How to Digest Better – Why Stomach Acid is Good for You

If you take a walk down the isles of your local drug store, you will see a variety of medications to suppress stomach acid. The predominant message from the media and drug advertisements (like Prilosec or Zantac) is that stomach acid is bad for your health. In fact, these sources seem to indicate that stomach acid is so bad for you that we should all run out and take an acid suppressing medication, just to be safe. In this post I will explain why adequate stomach acid is not only essential, it is also critical in correcting a number of conditions including poor nutrient absorption, dysbiosis and acid reflux.

Let’s start by explaining the main functions of stomach acid (HCL). First and foremost, stomach acid is used to break down proteins in the stomach (with the help of the enzyme pepsin), thus beginning the process of changing protein from food into the body’s preferred form: amino acids. This process of protein breakdown also involves enzymes such as pepsin and protease. After the contents of the stomach are released into the small intestine (SI), the presence of stomach acid triggers the cascade of other digestive chemicals including bile and pancreatic enzymes. If there is low stomach acid then there is often insufficient bile & digestive enzymes as well because HCL is a required chemical signal in the SI.

Low stomach acid usually means proteins will not be broken down into amino acids properly, which leads to 4 major downstream problems:
1.) Proteins that cannot broken down into component amino acids are generally not useful in a nutritional sense. Undigested proteins therefore cannot be utilized for a myriad of essential functions including: repairing muscles, building healthy skin, creating immune cells, etc.
2.) Additionally, any undigested proteins that pass through the stomach and small intestine can be fermented by pathogenic (bad) bacteria causing symptoms like gas, bloating and inflammation.
3.) Any undigested proteins in the lower digestive tract have the potential to trigger immune reactions within the intestinal lining. Gluten is a primary example of this effect: because gluten is a protein that is very difficult to digest (even with there is sufficient stomach acid), the immune system in the lining of the intestines gets exposed to the undigested gluten protein. Over time, the immune system may start to flag gluten as an enemy that needs to be attacked and eliminated, creating a cycle of immune dysregulation and inflammation (thus food allergies or food intolerance forms).
4.) Lastly, many nutrients can only be properly absorbed in the digestive tract when in the presence of stomach acid. This means that low stomach acid may lead to nutrient depletions, especially: iron (ferritin), calcium, and B12.

In addition to protein digestion, stomach acid has another key responsibility: to kill any pathogens found in food including bacteria, fungi, and parasites. When stomach acid is sufficient the body is actually well-equipped to handle “dirty” food covered in bacteria and other pathogens. Considering how our ancestors ate, of course the digestive tract is hightly effective at killing bacteria and parasites in our food. When there is adequate stomach acid present a bit of bacteria from the roots of a dirty carrot or a few parasites found in raw fish will be easily neutralized when it hits the harsh acid environment of the stomach. If stomach acid is low then these pathogens may take-hold and become an infection in the intestines.

In a medical sense there are 2 major diagnoses here: hypochlorhydria (low stomach acid) and achlorhydria (lack of stomach acid). Achlorhydria and hypochlorhydria may not actually have any symptoms, but the most common symptoms are: feeling heavy after meals (especially after meals containing dense protein like red meat), fatigue after meals, gas, bloating, multiple food sensitivities, recurrent food poisoning, and acid reflux.

If you have one or more of the symptoms listed above and suspect low stomach acid then there are plenty of natural treatment options. Apple cider vinegar (ACV) and lemon juice are both acidic and support stomach acid. One teaspoon of apple cider vinegar mixed into water can be sipped with meals to help stimulate stomach acid production. Alternatively, lemon juice can mixed into a cup of hot water and taken with meals. If both ACV or lemon cause reflux-like symptoms then stomach acid is likely not deficient.

We should also consider the most common causes of stomach acid deficiency are:
-Chronic Stress – which lowers stomach acid while increasing stress hormones.
-Vegetarian diet – where the body will naturally need less stomach acid to digest vegetarian protein.
-Deficient salt (sodium) – stomach acid is hydrochloric acid, and the name hydrochloric indicates that it is made from a chloride ion. We get dietary chloride mainly from salt so people eating a low-salt diet may eventually produce less stomach acid.
-Advanced age – where stomach acid levels tend to naturally decline during the aging process.

