Comprehensive Natural Medicine

Sep 292014

tcm-pointsAcupuncture is mainstream these days, depending on the area of the country you live. It’s covered by most insurance plans (at least in Washington, where I practice) and every week I have at least one patient who experiences it for their very first time.  Some are simply curious and others have tried “everything” to address their complaint.  Often during these visits I get asked what acupuncture treats.  My response it typically “everything”. Acupuncture stems from the larger medical theory and practice called Traditional Chinese Medicine which also include herbs, physical medicine, and Qi Gong. These are usually applied in combination. Rather than a vague answer though, let me sum up my experience for what acupuncture is very effective for.

1. Low Back Pain.  Without a doubt one of the top complaints that walks into most acupuncturists’ offices.  Western medicine has been trying to uncover how acupuncture is so darn good at treating this problem and the jury is still out. Much research has gone into studying low back pain and acupuncture, because, again and again, it works.

2. Migraines/Headaches. Whether a patient comes in in acute pain or they simply have a history of severe headaches, acupuncture can work immediately to reduce the severity of the headache, prolong the time before a reoccurrence and reduce the duration.

3. “Women’s issues”. Chinese Medicine has so many options for women with menstrual issues, acupuncture being just one.  Whether you are experiencing amenorrhea (or no period), severe cramping before and during your period, irregular cycles, and general PMS symptoms, I encourage you to seek out a practitioner and give it a try over your next 3 cycles. I’ve had patients’ fibroids reduce in size just using acupuncture and periods returning.

4. Menopausal Symptoms.  To piggy back on number 3.  Bio-identical hormones are the hot topic and quick shotgun approach these in the natural health world to treat hormone imbalances and menopausal symptoms.  However, I’ve found using acupuncture and Chinese herbs provides better, safer, and long-term benefits that ease women into the next phase of their life.

5. Smoking and Addiction.  Acupuncture provides a great deal of benefit for those trying to quit smoking or overcome addiction.  There is even a national training program that deals specifically with acupuncture and addiction treatment.

6. Stress-related illness.  This is obviously a broad category.  Being in health care it’s hard for me to think of a complaint that isn’t affected by stress.  However, how many of us suffer from insomnia, anxiety, irritability, fatigue, and on and on.  Acupuncture works by moving energy, stress stops the flow of energy which produces symptoms.  By addressing the stress, acupuncture is able to treat this larger symptom picture.

7. IBS/GI conditions. How many of us experience something wrong in our GI system?  I don’t just mean the occasional reaction after a glutinous meal. I mean those that have to know where a bathroom is at all times or those who haven’t used the bathroom for days.  Our brain and gut our directly connected. Acupuncture is a wonderful tool at alleviated much of the emotional upheaval that then leads to a GI upheaval.

8. Fertility.  Yes, you’ve all heard by now and maybe even experienced acupuncture in managing challenges associated with getting pregnant. There are acupuncture clinics solely devoted to fertility and improving one’s chances of conceiving. For some, it can be miraculous.

9. Acute Illness.  Many of my own patients don’t even think about this.  They come in to address a specific complaint with acupuncture.  It’s at a later visit that they tell me they had a terrible sinus infection, cough, sore throat, etc.  I smile and ask why they didn’t come to see me?! I’ve been the patient with stabbing pain in my throat, white spots on my tonsils and a fever unsure if I should go see a regular doctor, try and treat myself, or see what the acupuncturist could do for me.  I walked out of any hour visit with the acupuncturist, sore throat completely gone, and functional within a couple days!

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Sep 292014

5 Stages of Celiac

Elisabeth Kubler-Ross created the five stages of grief in 1969 to help those facing the end of life or death of a loved one. The end of a gluten-filled life can indeed feel like the death of a loved one, so I’ve created the 5 Stages of Celiac to help navigate such a profound loss.

