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I’ve heard this question a lot over the years. Coming from a culture in which the primary medicine is one-size-fits all, it is not surprising that we have a hard time grasping the way acupuncture works. In Western medicine if you have a particular symptom or disease, there is a specific treatment for that, a drug or a therapy or what-have-you. There is sometimes a bit of tailoring in which, of the 5 drug options, you are given one based on factors that are unique to you. In general though, each disease has a set treatment, no matter the patient’s constitution or other symptoms.
In Chinese Medicine, the opposite is true. Each person is looked at individually, all symptoms are considered relevant, and the underlying imbalance is treated. We often say, we treat the person not the disease. For instance, if there are 5 people with Irritable Bowel Syndrome, the Chinese Medicine doctor will look at each of the five individually. Each will get a Chinese Medicine diagnosis, possibly all 5 will be different. One might have qi stagnation causing the IBS, one might have Spleen qi deficiency, one might damp phlegm collecting, one might have too much heat, etc. The doctor will then prescribe points and herbs specific to those five individual imbalances. There are points that move the qi, and do so very well in the digestive system. There are points that build spleen qi, and so on. There would likely be some crossover, but it is very unlikely that each person would receive the same exact prescription of points.
Acupuncture points do not treat specific diseases, rather, they have the effect of adjusting the imbalances in the body in different ways. Stomach 36 is a powerful digestive point, but western disease diagnoses do not correlate to specific points. Sometimes St 36 would be called for in someone with IBS, sometimes it would not depending on the imbalance in that particular patient. Points are combined in such a way as to bring the individual back into balance thereby eliminating symptoms of dis-ease.
This is why seeing a licenced acupuncturist for acupuncture rather than an MD or Chiropractor with a few hours of “acupuncture training” is so important. While the MD may be able to reduce a little pain using acupuncture needles, to get to the root of the imblance using Chinese Medicine, a differential diagnosis needs to be made so that elegant point combinations can be chosen. Acupuncture was never meant to be practiced in a “this point is good for this disease” way and it is far more effective when used within the broader framework of Chinese Medicine as a whole system of medicine.
Tags: acupuncture, acupuncture points, chinese medicine, TCM, traditional chinese medicine
“It’s 5am and I’m sitting at the airport and am in complete amazement! I woke up with a full range of motion in my neck and not an ounce of pain. I haven’t even taken any advil yet. I can hardly believe it! I am one happy girl.”
That is an email I received from a patient who had come in the day before with acute neck pain. Because she was flying the following day, she was desperate to get some relief from pain and the limited range of motion in her neck which had been plagueing her for 3 days. Advil took the edge off, but wasn’t giving her complete relief, and was doing nothing for her inability to turn her head to the right.
Upon palpation I found several very tight areas between her spine and her scapula on the right side, and also in the muscles on the right side of her neck. I did acupuncture locally, and also used a combination of points on her wrists and ankles on the acupuncture channels that traverse the upper back and neck.
The acupuncture certainly contributed to her quick recovery, but I think the key to treatment success in this case was the gua sha which I applied to her upper back following the acupuncture.
Gua sha is an ancient technique in which a smooth-edged tool, usually a ceramic soup spoon, is scraped along the skin in one area repeatedly. The technique stimulates blood flow and produces heat which releases toxins and helps muscles to relax. The feeling is one of a strong massage, and can leave reddish marks referred to as “petichiae”. Using gua sha on the muscles of my patient’s neck and upper back were the key to her relief from pain and return to normal range of motion. I use gua sha quite a bit in the spring when neck pain and spasm are a common phenomenon.
Tags: acupuncture, chinese medicine, friction massage, gua sha, guasha, TCM, traditional chinese medicine
Blood deficiency is more prevalent in women than in men due to the menstrual cycle, but some men suffer from this as well. It arises from a number of conditions, including, but not limited to: heavy menstrual cycle, a history of hemorrhage, amenorrhea, or long term vegetarianism. Blood deficiency can underlie a number of physical symptoms including dizziness, pallor, fatigue, scanty or absent menstrual cycle, some types of numbness or skin rashes, dry skin and hair, brittle nails, chronic muscle spasms, slow to heal tendonitis and injuries, heart palpitations and specific types of insomnia. It is very important to stay well hydrated if you are blood deficient. 6-8 glasses of water are essential, as well as introducing fluids that have electrolytes in them. Organic chicken broth is another way to help hydrate the body while providing easy to assimilate nutrients.
If your practitioner has diagnosed you with Blood Deficiency, there are some simple foods and supplements that you can incorporate into your diet that will help your body to build more and stronger Blood. Be sure to check with your Naturopath or physician before starting supplementation to be sure the supplement is appropriate for your particular situation.
1) Certified Organic beef
2) Green leafy vegetables such as kale and chard
3) Black strap molasses
4) Dark colored fruits and vegetables like red grapes, raisins, berries, beets, etc.
5) Slow-cooked soups, stews and braised meats which are the best methods for extracting essential nutrients from bones, meats and vegetables
6) Seaweeds (be sure to use quality brands that ensure purity standards)
7) Organic Royal Jelly which is a wonderful tonic that is naturally high in amino acids, vitamins and enzymes
Iron supplements such as “Floradix” which is a gentle liquid tonic that helps support the blood.
