Wednesday, December 09, 2009

The Role of the stress hormone cortisol: in maintaining vitality and wellness

The Role of the stress hormone cortisol: in maintaining vitality and wellness

By Alex Berks  L. Ac
Director of Chinese Medicine Oncology

Cortisol is known as the "stress" hormone.  It is produced in the adrenal gland and controlled through a feedback mechanism (hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis) between the brain and the adrenal gland located above the kidney. Research has shown that abnormal cortisol levels effect a broad array of physiologic changes from mood instability, to immuno-suppression, sugar cravings and even cancer development.(1) (2) (3). This can be caused by prolonged emotional and physical stress as well as infection, inflammation or oxidation.  Prescription steroids, for their anti-inflammatory and immunosuppresive properties, can also significantly impact cortisol (and a whole lot more!).  To treat a stress hormone imbalance, whether with a disease like cancer or in a condition like insomnia, the basic principles of lifestyle management, diet and appropriate activity and rest remain the same.  Depending on the severity and complexity of the condition additional supplementation may be needed.  Regulating cortisol levels is not only a way to get a better night's sleep but also a way to promote vitality and wellness. 

Normal Stress Responses

Elevated cortisol is a natural response to fear and emotional stress. Its purpose is to provide:

  • A quick burst of energy
  • Heightened memory functions
  • A burst of increased immunity
  • Lower sensitivity to pain
  • Helps maintain homeostasis in the body
  • Anti-inflammatory (4) 
This stress response has important survival functions. 
Diurnal Cortisol Rhythm

The red line represents cortisol or stress hormone release. The blue line represents melatonin and growth and repair hormones. (5)

Normal cortisol should be highest in the morning and taper off as the day progresses reaching its lowest level 3-5 hours after falling asleep. 

Dysregulated Cortisol
When cortisol levels chronically shift from a normal diurnal pattern symptoms begin.  If the pattern is low in the morning and getting lower throughout the day, the patient will present with chronic fatigue symptoms.  However before one gets to that severe level of energy deficiency one experiences more mild dysregulations of cortisol rhythmns.   For example, if breakfast is skipped, the brain needs to mobilize the stored form of sugar (glycogen) for its energy by elevating cortisol.   Some people are very sensitive to this hypoglycemic rise in cortisol.  Symptomatically, they often present with lack of focus, food cravings, and irritability.  This situation of hypoglycemia can also occur if one exercises too hard and does not replenish frquently.  Chronic psychological stress such as worry, fear and anger can also shift the normal pattern so that there are peaks of cortisol in the evening leading to insomnia, salt or sweet cravings and weight gain around the middle. 

The negative effects of chronically elevated cortisol are numerous: 
  • Impaired cognitive performance
  • Depression
  • Suppressed thyroid function
  • Blood sugar imbalances
  • Decreased bone density
  • Decrease in muscle tissue
  • Bloating and gas, possibly constipation
  • Higher blood pressure
  • Lowered immunity and inflammatory responses in the body, slowed wound healing
  • Increased abdominal fat, which is associated with a greater amount of health problems than fat deposited in other areas of the body. Some of the health problems associated with increased stomach fat are heart attacks, strokes(6), (7), (8)
Karen (not her real name) came to my office complaining of fatigue, inability to lose weight, muscle aches, bloating with meals, constipation and hair loss.  She had been on thyroid hormone replacement therapy for 4 years from a diagnosis of Hashimoto's Thyroiditis and was taking anti-depressants.   She is a 38 year old single female who exercises daily and intensely, works long hours and often sleeps about 6 hours per night, yet still gets up to work out hard daily. She is fastidious and educated about her diet, weighing her food and sticking to a low calorie diet.  She reports drinking 1 cup of coffee in the morning to help her go to the bathroom. 

Concerned that her hair was falling out,  she went to her MD who ran blood tests and thought she might have Cushing's Syndrome, an autoimmune failure of the adrenal gland. Two endocrinologists later she was eventually diagnosed as having exercise induced hormonal fluctuations.  After all the fear of a serious disease like Cushing's had passed and her MD increased the dosage of her thyroid medication, she still felt fatigued, constipated and that she couldn't lose weight.  Her thyroid was stable but her C-reactive Protein, a marker of inflammation, was elevated. 

Diagnosing her with Chronic elevated cortisol leading to adrenal fatigue,  I put her on a comprehensive supplement regimen to regulate her adrenal glands and control her insomnia as  away to restore her vitality and wellness.
Early Morning
Before Exercise Smoothie
After Exercise
Armour Thyroid
Rx. Medication
whey Proten
Wellbutrin RX. Medication (1:00)

Magnesium, potassium, Ca powder2

Adrenotone Plus™ 4

Armour Thyroid 
Rx. Medication (3:00)
Adrenotone Plus™ 

carbohydrate for energy ie... Orange Juice, or agave syrup
Adrenacalm cream™5


Detox Antiox™6

Adrenacalm cream™

Vitamin C

Larger Meal with some fat and protein

After 1 month on this regimen Karen reported that she was sleeping better and lost 6lbs. doing the same amount of activity, was eating more and her aches and pains bloating and constipation had resolved. 

