Our Personal Energy Crisis
Updated March 15, 2004





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 syndrome.

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 energy level.

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 next task.

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.

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About The PULSE
All information herein provided is for educational use only and not meant to substitute for the advice of appropriate local experts and authorities.

Copyright 1999-2074, Pulse Media International, Brian Carter, MSci, LAc, Editor