Hopefully this article helps you better understand the role of stomach acid in the digestive tract. If you suspect that you have low stomach acid then start with some stress management and good quality sea salt. Experimenting with ACV and lemon water may provide some additional benefits. If these basic steps do not provide adequate relief from digestive symptoms then it may be time to meet with a healthcare professional to have a thorough evaluation and perhaps get some lab testing done.

Please don’t let the media fool you into believing that stomach acid should be eliminated for anyone with digestive complaints. In fact, many people with digestive complaints are stomach acid deficient! Stomach acid is so critical for our health and it generally declines as we age, meaning we should always take steps to cultivate and preserve our stomach acid.

Chinese Medicine is Physical Medicine (Not Energy Medicine)

I must admit, when I first learned about this magical, invisible “Qi” I was intrigued and excited. And then I was told that this Qi travels throughout the human body inside invisible energy meridians… I was hooked, how amazing! These concepts were so interesting to my Western mind.  It sounded like a fairy-dust magic exists and that there is a long history of medicine to back it up. Well, sorry to disappoint the Western masses, but it turns out the energy & fairy-dust ideas are based on mistranslations from a French diplomat in the early 1900’s.  In this article I will explain how Chinese Medicine is a purely physical medicine; A system based on blood flow, organ function and the health of the nervous system.  In this article I will also explain how this misunderstanding occurred and why it still persists today.

Most of this misunderstanding around Chinese Medicine being “energy medicine” started with a well-meaning French diplomat named George Soulié de Morant in the early 1900’s (his books on the topic were published in 1934 & 1939). George lived in China for many years and wrote a series of amazing books chronicling what he saw, including later works on Chinese Medicine. Unfortunately, George had no training in medicine and additionally he had no training in the ancient Chinese character system (called Seal Script) in which the classics were written.  Because of George’s lack of education related to Chinese Medicine, his writings on “Qi” and the “meridian” system were fundamentally inaccurate.  In addition, because there was not a great deal of interest in Chinese Medicine in Europe at the time (1940’s) there were no other experts around with opposing viewpoints.

Paul Unschuld is probably the best known and most educated translators of ancient Chinese medicine texts.  He famously wrote:

“…It should be noted that the interpretation of qi 氣 as “energy”, so widespread in TCM literature today, lacks any historical basis.”

In summary, Qi does not mean “energy” and is almost always incorrectly translated.  This mistranslation leads to a fundamental misunderstanding of Chinese Medicine and how it works.

So then, what is the meaning of Qi as used in Chinese Medicine?  While there are over 10 definitions of Qi in English-Chinese dictionaries, we mostly use 2 of the definitions in Chinese Medicine:

1.) Qi = “Vital Air”, meaning the vital part of the air we breathe.  What is the vital part of the air we breathe?  Well Oxygen, of course.  If we have reduced Qi (oxygen) then clearly physical health will suffer.

2.) Qi = “The Function” of something.  For example, the function of the Kidney organ is called “Kidney Qi” and the function of the Stomach organ is called “Stomach Qi”.  This meaning hints at perhaps the greatest gift of Chinese Medicine: a treatment method that can improve the function of the organ system.  This is a complete system designed to improve health and vitality, and is fundamentally not interested in suppressing symptoms.  The core treatment methods of Chinese Medicine are targeted at improving blood flow and thereby the function of the organ system (Heart, Stomach, Kidney, etc).

Qi is not the only concept that is often misunderstood in Western translations.  The term “Meridian” is also problematic.  In fact the most accurate term for the longitudinal pathways described in Chinese Medicine is “vessel”, not “meridian”. Meridian, as it is used in Chinese medicine, is a concept invented by inaccurate translations from the French in the 1940’s.  The vessel system described in classic TCM texts is a physical system that carries blood, oxygen and nutrients throughout the body.  Sounds exactly like blood vessels, huh?  In modern anatomical terms, the vessel system of Chinese Medicine would simply be the vascular system.  The vessel system in TCM is a network arteries which branch down to capillaries and then return to the heart as veins.  Part of the confusion in understanding the “meridian” concept is that some aspects of the nervous system included in the descriptions of these vessels.  This is due to the fact that the ancient Chinese physicians didn’t quite understand the nervous system as a separate entity and therefore mixed the functions of the vascular system together with the nervous system.

