I’ve always had “problem” skin. Red, painful cystic pustule acne plagued me until my late 20s. After years of anti-acne face washes, toners, topical antibiotics and astringent creams, I had it under control enough to hide my problem areas with just a little concealer.
When I was in my early 30’s, my acne changed from cystic to a plethora of small red papules on my forehead, cheeks, and chin. My dermatologist prescribed retinols and steroidal creams to reduce the inflammation. They worked a little, but my skin was still red, irritated, and bumpy. The texture of it made me very self-conscious as there’s no way to hide bumps with everyday makeup!
At the same time, in my early 30’s, I started waking up in the middle of the night like clockwork. It was always 1am when severe abdominal cramps roused me from sleep. Dripping with sweat, I would sit in the bathroom not pooping or passing gas, but just breathing and waiting for the pain to pass. The cramping would usually stop within 20 minutes.
After a few weeks, I made an appointment with my primary care physician. She ordered a CT scan of my pelvis, which revealed nothing. She recommended taking an osmotic laxative once a day to ensure the cramping wasn’t caused by constipation (full disclosure: it wasn't).
Flash forward another two years, and I was in my first year of graduate school for Chinese Medicine. I was receiving almost daily acupuncture treatments from my teachers and classmates. My chief complaint was chronic acne.
One of my teachers observed out loud in class that the redness and papules on my face provided a visual map of the Stomach meridian. That’s when a light bulb went on in my brain that illuminated everything… food was the cause of it!
I quickly purchased a copy of Robb Wolf’s book, The Paleo Solution: The Original Human Diet and devoured it in one day. The next day, I purged all processed foods and gluten from our family’s kitchen and started the Paleo lifestyle. As Robb recommended, I ate Paleo for 30 days. A few amazing things happened:
If you’ve read this far, then it’s time to acknowledge the biggest mistake I made about my health...
My biggest mistake was not listening to my body, when it was very clearly telling what was wrong!
If I had listened, I would have saved myself years of unnecessary pain, sleepless nights, worry, stress, and embarrassment about my appearance. And money. I would have saved a LOT of money by not trying every acne treatment program I could find.
My so-called healthy vegetarian diet was making me sick. Really sick. I had completely ignored all of my body’s warning signs. Even worse, I hadn’t realized the root of the problem… gluten-intolerance. I had eaten gluten all of my life, so why was there suddenly a problem now?
But the truth was, there were signs all along, I just chose to ignore them or call them something else.
Like mistaking a face rash for acne.
Side note: If I eat gluten now (always by accident), I'll wake up in the middle of the night with those terrible abdominal cramps and wear a face rash for 3-5 days.
The biggest takeaway from my story is that the human body is smart. Smarter than we typically give it credit for. If something is wrong, physically or emotionally, it’s going to show up as what Western medicine calls a sign or symptom.
Be observant because the longer a sign or symptom is ignored, the louder(!) your body will demand your attention.
So, is your body trying to tell you something? Sometimes we all need an outside perspective to uncover the truth, the root of our health problems. Let’s work together to get to the root of solving your health mysteries.
When I started studying Chinese Medicine, I realized that not only is it important what I put into my body, it’s also important how I put it into my body.
Water is the ultimate example of this lesson, since it can consumed hot, warm, room temperature, cold, or frozen.
Here are 3 reasons why I don’t put ice in my water:
1. Cold is the Stomach’s enemy
The Stomach is warm and has an abundance of fluids. It receives and breaks down food, turning it into Gu Qi (aka Food Qi). We can’t survive without Gu Qi, so for optimal performance, it’s best to give the Stomach the right temperature of liquid and food (room temperature, warm or hot).
2. Cold impairs digestion
Cold or frozen water inhibits the Stomach’s production of Gu Qi, simply because it cools the Stomach down too much. If you add ice to very cold water, the water can actually cool enough to transform into more ice. Now, I’m not suggesting that ice-cold water crystallizes anything in your digestive track. But, think about it… if you continually drink ice-cold liquids, your Stomach has to work harder to stay warm. Working harder will create an imbalance elsewhere in your body, most likely the Large Intestine.
An imbalance of Stomach qi may manifest as difficulty digesting foods with symptoms such as stomach cramps, hiccups, abdominal pain before bowel movements, or loose stools. Or it could manifest as food retention (aka a food baby) as the burrito you ate for lunch hangs around much longer than you wish. You might notice your pants feeling too tight from abdominal bloating. Or you could feel tired and mentally fatigued. These are all symptoms of qi imbalance.
3. Cold reduces fertility
For women: In Chinese Medicine, the Yang partner of the Stomach is the Uterus (including the ovaries). The Uterus is the most fertile when it’s warm. Therefore, cooling down the Stomach leads to cooling of the Uterus, which reduces fertility. Symptoms of a cold Uterus include painful menstrual cramps or an irregular menstrual cycle (too short, too long, or varied).
For men: Too much cold in the abdomen can impair fertility by disrupting production of quality sperm in the testes. Too much heat is not good for the testicles either. In fact, the testes are just like Goldilocks… the most healthy when they are at just the right temperature, which happens to be a few degrees cooler than body temperature.
Now that you know the effects of ice water on the body, keep in mind that other cold foods such as ice cream, frozen yogurt, and iced-smoothies have the same effect.
To keep your Stomach warm and active, drinking warm liquids (hot water with lemon) 30 minutes before a meal is a great idea. Try it for a few days and see how you (and your Stomach) feel.
Life happens and sometimes it’s hard to resist that perfect ice cream or glass of ice water on a hot summer day. If you indulge in any ice-cold beverages or foods, do so sparingly and drink a warm liquid afterwards to keep your Stomach from feeling the freeze.
Dr. Michelle Wendt, L.Ac., DACM
Dr. Michelle Wendt, L.Ac., DACM practices Holistic & Chinese Medicine in Hawaii and Texas.