Monthly Archives: January 2014

What I Have Done for Myself You Can Too

Conventional medicine does not have much to offer an individual with a chronic digestive problem. Doctors can turn off an inflammatory reaction with drugs, repair physical damage, or remove a disease organ. However, there is little they can do to restore normal health. But you can do this for yourself and I can show you how! Even if you cannot attain perfect health, you can at least improve your level of health. It is likely you can reduce the usage of medication and avoid their side effects by following herbal and dietary supplement protocols and lifestyle adjustments I will be publishing weekly on this blog. Genes may predispose you to a digestive disorder, but it is your lifestyle that determines whether you control your digestive disorder or your digestive disorder controls you.

Stress Reduction

In the many years I’ve worked with digestive clients, I have noticed that most people with digestive disorders are poor adapters to stress.  They are more likely to have flare-up of their disease during, after, or in anticipation of a stressful event.  Friends and colleagues may face the same situation but have a different reaction, perhaps a headache, shoulder or neck pain, the cold or the flu, rather than a digestive disorder.  This with chronic problems of the digestive tract tend to hold their tension there.

Even if you have been given a set of genes that make your abdomen seem like a minefield, you can reduce your symptoms with stress reduction exercises and activities.  Digestive problems tend to run in families. If you have a digestive disorder, it is likely that another member of your family has one also, even if it has a different medical name. In my own family, my aunt has Crohn’s disease, my dad has had gastric ulcers. Other family members have problems such as constipation, nervous stomach, or intolerance to fats, which have not required a medical diagnosis.  Therefore, being born with a predisposition toward digestive problems does not mean that you cannot control it, in part with stress reduction.


Essential to changing your digestive health is changing your diet. Some of the suggestions on this site, such as avoiding milk, are well documented in the medical literature.  Others are based on the experience of practitioners, ranging from traditional herbalists to modern allergy specialists. I have developed a daily digestive diet that will help you identify trigger foods, that is, foods that don’t agree with your system and cause symptoms or flareups.

Once you learn what your trigger foods are, and after a period of elimination, you can usually eat small amounts of the desired foods on an occasional basis. Products that I am sensitive to are beets, raw vegetables, and juices. I like the taste of beets, and can eat small amounts occasionally without suffering diarrhea. I can tolerate salads only when seasoned with black pepper, and when they have minimal amounts of dressing.

Another dietary area of consideration is the underlying temperature of your constitution—hot or cold.  This determines which foods you can tolerate and which you must eat with caution. My own constitution is cold, so the warming black pepper counterbalances the cooling effect of the raw vegetables. If the weather is especially cold and damp and my digestive system is not functioning optimally, I only eat cooked vegetables. I’ve found that most vegetable and fruit juices do not agree with my system. Above all, I have found through years of practice that the best diet for me is the one I was raised on, namely meat, fish, soup, vegetables, fresh fruit, and some sort of starch.  However, for someone with a hot constitution it may be more appropriate to eat more cooling fruit and raw vegetables, and less meat. Ultimately, through trial and error you must identify which foods are problematic for you.  The effort will be well worth it.

Acceptance and Reconciliation

For myself, a change of attitude was as important as a change of diet.  Digestive symptoms are part of the body’s warning system. Just like a burglar alarm that makes loud noises when there is an unwanted intruder, your body gives you a signal when you have introduced something that is unwanted and continues giving you warning signals until you stop. Instead of countering the symptoms, take them as guides in your detective work to discover what is bothering you. On this site, I offer several exercises to determine possible causes of your digestive symptoms.

For a long time I lamented the fact that I couldn’t eat certain foods and drink alcohol. Now, I have not only accepted these limitations, but I see their good aspects. For example, by reducing my alcohol intake I am protecting my liver and digestive system. After quitting regular drinking for thirty days, I realized that some of my headaches and digestive problems were due to alcohol. Clearly, I didn’t need it. I may still choose to drink or eat foods I am sensitive to, but now I know how to moderate their effects with herbs and other dietary supplements.  The only food I have had to eliminate completely is popcorn, which invariably wreaks havoc on my system no matter what precautions I take.

The suggestions put forward on this blog are meant to be a complement to, not a substitute for, your medical doctor’s instructions and your own “gut feelings.”, I’ll introduce quick tips you can implement to eliminate or avoid digestive symptoms.