9) Chlorophyll Supplements particularly barley grass (avoid spirulina as it tends to be too warming)
Tags: acupuncture, anemia, Blood deficiency, Blood vacuity, chinese medicine, TCM, traditional chinese medicine
There many things we can do to help support our body’s natural immune function. Certainly getting enough rest, fluids, and quality fresh food is essential. Acupuncture is also a good option, since one of the proven effects of this therapy is increased immunity, even when this isn’t the focus of treatment. Regular acupuncture helps bring our bodies back into balance, and a body in balance has the ability to fight foreign contaminants such as bacteria and viruses. In Chinese Medicine terms “expel uninvited guests” such as wind cold, wind heat, wind damp, etc.
Aside from acupuncture, many Chinese herbs, including mushrooms, have been proven to increase immune function in several ways. There are herbs that are simply antibacterial and antiviral, helping our bodies to stave off infection when we come in contact with these agents. There are also herbs which increase the number of Killer T and Natural Killer white blood cells which attack microbes preventing us from getting sick, and helping us to recover from illness.
One of the key immune enhancing herbs in Chinese Medicine is Huang Qi, or Astragalus. The root of this plant tonifies the qi and blood of the entire body, especially the Spleen and increases the Wei, or Protective Qi. There are several classic herbal formulas that contain Huang Qi which can be used to prevent illness. There are also formulas, which when taken at the early stages of illness help the body recover quickly and decrease the severity of an illness. These formulas are important to have on hand in order to provide a quick means of protection. That way if you find yourself around people sick people, or if you will be traveling on airplanes, or simply have a tendency towards decreased immune function, you can give your body as much support as possible to keep from getting sick.
Tags: acupuncture, acupuncture for immunity, chinese medicine, chinese medicine for immunity, cold prevention, colds, colds and flus, flu season, flu shot, flus, how to not get sick, immunity, increase immune function, increase immunity, respiratory flu, TCM, traditional chinese medicine
Medicinal mushrooms have been a part of the Chinese Materia Medica for several thousand years. These mushrooms, including reishi, oyster, maitake, shitake, and many more, have a strong effect on increasing immune function. For instance, Ling Zhi, or the reishi mushroom, has been studied for its immune enhancing effect, and has been found to increase T cell function. Classically, it is said that Ling Zhi tonifies Lung qi, transforms phlegm, and stops cough and wheeze. Additionally, it has been found to have a carcinostatic effect, meaning that it stops the growth of cancer cells. Nutritionally, mushrooms provide fiber while being low in fat and contain several groups of vitamins, particularly thiamine, riboflavin, niacin, biotin, ascorbic acid and Vitamin D.
Eating raw mushrooms is not advised, since some are toxic uncooked, and most do not break down enough in our digestive systems to offer much benefit this way. Mushrooms should always be cooked when used as food. A stronger concentrated extract (either capsule or liquid) will give you the most benefit for immunity.
Fungi Perfecti is a locally based producer of medicinal mushrooms and is considered the best source of organic, high quality mushroom extracts by most experts, including Bastyr University and Dr. Andrew Weil. Fungi Perfecti has a number of extract combinations that address a number of immune issues. A popular, general immune tonic is their Stamets 7 formula.
Tags: chinese herbal medicine, chinese medicine, colds, colds and flus, flu season, herbal medicine, herbs, immune function, immune system, immunity, increase immune function, increase immunity, medicinal mushrooms, mushrooms, mushrooms for immunity, natural immune enhancement, TCM, traditional chinese medicine
Several years ago Jake Fratkin, OMD (Oriental Medicine Doctor), made waves throughout the pediatric community by declaring on a radio show that the cause of ear infections was antibiotics. Since that time, several studies have been done which indicate that he was right. The likelihood of a recurrent ear infection during the first six weeks after taking antibiotics is significant. Not only is a child more likely to get another ear infection within six weeks if they are given antibiotics, but the recovery time from an infection is the same whether antibiotics are given or not. Even the Washington State Department of Health has issued a statement that most ear infections clear on their own and that overuse of antibiotics leads to drug resistant bacteria. So why are medical doctors still giving antibiotics to children with ear infections? In some cases, they no longer are. More and more doctors and medical institutions are reserving antibiotic administration for extreme cases of infection as a last resort. Here in Seattle, Dr. David Springer of Wallingford Pediatrics received an award from Premera Blue Cross for his use of “evidence-based best practices” in avoiding and limiting antibiotic use for ear infections.
So if antibiotics aren’t the answer, what do we do for ear infections? Chinese Herbal Medicine is an excellent choice for the prevention and treatment of ear infections. There are two key formulas which, when administered correctly, can alleviate pain within hours and eliminate the infection within only a couple of days. They are safe, they are effective, and they are easy to administer. Several companies have created liquid extracts of these classic Chinese formulas adding a touch of glycerin or stevia to mask the bitter flavor of the herbs so that they are more palatable to children. I have used them with my own children and have avoided any antibiotic use so far. In addition to Chinese formulas, I have used garlic ear drops, which kill microbes and dry fluid when placed directly into the ear canal, and probiotics which help the immune system fight the infection. All three can be combined and your Chinese Medicine practitioner can help you determine the best course of treatment so you can avoid unnecessary, and potential harmful antibiotic overuse in your children.
