China Dispatch #1: "Too much pressure. Too much stress." Followed by an extraordinary night of sleep.


“Hell, Yes.” That was my response when my husband, David Gottfried, founder of the US Green Building Council and LEED, was asked to give a speech at a green conference in Shenzhen, the “Silicon Valley” of China near Hong Kong, and David asked if we should go. I had visions of interviewing Traditional Chinese Medicine doctors, eating like I was part of the China Study and steaming pots of rare oolong tea. Maybe even long, uninterrupted hours of productive writing of my new book, The Hormone Cure.

OK, most of that didn’t happen. But a few lovely things did. Highlight was my afternoon with Dr. Dr. 刘英山  Liu Ying Shan, at the Shenzhen Futian Hospital of Traditional Chinese Medicine. And the miracle that happened with my sleep. Here’s the short version.

One week before departure, small detour arises. David gets a speech he can’t refuse in Abu Dhabi. Retool. Add a few more flights to the itinerary.

5 December, 330pm. San Francisco.

Board flight to Dubai from San Francisco. I watch more movies during the flight than I’ve seen since my last daughter was born. She’s 6!

6 December, 11pm. Abu Dhabi.

15 hours + too much shiraz later, we are driving to Abu Dhabi Fairmont Hotel. Weird. Looks like Vegas but without the cleavage. Gym. Write. Humus. Medjool dates. Extraordinary falafel. Jog on “beach.” Bleary-eyed. Forgot my damn melatonin. And benadryl. Hotel room smells moldy. I think my thoughts are eroding under the weight of jet lag.

7 December, 10pm.

Ful. More humus. Why does humus taste so extraordinarily different here? More medjool dates. Write. Finish the chapter on Cortisol and send it to my mom, who happens to be a superb editor. She’s watching my kids and editing my book! Thanks, Mom. I am one lucky kid. Watch a few TED Talks to keep me creative and inspired. Not much sleep. Remember the Zeo I just bought? My “ZQ” – or sleep quality score from 0-100 each night – ranged from 31 to 58. Total sleep at this point about 5 hours, and I’m a 9-hour/night kind of a gal. David working 16 hours straight with Rick Fedrizi, his buddy and President of USGBC. Speech at Palace Hotel. I realize that when writing a book, there is no sight seeing.

8 December, 1030am. Dubai to Hong Kong.

Emirates Business/First Class Lounge. Very few women. Flight from Dubai to Hong Kong. Even the Middle East seems to have an excess refined carb problem.

It seems to take an act of God to get across the border into Mainland China. I wonder if Gwyneth had this much trouble on her recent trip. Turns out it just takes a lot of money. And it takes a lot more money at 11pm than it did at 10pm. David remarks, “Welcome to China. That’s how it is.”

9 December, Shenzhen, China.

Cross border into Mainland China near midnight. Arrive hotel. Funny but none of my social media links work anymore. Not able to get into Facebook or Twitter or YouTube. Hootsuite won’t load. BBC and Bloomberg News load just fine. Creepy. David asks me to try not to get arrested.

How cute is his Chinese business card?

David is a VIP at a huge green conference. There’s a big ceremony in the front of the conference center with balloons and confetti and a loud speaker before his speech. I take a bath and snap a shot from the glorious bathtub at our hotel. Feelin’ the trophy wife vibe. Write. Thyroid chapter.


2pm. Shenzhen Futian Hospital for Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM).

David’s assistant, Nellie, takes me to meet Dr. Liu, a fourth-generation doctor of TCM for an interview. And oolong. A large quantity of oolong that Dr. Liu prepares at his desk overlooking the city of Shenzhen, population 12 million. We’re drinking tea until 5pm and I’m fretting over my crazy-slow metabolism of caffeine. If I ever have caffeinated tea after about 10am, I don’t sleep.

I talk for hours with Dr. Liu. I’ll share his genius with you in a future blog, but let me just say that he blew my mind, and had much wisdom to share about how we live our lives. He said a lot of the smart things that I heard Jen Louden say in a recent interview, but in an ancient, TCM framework.

Then, I get an idea.

