Monday, August 31, 2015

Treating Hypertension with Acupuncture & Chinese Medicine

by Kathy Thorpe, MA, CHom
Elevated blood pressure is a major health problem affecting as many as a third of the US population over 60. Studies estimate that 62% of stroke, 49% of ischemic heart disease and 14% of other cardiovascular diseases can be attributed to hypertension. The problem with high blood pressure is that too much force is exerted on the arteries as blood is pumped through the body. This results not only in eventual damage to the blood vessels themselves but to other organs as well.

To assess blood pressure, both systolic and diastolic pressures are measured. Systolic represents the maximum pressure exerted in the arteries as the heart contracts, and diastolic is the minimum pressure in those vessels between cardiac contractions. Although blood pressure will often rise slightly as a person ages, blood pressure is considered normal if the top number (systolic pressure) is between 90 and 120 and the bottom number (diastolic) is between 60 and 80 mm Hg.

Although there are several causes of hypertension including aging, recent studies have shown that an overactive sympathetic nervous system is one of the major causes of high blood pressure. When the sympathetic nervous system becomes over-stimulated, it causes vasoconstriction of the arteries of the heart. And long-term vasoconstriction can lead to blood vessel damage, stroke and damage to the vital organs of the body.

High blood pressure is managed in Western medicine with several types of anti-hypertensive drugs. Diuretics help the kidneys remove salt and water which lowers the volume of blood in the vessels. Beta-Blockers make the heart beat more slowly so blood passes though the vessels with less force. ACE Inhibitors prevent the body from making angiotension II which tightens blood vessels so that blood vessels remain relaxed, lowering overall pressure. Calcium Channel Blockers or CCBs, prevent calcium from entering the muscle cells in the heart and blood vessels which slows the heart rate and keeps the vessels from tightening. Vasodilators relax muscles in blood vessel walls and blood flows more easily. While effective at lowering blood pressure, all of these drugs have side effects that range from a chronic dry cough to headaches, dizziness, fainting, weight gain, insulin resistance, depression, and erectile dysfunction.

So are there natural ways to treat hypertension?

Boulder acupuncturist, David Scrimgeour, L.Ac. maintains that many cases of hypertension can be treated successfully with acupuncture and Chinese medicine. “Acupuncture can lower blood pressure by down-regulating the sympathetic nervous system and by bringing the body back into homeostasis,” says Scrimgeour. “Many of my patients are able to have normal blood pressure using acupuncture, Chinese herbal formulas and by making dietary and lifestyle changes. And with these changes, patients see remarkable improvement in their overall health and vitality as well.”

A recent study conducted at the University of California at Irvine in August 2015 concluded that acupuncture combined with electro-stimulation can lower blood pressure rates by as much as 50%. According to Dr. John C. Longhurst, director of the Samueli Center, "This study suggests that acupuncture can be an excellent complement to other medical treatments, especially for those treating the cardiac system.”  There have also been studies showing that acupuncture outperforms Captopril, a commonly prescribed ACE inhibitor for high blood pressure. One of these studies concluded that electro-acupuncture was significantly more effective than the Western medication at controlling blood pressure. A German study comparing true acupuncture to antihypertensive medications concluded that blood pressure reductions with acupuncture are comparable to monotherapies with ACE inhibitors.

Scrimgeour explains that one of the mechanisms by which acupuncture lowers blood pressure is by down-regulating the sympathetic nervous system. Electro-acupuncture activates neurons in the brain which inhibit SNS activity by stimulating the opioid system which includes endorphins and encephalin. It also inhibits nociception which involves the encoding and processing of harmful stimuli in the nervous system. By inhibiting nociception and increasing the release of endorphins, the parasympathetic nervous system takes over which relaxes the body and lowers blood pressure.

In addition to acupuncture, David Scrimgeour also uses several Chinese herbal formulas such as Bupleurum & Dragonbone and Gambir to help control hypertension. “These formulas work by calming an up-regulated sympathetic nervous system which is often a contributor to hypertension,” says Scrimgeour. He also recommends the following dietary and lifestyle changes with his patients: 1) engaging in regular exercise including some cardiovascular exercise; 2) reducing grains and carbs in one’s diet and increasing fresh organic vegetables and fruits; and 3) supplementing with Vitamin C and Omega 3s. Finally, he recommends reducing stress levels with meditation, yoga or Tai Chi.

