The Five Flavors of Food

Kathleen Macgregor L.Ac.

Chocolate and coffee, salty chips and a char broiled steak. These are some of the most popular foods in America. Why do we crave that chocolate bar or that cup of coffee in the morning? Emotional comfort, yes! But there is also a reason for these cravings found in the energetic imbalances in our bodies.
Health is a state of balance and harmony in body, mind and spirit.
Easy to say but difficult to achieve. Illness, pain and food cravings are signals from the body of disharmony. Traditional Chinese Medicine integrates dietary principles as a foundation for good health and uses them as a tool for treating disharmony.
What are these dietary principles and how can we use them to support good health? Chinese Medicine categorizes food and herbs according to their Five Flavors, their thermal nature, the meridians and organs they effect, the remedial actions they have in our bodies and the directions they move energy.
The Five Element diagnostic system of Chinese Medicine divides the movement of all energy, (or Qi), through life and nature, (including us), into five phases, or elements. These are Earth, Metal, Water, Wood and Fire.
Each element has corresponding characteristics including; the seasons, emotions, colors, odors and flavors.
The flavor of a food or herb corresponds to its action in the body and not always to its taste, or sensation in the mouth. The flavors are; sweet for Earth, pungent for Metal, salty for Water, sour for Wood and bitter for Fire.
The Western diet contains an excess of sweet and salty leading to heart disease, diabetes and obesity. A healthy diet contains a balance of all five flavors in moderation and adjusts according to the individual constitution and the season. Each element maintains balance with a moderate amount of its corresponding flavor, but illness occurs when a flavor is used in excess.
In a healthy person sweet will be the more predominant flavor because it is the primary flavor of most grains, vegetables and fruits. The organs of the Earth element, the Stomach, Spleen and Pancreas are responsible for nourishing the body. The sweet flavor in moderation strengthens energy, relieves pain, improves mood and harmonizes all the elements. Too much sugar causes dampness, excess phlegm and stagnation of energy flow. The digestive system bogs down leading to more serious disease. The flavor of sweet should be accompanied by small amounts of bitter, sour, pungent and salty.
The sour flavor of the Wood element affects the Liver and Gall Bladder organs and meridians. Sour foods include vinegar, chicken, lemon and tomatoes. Sour has an astringent and consolidating effect on the energy of the body. It can control diarrhea and excess perspiration and can benefit a scattered mind.
The bitter flavor corresponds to the Fire element and the Heart. Bitter foods such as rhubarb can have a purgative action and are good for constipation. Bitter removes heat and toxins and is used as an antibiotic and in detoxifying teas such as dandelion and echinacea. Dark chocolate is bitter and a little is good for you.
The salty flavor of the Water element affects the Kidney and Urinary Bladder. The excess use of salt in most processed food is a cause of many illnesses. Salt in the small amounts found in seaweed moistens dryness, counteracts toxins and calms the nerves. In excess it is a purgative and damages kidney energy undermining the Qi of all the elements.
The pungent flavor corresponds to the Lung and Large Intestine meridians and organs. Its dispersing action can be seen when using mint or garlic to break up the mucous of a cold. Its action of circulating Qi and Blood can be seen when using fennel or caraway to treat a stomach ache caused by indigestion.
A meal balanced with all five flavors leaves us feeling more satisfied and discourages overeating. Look for my next article on the properties of food and a balanced diet according to Chinese Medicine.

Kathleen Macgregor is a Five Element Acupuncturist in practice since 1988.
She can be reached at her office in Meiners Oaks. 805-646-6581


