Strokes and heart attacks often take their victims by surprise, seeming to appear out of nowhere without the slightest warning bell. But those bodies knew all along what was in store, and the crisis of a cardiovascular catastrophe is just the last blowout in a series of smaller internal crises involving muscles, organs, fat cells, and blood.
While Western medicine is at its best when dealing with catastrophes, non-Western medicine looks toward the long-term — toward "what's going to happen five or ten years down the road," said Alameda licensed acupuncturist and herbalist Tracy Zollinger, who with her colleague John Nieters will lead a seminar on cardiovascular health at Rhythmix Cultural Works (2513 Blanding Ave., Alameda) on Sunday, July 18.
Part of a monthly series addressing various aspects of wellness, the seminar offers both Western and non-Western heart-health strategies. Some strategies are common to both, such as taking supplements, reducing sugar in the diet, "and taking that walk around the block that leads to another walk around another block," Zollinger said.
Traditional Chinese medicine "has thousands of years of history behind it, as recorded in the classic texts, and in those thousands of years, people haven't changed that much." Now as always, she said, "strokes are often the result of an inactive lifestyle" — and what we eat while being inactive can further inhibit the blood's rapid-transit system.
In Chinese medicine, the syndrome known as "sticky blood" — which practitioners identify by examining patients' tongues — indicates stagnation that results in sluggish organs and premature aging. When they detect sticky blood, Zollinger and Nieters prescribe exercise and dietary changes, asking patients to lower their intake of foods that promote inflammation. Wheat, corn, soy, and dairy are the prime suspects, Zollinger said — not only because our bodies struggle to process these foods but also because we've already eaten too much of them.
"We're meant to be hunter-gatherers," she said. "We're meant to see different foods come and go with the seasons, and our bodies are still built that way. Our bodies have seen too much of the same few foods over and over, especially soy and corn, because those are in so many products. When a body sees the same food over and over" — when the food outstays its expected "season" — "the body thinks: Something's attacking me. To protect itself, it creates an inflammation response to lock down certain areas."
Another means of improving circulation and paring away fat is interval training, Zollinger said.
"Jog at a slow, comfortable pace where you're able to have a conversation, then sprint as fast as you can for a while, then go back to a slow jog." This conditions the body to be ready to provide instant optimum strength at any moment, "and builds the muscles around your arteries so that they pump more efficiently. It makes the heart stronger and keeps it from deteriorating. What's a heart? It's a muscle that gets electrical signals, but it's a muscle nonetheless." 10 a.m., free. Rhythmix.org