I heard from a patient that Michael Phelps was seen in pictures getting an acupuncture treatment and in an interview talking about how it has helped keep him going during the competition. With all the talk about cupping it isn't hard to figure out that they are also doing acupuncture on the athletes. There are a few good reasons why they might want to have some acupuncturists traveling with our national team (which they do). First of all acupuncture is excellent for treating pain. This is no surprise to anyone who has tried it. Secondly, acupuncture is excellent at helping an injury heal faster. This is important in a competition, where something must be done to get the athlete back in the race as soon as possible. I often treat patients that are amazed at how quickly their body starts healing an injured ankle or how the healing after surgery will suddenly be sped up dramatically after a few acupuncture sessions. This works because acupuncture enhances the body's system of healing. A third reason they are using acupuncture in the Olympics is that they have to be careful what drugs they give to the athletes. There are many drugs that if used could get the athlete disqualified. But acupuncture is not on any banned lists. There are also no side effects to acupuncture so they don't have to worry about any adverse effects of giving a pill.
I am often asked especially by new patients how acupuncture works. It's a bit hard to explain in the few minutes that I am inserting the needles, but I try because people are curious about it. I like to say in a nutshell that acupuncture uses the energy of the body to heal the body. The energy of the body, called Qi by the Chinese, travels in channels sort of like blood does. Most of the channels originate and end in an organ such as the kidney or the liver. The energy channels run the length of the body and this energy keeps us healthy and pain free. The acupuncture points give us access into these channels of moving energy and allow us to do things to that energy such as strengthen it, drain it, or make it flow faster; and also to effect the function of the organ associated with that channel. As you can tell it is very different from the way western medicine looks at things. I, having a western mind, have many times been amazed at how accurate this eastern model of how the body works is. What I really like about it is that it has a deep respect for the body's innate ability to be healthy and when necessary to heal itself. I now find the eastern way of looking at health and healing much easier to grasp and much more eloquent. After doing this medicine for 15 years I often find myself looking at western medicine, which granted did get a 2 or 3 thousand year later start, as actually less advanced than eastern medicine. As I read about new discoveries in western medicine, I usually end up thinking - that's what Chinese medicine has been saying for a thousand years!
What do I treat mainly at the Acupuncture Center? I get asked this a lot by patients. Because I have been doing this for over a decade, I think I can truthfully say that I have treated almost every health concern out there. But the question is what I mainly treat. My main specialization is in treating pain (I also specialize in anxiety, depression and weight loss). I see a lot of back pain, but I also see a lot of migraine pain and I see a lot of shoulder and neck pain. In Chinese medicine it doesn't really matter where the pain is, we always treat it roughly the same way. When I first started out treating I didn't want to necessarily treat mostly pain. But I knew someone in our practice really needed to cover pain so I took it on. And it really grew on me over time. And most people experience pain, so it's needed. I think I am good at it. I think Chinese medicine is good at treating pain. I see more and more patients who have been referred by a doctor. I see more and more doctors come in. There is of course an issue with pain medications in our country and people are really starting to look for alternative methods. Acupuncture has zero side effects. And the herbal pain formulas also have zero side effects. My method of treating pain is simple: I use acupuncture, cupping, and if needed Chinese herbs. This combination usually works really well and fast. Most people are better after even one treatment. That is my goal, to get you feeling better as quickly as possible. I'm usually able to do so. I would truthfully say that over 90 percent of my patients get better. If they don't I take it personal.
We treat patients with migraines several times a week at the Acupuncture Center. As many of our patients will tell you, acupuncture and herbs can often be very effective for this condition. I find that if we combine acupuncture and herbal formulas that patients will usually be much better in a few visits. This can be life changing and many patients have told me that. The pharmaceutical drugs that are given for migraines are not really treating the root cause, and if the cause is not treated then, even though you might dull the pain, the condition is really getting worse and more ingrained in the body. Illnesses start more superficial in the body and move inwards with time. So its best to address a problem before it gets deeper and more permanent in the body. With Chinese medicine we always go after the root cause. This is just how Chinese medicine developed over many millennia. If the root of the problem is addressed the issues goes away, its over. If the root is not addressed the illness usually will become more severe and harder to eradicate.
I thought I would write some about cupping and gua sha, because until you have it most people don't know what it is. I usually use cupping for pain issues and I usually use gua sha for issues in which there is a great deal of inflammation. So cupping is just an actual suction cup applied to the skin and either left there or moved. I tend to move the cup more than just leave it there but from what I gather most other acupuncturists leave the cup in place. I prefer to move the cup, which is similar to a massage (except the motion of the skin and muscle is up instead of down). I feel I get better results from moving cupping. However if there is a specific point on the muscle you want to address, leaving the cup in place and on tighter is the way to go. Cupping is something I do every day at work, usually several times, so I get a lot of practice at it. Cupping should not hurt, at least not very much. If cupping hurts a lot than the cup is too tight. It doesn't have to hurt to be effective. Cupping is excellent for pain, anywhere really that a cup can be applied. OK, this is not so exciting a discussion, so I will wrap it up by saying that acupuncture and cupping together is a great 1-2 punch for treating pain. I use gua sha less but in the right situation that is what is needed instead of cupping. So any highly inflamed tissue will probably benefit from gua sha. Gua sha is simply scraping the skin. Traditionally the scraping is done with the side of a bone, but nowadays we usually do it with the side of a gua sha tool, which is usually made of stone. The surface is dull so it doesn't cut at all but gently scrapes at the skin until it turns red and releases heat (inflammation) through small red marks called sha marks. This (as well as cupping) is most likely just as old as acupuncture, so at least 4000 years. So I always say that these ancient methods, if they didn't work would most likely have been tossed out - I don't know - maybe 3500 years ago.
