Acupuncture for Urinary Tract Infections

women

Urinary tract infections, also called UTIs, are a common occurrence in older adults, especially women. In Western medicine UTIs are caused by the presence of bacteria, often E. coli, in the bladder. These bacteria travel up the urethra, and if left untreated, can also affect the kidneys. Managing a urinary tract infection quickly is important. If left untreated, these infections may spread, causing damage to the bladder, kidney, urethra, and genital tissue.

The symptoms of a UTI include burning on urination, the sensation of needing to urinate and being unable to void, itching in the genitals, or pain in the lower abdomen. Patients may also have an overall feeling of being unwell, including fever, irritability, or insomnia.

Healthy urine should pass easily, be straw-colored and free of cloudiness. In the case of a UTI, the urine may be dark in color, cloudy, milky, or even streaked with blood. The presence of blood in the urine indicates the infection is severely irritating the lining of the kidneys, bladder, or urethra.

Women are more likely to contract UTIs because of the short length of their urethras, or the passage between the bladder and the outside. Many women who suffer from UTIs show a chronic recurrence of these symptoms. For women who wear padded protection against accidents, a lack of breathability in the vaginal area can create an environment for bacteria. Also, patients who are unable to bathe regularly present a higher risk for developing a urinary tract infection.

Western medicine treats UTIs with antibiotics. Depending on the severity of the infection, the duration, and the patient’s history of naturally managing UTIs, alternative treatments are available.

We will focus on acupuncture, Chinese herbs, and dietary medicines, though there are other resources for UTIs in Western herbalism and homeopathy. My experience is that women often discover the best combination of alternative treatments for their particular body; no “one way” is right for every patient.

Chinese medicine treats the cause of UTI in many different ways, depending on the patient’s age, constitution, symptoms, and overall health picture. UTIs come about due to a variety of factors, including environmental, biological, and emotional. Certain types of UTIs are initiated by psychological upset and can be traced back to stress or anxiety. In Chinese medicine these infections are treated differently than UTIs caused by tight-fitting clothing, hygiene issues, or eating the wrong foods.

UTI symptoms fall on a spectrum. Some women experience intense burning with urination. Other women feel bloated and swollen, as if their urine cannot pass through the urethra because the passage is narrower than usual. Still others may feel no pain at all but notice their urine is cloudy. I have also known of women who simply felt like they had the flu but could not point to the bladder being the cause of their discomfort.

Once I have determined the cause of the problem, I develop an acupuncture plan and may prescribe a Chinese herbal formula designed to address the infection. Most UTIs can be cleared up with a few treatments and a week of herbs. If your symptoms are recurring though, we need to determine what is triggering the infection and eliminate the irritant.

The vagina and opening of the urethra are sensitive to changes in temperature and the presence of chemicals. I recommend all women wear cotton underwear, which is the most breathable fabric available, to keep the vaginal area cool and dry. If you wear pads or panty liners to manage incontinence, choose products that are made of organic cotton and a minimal amount of plastic. Organic cotton cloth diapers are a good solution for patients who need round-the-clock protection. Currently, there are no organic cotton disposable adult diapers on the market. I am hopeful these become available soon. Above all, make sure the underwear, pads, or diapers are changed regularly to minimize the risk of bacteria from the colon entering the urethra.

Drinking plenty of water will help your body flush the bacteria out of the bladder. You may also add 100% cranberry juice to your diet. Just make sure your juice does not contain any added sugar or high-fructose corn syrup. All bacterial infections are “fed” by the simple sugars found in sweet fruits and refined sweeteners. The best dietary change you can make to make the body inhospitable to bacterial infections is to cut refined sugars and alcohol.

A simple, effective home remedy for UTI is drinking corn silk tea. Corn silk is the “hair” that grows around the corn ear and is sloughed off before eating the kernels. This “silk” is soothing to the urinary tract and also has a mild taste. You can make a tea from the silk or buy encapsulated corn silk to be taken as a pill. This remedy is not for patients who are taking blood thinners (Coumadin, Plavix, etc.) or diuretics for high blood pressure or edema. If you are not taking these contraindicated medications and are experiencing recurring UTIs, consider buying a bottle of corn silk pills to keep on hand for future infections.

It is critical to remember that some urinary tract infections are best managed with antibiotics. Longstanding infections, or infections in patients who have compromised immune systems, should be addressed through Western medicine. If you are unsure whether your symptoms should be treated with antibiotics, make an appointment with your doctor. For mild infections, acupuncture, herbs, and dietary therapy may offer relief.