“Dr. Liu, would it be possible to see one of your colleagues for a quick pulse/diagnosis/treatment?” He whisks me off to another floor to see one of his colleagues, an old woman with a bad dye job who looks like she’s been doing this a while. She is kindly. I tell her about my jet lag and poor sleep. Meanwhile, other patients walk into the room and listen in. I guess patient confidentiality and HIPAA are not such an issue here.

“Did insomnia start before the trip?” she asks. Well, actually, I’ve been staying up late to work both on my book and my new Mission Ignition course, so yes, the lousy sleep predated the trip to China. But it’s mostly an access problem.

She lays hands on me, takes my pulses. Looks over my tongue. Writes some notes. Stares me down to deliver her diagnosis: “Too much pressure. Too much stress.”

Uh, yeah… I know. Does she say this to every American? I try to remain open-minded despite what feels like a generic diagnosis.

She writes 2 prescriptions: one for the ready-made herbs that I get at the herbal pharmacy, and the other, much more complicated script for the herbs that get brewed overnight, customized for me, and available for pick up tomorrow. I look over each box and bottle, and see no English. “Zaoren Anshen Jiaonang” is my new sleeping medication, and there’s a list of about 20 herbs that Nellie cannot identify.

Nellie says something about deer antler extract and I decide to throw scientific caution to the wind. This time.

I take my ready-made herbs as prescribed. David goes to an awards banquet and I try to understand, for The Hormone Cure, why we don’t know more about pregnenolone and why women get more thyroid problems than men.

Here’s a shot of “the goods.”

10 December. Shenzhen, China.

Up at 6am. Zeo after the TCM herbs? My ZQ this morning = 98, Baby. Feelin’ IT. Gym. Asian greens. Tea-scented hard boiled egg. Dragon fruit. I’m in love with Dragon Fruit. Hoping it’s not dripping in pesticides, lead and other toxins. Planning my next detox.

Can’t wait to share Dr. Liu’s wisdom, but that warrants a solo post.

TCM works. Agreed?

Off to dinner back in Hong Kong (assuming they let me cross the border!). Stay tuned.


  1. Julia on December 10, 2011 at 8:40 am

    You look trophy wife worthy in the last photo.

  2. Beth Loach on December 10, 2011 at 11:43 pm

    I enjoyed your update and chuckled at how you wrote about your trip. Thanks for sharing. Beautiful photo of you and David.

    • Sara Gottfried MD on December 13, 2011 at 6:21 pm

      Thanks, Beth! I appreciate that you’re tuned in!

  3. Lora Sasiela on December 13, 2011 at 5:02 am

    What vicarious fun! Thanks for sharing your journey and adventure. 🙂

    • Sara Gottfried MD on December 13, 2011 at 6:21 pm

      Thanks, Lora! Great to hear from you!

  4. Erin Bowes Pawek on December 15, 2011 at 5:38 am

    Wow, a trip with no children & you got sleep! I want that! Great story, too:)

  5. Jo on December 15, 2011 at 5:16 pm

    I love David’s new business card. Love all your updates. Wish I had seem them sooner. Miss you tons. Hurry home!

  6. Irma Jennings on December 15, 2011 at 6:04 pm

    Sara. Felt like I was right there with you in China. Loved your writing and pics!

    Good for you to throw science to the wind (for now).

    Deer antler extract was discussed when I trained with Paul Pitchford in Bali who wrote Healing with Whole Foods – Asian Traditions – Modern Nutrition. Each morning we did a deer antler Tai Jai movement.

    China sounds so magical with its ancient wisdom. One more extraordinary piece to add to your abundant tool kit. Irma

  7. kate clere mcintyre on December 16, 2011 at 2:38 am

    We are looking to screen Yogawoman in China next year so fun to hear about your adventures. There is nothing nicer than reading about someone’s adventure, jetlag, new diet and hotels than from your own home!!

  8. Linda Van Tassel on January 10, 2012 at 9:09 pm

    Dr. Sara, discovered you through “First Taste” Oming. I am a holistic nutritionist in training, so you have hit a vibrational cord with me. Looking forward to reading your book. Will continue to explore your website. Many thanks for your work with women’s issues.

  9. Melle on January 17, 2012 at 10:24 pm

    Lovely story, want to read more! Thank you for sharing your trip. Fun to be a trophy wife once in a blue moon! Happy new year…