Tai chi can tip the scales of balance back in your favor

Exercise is the second pillar in the five pillars of health in Chinese medicine. The fact that it ranks second out of five (diet, exercise, bodywork, herbal medicine and acupuncture) underscores the importance of continued movement for continued function. The old saying “if you don’t used it, you lose it” applies not only to mind, but body, too.

In Chinese medicine, the preferred forms of exercise are slow, sustained efforts that are gentle on the joints. Tai chi, a softer form of martial arts, is a broad term for a specific series of exercises that is often described as moving meditation. The slow, gentle movements make it an appropriate form of exercise for just about anyone, especially for seniors.

There have been many scientific studies about the efficacy of tai chi for various conditions; here are just a few highlights:

• A study published in 2012 in the New England Journal of Medicine concluded “Tai chi training appears to reduce balance impairments in patients with mild-to-moderate Parkinson’s disease, with additional benefits of improved functional capacity and reduced falls. (Funded by the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke.)” (1)

• A group of 256 previously inactive adults, ages 70 to 92, were assigned to either a stretching routine or tai chi. After six months of exercise, the tai chi group had 38 falls verses 73 in the stretching group, with only 7 percent leading to injury verses 18 percent in the stretching group.

According to the study published in 2005, “the risk for multiple falls in the tai chi group was 55 percent lower than that of the stretching control group. …A three-times-per-week, 6-month tai chi program is effective in decreasing the number of falls, the risk for falling and the fear of falling, and it improves functional balance and physical performance in physically inactive persons, aged 70 years or older.” (2)

• In a study published in 2014, patients with multiple sclerosis had measurable improvements in balance, coordination, life satisfaction and mood compared to the control group of treatment as usual after six months of tai chi. While fatigue worsened in the control group during that time, the tai chi group had a fairly stable fatigue level. Their fatigue did not improve, but it did not worsen like the control group. (3)

• A 2004 study of patients with stable congestive heart failure found improvements in quality of life, distance walked, decreased serum B-type natriuretic peptide levels and a possible improvement in peak oxygen uptake with the addition of a tai chi exercise program to standard care. (4)

• A 2009 study evaluated short form tai chi for the following criteria: “Dynamic standing balance evaluated by the center of gravity (COG) excursion during self-initiated body leaning in 4 directions, standing equilibrium evaluated in sensory challenged conditions and functional mobility assessed by Timed-up-and-go score.” The results showed that tai chi improved everything, including vestibular integration, but not the timed-up-and-go score. (5)

• A 2008 study of 15 asthmatic children found that tai chi can improve pulmonary function in the short term, and it deserved longer, follow-up studies. (6)

• Female senior cancer survivors who were taught tai chi verses a control group who received health education had significantly lower systolic blood pressure and cortisol (stress) levels. (7)

The jury is still out on some alleged benefits
Can tai chi affect blood sugar? There are conflicting studies about that. A 2009 study states that 31 test subjects who completed a tai chi exercise program had improvements in fasting glucose, quality of life and performed more self care activities than the control group. (8)

Another study reports the improvements on insulin resistance and HbA(1c) were related to losing fat, not the specific tai chi exercise, but suggests a more intense form of tai chi that burns more calories might be effective for blood sugar control. (9)

An overall look at Pub Med articles will reveal conflicting studies on cardiovascular effects, too, but most studies trend in the direction that tai chi improves balance as well as reduces risk factors for chronic disease.

How do I get started?
Personal instruction is always the best method to learn a new form of exercise, especially if you anticipate needing adjustments for your current ability level. Check with your local gym or community calendar for classes. There are plenty of DVDs and YouTube videos for home practice, too.

Check in with your health care team before you get started, and get ready to bring balance back to body, mind and spirit.

Nicole Noles Collins is a licensed acupuncture physician and massage therapist at Vitalichi Acupuncture in Port Charlotte, Florida. Nicole has two bachelor’s degrees – Alternative Medicine and Professional Health Sciences – as well as a master’s degree in Traditional Chinese Medicine. She has a passion for both writing and natural health. Please visit her website at www.pcacupuncture.abmp.com and like her Facebook page at Vitalichi Acupuncture. For more information, call 941-979-9793.