It should be noted that this inaccuracy doesn’t diminish the effectiveness of Chinese Medicine, it simply makes it a bit more difficult to explain its effect in Western terminology.  For a physiological explanation of acupuncture, here is an article on how acupuncture works.  Chinese Herbal Medicine is more obviously a physical medicine system, meaning that drinking an extract of physical herbs will most likely produce a physical effect, not an energetic one.  Here is a more detailed explanation of how Chinese Herbal Medicine works.

After graduating from acupuncture school, I spent 4 months in China, mostly studying acupuncture and herbal medicine in TCM Hospitals.  There I saw first-hand that Chinese doctors don’t consider their medicine system an “energy medicine”.  At the time, I was fresh out of acupuncture school so I tried at-length to engage my Chinese teachers in a discussion in the finer points of energy.  However these Chinese doctors were oddly disinterested in the conversation…  Although I didn’t realize it at the time, I now realize that they were trying their best not to shatter the “energy model” I had just learned in 3 years for Chinese Medicine school.

This experience in China hints at the interesting part of the story… Why does this energy model persist, even though it is neither supported by the classic texts or by basic intellectual reasoning.  The answer here seems to be that the Chinese medical community are happy to play lip-service to the energy idea in exchange for control of the medicine itself.  As long as this energy model persists then they can continue to claim Chinese Medicine as their domain.  Once the Chinese doctors admit that they practice a highly effective therapy that works on the same principles as Western medicine then they risk losing control.

With all this being said, I am a supporter of Energy Medicine and I have personally seen benefits of energetic treatments in my past.  Energy Medicine, in all its forms, has helped so many people and can be powerful and transformitive.  Some examples of Energy Medicine practices include: Reiki, Healing Touch and Crystal Healing.  So I would like to be clear that I am not in any way opposed to energy medicine, instead I am writing this post to clarify the mechanism by which Chinese Medicine works.  The mechanisms of Chinese medicine are physical and include: increased blood flow, improved oxygen transport, better nutrient delivery and improved nervous system function.

Ear Acupuncture for Weight Loss, Insomnia & Addiction Recovery

Ear Acupuncture NADA protocolEar acupuncture has a large body of scientific evidence backing its effectiveness [1][2]. This clinically proven treatment approach is an efficient method for treating a wide number of conditions including weight loss, stress-related disorders, insomnia and addiction withdrawal. Auricular acupuncture can be very effective when stopping smoking and it can be used for withdrawal from any addiction.

Ear Acupuncture Santa Monica Los AngelesAuricular Acupuncture is the term for the specialized practice of acupuncture done on the ear. The ear has a complete map of the body from head to toe, and as such, the can be used to treat a variety of conditions. Some practitioners only use ear points for treatment while others use both body and ear points to get the best results possible. In either case, it should be noted that ear acupuncture is powerful enough to be applied as a stand-alone treatment and there is ample research to support this idea. [1]

Although needles are the primary treatment method in auricular acupuncture, “ear seeds” can also be used to stimulate reaction areas on the ear. Ear seeds are used to stimulate pressure points when they are attached (with tape) to the outer surface of the ears. The advantage of ear seeds is that they continue to produce an effect over the course of 2 or more days. These seeds are tiny pellets (vaccaria seeds) are applied on a small piece of tape to the ear. Using the ear map, seeds are placed in the area of the ear that best treats the patient’s condition.

One of the advantages of auricular acupuncture is how easily it integrates into a wide range of settings from hospitals to emergency clinics. Acupuncturists Without Borders (AWB) is an American group that uses ear acupuncture to provides support when traumatic events occur. AWB provided trauma care for both relief workers and victims after Hurricane Katrina and in St Vincents Hospital in Manhattan in 2001. Ear acupuncture treatments are easily given while people are seated and fully clothed, making it an ideal treatment method when resources are limited.

Patients receiving auricular treatment do not have to wait long to experience the benefits. A relaxation response generally occurs within minutes! Post-treatment surveys show increased mental clarity, reduced stress, improved sleep quality, reductions in pain, and lower anxiety.

Dry Needling in California

Trigger Point Referral Patterns

Various Trigger Point Referral Patterns

Dry Needling is an therapeutic technique that was developed by Dr Janet Travell and recently popularized by Acupuncturists and Physical Therapists in Australia, Canada and the US. In California, only Licensed Acupuncturists and MDs can legally perform this powerful technique so there are very few practitioners trained in this art of trigger point release.

