Pacific Wellness Toronto News

New Insight into Acupuncture for Restless Leg Syndrome

By Barbara Adach, R.Ac.

Restless Legs Syndrome (RLS), also known as Willis-Ekbom disease, is a condition that can disrupt a person’s sleep leading to anything from frustration to exhaustion.

Symptoms of an unpleasant sensation in the legs drive a person to move the legs to temporarily relieve the discomfort.  This feeling can be experienced as ‘pins and needles,’ a deep itch, pulling, aching, or burning.  While the symptoms can occur with extended periods of sitting, they typically occur in the evening or at night.

RLS can be thought of as a hybrid condition of movement disorder and parasomnia.  A parasomnia is a sleep disturbance that may occur at the start of sleep, during sleep or during arousal from sleep, but does not include sleep apnea.

Western Medicine View

Western medical research posits that RLS may be due to iron and/or folate deficiency or an imbalance of the neurotransmitter dopamine which, among other things, affects muscle movement.  The syndrome may be hereditary as it has been found to run in families.  While RLs can occur at any age, it is more common in people over 40.  Women tend to be affected more frequently than men.

Interestingly, pregnancy can induce or worsen symptoms of RLS.  This typically occurs in the third trimester.  Luckily, symptoms usually dissipate by about a month after delivery.

While not usually related to serious health issues, RLS may be associated with peripheral neuropathy and diabetes, kidney failure, or spinal cord conditions.  In these cases, it is important to treat the underlying condition to optimize one’s health and thereby address RLS.  In addition, a doctor may review a patient’s medications and supplements to understand if the symptoms are perhaps an unwanted side effect.

Western medical treatment may involve medications of varying types from muscle relaxers to those that increase the level of dopamine in the brain to iron or folate supplementation.

Traditional Chinese Medicine View

If the above efforts do not provide enough relief, a combination of acupuncture, moxibustion, and Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) nutrition can be helpful.  In RLS, as in any condition, symptoms are seen as a manifestation of imbalance and a thorough intake will uncover the individual’s particular pattern of imbalance.  TCM recognizes various ‘Pathogenic Factors’ as pushing a person’s system out of its desired healthy state.  In the case of RLS, several Pathogenic Factors may be implicated and ‘Wind’ is a very important one.  It acts as wind does in nature, generating movement small and large – think of the branches of a sapling gently swaying in a spring breeze to the destruction wreaked by a tornado.  While Wind has other attributes in TCM, the important feature in this instance is its ability to generate movement.  If Wind is indeed present, it can be dealt with in several ways.

Acupuncture and Moxibustion

Acupuncture encourages the body to rely on its innate ability to heal itself.  It is a safe method of treatment that can be used in conjunction with other modalities, including Western Medicine.  Acupuncture points are chosen depending on the pattern of imbalance that is identified.  There are some specific points that can help ‘extinguish Wind’.  There are even some acupuncture points on the body that have Wind as part of their names, signifying their relationship to this Pathogenic Factor.

Moxibustion, a local heating treatment, involves the burning of a herb product near specific acupuncture points on the body.   It provides a gentle warming sensation and can be very soothing.   One of its many functions is to reduce Wind.

TCM Nutrition

According to TCM nutrition, there are certain foods which should be avoided if Wind is indeed affecting a person’s health.  They are eggs, crab and buckwheat.  Buckwheat is also called kasha and may be used as whole-grain porridge or ground into a flour for baking.  Soba noodles are made of buckwheat flour or a combination of wheat and buckwheat flours.  If you eat gluten-free baked goods, check the label for buckwheat flour.

There are also foods which counteract Wind.  They are categorized here as Cool to Cold, Neutral, and Warm to Hot, reflecting the influence the food has on a person.  People who tend to feel warmer than others, who find the heat of summer very taxing, and who prefer cool drinks should choose from the Neutral and Cool to Cold foods.  Those who tend to feel colder than others (especially their hands and feet), who find winter especially uncomfortable and who prefer warm drinks should choose the Neutral and Warm to Hot foods.

Cool to Cold Foods:  banana, barley, celery, eggplant, peppermint, water chestnut

Neutral Foods:  bass, black sesame seeds, black soybean, coconut, cold-pressed flaxseed oil, perch, pineapple, sage, sunflower seeds

Warm to Hot Foods:  anise, basil, caraway, cayenne, cherry, cinnamon, fennel, garlic, ginger, green onion, oats, pine nuts, rosemary, shrimp, thyme, turmeric

Lifestyle and Dietary Changes

Finally, both Western Medicine and TCM agree that certain lifestyle and dietary adjustments can help manage the symptoms of RLS.

