Thursday, 9 September 2010

The Basics of Chinese Medicine: the theory of yin & yang

Many of the theories and principles of Chinese medicine originate from Taoist philosophical thinking and belief systems. One such theory is that of Yin and Yang.  Yin and yang  is a tool that allows us to understand something or someone’s orientation and position in the world around us.Traditional Chinese practitioners use yin and yang to understand the opposites and correspondences in the human body. It is easy when looking at yin and yang to see the differences (hot/cold, fast/slow etc.). But we must always remember that there can be no day without night, no fast without slow, no hot without cold. Therefore yin and yang is always relative, one cannot exist without the other.

Some basic associations are stated below.

Yin: cold, still, dark, night, descending, internal, substance.

Yang: hot, moving, bright, day, ascending, external, function.

It is a dynamic model. For example during 24 hours, night is yin and day is yang. Just as the sun and moon move above and below the horizon, so yin and yang both wax and wane during 24 hours. This is easy to visualise if we think how less powerful the sun feels as the day progresses eventfully sinking so low as to move from day to night (yang to yin). In ourselves we are more active during the day (yang) but become less active and eventually sleep (yin) as the day progresses. 

The yin and yang symbol eloquently illustrates the theories of the model.
  1. The symbol is circular reminding us the whole is composed of both yin and yang equally.
  2. The black and white sections are not straight telling us that at the balance of yin and yang is in a constant state of movement and relativity.
  3. The dots in the symbol tell us that the seed of yang lies within yin and the beginnings of yin are within yang and are therefore one is interdependent on the other.

Chinese medicine holds that human life is a physiological process in constant motion and change. Under normal conditions, the waxing and waning of yin and yang are kept within certain bounds, reflecting a dynamic equilibrium of the physiological processes. When the balance is broken, disease occurs. This may occur for a number of reasons, physical activity, emotional factors, diet and living conditions etc. Practitioners seek to restore harmony in the human body. The key to correct treatment is to identify the source of the disharmony and rebalance. So we must cool if there is heat, promote movement if there is stagnation, and replenish if there is deficiency etc.  

Is the patient large or thin? are they slow and lethargic? or are they restless and nervous? These are clues as to the relative balance within the patient. Is the illness of recent onset or chronic and long standing, is there heat or do they feel cold.

It is with yin and yang theory that the practitioner of Chinese medicine will begin the diagnostic process, which will then ultimately decide the treatment plan.

Friday, 3 September 2010

Environmental toxins: a barrier to natural fertility?

This interesting article from the LA times appeared on my twitter page recently  

"Chemicals in plastics can increase testosterone in men"

Every day we are exposed to various different chemicals. We are largely unaware of what the detrimental effects of these substances may be on our health, and in the case of many of my patients, what impact they may have on our fertility.


"Xenoestrogens are novel, industrially made compounds, estrogenic effects and differ chemically from ancient naturally occurring oestrogenic substances produced by living organisms. Their potential ecological and human health impact is under study”

Xeno-oestrogens are chemicals that mimic the hormone oestrogen in the human body. Oestrogen is crucial in fertility. It signals the release of other hormones to trigger ovulation. It is needed for a healthy womb lining so that embryos may implant successfully. It stimulates the secretion of cervical mucus, and it causes softening and opening of the cervix facilitating the passage of sperm to egg. Obviously women produce lots of this hormone but men also produce it. For oestogens to do their job they must bind with special oestrogen receptors in the human cell. Unfortunately Xeno-oestrogens might also link with these cell receptors and thus prevent oestrogen from working. Obviously this could have detrimental effects on fertility. It has been speculated by some that xeno-oestrogens may also be affect testicular function. As such they have been linked to decreased sperm count and quality and also increased damage to sperm DNA among other things. They are also being linked to a whole range of issues within female reproductive function and pregnancy, such as PCOS, endometriosis and miscarriage.


Dioxins are another group of chemicals produced by a variety of industrial processes. Dioxins are linked to a range of problems but with regard to fertility in women they are implicated in endometriosis and miscarriage. In men they are linked to poor semen quality. The main source of of dioxins is diet, and the worst offenders being beef and dairy produce followed by other meats and eggs.

What you can do to help yourself

The main way in which xeno-oestrogens are likely to enter the body is via pesticides and plastics, but they are also present in a wide range of items such as toiletries. I always recommend my patients to eat organically for a whole host of reasons and this is just one more. You may want to evaluate how you prepare, cook and store your food. It may be advisable not to microwave food in plastic containers or covered with plastic wrap, and don't put hot food into plastic containers as this may encourage molecules of plastic to leech into the food.
The Xeno-oestrogen Bisphenol A is present in the lining of canned food and has been linked with polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS).
Phthalates are present in many cosmetics especially nail varnishes and those products containing some form of scent. If possible look for those that are "phthalate free".
Another product to look out for is parabens this is used as a preservative in certain cosmetics.
Many nutritionists advocate a diet rich in phyto-oestrogens to counteract the effects of of xeno-oestrogens. These may be obtained from many sources, flax seed and soya being  especially good. Nuts, seeds and pulses are all excellent.

Dioxins are stored in fat, so reducing the amount of animal products we eat is the most effective way to limit the impact dioxins may make on ones fertility. Dioxins are also stored in our own body fat so losing weight ourselves is again useful.

In conclusion. While the science behind these theories is at best uncertain, the steps we may take to protect ourselves from environmental toxins don't look particularly unreasonable or outlandish.
Basically eat organic produce, reduce the amount of plastic & packaging in our lives, use more products that contain less chemicals and eat less meat and dairy. Even if our bodies dont thank us I'm sure the planet will.