While some states allow Physical Therapists to perform Dry Needling, the medical board in California concluded that Dry Needling is, in fact, acupuncture. Therefore, Dry Needling can only be performed by Licensed Acupuncturists and MDs in California. This legal decision serves to best protect public safety – as many states allow Physical Therapists to practice Dry Needling after attending as little as 16 hours of class (2 days)! In comparison, Licensed Acupuncturists take over 3,000 hours of coursework, and most of this study time is dedicated to mastering the use of the acupuncture needle.

Dry NeedlingIn Dry Needling practice, an acupuncture needle is inserted into a local area of muscle tension called a “Trigger Point”. Unlike traditional acupuncture, the treatment method in Dry Needling is strictly based on the anatomy of muscles and/or nerve pathways effected. As such, there is no discussion of “Qi”, “Meridians”, or other aspects of ancient Chinese philosophy. Because Dry Needling takes a pure Western approach most patients feel more comfortable with the treatment and better understand the reasoning behind this therapy.  Unlike traditional acupuncture, Western-minded patients generally feel like they have a better understanding of why the treatment is being performed and how it is expected to help resolve the problem.

When Dry Needling is performed, a hair-thin acupuncture needle used. Most patients will not feel the needle penetrate the skin, but there may be a feeling of pressure when the trigger point is activated. If the muscle is currently in spasm with an active trigger point, the patient may feel a sensation like a muscle cramp or twitch. If the muscle responds to treatment with a small twitch movement, called a “twitch response”, this is generally a good sign and very helpful in resolving trigger points.


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Cupping Therapy – Questions and Answers

Cupping Therapy is an increasingly popular treatment that can have big benefits for muscle pain and tension. Eric Schmidt, LAc was recently interviewed by a major Los Angeles publication on the topic of cupping. After the interview, the publisher was nice enough to allow us to re-print the answers on our website. Enjoy!

Q: Please describe the process in your own words. cupping-acupuncture-therapy-santa-monica

At its core, cupping is a massage in reverse. Instead adding pressure to muscles and connective tissue (as in massage), cupping creates expansion and space in the tissues and promotes blood flow.
The key to a good cupping session is: a.) large glass cups, b.) a flaming cotton ball and optionally c.) massage oil. For most cupping sessions, the recipient is positioned lying face down to address muscles on the back, neck or shoulders. Once the patient is lying in a comfortable position the cup is quickly warmed with a flame and then the cup is placed on the skin. Although the cup itself will not be hot, the heated air inside the cup cools quickly, the cooling effect creates vacuum in side the cup. The result is skin and the muscles underneath being pulled upward for a bit of a stretch. Each cup placement is left for 2-5 minutes, which is all that is required to get a beneficial effect. In a typical cupping session we do 2-5 placements on different muscles, depending on the size of the effected area. For most people, the experience of cupping is pretty neutral – meaning it doesn’t feel especially good or bad while the cups are on the skin. The sensation is more of a pulling or grabbing that becomes less intense the longer the cup is left in place.
After a cupping session people usually see an immediate change in muscle tension and pain. Patients often get off the treatment table and remark that it “feels like a weight has been lifted off my shoulders”. While the pain-relieving effects of acupuncture can take a bit longer to kick in, the relief from cupping is usually pretty immediate.

Q: Have you noticed a shift in awareness about alternative eastern medicine practices? Particularly in a younger age bracket?

Yes, definitely! The younger generation seems to be the age group most services-cupping-santa-monicainterested looking for alternatives to the established medical system. In my practice, I hear many people grumbling about their Western doctors, so there is a natural interest in finding better health care solutions.
The older generation often has the mindset where a doctor’s advice is gospel and even small decisions need to be approved by their doctor. In contrast, the younger generation feels empowered to do research make many health-related decisions themselves. This includes being more proactive in utilizing “alternative medicine” approaches, like cupping, acupuncture or herbal medicine.

Q: Have you ever had patients mention they found out about cupping through the media/via celebrity culture?

Many people know the famous event when Gwyneth Paltrow arrived up on the Red Carpet and showed off cupping marks on her shoulders. That day Gwyneth really raised the public awareness of cupping, to such a great extent that I still get asked about it frequently.
The other big media event that comes to mind was when Oprah had an acupuncturist on her TV show. I don’t think there much discussion of cupping at the time, but that episode really brought a huge amount of attention to Traditional Chinese Medicine. (fyi, Oprah’s dog also gets acupuncture)
Lastly, I recently saw a commercial for Under Armour with Olympic swimmer Michael Phelps. In the video there is a 3 second clip where Michael is having cupping done. That made me happy. I also happen to know that the Chinese Olympic swim team incorporates cupping therapy into their training plan.