The morning regimen is designed to give her a base of high quality protein (whey) with minerals and vitamins and phytonutrients in a green powder made into a smoothie with a small amount of a carbohydrate so that she will have energy to burn during her workout.  D-Ribose, can also be added to improve aerobic performance. 

Karen was exercising too hard and not getting enough rest.  Her adrenal glands, I reasoned, were in a chronic alarm state.  To rebalance her I focused on reducing her elevated cortisol after exercise and in the evening. Post exercise, cortisol can remain elevated for an extended time especially if one exercises hard or does not eat sufficiently for the level of activity.  Additionally, exercising  causes oxidation as it is an increase in cellular activity.   This is why I recommended the formula Detox Antiox™.  The post-exercise supplementation and meal allowed Karen to reduce hypoglycemic inducement of cortisol.  Inflammatone™ is a natural anti-inflammatory containing herbs and proteolytic enzymes.  Her CRP being elevated is a sign of the oxidative and inflammatory pressure she is under.  Vitamin C, Magnesium and potassium are all excreted by elevated cortisol levels and are useful to replenish a stressed adrenal gland. (9)

I treated the insomnia as elevated evening cortisol due to the fact that she works late and was probably over-stimulated in the evening.  Karen was on her way to chronic fatigue if she did not do something about it.  Now she is able to restore herself better and get a good night's sleep. 

It is important to understand that elevated cortisol levels are not Karen's primary problem.  Elevated cortisol is always secondary to another process - unsustaining lifestyle habits or physiological problems. Therefore to treat the cortisol problem one must get at the root to rebalance the body and mind.  Then with the proper lifestyle changes and supplementation the body can restore itself.  Each person is unique.  Some people will present with more hyperactivity and others with more fatigue.  Others will combine an energy imbalance with digestive disturbances such as sugar/saltcravings, bloating, gas and constipation others will present with more anxiety, depression and insomnia, still others will have frequent colds.   They can all have the same root.

Nearly all of us have stress hormone imbalances caused by age-related hormone changes starting in our mid 30's or younger if significantly out of balance.  Lifestyle stresses, inflammation, infections and oxidation also contribute to the aging process.  In other words if we do not attend to our cortisol balance than the aging process can be accelerated. 

Asking The Right Question To Get On Track

What part of your life do you need to modify to maintain a grounded connection to your needs?
  • Do you eat sugary or "comfort foods" to calm yourself down?
  • Do you skip meals in an effort to lose weight?
  • What is the role of coffee and other stimulating drinks and foods?
  • What is the role that anxiety plays in your life?
  • Is there a emotional cause to your insomnia?
  • Are you too tired to exercise?  or do you feel excessively depleted after exercise?
  • Does stress affect your digestion?
In a future article I will discuss the literature on cortisol as it relates to cancer. 

1 -  Sephton et. al. oxfourd journals Journal of the National Cancer Institute 2000 92(12):994-1000 Diurnal Cortisol Rhythm as a Predictor of Breast Cancer Survival
2 -  Cortisol and Stress: How to Stay Healthy
3 -  How Sleep Affects Cancer Poor Sleep Alters Hormones That Influence Cancer Cells
5 -  Sleep and Your Circadian Rhythm
6 -  Adrenal Weakness
7 -  Cortisol and Stress: How to Stay Healthy
8 -  How Sleep Affects Cancer Poor Sleep Alters Hormones That Influence Cancer Cells
9 -  Adrenal Weakness

The information contained in this article is for informational purposes.  it is not intended to diagnose, cure or prevent disease.  If you are having a medical problem please consult a qualified health care practitioner for your needs. 

For more information about Alex Berks L. Ac., FABORM go to


1 Inflammatone is a combination of herbs, nutrients and proteolytic enzymes for promoting the breakdown of inflammatory proteins like kinins and fibrin and for healing damaged tissue. The herbs in Inflammatone provide protection from free radicals and are safe to use in high doses. This formula is extremely effective, as a natural antiinflammatory and alternative to NSAID medication.

2 A magnesium-potassium- calcium formulation. formulated with 3 parts magnesium to 2 parts calcium, which will prevent a surplus of calcium robbing the body's vital magnesium supply and avoid the symptoms associated with depleted levels of magnesium. This superior formulation includes potassium, boron and vitamin D for better absorption of these key minerals, building strong bones, regulating hormones 

3 PaleoGreens is a greens food powder made with over 85% organic ingredients. The vegetable, fruit, and berry ingredients are brightly colored and non-oxidized, as the powders are protected from heat, UV light and moisture from start to finish. These greens have a paleo profile; they contain no grains, legumes, alfalfa, corn, gluten, fructose or artifi cial sweeteners.

