lieutenant Dan must overcome in order to finally find happiness are all too real.  I believe that this is where the heart of the film lies, not in the rather flat character of Forrest Gump himself, who never loses faith in life, in those he loves, or in himself, as the rest of us humans often do.

I particularly like the above quote because of the way it is delivered in the film, and also because of who delivers it.  Forrest Gump is at a bar in New York with his friend Lieutenant Dan, when two hookers show up.  They are acquaintances of Lieutenant Dan, if not actually his friends.  It is New Year’s Eve and the ball is about to drop in the middle of Times Square in New York, and that’s when one of the hookers says this line.  The remark only becomes unusual because of the way the expression on her face changes.  At first she is exultant, and then turns thoughtful, as if she is suddenly realizing something, and then her expression turns into something very like fear.

I imagine that this is how many of us approach the new year, especially those of us who have been around the block a few times, and who have tried, in various ways, for various amounts of time, to finally change ourselves for the better.  We are fearful because we have tried in times past, and we never seem to meet with success.  We are afraid that we will fail yet again.  Maybe it’s a long-standing goal to lose that extra weight we’ve been carrying around for the last few years.  Maybe we’re determined to finally get into an exercise routine that we can stick to.  Or maybe we’d like to finally stop smoking once and for all.

Perhaps the most common goal each new year:  we want to change our diet.  To stop eating all that sugar, to avoid that white flour, or to eat more fruits and vegetables.  Because our food is our body’s fuel, we know how important it is to eat right, and yet when deadlines approach and kids get sick, when our nerves become tense with stress, our diet is usually the first thing that falls apart.  Before too long, we’ve been eating fatty take-out meals for much of the week and are struggling to get back on track.

It’s at this time that the monsters in our minds will re-emerge, blaming ourselves for our failures.  We lose hope because of how often this cycle repeats itself.  We can get back on the wagon, but how soon will it be before we find ourselves working late yet again, and quickly filling our stomachs with a chocolate donut because our blood sugar levels have dropped?  Our lives have become so busy, and our commitments so many, that it’s become increasingly hard to take care of ourselves and our families in the most elemental way:  by ensuring that we all have healthy and nutritious food available for every meal of the day.

At Sensible Health, we have a list of foods that we recommend everyone avoid because they congest the liver, or weaken the spleen and kidneys.  The foods which congest the liver include; deep fried foods, spicy foods, high fat dairy products, nuts, chocolate, and caffeine.  Foods which weaken the spleen/pancreas and kidneys include; white flour, white sugar, citrus fruits, tomatoes, bananas, raw vegetables, and cold drinks.  So often, when people see this list of foods, they wonder what they can eat because it seems that we’ve taken all of their favourite foods away from them.  And indeed, it can initially be a bit of a challenge.

This is why I always recommend that you begin slowly, changing only one thing at a time if the entire list overwhelms you.  For the first week or two, perhaps you can stop eating citrus fruits.  While lemon juice is known to detoxify the liver, it is also quite cooling in nature and can create excess “dampness” in the body, which weakens the spleen/pancreas.  When the spleen/pancreas becomes weakened, we will no longer produce adequate enzymes for the proper digestion of our foods, and much of our diet will be unassimilated.  Naturally, this will weaken our entire bodies over time.

Citrus fruits are very helpful in the hot and humid environments in which they are grown.  Their naturally cooling nature helps to combat the heat, and their ability to lubricate keeps our body tissues from drying out.  However, because citrus fruits can now be shipped long distances and are available to us all year round, this often means that we continue to eat citrus fruits regularly even during the winter months, when warming and drying foods would be more appropriate.  It is not so much that citrus fruits are always bad, as that they should be eaten with their particular properties in mind so as to keep the body in a state of balance.

For the second few weeks of your new diet, perhaps you can try drinking only warm beverages rather than cold ones, if you don’t already do so.  Cold drinks will have the same cooling effect on our spleen/pancreas as cooling foods like citrus fruits, tomatoes and bananas. If you avoid cold drinks for a few weeks and then suddenly drink them again, you will notice right away how first your stomach, and then the organs to the sides of your stomach clench up and become tense.  Your digestive organs cannot function well when they have contracted like this, and more of the energy of your body will be spent trying to warm these organs back up again so they can function properly.  This is energy that would be better spent keeping your metabolism warm and firing, to prevent you from becoming fatigued or from gaining excess weight.

However great the changes you must make to your diet so that your goal of improved health is reached, go slowly and be immensely patient and kind to yourself as you make these changes.  Forgive yourself if you make a mistake, and instead of bashing yourself, try to use your energy more positively by making a plan so that the next time your life falls apart, your diet is less likely to fall apart also. I try to keep healthy frozen meals in the freezer that can be warmed up and eaten without thawing when times get rough.  I had a friend who would regularly spend a few hours on the weekend just making homemade pizzas with healthy toppings that she would then freeze for easy use on busy weekday nights.  A bit of planning can help to prevent unhealthy binges and an over-reliance on take-out menus. And even when your store of healthy meals is depleted and you end up at the pizza counter anyway, try to cut yourself a break.  Dietary changes can be hard, and punishing yourself every time you miss your goal will only make it that much harder to try again.

The beginning of a new year is a very hopeful time.  We should take advantage of that natural feeling of optimism and renewal without putting so much pressure on ourselves that it makes us fearful to try again.  Although we might naturally feel motivated to make healthy changes in January, we should also remember that January 1st is really just an arbitrary date on the calendar.  We can make a pledge to improve our health at any time of the year.  As Canadian author Lucy Maude Montgomery said, “Tomorrow is always fresh, with no mistakes in it”.  We can make a pledge that for every tomorrow, we will put in our best effort.  That’s all we can really ask of ourselves.



About the author: Rebecca Wong has been working in the herbal business since 2000.  She has received her training in acupuncture and herbalism from respected authorities Paul Des Rosiers and Vu Le at the Ontario College of Traditional Chinese Medicine in Toronto, and Michael Tierra at the East West Herb School in California.