Ok, I'll do one--one of those kinds of posts. I usually
think it's more interesting and relevant to share information about
some topic of concern or awe to those of us in alternative
medicine, but this time I'm just going to do what the original
intention of this AOM blog probably was. I'm going to share what
it's like to be an acupuncture student fighting her way towards the
end of the trimester.
Now, I'm not fighting because I'm bored, confused, or frustrated
with my classes. On the contrary, I enjoy the nights I get to drive
in a car by myself and sit quietly for 4-5 hours learning about
something I love. It's the most relaxing part of the day. Hey, I
have active young children, a messy husband, and a sometimes
too-demanding teaching schedule to juggle all day. Give me a
graduate night class any day of the week!
No, I'm not fighting in a bad way. I'm excited to reach the end
of this trimester because the day after it ends, I'm getting on the
airplane for Nicaragua. Two weeks in Central America is just what
the doctor ordered for this stressed out, over-committed student.
I'd love to say I'm a good flier, but that wouldn't be true. With
that missing Malaysian plane, I'm going to be grinding ear seeds
into my PC6 points until they're bleeding. Awesomely inopportune
time for that mysterious tragedy. Not to be insensitive, but I
barely make it through my flights as it is. Rescue remedy? Yep,
I'll be using that heavily.
The past several months have been leading up to this medical
mission trip, and soon I know it will be here, then
already--sadly--behind me. Since last year's trip, I haven't been
able to get that clinic off my mind--not that I want to! NDI's
integrative healthcare clinic serves so many appreciative and needy
people, and it's the only medical setting I've ever experienced
where providers of several medical fields all circle around and get
to take a crack at each patient who walks in the door. I know that
when I start my first shift, a middle-aged Nicaraguan farmer will
come into the clinic with the chief complaint of back pain. If I
used a machete all day, I'd develop back pain, too. Instead of that
patient being confined to the limits of one provider's medicine,
this patient will reap the benefits of the naturopath, the
chiropractor, the acupuncturist, the psychologist, and the massage
therapist on staff at the same time. He might get an adjustment,
soft tissue work, some needles, and even a tincture for the road. I
can't get that sweet deal anywhere in the United States, that's for
sure. Did I mention it's free? Sign...me...up.
This is the future of medicine, people.This is it. Integrative
medicine is the way. True, I have to get on an airplane to immerse
myself in it at this point, but I promise you one thing--I'll bring
Why would I need or want to do this? Why haven't I
purchased a commercial deodorant in about two years? Why haven't I
let my husband, either? The bottom line is that I just don't feel
comfortable slathering on a toxic armpit cocktail, when I know that
what I put on my skin has a good chance of being absorbed into my
bloodstream. I've said it before, and I'll say it again: If you
wouldn't eat it, don't put it on your skin, either.
I also don't like the idea of blocking off the body's drainage
system, so I had already stopped using anti-perspirants years
before finally ditching the deodorant, too. (Not sure what you're
using? Check the front label. "Deodorant?" Just covering the smell.
"Anti-perspirant?" Also preventing your body from releasing the
sweat.) My armpits are made for excretion, and that's just what
they'll do. One of these days, I'll probably sweat all over
Really, though, it's not nice to sweat all over people, and it's
particularly rude to have the sweat smell like the noxious fumes
that we all know it can. Yet, I feel that primal urge to allow my
lymphatic system to do its job and clean out some bodily sludge.
Yes, I do think that using a commercially-produced anti-perspirant
and deodorant contributes to the development of breast cancer and
other ailments. But I guess I have to sit around and wait for a
study to prove that sealing in your body's toxins and then layering
more on top of that is bad for your health. Seriously, doesn't
anybody else wonder why Dove is the breast cancer researcher out
Or, I could make the choice that I know is healthier for my body
(and my husband's body, too). Thus, one rainy afternoon two years
ago, I jumped on Amazon and ordered myself some arrowroot powder
(after not being able to find it in local stores). The rest is
history. Instead of simply leaving you with the basic recipe I've
been using and loving, I'll take you on a pictorial journey
afterward. Note that if you do try this at home, the common
expectation is that there is approximately a 1-2 week "learning
curve" for your body to really have the opportunity to excrete
build-ups that you've been holding hostage for most of your adult
life with your commercial anti-perspirants. Translation = you might
smell worse during this time. This, too, shall pass, and at the end
you'll likely find that you don't smell as bad as you used to.
Here are your simple ingredients:
Mix 1/2 cup coconut oil with 1/4 cup arrowroot powder and 1/4
cup baking soda. Add essential oils such as orange, lemongrass, or
tea tree, and scoop into an old, cleaned out deodorant container to
harden for a few hours. (Don't worry about those bottles of wine in
the background. Those are for later, when you can celebrate your
accomplishment if all goes well.) Simple, customizable, delightful.
Remember, it's more meant to be a deodorant than an
anti-perspirant, but my husband finds it does both well. I guess
I'm just a sweatier fella. But at least I'm not usually a smellier
That's the normal way. This week, I tried to plan for our
upcoming medical mission trip to Nicaragua, where it is oh-so-hot
every day, by customizing the usual recipe to prevent it from
melting. Yes, coconut oil has a melting point in the 70s, so it
would be like trying to use a puddle of deodorant instead of a
stick if I took along the usual stuff. So, after googling for a
while, I found a suggestion to melt and add beeswax into the usual
recipe to raise the melting point (beeswax has a really high
melting point, like 170 -- not even Nicaragua can match that). It
The resulting deodorant was very brown, as a result of using
dark brown beeswax the first time. OK, I can live with that. Here's
the bowl of leftover brown deodorant that I will scrape with a
spoon and use until it's gone before wasting an ounce. Yes, this is
the state of affairs of toiletries in my home.
