Headaches are a common concern in my practice and represent a condition that affects nearly everyone at some point or another. Headaches can sometimes be a challenge to work with because there can be many different triggers - dehydration, stress, food sensitivities, low blood sugar, medication (did you know that nitroglycerin, used for angina, will always cause a severe headache?). And with some types of headaches like cluster headaches, the jury is still out to lunch about the cause (although there are higher rates amoung smokers).
Menstrual cramps, on the other, are a familiar problem for many women. Some parts of the world even offer a regular menstruation holiday for women whose menstrual cycles cause enough pain that it disrupts their ability to work productively and efficiently. Interesting thought.
Right between your thumb and index finger, on the back of either hand, you have a very powerful point for controlling pain in the whole body but especially the head and neck, and menstrual cramps. This point is called Hegu or Large Intestine 4, and in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) is considered to be the command point for the head and neck as well as the Yuan Source point - making it one of the safest, and effective go-to's for pain relief.
The point is often needled during acupuncture treatments for dizziness, congestion, pain and swelling of the head (including headaches and migraines), toothache, facial paralysis. It also exerts a whole body influence on pain control, abdominal pain, constipation, and dysentery. Because of its influence on the abdomen, it is very useful for dysmenorrhea (menstrual cramps), amenorrhea (absence of periods) and inducing labour.
At home you can apply moderate pressure to this point on either hand for 30 seconds at a time while focusing on taking slow deep breaths in and out. Try it for yourself!
Note, women that are pregnant should not use this point as it is thought to stimulate uterine contractions. If headaches or menstrual cramps are a persistent problem for you, consider seeking care from a health care provider such as a Naturopathic Doctor (me!) to provide more insight why. Neither of these conditions, although incredibly common, need to be tolerated on a regular basis and can definitely cause some quality of life issues. You are better off to learn the cause and then treat appropriately =).
There was a running joke in our family growing up: Don't mess with a German Sheppard while it's eating. By German Sheppard, we meant me.
I don't mean to say that I was particularly clumsy with my utensils - on the contrary, my mother was very adamant about us knowing exactly which fork to use, how to use chopsticks, a la Emily Post. Nor that I was the perfect family pet.
The joke was that I am very serious with my food. I wake up excited about all of the delicious things that I want to eat in the day, my husband and I are addicts of Gordon Ramsay's Ultimate Cookery Course, and I am happiest puttering around the kitchen making food for my family.
Also, that one might be taking their life into their hands by coming between me and my plate.
My father actually called me "Spike" as a kid, and my uncle DID teach me to growl as a toddler... just capitalizing on my hungry dog status. I digress.
In Chinese Medicine, there is the concept of "Digestive Fire" which is essential for us to be able to process the foods we take into our body, extract the nutrients and in turn be nourished. In me the Digestive Fire was quite strong. In fact, I would diagnose myself as having Stomach Fire, which can show up as extreme hunger, canker sores, lots of burping, and unquenchable thirst. Add to that a family propensity for hypoglycemia and not enough vegetables, and we had a recipe for a kennel full of hangry (hungry + angry, fyi) puppies at our house.
That is, until I adopted a more Primal or WAPF way of eating. I used to go from craving starch, and carbs, and salt, and sugar... and did you just say cupcake???? ALL THE TIME to only having minimal food cravings and feeling more satisfied. My secret?
Chew the fat.
Yes, you can discuss your day at the dinner table. What I really mean is that by increasing healthy fats in my diet I no longer am in danger of causing bodily harm to my loved ones in public because someone just wanted a bite (probably of my steak). Fats act to slow the digestion and absorption of sugar into your blood stream which means that you will feel more stable, energetic and full longer.
Sugar is essentially a drug - we crave it because it gives us a high, and when the effect wears off, we feel a low. We get miserable, hungry, tired and generally unpleasant. And we are craving another fix. I see a lot of people that get that 3pm slump where they could use a nap, or coffee and chocolate because they feel so tired! The first place to start, therefore, is with breakfast and lunch. If you are consuming a lot of sugars in isolation with little protein and fats (think the classic TV commercial breakfast of a bowl of cereal, skim milk, a banana and orange juice) you will be experiencing this guaranteed. The same goes for my smoothie-loving friends out there that just have frozen fruit and OJ blended up with nothing else for breakfast. Junkies, all of you!
I can't judge, however, because I was there. Since re-evaluating my food patterns this is no longer a problem. My favorite go-to fat and protein snacks are almond/cashew/sunflower butter, nuts, coconut oil, avocados, bacon (make sure it is good quality), salmon, kippered herring, sardines, olive oil and of course... meat.
Since then my Digestive Fire has gone from a burning inferno to gently simmering.
Stay tuned for more Optimizing Your Digestion Tips!
Yours in health,
p.s. Check out these awesome Cereal commercials!
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Dr. Keila Roesner is a Naturopathic Doctor. When not treating patients she is also an enthusiastic barefoot-strolling, music-loving, yoga-doing kitchen wiz - who also happens to be a wrestling fan.