Tags: acupuncture, antibiotics, chinese medicine, ear infections, herbal medicine, herbal medicine for ear infections, herbs, natural medicine, natural treatment for ear infections, otitis media, pediatric ear infections, pediatrics, TCM, traditional chinese medicine, Xiao Chai Hu Tang, Xiao Chai Hu Wan
While the name “wind gate” refers specifically to a point on the Bladder channel of the upper back, we often use this term to talk about the entire back of the neck and upper back. This area is particularly vulnerable to invasion by wind leading to symptoms of colds and flus such as chills, body aches, nasal congestion, and cough. In the Springtime when the weather starts to turn warm we can be too quick to pull off the winter layers. Exposing the back of the neck and upper back to the elements, particularly the wind, we increase the likelihood of falling ill. Protect your “wind gate” by wearing a scarf, a high collar, or a turtle neck, and you will increase your chances of making it through the spring in good health.
Tags: acupuncture, chinese medicine, colds, colds and flus, flu season, immune function, immunity, spring, TCM, traditional chinese medicine, wind, wind cold, wind heat, windgate
Around this time of year I start to get questions about fasting, detox diets and cleanses. Though it is a common temptation in the springtime to want to make a “fresh start” in our bodies, overly restrictive diets, flushes, enemas, and the like, are considered too extreme in Chinese Medicine. Often these types of detox protocols perpetuate imbalanced eating and elimination habits, which can damage the Spleen leaving the body weak in both qi and blood. Chinese medicine, on the other hand, is a system that encourages moderation rather than deprivation.
Chinese medicine views the body as a healthy ecosystem. Not only is it impossible to steralize this enviroment of all of its toxins, it is unwise. The body is far more adaptable than we give it credit for. As a responsive ecosystem each body has fine tuned processes designed for maintaining homeostasis. When we try to “clean” this system, we often do more damage than good . Most detoxes end up flushing out helpful bacteria and energy, forcing the body to scramble to re-establish healthy flora. In addition, detox protocols tend to stress the body by dumping massive amounts of toxins and debris into the blood stream, overwhelming the body’s natural filtering systems while depriving the body of the healthy energy and nutrients that it needs.
Your body is not a dirty house that needs to be scrubbed clean. Your body is a harmonious synergistic entity that needs your support and love to carry you through this world the best it can. Instead of trying to create a pure environment in your body, give it more of what it needs; fresh whole foods, exercise, meditation, rest, playfullness and less of what it doesn’t; caffeine, alcohol, chemical foods, stressful thoughts, guilt. By incorporating these simple changes, the spleen and other organs will become stronger and happier, and in turn, better able to function at their optimal level. Your body will thrive with an abundance of qi and blood and you will look and feel great!
Tags: chinese medicine, cleanse, detox, detoxification, liver cleanse, TCM, traditional chinese mediicne
Jian jing, Shoulder Well, is an important point located at the apex of the shoulders on the Gall Bladder meridian. This point is often tender and tight, especially when the body is stressed, or energy is ascending.
Stimulating GB 21 directs the qi downward, clearing headaches, necka nd shoulder pain, dizziness and helps lower blood pressure. Contraindicated during pregnancy, jian jing is an excellent point to help stimulate labor assisting your baby’s arrival.
Tags: acupuncture, acupuncture points, chinese medicine, Gallbladder 21, GB 21, jian jing, jianjing, Shoulder Well, TCM, traditional chinese medicine
Moxibustion is a wonderful wintertime therapy as it disperses cold, eliminates damp and warms yang. It is one of the best methods for general health and well-being in the Chinese Medicine repertoire. Moxa used daily on the point ZuSanLi is said to prevent all illness and promote longevity. The sensation is generally one of warmth and relaxation, and very popular among patients of Chinese Medicine.
Moxibustion is a form of therapy that developed independently of acupuncture, and may actually pre-date it. There are areas in the northern, colder regions of China in which practitioners use moxibustion in lieu of acupuncture.
The moxa is made from the herb Ai Ye, or Mugwort, which is harvested and laid in the sun to dry. It is then crushed and passed through a sieve repeatedly until it maintains a fine, downy texture. In this form it is referred to as “moxa punk” and is formed into small cones.
The practitioner then places the cone on top of an acupuncture needle or directly onto the skin. The moxa is lit with a stick of incense and the warming and moving properties of the Ai Ye plant enter the point. A slice of ginger or garlic can also be placed between the moxa and the point, infusing the properties of these herbs into the body as well.
Moxa punk can also be made into rolls or small sticks which are placed in a metal tool called a Tiger Warmer. This tool is then moved along the course of a meridian, allowing the moxa to enter the body.
“When a disease cannot be treated by needling it should be treated with moxa.” – Ling Shu
Tags: acupuncture, chinese medicine, moxa, moxibustion, mugwort, TCM, traditional chinese medicine