Q: Why do you think it’s become more visible in the entertainment industry?

Although I live in Los Angeles I know very little about the entertainment industry. However, I do get the sense that there is more media coverage of cupping and acupuncture in general. If I had to guess why, I would say that:
a.) The medicine is becoming more accessible and less intimidating as non-Chinese practitioners, like myself, offer cupping and acupuncture.
b.) Cupping works. As more people try cupping for their muscle tension and have good results, they tend to tell others.

Q: What should people know about cupping?

services-cupping-therapy-santa-monicaCupping has been used traditionally in many different cultures, and not just in China. In addition to China, Japan and Korea, the Russians and Eastern European countries have a long history of cupping. In many of these countries, families will have a set of cups that are used for lung conditions (like colds) and for general aches and pains. I have also had patients from Pakistan and Northern Africa tell me that cupping was a traditional treatment method in their country.

Also, if you go to Chinatown for a cupping session there’s the standard tag-line that cupping “removes toxins” from the body. Although the “toxin theory” may have some truth, I prefer to avoid such phraseology and explain cupping in simpler terms.
My explanation for cupping is that the vacuum of the cups gives the muscles a stretch and expansion. As the local muscles are stretched and given more space, blood is pumped through the muscles and circulated through the local area. This means that cupping is addressing the two main causes of muscle tension & pain: a.) poor blood flow and b.) shortened or contracted muscles.

Q: What type of patients can best benefit from the treatment?

Cupping can work miracles on tight muscles in the upper back, shoulders and neck. The classic presentation would be the sensation of tight “knots” in the shoulders where the tension can be radiating up to the neck. These upper body areas are especially amenable to cupping therapy because the muscles involved are smaller and close to the surface of the body.
Cupping can also be helpful for low back pain, but often the muscles involved in low back pain are deeper spinal muscles where cupping on the surface of the skin cannot have as big of an effect. For deeper muscle structures, acupuncture is generally more effective. For most cases I actually combine cupping with acupuncture, but they can both be effective when used alone.

Choosing Quality Food in the Modern Age

digestive-health-acupunctureShopping can be so difficult these days. We are told to look for labels like organic, local, grass-fed, gluten-free, extra virgin, free-range, wild-caught and free-trade. Between all of those demands, finding good quality food can be exhausting. Sometimes the search for suitable food is seemingly impossible and ultimately boils down to the choice between the lesser of two evils. In a world where food markets are mostly filled with cheap, poor quality food, it can feel like swimming upstream…

broccoli-thyroid-inhibiting-foodsBut before you give up and settle, I wanted to give you health conscious people some encouragement to continue to seek out the best possible food you can find. To give some context for this task, consider how difficult the task of finding good food was for our ancient ancestors. Wether we daydream about the lives of peoples 200 years or 2000 years ago, we can be certain that the search for food was much more difficult than it is today. In addition, the search likely took much more time each day. Imagine how challenging is to gather and identify a seasonal 4-leaf plant to make a bitter salad. Think of how many other plants look similar, have 4 leaves, but are actually poisonous. Picking the wrong plants could cause stomach pain or worse symptoms if you mistakenly eat it.
Wild mushrooms can also be hunted and gathered as a good source of protein. But hunting for mushrooms is notoriously difficult and can even be fatal. Most wild mushrooms are poisonous and the ones that are edible often look very similar to the ones that will kill you.
Lastly, there is hunting for fish and animals. Here, at least we can be relatively certain that most animals are safe to eat. But the matter of hunting them down is another undertaking. It could take a well-seasoned hunter all day to land some meat, and even then hunters often come home empty-handed.

cleansing-vegetables-santa-monicaI write all of this so that we can take a moment to think back to the trials of a more ancient way of life. A way of life where selecting and preparing food takes hours each day. Through this lens of food hardship in ancient times, it may make it a bit easier to take a minute to read the food label, choose gluten-free or spend the extra couple of dollars on wild-caught fish. With this in mind, it can be a joy to drive a few blocks further to shop at the organic market, instead for the regular big-chain supermarkets. With this in mind, it may be a bit easier to take the time to chop and prepare beautiful organic vegetables, instead of opting for some easy processed food. These small efforts are almost inconsequential compared to hiking up a mountain to find a small harvest of bitter greens or waiting behind a tree all day with spear.