Living in Rhythm

Living in Rhythm
Kathleen MacGregor L.Ac.
Traditional Chinese Medicine teaches that living in harmony with nature affords us the best opportunity to create optimum health. We can use the Chinese clock to guide us in paying attention to the natural rhythms of our lives and the highs and lows of each day.
There are 12 meridians, or energy pathways, that carry the Qi, or vital life force, throughout the body. The meridians each connect to an organ for which the meridian is named. Each meridian has 2 hours of the day when its energy is at its height and all the biological, mental and emotional functions of that meridian are most active.
The meridians are each paired together and that 4 hour time period forms a phase of the flow of Qi that is represented by an element; Metal, Fire, Earth, Water and Wood. The elements all have their own characteristics, strengths and functions on the levels of body, mind and spirit.
Qi flow starts with the Lung and its paired meridian the Large Intestine from the times of 3 to 5am and 5 to 7am with the birth of the new day. This is considered the optimum time for meditation, connecting with the breath and our inspiration for a meaningful life. The Lung and Large Intestine meridians remind us of the rhythm of taking in and letting go. We inhale life giving air and we let go of the toxins and things we no longer need. Wake up, breathe, drink a glass of water and allow time for the colon to cleanse. Letting go is often one of our most difficult life lessons.
Qi flows next into the element of Earth and the Stomach and Spleen meridians from 7 to 9am and 9 to 11am. This is when the ability of the body to digest is at its height and why breakfast is so important. The ability to care for ourselves and others and to keep a steady center grows from the Earth element. The foundation of strong Qi is created daily by healthy food and good digestion.
The Fire element and its meridians the Heart and Small Intestine, most active from 11am to 1pm and 1pm to 3pm, distribute nutrients throughout the body. At this most active time of the day the energy of Fire helps us to interact with the people in our world. The Heart wants connection. We derive health and joy from engaging with and contributing to our work and community.
From 3 to 5 pm and 5 to 7pm is the most active period of the Urinary Bladder and Kidney meridians and the element of Water. The energetic system of the Kidney holds the original Qi. The 3pm afternoon slump can indicate a deficiency in the Water element. The English afternoon tea is like a nurturing refresh button that saves the Kidney from further depletion.
The Heart Protector and Triple Heater meridians height of energy is from 7 to 9pm and 9 to 11pm. These meridians are part of the Fire element which has 4 meridians. The Heart is considered the emperor or ruler of all the other energy systems and must be protected from injury. But a ruler who is too protected looses touch with the kingdom and can’t rule wisely. This is the time of day when we come home to our loved ones, socialize and have the time to enrich ourselves on a personal level. The Heart Protector must find the right balance between vulnerability and protection to keep the heart healthy.
Digestive energy is on the wane and eating a light meal at this time of day is preferable.
The Wood element and its meridians the Gall Bladder and Liver are most active from 11pm to 1am and 1 to 3am. This is the time for our deepest sleep allowing the liver to do its work of detoxification and building up the immune system. The Wood element is the architect of our lives and the Gall Bladder is the contractor who decides what action is needed. The saying “I’ll sleep on it” is a true way to allow the Wood element to process.
When a symptom occurs repeatedly at the same time an acupuncturist might use the Chinese clock as a clue for diagnosis of the energetic system involved. The Chinese clock can be used in a treatment to choose Horary points that reveal the,” heart of the matter”,or hidden causes. Our bodies instinctively want to live by this natural rhythm and in doing so we stay healthier in body, mind and spirit.
Kathleen is a 5 Element Acupuncturist. She has been serving the Ojai community since 1991 at her office in Meiners Oaks. She can be reached at 805-646-6581 or through her web site;

How Acupuncture Helps Back Pain

Back pain is the second most common reason for doctor visits, the most common cause of missed work days and is one of the largest expenses of our health care system in the United States. Eighty percent of adults will experience some back pain in their lives. Unless there is obvious trauma from an accident, the root causes of back pain are poorly understood. Western medicine usually treats it with drugs, physical therapy or surgery, yet, many people are unable to find relief.
Most episodes of back pain will resolve within three to twelve weeks. Some back pain will become chronic with repeated episodes of worsening pain or ongoing pain. Anyone who has experienced back pain knows what a frightening and life disrupting experience it can be.
Acupuncture offers a non invasive treatment for back pain that can shorten acute episodes and stop acute back pain from becoming chronic. Recent studies have shown that acupuncture is frequently effective in relieving back pain. But the results fall short of acupunctures true potential because these studies are based on a western scientific model which requires the same set of points to be used with each treatment.
In a typical Chinese Medicine clinic five patients might come in with back pain and each person will have a different diagnosis requiring the use of different acupuncture points. Because symptoms change each treatment will also usually require different points. When acupuncture treatment is based on a proper Chinese Medicine diagnosis the most benefit can be derived.
In Chinese Medicine and acupuncture everything starts with the flow of Qi or vital life force. Qi flows along energy pathways throughout the body called meridians. The meridians are grouped into energy systems that support the organs and physical, emotional and mental functions. Chinese Medicine teaches that the Blood, or vital body fluids, follows Qi so when Qi is stuck or deficient eventually Blood will be as well. Whenever Qi and Blood flow are disrupted there will eventually be pain and disease.
Qi and Blood stagnation or deficiency are two of the most common root causes of back pain. The flow of Qi and Blood can be disrupted suddenly by local trauma such as a car accident or lifting too heavy an object. It can be disrupted slowly over years by poor posture, repetitive overuse or chronic emotional stress tightening the muscles. Usually there are a combination of causes that must all be addressed in order to resolve the problem. Acupuncture needles inserted into the appropriate points normalize the Qi flow, relax the muscles and relieve the pressure on the nerves alleviating the pain.
Simple Qi and Blood stagnation can be complicated by an invasion of Cold and Damp or Damp Heat as seen in infections or arthritic conditions. Various warming or cooling treatments can be used along with the acupuncture such as moxabustion, cupping or Chinese Herbs.
The most common cause of chronic low back pain is a deficiency of the Qi of the Kidney energetic system. This energetic system supports the strength of the low back and legs. It holds the inherited Ancestral Qi of the body. This Qi is used up over our lifetime and when it is gone our time is up. In Chinese Medicine effort is made to continually protect the Kidney Qi. Our non-stop life styles with too little rest and too much stress tend to deplete the Ancestral Qi. One of the first signs of that depletion is gradual onset, chronic low back pain.
Moxabustion is a technique where an herb is used to heat up an acupuncture point and is very effective at restoring Kidney Qi. Chinese herbs are also helpful. Lifestyle changes are an important part of proper treatment including stress reduction, rest, appropriate exercise and stretching.
Acupuncture is not a quick fix. Except in accidents most back pain has deeper causes rooted in unhealthy habits and emotional stress. The balancing effects of acupuncture take time and patience. The occasional one treatment miracle fix happens but is rare.
Acupuncture offers an opportunity to work with oneself more deeply and bring not just the muscles but the spirit back into a balance which underlies true health.

