What Can Acupuncture Do for Me

2015-01-22_handsAs soon as I say, "I'm studying acupuncture," their eyes light up. Everyone likes the idea of acupuncture. It sounds exotic, ancient, and trendy all at the same time. What could be better? Yes, the interest is there, but so, undoubtedly, is the follow-up question, "What can acupuncture help with?"

Gee, let me think. My first instinct, based on clinical and personal experience, is to excitedly shout "EVERYTHING" in someone's face. We all know that's not helpful, not specific, and usually not socially acceptable. Instead, I try to reign myself in and itemize a few conditions that might be of concern to the individual in question. My answer then comes out sounding like, "Oh, several things...trouble with sleep, irritability, irregular periods, pain, you know...basically everything." I just can't resist throwing that all-inclusive ending on there.

2015-01-22_wallMaybe I'm not way out of line in doing so. In ancient China, obviously Chinese medicine was the entire medical system, including preventive care, acute care, chronic care, you name it. Your acupuncturist could needle your face, moxa your feet, gua sha your shoulders, tui na your back, and even perform certain surgeries. Back then, "What does acupuncture treat" would have definitely received my favorite answer, "EVERYTHING!" Although, that's probably too rude and aggressive for ancient China. They probably would have responded with something much more humble, and then surprised the pants off you with their amazingly effective acupuncture treatment.

2015-01-22_symbolLet's look for a compromise. In America today, you can't just walk around saying that something that's not a drug can treat, prevent, or cure a disease. You can't say it. So, what can we say? In these delicate cases, I defer to the World Health Organization, which lists conditions that acupuncture has proven to be an effective treatment through controlled trials. Although the list we all seem to use is incredibly old -- from 1996 -- we continue to see additional conditions helped by acupuncture in individual studies such as those found via www.pubmed.gov.

Here's our old starting list:

  • Adverse reactions to radiotherapy and/or chemotherapy
  • Allergic rhinitis (including hay fever)
  • Biliary colic
  • Depression (including depressive neurosis and depression following stroke)
  • Dysentery, acute bacillary
  • Dysmenorrhea, primary
  • Epigastralgia, acute (in peptic ulcer, acute and chronic gastritis, and gastrospasm)
  • Facial pain (including craniomandibular disorders)
  • Headache
  • Hypertension, essential
  • Hypotension, primary
  • Induction of labor
  • Knee pain
  • Leukopenia
  • Low back pain
  • Malposition of fetus, correction of Morning Sickness
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Neck pain
  • Pain in dentistry (including dental pain and temporomandibular dysfunction)
  • Periarthritis of shoulder
  • Postoperative pain
  • Renal colic
  • Rheumatoid arthritis
  • Sciatica
  • Sprain
  • Stroke
  • Tennis elbow

Plus, for our reading pleasure, the World Health Organization also gives us some hopeful additional categories. They list over 60 additional conditions and diseases that acupuncture has been demonstrated to be effective for, but for which additional research is needed. There are about 15 other conditions for which acupuncture has been shown effective for in individual cases, or for which conventional treatment is difficult or ineffective.

2015-01-22_checkSo, next time someone asks me what acupuncture can help them with, I'm going to give in and shout, "EVERYTHING," at them. After all, odds are I'd be right. Does it treat this? Check. Does it treat that? CHECK!

It's Alive!

2014-12-04_plantMy lychee plant is alive! I can hardly believe it, because I've almost certainly killed it at least four distinct times. Dr. Cai gave several of us AOM students a small branch -- a twig, really -- around 18 months ago, and those of us arrogant enough to think we could grow them proceeded to take them home and plant them in something.

2014-12-04_stick"Don't worry," Dr. Cai kept telling us. "It's easy to grow." I felt so reassured that I would be growing my bush/tree in my own yard and harvesting handfuls of lychee berries in the fall. I was definitely wrong. Although I pride myself as a master novice gardener of vegetables, the lychee proved to be a new beast. Sure, I've grown a few potted herbs for cooking. Yes, I dry my own peppermint leaves and make tea. These small feats in no way prepared me to raise a baby lychee.

For most of its 18-month life with me, the twig remained a twig. Yes, it sprouted a couple of leaves here and there, only to be killed off again with the next cold night. Did I mention I tried to grow it outdoors in Chicagoland? Technically I forgot about it a few times, leaving it out in the snow and hard frost. Ooops, sorry Dr. Cai!

2014-12-04_nutsThis October I pledged to be a more responsible lychee parent. Sure, I'm successfully raising two actual human children, but that's different. They scream when they're cold and hungry. The lychee just sits there and practically dies in silence. So this October, I brought it inside. I placed it lovingly next to my dining room window, and I think I managed to water it every few weeks or so.

