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Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) nutrition combines ancient wisdom with modern science. TCM nutrition is a holistic approach, which aims to balance all five flavors within most meals with one or two flavors being emphasized for therapeutic purposes. TCM nutrition for hypertension emphasizes bitter flavors, sour flavors, and energetically-cooling foods.
TCM theory states the bitter flavor benefits the heart in moderation but an excess is harmful as it has a drying effect; for example, coffee is bitter. In moderation, coffee acts as a vasodilator increasing circulation but in excess, it can raise blood pressure and has a diuretic effect. Modern scientific research has discovered while the human genome has 25 bitter taste receptors 12 of these are expressed in the human heart.
Foods with bitter flavors include romaine lettuce, dandelion, arugula, rye. Foods that combine bitter with pungency include citrus peel, radish, scallion, and white pepper. In TCM nutrition the pungent flavor can help disperse phlegm (e.g. plaque). Foods that combine bitter with sweet include asparagus, celery, tomatoes, lettuce, quinoa, and papaya. Lemon rind is bitter and sour; vinegar is also bitter and sour.
Bitter flavors have a yin, or cooling effect, clearing heat in the body while encouraging a descent of Qi, which aids in the draining of fluids. For example, celery contains the phytochemical phthalides which relax arterial wall tissues to increase blood flow and thereby reduce blood pressure. The fiber, magnesium, and potassium in celery also help lower blood pressure and regulate fluid balance. Caution: according to TCM, those with a lot of dryness and/or bone disease should moderate their intake of bitter flavor.
A tomato a day keeps the doctor away! The combination of lycopene, vitamin C and E, potassium, and folic acid in tomatoes make it a powerful food for heart health. The bitter flavor of tomatoes comes from the seeds; to reap the full benefit of tomatoes eat the seeds too. Heirloom tomatoes in the season have the most flavor, find the tastiest tomatoes at your farmer’s market or try growing your own.
Chrysanthemum tea is very popular in Asia; it is helpful for headaches, dizziness, high blood pressure, chest pain, and also fevers. You can add chrysanthemum flowers to your morning green tea and in the evening combine it with chamomile tea for extra cooling benefits!
TCM nutrition cautions against overdoing cold foods and drinks. Too much cold inhibits the digestive process. Drinking warm beverages and soups, as well as eating foods with a little pungency (chili pepper, garlic, ginger) causes the body to perspire slightly which naturally cools the body.
5 Flavors Chickpea Salad for Healthy & Happy Heart
15 oz cooked organic chickpeas (1 can)
1/2 c cup cooked quinoa or 1 cup brown rice (warm)
4 stalks celery, minced
6-12 cherry tomatoes, chopped in 1/2 or 1/4
8-12 Romaine lettuce leaves, chopped
2 TBSP red onion, minced
Toss with a dressing made with:
2 TBSP olive oil
1 TBSP lemon juice + a little lemon zest (organic is best)
1 tsp grated ginger
1/2 tsp honey or agave
1-2 garlic cloves (minced or pressed)
1/8 tsp Himalayan or Sea salt (or to taste)
fresh ground black pepper (to taste)
Dr. Bishara Wilson, DACM
Foster, S. R., Blank, K., Hoe, L. E. S., Behrens, M., Meyerhof, W., Peart, J. N., & Thomas, W. G. (2014). Bitter taste receptor agonists elicit G-protein-dependent negative inotropy in the murine heart. The FASEB Journal, 28(10), 4497-4508.
Kastner, Joseph, MD, L.Ac, (2009) Chinese Nutrition Therapy, Thieme, Stuttgart and New York
Pitchford, Paul (2002), Healing with Whole Foods: Asian Traditions and Modern Nutrition, North Atlantic Books, Berkeley, California
Ried, K., Frank, O. R., Stocks, N. P., Fakler, P., & Sullivan, T. (2008). Effect of garlic on blood pressure: a systematic review and meta-analysis. BMC cardiovascular disorders, 8(1), 1.
Willcox, J. K., Catignani, G. L., & Lazarus, S. (2003). Tomatoes and Cardiovascular Health. Critical Reviews in Food Science and Nutrition, 43(1), 1-18.
Acupuncturists understand the body as a complex system of energy systems, meridians, and organs. However, when an acupuncturist talks about an organ, like the spleen, heart, or kidneys, they are not referring to the physical organ that sits inside your body, but rather the energetic side of these organs. The energetic system is much bigger than just the physical organ and governs certain functions in the body on many levels.
In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) it is massively important to care for your heart. Why? Well for starters, the heart governs the ability to think clearly, sleep soundly, and maintain a good memory. Our emotional state is strongly influenced by how healthy or unhealthy our heart may be. A weak and deficient heart may create feelings of anxiety and mania, while also contributing to insomnia, forgetfulness, and lack of concentration. The heart is known as the “king of all organs”. Meaning, other organs will sacrifice all to keep the heart in motion; this involves giving away their energy and nutrient supply (commonly referred to as Qi).