Kathleen MacGregor has been an acupuncturist since 1988. She practices Five Element Acupuncture at her Meiners Oaks office, 137 W. El Roblar Dr. 805-646-6581
To read more about Five Element Acupuncture see her web site;

Chinese Medicine and Winter


Kathleen  MacGregor L. Ac.

In the Five Element system of Chinese Medicine winter is the season that corresponds to the  element of water.  The five elements, like the seasons, illustrate the endless changing and transforming that is  the nature of the flow of Qi, or life force.  The patterns of the Five Elements are seen in all natural phenomena including our own body, mind and spirit.  In order to find health and balance within ourselves it is helpful to understand the nature of the Five Elements; Water, Wood, Fire, Earth and Metal.

I was watching  National Geographic  on the life of beavers in the Colorado mountains.  In the spring the young beaver leaves his parents secure pond and explores the waterways to find a mate and a place to build his own home.  For this lucky beaver nature provides an available female and the pair spend the summer courting and playing eventually finding the perfect spot to build their new nest.

Soon the air is cooling, leaves are falling and there is an urgency to secure their shelter and store enough green saplings in their pond to feed them through the winter.  Inexperienced in providing for themselves the young couple are unable to store enough food.  Unlike his parents who are snug in their den this young beaver must leave his pond, breaking through ice and trudging through snow in the worst of the winter storms to forage for enough food to survive.  Fortunately, being young, strong and determined and by conserving their energy the pair endure and spring finds them busily enhancing their home and starting a family of their own.

This story illustrates the essence  of the Water element.  Winter is the time for rest and rebuilding, to protect our reserves and stores from the fall harvest so there can be new growth in the spring.  Without an inner winter we drain our inherited reserves which are finite.

When the Water element is in balance our drive and determination to make it through the lean times is strong.  We have the will to seek truth and clarity.  When Water is out of balance the associated emotion of fear arises.  This is the fear of an unknown future and of not having enough to survive. 

In Southern California  our winter is the rainy season.  Many of us don’t take the opportunity to slow down and look inward that the rains offer.  We end up exhausted and burned out. Winter can be a cleansing time.  Water detoxifies us.  It keeps us lubricated and flexible.  Without water our joints stiffen, our thinking becomes stagnant and our spirit becomes depleted.

When the Water element is depleted an acupuncturist might use an acupuncture point on the Kidney channel called Spirit Storehouse which re-connects a person with their inner strength.  Another choice might be Rich for the Vitals Correspondence which builds vital force on all three levels of body, mind and spirit.

In order to keep our Water element strong we might pay attention to the lessons of nature.  In winter take the time to slow down and re-generate.  Connect with our qualities of will and motivation.  Allow the seeds of autumn to compost and be nurtured.  Then the ambition and determination of  the water element will allow for new growth and possibilities in spring.     