We are happy to talk with you about your symptoms and your health history to determine if Chinese medicine is the right choice for you.

Acupuncture and Surgical Recovery

According to the article “Common Surgical Procedures in the Elderly”[*] published by the American Geriatrics Society, older adults receive 20% of all surgeries conducted in the United States. Comprising only 13% of the population, the patient-to-procedure ratio for older adults undergoing surgery is quite high.

Surgery is an important part of modern healthcare. Many life-threatening and painful conditions are helped by surgical intervention, including cardiac events and broken bones. Older adults may undergo many surgeries to address a variety of health problems as they age.

Whether you have a procedure planned or are recouping from surgery, consider adding acupuncture to your rehabilitation program to shorten and ease your recovery time.

Acupuncture works by stimulating the body to initiate its own healing capabilities. Inserting needles in the skin at specific points reduces inflammation, releases endorphins, stimulates the immune system, and promotes blood flow to compromised areas. Recovering from surgery stresses the body’s natural repair and defense systems, especially in older patients with weakened immune and metabolic responses. Acupuncture provides gentle, supportive treatment during those vulnerable weeks after surgery when the body is asked to do significant self-healing. It stimulates the appetite, promotes elimination, and can reduce dependence on pain medication, all of which speed recovery and improve quality of life through the rehabilitation process.

Post-surgical acupuncture can be done in a variety of settings. Patients may be treated in bed, in a wheelchair, on a massage table, or in a recliner. Our clinic specializes in elder care, which means we can treat older adults with mobility restrictions and special needs, including hip, knee, and back surgeries. 

A series of acupuncture treatments can also help you prepare before receiving a medical procedure. Acupuncture boosts your immunity, calms your nervous system, and helps you sleep, which are important to recovery. Plan to see your acupuncturist once a week for three weeks before your surgery, and aim to schedule your last appointment a day or two before your procedure. Once you’ve had your surgery, schedule a series of follow-up appointments to help you through rehabilitation.

After surgery, it is important to closely manage your post-surgical pain. As pain levels rise, so do instances of insomnia, high blood pressure, and anxiety. By combining acupuncture with traditional pain management, many patients find they are able to reduce their pain medications, helping them feel more alert and avoiding side effects like constipation. Remember, pain is best managed through treatment before it becomes unbearable. Schedule appointments with your acupuncturist prior to going in for surgery to insure you are able to get in after your procedure.

Surgery can be worrisome, especially in older patients, and particularly if the recovery process is long. At Boulder Acupuncture and Herbs, we see patients in their homes or in rehabilitation facilities, like Frasier Meadows Healthcare Center, so that you can start treatment right away. If you have a surgery planned, call us to schedule a series of appointments aimed at helping you recovery quickly, safely, and with fewer complications.

[*] http://www.americangeriatrics.org/gsr/anesthesiology/common_surgical_procedures.pdf

Going on an Elimination Diet? Give Yourself a Month

woman holding ice cream

Dietary adjustments are hard. When I recommend dietary changes to patients, I ask them if they can commit to one month of effort. The annoying truth is that elimination diets, such as gluten- and dairy-free diets, can take time to show results. Often patients abandon an elimination diet too early to effectively evaluate its impact. Other elimination diets, like sugar, caffeine, and alcohol, show almost immediate results, leaving little room for doubt. I have never heard anyone say they felt better, physically, eating more candy and doughnuts.

The “costs” of an elimination diet can be surprisingly high. Not only can it be more expensive to buy items that substitute for foods you are accustomed to having, there is a time cost to learning to cook new foods or find restaurants that meet your needs. Maybe you are the only person in your house launching this diet, which is a challenge in itself. There can be mental costs to starting a diet as well, such as saying no to your mom’s chocolate cake. It’s important to factor these costs into your plan.

Giving a diet less than four weeks to prove itself is usually a formula for failure, setting you up to ping pong between deprivation and bingeing. Drastic changes are hard on your body, your mind, and in some cases, your wallet, so don’t shortchange your ability to honestly evaluate your results by giving up too early.

Once you see real results—increased energy, better digestion, fewer headaches—you will be inspired to keep going. The costs no longer feel so high, and the payoffs more than make up for your efforts. This takes time, though. Pick a four-week period, plan in advance, and get help if you need it.

Acupuncture offers wonderful support during elimination diets. It curbs cravings, optimizes your digestion, and helps your body flush out residual toxins and metabolic wastes. Together, we can come up with a plan that will enable you to get the most out of your diet so that you see lasting results.