4 Adrenotone Plus is a combination of standardized herbs and nutrients which are known for rejuvenating the adrenals. This product is designed to balance cortisol levels, promote healthy hypothalamic and pituitary function (HPTA axis), and replenish depleted catecholamines (dopamine, norepinephrine, and epinephrine). This product does not contain glandulars.

5 AdrenaCalm is a gentle, soothing cream that contains herbs and nutrients to support the management of adrenals. This broad spectrum cream contains phosphatidyserine and key B vitamins.

phosphatidylserine modulates and blunts the neuroendocrine response to stress.

6 Detox Antiox synergistically combines many nutrients that have a positive effect on the immune system. This formula contains multiple ingredients known to raise glutathione levels making it helpful for supporting phase II liver detoxification. It also combats free radicals and helps detoxify harmful chemicals including heavy metals. L-Leucine when taken with NAC prevents mercury from being reabsorbed into the central nervous system. It is designed to aid the production of metallothionein. The vitamin E is 60% gamma, mixed tocopherols. Lipoic acid regenerates vitamins E and C and supplies sulfur for detoxification. Two capsules daily of this powerful formula also provides the well-researched antioxidants green tea, grape seed extract and curcumin.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Meditation, Stem Cells and Telomeres

I have been coming across telomeres from many different sources in my studies as of late.
Telomeres are sections of genetic material at the end of each chromosome whose primary function is to prevent chromosomal “fraying” when a cell replicates. As a cell ages, its telomeres become shorter. Eventually, the telomeres become too short to allow cell replication, the cell stops dividing and will ultimately die - a normal biological process.  for an animation about telomeres click here
Telomere degradation can be controlled by low calorie diets, reducing oxidative stress, and getting optimal amounts of sleep.  For more on how to preserve telomere length click here.

Telomerase is an enzyme that helps protect telomeres:
Telomerase, also called telomere terminal transferase, is an enzyme made of protein and RNA subunits that elongates chromosomes by adding TTAGGG sequences to the end of existing chromosomes. Telomerase is found in fetal tissues, adult germ cells, and also tumor cells. Telomerase activity is regulated during development and has a very low, almost undetectable activity in somatic (body) cells. Because these somatic cells do not regularly use telomerase, they age. The result of aging cells is an aging body. If telomerase is activated in a cell, the cell will continue to grow and divide. This "immortal cell" theory is important in two areas of research: aging and cancer. 
Telomerase has been detected in human cancer cells and is found to be 10-20 times more active than in normal body cells. This provides a selective growth advantage to many types of tumors. If telomerase activity was to be turned off, then telomeres in cancer cells would shorten, just like they do in normal body cells. This would prevent the cancer cells from dividing uncontrollably in their early stages of development. In the event that a tumor has already thoroughly developed, it may be removed and anti-telomerase therapy could be administered to prevent relapse. In essence, preventing telomerase from performing its function would change cancer cells from "immortal" to "mortal".   To watch an animation of telomerase click here.
In the interview below stem cell researcher Dr. Taylor talks about Telomeres.  See the Radio Program  Stem Cells Untold Stories  that is interesting and exciting all by itself.  Now there is an affordable blood test to measure telomeres.   But wait....

Stem cells are even more fascinating and are another front in aging and cancer research.
Stem Cells are cells found in most, if not all, multi-cellular organisms. They are characterized by the ability to renew themselves through mitotic cell division and differentiating into a diverse range of specialized cell types.
Dr. Taylor has gained renown for regrowing rat hearts.  Just to give you a little tidbit from the interview:  She tells the story of the research she did with a long-time meditator in the Tibetan buddhist tradition.
"...[Buddhist monk Matthieu Ricard] and a number of his colleagues meditate, and as they meditate they measure differences in their brainwaves. Right? And I basically said I would predict that those very same things that when you meditate and you have positive brainwave changes would also have an effect on your stem cells. He very graciously, and this is an N of one, let us measure cells in his blood before and after meditation. And what we found was a huge increase in the number of positive stem cells in blood. Largest increase I've ever seen after 15 minutes of meditation."
I found this absolutely stunning!  It says to me we are in control of far more than we think we are!  Not only with telomeres but now with stem cells! Intrigued by all this I dug a little deeper (as I do)  and  found a most interesting blog post by a man who cured himself of 4 bouts of bone cancer including having 2 stem cell transplants.  All this occurred in the early 1990's and he wrote this post in early 2009.   This man appears to be able to effect his stem cells with his practice and probably his telomeres too.  He writes:
"When I was diagnosed with Stage Four bone lymphoma cancer in 1991, I read everything I could about people who had survived supposedly hopeless cases of the deadly disease. One common thread ran through the survivor stories: People who had beaten aggressive, late-stage instances of the disease had found ways to use their minds to help their bodies heal. So I learned how to meditate, and how to use visualizations to help my immune system attack the cancer cells. And against all odds, I survived six months of an intense regime of chemotherapy and came out cancer free."  For the rest of his story click here.
The science of cancer and the experience of meditation, qi gong and yoga can have an amazing impact, far more than one would think. 
As Benjamin Franklin said,  "Energy and persistence conquer all things."