2014-12-04_berryThis week, the unspeakable happened. Out of the corner of my eye, while speed walking through the room in a late, chaotic frenzy as always, I thought I saw something different about the lychee...something...red?! Could it be? Did I facilitate the birth of the first Baby Lychee Yelnick berry? I leaned in for closer inspection, and I couldn't believe it. Not one, but TWO berries had grown on my tiny, twig-like plant.

Who cares about lychees anyway? Well, the Chinese do. They use it to tonify the Spleen, improving transportation and transportation functions around the body. Lately, the West has been turned on to the powerful anti-oxidant feature of the gogi berry, as we tend to call it.

How many names can one fruit have, you might ask? Well, let's take a look:

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So, lychee, lycii, goji, gou qi zi, whatever your name is...Grow on! I'm happy to have you in my humble home for the winter. In the spring I will place you back outside in my herb garden, and I will probably almost kill you again (sadly). I'll try not to, but I'm just being honest.

Bad Acupuncturist. BAD!

That's what I say to myself, in my head thankfully, whenever I look down at my hands and realize my nails are long...again. Yes, to clarify, having long fingernails makes you a bad acupuncturist. Sure, you can still stick needles into flesh with respectably long nails, but you sure can't perform tui na very well. You might even pierce the skin just trying to palpate the channels to find the points. It's just bad...very bad.

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I'll never forget the day I learned this pearl of wisdom. It was rough for me. I've always had long nails -- not creepy curled "never cuts" -- but nice, clear, totally decent nails. I'm also particular about them and the relationship of my fingernails to my own health. You will not catch me with fingernail polish -- toxic, poison-fume leaking, nail-bed suffocating anti-health gloss -- ever. I find it to be a disgusting disregard for health, and I'm not even going into the additional toxins associated with going somewhere to "get your nails done."

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In other words, I already thought my nails were in good shape and I was a shining example of a "live what you preach" type of acupuncture student. My vision was shattered on April 28th, 2014, at 8am. It was our first day in the NDI clinic in Nicaragua, and I was all set to start needling the people (right through their tight jeans, but that's another story). Suddenly, I was slapped in the face with the comment "OH, you need to cut your nails!" by the acupuncturist, starting down at my nails with sheer mortification on her face.

What? "I just did!" I replied. Apparently my version of trimmed nails was nowhere near the skin-nubs-only level that my peers had adopted. OK, I took the nail clippers and went to town. I couldn't have picked my nose if I'd wanted to. No nail remnants survived this attack. Suddenly, everything felt weird. I was stimulating fingertip nerve endings that had never before been stimulated by anything but gently passing breezes. Now, here they were, bald and exposed to the world of stimuli -- Nicaraguan stimuli, nonetheless. Hot air, cold water, thick dust, tight jeans on strangers.

I was totally unprepared, but I put a smile on and went on with my week. What did I learn? She was right. They were all right. Having short -- extremely short -- fingernails is critical to being a good acupuncturist. I palpated so accurately; I tui na'd six layers deep. I was officially a convert. As she said to me when I began the AOM program two years ago, "Those are beautiful nails, but cut them. You'll never have long nails again if you're serious." And she was right.

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Until today, when I looked down and realized that I've been so busy between midterms, kids, work, and Thanksgiving plans, that I must have forgotten to clip those things for almost two weeks. In my defense, I'm taking really good supplements, so they do grow like wildfire. "Why is the pinkie nail longer than the rest," you might be thinking. Well it's not because I'm secretly a coke junkie. It's just the only one finger that I don't have to actively use in pulse taking, point palpating, or tui na. So, secretly, I sometimes don't clip that one...just to see if I can still grow one. I'm beard-challenging myself.

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Rest assured I grabbed the clippers and transformed myself from bad acupuncturist to good girl in less than two minutes. Ah, if life were always that easy!

Does Wine = Exercise?

2014-11-21_wineCurious ladies are dying to know. Could the articles be true? Is drinking a glass of wine the health equivalent of working out at the gym? This. Is. Life-changing.

Here's the article: Resveratrol may be natural exercise performance enchancer - Science Daily. If you have a Facebook account, I'm sure you've at least seen the headline "Glass of Wine Equal to Hour at the Gym!" and the equally delighted personalized status updates by every woman and half the men you are "friends" with.

2014-11-21_chemSo, does the study actually prove this? Kind of. A team of researchers on the University of Alberta Faculty of Medicine and Dentistry found that resveratrol, a natural compound found in some fruits, nuts, and wine, mimics the effects of hard physical exercise on the human body. Although their conclusions leaned more towards creating a resveratrol supplement that could be given to patients that were unable to exercise -- such as a car accident victim with four broken limbs, I guess.

