What could the two possibly have in common? No, you guess first.
Something to do with swords? Nope. OK, I'll tell you.
I was cooking dinner last night, and
the recipe did not call for celery. I had a flash memory
of a friend on Facebook posting that she added a bunch of random
things to the granola she was making that day, because she wanted
to clean out her pantry. I've been there. Two handfuls of raisins
kicking around in the bottom of the snack pantry (in a container -
I'm not that gross)...about a tablespoon of crushed pecans that
I'll save for years rather than throw out -- come on, those things
are expensive! Into the granola they go....
There I am, cooking dinner, the dinner that did not
call for celery. This is about to relate to acupuncture, just wait
for it. I look into the fridge and notice I have two giant packs of
celery from the previous two weeks. My son had been on a celery
kick for months, inhaling several stalks per day, and of course he
suddenly hated it as soon as I stocked up. "I'll just chop some up
and toss it into the pan with the onions and garlic I'm sautéing
for the stuffed peppers recipe." Boom. In it goes.
No harm done, right? Maybe.... In the
Traditional Chinese Medicine branch called Dietary Therapy, we
learn the nature and properties of foods from kelp to congee and
oats to oranges. Here's the medicinal profile for celery according
to TCM: cooling, sweet, slightly bitter, benefitting the stomach
and spleen, calming an irritated liver, improving digestion, drying
dampness, purifying the blood, reducing nervousness and vertigo,
clearing heat from the eyes, urine and mouth, and relieving
headaches caused by stomach heat and stagnated liver qi (Pitchford,
2002, p. 539).
That would have been fine. Even if you didn't understand most of
that, trust me, it would have been fine. Who doesn't have some
stomach heat and stagnated liver qi these days! Then, as quickly as
I tossed the chopped celery into the recipe that didn't call
for it, I heard Dr. Zhu's voice in my head, reminding us that
we cannot just throw in some extra needles just because we
opened a 10-pack!
What's the big deal about haphazardly
adding things in after the recipe (yes, we could call an
acupuncture point prescription a "recipe")?
As Dr. Zhu explained, the point prescription is just that -- a
prescription. You should take it seriously and respect the balance
and harmony of the points that are working together. There are
master-couple points in there; I saw a guest-host thing going on. I
know she's tonifying the mother and sedating the child on the Lung
channel. Someone said "extraordinary." Seems like it's getting
crazy, but really it's not. It's very calculated...complete and
time you find yourself in the kitchen with some extra celery to use
up, are you going to throw it into the pan when the recipe doesn't
call for it? Maybe... But, the next time you acupuncture interns
find yourselves in rooms full of open packs of needles, I hope you
do the right thing and leave them on the clean field instead of
just adding in the 3 extra opened needles. Just don't tell Dr. Kim--he
does not like wasted needles!'
Pitchford, P. (1996). Healing with whole foods: Oriental
traditions and modern nutrition. Berkeley, Calif: North
Hot olive oil is carcinogenic. I'm trying to cut to the chase in
my writing -- can you tell?
When extra virgin olive
oil is heated to its smoke point of around 300º Fahrenheit, bad
things happen. Its protective anti-oxidants become cancer-causing
free radicals. I know, I know...bring on the cop-out onslaught of
"Everything causes cancer, there's no point in worrying about it."
Wrong. That's the answer given by two groups of people, and
(spoiler alert) you don't want to be in either group.
First, and more acceptable, is the group
of people who really haven't looked into health and nutrition at
all. OK, hey, this is a diversified society. Not everyone has to be
an expert in every subject. Some people can grow the food, others
can study chemistry, and some can sell the apples at the market.
It's 2015, as Tricia would say. You're a productive member of
society, but you're busy. I know. You see a commercial saying "I
Can't Believe It's Not Butter is a healthy choice," you run out and
buy it, and you figure you're doing a decent job in life. Well,
you're wrong. At minimum, really though, shouldn't every adult
eater in America take a few minutes out of the upcoming "dancing
with famous people" show and perhaps start to learn a bit about
what you're putting into your body?
Secondly, and less acceptable, is the group of people who simply
don't care about what they've learned. These are the people who
read the same books about olive oil that I did, saw the
explanations about why it's a bad idea to heat olive oil in your
wok on stir-fry night, but keep doing it anyways. "Everything
causes cancer, so why should I bother switching to a healthier
option?" Gee, I don't know, maybe because you don't want to be on
the wrong side of "1 in 2 American men will get cancer in his
lifetime." Ladies, you're 1 in 3. Want specifics? Here's the full
wheel of fun: Lifetime Probability of Developing or Dying from
Here's a thought that not many people seem to care about.
