It's morning and your first patient rolls in with a triple espresso steaming in one hand and a frazzled, desperate look in her eye. "You gotta help me, doc, I am constipated unless I drink one of these, and I am exhausted and anxious all the time." You take her pulse: middle position is barely present, first position left is superficial and racing.Her tongue coat is thick and greasy. A text book case of Spleen qi Deficiency, Turbid Damp and Heart Blood Deficiency with Heat. Clearly, she hasn't eaten, or if she has, it wasn't anything substantial. A little voice inside your head whispers a cardinal acupuncture rule, "Thou shall not treat the patient who has an empty stomach." (Hint: Keeping protein snacks in the office always helps with this one!)
But, did you ask the million dollar question, "Have you eaten today?" Or better yet, "What did you have for breakfast?" Asking this one simple question and beginning the food conversation opens the door for the most profound healing a patient can experience. As acupuncturists, this experience is one we are uniquely qualified to deliver. In Oriental Medicine school we are taught that acupuncture works best when a patient has had something to eat. Gu qi, or Food qi, comes from our food and is then used by the lungs and heart to make Zong qi (Gathering qi) which controls respiration and heart function and governs the blood and blood vessels. Gu qi also combines with Yuan qi and Kidney qi to make blood. Moreover, Food qi is used to make Ying qi, the nutritive qi that nourishes all the organs and this is the qi we are activating when we insert a needle.1
Ying qi is the trace mineral, the vitamin and the essential fatty acid. Ying qi is the selenium and iodine required to make thyroid hormone. It's the manganese used to make collagen, the zinc used to heal DNA and the vitamin C complex necessary for adrenal gland function. Without these basic raw materials, without good quality Food qi, our body does not run. Doing acupuncture without nutrition is like moving into an empty house that's missing the floorboards, the plumbing and all the furniture.
With an overwhelming amount of synthetic chemical additives in our food supply, people aren't eating real food.2 Preservatives, pesticides, genetically modified organisms (GMOs) and an eroding top soil have manipulated the qi right out of our food. For example, contaminants such as pesticides and herbicides kill the crucial microbes that deliver nutrients to the soil. This depletes the soil of essential trace minerals that feed the plants. In turn, those plants that nourish both human and animal alike are no longer as nutrient-dense. In 1950, an orange imparted 50 milligrams of vitamin C complex. Today, an orange contains a mere 5 milligrams.3 And if picked off-season and shipped across the country, it could take weeks to reach your fridge, increasing the chances the vitamin C will have already oxidized.
Further, our body cannot make enzymes without trace minerals.4 Enzymes are required by every cell to perform essential life-sustaining metabolic processes. Enzymes such as protease, lipase and amylase are needed to break down the proteins, fats and starches from the food we eat in order to extract the minerals and vitamins we need. Commonly used preservatives such as butylated hydroxyanisole (BHA) and butylated hydroxytoluene (BHT) kill these necessary enzymes, extending a food's shelf life, but certainly not sustaining human life.5
Quality Food qi is on the endangered species list and Americans are paying the high price with their failing health. The American Autoimmune Related Diseases Association states that 50 million people are now living with an auto-immune disease.6 Did you know that a common food additive, potassium bromide, used as a flour conditioner in bread, is banned in Canada, China and Europe?7 Not only is it a known carcinogen and can damage the kidneys, it interferes with the thyroid's ability to use iodine.8 Iodine is the key ingredient used to make thyroid hormone. Some 20 million Americans suffer from thyroid disease, which is being hailed as a rising epidemic.9,10
Perhaps the biggest epidemic of our time is the 86 million American adults who are pre-diabetic.11 Just ask every patient that walks through your door, "Do you crave sugar, or carbohydrates, or do you get light-headed or cranky if you don't eat on time?" These key symptoms of blood sugar fluctuation are rampant. Since the average American consumes more than 150 pounds of sugar a year,12 clearly the food conversation isn't happening.
Most people know what junk food looks like. They have a sense when they've either been overtly "bad" or "good" in their eating habits, yet are still in the dark as to what is truly best for them. This is why having a real conversation with our patients about what they do and don't eat is so important. Despite our fears on broaching the subject of nutrition, patients want to talk about it. They are confused on what to eat and turn to "Dr. Google" for advice, or are swayed by the latest fad or junk science. With 69 percent of the adult population overweight, you can bet our food pyramid is not the answer.10
So what is the answer? Certainly eating clean organic food is a start. However, even the perfect patient eating an all organic, whole food diet will show signs of nutrient deficiencies. The reasons for this include topsoil erosion, antibiotics in our water supply and consumption of antacids blocking proper digestive function, to name just a few. In addition to eating smart and eating well, nutritional supplementation, not to be confused with synthetic vitamins or synthetic anti-oxidants, is key.
During the Ming Dynasty, eating nutrient-dense whole foods was common. In 21st century America, eating processed foods, like chocolate cookie sugar cereals and fast food, is the norm. Therefore, unless we can improve a patient's Gu qi, chances at achieving optimal health diminishes. As health care practitioners we are poised at a paradoxical cliffhanger. Humans are living longer, yet are the sickest they've ever been in history: 100 million Americans are chronically ill and obesity in children quadrupled in the last 30 years.13,14 These are modern diseases with modern causes – polluted air and water, over-processed dead food and the impractical demands of a busy lifestyle.
Irregular eaters, non-eaters, meal skippers, eating on the go-ers, over-indulgent foodies, raw zealots, and carboholics need your help. They're not getting the nutrition information they need because it's not being talked about. Will you be the one to start the food conversation?
- www.sacredlotus.com/go/foundations-chinese-medicine/get/forms-of-qi-life-force. Accessed June 3, 2015.
- www.fda.gov/Food/IngredientsPackagingLabeling/FoodAdditivesIngredients/ucm094211.htm. Accessed November 2004.
- Frost, Mary. Back to the Basics of Human Health. P. 3-11 Expansive Health Awareness, 1997.
- Frost, Mary. Back to the Basics of Human Health. P. 14-16 Expansive Health Awareness, 1997.
- Dr. Cichoke, Anthony J. The Complete Book of Enzyme Therapy. P. 20, Avery, 1999.
- www.aarda.org/autoimmune-information/autoimmune-statistics/ Accessed June 3, 2015.
- http://foodmatters.tv/articles-1/8-additives-from-the-us-that-are-banned-in-other-countries Accessed June 24, 2013.
- Brownstein, David M.D. Iodine Why You Need It Why You Can't Live Without It. P 49, Medical Alternative Press, 2014.
- www.thyroid.org/media-main/about-hypothyroidism/ Accessed June 3, 2015.
- www.thyroid.org/media-main/about-hypothyroidism/ Accessed June 3, 2015.
- www.diabetes.org/diabetes-basics/statistics/?referrer=https://www.google.com Accessed June 10, 2014.
- www.medicinenet.com/script/main/art.asp?articlekey=56589 Accessed June 3, 2015.
- http://invisibleillnessweek.com/media-toolkit/statistics/ Accessed 1997.
- www.cdc.gov/healthyyouth/obesity/facts.htm Accessed April 24, 2015.
Emily Glasser, LAc, ACN has years of training in both functional medicine and Traditional Chinese Medicine. She uses nutrition, whole food supplementation, herbal medicine, acupuncture, and therapeutic bodywork to develop individualized treatment plans. She holds a Master's Degree in Oriental Medicine from the Pacific College of Oriental Medicine and is licensed in the state of California as an Acupuncturist and Herbalist and is also an Applied Clinical Nutritionist. She can be reached at
or through her website, www.emilyglasserhealth.com.