Can acupuncture help you stop smoking? Maybe. Like most smoking
cessation plans, the most important part will be whether or not you
firmly desire to quit using tobacco. If you have the will, then
acupuncture might just have the way.
cessation is one of the more long-standing mainstream applications
of acupuncture in the United States. My husband recently asked me
for ideas about the effectiveness for his co-worker who has been
trying to quit, and my mind has been making the connections ever
since. How does it work? Will it work? Which points should be used?
How often will he need treatment? Can he do some of the work at
home between acupuncture sessions?
Naturally, being just a student, I didn't know the answers to
these questions without looking into them myself. Now that I feel
like I have a handle on some of these factors, I'll go ahead and
give you lowdown. Of course, I'm not telling anyone to try this at
home, but this is what your acupuncturist might do if you walk into
the clinic and ask for help in your journey to drop the cigarettes
First, let's talk about the mechanisms. Why does a needle going
through your skin make you want to stop smoking? Actually, there
are multiple methods to this madness. On one hand (literally, on
the side of your hand, via an acupoint called Tim Mee) a needle can
actually make your cigarette taste bad. Personally, I think they
already taste bad, but apparently people who smoke tend to like the
taste. Moving on, if changing the taste of a cigarette from lightly
ashy to repulsively garbagy isn't strong enough magic for you,
there are other things that might still work for your stubborn
Next, auricular acupuncture can help
control your cravings, addiction, and withdrawal symptoms while
trying to quit. Think ear piercing with a purpose! While ear
acupuncture can sound even scarier than regular body acupuncture to
the faint-at-heart-newbies, rest assured that the needles are
hair-thin and barely felt. I should tell you that
electro-stimulation of these auricular points is also commonplace.
Some commonly used ear points for smoking cessation include the
following: Shen Men, Sympathetic Autonomic, Point Zero, Endocrine,
etc. Your acupuncturist will add additional points depending on
your individualized condition. Nope, auricular acupuncture for
smoking cessation is NOT necessarily a one-size-fits-all
Now, what can the patient do at home to keep these positive
no-smoking juices flowing between acupuncture sessions? Luckily, we
have a plan for that, too. If you've never heard of ear seeds, you
will if you seek help to quit smoking from an acupuncturist! Small
seeds or magnets (fancy name--auricular pellets) with clear tape
backing are stuck on the above mentioned ear points, and then the
patient is instructed to squeeze them several times a day until
they eventually fall off. If you shower regularly, this is
generally in around three days. If you're looser with your bathing
schedule, you might keep your home care going for a whole week I
suppose. But, let's just pretend everyone showers more than once
Back to the main event: Can acupuncture help you quit smoking?
It really is UP TO YOU. Unless your acupuncturists steals your
cigs, robs you of any available currency, and prevents you from
bartering in the streets for your next nicotine fix, it really is
in your hands. Studies show a variety of outcomes; some are very
positive indeed. If you're ready, call the clinic!
Effect of Acupuncture on Smoking Cessation or Reduction: An
8-Month and 5-Year Follow-up Study. Preventive Medicine, Volume 33,
Issue 5, Pages 364-372. Dong He, Jon I. Medbø, Arne T. Høstmark
Acupuncture to Stop Smoking - Yin Yang
I pretty much hate microwave ovens. Everyone who's been to my
home knows that I haven't even had a handle on the door of my
microwave in the past 5 years. I distrust this appliance. I find
them abhorrent. I think they are one of the actual and figurative
problems with American society today. Why do people regularly cook
food in a box that changes it at the molecular level, rendering the
food nearly nutritionally void? Convenience, my friends.
I'm committed to using the oven and the stovetop as
my cooking methods of choice. Sure, any heating destroys some of
the nutritional content of many foods, but these methods are
gentler and less damaging on the goods. Why is a microwave worse?
Mike Adams, editor of NaturalNews.com,
explains, "Microwave ovens heat food through a process of
creating molecular friction, but this same molecular friction
quickly destroys the delicate molecules of vitamins and
phytonutrients (plant medicines) naturally found in foods."
This isn't groundbreaking news, people. Years ago I was scarred
for life after reading that the microwave destroys around 97% of
the vitamins and other nutrients in vegetables. Apparently, many
people are OK with this, judging by the new microwavable veggies in
"steam bags" available at your local grocer. Yuck, and no thanks.
If I'm choking down peas, they better have full nutritional value,
thank you very much.
If you haven't faced the hidden toxins in your
microwave popcorn by this time, let me offer you a hand up to 2014.