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Medicines to Deter Some Cancers Are Not Taken

Medicines to Deter Some Cancers
 Are Not Taken
by Gina Kolata
New York Times - November 12, 2009 
Many Americans do not think twice about taking medicines to prevent heart disease and stroke. But cancer is different. Much of what Americans do in the name of warding off cancer has not been shown to matter, and some things are actually harmful. Yet the few medicines proved to deter cancer are widely ignored....................

Dr. Abrams responds:
 Hi Gina,
I am here in NYC becoming President of the Society for Integrative Oncology. I had just enough time to scan your front page article before heading to the NY Academy of Medicine for the meeting. And I was at the American Institute for Cancer Research Nutrition and Cancer meeting in DC last week. Not surprisingly I was disappointed with your article, especially as we try to move to a system of health care delivery that might promote health and well-being as opposed to disease management. Your observations that the only things that work to reduce cancer risk are pharmaceutical prescription drugs and that lifestyle modification is futile is a real blow to the attempt to have the American public become more responsible for their health. Studies of diet, and exercise as well, are much more difficult and problematic to conduct than a randomized, placebo-controlled intervention involving a swallowed pill! Nonetheless, to only highlight the negative when just last week the Journal of Clinical Oncology ran an article on how lifestyle (nutrition and physical activity) decrease the risk of second breast cancers. Meyerhardt from the Dana Farber has been very prolific writing articles which clearly demonstrate the detriment of the "Western" diet and the benefits of physical activity - especially in colon cancer!
Even though I disagree with your thrust, hopefully your article will stimulate the same sort of questioning that you aroused in me so that there may be a net benefit. To lull your readership into believing that what they eat or how much they move won't affect their cancer risk reduction is unfortunate! Especially at this critical juncture in our health care reform attempt.
We have disagreed in the past as well. I was just struck by the timing of your article which I will critique during my acceptance speech this afternnon!
Good to communicate again anyway!
With all due respect,
I remain,

Donald I. Abrams, MD
Chief, Hematology-Oncology
San Francisco General Hospital
Integrative Oncology

Thursday, November 19, 2009

The Use of Chinese Herbs With Radiotherapy

By Alex Berks L. Ac. Dipl. Herbs, FABORM
Clinical Director of Chinese Medicine Oncology

Integrating Chinese herbal medicine with conventional radiotherapy can be of immense benefit to a cancer patient. In the scientific literature it is reported across many studies from China that the integration of both medicines is better than either one alone.

This article addresses the prescription of Chinese herbs for a radiation patient. Chinese Medicine includes acupuncture, qi gong, tai qi, massage and diet therapies, all of which are of great value to a cancer patient.

Radiation therapy can injure surrounding healthy tissue, damage fragile mucosal barriers in the lungs and intestines, injure salivary production, cause digestive problems, dryness, inflammation and even scorching depending on location, intensity and duration of the treatment. Radiotherapy can also injure the bone marrow. While the targeting of radiation therapy has vastly improved to protect surrounding tissue, radiation therapy is still a significant challenge.

From a Chinese Medicine perspective the heat from radiotherapy that is intense enough to destroy tissue generates a "toxic heat". Cancer is itself a toxin. Radiotherapy is a toxin to fight a toxin.

Herbs that rebalance the body can prevent side effects of radiotherapy, restore health and vitality, and prevent relapse and metastasis. Rebalancing is a concept of Chinese Medicine that is a fabulous complement to the cure seeking of Western Medicine.

Rebalancing against radiation toxicity is done along a continuum of signs and symptoms. For example, toxic heat depletes the moistening properties of the blood and injures the mechanisms of energy production. Then the body, in an effort to compensate for the heat, dryness and depletion of fluids, produces phlegm as a substitute lubricant. This phlegm, when combined with heat, can injure the elimination pathways in the bladder and large intestine, stagnate and deplete the blood and cause further weakness. At late stages the vital essence is injured and there is very poor energy production and compensation. Applying Chinese Medicine diagnostic principles and appropriate treatment at each stage is a way to prevent this degeneration and many side-effects.

Research has also shown that Chinese herbs improve the sensitivity of the tumor to radiotherapy.
A tumor's sensitivity to radiation is in part dependent on blood supply and oxygenation of the tissues. Herbs can improve both. It is reported that tumors have a ratio of anoxic cells which have poor radiation sensitivity. Radiation therapy may reach only about 1/3 of cells with a low oxygenic state. Low tumor infiltration by radiation is considered one of the factors causing cancer relapse.