Not everything causes cancer. There are actually lots of
things that don't seem to cause cancer. What about trying some
pesticide-free vine-ripened fruits and vegetables? Maybe refrain
from spraying yourself down in poison perfume every day? I'm not
saying you can simply walk through life making all the right
choices and be guaranteed cancer free. I am saying that there's
this whole thing called "epi-genetics" that effectively blows out
of the water the old lazy assumption that your genes have
predetermined whether or not you will get cancer or be obese, etc.
Not true. Your genes throw you into the world with a certain set of
probabilities, such as a 30% risk that your breast cancer switch
will be flipped on. Sure, that sucks, but it's not a death
What can you do about it? Something! Epi-genetics reminds us
that our lifestyle matters just as much, or more, than our genetic
predeterminations. "Only 5-10% of all cancer cases can be
attributed to genetic defects, whereas the remaining 90-95% have
their roots in the environment and lifestyle. The lifestyle factors
include cigarette smoking, diet (fried foods, red meat), alcohol,
sun exposure, environmental pollutants, infections, stress,
obesity, and physical inactivity." Nobody hates that alcohol part
more than I do, believe me, but the overall point is still
This was supposed to be about olive oil, wasn't it? Well, now
you know why I don't cook with olive oil. I cook with organic,
grass-fed butter, and my husband prefers coconut oil, both of which
have higher smoke points than olive oil does, meaning that we can
cook at higher temperatures more safely. Some of you will google
this "hearsay" and find websites that say not to worry about it,
because all cooking of all food breaks down nutrients and produces
some free radicals, and your body is programmed to deal with that
small amount of carcinogens. You'll be fine...probably. Really?
How's that working out for you? Which group of the "1 in 2
Americans" do you think you're in? Clearly, friends, we are
bombarding our bodies with way too many carcinogens these
YOUR CHOICES MATTER. Make some.
Anand, P., Kunnumakara, A. B., Sundaram, C., Harikumar, K. B.,
Tharakan, S. T., Lai, O. S., ... Aggarwal, B. B. (2008). Cancer is
a Preventable Disease that Requires Major Lifestyle Changes.
Pharmaceutical Research, 25(9), 2097-2116.
Dr. Yurasek and I scrubbed into the isolation unit, donned our
masks, and needled an in-patient right in her hospital bed. I knew
that shift would be different. It was only my third day, but it
just felt different when I punched in that morning...and I was
Between our usual out-patient pain
clinic cases at Cook County Hospital, Dr. Yurasek, the other
morning interns, and I were discussing some of the more remarkable
results achieved with auricular acupuncture. That's putting needles
on ears, for the laypeople reading today. He told us about a
patient in a wheelchair who rolled in with several bullet wounds
and walked out the same day after the acupuncture
treatment. We told him about patients whose pain level went from
10/10 to 0/10 after their acupuncture treatment. It was basically
"one time at band camp" day at Stroger.
Dr. Yurasek was explaining that these types of staggeringly
effective results are the reason that acupuncture has been making
its way into the world of western medicine. Specifically, he said
it was the "portal to acupuncture ecstasy." That's actually the
start of an entirely different "one time at Stroger" story from
last week... but we aren't talking about that one here.
The point was that with the obvious decrease in patient pain
after a 10-minute needling and tui na treatment, it's hard
to shut the door in the face of the acupuncturist who wants to
treat the people. Let us into your hospitals! Share your space with
us, MDs! We were all on board... but how would we get the
administration to give us the time of day?
Then, the call came. The sixth floor
had an in-patient in acute abdominal pain, and her doctor wanted
the acupuncturist to come up and lend a hand -- a hand with a
needle at the end of it. And, since they called Dr. Yurasek, it
would be a big hand with a really, really big needle on the end of
it. We all know he likes those 6-inch needles. I don't even
near-faint anymore when he whips them out and drives them into a
patient's leg. I still look at the other side, though, expecting to
see the needle sticking out back there... I do still do that.
I had just hooked up my patient to the E-Stim machine and dimmed
the lights in her treatment room, when Dr. Yurasek peeked his head
in my room and said, "Let's go." Where were we going? I didn't know
yet. He calmly said, "There's an inpatient on the 6thfloor in acute
abdominal pain, and we're going up to needle her." Alrighty. If you
say so, sir. I walk next to him, fumbling through the pockets in my
white coat, knowing I probably needed to be bringing supplies or
Halfway upstairs he, very casually, mentions that the patient is
actually in an isolation unit, and we'll need to take extra
precautions. OK, ummm, is it too late to go back downstairs? What?
Thoughts of bringing home some exotic virus (other than the ones
I've already had) to my kids were flying through my mind.
Well, now I'm so nervous that I don't even know
where I am. Where are we heading? East wing? West wing? Where's the
lake? Finally, we make it to her unit. The nurses glance up at us
like, hey, no big deal, go on in. She's through that set of doors,
and then through that next set of doors... the ones with those red
signs taped to the window. OMG. "Droplet isolation"! I don't even
know what that means, but I'm nervous. Very nervous. We scrub in,
the nurse finally steps in and helps us with our facemasks before
we tied them on backwards, and basically pushed us through the next
set of doors.