Why Does My Acupuncturist Look at My Tongue?

dog tongue

Something you may not know about your acupuncturist is that she is used to seeing some very challenging cases. As a practitioner of Chinese medicine, I have the privilege of working with clients who may be coming to my office after seeing many other practitioners. Because our medicine is not well understood in the United States, it is often used later in the disease process. One of my goals as an acupuncturist and herbalist is to change this dynamic.

That being said, I have had the opportunity to work on difficult cases and witnessed powerful changes in my patients’ wellbeing. One of the tools I use in the diagnostic process is looking at the color, texture, moisture level, and overall vitality of the tongue. Believe it or not, everyone’s tongue is different. Your tongue tells me a lot about your internal health and can offer clues to very stubborn illnesses.

The tongue illustrates the state of the organs, most specifically, the stomach. Different regions of the tongue correspond to different organ systems and can reveal heat, cold, stagnation, and phlegm in parts of the body I can’t see from the outside. I may be able to discern phlegm in the lungs or intestines from observing the tongue, or your tongue may show the cause of your anxiety or insomnia. The tongue even reveals abstract symptoms like fatigue and irritability.

The #1 thing to remember about tongue diagnosis? Don’t brush your tongue! The coating, texture, and moisture level are all key indicators of your body’s internal climate. And don’t worry. If you’ve had coffee, a Jolly Rancher, or a breakfast burrito, I am usually able to look through all of that to discern the real state of the organs. And rest assured, yours will not be the first blue tongue that has shown up in my exam room.

Acupuncture for Vibrant Aging

elder woman

Not many patients realize that acupuncture is a preventative medicine as well as a trauma medicine. In fact, some of the earliest developments in Chinese medicine come from Taoist practitioners who sought to preserve their health against the inevitabilities of death and old age. Longevity meant everything to early acupuncture practitioners.

Even in modern America, acupuncture is an ideal medicine for elders. With its negligible side effects, flexibility in administration, gentle nature, and low cost, acupuncture is an important contributor to vibrant aging. It is never too late to implement preventative care.

When we imagine aging, we often think of physical pain, mental confusion, difficulty moving, fatigue, and low appetite. Our zest for life diminishes, and living with discomfort becomes the new normal. Chinese medicine challenges this image of old age. In fact, our approach to health maintenance is that the body/mind/spirit are born with an innate ability to correct imbalances, regardless of age. While none of us can avoid getting older, we can subtly change our body’s energetic tendencies, leading to a better use of resources.

As we age, it becomes even more important to consciously use our body’s wisdom as a guide to healthy living. Unnecessary energetic outputs, whether mental or physical, drain us of the stamina we need to eat, sleep, move, and think clearly. The ability to gain nourishment from our food, rest at night, exercise our bodies, and perform mental functions are, and always have been, the markers of good health. Acupuncture assists older adults with these basic life-giving activities.

If someone you know is struggling with the aging process, consider acupuncture. Our medicine cares for patients well into their senior years and can provide relief from many symptoms that accompany this change in life.

And remember, it is never too late to plan for the future when it comes to your health.

 

Help for the Heart in Social Anxiety

heart in coffeeMillions of Americans are treated for social anxiety every year. This experience is provoked by feeling disconnected from the kindness, patience, acceptance, and understanding of the people surrounding you. This sense of separation can come up at work, school, and family functions—even with people you know very well.

The fear of being judged is at the heart of social anxiety. This discomfort can convince you to avoid or flee from interactions that bring up feelings of insecurity and rejection.

Additionally, as technology adds distance to our way of communicating, it can become harder to be physically present for social interactions that challenge your sense of safety. It may feel easier—though not ultimately better—to hide.

In Chinese medicine, the Heart is the ruler of your inner kingdom.

It is highly sensitive to input from the outside world and can easily become disrupted by emotionally challenging situations. Once upset, the Heart can stay aflutter for a long time. You may literally feel your heart beating in your chest, be unable to sleep, or wish to physically hide from other people.

Anxiety is not just a mental phenomenon; it is a full-body experience. This is your Heart’s way of protecting you. Yet sometimes the Heart becomes over-stimulated and needs help finding a sense of safety.

What happens when you encourage the Heart to relax its vigilant grip?

The term “wearing you heart on your sleeve” means you are willing to be vulnerable to the outside world, even with the risk of rejection or failure. When the Heart spirit is healthy—meaning when it feels safe—it recognizes its connection to others. Instead of seeing danger, the Heart sees familiarity and warmth. Imagine peering into the eyes of a sweet dog or a beloved friend. It feels good to sense this connection, right?

