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Tea Medicine Series: Pu-erh (poo-air)

Pu-erh tea (‘poo-air’) contains high levels of polyphenols (flavonoids, catechins and theaflavin), which are beneficial antioxidants. Fat metabolism and stress reductions have been found to be beneficial side effects from inclusion of these naturally present chemicals in food sources.

Pu-erh has become more accessible in the United States, but it is still not as well known as some of the more classic black, oolong, green, or white teas. Teavanna, David's Tea, Numi's and other larger distributors have begun to scale and made Pu-erh more available. You will find that many of these retailers include 'cacao nibs' or 'chocolate' flavor to make it more palatable to the American consumers. Pu-erh by themselves are more of an acquired taste since most popular teas consumed here in the US are not fermented--yes this tea has been aged. Before you prematurely dismiss its place in your arsenal of food medicine, think about how we love kombuchas, 60-day dry-aged beef, and aged cheese. This should not dissuade one from trying it and appreciate its value as a complementary medicinal food in your everyday lifestyle.

So, what's the big deal?

#1 Helps manage Cholesterol

Aging and fermentation process of pu-erh tea can result in the production of small amounts of product that act as natural statin. Those of us who have history of high overall LDL numbers take statins either to treat a dangerous situation or as a preventative measure recommended by their primary care doctors if they detect an unhealthy trend indicated in their patients' blood panels. Reduction of LDLs and raising HDL numbers is vital to avoiding serious medical issues in these patients. Health benefits of including tea is gentle and cumulative; meaning, if you have a emergent health condition that requires more aggressive measure, you must consult with your medical professional first. For others who are already receiving reliable medical care, teas such as Pu-erh can be a great addition to a new healthier lifestyle.

#2 Digestion

In Traditional Eastern Medicine, pu-erh tea is considered to benefit the middle jiao (stomach/digestive tract) Pu-erh helps aid digestion and has detoxing quality. Although eating pre-packaged meals or foods that are highly processed is not recommended, practically speaking, eating clean all the time may not be possible for everyone. If such is the case, we can carve out days each month to detoxify with nutrient dense foods. In the meantime, adding green tea and pu-erh tea may mitigate some of the damage.

#3 Helps with Weight Loss

Pu-erh tea helps suppress fatty acid synthesis (FAS). Lipogenesis (liver's mechanism of creating fat) is slowed by this tea. The natural source of caffeine found in pu-erh motivates your body to secrete the hormones epinephrine and norepinephrine which are shown to increase metabolism of stored fatty acids in fat cells. Our bodies store fat for a good purpose, which is to use it later when we have calorie deficit. When fat is metabolized for use more efficiently, your body can access fatty acids as fuel and thereby not storing it as excess fat around your hips and belly.

[1] Huang HC, Lin JK. Food Funct. 2012 Feb; 3(2):170-7. Epub 2011 Nov 30.
Pu-erh tea, green tea, and black tea suppresses hyperlipidemia, hyperleptinemia and fatty acid synthase through activating AMPK in rats fed a high-fructose diet.

[2] Chiang CT, Weng MS, Lin-Shiau SY, Kuo KL, Tsai YJ, Lin JK. Oncol Res. 2005;16(3):119-28.
Pu-erh tea supplementation suppresses fatty acid synthase expression in the rat liver through downregulating Akt and JNK signalings as demonstrated in human hepatoma HepG2 cells.

[3] Hou CW. J Biomed Sci. 2011 Oct 20; 18:75. Epub 2011 Oct 20.
Pu-Erh tea and GABA attenuates oxidative stress in kainic acid-induced status epilepticus.

Managing Your Pain Vs. A Cure

The American College of Physicians is now recommending that patients with low back pain try alternative methods to relieve low back pain before taking over the counter medication or prescribed opioids and other versions of painkillers. Nonpharmacological therapies are encouraged. 

Findings show that steroid and acetaminophens like Tylenol were not as helpful as expected, while other Non-steroidal Anit-Inflammatory Drugs (NSAIDs) pain relievers such as aspirin and naproxen provided some relief. The review suggests patients with low back pain try alternative therapies including acupuncture, massage therapy, yoga, and exercises including working with physical therapist to relieve pain.

When you visit an acupuncturist, make sure you relay the following information to the practitioner to ensure that you receive the best possible treatment:

  • How did it happen? Did your PCP order image study? What are the findings?
  • Nature (quality) of your pain - dull, ache, sharp, shooting pain, radiating.
  • Frequency - is it constant? does it come and go? with exertion? when resting?
  • Intensity (severity) - how bad can it get? what activity or position makes it better or worse
  • Location - Is it localized to a specific area? Or is it generalize to a larger area?
  • Weather - does certain weather condition make it better or worse? 
    Ever wonder why retirement communities are vast AZ and FL? (aside from cost of living)
  • Other associated conditions: do you also happen to have neck pain along with your low back pain? Knee pain act up similarly when low back pain is aggravated? Does consumption of certain foods worsen your pain level?

At Harvest Acupuncture, we tailor treatments according to the individual's needs and specific constitution. We also work closely with our physical therapy colleagues in order to produce optimal results for our patients. Contact us for more information and see if acupuncture is for you.