One of the most special ingredients in the little bag is diacetyl,
which, although derived from butter, acts as an artificial butter
flavor in the microwave popcorn. Sounds nice enough, until you find
out that when heated it releases a gas that frequently gives
popcorn factory workers a condition called "popcorn lung." Actual
name--bronchiolitis obliterans. Break that Latin down. "Obliterate
my bronchioles?" Yep. Turns out, it can also happen to the consumer who heats
and eats this stuff at home, and it can certainly happen to the
mice in laboratory settings that are exposed to this heated
And that brings me to the reason that I keep my old
broken microwave around at all. Well, first of all the gaping hole
above my stove would look weird. Mostly, though, the reason that I
keep my microwave is because I actually melt butter in it when I
air pop popcorn, which, if you know me, you'll know is all the
time. I try to lessen the evil of my popcorn addiction as much
as possible, believe me. I melt the organic, grass-fed cow butter
on low power in a glass dish. I pour it over organic popcorn (to
reduce my pesticide exposure). I lovingly tap on a good amount of
sea salt, and then I eat it with voracity that only another popcorn
addict can understand.
So, I'm guilty. I hope I never said I was perfect, because that
would be way off. However, I do what I can to reduce my exposure to
some of the health-hampering substances on the market today,
including microwave popcorn. For now, the microwave, which I
vehemently hate, stays... if only for one small but critical
purpose in my life.
It's not that I didn't already know how important our anatomy
courses in the cadaver lab were, but last week it hit home --
again. During "Advance Treatment Strategies" on Thursday evening,
Eric Baker, BS, MSOM, sketched a quick diagram on the whiteboard to
illustrate his point about needling techniques. Here's my attempt
at re-creating it -- don't laugh; I'm clearly not in a visual
Those are some thick needles. Ouch. Don't worry, general public,
we aren't actually using thick blue needles shaped like arrows when
we give you an acupuncture treatment in the clinic...not unless you
made us really mad. Just kidding!
The point of this diagram was to show how some points, in some
conditions, should be needled at different depths according to your
diagnosis and the treatment strategy at that time. Doing so brings
out the desired energetic from that point's particular bag of
tricks. As Mr. Baker said in class, points can do several different
things, so it's up to the needler to bring out the most applicable
function for that patient's condition. In other words, we don't
stick the needles in three inches just to be mean; we only do it
when you need it!
So, why did this make me think of the cadaver lab? Some students
try to put the whole human dissection experiences out of mind
forever. Some jump in and offer to be the TA for three years
straight. Some of us just hang out in between those two extremes
and focus on the value of what we had the privilege to do. Keep in
mind that some of my experiences and those of my classmates were
not so delightful, because we were the last class to go through the
old cadaver lab -- when it still looked like something out of the
1922 original Frankenstein book. Nowadays, incoming students miss
out on the nightmare material, and they instead get to skip
straight to 2050, which is about how futuristic our new cadaver lab
NUHS Anatomy Lab Before Renovations
No matter the year, if you have the privilege of working in the
NUHS cadaver lab, consider yourself head and shoulders above the
rest. Whether pushing past old dripping metal carts or pointing to
one of the 12 new 42" monitors overhead, Dr. Yihyun Kwon was sure
to show you the physicality of needling an acupuncture point to
various depths. He's reminding you about not going too deep and
accidentally hitting the median nerve under PC6 as he closes up the
clamshell table and washes his hands at one of the foot-pedal
operated stainless steel sinks. (No, this is not a paid
advertisement. The new lab is just that awesome.)
NUHS Anatomy Lab After Renovations
What's the point? The point is that you have tosee the acupoint,
inside and out, in order to best understand how to needle it. Yes,
the lab can make many students squeamish, but I wouldn't trade
those stinky Wednesday nights back in 2012 for anything. I just
hope that your experiences in the lab will stick with you, future
students, even though you'll be missing out on some of the
moreolfactoryelements due to the new state-of-the-art ventilation
I know it's not summer yet, not even spring, but here I am,
thinking about what I'll use for sunblock when I head to Nicaragua
in just 10 short weeks. Yes, during Tri break in April, several
volunteers and I will head to sunny Ometepe Island in Lake
Nicaragua on a medical brigade for the non-profit organization
Natural Doctors International. It's not exactlyonthe equator, but
it's much closer than Chicago. We'll almost certainly burn if we
aren't prepared. I should know, because Nicaragua turned me into a
crispy piece of bacon last year! And that is the only one time in
my life that I'll say anything negative about bacon.
Nicaragua 2013 on our medical brigade for Natural Doctors
So, back to the sunblock options. Clearly I chose to wear
nothing to protect me from the sun last year. If
you've seen me, you know I'm fairly far over on the pale end of the
spectrum, so this was not the correct choice. That was just bad
planning on my part.