One immediate way to work with social anxiety is to focus on your Heart center. To begin, imagine the warmth of your physical heart connecting with the warm heart of someone you know and trust. Then notice the sensations in your body. Pay attention to whether your breath deepens and your muscles relax. Maybe you even feel safe enough to smile during this exercise.

The Heart is not only the ruler of your inner kingdom, it is the lens through which you perceive the world.

A relaxed Heart connects you to the goodness of life.

My work with anxiety patients is built around the belief that physical relaxation opens us to emotional relaxation. Much like meditation or yoga, acupuncture settles your body so that your mind has a place to land.

If you’d like to explore how acupuncture can help with social anxiety, please call Boulder Acupuncture and Herbs today.

Acupuncture for Anxiety? Absolutely.

holdingleavesWith the holidays on the horizon and the arrival of shorter, colder days, many patients are experiencing an increase in stress and anxiety. Acupuncture is one of the best tools I know of to manage this discomfort. In fact, I love helping patients with stress and anxiety so much that I am introducing a new, targeted treatment program designed specifically to help you feel relaxed, right away.

My interest in treating anxiety began during my first year of acupuncture training as the stress of school began to rise. It wasn’t until I told a Western medical nurse practitioner about episodes of chest constriction and lightheadedness that I discovered I was having an acute anxious response.

“Are you under a lot of stress?” she asked me.

At the time my husband was finishing his graduate thesis and neither of us had a job. I was less than one quarter of the way through school and already feeling overwhelmed.

The nurse took my hands in hers and said, “That is a lot of stress. I want you to know that feeling panicked is a natural response to that much stress.”

Oh. I didn’t realize I was under that much stress. But she was right. I was under incredible pressure to accomplish my goals and keep my life together. I knew I needed a body-mind solution. That’s why I chose acupuncture.

Acupuncture offers a full-spectrum healthcare option for body, mind, and spirit.

What I love about this unique approach to working with anxiety is that it is not limited to impacting the way we think; it always involves the body, without question.

What does working with me look like? First, I start by asking questions about your experience, including what initiates your symptoms and how you feel during anxious episodes. Many anxiety sufferers experience muscle tension, abdominal discomfort, heart palpitations, and nervous exhaustion along with their anxiety symptoms, which naturally add to the feeling of stress.

I then come up with a treatment plan that helps your body recognize relaxation as a safe space. It disrupts the sympathetic nervous system response—the “fight or flight” mechanism—and switches the body into parasympathetic mode, the “rest and digest” function.

Over time your body and mind will sink into deeper states of rest and relaxation through acupuncture.

The key to integrating this profound benefit of treatment comes by creating links between the relaxed state of treatment and simple practices you can use outside of the clinic. These may include acupressure, breathing exercises, and creative self-expression, which offer relief between sessions and extend the benefits of our time together.

My goal is to help you see relaxation as your natural state and provide tools for working with your symptoms in the midst of everyday life. You really are capable of feeling grounded, connected, and centered, even in the presence of triggers.

Anxiety is a complex condition, but it is not unmanageable. Acupuncture can help.

Are You Making this One Immunity Mistake with Every Cold?

frozen branchAutumn is the start of the dreaded cold and flu season, which means coughs, sniffles, body aches, and missed days of work. In fact, you may already be impulsively buying immune-boosting supplements to stave off catching the latest bug living on your office door handles. But are you making this one immunity mistake every time you catch a cold?

This year, before you spend any more money on immunity herbs and supplements, remember this: taking immune-boosting herbs at the beginning of an illness may actually make you sicker.

Believe me, I know the allure of those immunity herbs. Before I became a trained herbalist, every time I came down with something, I took tonic herbs, which never seemed to help me recover quickly. It wasn’t until I visited an acupuncturist during the first few days of a cold that I learned how counterproductive this self-help remedy actually is.

Herbs like ginseng, astragalus, and medicinal mushrooms, such as Reishi, are immune super-herbs. These plants have powerful stimulating characteristics that are ideal for jump-starting a weakened immune system. But these herbs also become super foods for invading viruses and bacteria.

It’s kind of like giving your cold or flu the spa treatment, complete with a smoothie, a pedicure, and a massage.

In Chinese medicine, the herbs used at the beginning of a cold address the surface of the body. After all, cold and flu bugs are superficial illnesses, meaning they are not lodged too deeply inside. We call this a surface invasion and use medicinals that gently open the pores, releasing the pathogen through the skin. Many Chinese formulas for colds and flus actually induce a light sweat.

