Tuesday, August 5, 2014

(Re)Introduction to Your Body's Most Important Organ

While the liver is one of the least sexy organs to talk about, there is no doubt that it plays an incredibly important and underappreciated role in your health.

Your liver makes over 10,000 enzymes and over 1000 biochemicals that the body requires for healthy functioning.  It maintains healthy blood sugar, keep your hormones balanced and makes essential compounds such as cholesterol (most of the cholesterol in your body is made by the liver, not derived from your diet).

All of the chemicals that we are exposed to, from diet, water and air, or filtered and detoxified by the liver.  These include preservatives, pesticides, heavy metals, air pollutants and many other chemicals.

In my patients I have seen how chemical overload can weaken the liver and lead to a variety of symptoms such as fatigue, hormone imbalance, chemical sensitivity and other problems.

In the next post I'll talk about how to keep your liver happy!

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

A Lesson in Humility

Doctors have discovered a new ligament in the human knee.

It's amazing that we are continuing to learn new things about the human body every day, even about parts that were thought to be pretty well understood such as the knee.  To me, it highlights the complexity of the body and is also a good reminder to be humble about what we know in medicine.  If a completely new ligament could be "found" in something so commonplace and prosaic like the knee, I wonder what other things we don't know about the human body that we will find out in the years ahead?

New York Times article reporting this discovery

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

I believe it's always helpful to keep in mind that there are many different ways of thinking about and looking at health and illness.  There are many different paradigms that each serve as a different lens through which we can view the body.  Even if we don't agree with all aspects of a different perspective, I think it expands our mind to just consider these possibilities and think about "what if this was true?"

In this context I would like to share this article about how the African shaman Malidoma Some has a completely different perspective on mental illness from our Western psychiatric paradigm:


Wednesday, June 13, 2012

The Ancient Ayurvedic Practice of Oil-Pulling

Oil-pulling is an ancient Ayurvedic therapy which involves holding vegetable oil in the mouth for ten-fifteen minutes and then spitting out the oil. In Ayurveda, oil-pulling has been used to strengthen the teeth, gums and jaws and also to prevent tooth decay, gum disease and bad breath. There is also a traditional belief that oil-pulling helps remove toxins from the body.

On the Internet there are many websites that claim oil-pulling can be used to treat and prevent a variety of diseases including liver and lung disorders, reproductive conditions, heart disease and even cancer.  While I don't believe that oil-pulling is a panacea or can help cure every single disease that exists, I do believe that it has a place in daily lifestyle practice based on Ayurveda. It promotes dental hygiene and may help with detoxification and stimulation of digestive fire or Agni.

The practice is usually done with either sunflower, sesame or coconut oil.  Basically one takes about a teaspoon of oil into the mouth and swishes and "pulls" the oil around through one's teeth.   After about fifteen minutes the oil is believed to have drawn up toxins and waste metabolites from the body and should be discarded.  It's better not to swallow the oil.  After spitting, rinse the mouth well with water.  The practice should be done on an empty stomach, preferably once daily in the morning.

If you are interested in trying oil-pulling I recommend practicing daily for at least 2 weeks to evaluate whether it has any effect for you.  Unfortunately there is no scientific research on its efficacy at this time, but research would be important and helpful to elucidate this ancient Ayurvedic therapy.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

5 Ayurvedic tips for staying healthy in the winter

It's a little harder to stay balanced during the wintertime with colder weather, shorter days, less sunlight, more viruses prevalent, etc. Luckily Ayurveda has some helpful tips to keep us healthy:

1. Use heating spices to help balance Kapha, the cold dosha that can get imbalanced in winter.
These spices also stimulate Agni, the digestive fire which can get weak in the wintertime. Use Ginger, black pepper, cayenne, cloves, cardamom and turmeric liberally in cooking. If you have high Pitta, incorporate cumin, coriander and fennel which are more cooling spices.

2. Apply sesame oil to the body, especially the soles of the feet. The cold weather in winter can promote excessive dryness of the skin and the internal system. Sesame oil is a warming oil that's especially good at grounding and balancing the vata dosha, which will help you stay warm in the winter time. If you can apply sesame oil to your whole body before a bath at least once a week, that would be ideal.

3. Try to get at least 30 min. of sunlight every day. If you can incorporate this into a walk outside every day. Ayurveda recommends one hour of sunbathing every day. I suspect they knew about the importance of vitamin D that the body makes from sunlight. If you're unable to get sunlight take a vitamin D3 supplement daily (at least 400 international units).

4. Have a cup of hot tea every morning. You can have Chai, green tea, herbal tea or another hot beverage. The hot temperature in addition to the heating quality of tea will stimulate your Agni and also stimulate Kapha to prevent it from getting imbalanced. In addition you'll be getting all the antioxidants and polyphenols from the tea.

5. Visit a sauna/steam room for at least 30 min. per week. If you have high Pitta you may want to reduce your time exposure in the sauna to 10-20 min.. The heat helps provide some warmth to your inner system. In addition, sweating helps you detoxify through your skin, the largest organ. To avoid overheating try to stay on the lower level benches in the sauna and lie down if comfortable.

Although winter can be a challenging time these are a few simple tips that Ayurveda offers to help you stay healthy.

To your health and wellness,

Dr. Akil Palanisamy

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Raw Food and Weight Loss

Some people swear by a 100% raw food diet, but is it for everyone? In Ayurvedic medicine, all things are individualized-- so the answer is that it is not good for everyone.

The general recommendation is that less processed food is better, but that each person's ability to eat raw food varies depending on their body type. For example, a vata person with weaker digestion may not do well at all on a raw food diet. Such a person may get digestive disturbances or other imbalances from eating only raw food. In contrast, the pitta person with a stronger digestion will be able to handle and thrive on raw food.

There is a connection between raw food and weight loss. The more raw fruits, vegetables, and nuts that one can eat, the more prana one will be getting daily from food. This will minimize hunger and should lead to overall fewer calories consumed per day if the person is in touch with their body.

Prana in food is an important element that sustains us. Raw food is high in prana. So the more raw food one can eat, the more life-sustaining energy one obtains, which will lead to reduced hunger and appetite.

But be sure not to eat more raw foods then your constitutional body type can handle. Vata people should eat some raw food in an overall diet of mostly cooked foods. Kapha people could do quite well on a fully raw food diet. Pitta people can eat raw food but, just like in other areas of their life, they should practice moderation. So eat raw -- but only what you can handle and digest!

Monday, January 24, 2011

Overcoming Sugar Cravings with Herbs

Continuing with the topic of losing weight, one of the primary changes that would be helpful for most people in my experience is eating fewer carbohydrates. In general eating whole grains and less processed complex carbohydrates is better than eating refined carbohydrates.

Of course, eating fewer desserts and sweets is very helpful as well. If one has a sweet tooth, there is an interesting Ayurvedic herb that can help with this.

It is called Gymnema Sylvestre or gurmar (which means "sugar destroyer") in Ayurvedic medicine. When taken as a liquid extract, this herb has the property of anesthetizing the tastebuds responsible for detecting the sweet taste. After swishing it around the mouth for about 30 seconds, one is actually not able to really experienced the "sweet" taste temporarily -- any chocolate candies such as Hershey's kisses or Kit Kat would actually not be sweet. You don't even have to swallow the extract, you can just spit it out.

If you feel like you really have a bad sweet tooth, keep a liquid extract of Gymnema around. When you have a craving for dessert, just swish and spit this extract and then have the dessert -- you'll find that it probably won't taste very good, and over time perhaps your cravings will decrease. I know it's hard to believe but it actually works!