Establish and maintain good sleep hygiene to optimize rest.   Include stretching and massaging the legs in a warm bath before bed.  Get regular moderate exercise (e.g. walking, yin yoga or TaiJi) earlier in the day.

Better sleep can be had by removing caffeine from the diet.  This is best done by tapering off gradually rather than stopping abruptly.  Reducing or eliminating alcohol and tobacco products can also improve the chances for a good night’s sleep.


Dharmananda, S. (2005, February).  Restless Legs Syndrome and Chinese Medicine.  Retrieved from

Farrell, Y. (2019).   A Spirit at Rest, day 2 notes [PowerPoint Slides].  Retrieved from

Kastner, J. (2009).  Chinese Nutrition Therapy:  Dietetics in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) (2nd ed.).  Stuttgart:  Thieme.

Pitchford, P. (2002).  Healing with Whole Foods: Asian Traditions and Modern Nutrition (3rd ed.). Berkeley, CA:  North Atlantic Books.

Restless Legs Syndrome (n.d.).  Retrieved from restless-legs-syndrome/symptoms-causes/syc-20377168

Spring Has Sprung…and So Have Your Allergies

Spring Has Sprung…and So Have Your Allergies

Sonam Patel, R.Ac, B.Sc

It’s that wonderful time of year again here in Toronto, where the sun is finally peeking out from behind the clouds and the temperature is on the rise. However, for a number of us this can also be the return of something unwanted – the dreaded allergy season. During the spring season, tree pollen is in the air as things start to turn green outside, and mold spores are also airborne as the snow quickly melts away and leaves the ground damp. An increase in dust mites can be seen as we begin to dig out umbrellas and raincoats, disturbing the dust that accumulated over the winter. These are the major contributors to springtime allergies, later followed by other types of pollen including grass (late spring/summer) and ragweed (late summer/autumn). Typically, pollen levels peak in the morning, so symptoms can be worst when waking up.

This can come as a first-time occurrence for many and due to a number of symptoms being the same as that of a common cold it can easily be misinterpreted as just being “under the weather”.

Common symptoms of seasonal allergies can include:


  • Nasal congestion (leading to headaches, difficulty breathing, etc.)
  • Runny nose
  • Sneezing
  • Itchy eyes, ears, mouth (palate), nose
  • Red/watery/puffy eyes
  • Rashes or hives


If you notice these issues have been affecting you for an extended period of time and are impacting your sleep, concentration, and daily activities, this is likely an indication that you are dealing with allergies. When you come into contact with an “allergen” (such as pollen) that you are allergic to, this will cause your body’s immune system to kick into high gear thinking that the allergen is dangerous to you. Cells send out inflammatory mediators called histamines into the bloodstream in order to push out these foreign objects through sneezing, runny nose, etc. This protective mechanism is meant to protect you from harm, but unfortunately manifests in inconvenient ways.

The first line of defense that most people turn to is an over-the-counter antihistamine and/or decongestant. These provide short term relief from symptoms. Antihistamines work by inhibiting cell receptors to prevent the release of histamines, and some even have sedative effects to help combat sleeping issues as a result of symptoms. Decongestants cause the blood vessels in the mucous membrane of your nose to constrict, thus stopping runny nose and helping clear the airway (Sperber & Flaws, 2016). The downside? Well for starters, you may experience extremely dry mouth, nose and eyes, and if you have a drowsy formula then you must refrain from operating any motorized vehicles for a certain time period. Other more serious side effects include hypotension, vertigo, urinary retention and tachycardia. This happens when the antihistamines start to block other receptors than just the histamine-releasing ones. An additional problem with repeatedly taking the same medication is that your body can start to build a resistance to it, and the intended effects will no longer be produced.


Tips on how to reduce severity of allergy symptoms:


  • Spring cleaning: Give your home a top to bottom clean in order to eliminate any accumulated dust and debris
  • Shower after spending time outdoors: Washing away any pollen that may have floated onto your hair, skin, or clothing will help you to have a better night’s sleep
  • Get lots of rest: If your body is tired this can make your immune system more vulnerable and not at it’s optimal level to fight off attacks
  • Keep calm & de-stress: Stress is a major contributor to many conditions we can be affected by, as it not only impacts us mentally but physically as well
  • Exercise: Getting up and moving will help your body to function better by circulating blood, improving breathing and sleep, and increasing energy
  • Acupuncture: Having regular acupuncture treatments can not only help with reducing the short term symptoms of allergies, but also with preventing future attacks by regulating immune function and correcting imbalances in your body


In Traditional Chinese Medicine, the Lung organ system is most under attack with allergy and immunity issues. This does not simply mean the physical lungs themselves, but rather a whole system connected to other parts of the body by channels, blood, and energy (Qi). The theory surrounding this system say that it governs the skin, opening and closing function of pores, helps facilitate respiration, and opens into the nose. This all makes sense when you think back to how allergens come into contact with the surface of your body, and the histamine response causes hives, sneezing, nasal congestion, and more.

