Our Personal Energy Crisis
By Brian Benjamin Carter, MSci, LAc
Brian is an author of international
renown, a public speaker, and a professor in the Masters
of Science program at Pacific College of Oriental Medicine.
He practices acupuncture and herbal medicine in sunny San
Diego, California, and is currently writing several books.
Why don't we have enough energy? What can we do to change it?
What do we do that makes things worse?
Few people these days can live in the way that prevents disease,
so they need medicine. And many cannot afford to see an herbalist
or acupuncture regularly because of the cost; so, regular people
need a practical medicine to use in their daily lives.
Wah (A Bit of Whining)
If you hadn't noticed, I set a strong pace for myself by beginning
to put out a newsletter every two weeks. When I started the print
version of the Pulse newsletter, I set in motion a motivation
to keep writing- it's a good thing, too, because then I got much
busier with patients. Now I also am teaching a class in the Pacific
College of Oriental Medicine's Masters Program, my wife and I
just moved, and I'm installing hardwood floors in our new home.
All that to say, I really didn't feel like putting out this issue!
But I want to give my subscribers their money's worth, and c'est
la vie, we have to do many things we don't feel like doing.
Enough Energy for Your Daily Responsibilities
As I pointed out in the last newsletter (in the Optimal Medicine
in the Real World article), our biggest health problems are perpetuated
by our lifestyles, and often it seems our lifestyles are determined
by our responsibilities and other things that are beyond our control.
For example, are you really able to step back, choose the healthiest
breakfast for yourself, then eat it in peace in the morning? Or
do rush hour, grogginess, and the wrong things in the refrigerator
determine your first meal of the day?
I'll be honest: Lately, with all the extra things on my to do
list, my breakfast has consisted of coffee and/or Red Bull. Yes,
Red Bull, the energy drink
I know, you'd think an alternative health guru - or whatever
you think I am - would NEVER drink something like that! I would
agree, but like the rest of you, I live in the real world, and
sometimes I need a boost, however imperfect.
But what are the downsides of those kinds of energy boosts?
Side Effects of Coffee and Red Bull
I know my peer and friend in Oregon, Subhuti Dharmananda, disagrees
with me on this one, but coffee can be the wrong option. It is
hot and drying, can tax your adrenal glands, and via those same
adrenal glands plays havoc with your blood sugar and insulin levels.
As you may know, one of the causes of diabetes is years and years
of constantly unbalanced blood sugar and insulin levels. But that's
a complicated topic for another day.
Ever hear someone say the coffee doesn't work for them anymore?
When they drink it they get tired. It provides a short boost but
then more fatigue. Too much coffee can lead to this coffee fatigue
What about the Red Bull? It contains sugar, caffeine, taurine,
and niacin, among other things.
Taurine is an amino acid-like compound and a component
of bile acids, which are used to help absorb fats and fat-soluble
vitamins. Taurine also helps regulate the heart beat, maintain
cell membrane stability, and prevent brain cell over-activity.
Taurine has not been reported to cause any severe adverse effects.
There is much more information on Taurine than I can go into here.
Niacin is a B vitamin necessary for many aspects of health,
growth, and reproduction. Niacin assists in the functioning of
the digestive system, skin, and nerves. It is also important for
the conversion of food to energy. Research has shown that niacin
(in high doses) can decrease cholesterol levels. It's the B vitamin
that can cause flushing (red skin), but that only happens with
certain dosages and forms of niacin.
Those two ingredients are nice
they give you plenty of
fodder for rationalization. Of course, whether the dosages are
high enough to do all those great things are another question,
and I don't want to spend an entire article on Red Bull
so let's move on to the sugar.
You can get Red Bull in a sugar free form, but if you don't,
you're drinking about as much as you get in a soft drink. It also
contains about as much caffeine as a cup of coffee. There is discussion
of taurine's effect on blood sugar levels. I haven't found supportive
research for it (email me if you have), but this would support
anecdotal reports of a measured (glucose levels by diabetics)
lack of blood sugar spiking with Red Bull
Ideally, Instead, We Would
Better things for energy include sleep, rest, relaxation, herbal
formulas, and proper eating. I confess, we ordered Papa John's
the other night- partly because of that sick idea that somehow
we're giving ourselves a treat by eating something that tastes
good but is hard to digest, and partly because I got a cool multi-colored,
full sized NCAA/Papa John's basketball for only $6. Yes, I am
another gullible victim of repetitious advertising. But it's a
really cool basketball.
Pizza's carbohydrates and cheese aren't the easiest things to
digest if you want to maximize your energy. But part of the problem
is that when you're already tired and stressed, at the time when
the wrong but fun food looks so good, the idea of just eating
some healthy chicken and rice soup seems to boring you just want
to die. My perception was skewed already. I was temporarily insane
and I bought the pizza. Then the next day I was groggy and needed
a Red Bull. See what a vicious cycle it is?
Just now, I conked out while writing this because my blood sugar
levels had spiked with Starbucks' lemon loaf cake and some not
from concentrate orange juice, but as I drank my coffee and typed,
those same levels fell back down
now it's time for herbs.
I valiantly heave myself up and into the herb room for a remedy.
But first I check my tongue to see what particular kind of damage
I must deal with this time. Hmm, not the thick yellow coat I expected.
But Dan zhi xiao yao smells too tonifying- I need clearing, purging,
not boosting right now.
Surprising, isn't it? If you're tired, you don't always need
a boost- sometimes you just need to clear out the stuff that's
in the way of your body boosting itself. Obstructions to homeostasis
(your body's ability to maintain its own health) can reduce your
So I take some Long dan xie gan tang, one of my favorites for
cleaning up the side effects of coffee, but that's not enough.
I add Huang lian wen dan tang - I had a phlegmy feeling in the
back of my throat, and I wanted to continue purging heat and fluids
- that's one of the most bitter formulas we have, and I immediately
want ice water.
Is it because I want to clear the taste from my mouth, or have
I been given a new and healthy craving for the water I need to
replace? I don't know- probably both. So I drink the ice water.
I also noticed when I took the second formula that colors seemed
brighter to me
what was that? An improvement in visual
function due to clearing of negative factors? So many questions
and too few answers in medicine.
But my energy is back, and I'm writing again. Without the herbs,
I would have had to crawl into bed for a while until the racing
to-do list in my brain heaved me back out of bed and on to the
Are You Offended By This Glimpse?
This has not been a tale of exemplary living. This has been a
real-life glimpse of how herbs can restore health to those who
are unable to live perfectly preventive lives.
I suspect some purists might be offended that I would use herbs
this way, and especially that I would advertise it, but I maintain
that few people these days can live in the way that prevents disease,
so they need the medicine. And many cannot afford to see an herbalist
or acupuncture regularly because of the cost, so regular people
need to know how to use herbs in their daily life.
People Need Real Help
As a healer of sorts - not a medical doctor but an acupuncturist
who legally cannot call himself a doctor despite his comparable
intelligence, education, and ability to help patients - I feel
it's my duty to help the greatest number of people in the most
practical way possible.
That's why I write these things to you - to increase your awareness
and curiosity, to make solutions available to you, to help you
find ways to live better, to rise out of the morass of daily living,
and get closer to your dreams.