I'll do it right. I could use the standard, commercially prepared
sunblock from the store. Yikes. Have you ever looked into the
ingredients list and the health impact of some of those
ingredients? If so, you're ready to move to the next option with me
-- coconut oil. I actually used Trader Joe's Organic Virgin Coconut
Oil straight out of the jar while vacationing in Puerto Rico a few
months ago, and I am mildly happy to report that I barely achieved
a tan at all, despite my hours in the sun. Slather that stuff on,
and not only do you have the benefit of looking like an oiled up
body builder (that's me for sure), but you have the benefit of
approximately SPF 10 with none of the side-effects of conventional
On a side note, I'm generally against using sunblock of any kind
on a regular basis. Why? I like making Vitamin D. It's my body's
job. When you block the sun -- specifically, the
UVB rays -- you block your body's ability to synthesize
Vitamin D. Oops. Coconut oil blocks many of the UVB rays, which
also contribute to skin aging, etc., but it allows approximately
10% of them to get through and get the Vitamin D process
I'm personally bothered by the research available linking common
sunscreen ingredients to cancer (specifically
-- skin cancer!), hormone imbalance
(infertility), and neurological disorders, thus, I do not slather
it all over my children's skin or my own on any type of regular
Check out this article for a brief summary of some of the issues
associated with sunblock and some of the reasons that coconut oil
can be a better choice for your health overall: Ditch the Toxic Sunscreen; Use Coconut Oil
Instead (Natural Society).
Here is the Environmental Working Group's database of
sunblock (and other cosmetics), where you can search by brand,
see the overall rating of your favorite cancer-preventing cancer
causer, and see the health hazards of each individual
Finally, here is a snapshot of the results for a product I used
to use on myself. Curses. It scores a 7 out of 10 on the toxicity rating system,
where 10 is the most toxic.
Choose wisely, my friends.
Is Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) better than conventional
western medicine? Would a provider of oriental medicine and
one of the ayurvedic traditions treat a patient the same
way? Do naturopaths diagnose the same medical conditions as
The answer to each of these questions is probably a solid
The point is that one medical system is not
necessarily better than another. Each of the above-mentioned
categories exist as an entire medical paradigm, complete with its
own unique way of diagnosing and treating an array of
health-related issues. Did you know that your chiropractor could
give you a pelvic exam, ladies? Did you know that your naturopathic
doctor could give you a spinal adjustment? And what about those
herbs? Why do western naturopaths have a different materia
medica than we students of oriental medicine do? Is slippery
elm awesome? I'll never know. And neither did the ancient Chinese,
because it didn't grow there.
We've all heard that there is competition between the students,
all graduating in Lombard at the same moment, as they get dumped
out into a market that becomes more and more saturated every day.
We all feel it from time to time -- a student of acupuncture who
assumes her classes are 10,000 times more difficult than that of
the massage student down the hall; the chiropractic intern who
thinks he's way more important than any acupuncturist in the
clinic; or the naturopath who points out that she can do everything
a chiropractor can do and more!
Are they all right? Or are we all just egotistical jerks? Again,
the answer is an unreassuring "sometimes."
What I'm learning at NUHS is the unmistakable value
of the various medical systems. My friends ask me if I scrape my
tongue daily or if I've dabbled in oil pulling. No and no, I tell
them. That's from the ayurvedic traditions of India, not the
ancient Chinese medicine that I'm studying. Does that mean I don't
think these practices have merit? Nope. I'm sure they do...I'm just
not learning about them in my program. I've actually tried oil
pulling, but I'm fairly certain I did it wrong, and I swallowed,
which I learned later defeats the point. Whoops. I also love
essential oils, and I frankly have no idea which tradition claims
What are we learning in the MS in Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine
program at NUHS? I've memorized hundreds of acupoints -- well,
a good chunk of them anyways -- and dozens of Chinese herbs, I
finally realized that ginger and garlic are making it
worse when I have a heat invasion, and I'm piecing
together why a point on my inner wrist is so helpful for my heart
palpitations. I finally learned how to spell "ayurvedic," and I
hope I can pronounce "naturopathy" correctly most of the time these
More importantly, I'm also learning that the
"competition" chatter has a much bigger bark than bite. We students
of oriental medicine like you students of chiropractic,
naturopathy, and massage therapy, and I feel fairly confident
assuming that you guys like us, too. In fact, the sheer number of
students who dual enroll in more than one program at NUHS proves
this point for me.
I value what the other practices and traditions bring to the
overall health and well-being of the patient. I don't expect that
I'll offer a patient the same knowledge and services that an ND or
an MD does; I'll offer them something almost entirely different in
fact. And that, my friends, is the point. We have a better shot at
helping people if we work together, value each other's
contributions and specialties, and keep an open mind to things that
might sound crazy at first. Energy crystals...what?!