Why I Use Chinese Medicine

The Chinese have a very old culture. They have been using herbal remedies for thousands of years.  The first medical text was written about two thousand years ago and it is still used by students of Chinese medicine. In the U.S., over one million patients use acupuncture and Chinese herbs each year.

In China, the most common treatments for digestive disorders are herbs and nutritional therapy.  Hospital studies have been conducted proving that appropriately administered herbs can even circumvent gastrointestinal surgeries in many cases.

Chinese tradition views digestive patients according to their condition or temperature. Haven’t you met people who run hot, or boil over at the slightest insult? Don’t you know people who are always cold when others are warm? Chinese medicine takes these constitutional factors into account before prescribing herbs or making dietary recommendations. Foods, as well as people, can be similarly classified. For example, chili peppers are warming and ice cream is cooling. According to traditional Chinese medicine, people with digestive disorders should not consume foods or beverages colder than room temperature. This means no iced drinks and iced foods, nor should drinks or food be eaten right out of the refrigerator. Raw foods, such as salad, should be consumed cautiously when the weather is cold, and never during flare-ups. Fried foods should be avoided.

Chinese herbalists even caution us to dress appropriately.  Wearing skimpy clothing can subject one to drafts. This leads to poor circulation, which interferes with digestion and other processes.

As examples of the above principles of Chinese medicine, take the following two individuals: William, a 24 year-old college student and athlete who has Crohn’s disease, gets entirely different herbs than Grace, a frail 85 year-old grandmother who has the same disease. William has what is considered a hot condition. He complains of fevers, bloodshot eyes, and shooting abdominal pain. Grace feels cold and tired all the time and has diarrhea; she is said to have a cold condition. I recommended that William take herbs that had cooling, and pain relieving properties. He was advised to abstain from alcohol and spicy food. I also suggested that he not train so vigorously, to prevent exhaustion. I recommended that he drink peppermint tea (hot or at room temperature), as it has anti-spasmodic properties. Grace was counseled to take warming herbs, as well as to eat and drink everything hot. I also recommended ginger tea, which has warming properties.

Below is a chart for you to assess your basic constitution; dietary and lifestyle suggestions are also included.

Cold Condition

A person with many of the following symptoms is considered to have a cold pattern and should be treated accordingly. 

  • Cold hands and feet (can also be due to liver pattern)
  •  Cold lower back
  •  Low energy
  •  No desire
  •  Fearful
  •  Frequent urination
  •  Feels better in the summer
  •  Rarely sweats
  •  Loose stools (can also be due to heat)
  •  Weak voice
  •  No desire to drink
  •  Clear or white phlegm
  •  Lack of appetite
  •  Clear urine
  •  Dizziness
  •  Edema
  •  Delayed menstruation, pale menstrual blood

Pulse: Sinking, slow
Tongue: Pale or white coating


  • Intake of dairy products
  • Intake of salads or uncooked foods
  • Never use ice


  • Meats: Beef or chicken soup
  • Teas: Ginger
  • Cinnamon
  • Cloves
  • Chinese ginseng
  • Spices: Nutmeg
  • Garlic (if no sensitivity)
  • Black pepper
  • Fennel
  • Orange or tangerine peel (in tea or soups)

Lifestyle Tips:

  • Always dress warmly especially in winter
  • Eat everything hot
  • Try to get daily exercise to improve your circulation

Hot Condition

A person with many of the following symptoms is considered to have a hot pattern, and should be treated accordingly.

  •  Feels warm all over
  •  Frequently thirsty
  •  Smokes
  •  Feels stress, anxiety
  •  Easily angered
  •  Constipation (can also be due to cold)
  •  Athletic
  •  Feels better in winter
  •  Sweats a lot
  •  Prone to afternoon slump
  •  Dark urine
  •  Loud voice
  •  Dominating, aggressive
  •  Easily upset
  •  Overly emotional
  •  Irritable
  •  Dry cough
  •  Yellow phlegm
  •  Thin
  •  Early and heavy menstruation, bright red blood
  •  Insomnia