Naturally, the people did not stop there. Our lushy society has taken it upon ourselves to extrapolate the potential ways this could impact the average person. Can't make it to the gym tonight after all? No problem -- have a glass of wine! Don't feel like going for that run in the rain? Don't worry about it -- go back inside and drink wine!

2014-11-21_grapeWhat's the catch? There are a couple of details here. Again, their research was geared towards creating a performance-enhancing supplement, not a substitute for performance entirely. They said resveratrolmimicsthe results of endurance training...it's not quite as perfect in every way. Also, we are only talking about red wine here. "Why?" wonders the lady who only likes sweet dessert wines. The answer is that resveratrol -- the important part of the wine for this discussion -- is found primarily in the skin ofredgrapes. White wine just doesn't have the resveratrol levels that would make an impact in your big sea of body.

2014-11-21_glassWestern medicine always thinks it's discovering something new. Well...not this time, fellas! Chinese medicine has listed red wine as a therapeutic dietary choice for thousands of years. In TCM, red wine is dry and hot, so it expels dampness and warms the interior, expelling cold. Is that why I always crave a glass of Pinot Noir on a cold winter day?

The Chinese also use wine as a guiding element, directing other herbs or foods where the body needs those influences. They see wine as capable of moving blood and qi, which can help dispel not only cold but also stasis and stagnation of many types and manifestations. Both East and West recognize that red wine can improve circulation.

I'm not going to say that TCM wins again, but yes I basically am saying that TCM wins again. Let's compromise over a glass of red wine

Gearing Up for Nicaragua

2014-11-14_coughsyrupAlthough our group of volunteers just returned from dusty, hot Nicaragua a mere 6 months ago, it's already time to muster our energy, our spirit, and our medical supplies and get ready to head back. A stock-pile is already starting to form on the floor of my husband's office...first it was a few bottles of homeopathic cough syrup for infants that wouldn't fit in my bag last year...then it was a case of toothpaste samples from my dentist...now it's growing again as I add several bottles of essential oils from my generous sister to the little medicine mountain.

Why am I going back for the third time to volunteer at the Natural Doctors International (NDI) clinic on the island of Ometepe in Lake Nicaragua? Well, I'm basically hooked. Sure, they've made me the IL Chapter Representative for NDI, and they call me the brigade coordinator. But honestly, they had me at "would you like to come back next year?" Yep. Yes I would.

2014-11-14_boardingI'm hooked on the country, which is immediately to the north of my long-time favorite--Costa Rica. Nicaragua itself is absolutely beautiful, with beaches, surfing, mineral springs, mountains, and volcanos. Oh, the volcanoes -- talk about a love-fear relationship. This year I'm planning to venture off after the medical brigade and attempt the famous volcano-boarding, which is where you don a protective suit and surf down the scree of a semi-active volcano on a modified snow-board. I think that counts as exposure therapy.

2014-11-14_ppl1I'm hooked on the people, many of whom I know by name and family now. I see the same faces year after year, all who seem genuinely happy to have the natural medicine option on the island. They have options off the island, too, but they have to take a bus, then a ferry, then a bus, and then wait all day at a hospital that may or may not have time for them that day. It's an expense that most people can't meet. The children follow us around the village, giggling and holding up signs they made that say "Thank you."

2014-11-14_ppl2And finally, I'm hooked on the clinic. The clinic offers free acupuncture, botanicals, homeopathics, massage, chiropractic, and whatever else we volunteers bring down on the brigade. I've seen premature babies, clinging to life, which honestly wouldn't have made it had they not found their way into the NDI clinic that day. We treated pregnant women and farm laborers, both with excruciating back pain. Liliam, the local licensed psychologist, quietly walks the abuse victims over to her counseling area, where we really learn about the dark side of a community. We've called the police to pick up a rapist. We've escorted a barely teenage girl off the island to that distant hospital to get imaging done on the lemon-sized lump she found in her breast.

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If you want to give back, to experience another culture, and to see many types of case that you might have not exposure to at our clinics in Chicagoland, then contact me.

Check out www.ndimed.org for more information on the upcoming brigade -- a 10-day program including 1 orientation day, 4 clinic days, 1 farm day, 1 free day, 1 closing day, 2 travel days and informal evening courses in global health and natural medicine. Come back to school after your spring break with a certificate showing your 40 service hours of hard and rewarding work in a truly integrative medical setting.

2014-11-14_team2We need volunteers: medical students, providers, and Spanish speakers are preferred but not required. We need donations: vitamins, supplements, probiotics, botanicals, needles, and herbs preferred.

Want to learn more about this opportunity? Contact me anytime with questions, concerns, help with setting up the first-giving fundraising tool that most of us choose to use, or just stories about how we treat people even when there's no water or electricity for days. The group is forming NOW, and I hope to hear from YOU soon!