Research studies done on single herbs, though not representative of how herbs are most beneficially applied, are illustrative of the efficacy and principles of multi-herb formulas. An example of this is a study done on a Liguistrazine extract of the common Chinese herb Chuan Xiong (Radix Liguistici Wallichi). This herb is known in the Chinese pharmocopeia as a blood activator. The results of this study showed that the rats responded to the herbal extract with increased microcirculation in caliber, flow speed, flow status and capillary count. It is not hard to see that a formula with this and other synergistic herbs could improve the microcirculation of peri-tumor tissue and the tumor body, increase blood perfusion in the tumor body, improve cell's anoxic state and could elevate the sensitivity for tumor tissue to radiation therapy. (1)

The following studies demonstrate the value of Chinese Herbal Medicine (CHM) in conjuction with radiotherapy (RT) to improve survival rates, lessen the impact of depletion of white blood cells, and improve the ability to finish the full course of treatment.

This study from Chinese Academy of Medical Sciences included 197 nasopharyngeal cancer patients who were treated with Chinese herbs plus radiation therapy compared to radiotherapy alone. The combined therapy group had twice the number of patients survive to five or more years than the radiotherapy alone group. The tumor was killed in more patients in the combined therapy group and the remote metastatic rate was less in the combined group. These findings imply that Chinese herbal medicine could enhance the radiosensitivity of tumors. (2)

Survival Rate N =197

1 year
3 Years
5 years

Disappearance of the tumor

Cause of Death
Primary lesion relapse or metastatic lesions

In another study researching the efficacy of herbs to prevent and treat side effects of radiation therapy, 71 patients were in an active treatment group with herbs and radiation and the control group was given a placebo herbal formula plus radiation.
The results showed 84.5% were able to finish the full course of radiotherapy versus 63.3% in the control group. The type and staging of the cancer was not revealed.(3)

In another small study, white blood cell counts did not go as low in a combined treated group as they did with radiotherapy alone. One particular formula Fu Zheng Xiao Formula (FZZX), was shown to moderate T-lymphocyte subset. (4)

Another combined herb-radiation study was conducted with nasopharyngeal cancer patients who continued taking herbs for 6 months after the radiation was finished. The 5 year survival rate was 75%. The authors indicate that Chinese medicine combined with radiation improved the effectiveness of radiation therapy while minimizing its toxicity in both the short and long term. In this study there was no mention of a control group. (5)

Mice studies have also showed improved efficacy when radiation and herbs were combined both on white blood cell counts and survival rate. Interestingly, the survival rates were even higher in the mice that were given the herbal mixture 1 week before beginning treatment with radiation. (6)

Many studies, repeatedly show that Chinese herbal medicine formulas can be combined efficaciously and safely to improve life expectancy and prevent adverse side effects of radiation treatment. Herbs should be started 1 week before starting radiotherapy and continue for at least 6 months after treatment to achieve maximum benefit.

Please consult with a trained Chinese Medicine practitioner who is knowledgeable in the integrative support of cancer recovery.


2. Donald Abrams, Andrew Weil, Integrative Oncology (New York: Oxford University Press, 2009) chapter 13 p. 269.

3. Zhang Dai-Zhao p. 83.

4. Zhang Dai-Zhao p. 83.

5. Zhang Dai-Zhao p. 85.

6. Zhang Dai-Zhao p. 86.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

The Benefits of Bloodletting

Leave behind what you think about vampires, or barbaric medicine from the 18th century. In this video my Chinese Medicine Practitioner friend talks about bloodletting on th E! channel documentary Radical Hollywood Cures.

In reality bloodletting techniques that I perform are the removal of drops -not pints - of blood. No more than what can be dabbed in a few cotton balls. This is not some True Blood fantasy come to life. One of the primary indications for blood letting is blood stagnation characterized according to Chinese Medicine theory by sharp and stabbing localized or fixed pain.

Interesting Case: Stage 4 endometriosis patient with severe pain that she reports as excruciating during her period. She cannot work for a day or two every month and frequently she is taking Vikodin. The diagnosis is blood stagnation. She reports getting fantastic relief from removing stagnant blood from minor varicose veins around her knee. It is not something that she has to wait to feel. As soon as the blood comes out she gets instantaneous relief.

Alex on E! Entertainment Television

This is a clip of me performing Gua Sha (scraping technique) on E! TV special called Radical Hollywood Cures. The conceptual framework of disease in Chinese Medicine is defined as blockage of energy (qi) and blood. Gua Sha is a scraping technique to relieve toxins. It can help remove toxins and heat from patients getting radiotherapy. This is not done in the radiation field. It can also be done for many painful condtions of the back. In the show they were going for the ewww! factor but in reality it does not hurt and does not leave lasting marks.