Kathleen  MacGregor is a Five Element Acupucturist with an office in

Meiners Oaks.  She can be reached at 805-646-6581

Breathe To Help Reduce High Blood Pressure. Many people with mild to moderate Essential Hypertension can learn to lower their blood pressure by making simple lifestyle changes. Essential Hypertension is caused by increased tension in small arteries throughout the body. When muscles are tense due to stress or anxiety the sympathetic nervous system sends chemical messages of flight or flight response that in turn constrict the arteries and the blood pressure within them rises. Some people live in a chronic state of nervousness or stress which keeps the body in a constant low level condition of flight or fight. People become so acclimated to this state that it feels like “normal” and their nervous systems forget how to relax. Getting into the habit of regularly lengthening and deepening your breathing several times throughout the day is one easy way to break the cycle of a hyper alert nervous system. This yogic breathing exercise has been found to relax the chronic fight flight state. Done two or three times daily it can reduce or normalize high blood pressure in a significant percentage of patients with mild to moderate hypertension. Sit with your back straight. Place the tongue just behind your front teeth, keeping it there throughout the exercise. Exhale completely through your mouth with a woosh sound, contracting your stomach muscles to push out all the air. Inhale quietly through your nose to a mental count of 4. Hold your breath for a count of 7. Exhale completely again to a count of 8 contracting your stomach muscles to expel all the air. This is one breath cycle. Repeat 3 more times. The 4:7:8 rhythm is more important than how slow or fast you count. With practice your breath control will improve the cycles will slow and the effectiveness of the exercise will increase. Monitor your blood pressure and along with your M.D. adjust your medication accordingly. Do not adjust medication on your own as some blood pressure medication cannot be stopped abruptly. Unregulated high blood pressure can lead to strokes and damage arterial walls. Other natural aids to lowering high blood pressure are; reducing excess weight, avoiding cigarettes and caffeine, supplementing calcium and magnesium and doing regular aerobic exercise all of which serve to de-stress the nervous system. Yoga and massage are two other nervous system relaxation tools to include in a healthy life style. Acupuncture and Chinese herbs are also very effective at breaking the stress cycle and reducing high blood pressure. Kathleen Macgregor has been practicing acupuncture since 1988. She taught Kundalini Yoga for 5 years before becoming an acupuncturist and combines the ancient wisdoms of both Chinese Medicine and yoga in her work. She can be reached at 137 W. El Roblar Dr. in Meiners Oaks. 805-646-6581,

Tapping into the Energy of Spring with Chinese Medicine

Kathleen Macgregor
Licensed Acupuncturist

Each morning that I walk out into my garden over this last month it seems as if the plants, particularly the veggies, have grown by inches overnight. The bees are humming briskly on all the flowers, the birds are twittering loudly and the ladybugs are flitting everywhere. This is the energy of spring; exuberant, noisy and vital.
Ancient Chinese Medicine teaches that each individual is a unique balance of the constantly changing and transforming energy of the Five Elements; Fire, Earth, Metal, Water and Wood. Each element, or movement of life force, has its particular characteristics and the season of spring is associated with Wood.
After the stillness of winter the forceful, upward movement of spring arrives. Each seed bears its blueprint for regeneration and fulfillment of an inner purpose as it grows to maturity. The energy of the Wood element within each of us gives that sense of hope for the future and the vision to meet that purpose.
Spring gives us the opportunity to connect with our Wood energy. We can plant seeds for a fall harvest, create new ideas and begin new projects. We can envision direction for the new cycle.
When the Wood Element is out of balance a person may lack a vision for the future and feel resigned and hopeless. An acupuncturist might choose points on the energy pathways associated with Wood; the Liver and Gall Bladder meridians. A point called Bright and Clear can be used when we can’t see where to go. It provides a rush of clarity to illuminate the way. Gate of Hope is another possible point that is an antidote for disappointment and hopeless frustration. It empowers a person to feel optimistic.
With the vision and planning of the Liver and the clarity and decision making of the Gall Bladder we can be in the right place at the right time. Without this ability no movement is possible, energy gets stuck and there is anger and frustration which can translate into physical pain and inflammation.
Anger, the emotion associated with Wood, rushes up and bursts out when our growth is blocked. Sometimes we need to express ourselves forcefully but when Wood is out of balance we may loose our ability to speak up for ourselves or be too assertive and bossy.
The Wood Element is most active at night between 11PM and 3AM. When we say “I’ll sleep on it” we are tapping into the ability of the Liver and Gall Bladder to see what is needed and to make a decision. Good sleep allows us to order our internal plan. Without healthy direction we loose our rhythm and our biological and emotional cycles becomes disordered.
So take the time to sleep well, rise early and go for a walk in nature. Feel the energy of spring and nurture the seeds of hope and vision by connecting with the Wood energy in all of us.

Kathleen Macgregor has been practicing acupuncture since 1988. Her focus is on the constitutional style of Five Element acupuncture. Chinese Herbs and nutritional medicine round out her practice approach. Her office is in Meiners Oaks at 137 W. El Roblar Dr. 805-646-6581. For more information

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