Well, too late to back out now. Here we go. Luckily I had
needles in my pocket. Or he did, I can't even remember. The next 30
minutes were a blur, mostly because I was nearly passing out from
the recirculating carbon dioxide in my facemask. How do people wear
those for extended amounts of time? Clearly I was doing it wrong.
First timers, right here.
"Where's your worst pain right now," Dr. Yurasek asks the
patient, who I definitely thought was unconscious when we first
walked in, splayed out in her bed with the usual useless hospital
gown covering her nothing. "My back, and my leg, all the way down
to my foot," she says. Well, she's conscious. Great news for my
burgeoning anxiety. Abdominal pain, back pain, she's got it all,
but her back hurts the most right now. So, we treat her back pain.
Cue the 6-inch needles into the ancient secret lock-and-key points
now called "Gall Bladder 30" and Gall Bladder 34." Sciatic pain
relief on the way!
The patient is in less pain and is visibly more relaxed in her
body tension. She was in the middle of telling us a story, but then
she suddenly passed out asleep. OK. As long as she's not dead, I'm
going to make it. I run around like a crazy person in a crazy mask
looking for a gauze pad so we could take the needles out, and
finally, our job is done here. We walk back downstairs to the
outpatient pain clinic and resume our day.
"How's your internship at Stroger going," people keep asking me.
Awesome. It's freaking awesome. If you have the opportunity to
intern at Stroger, and you're not doing it, you're missing out.
Ever heard of "bedpan
bullets?" If you take a multivitamin from the grocery store shelf,
odds are high that your body is not absorbing the vitamins and
minerals listed on the side of the bottle. Nurses have been finding
mostly-intact tablets in the bedpans of patients for years,
sometimes so undissolved that the popular brand name is still
How could this be true? How could my beloved multivitamin, that
I've watched TV commercials for thousands of times, be a total
waste of money? I checked the side of the bottle! It says it's
giving me 100% of my daily need for Niacin. What could go
Well, yes, you are popping
a one-a-day that shows 100%s for most of your vitamins and
minerals...but that does not mean that those nutrients are
bioavailable. Your body is not absorbing nearly 100%, but instead,
just shooting the tablet out your other end.
"Studies have shown individual vitamin isolates in supplements
are about 10% absorbed. Compare this to vitamins directly from a
fresh plant source, which are 77% to 93% absorbed. Minerals in a
supplement are even worse -- 1% to 5%. But, from a plant source
like raw broccoli, the minerals are 63% to 78% absorbable." Read
more at HealthGuidance.org.
The jig is up. In December
2013, the Annals of Internal Medicine published three
papers on the health outcomes of regularly taking multivitamin
supplements. Each concluded that it's essentially worthless -- and
potentially dangerous -- to pop that multivitamin. The studies
specifically looked at improvements in memory and cognition and
reduction in rates of cancer and cardiovascular disease. The
editorial explanation put out with these papers argued against
taking them, stating, "Most supplements do not prevent chronic
disease or death, their use is not justiﬁed, and they should be
avoided." Check out this article from ScienceBasedMedicine.org, which links to all 3
referenced papers and the associated editorial:
So what should a
well-meaning, crappy American diet-eating individual do to fill in
the obvious gaps in whole-food nutrition?
Most of us have a diet comprised of eating out or eating
prepackaged factory foods. If you do step up and buy (conventional)
produce and chow down on that, you're inundating your body with
pesticides. Plus, your apple has probably irradiated to improve
shelf life by destroying its vital energy. Unless you are eating an
entirely organic, local, vine- or tree-ripened and immediately
consumed diet of all fresh foods, your body almost certainly is not
bringing in the vitamins and minerals that it needs (nor the
digestive enzymes needed to use them). Even with my
backyard garden, attempts to eat organic and local, and cooking
from scratch almost daily, I'm sure I'm still all nutritionally
holey as the ole slice of Swiss cheese.
The next best thing to the
above mentioned beautiful diet is to look for a supplement that is
whole-food based and bioavailable. I'll give you a clue--you
probably won't find it on the sale aisle at the Jewel. Talk to your
knowledgeable healthcare professional today about what type of
supplementation is appropriate for your body and lifestyle. Dietary
therapy and associated nutritional counseling is part of the Acupuncture and
Oriental Medicine program, as "food therapy" is one of the
long-standing branches of Traditional Chinese Medicine. Who else
can help? Your chiropractor and your naturopathic doctor also go
through extensive education on supplements--ask one of us!
As 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
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.
Maybe 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.
Let'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:
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.
So, 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!
• So What Is Chinese Medicine?
• Jabbing Nerves with Needles
• Mission in Nicaragua
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