The photo at the beginning of my post is what it looks like in
stick form, which is much more socially acceptable, I know. It's
almost normal looking...just brown, and bumpy, unlike the usual
smooth off-white result for temperate at-home usage. Ah, Nicaragua,
the things I do for you.
How could salads cause weight gain? If you have
Damp-Cold and you're trying to lose weight by eating cold, raw,
veggie salads, you might not shed the pounds. "How can this be?"
everyone is now screaming -- probably silently, that's fine. I
thought eating lots of spinach, topped with radish, cucumbers,
celery, etc. was supposed to help melose weight.
For some people, this might be an effective strategy,
particularly if you are swapping out fast-food double cheeseburgers
in favor of homemade veggie salads. Certainly, there is the
undeniable benefit of increasing the nutrition you're taking in by
adding more produce to your diet. I'm sure we all know someone who
started eating more salads and less junk food and fairly promptly
dropped a few pounds. Great.
So, why doesn't it work for everyone? In fact, why does eating
all raw, cold veggie salads even have the possibility of causing
weight gain in some people?
No, the answer is not about the dressing that you put on the
salad! That would be too easy, not eastern-medicine-related, and
frankly, it would probably cast a dark shadow on my consistently
whole-fat dietary lifestyle approach.
Instead, my point here is related to one of TCM's six evil qis
-- technically, two of them. I used the terms "cold" and "damp"
earlier, and this is one of those special moments when normal,
everyday words take on more specific meanings in the context of
Chinese medicine. I think we call that "connotations." In TCM, Cold
and Damp have pathogenic connotations.
A person can be constitutionally Cold or Damp from the get-go,
or a person can be invaded by a Cold or Damp external pathogenic
factor (actually called an "evil (xieh) qi"). Foods are like
people; each food has specific properties, such as Cold, Hot, and
whether the food leads to damp retention or drying out in the
person who ate it.
In the case of a Cold, Damp person trying to lose
weight, we need more hot, drying, acrid foods, and fewer raw, cold,
damp foods on the plate. If this seems counter-intuitive, keep in
mind that there are plenty of healthy, nutritious foods that have
hot and acrid properties. Ginger and peppers, anyone? Yes,
What is your favorite food doing for you--or to you? My favorite
book on nutrition, Healing with Whole Foods: Asian Traditions and
Modern Nutrition, goes into detail on the connections between your
diet and your health. Or, quickly check out the properties of some
common fruits, veggies, meats, etc. here: http://www.tcmecc.org/foodtherapy.htm
Choose wisely, my friends.
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.
"I hope the points aren't just nerves being shocked by needles,"
I said to AOM classmate Irene. As one of the few AOM students who
originally came into the program to focus on herbal preparations
and dietetics, I felt particularly uninformed about this whole
acupuncture thing. So, there in one of the first courses on the
theory of point energetics -- what the acupoints do and how they do
it -- I finally vocalized, albeit in a whisper-like fashion, my
growing fear: Maybe there's no meridian or point energetics beyond
just sticking a needle into a nerve and hoping it stimulates
something productive in the patient's body. Sure, that might still
help, but it certainly doesn't have the mystique that interested me
in the first place.
"Moving blood and qi," "balancing
energy," and "harmonizing yin and yang"...these concepts are
intriguing, promising, and yes, darn near magical in my opinion. If
we're just jabbing people with needles and shocking them wildly,
then I'm not sure I have the buy-in that a 3-year master of science
in oriental medicine degree requires. So there I sat, giving power
to my secret fear by speaking it aloud, not knowing what Dr. Yihyun
Kwon was going to say to pull me back over to his side of the
fence, and hoping that there was something more -- more ancient,
more Daoist, more qi-related in any way. (Spoiler Alert. Dr. Kwon
Irene surprised me with her response, which I recall as being
something along the lines of, "So what if acupuncture is
just stimulating nerves with needles?" How could she be so callous
to this deep fear that I'd been subconsciously fostering for the
first three months of our program? Didn't she understand that I was
sitting there, suffering in silence, desperate for some oriental
What Dr. Kwon went on to explain in that first Energetics class,
and even more so the following year in Neurophysiology of
Acupuncture class, was a concept that bridged the gap between the
mysticism and the mundane. He simultaneously satisfied my cravings
for evidence-based medicine as well as ancient tradition. Dr. Kwon
= 2. Juli's irrational fears = 0.
Yes, he explained, some points are located right
beside or above a nerve -- grazing it ever so slightly and
eliciting that loved or hated sensation we call "de qi," when
energy arrives along that meridian. Further research and
dissections have confirmed that many of those points not located at
a nerve are actually located exceptionally close to an artery or
vein. Here's where he blows my mind in 3...2...1....
Next, he tells us that these vessels and other structures
harboring acupoints are essentially wrapped up in nerve fibers
themselves. Yes, readers, we've come full circle in Juli's
understanding of neurophysiology (which doesn't take long). Many
acupoints are on a nerve; those that aren't, still kind of are.
And now to process this information.... Do I hate this answer?
Does it ruin the grandeur of ancient energy meridian theory? Nah. I
took the news fairly well, all ignorance and expectations
considered. In today's health care climate, I like that modern
science keeps proving acupuncture theory to be true. Time and time
again, I see modern western research pointing to the validity of
traditional medicine. At the end of the day, or the century, who
doesn't like being told, "You're right"?
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.
• Available soon!
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