So stick to your values and find the best quality foods available. Spend a few extra dollars for the organic. Make a trip to the local co-op or farmer’s market once a week. Talk to farmers, get informed, read the ingredients, or even better, purchase foods that don’t need ingredients (like spinach, for example). Get curious about new foods and notice how different foods make you feel both while eating them and for hours afterwards.

Wishing you endless fields fo organic, local, grass-fed, gluten-free, extra virgin, free-range and free-trade deliciousness! It is worth the effort.

Benefits of Taking Bacillus species Probiotics

digestive-holistic-acupunctureCurrent research shows that probiotics can benefit digestion in a variety of different ways.  They can improve nutrient absorption, reduce bloating, stop acid reflux and be targeted to almost any digestive ailment.  But what is really happening when you take a probiotic supplement? How do we know if a bacteria is beneficial or harmful in the body? This article will explain the different mechanisms by which probiotics can help digestive and immune health.

Humans have developed a symbiotic relationships bacteria over the past 2 million years. This mutually beneficial relationship happens with bacterial species and, of course, many bacterial species are not beneficial for humans and can cause disease.  The most important beneficial bacteria are:

  • Bacillus species
  • Lactobacillus species
  • Bifidobacterium species

Most of us have heard about Lactobacillus, specifically Lactobacillus acidophilus, which is found in many supplements and also in cultured dairy products. However, this article will focus mostly on Bacillus probiotics which are are perhaps the most uniquely beneficial class of bacteria that inhabit the human GI tract. They have developed a special ability to survive through our harsh gastric system and to thrive both inside and outside the human body.  This species is generally taken in a spore form, which means it becomes activated only after it is placed in the human digestive tract.  Because they are in spore form, Bacillus probiotics are very resilient and do not need to be refrigerated.

In the Digestive System, Bacillus species support the following functions:

1.) Modulate and Train Our Immune System:
Bacillus species stimulate an important structure called the gut associated lymphoid tissue.  By doing so, these bacteria improve T-cell and B-cell (immune) function as well as tune the function of the adaptive immune system. They also reduce inflammation and help the body move through the immune cascade. In addition, by tuning the immune response, Bacillus species improve pattern recognition and can help suppressing unwanted responses (like allergies).

2.) Assist in Digestion:
Probiotics help digest food by producing a whole range of digestive Enzymes including: protease, peptidase, lipase, cellulase, amylase, lipase, lactase and pectinase. In addition, they directly digest incoming starches and non-starch polysaccharides.  By aiding with the breakdown of these fibers and polysaccharides probiotics reduce the production of gas and bloating.

SIBO-Small-Intestine-Bacterial-Overgrowth3.) Help Control other Microbes and Yeast:
Bacillus can target and kill other harmful bacteria in the human gut.  Perhaps surprisingly, these “good bacteria” can produce antibiotics that help kill off the “bad bacteria”.  This is especially important where conditions of bacterial overgrowth (like SIBO) are thought to cause up to 80% of IBS cases.  It should be noted that probiotics are also one of the best ways to reduce a fungal/candida overgrowth.

4.) Produce Nutrients in the Gut:
Lastly, probiotics produce the whole array of nutrients that are essential for human life.  This includes B-vitamins, quinols, vitamin K2, and short-chain fatty acids (SCFAs). SCFAs are critical to the health of the large intestine and the gut as whole. They also control inflammation, regulate colon function, improve metabolism, and contribute to detox activities. Low levels of SCFA production can leads to leaky gut and chronic pathogenic bacterial overgrowth.

No other strain of probiotics is known to provide such a wide array of beneficial functions for human health as Bacillus does. This bacterial-human symbiotic relationship results from millions of years of co-evolution between Bacillus and humans. Modern super-clean human living spaces and super-clean food minimizes the natural exposure to Bacillus bacteria as nature intended.  Because of this, many people can benefit from a supplement that contains a range of Bacillus species probiotics.