It's already second
nature. When I see people, I see tongues. I notice when the actor
in the movie on the big screen has a thick white coat. I try to
sneak a peek at my friends' tongues when we're having a casual
conversation. If there's a thick yellow coat, I subconsciously take
a step back and continue our conversation from a safer distance.
I've actually had dreams about analyzing someone's tongue shape,
size, color, and coat.
Why am I haunted by tongues? As a student of acupuncture and
oriental medicine, I've taken classes on how to evaluate various
tongue appearances and use that valuable, albeit gross, information
when formulating a diagnosis about the patient's overall condition.
In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), the tongue and pulse are
integral pieces in the puzzle of health and wellness.
The 2,000 year-old classic "Huang Di Nei Jing", translated as
"The Yellow Emperor's Inner Cannon," offers around 60 quotes about
the tongue. We are instructed to examine the exterior, including
the orifices, in order to gain a clear picture of the interior.
Specifically, the tongue can reveal problematic areas or functional
systems within the body, such as stagnated Liver Qi or an
accumulation of dampness. Not everyone in oriental medicine relies
on the "stick out your tongue" method when diagnosing patients,
though. Different practitioners place a varying amount of
importance on the tongue's appearance. One professor even told us
to treat the tongue appearance as a "tie breaker" if you are
wavering between two diagnoses.
As a result, we students study the tongue diligently, searching
for heat prickles, digging for signs of sublingual dilation. If we
see a thick tongue with a white coat and scalloped edges, we feel
fairly confident suggesting that the patient suffers from Spleen Qi
deficiency. If you see a purple tongue with ventral dilation that
gives you nightmares of giant black caterpillars crawling towards
you, then you check into the patient's Liver Qi stagnation issues.
Unfortunately, what you see in the average person's mouth is a
combination of every diagnosable characteristic you've ever
learned. In other words, it's not as easy as it sounds!
I'll leave you with this tongue conversation that I had today
with my 3-year-old son. Yes, even toddlers are getting in on the
trend of diagnosing tongues these days! Enjoy...
Me: Let me see your tongue, buddy. (I look at the normal
beautiful tongue that only children seem to have.) Thanks, it looks
Him: Thanks, Mom. Show me your tongue now. (I stick out the
mess that we adults always seem to have.) Whoa! Yours looks bad. It
looks like a pirate ship... with windows... and people... and a
volcano... and some beds!
Go ahead...check out some tongue info here: http://www.sacredlotus.com/diagnosis/tongue/
What's the appropriate relationship for doctors to have with
patients? How do you know when it's OK to accept a gift, meet for a
coffee, or call a patient at home? What's the difference between
being empathetic towards a patient's horrific home life and being
taken advantage of by a patient who thinks you are her new best
In a recent "Doctor and Patient Relationship" class with the
talented Dr. Dennis Delfosse, we explored the all-too-common gap
between what patients might be experiencing in life compared to
what we assume their lives are like. The point of the discussion
was that everyone is dealing with something. Maybe you've heard the
saying "Everyone is fighting a battle that you know nothing about,"
and its usual ending, "...so be kind." But are you?
Do you, interns of acupuncture and oriental medicine, treat your
patients as important individuals, worthy of your time and energy?
Have you ever groaned when you discovered that you suddenly have an
"add-on" patient halfway through your shift? Do you dread treating
that "difficult" patient who keeps scheduling with you, stealing
your qi? Are you counting the minutes until your shift in
clinic is over for the day?
Much like the general population of American doctors (of whom
only 54% would choose medicine as their career if they could do it
all over), practitioners of acupuncture and oriental medicine might
find themselves unfulfilled, unchallenged, or unhappy at work from
time to time. How can we refocus, reframe, and recharge ourselves
and our passion for helping patients find balance and wellness? We
must revisit our goals from time to time, remembering why we chose
our respective field in the first place, realizing that our next
step might be in a slightly different direction than we originally
planned. It's OK to change treatment strategies, to move towards a
different specialization, or to study under a different clinician
One way to change your personal energy
dial-back to "Positive" is to remember that the patients, their
oftentimes unfortunate circumstances and their health needs, are
the reasons that we're here. They aren't in the way, they aren't
the reason we can't finish our paperwork, and they aren't the
problem. Helping them is the whole picture. The key is figuring out
how to strike the perfect--or at least, a workable--balance with
each individual patient to optimize their satisfaction and
Do you want to make your patients happy? Start by being happy
Physician Frustration Grows, Income Falls - But a Ray of Hope.
Medscape. Apr 24, 2012. Retrieved 1/18/14 at
• Available soon!
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