David Scrimgeour, L.Ac. specializes in treating hypertension as well as other cardiac disorders and chronic health issues. He practices acupuncture and Chinese medicine at his clinic in Boulder, Colorado. He is also an acupuncturist for the Longmont, Louisville, Lafayette and Erie areas in Colorado. For more information, he can be reached at 303 413-9596 or through his website:

Kathy Thorpe, MA, CHom is a natural health writer and blogger who has been writing about alternative approaches to health and wellness for the past ten years. Prior to that, she taught English at U.C. Berkeley and at the University of Colorado.  She can be reached at 303 583-0179.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Seven Things You can do to Prevent Memory Loss

By Kathy Thorpe, MA, CHom, Boulder, Colorado

Do you have problems recalling a name, focusing on a project, organizing information or remembering something you just learned? Do you worry about dementia because you experienced it with one of your parents? A certain amount of memory loss is normal with aging. In fact, 15% of the population in the U.S. over 70 experiences some form of dementia. While some of this is genetic, new research shows that there are important things we can do now to prevent or reverse memory loss.

Use it or Lose it: Keep your mind alert with daily mental activity – every time you learn something new or challenge your mind, you keep those neuro signals active in the brain. Current studies indicate that the brain is “neuroplastic” in the sense that its “circuits” are continuously changing in response to what we do. When we learn new skills, think, remember and perceive, the connections between the brain cells also change and strengthen. So keep using your brain. Choose reading over watching TV, do crossword or Sudoku puzzles, learn a new language, take a dance class, play strategy games such as chess or Bridge or do quilting or knitting. The most important thing is to keep learning new things.

Exercise and Stretch:   Physical activity has the largest impact on preventing cognitive decline than anything else. Blood circulation is essential for healthy cognition. Researchers have shown a significant benefit to staying active and encourage people to move every day: walk 2 miles, bike 10 miles, swim, attend an exercise class or engage in some form of regular, vigorous exercise. According to one study, people who did regular, aerobic exercise for at least a year showed enlargement of the hippocampus – the part of the brain that converts short-term memories to long-term ones. Exercise triggers the growth of new brain cells in the hippocampus and stimulates the release of “neurotrophic growth factors,” which helps the brain grow and maintain new connections.  
Be Social: People who have social contact with family and friends are at lower risk for memory problems. Plus, social interaction involves talking and listening and therefore challenges the brain in unique ways. It also helps ward off stress and depression. So call your friends and family or visit your local community center and sign up for a class or an activity.

Add Quality Nutrition:  Keep your brain nourished with vital foods that maintain healthy blood sugar levels and reduce brain inflammation. For years, researchers have known that diet can play a huge part in preventing cognitive decline. Patients with significant dementia made dramatic improvement when they avoided simple carbohydrates and processed foods, increased fruits, vegetables, nuts and seeds, lean protein, included quality oils and increased their fish intake. It was also found that vitamin B-12, vitamin D-3 and fish oil supplements were beneficial. The omega 3 essential fatty acids in fish oil help protect nerve cell membranes.

Nourish the Brain with the Good Oils: A good deal of new research shows the importance of organic coconut oil and extra virgin olive oil to prevent age-related memory loss, dementia and even halt the progression of Alzheimer’s. These oils improve brain chemistry, cognitive function and reduce oxidative stress that destroys brain cells. Add a tablespoon of coconut oil or extra virgin olive oil to your breakfast and dinner—and notice how much better you start feeling.

Don’t forget magnesium: A certain type of magnesium, Magtein (magnesium l-threonate) is able to cross the blood brain barrier and increase learning ability as well as improve short and long-term memory. It increases synaptic connections in the hippocampus that controls memory and also helps reduce anxiety and fear. It has also been shown to prevent cognitive decline in early stages of Alzheimer’s disease and improve memory even in advanced stages of Alzheimer’s disease. The dosage is one gram twice a day for these beneficial results.

Acupuncture and Chinese Medicine: Acupuncturist David Scrimgeour, L.Ac., in Boulder, Colorado uses acupuncture and Chinese medicine to support and nourish brain function. Adrenal deficiency,  inflammation of the  GI system and disturbed Shen (or mind in Chinese medicine) all contribute to loss of short and long-term memory and impairment of the ability to amass wisdom, think clearly and perceive things creatively. In addition to using acupuncture to address these imbalances,  Scrimgeour recommends the tonic formula, Supreme Immune Tonic to support adrenal, brain and immune functions in the body.
If you are among the many people who are starting to notice subtle signs of memory loss, start incorporating the above suggestions into your health regime. And don’t wait until your golden years to make these changes in your life. Start now so you can continue to be the wise, clever, witty and intelligent person that you are – no matter how old you are.  