The Good Ol’ Days (Pre-Symptomatic)

Also known as “normal life,” these are the carefree days of croissants, pasta, and beer. The American diet favors this stage with seemingly limitless carbs. You may care about calories and have some consciousness about the ingredients that go into your food, but you have no clue about this silly new health fad called “gluten-free”. This will be the stage you remember with fondness as you gaze longingly at the maple bars at Top Pot someday.

I Don’t Feel So Good (Symptomatic – Seeking Diagnosis)

Costco sized containers of Tums. Heat pads on your tummy. A debilitating sensation like pencils stabbing into your lower belly. Sound familiar? The hallmark of this stage is feeling like crap, literally. We all have our own tales of woe for this stage but they typically lead to a whole lotta tests, doctors’ appointments, and medical bills. Celiac disease is an issue of malabsorption, leading to complications such as nutritional deficiency, low vitamins B and D, iron, calcium, eczema, and even infertility. Poor body chemistry can easily bring on symptoms that mirror those of depression; feeling sluggish, muscle pain, exhaustion, foggy thinking, irritability, lack of energy. Not to mention the fear that comes with the amount of physical discomfort you may be experiencing and the uncertainty of what is causing you so much pain.

At Least I’m Not Dying (Newly Diagnosed)

There is nothing quite like the feeling of a doctor handing you lab reports while declaring “Your celiac sprue results are in and you’ve tested positive. I’d like you to schedule an upper intestinal biopsy”. What the what?! Waves of relief crash over you that your appendix didn’t burst or you have some stomach-eating bug…but then hold on… No more gluten?! This is an intense time for you and your family to have received news that you are A) going to live and B) have to change your entire lifestyle. Expect a roller coaster of emotions followed by a potentially longer circling of mourning, depression, and anger.

Welcome to the Club (Identification)

You’ve got every gluten free recipe Pinterest has published on your board. You stalk the isles of PCC for the latest GF packaged food and read the labels of everything twice to make sure there is no maltodextrin or natural flavors lurking in the shadows. Blogs, forums, books, magazines – there’s information out there and you are hungry for it! This is about the time you should be feeling relief from any biological imbalances caused by the intestinal damage from gluten as well as relief from mourning the loss of your wheat-filled glory days. This stage tends to shift out of depression and into anxiety. It’s hard to trust restaurants to not poison us. Parties no longer feel safe when you see the buffet so you have to bring snacks or risk starving. It’s enough to induce a panic attack just looking at grocery stores and second-guessing yourself for the mistake you made last week (and promptly felt the repercussions of cheating juuust once). This is, in my opinion, the stage that requires concerted effort to not let emotional struggles weigh you down because anxiety, disordered eating, isolation, obsessive-compulsive behavior, and stress may rear their ugly heads.


Gluten-Free Goddess/Gods (Ownership)

If I hear one more article on gluten-free diet for weight loss one more time….. GF has lost its excitement and thank God! Eating properly is your middle name. You know the GF websites to check medications and Halloween candy like the back of your hand. Parties are easy because you know what foods have even the potential of being unsafe and who in your support system knows how to actually cook GF. (Hell, you even use an acronym for gluten-free.) Essentially, you’re a celiac pro and any emotional distress at this point is likely not due to managing celiac disease but should be addressed with the help of a psychotherapist or primary care physician.

So, what’s the point? The long and winding road of celiac disease is complicated and absolutely takes an emotional toll. All is not lost; there are folks like myself who are trained and waiting to help you cope with the emotional struggles that come with such a huge change. Counseling can help alleviate feelings of anxiety and depression over your new lifestyle, as well as help coach your support system in how to best care for you. You’re not alone in this journey and I hope someday you don’t think I’m crazy when I say it is possible to love your gluten-free life. I certainly do.

Some feelings are normal and to be expected, however if you begin harming yourself/others or have thoughts of suicide, please reach out immediately to someone including the crisis hotline (866-4-CRISIS), any local emergency room, or a trusted mental health professional.

