Nope. So, why I am writing about a modality or
medical system that is not part of the Acupuncture and Oriental
Medicine Program? Much like the use of essentials oils, the use of
homeopathic remedies can be incorporated as part of an approach to
overall health and wellness. Building on our theme from last week
of "words that are hard to pronounce," today we'll start with
"homeopathy." Go ahead; try to say it aloud.
Now that we can say it, let's keep working. What is homeopathy?
Where does it originate? If it is not part of Traditional Chinese
Medicine, then where does it belong?
As part of my continuing effort to bridge the gap between
programs here at NUHS, I recently sat down with a student in the
Doctor of Naturopathic Medicine Program -- the only program that
includes the study of homeopathy. As a student of both western
naturopathy and eastern AOM, he is perfectly poised to take on the
questions I shot off rapid-fire style.
To understand homeopathy better, focus in on the
keyword--remedy. While we tend to toss this word around
willy-nilly in daily life, in this context it has a more specific
meaning. Before this discussion, my basic understanding of
homeopathy was simply the principle of "like treats like." So, a
homeopathic remedy for a heat condition would be hot in nature.
Uh-oh. That's the opposite of Chinese theory, where we would answer
a heat condition with cold.
How will we ever get along? Rest assured, I was able to
reconcile this in my brain by using the analogy of how a person
becomes immune to a particular virus after exposure to an
attenuated piece of that same virus. That's not exactly a Chinese
principle, either, but OK. At least I'm back on board with
homeopathy after relating it to my western understanding of
homeopathic (home-ee-oh-PATH-ick) remedies are made is my favorite
part. My brilliant colleague and naturopathic doctoral student
explained the rigorous and extensive process in such a way that an
outsider, like myself, could visualize it. After the diagnostic
portion of the show (which I'm definitely not well-versed in) is
complete, and the correct remedy has been selected for the person,
I was eager to find out where to obtain the remedy and how it was
Similar to TCM, most homeopathic remedies are derived from plant,
animal or mineral sources. Many remedies are inexpensive and
available at health food stores, while some are more costly and
more difficult to order. Either way, here's how most are made:
To the average onlooker, it would seem that the resulting
homeopathic remedy has been diluted to the point of being
indistinguishable from its water or alcohol base. How can that
work? Most would assume that the remedy is weak and ineffective; in
fact, that's the main argument against homeopathy by the mainstream
medical community. Never one to blindly agree with the mainstream
medical community, I turned back to my naturopathic friend and
asked for the other side of the argument.
He explained that according to the principles of homeopathy, the
more diluted a remedy is, the stronger or more potent it actually
becomes. How can this be? Well, that's still being debated in the
United States. Homeopathy has been practiced for around 200 years
in Germany -- with roots arguably all the way back to ancient
Greece -- and declares itself a stand-alone medical system. Yet, it
is undeniably controversial and not considered "proven" by modern
about to change. My colleague explained that the argument
for homeopathic remedies being effective at these diluted
ratios has to do with their molecular size. The continual process
of dilution and vigorous shaking supposedly breaks down the
molecules of the original substance into pieces small enough to
cross through the cell membrane. Stop. Read again. That's a big
deal. Some pharmaceutical drugs are deemed ineffective because
their large molecular size does not allow them easy entry into our
cells. Once again, friends, size does matter. If the remedy can get
in, then that explains how it could work effectively.
For now, homeopathy remains a controversial topic of debate. For
more information, search PubMed at www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/?term=homeopathy
for clinical trials and peer-reviewed, scholarly journal articles
on the efficacy of the remedies. Or, talk to your favorite
I get really annoyed when I'm reading the results of a
scientific study about the effectiveness of acupuncture, and the
author concludes that actual acupuncture was "not significantly
more effective than sham acupuncture." What they seem to be saying
is that acupuncture is not effective at treating X condition. What
they are actual discovering is that needle insertion almost
anywhere in the body will have an effect on the body's condition,
often providing relief from X condition.
I like this part. As Dr. Kwon always told us in
Point Location class, you can still help the patient even if you
don't stick the needle in the exact acupoint. This realization
saved my sanity on more than one occasion when trying to palpate
and count thoracic vertebrae to locate the oh-so-important points
of the Governing Vessel running up the spinal column. It's supposed
to be located at T6, but T7 will be good enough? Awesome. Thank you
for your flexibility, ancient wisdom.
So, back to the studies that drive me nuts. Here's how they
commonly shake out:
Exactly 100 patients were studied for chronic knee pain, with 25
receiving no treatment, 50 receiving actual acupuncture (inserting
needles at specifically proscribed points), and 25 receiving sham
acupuncture (inserting needles randomly in the body). Guess what?
The patients receiving no treatment did not experience improvement.
The patients receiving actual acupuncture reported a 50%
improvement, and those receiving sham acupuncture reported a 45%
I call that good news. The study concludes, instead, that actual
acupuncture is not significantly more effective than sham
acupuncture at treating knee pain. Wrong. What they actually did is
prove Dr. Kwon right -- not that he needs any additional
validation, seriously -- that even when needles are inserted at the
"incorrect" location, acupuncture still has therapeutic benefits
for the patient. Is the goal of an acupuncture treatment for knee
pain simply to eliminate the knee pain? Not exactly.
Any time acupuncture happens, that patient's body experiences a
shift in energy. We can usually feel a difference in the person's
pulse after treatment, compared to before. The qi (energy) has
moved, and in western terms, circulation usually improves. Sure,
the knee pain is improved, but the patient might also sleep better
than usual that night, awake with more energy than usual the next
day, or even notice that a new head cold has resolved
Were these other effects coincidental?
Maybe, but probably not. Any acupuncture is better than no
acupuncture, and the results of studies comparing no treatment,
sham acupuncture, and actual acupuncture will often reveal this
truth. In fact, this little "secret" is why I'm not against other
practitioners doing acupuncture on patients. We've all heard the
buzzword "dry needling," which is when say, your physical therapist
needles your arm when your elbow isn't healing as nicely as you'd
like. I know several chiropractors who have completed the 100-hour
certification in acupuncture, and they can often be seen sticking
some needles into a sore back muscle.
Some acupuncturists are completely against this concept of
non-acupuncturists needling patients, but I'm pretty much OK with
it. I know the patient is probably receiving some benefit
regardless of whether or not the needle goes in at an exact
acupoints. What's important to me is that the patient is aware that
dry needling or someone sticking some needles in where it hurts is
not all that acupuncture has to offer. Those techniques have
benefits, but not the full array of benefits that needling specific
acupoints on specific meridians can produce.
So, if you know someone who's been needled before and didn't
experience a great symptom reduction, it's still worth their time
to try acupuncture from an acupuncturist. Crazy, I know. It's not
that other providers are doing anything wrong; it's just that they
aren't receiving the more complete system of treatment via
acupuncture that we acupuncture students use.
• So What Is Chinese Medicine?
• Jabbing Nerves with Needles
• Mission in Nicaragua
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