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Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Immune weakness in a post Herceptin Treatment patient

I have been seeing a patient who recently stopped Herceptin. She was diagnosed with Her2/neu breast cancer and then a subsequent tumor on her spine. Recently she has had 4 minor infections in the past few months. The most recent was oral thrush. I recommended she treat it with a combination of diluted grapefruit seed extract, swishing and swallowing and acidophilus swishing and swallowing. I also gave her an astragalus based herbal formula.

The patient was not sure if i had diagnosed this correctly so she went to her ENT MD who also diagnosed it the same. He wrote her a prescription for Diflucan, an antifungal drug. The patient then called me up to ask if any of the herbs would interact with Diflucan. Good question. This is what I found in my search from a pharmacist/author John Chen whom I know is experienced with herbs:

On the other hand, drugs that inhibit liver metabolism have an immediate onset of action. The rate of liver metabolism may be greatly impaired within a few days. Therefore, there is a higher risk of herbs accumulating inside the body as the function of the liver to inactivate them is compromised. Examples of drugs that slow down or inhibit liver metabolism include, but are not limited to, Tagamet (cimetidine), erythromycin, ethanol, Diflucan (fluconazole), Sporonox (itraconazole) and Nizoral (ketoconazole). Therefore, the herbs may be inactivated more slowly and the overall effectiveness may be prolonged. In this case, one may need to lower the dosage of herbs to avoid unwanted side-effects. see complete article

After I explained to the patient that it was not a good idea to take herbs with Diflucan and why, the patient asked me what she should do. I told her to try the natural treatment over the weekend, rest and follow an antifungal diet (no sweets, alcohol, glutenous grains or fermented foods etc...) if it did not help than go on the drug. I saw the patient again today and thankfully the mouth sores were significantly better.

The question of why this patient is getting frequent infections and showing signs of weak immune system function is an interesting one and I will see how I can get her to feel better and hopefully prevent her cancer from returning by improving her overall functional health. One small victory today was good, very good.

Having had thrush as a teenager I know how painful this can be.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Success Story Fertility

Sara (not her real name) faced the statistics of age-related fertility when in her early 40's she wanted to have a family. Sara tried naturally, monitoring her ovulation but nothing happened. Then she tried IUI's (intrauterine insemination) and was still frustrated. She then graduated to IVF's (in-vitro fertilization) . She did two medicated cycles both times producing low quality embryos. This was a very stressful period for Sara. Her work and relationship suffered. Fertility it seemed was her right as a woman but getting pregnant and was going to be a longer journey than she thought.

The stress of infertility is not new. It is chronicled in In the book of Kings. Hannah is described as childless and weeping for years. After counsel with a religious leader she eventually gave birth to the Prophet Samuel. For anyone it can be deeply discouraging to want something that you seem to be unable to get, particularly when you may feel it is your god-given right. The personal choices of health and lifestyle practices as well as empowering emotional support all can help keep your mind centered and thereby promote fertility.

Now Sara was no longer 41 she was 43. The clock was ticking. Upset with the medicalization of her fertility and deeply discouraged by what seemed like an unattainable goal, she decided to work on herself. She came to our clinic and began regular acupuncture sessions and made changes in her diet. She took herbs and nutritional supplments and began to keep a journal. She became engaged in the process of examining her attitudes and beliefs about conception. This led to attending the Fertile soul™ support group. While contemplating whether to try a third IVF Sara fell pregnant on her own. She stuck with her herbs and acupuncture through the first trimester. In the spring Sara gave birth to a healthy baby girl.

If, as the saying goes, "luck favors those who are prepared", Sara story is about sticking with a goal by cleaning up mental and emotional blockages while keeping her body healthy. It is empowering to know that challenges can be overcome. That she defied age-realted statistics is icing on the cake. It does not always happen this way and success can also mean becoming a parent in other ways.

Send us your story or share your comments about this one.

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

when Back Pain Is Not Back Pain

The musculo-skeletal system is amazingly dynamic. Not that we ever think of it that way until something goes wrong. This is the story of a patient who had severe back pain which interestingly enough was not treated in the back. A 37 year old male patient, otherwise healthy, came to see me complaining of severe back pain lasting for 1 1/2 weeks. Upon examination I noticed that his muscles on the left side of his spine were inflamed and his calf muscles were bulging particularly on the left side. What kind of exercise had he been doing? He told me he was a runner and that he used to skateboard a lot and that was why his left calf was over-developed. Considering that Chiropractic treatments earlier in the week did not provide him enough relief, I decided to do an acupressure test on him. I massaged deeply on the left hamstring and calf muscles to see what his response would be on his back. To my excitement he reported that the muscle tension in his back improved. This was a good clue to do more. So I worked deep into the soft tissue of his legs and glutes bilateral. Then I had him turn over to release the iliopsoas muscle group. These are hip flexor muscles that can cause back pain. His psoas muscles were painfully tight. First I released them with a distal acupuncture point in the foot so I could release them manually in the lower abdomen without causing so much discomfort. It is interesting and amazing to press on a tight psoas muscle (located in the lowest part of the abdomen near the inguinal groove) and have the patient feel intense pain and then put a needle in the foot (GB41 if you really want to know) and have the same psosas muscle area be significantly softer and relaxed instantly. Patients upon feeling this change will say something like "Wow! How can a needle in my foot help my psoas like that." For which I respond, That is the mystery and magic of Acupuncture. To fully relax the person and further soften the back I performed acupuncture. The patient walked out feeling good.