With acupuncture, our goal as a preventative measure to allergies would be to strengthen and balance your body by improving blood circulation and correcting underlying disharmonies. During acute attacks of allergies, acupuncture can be used therapeutically to manage the symptoms that are currently being presented, while still addressing those underlying patterns. Acupuncture points are carefully chosen across the whole body, according to their location and function. Studies have shown that acupuncture can improve symptoms of persistent allergic rhinitis (Mcdonald, et al., 2016). Not only this, it will indirectly help in other areas of your health by regulating stress, sleep and other functions. Acupuncture is a safe option to treat seasonal allergies, as it does not produce harmful side effects and can improve your quality of life if you are dealing with this condition chronically (Feng, et al., 2015).


Sperber, G., & Flaws, B. (2016). Integrative pharmacology: Combining modern pharmacology with integrative medicine(Second ed.). Boulder, CO: Blue Poppy Press, a division of Blue Poppy Enterprises.

Mcdonald, J. L., Smith, P. K., Smith, C. A., Xue, C. C., Golianu, B., & Cripps, A. W. (2016). Effect of acupuncture on house dust mite specific IgE, substance P, and symptoms in persistent allergic rhinitis. Annals of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology,116(6), 497-505. doi:10.1016/j.anai.2016.04.002

Feng, S., Han, M., Fan, Y., Yang, G., Liao, Z., Liao, W., & Li, H. (2015). Acupuncture for the Treatment of Allergic Rhinitis: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. American Journal of Rhinology & Allergy,29(1), 57-62. doi:10.2500/ajra.2015.29.4116


Sonam Patel, R.Ac, B.Sc is a Registered Acupuncturist at the Pacific Wellness Institute.  She is available for acupuncture treatments.  Please call 416-929-6958 to inquire about the appointment.

Why Does Gut Health Matter?

Why Does Gut Health Matter?

Just like a clownfish to a sea anemone, the human microbiome (diverse population of bacteria) has a symbiotic relationship with us. A balanced and diverse microbiota has been connected to many beneficial effects in the human body other than just healing the gastrointestinal tract (see Table 1 for examples).

Our digestive system hosts over 500+ species of bacteria and over 100 trillion individual bacteria. This bacteria combined makes up the microbiome and this mini-biosphere is essential for human health, immunity, and nutrition. Having good gut bacteria is a privilege. Maintaining a good gut microbiome requires a lot of work since many factors in our daily lives may temporarily or permanently disrupt this delicate balance. There are many well-researched and scientifically supported articles regarding the use of probiotics. Even though there are many species, only a handful of probiotic strains have been clinically proven to help with human health. The different bacterial strains are introduced depending on specific health concerns.

Some risk factors for gut microbe imbalances:

  • Method of birth (ie. C-section or natural birth)
  • Age
  • Diet and food choices
  • Environmental toxicity/pollution
  • Lack of sleep
  • Stress (chronic)
  • Antibiotic or other medication use

Table 1:

Population Outcome
Pregnant women –          Adding a daily probiotic may decrease the risk of preterm birth, pre-eclampsia, gestational hypertension, gestational weight gain. 1

–          Positive impact on infant health1

–          Positive impact on pregnancy outcomes1

Children (0-5) –          Exposure to healthy bacteria during delivery may positively or negatively influence a child’s health development, both short-term and long term.2,3

–          Development of asthma, immune-related problems, skin issues, prevent childhood obesity, decrease risk for childhood autoimmune diseases (type 1 diabetes) etc2,3

Children (all ages) –          Modification of gut microbiota may impact currently existing diseases and prevent many more.4,5,6
Adults (all ages) –          Negative changes in microbiome of adults have been implicated in many diseases such as chronic pulmonary diseases, asthma, allergies7, psoriasis, psoriatic arthritis 8,9, and inflammatory bowel disease10.