Digestive Problems (including IBS) may be caused by Bacterial Overgrowth (SIBO)

digestive-holistic-acupunctureMost people know that acute digestive problems (like food poisoning) can be caused by “bad bacteria”.  However, what many people don’t know is that chronic digestive symptoms can also be caused by bacteria. In fact, it is estimated that over half of the cases of “Irritable Bowel Syndrome” (IBS) are caused by bacterial overgrowth condition called SIBO. Multiple studies of IBS patients has shown that eliminating the bacterial overgrowth leads to a 75% or greater reduction in IBS symptoms.  Some experts even say that SIBO may be the root cause for up to 80% of IBS cases.

Common digestive symptoms caused by bacterial overgrowth (SIBO) include:

Gas, bloating (increasing through the day), abdominal pain, constipation, diarrhea, anemia, steatorrhea, rosacea, undigested food in the stool, and possibly GERD (esophageal reflux with belching). * One especially telling symptom combination of SIBO is: unremitting bloating with a tendency to diarrhea.


SIBO is short for Small Intestinal Bacterial Overgrowth. This condition occurs when large numbers of bacteria have colonized the small intestine.  Normally, a variety of bacteria are present in the large intestine, but not in the small intestine.  Some bacteria would normally pass through the small intestine, but they should not colonize or stay for very long in this part of the digestive tract.

Why does SIBO occur?

digestive-healthSometimes SIBO can be caused by low stomach acid. Stomach acid is protective in the digestive tract and our main defense against bacterial invasion from food. This means that people on stomach acid blocking medications are actually more likely to develop SIBO.  Another common cause of SIBO is acute food poisoning (called gastroenteritis) that is never completely cleared.  Often times an episode of food poisoning will mostly resolve but the person’s digestion will never be quite the same for months or years afterwards.   This history is a sign that some of the initial bacterial infection still remains and needs to be addressed to fully repair the small intestine.

Testing Options:

Lab tests should be used to confirm the diagnosis of SIBO.  The best test to make an accurate diagnosis is the Lactulose Breath Test (LBT).  For this test, the hydrogen and methane gas  produced by bacteria is measured over time.  Hydrogen and methane are gas are only produced by bacteria, not by humans, so the amount expelled over time will give an indication of bacterial growth.

Treatment Options:

The good news is that SIBO can be treated effectively with both natural anti-bacterial herbs or with prescription antibiotics.  Treatment can last between 2 weeks and 2 months, depending on the severity of the case.  Generally, treatments work best when antibacterial supplements are combined with dietary changes.

>> Learn more: Small Intestinal Bacterial Overgrowth

Finding High Quality Vitamins & Supplements

Selecting a good quality supplements can be confusing. With so many brands and so many choices… where to start? This post will cover the basics to look for in a good quality supplement and also a short list of good brands on the market today.
Note that this post will not cover when/if supplements should be used or at what dosage.

General Guidlines for Supplements:

  • Buy supplements in capsule form, not in compressed pills or tablets. This will eliminate the use of high pressure binders and waxes in tablets.
  • Avoid Magnesium Sterate and Titanium dioxide in supplements. These additives are used as flowing agents so it is easier for the manufacturer to create the final product. Neither of these chemicals will likely cause any major harm in small doses, but effects may add up over time as these additives could possibly irritate the sensitive gut lining. In addition, magnesium stearate may bind to and prevent the absorption of nutrients in the digestive tract. Magnesium stearate is not a supplemental source of magnesium but rather a form of stearic acid. It’s essentially chalk, and research has shown that it suppresses your natural killer cells, which are a key component of your immune system.
  • In general, supplements found in major chain drug stores (like CVS, Walgreens, etc) should be avoided. The brands carried in these stores have consistently been shown by independent tests to have lesser quality (see below for unbiased review sites).
  • Look for low quality ingredients on labels including: sugar (in its many forms), artificial coloring, artificial flavoring, preservatives, and additives such as shellac, chlorine and other questionable chemicals.
  • Read labels. Different nutrients have different forms used in supplements. For some nutients, like Vitamin C, the exact form may not be quite as important. In contrast, supplements like Vitamin E and beta-carotene, should only be taken in their natural forms.
  • The FDA does not regulate supplements. Therefore, look for supplements that are approved by a 3rd party with considerations for quality, purity and absorbtion. Certifications to look for include: CL (Consumer Labs) and USP (The United States Pharmacopeia) or for athletes, NSF and Informed-Choice marks.
  • When relevent, ingredients should be sourced from organic sources whenever possible.
  • For certian products like fish oils, supplements should be tested for toxic substances and any contaminants such as lead or mercury.
  • Be especially careful to look for hypoallergenic products if you have sensitivity problems or allergies.
  • Look for an expiration date on the bottle. No expiration date on the label generally indicates a questionable product.
  • The producer’s contact information should be easy to find on the packaging. If there is limited information about the producer on the bottle then this indicates a questionable product. Don’t hesitate to call the manufacturer to ask questions. The experience of calling the company’s help line will likely give valuable insight into the quality of the company and therefore the quality of the final product.