This kind of treatment outcome could not be achieved by acupuncture alone yet happens everyday in our office to people looking for natural solutions to thier health care concerns.

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Do acupuncture points exist?

Department of Physics, Surface Physics Laboratory (State Key Laboratory), and Synchrotron Radiation Research Center of Fudan University, Shanghai 200433, People's Republic of China. Shanghai Research Center of Acupuncture and Meridian, Pudong, Shanghai 201203, People's Republic of China.

We used synchrotron x-ray fluorescence analysis to probe the distribution of four chemical elements in and around acupuncture points, two located in the forearm and two in the lower leg. Three of the four acupuncture points showed significantly elevated concentrations of elements Ca, Fe, Cu and Zn in relation to levels in the surrounding tissue, with similar elevation ratios for Cu and Fe. The mapped distribution of these elements implies that each acupuncture point seems to be elliptical with the long axis along the meridian.

Monday, May 04, 2009

Advances Elusive in the Drive to Cure Cancer

Alex Writes:  This NY Times article reviews the history of survival rates of various cancers in wonderful interactive graphs and more... The best part are the letters from readers in response to this article.  

In 1971, flush with the nation’s success in putting a man on the Moon, President Richard M. Nixon announced a new goal. Cancer would be cured by 1976, the bicentennial.

Forty Years’ War

An Expensive Priority

Articles in this series will examine the struggle to defeat cancer.

Readers' Comments

Readers shared their thoughts on this article.

When 1976 came and went, the date for a cure, or at least substantial progress, kept being put off. It was going to happen by 2000, then by 2015.

Now, President Barack Obama, discussing his plans for health care, has vowed to find “a cure” for cancer in our time and said that, as part of the economic stimulus package, he would increase federal money for cancer research by a third for the next two years.

Cancer has always been an expensive priority. Since the war on cancer began, the National Cancer Institute, the federal government’s main cancer research entity, with 4,000 employees, has alone spent $105 billion. And other government agencies, universities, drug companies and philanthropies have chipped in uncounted billions more.

Yet the death rate for cancer, adjusted for the size and age of the population, dropped only 5 percent from 1950 to 2005. In contrast, the death rate for heart disease dropped 64 percent in that time, and for flu and pneumonia, it fell 58 percent.

Sunday, May 03, 2009

Chinese Herbs for Cancer

Alex Writes: This article is a good overview of the TCM approach to cancer treatment.

Chinese herbalists have been medicating patients with tumors for over two

thousand years. 1 In stark contrast to Western oncology concepts that undergo

constant revision, Chinese medical ideas about tumor pathogenesis and herbal

responses have remained largely the same over the centuries.2 Still, though,

Traditional Chinese Medical (TCM) approaches hold strong attraction for human

oncology patients and people whose animals have cancer.3 TCM practitioners

shun the image of “waging war on cancer” and instead embrace the more

peaceful and organic view of cancer as a journey, regarding the patient not as a

battlefield but as a garden to be nurtured.4 5 6

The enormous draw of Chinese medicine and other traditional medicine practices

led the World Health Organization to consider ways to best study the

effectiveness and safe implementation of CAM methods in clinical practice. In

response, they formulated the Traditional Medicine Strategy 2002-2005.7 In the

same year, the White House Commission published a Complementary and

Alternative Medicine Policy.8 Both organizations urged researchers to

investigate the claims and practices of long-held belief systems and empirically

derived treatments. The National Cancer Institute now recognizes that

following the leads laid by longstanding tradition will generate higher yields than

searching for cancer-fighting botanicals de novo.9 Even the Chinese Society of

Traditional Veterinary Science in Taiwan and the Asian Society of Traditional

Veterinary Science have sounded calls for more research and education in

Traditional Chinese Veterinary Medicine (TCVM) and, specifically, in herbal


The assortment of Chinese herbal treatments being promoted for animal patients

with cancer is growing. Testimonials asserting reductions in tumor size in dogs

who received Chinese herbs further stoke enthusiasm and hopes of finding an

alternative cure.11 12 13 However, rather than basing the herbal prescription on

tumor type or biopsy results, herbs are matched to a patient’s disease “pattern”,

which sorts patients into groups according a system based on visible signs on

the body, the specifics of which are unique to TCM.14

TCM holds that tumors and cancer arise from emotional stress, overwork, poor

nutrition, invasion of pathogens, and poor circulation.15 16 Of these, impaired

circulation ranks as perhaps the most strongly linked etiologic factors leading to

cancer and metastasis.17 18 From a Chinese medicine perspective, the poor

circulation associated with the “blood stasis” pattern will not only deprive tissue of

vital oxygen, absorbed nutrients, and immune surveillance, and it also leads to

the buildup of metabolic end-products in the tissues. Modern oncology resonates

with this perspective at least in part, acknowledging that the microcirculation

within tumors can be abnormal and contain areas of sluggish perfusion.