Slippery Elm Tea helps ease Diverticulitis and Diverticulosis symptoms

I inadvertently got diagnosed with Diverticulitis a couple of years ago, when I started back working at the office while I finished acupuncture school. Every night for the first two weeks back to work I woke up with a racing heart, anxiety and chest discomfort that wouldn’t let me go back to sleep. Finally I went to the ER, and my heart was just peachy keen, thank you very much.

So I expected to get diagnosed with panic attacks (which I’m pretty sure it was) but there was one puzzling symptom – my pain improved when I held my arms above my head for the MRI. (If I had figured that out earlier, I could have saved myself a middle-of-the-night trip to the ER!) The MRI comes back, and it turns out I had diverticulosis in my upper left quadrant. According to the ER doc, it was pushing up against my diaphragm and causing the chest discomfort.

Well, OK, I’m in my 40s, it’s certainly plausible, but I hadn’t had any abdominal distress. It took me awhile to piece together that the ongoing cramping, gas and discomfort was probably a sign something was amiss more than just lactose intolerance.

Along with this new diagnosis came a new sensitivity to foods, or a sensitivity I hadn’t noticed before. Popcorn and nuts were no longer my friends. After studying for my boards with a bag of kettle corn by my side, I spent the next three days in abdominal agony. Ditto with nuts. Or the bag of plantain chips that helped me get through a Saturday workday at home. Small, crunchy foods were the enemy – an enemy I loved and wanted more of.

Fortunately, slippery elm was my knight in shining armor.

Slippery elm is an unusual herb. It comes from a tree that grows in the north, and can be used as a food, much like you would eat oatmeal, but with a hint of maple under the blandness. It’s been said the battle of Valley Forge was won by Washington’s troops because they were able to live on this porridge through the winter. Back in the day, the bark was chewed on much like we chew gum today.

The mucilage properties of slippery elm improve conditions where coating mucous membranes is needed: sore throats, acid reflux, IBS, diverticulitis or bronchitis. As it coats, it also draws out toxins and reduces inflammation, giving those sensitive tissues time (and a barrier) to heal. It’s like putting a band-aid on the inside of the body. A poultice can also be made for exterior inflammation such as boils, skin diseases or infections.

The other important property of slippery elm is its ability to expand. The tea, when steeped, will swell like any other fiber. As the slippery elm absorbs water in the digestive tract, it expands and gently cleans out the intestines. So when I over-indulge in those foods I know I shouldn’t, out comes the slippery elm tea, and I’m feeling better within a day or so. Really, though, I should also be drinking this as a maintenance tea once or twice a week as well. And why not? It’s loaded with nutrition. Remember how I said slippery elm is a food? It can be a protein source for vegetarians, and contains vitamins A, B-complex, C, E, and K. It also contains minerals like calcium, iron, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, silicon, selenium, sodium, and zinc.

Some other random things I do to help my diverticulosis are:

  • Mixing nuts or chips with softer foods instead of eating them straight, or eating them in very small handfuls and small amounts.
  • Chewing food thoroughly is an often overlooked, but important lifestyle change. I’m usually a quick eater, which puts strain on the digestive system. If you don’t chew your food to a near-liquid, your digestive system has to work harder and your intestines are processing lumps of food, not the ideal near-liquid consistency it needs. Try to chew 50 times before swallowing. Whatever number you get to, it’s probably better than what you’ve been chewing. A little extra time in the mouth is worth less discomfort in the abdomen.
  • Aloe juice can also be a big help, but it’s not tasty. It coats the intestines much like slippery elm, although it does not have its fibrous qualities. If you do try aloe juice, remember more is NOT better. Start with an ounce or so. If you take too big of a serving it will clean you out in more ways than one!

Be kind to your belly, and if it’s having a rough time, soothe the savage pains with a dose of slippery elm. It’s a gentle and inexpensive way to get relief.

Nicole Noles Collins is a licensed acupuncture physician and massage therapist at Vitalichi Acupuncture in Port Charlotte, Florida. Nicole has two bachelor’s degrees – Alternative Medicine and Professional Health Sciences – as well as a master’s degree in Traditional Chinese Medicine. She has a passion for both writing and natural health. Please visit her website at www.pcacupuncture.abmp.com and like her Facebook page at Vitalichi Acupuncture. For more information, call 941-979-9793.