Friday, May 31, 2013

The Hypothalamus, Menopause, Weight Gain and Acupuncture

How important a health problem is excessive weight gain in America? It is so important that First Lady Michelle Obama has made it her number one goal to end childhood obesity in one generation. One third of all American children and adolescents are obese. One third of all American adults are also obese, weighing 25% more than their ideal weight, while two thirds are overweight. It is clear that excessive weight gain has become America’s new epidemic.
A behavior similar to taking drugs, smoking tobacco, or drinking alcohol, excessive eating is an addictive behavior that shortens life spans and is difficult to stop by force of will. Obesity increases a person's risk of developing several serious health conditions such as cardiovascular disease, hypertension, thyroid disease, polycystic ovarian syndrome, and diabetes. Every extra pound over your ideal weight may take time from your life.
Why do people tend to overeat even if they know all about the harmful effects of being overweight?
The hypothalamus contains several groups of nerve cells, which have the ability to impact emotions, regulate body temperature, and control thirst, along with the feeling of fullness and salt cravings. Body weight is controlled by the hypothalamus through modifying metabolism. The activities of the hypothalamus are influenced by stress, light, steroids, insulin, pleasant food smells, and invading microorganisms. This explains why we tend to overeat when we are stressed out because the hypothalamus produces more hormones to stimulate the pituitary to produce more cortisol-releasing hormones. The sharp increase in cortisol stimulates the appetite, especially for junk food. Further when daylight time becomes shortened in the winter and when we smell something good, the hypothalamus changes its activity, so our appetite also changes.
When menopause comes, the imbalance of estrogen, progesterone, GABA, serotonin and dopamine profoundly influences the neuronal activity of the hypothalamus, which can cause women to be more emotional, to crave sweets and salty food, and to have insomnia, hot flushes and night sweats. Many women tell me that they cannot stop eating even though they know they are not supposed to eat too much of a certain kind of food. In this scenario, if they eat the wrong kind of food such as cookies or ice cream, or drink too much coffee, their stomachs will not receive a signal for fullness. They can keep eating until they damage the majority of their nerves and blood vessels. We have trillions of neurons and blood vessels; if we destroy 60% of them, our body can still compensate. Once the majority of the nerves and blood vessels are damaged, it is too late to change. When we consume sugary foods , our reward center lights up, our body releases dopamine and we feel happier for a moment. The problem is that our body's function is not improved by eating junk food. We have to continue eating those rewarding foods to maintain our happiness. If we instead exercise, take herbs or have acupuncture treatments to produce more dopamine, we can reap the benefits but not pay the cost. On the other hand, if we just put a piece of chocolate into our mouth, we will do damage to our nerves and blood vessels. Simple sugar is even worse than alcohol or tobacco because you can eat sugar any time in any amount without getting drunk or being punished. On the other hand you can only drink alcohol or smoke cigarettes at certain times and places. On the positive side, when people eat sugary foods, they become friendlier and more sociable during that moment. Most men eat one piece of chocolate, then stop, while women have to eat ten pieces, because women's estrogen levels fluctuate each month from 10 to 100 while men do not have these big hormone changes unless they are alcoholics or drug addicts. Furthermore, women have a very sensitive rewarding center, and they can have sudden increased levels of dopamine, while men receive a much less extreme response from eating rewarding food.
How we can control our appetite by optimizing the activity of hypothalamus?
Q. Wei et al.’s research on obese rats found that tryptophan and serotonin levels were decreased in certain areas of the brains in the obese group as compared to the control. Acupuncture could produce weight reduction by optimizing the serotonin (5-HT) level. Serotonin not only makes people relax and feel good, but also enhances intestinal motility to help discharge toxic materials that could produce food stagnation and internal heat. Internal heat, from a Chinese medical perspective, leads to increased appetite and more craving for food. In Western medicine, if food cannot be properly absorbed and converted into blood sugar to provide energy, it will be stored instead as fat in the body. Then, the person feels hungry all the time and must eat constantly to maintain his or her blood sugar level. It can quickly become a vicious cycle.
Acupuncture, herbs, meditation, Tai Ji, Qi Gong and other relaxing treatments help redirect energy and blood flow to the hypothalamus, pituitary, ovaries and adrenal gland, so the above glands can produce balanced hormones. On the other hand, acupuncture can reduce stress instantly. By reducing stress, acupuncture improves your entire body function. The balance of all the relaxing and stimulating hormones is the key factor for keeping healthy weight and eating habits. When you have balanced hormones, you do not crave sweets or other junk foods.

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Acupuncture and Migraines

             A migraine is a type of headache, which can repetitively happen on one side or both sides of the head. Usually, it is a throbbing, stabbing pain, which can be debilitating to people.

            Mechanisms of migraines: Abnormal brain cell activities trigger release of certain chemicals,    causing changes of blood flow in the brain and surrounding tissues, according to an article in Medline Plus. CT’s or MRI’s do not show any organic changes in the brain.