Notes on Taking Supplements:

  • Take most vitamins and supplements with food.
  • Take fat-soluble vitamins (A, D, E, K) with a food source containing fat.
  • Take enzyme supplements between meals or just before meals (depending on the type of enzyme).
  • Calcium can inhibit the absorption of Iron, so take these supplements at different times (Note that Iron should only be taken after a lab test confirms Iron deficiency).
  • Take probiotics between meals on an empty stomach.  This can be first thing in the morning or last thing at night.
  • Take amino acids on an empty stomach.
  • Some herbs need to be taken at rather large doses to get an effective dose. Depending on the herbal product and condition, some herbal supplements will need to be taken at 2-4 times the dosage listed on the bottle. (consult your healthcare practitioner for specific instructions).

Unbiased Research on Supplement Quality:

The information above should serve as an unbiased template to evaluate supplements and manufacturers. The information below is strictly the opinion of the author based on years of experience and experimentation.

Highest Quality Supplement Brands:

  • Thorne Research
  • Pure Encapsulations

Mid-Level Supplement Brands:

  • Now Foods
  • Solaray
  • Jarrow
  • Designs for Health
  • Biotics Research
  • Gaia Herbs
  • MegaFood
  • Ortho Molecular
  • Integrative Therapeutics
  • Source Naturals
  • Life Extension Foundation
  • Metagenics

* Most supplements carried in the major drug-store chains would be grouped under the heading “low quality supplement”. I will not attempt to list any specific brands here, but purchasing supplements in reputable health food stores is a good starting point to exclude low quality supplements.

* The lists above should serve as a starting point in finding high quality supplements. This list is not meant to be an exhaustive list of all supplement companies, and there are certainly many good quality supplement brands that have not been included for the sake for brevity and/or lack of personal experience with certain brands.

* Also note that some of these supplement brands have excellent products in certain areas, but not in others. Jarrow, for instance, has some excellent herbal products, but generally produces ineffective probiotics (just an opinion, of course).

Trigger Point Dry-Needling for Body Pain

shoulder-pain-acupuncture-santa-monicaIn many cases, body pain is due to shortened muscles. When muscles are overused or overstressed they can develop areas of tension called trigger points. A trigger point may be experienced as a “muscle knot” or sometimes a radiating pain from a muscle into a joint area. These areas of muscular tension are the body’s way of trying protecting itself from further injury, however the end result can be a painful conditions that persists for years after the trigger point forms.

Traditional acupuncture can be very helpful in addressing muscular pain, however sometimes a more direct approach to muscular pain is more effective.  A style of treatment called Trigger Point Dry-Needling is a modern anatomical approach to muscular pain and inflammation.  Like acupuncture, dry needling is also performed using a solid filament needle. However, in the case of dry needling, a needle is inserted into muscle directly at a palpable myofascial trigger point. When a needle is inserted into a trigger point, sometimes the muscle will have a characteristic “twitch response” as the muscle relaxes and lengthens back to its healthy state. Generally the procedure involves repetitive manipulation of the needle in the myofascial trigger point in order to produce this local twitch response.

Why do Dry Needling?

First off, this method is generally more effective at relieving muscular pain than almost any other therapy.  The results of dry needling can be immediate as the muscle is stimulated to lengthen and a muscular knot releases. Deactivation of trigger points can provide immediate relief from pain symptoms.

Another reason dry needling is especially effective where other treatment methods fail, is that dry needling can target muscular pain in deeper muscles of the body.  Some deep muscle fibers are very difficult, if not impossible, to reach using massage and other manual therapies.  Some of the deep muscle groups that are well treated by dry needling include the low back, buttock and deep shoulder muscles.

When Should I Expect to See Results?

Sometimes this method can provide immediate relief from pain symptoms.  In other cases, the condition will take 1-2 days to respond to the treatment before there is a dramatic improvement.  The response time will depend on the body part and muscular structure involved.  After trigger points are relieved, the muscles can be trained to work with corrected range of motion.


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