Christina Barrows, M.S., LMFTA

Celiac (est. 2010) and Psychotherapist


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Aug 182014

poor-posture-01-smDo you suffer from poor posture? Whether you’re sitting down at a desk, standing, walking or running, you should focus on maintaining your body’s natural position. This means keeping your head and neck up while avoiding slouching or slumping. The good news is that you can reverse the effects of poor posture by following some simple steps.

Some of the physiological problems linked to poor posture include:

  • Headaches
  • Scoliosis
  • Kyphosis (hunched back)
  • Herniated disc
  • Abdominal pain
  • Gastroesophageal reflux disease
  • Joint degeneration / arthritis
  • Muscle tension
  • Acid reflux
  • Heartburn
  • Temporomandibular joint dysfunction (TMJ) — problems related to the chewing muscles and joints.

#1) Sit Correctly

One of the most common causes of poor posture is sitting incorrectly. Allowing your lower back to slump down and curve places additional stress on the vertebrae, which in turn can lead to poor posture.

The right way to sit at a desk or table is to plant your feet about shoulder-width apart, keep your head and neck faced straight ahead, and provide support for your lumbar region. Depending on the type of chair in which you are sitting, you may need to use a special cushion or insert for lumbar support. Without this support, your lower back will slump down and throw off your body’s natural posture.

#2) Yoga

Yoga is the spiritual art of ascetic discipline, controlled breathing, meditation, and adoption of bodily postures. Practicing it regularly is almost certain to improve your posture. Yoga incorporates a wide variety of bodily positions into regular exercises, strengthening and toning muscles that would otherwise go unnoticed in traditional workouts.

How exactly does yoga work to improve the body’s posture? It’s able to do this in a couple different ways, one of which is by repetition. If you sit in and watch a yoga class, you’ll notice the instructor and participants frequently stretch their body into various positions. Constantly performing these same positions over and over gradually improves the body’s posture. Of course, yoga also strengthens muscles which support the body’s natural posture.

#3) Core Exercises

A third technique for improving posture is to perform exercises which strengthen the core abdominal muscles. A stronger core means more spinal support; thus, promoting a natural, proper posture.

There are dozens of different exercises which focus on the core, the easiest of which are leg raises. Simply lay down on the floor, raise both of your legs parallel about 2-3 feet, hold the position for 10 seconds and lower. Rinse and repeat until you are no longer able to perform any more reps. Other core-building exercises include bicycle crunches, planks, and situps.


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Aug 042014

blueberries_superfoodsYou are what you eat is an adage that holds more truth than you may realize. Unfortunately, many people today focus their diet around processed foods that are high in sugar, sodium and fat. Diets such as this can increase a person’s risk of developing diabetes, heart disease, obesity, and more. You can protect your body and health against such illnesses, however, by eating lean meats, fresh vegetables, and by adding the following “superfoods” to your diet.

#1) Broccoli

This edible stalky plant of the cabbage family is loaded in potassium, vitamin B-6, vitamin C magnesium, and calcium. Scientists believes broccoli’s phytochemicals – organic chemical compounds which occur naturally – are able to aid in skin health, regulate blood sugar levels, strengthen the immune system, and ward off joint inflammation.

#2) Blueberries

Don’t let its small size fool you into thinking its a food with little-to-no nutritional value. The blueberry’s deep purple-blue hue signifies the presence of powerful antioxidants known as flavanoids. Once consumed, these flavanoids work to neutralize cell-damaging free radicals that roam our bodies, attacking otherwise healthy cells.

#3) Olive Oil

Oilive oil, particularly the extra-virgin variety, is another incredibly powerful superfood. Just a single tablespoon (13.5 grams) holds 10 grams of monosaturated fat and 1.4 grams of polysaturated fat.

I know what you’re probably thinking: isn’t fat bad for your health? Trans fat and saturated fat are both considered bad, but monosaturated and polysaturated fat are beneficial, as they work to lower bad cholesterol (LDL) levels and raise good cholesterol levels (HDL).