Pulse: Rapid
Tongue: Red, or sticky yellow coating


  • Spicy food, alcohol, coffee
  • Salads and other raw foods during flare-ups
  • Avoid fried foods
  • Take care not to get too hot or exhausted in the spring and summer


  • Vegetables: Vegetable soups, cucumber, cooked cabbage, cooked greens
  • Teas: Peppermint, chamomile, dandelion, chrysanthemum, red raspberry leaf, American ginseng
  • Spices: Seaweed
  • Orange or tangerine peel (in tea or soups)

Lifestyle Tips:

  • Try to engage in daily meditation or prayer as well as exercise


I have discussed the most important aspects of digestive healing: stress reduction, avoiding trigger foods and beverages, accepting limitations, and enjoying life. In the following posts, I will provide a multifaceted, natural approach to the identification and treatment of various digestive disorders.

My Fight with Crohn’s Disease

Andrew for Webinar 1When I was 19, I almost died of Crohn’s disease.  I had eaten at a restaurant where it appeared I had contracted food poisoning.  Shortly after the meal, I experienced abdominal cramping, fever, and diarrhea.  After two days, my condition had not improved so I visited the health clinic at the university I was attending.  There, I was prescribed the sedative Valium, and told to take hot baths and Tylenol.  After several days, it became obvious that this regimen was ineffective.  At this point, I was very weak and took a cab to the emergency room.  I was told by the doctors at the hospital that there was nothing they do and my symptoms should clear up on their own eventually.  After a few more days of terrible shooting abdominal pains, diarrhea, fever, inability to keep food down, and weakness, I was finally admitted to the hospital.

Once there, my condition only worsened.  My temperature soared to 106 F.  I was put into intensive isolation where anyone entering the room had to put on a disposable gown, mask, hat and surgical gloves–all of which were burned after being discarded.  The latest treatments and high-tech equipment were unsuccessful in lowering my body temperature.  As a last ditch effort, I received alcohol rubdowns in order to reduce my temperature.  My only nutrition was received through a tube.  I was injected with intravenous antibiotics as well as with Valium every four hours.  Finally, with rest, my condition slowly improved.  After innumerable tests, I was finally diagnoses with Crohn’s disease.  I spent the next month at home recuperating, eating a limited-fiber diet, and taking vitamins and antibiotics.

Growing up, I had a cast-iron stomach.  I could consume enormous amounts of food.  As a teenager, I became aware of a sensitivity to spaghetti–one of my favorite foods.  Sometimes I could eat the dish and not have any symptoms, while other times, I got gas pains.  It wasn’t until I was studying in college that I realized I, in fact, had chronic digestive symptoms.  Looking back, it is easy to identify the source of my problems: stress, lack of exercise, and the college cafeteria.


In terms of stress, at the time I was experiencing great personal turmoil.  I was three thousand miles away from my family in a new town where I did not have many friends.  I had just finished a job as a counselor to abused and emotionally disturbed children, an experience that brought me joy and satisfaction, but was also traumatic.  While at college, my grades were not good enough for the graduate school that I wanted to attend.


As for exercise, what little I did get was even stressful.  I was one of the only white basketball players in my neighborhood and I was often heckled with racial slurs. In high school, I had been an athlete and played on several varsity teams.  This ensured that I was getting exercise on a nearly daily basis.  Unskilled enough to make the university basketball team, I decided to focus on my studies, which seemed more important.


As you can imagine, a young single man away from home for the first time, my diet deteriorated.  The college cafeteria’s offerings where either not appetizing, or were loaded with grease.  Fat and grease, unsurprisingly, contribute to digestive conditions.  At this point in my life, I was trying to be a vegetarian and was eating many foods that were not good for me.  I used soy and cheese as my main sources of protein, both of which are common allergens.  Allergens can cause inflammatory conditions to flare up.  I indulged in sweets, which contribute to digestive disorders, as does alcohol.  Alcohol was in no shortage at parties each weekend and I often had beer a few days a week while socializing or watching sports.

Milk also played a part in my digestive problems.  I believe now that humans should stop drinking milk at age eighteen or younger.  Anyone with a digestive condition should stop regardless of age.  No wonder I felt like I had an active volcano in my stomach and why I prayed for relief.

From Doctor to Doctor

I initially visited the campus health clinic with my symptoms and was told it was my nerves.  Then I was prescribed the sedative phenobarbital and referred to the school psychologist who told me, “Your stomach isn’t messed up, you are.”