What causes migraines:

  1. Changed sleep-wake cycle can cause imbalance of chemicals in the brain. If cortisol, melatonin and other chemicals peak and drop at the wrong time, brain activities will change.
  2. Artificial light, such as computer and TV light, can reduce melatonin secretion, which is associated with the hyper- excitability of brain cells and increases of certain chemicals linked with pain sensation. Many teenagers develop migraines after prolonged playing of computer games.
  3. Missing meals can cause a decrease of blood sugar, triggering adrenaline release, thus changing activity of brain cells.
  4. Strong coffee or tea can over-stimulate the sympathetic nervous system and lead to an imbalance between exciting and inhibiting chemicals in the brain.
  5. Taking medication for headaches daily can profoundly change the balance of the chemicals in our bodies.
  6. Hormone changes during puberty, menopause and menstruation can also influence brain blood flow.  Women tend to develop migraines during menopause.
  7. Birth control pills not only dramatically change your chemical balance and brain activities but also cause swelling of the blood vessels.
  8. Certain smells or perfumes.
  9. Certain foods: any processed, fermented, pickled, or marinated foods, baked goods, chocolate, dairy products, foods containing monosodium glutamate (MSG), foods containing tyramine, (including red wine, aged cheese, smoked fish, chicken livers, figs, and certain beans.). Meats containing nitrates (bacon, hot dogs, salami, cured meats), nuts, onions and peanut butter.
  10. Stress can cause increases of cortisol, adrenaline and prolactin, which lead to abnormal activities of brain cells.
  11. Lyme disease can cause nerve damage.
  12. Dehydration induces histamine release, which generally causes inflammation of the blood vessels, including brain blood vessels.
  13. Some medications, such as beta-blockers, can cause swelling of the blood vessels.
  14. Excessive noise can over-stimulate your sympathetic nervous system.
  15. Women may have fewer migraine attacks during the last two trimesters because a high level of progesterone and a certain type of estrogen (estriol) stabilize their nervous systems.
  16. Nicotine withdrawal can cause headaches. Weather changes may cause swelling of the blood vessels due to changes of humidity and air pressure.

What we can do to prevent migraines:

  1. Go to sleep and wake up at regular times in order to maintain normal brain cell activity. It is harmful to go to sleep and wake up at random times. Healthy people hardly disturb their circadian cycle. Night-shift people rarely live up to 90 years old in good condition.
  2. Avoid too much caffeine. If you have migraines currently, you need to gradually cut down the amount of caffeine that you take in. Technically, caffeine can constrict the blood vessels and help relieve headaches, but too much caffeine is always linked with frequent headaches, because caffeine can also over-stimulate your sympathetic nervous system, causing over-reaction to environmental changes. Moderation is the key.
  3. If you want to quit smoking, do it gradually, because a sudden drop in nicotine can lead to hyper-excitability of brain cells. You might want to drink some green tea when you want to light a cigarette, because theonine in green tea can help us relax but still stay alert.
  4. Do not drink wine or any other alcohol if you have frequent migraines. If you continue this habit, eventually the medication will not help you anymore.
  5. Find out what causes your allergies: nuts, onions or other kinds of food. Abnormal levels of histamine due to allergies can change our brain cell activities.
  6. Avoid intense exercises such as running more than 5 miles every day, which can trigger adrenaline release.
  7. Avoid artificial sweeteners because they have similar structures as certain brain chemicals and thus can potentially change brain cell activities.
  8. Avoid occurrences of low blood sugar by eating the right foods at the right times. Sweets make your blood sugar level go up and down like a roller coaster.
  9. Apply a cool towel during a migraine attack; it helps to reduce the swelling of the blood vessels.
  10. Avoid triggering food. Once you break the vicious cycle of your migraine attacks, your nervous system and its chemicals reestablish a new balance. You can eat small amounts of those triggering foods, such as chocolate, wine, and nuts, once or twice a week. Finding out the amount and frequency of each of these foods that your body can tolerate is the key to avoiding migraines and enjoying your life in the long run.
  11. Drink half of your weight in fluid ounces of water at least three times a week. Meaning a person who weighs 150 pounds should drink 75 ounces of water 3 days during each week. When you are dehydrated, your blood vessels tend to constrict to maintain your blood pressure. Furthermore, dehydration can induce histamine release.

Research about acupuncture and migraines:
Li Y published results in Headache 2009 about how acupuncture can relieve the acute attacks of migraines. A total of 218 patients with migraine were recruited for the study; 180 met the inclusion criteria; 175 completed the callback process and were randomized into 3 groups. One group received real acupuncture, whereas subjects in the other 2 groups were treated with sham acupuncture. Each patient received 1 session of treatment and was observed over a period of 24 hours. The main outcome measure was the differences in visual analog scale (VAS scores for the pain level before treatment and 0.5, 1, 2, and 4 hours after treatment.)
Significant decreases relative to baseline in VAS scores were observed in the fourth hour after treatment. The VAS scores in the fourth hour after treatment decreased by a median of 1.0 cm, 0.5 cm, and 0.1 cm in the real acupuncture group, sham acupuncture group 1, and sham acupuncture group 2. Similarly, there was a significant difference in the change from baseline in VAS scores in the second hour after treatment among the 3 groups (P = .006), with only patients treated with real acupuncture showing a significant mean decrease in VAS score at this time: median decrease 0.7 cm (P < .001). Many patients in the acupuncture group experienced complete pain relief (40.7%).