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Resolve Your Insomnia with Acupuncture and Chinese Herbs

By Kathy Thorpe, MA, CHom, Boulder, Colorado
It’s midnight and you’re still awake. You’ve been tossing and turning in bed for the last hour, and you can’t seem to fall asleep. Then your mind throws you a curve: “You’re not going to be able to fall asleep! You have a busy day tomorrow and you won’t be able to function!”  With these thoughts, your heart starts racing and pounding, you experience palpitations in your chest. Sure enough, you can’t fall asleep.

A good night’s sleep is vital to your overall health, vitality, energy, memory and cognitive function. If you are among the 70 million Americans suffering from insomnia, you may be wondering if there are natural ways to restore your sleep before you resort to sleeping pills. Approximately nine million U.S. adults take prescription sleeping medications which bring their own set of risks. According to a study in the journal BMJ in 2012, in addition to being addicting, sleep medications bring a higher risk for certain cancers, a higher risk of death, increased insulin resistance and risk of developing diabetes, weight gain and a greater incidence of depression, confusion and disorientation.  

So what are the causes of insomnia?  We know that age is a factor as insomnia increases as people get older and experience a disruption in the body’s circadian rhythms.  Anxiety and heightened stress are other causes. When a person is stressed or anxious, the body’s “fight or flight” mechanisms take over even if there is no real threat. Adrenaline and cortisol are released, the heart beats faster, one becomes hyper-vigilant and mentally alert. Unfortunately, this isn’t the time to escape from the tiger – this is the time to sleep. Short-term insomnia can be caused by an injury, illness, surgery, medications, divorce, the death of a loved one, trouble at work, financial problems or traveling, for example. Typically, good sleep returns once one recovers from the temporary situation, but for many people, the sleep disturbances continue and the insomnia becomes chronic.

David Scrimgeour, acupuncturist and Chinese medical practitioner in Boulder, Colorado, says that he sees more cases of insomnia these days than ever before. He maintains that the rates of insomnia are growing astronomically as more people experience prolonged states of high stress, anxiety, poor diet, over-work and too little exercise. Burnout develops gradually as a person’s vital energy erodes and results in a failure to adapt to the changes and stresses of life. Once sleep, which was the great restorer, is affected, all other issues escalate.

Scrimgeour sees that insomnia can be treated effectively by acupuncture, Chinese Medicine and lifestyle modifications. According to David Scrimgeour, acupuncture helps restore sleep in two ways. First, it calms the “spirit” when there is an imbalance in the body’s energy system. This enables the body to calm down, relax and fall asleep. Secondly, acupuncture regulates the autonomic nervous system or the involuntary functions of the body. When the sympathetic nervous system is activated, it controls the body’s responses to a perceived threat and is responsible for the “fight or flight” response. Once the sympathetic nervous system is upregulated, it becomes impossible to relax because of the adrenaline and cortisol pumping through your body to keep you alert. Acupuncture has the effect of bringing your body into the parasympathetic mode, which controls homeostasis and is responsible for the body’s digestive, rest and sleep functions. In this mode, you can relax and fall asleep. 

David Scrimgeour also recommends specific Chinese herbal formulas in conjunction with acupuncture for insomnia. “It is a process,” he says, “of first calming down the nervous system and enabling the person to sleep with a formula such as Calm ES by Evergreen or Lights Out by Dragon Herbs. Once a person is able to start sleeping better, we can work on the underlying imbalances.” For chronic insomnia, Scrimgeour says that it is essential to address adrenal deficiency with certain Chinese herbal formulas that can restore function to the adrenals over time. Supreme Immune Tonic by Six Persimmons Apothecary is an excellent formula for adrenal deficiency. Once the adrenals are functioning better, sleep is restored and a person’s energy, vitality and mental acuity are also improved.

Through the use of acupuncture and Chinese herbal formulas, David Scrimgeour has been able to help many people sleep better and enjoy enhanced health as a result. 

David Scrimgeour practices acupuncture and Chinese Medicine at his clinic in Boulder, Colorado. He also serves the Longmont, Louisville, Lafayette and Erie areas in Colorado. For more information about sleep disturbances and insomnia, he can be reached at 303 413-9596 or through his website:

Kathy Thorpe is a natural health writer and blogger who has been writing about alternative approaches to health and wellness for the past ten years. Prior to that, she taught English at U.C. Berkeley and at the University of Colorado.  She can be reached at 303 583-0179. 

Acupuncture & Chinese Medicine: Effective Support for People with Cancer

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