In the year leading up to my hospitalization with Crohn’s, I was sick much more than usual.  I had taken a number of rounds of antibiotics, which destroy the friendly bacteria in the intestinal tract as well as the disease-causing ones.  The resulting imbalance very well may have been the cause of my symptoms.  I was next referred to a gastroenterologist who administered a barium enema.  He said that I was not intolerant to milk, that there was nothing wrong except that I had a “spastic colon.”  He prescribed fiber products, which only made my symptoms worse.  One night, after eating a spaghetti dinner, the tearing abdominal pains forced me to the local emergency room.  My stomach was pumped, and though weak, I felt much better the next day.

During part of this time I was living in rural Mendocino County in California. It was rumored that the water was bad and many of my neighbors either boiled their drinking water or drank bottled water; I took no such precautions since there was no formal decree. Later, when I frequently suffered bouts of stomach flu–like symptoms, I began to believe that I had contracted a parasitic infection through drinking the infected water. Parasitic infections are a common cause of digestive problems.

I also suffered from terrible hay fever in the spring and summer. That year, I read a book about natural treatments for hayfever. At the suggestion of this book, I stopped drinking milk, even though my doctor had said I was not milk intolerant. My digestive and allergy symptoms did in fact improve, but other remedies I tried from health food stores didn’t seem to help.

Finding Herbal Medicine

After graduating from college, I went to live in San Francisco. One of my jobs was selling an ancient Tibetan herbal remedy to health food stores and alternative doctors. The remedy had been studied in clinical trials in Europe, although the U.S. Food and Drug Administration had not approved it for sale in the U.S. This exposure to alternative medicines opened up a new world to me. I also began to learn about Chinese herbs. I tried them during the periods when I had flare-ups. Since being hospitalized initially, I still had several flare-ups a year, during which I experienced severe pain and had to eat a bland diet. Much of the rest of the time I had frequent gas, abdominal bloating, and a feeling of fullness. I found that by taking a Chinese herbal remedy, I was able to reduce the flare-ups to two or three days instead of the usual two weeks. I also found Chinese herbal decoctions (herbs boiled to make a tea) gave me the energy to recover from colds and flu.

These experiences lead me to study all I could about herbal medicine. I developed a passion for Chinese herbs, introducing doctors, health food stores, and individuals to herbal medicine. Testimonials from doctors and herbalists, whose patients used these products, began coming into the office where I worked. After this company folded, demand for our herbal remedies remained. I decided to start my own company manufacturing Chinese and Western herbal products, slowly adding more and more formulas to my line.

These early days were very trying. I faced a vendetta by a federal government employee who seemed to consider my demise a way of boosting his career. Luckily his actions were so outrageous (such as sending an unapproved and slanderous questionnaire to my customers) that my congressman took an interest and helped resolve this situation. During my tribulations, I kept my goal in mind: to help the millions of people who have digestive, gynecological, and immune disorders by publicizing, researching, and writing about the benefits of herbal medicine.  The herbal formulas that I have developed have now been successfully used by thousands of digestive patients. Several of the formulas have been researched at prestigious universities such as the University of California, San Francisco.

Fortunately, in the last ten years, herbal medicines have moved from the health food fringe movement into the aisles of major drug store chains. Consumers and even medical professionals are now more open to their use. When I went to my ear, nose, and throat doctor even she extolled the benefits of two popular herbs, echinacea and ginkgo!

Managing My Disorder

Many people ask me about the current state of my Crohn’s disease. In the past ten years I have had only one serious flare-up. It was brought on by eating popcorn, a food my body does not tolerate. Luckily, herbal remedies rapidly resolved that flare-up. I have never been on steroids, a common treatment for Crohn’s. For this, I am very grateful. I quickly resolve any abdominal bloating or intestinal gas I experience by being more careful about what I eat and by taking herbal remedies. I also have come to understand that antioxidant vitamins and folic acid have a preventive effect on inflammatory mechanisms. I take these on a daily basis. In order to avoid antibiotics, which for me cause an exacerbation of digestive symptoms, I treat any cold or flu with herbs. Finally, I remain committed to exercise, daily meditation, and my mission of helping people with digestive and other disorders.