–          Studies have shown specific bacteria in abundance may play a role in regulating blood sugar and insulin levels which would help maintain leaness11.

–          Immune support: 70% of immune cells are trained in the gut. 12

Aging Adults (50+) –          We understand that neuroinflammation (mild swelling of the brain) is an important factor in cognitive decline. Emerging research shows neuroinflammation is triggered by changes in the gut flora. A disturbance in the microbiota may cause the blood brain barrier to be more susceptible to circulating substances that normally would not be able to cross the barrier, which leads to cognitive dysfunction. 13,14

1. Dunlop A et al. The maternal microbiome and pregnancy outcomes that impact infant health: A review.Adv Neonatal Care. 2015;15(6):377-35.

2. Matamoros S et al. Development of intestinal microbiota in infants and its impact on health.Trends Microbiol. 2013;21(4):167-173.

3. Li M et al. Early development of the gut microbiome and immune- mediated childhood disorders.Semin Reprod Med. 2014;32:74-86.

4. Koleva P et al. The Infant Gut Microbiome: Evidence for Obesity Risk and Dietary Intervention. 2015;7(4):2237-2260.

5. Kalliomaki M et al. Probiotics in primary prevention of atopic disease: a randomized placebo-controlled trial. 2001;357(9262):1076-9.

6. Cruchet S et al. The use of probiotics in pediatric gastroenterology: a review of the literature and recommendations by Latin-American experts.Paediatr Drugs. 2015;17(3):199-216.

7. Shukla SD et al. Microbiome effects on immunity, health, and disease in the lung.Clin Transl Immunology. 2017;6(3):e133.

8. Huang L et al. Dysbiosis of gut microbiota was closely associated with psoriasis.Sci China Life Sci.

9. Scher J et al. Decreased bacterial diversity characterizes the altered gut microbiota in patients with psoriatic arthritis, resembling dysbiosis in inflammatory bowel disease.Arthritis Rheumatol. 2015;67(1):128-139.

10. Takahashi K et al. Reduced abundance of butyrate-producing bacteria species in the fecal microbial community in Crohn’s disease. 2016;93(10):59-65.

4. Aguirre M et al. The gut microbiota from lean and obese subjects contribute differently to the fermentation of arabinogalactan and inulin. PLoS ONE. 2016;11(7):e0159236.

12. Bermudez-Brito M et al. Probiotic Mechanism of Action.Ann Nutr Metab. 2012;61(2):160-174.

13. Solas M et al. Inflammation and gut-brain axis link obesity to cognitive dysfunction: plausible pharmacological interventions.Curr Opin Pharmacol. 2017;37:87-92.

14. Noble E et al. Gut to brain dysbiosis: mechanisms linking western diet consumption, the microbiome, and cognitive impairment.Front Behav Neurosci. 2017;11:9.


How to restore gut bacteria balance?

REVIEW: Come and talk to our Naturopath to review all signs and symptoms, along with options for testing (often stool testing or food sensitivity testing) to determine where the dysbiosis could be. At the same time, the Naturopath may rule out other medically relevant diagnoses that may mimic digestive imbalances.

REMOVE: Removing the undesirable organisms or re-balancing a microbiome that has been shifted out of balance. This is often accomplished using a combination of herbs and supplements. In this step, we also make sure we remove all foods that may be aggravating to the intestine.

REDUCE: Reduce bad lifestyle choices and learn about what type of foods would throw off the microbiota balance.

REVIVE: Often times, after we give the intestines a break from things that may aggravate it, we start the healing process that may repair intestinal linings, promote healthy mucosal lining, and repair any imbalances to the microbiome. This is also combined with healthy enzymatic support to ensure maximum breakdown of all nutrients.

RETAIN: Having a full plan that is tailored to individual lifestyles to maintain normal GI microbiome. This requires a healthy diet, proper vitamin and mineral intake, appropriate nutritional balance, exercise, healthy detoxification, good emotional or stress control, and lastly, proper sleep.


Naturopathic medicine can help mitigate some of the risk factors through positive lifestyle changes. We work together with our patients to agree on a path to change that is possible to include in their lives. We cannot erase the damage done to the microbiome by past experiences, but we can help shape the microbiome to be in a healthier state going forward.

Special Offer

If you book your Naturopathic visit regarding gut health between May 1st and June 30th, 2019 you will receive a gift of a 7-10 day supply of prebiotic (food to promote good microbial growth).  This will give you a kick start to better health.

Dr. Wendy Zhou , ND is available for naturopathic medicine appointments on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Saturdays at the Pacific Wellness