Furthermore, some researchers have added anticoagulants to chemotherapy

agents in order to lengthen survival and prevent blood-borne metastasis.19

Friday, May 01, 2009

Acupuncture Eases Radiation-induced Dry Mouth In Cancer Patients

ScienceDaily (Apr. 25, 2009) — Twice weekly acupuncture treatments relieve debilitating symptoms of xerostomia - severe dry mouth - among patients treated with radiation for head and neck cancer, researchers from The University of Texas M. D. Anderson Cancer Center report in the current online issue of Head & Neck.

For the rest of the story either click here or on the title of the post

Soon I will start working at a radiation center I thought I would post relevant research about acupuncture and radiation therapy

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Cytotoxicity induced in Bladder Cancer Cells by Frankincense

Frankincense oil derived from Boswellia carteri induces tumor cell specific cytotoxicity
Mark Barton Frank , Qing Yang , Jeanette Osban , Joseph T Azzarello , Marcia R Saban , Ricardo Saban , Richard A Ashley , Jan C Welter , Kar-Ming Fung and Hsueh-Kung Lin

BMC Complementary and Alternative Medicine 2009, 9:6doi:10.1186/1472-6882-9-6

Published: 18 March 2009
Abstract (provisional)

Originating from Africa, India, and the Middle East, frankincense oil has been important both socially and economically as an ingredient in incense and perfumes for thousands of years. Frankincense oil is prepared from aromatic hardened gum resins obtained by tapping Boswellia trees. One of the main components of frankincense oil is boswellic acid, a component known to have anti-neoplastic properties. The goal of this study was to evaluate frankincense oil for its anti-tumor activity and signaling pathways in bladder cancer cells.

Frankincense oil-induced cell viability was investigated in human bladder cancer J82 cells and immortalized normal bladder urothelial UROtsa cells. Temporal regulation of frankincense oil-activated gene expression in bladder cancer cells was identified by microarray and bioinformatics analysis.

Within a range of concentration, frankincense oil suppressed cell viability in bladder transitional carcinoma J82 cells but not in UROtsa cells. Comprehensive gene expression analysis confirmed that frankincense oil activates genes that are responsible for cell cycle arrest, cell growth suppression, and apoptosis in J82 cells. However, frankincense oil-induced cell death in J82 cells did not result in DNA fragmentation, a hallmark of apoptosis.

Frankincense oil appears to distinguish cancerous from normal bladder cells and suppress cancer cell viability. Microarray and bioinformatics analysis proposed multiple pathways that can be activated by frankincense oil to induce bladder cancer cell death. Frankincense oil might represent an alternative intravesical agent for bladder cancer treatment.

The complete article is available as a provisional PDF. The fully formatted PDF and HTML versions are in production.

Vitamin E and Prostate Cancer

Vitamin E and Prostate Cancer: A Proteomics Approach Using 2-D Gel Analysis Software

Proteomics can be a useful tool in understanding the anti-cancer activity of vitamin E.

By Christian M. Muenyi, Dr. William L. Stone, Dr. Hamid Kasmai, and Hongsong Yang

Various forms of vitamin E have been under intensive study as chemopreventive and chemotherapeutic agents for a number of cancers.1 Many in vitro, animal, and epidemiological studies have presented evidence of an anti-cancer activity for vitamin E, but there are few studies of vitamin E in prostate cancer,2 and the mechanisms by which forms of vitamin E induce apoptosis in cancer cells remains largely unknown.3 Therefore, proteomics may help to understand the molecular events associated with the cytotoxic effects of vitamin E on cancer cells.

Figure 1: Analysis of 2-D gel by Dymension software showing proteins that are up or down-regulated three hours after delta-tocotrienol treatment.

The purpose of the study was to characterize the proteomic changes occurring in a prostate cancer (LNCaP) cell line after treatment with delta-tocotrienol, a form of vitamin E. In this study, 2-D gel electrophoresis was used to detect changes in protein expression levels associated with this treatment. However, to determine which proteins in a complex 2-D gel image are being expressed requires specialist software to resolve protein spots accurately. Previously, using some 2-D analysis software packages, it was difficult and time consuming to manipulate gel images to obtain meaningful data. To overcome the analysis bottleneck, this article describes how Dymension (Syngene, Frederick, Md.), a 2-D gel image analysis software, can be used to rapidly show which proteins are up or down-regulated by treatment with delta-tocotrienol.