When it comes to your heart, what you eat matters. Follow these tips for heart-healthy eating:
1. Eat less saturated fats. Look for lean meats, like seafood, poultry, and cut back on fatty red meats and high-fat dairy products. Limit foods like pizza, burgers, and creamy sauces or gravy. Look for products with no trans fats and choose foods with unsaturated fats like salmon, nuts, seeds, avocados, and oils.
2. Cut down on sodium (salt). Read the Nutrition Facts label and choose foods that are lower in sodium. Look for the low-sodium or “no salt added” types of canned soups, vegetables, packaged meals, snack foods, and lunch meats.
3. Get more fiber. Eat vegetables, fruits, and whole grains to add fiber to your diet. Fiber is a carbohydrate that your body cannot break down, so it passes through the body undigested. Fiber can help prevent heart disease from its ability to lower both blood pressure and cholesterol.
4. Cut back on sweeteners. Consuming too much added sugar can raise blood pressure and increase chronic inflammation, both of which are pathological pathways to heart disease. When choosing a sweetener, look for natural options like honey, dates, maple syrup, molasses, or agave nectar.
Without a healthy heart, the body cannot function properly and the mind may be clouded and disconnected. Contact me for a consultation to see how acupuncture and Traditional Chinese Medicine can assist you with all of your heart health needs.
Dr. Bishara Wilson, DACM
The organs in Chinese medicine are more than just a physical representation. The organs include not only their physiological function but also their mental, emotional, spiritual, and elemental qualities that align with nature and the seasons. Let’s explore the heart and unique perspective Traditional Chinese Medicine can offer.
The heart season is summer, and the heart is considered the most yang: hot, bountiful, and abundant. Yang is what is bright, moving, outward, hot, and loud. Yin is what is more inward, still, dark, and cooler.
The color of the heart is associated with red, the climate is heat, the flavor is bitter and its paired organ is the small intestine (many urinary issues are due to “heart fire” heat descending).
The sense aligned with the heart is the tongue, and the vessels associated with the heart are the tissues. The heart sound is laughing, and the emotion is joy. The heart houses what is known as the shen, which is the mind and spirit. You can see a person’s shen in a healthy complexion and radiant eyes that are clear and bright.
The heart is in charge of circulation and keeps the tissues well nourished. It is also associated with mental clarity, memory, and strength. The motion of this fire element is upward, like a flame.
Many who have this element dominant in their personality have red hair that is curly or spikes upward. The heart is also connected to speech. An imbalance in heart energy can result in stuttering, speaking excitedly, or talking excessively.
A balanced heart:
A healthy heart energy exudes a sense of joy, enthusiasm, action, warmth, charisma, and fun. These people are the “life of the party,” and love to have a good time with friends and to be the center of attention. When the heart is balanced, sleep is sound and one is well-rested.
An unbalanced heart:
On the other hand, when there is an overabundance of fire this can result in restlessness, anxiety, sweating, excitability, and symptoms such as palpitations, irregular heartbeat, insomnia, disturbing dreams, mouth sores, thirst, red face, constipation, and dryness.
This person might shrink if not in the limelight and would constantly seek attention and need activities that produce a lot of excitement. He or she might have trouble being introspective and could not be alone. “Overjoy” is an imbalance of heart energy and is likened to manic behavior.
A dominant fire may also be extremely sensitive to heat. A lack of the fire element, on the other hand, can result in a lusterless complexion, low energy, inertia, depression, feeling cold, low libido and the personality may lack warmth. This type may seem cold, frigid, lack drive, and may be prone to addictions.
How to help your heart stay in balance?
Studies show red foods have been shown to help the heart biochemically; foods such as hawthorn berries, strawberries, cherries, raspberries, tomatoes, watermelon, peppers, and goji berries keep your heart happy with lycopene and anthocyanin, antioxidants, and beneficial vitamins. Other helpful foods include garlic, cayenne, cilantro, basil, magnesium (found in leafy greens, nuts, and soy), and green tea. Also try ginseng, jujube dates, reishi mushrooms, dong quai, seaweed, and schizandra berries. Calming activities such as walking, tai qi, or qi gong help calm the shen.
It is best not to self-diagnose, make sure to seek the guidance of a medical professional to confirm these foods are right for you. You don't want to assume you have too much of one element and end up eating the wrong foods. A thorough diagnostic evaluation is the best way to get a proper diagnosis.
As far as the Five Element theory goes I’d be happy to see which element is dominant in you, and together we can treat your condition with acupuncture, herbs and offer advice for beneficial diet and lifestyle adaptations.
If you are looking for heart health remedies, give me a call today.
Dr. Bishara Wilson, DACM