#4) Spinach

There’s a reason why it’s Popeye’s food of choice. Native to Central and Southwestern Asia, spinach (Amaranthaceae family) is must-have food for any health-conscious individual. It contains vitamin C, vitamin A, vitamin B-6, magnesium, potassium, beta-carotene, lutein and zeaxanthin.

#5) Salmon

We can’t talk about superfood without mentioning salmon. This distinctively pink-colored fish is known to improve cognitive brain function while reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease.

Of all the different types of fish, salmon has received the most praise for being a nutritional marvel,” wrote Jo Lewin, nutritional therapist and author for BBC.

#6) Yogurt

Yogurt contains healthy bacteria known as probiotics which support the digestive system. With thousands of microscopic workers helping to flush out your digestive system, you’re less likely to develop constipation, diarrhea, and similar stomach problems. In order to reap the full benefits of it, however, you should stick with the low-fat Greek variety.

#7) Pistachios

Last but not least on our list is pistachios. These delicious nuts are packed full of protein, fiber, and healthy omega fats. And unlike many other nuts, pistachios are relatively low in calories. A serving of 30 nuts will only net you 100 calories.

Blueberry photo by Jennie Faber under Creative Commons 2.0.


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Jul 212014

pregnancy-071414Acupuncture involves the placement of thin sterilized needles to stimulate various acupoints throughout the body. The stimulation of these areas is believed to correct imbalances and blockages in the body by promoting the healthy flow of energy (known as qi – pronounced CHEE).

The thought of having half a dozen or more tiny needles sticking into your skin when you’re pregnant, might sound frightening. However, it’s actually a safe, painless, straightforward procedure that can treat a number of adverse symptoms associated with pregnancy.

#1) Reduces Pelvic Pain

Pelvic pain is one of the most common symptoms reported by pregnant women. As the womb grows to accommodate the mother’s unborn baby, ligaments are stretched beyond their normal range of motion. This stretching, combined with the increased weight and hormone changes, can result in mild-to-severe pelvic pain.

Acupuncture offers a safe and effective way to treat pelvic pain without relying on drugs that may otherwise harm the unborn baby. This is done by encouraging the body to activate its own “self-healing” mechanism.

#2) Dates Back Thousands of Years

While no one knows exactly when acupuncture was first used, or who created it, historians believe it originated during the Shang Dynasty (1600-1100 BCE). Hieroglyphs and ancient drawings depicting acupuncture reinforce this belief.

#3) Reduces Stress Levels

Acupuncture is also known to lower stress levels by regulating the production, and subsequent release, of hormones, which is something that all pregnant women can benefit from. A study published in the the Journal of Endocrinology found hormones related to stress were lowered in laboratory mice when electric acupuncture was administered. The needles are believed to trigger the body’s healing response, which in turn regulates hormone production.

#4) Reduces Labor Duration

Pregnant women will often begin acupuncture sessions in the weeks leading up to their due date, essentially “prepping” their bodies for the experience. Several studies have found acupuncture to improve cervical maturation, and reduce labor times by as much as 20%.

#5) It’s Painless

This might be hard for some people to believe, but acupuncture – when performed correctly – is completely painless. In fact, many people close their eyes to rest and relax while having the procedure performed. The small, thin needles are barely felt as they enter the skin. This is in stark contrast to other forms of treatment for pregnancy-related symptoms, which are typically accompanied with their own adverse side effects.

#6) Reduces Foot Pain

Yet another benefit of acupuncture for expecting moms is reduction of foot pain. The added weight attributed to pregnancy often results in foot pain and swelling during those nine months. Thankfully, these symptoms can be alleviated through a series of acupuncture sessions.

#7) Improves Blood Circulation

Of course, acupuncture is also known to improve blood circulation. Blood pressure irregularities (including hypertension), spider veins, edema, and general exhaustion are all common blood flow-related symptoms experienced by women during pregnancy. Undergoing a series of acupuncture sessions, though, may prevent these symptoms from occurring.


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