If a cold or flu bug has decided to call your body home get an acupuncture treatment and a custom Chinese herbal formula right away. If I could train patients to do one thing when they feel “a little something coming on,” it would be to call me within the first 24-48 hours of getting sick.

Chinese medicine has been effectively treating the common cold for over 2,000 years. Acupuncture and the appropriate herbs can significantly reduce the amount of time you spend on the couch, and in some cases, keep you from developing a full-fledged illness, like pneumonia.

If chronically low immunity is always a factor for you during the colder months, visit our clinic before you catch that first cold. We create customized acupuncture and herbal treatments meant to support your immunity, optimize your digestion, and keep you sleeping so that you’re prepared for winter weather.

When it comes to protecting your immunity, start now, and start early. Stay warm, eat cooked healthy food, exercise, sleep, and monitor your mood. If you encourage your body to naturally repel cold and flu bugs, those immune super-pills won’t be necessary.

Just think of how much time and money you’ll save!

Love Yourself First: Self-Care for Health

womaninsunlight

In my work as an acupuncturist, I often see women who are exhausted. Fatigue is a symptom of overextension and can be linked to different factors: diet, sleep habits, exercise, work schedules, and chronically low immunity. Yet a single condition tends to connect these women to one another: they have never been supported in implementing a self-care plan.

At its most basic, self-care is doing kind, loving, nourishing things for you. The uncomfortable secret of why women do not prioritize their wellbeing is that, for many, self-care is synonymous with selfishness.

This belief is intimately connected to our traditional role as a caretaker. We do things for others at the expense of ourselves, burying our needs for those of our children, parents, partners, and even our friends and co-workers. After years of self-neglect, we inevitably reach the point of burnout.

What I have learned working with women who do prioritize self-care is that this is a habit. We can—and must—free ourselves from patterns of self-deprivation in order to find the health we crave.

But how do we do this? The true key to overcoming exhaustion is in offering acts of kindness toward your body, heart, and mind every single day. Once self-care becomes your habit, unimagined opportunities for healing will be available to you.

All it takes is waking up to the preciousness of your closest friend and ally: you.

 

Self-care is not self-indulgent

Self-care is often confused with self-indulgence, which is one reason women feel so uncomfortable with the act. When you think of self-care, you may immediately imagine cruises, massages, and facials. True, these are delicious gifts, but self-care is much deeper than what you can buy for pleasure.

Self-care is really self-compassion.

Having compassion for yourself means you recognize your value and protect it the way you would another being’s. You acknowledge your human goodness and pledge to keep it safe so that you can experience the fullness and freedom of life.

When you give up self-care, you abandon much more than new clothes, fancy dinners, and vacations. You forfeit the chance to explore your deepest hopes, fears, desires, and joys. Perpetually preoccupied by others’ needs, you remain disconnected from your personal creativity and potential.

The deprivation that comes from ignoring your needs is actually a terrible roadblock to fulfillment and leads to unforeseen obstacles that often show up in the body.

Because women tend to give to the point of exhaustion, the temptation to make reactive gestures of self-care—like planning elaborate spa appointments or shopping sprees—prevent you from noticing support opportunities that are available right away.

Start by thinking small and cumulative, rather than big and complex. Self-care does not need to be elaborate, but it must be truthful. It must come from the immediacy of how you feel in your body, heart, and mind right now.

What one thing can you do today to make self-care a habit? It can be a simple commitment, such as a 10-minute walk after lunch, meeting a friend for coffee, or scheduling an hour to write or paint.

What can you give yourself this very moment that will inspire you with authentic hope and joy? What can you do to fill your cup, even just a little? The minute you say YES to meeting that need, healing energy becomes instantly available to you.

 

The Promise of Self-Care

When creating a self-care plan, I encourage you to focus your aim. Don’t settle for “good enough”. Choose acts of self-compassion that make you feel good to the bone. “Good enough” will continue to leave you with a nagging sense of exhaustion so don’t be afraid to name exactly what you need and make it real.

As we learn to provide ourselves with what we actually need in life, we create the opportunity for others to receive the same nourishment they require to thrive. Self-compassion allows us to be more giving, genuine, and open because we engage with our world from a place of fullness rather than depletion. It is a simple but profound path to reclaiming our value while enriching others.

Ultimately, self-care is an act of respect that grows in power each time we honor ourselves as worthy of love, health, and happiness.

I invite you to share this article with your friends, daughters, mothers, and partners. Together, we can encourage one another to embrace self-compassion as the first step toward authentic healing.