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Wellness and prevention information from the experts at the Penny George Institute for Health and Healing


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Breaking away from unhealthy American ways

AmericanWays.57300728By Megan Odell, LAc, MS

My professor was new to our school and the United States, having only recently left China. I had the privilege of observing this brilliant acupuncturist as he assessed patients’ concerns and composed treatments.

As he worked on a patient chart one day, he paused and with a big sigh asked, “Why does everyone here have this pattern?”

In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), the word “pattern” is used instead of “diagnosis.” Where conventional Western medicine works to whittle an illness down to a single cause, TCM instead looks at the whole body-mind ecosystem and attempts to find a pattern to what is happening. A treatment plan is created to restore balance and health.

My professor had noticed that Americans appeared in our clinic with one predominant pattern―Liver-Spleen disharmony. This doesn’t (necessarily) mean there is anything structurally wrong with a patient’s liver and spleen. The issue lies in the functions that the Chinese medical system attributes to those organs.

Patients with Liver-Spleen disharmony might express concerns such as headaches, high stress, digestive difficulties, menstrual pain, irritability, fibromyalgia, or a host of other symptoms.

So, if my professor’s observation was right, what is it about living in the United States (or perhaps an urban area of the Upper Midwest) that makes it so common? In my experience, this pattern is all about four things:

  • Stress: According to TCM, the liver is in charge of the free flow of Qi.  Qi is energy that moves through your body along channels. When you are healthy, the Qi moves freely. When you are in pain, sick or emotionally upset, the Qi can become stuck. When you are in a state of stress, the qi often stagnates (which you might express by clenching your jaw, stopping breathing or tensing your shoulders).
  • Emotions: In TCM, we believe that emotions come and go like water in a stream. If we let them come and express them, everything should be fine. However, sometimes we deny or “stuff” emotions, such as anger, sadness, grief or jealousy. I often speak to people who have semi-successfully hid from emotions for months or years with unintended physical results.
  • Exercise: If we aren’t physically moving, Qi is less likely to move.
  • Food:  In TCM, the spleen is largely attributed with the transformation of food into energy. Some foods, such as soup and lightly cooked vegetables, are easy to transform. Other foods, such as dairy, sugars, and fried foods, are difficult to transform. Eating too much of the latter can bog down the digestive system. And if we do other things while eating (working, reading, driving), the body’s ability to focus energy on digestion is hindered.

Does any of that look familiar? Do you see it in your life or our culture? I would offer that the “American way” often encourages stress, overworking, emotion-stuffing, screen-watching, and food-as-stomach-filler. Even when we try to avoid these things, it is easy to feel pulled in a number of directions in our daily lives. And usually our self-care is the first to go.

So what do we do? TCM offers solutions like acupuncture and Chinese herbs that can help. But improvements from those therapies will only be sustained if lifestyle changes are made, too.

  • Meditate or find another way to manage your stress. Biofeedback and Mindfulness Training are available at the Penny George Institute and offer excellent approaches to handling stress.
  • Feel. Know that your feelings are right, and they are temporary. If you feel you need help processing your emotions, please consider seeing a therapist to help you.
  • Move. It doesn’t have to be high-intensity interval training. Any time you move your body in a way that you enjoy, that is good.
  • Savor. Experience and enjoy your food. Experiment. Slow down. Smell it. Taste it. Eat only enough to feel 70 percent full.

Good luck – together we can work to change the American pattern to one of balance and harmony.

Megan Odell, LAc, MS, is a licensed acupuncturist and offers services at the Penny George Institute for Health and Healing – Abbott Northwestern.


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My path to the Penny George Institute for Health and Healing

Debra Bell, MD, hiking wth her husband, Daniel Wolpert.

Debra Bell, MD, hiking wth her husband.

By Debra Bell, MD

This fall marks the start of a new chapter for me in a more than 25-year journey as a family medicine and integrative medicine physician.

In September, I started offering integrative medicine consultations alongside two other physicians and a clinical nurse specialist at the Penny George Institute for Health and Healing – Abbott Northwestern Outpatient Clinic. I am part of a team of integrative health practitioners, including acupuncturists, massage therapists, integrative nutritionists, and a psychologist.

As a new team member, I’ve been asked to introduce myself and my style of practice. Doing that requires giving you some history on how I got here.

I consider my work in health care a calling. I was exposed at an early age to medicine and drawn to the notion of helping people. As a pre-med student, I became interested in women’s studies and birthing practices. I found inspiration from my mother’s first edition books from the 1950s and 1960s about natural childbirth and breastfeeding and went on to study natural remedies used by midwives and ancient healers.

In medical school, I took a year off to concentrate on an independent study of natural medicine. I met my husband, and we spent 10 months traveling internationally visiting spiritual communities around the world. This led us to choose a simple life in which health and spiritual well-being are a priority.

We moved to Vermont, where we had a small, commercial, organic farm. I started an integrative medicine family practice and home birth private practice. Later we moved to California, where my husband attended graduate school, and I worked in a practice with other integrative medicine providers. I enjoyed having like-minded colleagues, and we learned a lot from each other.

From California, we moved to Crookston, Minn. People often ask how we ended up moving to northwest Minnesota. Divine intervention? I felt drawn to the area for a number of reasons. I found the open space and big sky breathtaking. In my practice, I could offer my services to a broader population, and the clinic at the local hospital was very supportive.

I was pleased by the number of community members who previously had never considered natural therapies but decided to come to see me because they wanted a holistic approach. Often, they did not want another prescription and did want to address more than physical symptoms. With an integrative medicine approach, we could address all aspects of well-being and healing ― work life, home life, exercise, diet, stress, coping skills, emotional well-being, and spirituality

Holistic medicine refers to focusing on the “body mind and spirit,” but often there is less emphasis on the “spirit.” I try to make sure I focus on all three.

In time, I created an integrative medicine center in partnership with the hospital. I worked with acupuncturists, massage therapists, spiritual directors and others as a team to provide holistic care.

After 13 years in Crookston, I am ready for this new chapter at the Penny George Institute. I’m looking forward to working with a remarkable team of practitioners and serving patients in Minneapolis and the greater Twin Cities area.

Debra Bell, MD, is now seeing patients. She offers an integrative medicine, or holistic, approach, to women’s health, fibromyalgia, fatigue, allergies, chronic disease and nutrition. Call 612-863-3333 to learn more or schedule an appointment.