Diverticulosis is a condition in which diverticula (small, bulging pouches) protrude inward anywhere along the digestive tract.  Although diverticula can occur in the esophagus, stomach and small intestine, they are most common in the large intestine.  It is thought that diverticula form as a result of spasms of the muscles in the intestinal wall.  Spasms cause the lining of the intestines to bulge through the weakest area of the muscle, much as a weak, bulging spot might develop in a defective tire or basketball.  Diverticulitis is a condition that occurs when these diverticula become inflamed or infected.

Diverticulosis affects half of the U.S. population over the age of 60 and becomes common in adults over 40.  It is thought that diverticula may be caused by lack of fiber in the diet as their occurrence is very rare in developing countries where grains, fruits and vegetables are the main foods consumed.  The theory is that adding bulk to the stool gives the muscles a mass to work against, decreasing the likelihood of spasm in the same way that well-toned skeletal muscles are less likely to cramp than those that are not exercised regularly.


  • Pain that’s often sudden, severe and located in the lower left side of the abdomen
  • Less commonly, abdominal pain that may be mild at first and become worse over several days, possibly fluctuating in intensity
  • Change in bowel habits
  • Abdominal tenderness
  • Fever
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Constipation
  • Diarrhea
  • Bloating
  • Bleeding from your rectum (less common)

Self Help

Conventional medical treatment for diverticulosis is to consume more fiber and to take psyllium supplements.  Serious complications can accompany diverticulitis in patients who develop lower abdominal pain with spasm or fever and should consult a physician in these cases.

Current Western Treatments

Routine cases are treated with bed rest, a liquid diet and and antibiotics.  The symptoms of colon cancer and appendicitis are similar to those of diverticulosis or diverticulitis, and anyone with acute abdominal pain should seek out a physician for a definitive diagnosis.  A case of diverticulitis that requires the help of a physician will usually be treated with bed rest, a liquid diet for several days, and antibiotics.  If the patient is experiencing intense pain, the doctor may prescribe an over-the-counter pain reliever such as acetaminophen.  If the pain is severe, a more potent pain reliever may be used, but as these sometimes cause constipation, they may aggravate the problem.  Hospitalization maybe required if the patient is at risk of bowel obstruction or peritonitis.

If an abscess is developed, it must be drained.  This can be done with a needle through the skin that is guided by an ultrasound or CT.  A catheter will then be used to drain the abscess.  A bowel resection maybe required after this procedure.

A doctor may recommend surgery in the case of an abscess, fistula, or reoccurring diverticulitis in order to remove the diseased part of the colon.  Two surgeries are possible.

  • Primary Bowel Resection - This procedure involves removing the diseased part of the colon and reconnecting the healthy sections.  This will allow for normal bowel movements in the future.  The procedure can be done traditionally (open surgery), or laparoscopically.  In open surgery, one long incision is made in the abdomen while laparoscopic surgery requires three or four small incisions.
  • Bowel Resection with Colostomy – This procedure maybe required if there is not enough healthy tissue to reconnect the colon with the rectum.  With a colostomy, a surgeon makes an opening in the abdominal wall (called a stoma) through which waste will pass into a bag.  After months of healing, it maybe possible for an additional operation to then reconnect the colon and rectum.

A Case Study in TCM Treatment

A 60-year-old woman had abdominal cramping and constipation due to diverticulitis.  Traditional Chinese diagnosis found her pulse to be thin, wiry, and tongue pale with a red border, suggesting heat in the liver.  She also said she felt hot in the afternoon although the weather was usually cold.  She was prescribed a mixture of herbs that included isatis extract leaf and root, codonopsis root, oyster shell, bupleurum root, Black Walnut hulls, terminalia fruit, ginger rhizome, and mume fruit among others.  She was also advised to have three cups of chamomile tea per day.  After two weeks, the patient noticed less abdominal pain.  Since the hot signs had also abated, her herbal prescriptions were reduced but continued for several months.  As the weather began changing and she showed signs of developing a cold condition, she added White Atractylodes rhizome, poria sclerotium, Baked Licorice root and citrus peel.  The patient was very satisfied with her herbal therapy as her abdominal pain has been alleviated and her bowel movements have become more normal.