One of my heroes is Jack LaLanne. For one thing Jack has been dead since 2011 and he still maintains a thriving web site. That is impressive. I'm surprised he is not still blogging! What I like about Jack was that he was committed to health, and to helping others stay healthy. It was his business but it was also his passion. If you go on his site www.jacklanne.com and watch his videos from the 50's and 60's, you will see that he was so far ahead of his time. He was talking about exercise when no one really exercised. He was talking about eating whole foods before there was a Whole Foods. In the 50's and 60's obesity was rare, not like today. But Jack, I think, saw it coming. What brought Jack around was that he was a sickly teen who was addicted to sugar. He realized it and wanted to be strong and gave up sugar for life. He worked out with weights the day he died at 96. His mind was as sharp as a 20 year old. We don't all have to be as over the top as Jack LaLanne was about our health, but we can all learn a few things from him. Check out his videos, also on youtube.
Rheumatoid arthritis is the fasting growing autoimmune disease in our country. I suspected this because it seems like half of the commercials on television are drug commercials to treat RA. So I looked it up and sure enough it's the fastest growing segment of autoimmune disease. RA generally occurs in women in their 40s, 50s, and 60s. This makes sense to me because I have never seen a male with RA in my practice. I have treated this condition many times in my practice and in general it responds well to acupuncture, especially if some simple Chinese herbs are included, such and the one they nickname 'the women's herb' or dang gui in Chinese pinyin. Some of the women I have treated have responded well enough that they have come off their RA drugs, or they never had to start them. It is interesting that this illness usually starts at about the same time that women go through menopause. Menopause in our medicine is due to a natural imbalance that occurs during this hormonal change. This change called menopause brings on more heat or inflammation in the body and this can cause a tipping point into a number of named diseases, one of them being RA. So the menopause factor must be addressed in order to treat the root of the condition, to cure it instead of just medicate the symptoms.
I want to cover in today's entry a question that I get asked often by patients or prospective patients. I get asked if I think acupuncture will help a certain condition and if so how many treatments it will take. This is a valid question because everyone wants to know what their prognosis is. I would really like to answer their question well. The problem is that it is really tough to give an accurate prognosis. There are so many factors involved: how long they have had the condition, how old they are, how good their general health is, how well they respond to acupuncture, how severe the condition is, what medications they are taking, how often they can come in, what other treatments they are doing concurrently, even their attitude. So I generally will say that I do not know and I suggest we do a few treatments and see how things go. This is why we offer the 3 treatment package because I have found that 3 treatments is a good test as to how things will go. If you are 0% better after 3 treatments, it's not that it will not ever fix the problem, but it might take a while. However, I have seen patients that 1 more treatment really moves things. If you are much better after 3, then we are on the right track and you might need no more treatments or just a couple more. Most people seem OK with this answer, because I am sincere about it, it's really the way it is. I also contend that no one can really give an accurate prognosis. A doctor doesn't ever 100 percent know how a procedure will turn out for any single patient. I think it is unethical to tell someone that this will fix you, 100 percent of the time. No one can accurately say that, so I think they shouldn't.
Interesting study published in JAMA Oncology which concludes that 'Nightly fasting may help reduce breast cancer risk.' The study was done on women who previously had breast cancer and found that if they fasted daily for 13 hours, their recurrence of breast cancer was reduced by 36% compared to breast cancer survivors who did not fast. The fasting in this case was mainly done during sleeping hours, so they basically ate an early dinner and a late breakfast. We were taught in Chinese medical school that fasting is indeed health, and there are many other studies like this one that confirm it. And if we do it this way, just increasing the hours between dinner and breakfast, it's quite painless. I don't think there is anything magical about the 13 hours in the study or the every day. Any number of days doing this in the week is beneficial. I also think that its best to eat a lighter dinner which would contribute to this fasting effect, because if you eat a large dinner you don't really get to a fasting state until much later in the evening.
Currently am reading a very interesting and important book (it seems) called 'Vitamin K2 and the Calcium Paradox.' It is one of those books that you can summarize in a few sentences but takes a book to adequately explain. This is the message that I have gotten out of the book so far: taking Calcium supplements can actually be dangerous if you do not also get enough vitamin K2 in your diet. Without sufficient K2 the calcium you are taking not only does NOT get deposited in your bones, but rather it ends up as plaque in your arteries and causes heart disease and possibly early death. If it's all true it should be a wakeup call for the millions (mainly women) who take calcium supplements. It could explain the increased prevalence of heart disease in women. I will blog more about this book later.