Friday, April 4, 2008

Accupuncture: What to Expect in Your First Visit

  • Be prepared to spend up to an hour on your visit. Your acupuncturist will take a long medical history and discuss your complaints.

  • Careful pulse readings are often part of the exam. Isaac Cohen of Berkeley's American Acupuncture Center says he checks such things as the pulse's frequency, strength, depth, regularity, changes within the depths of the pulse, and differences between the right and the left wrist. (Acupuncture theory recognizes some 28 pulse qualities.)

  • A tongue diagnosis to check shape, movement, condition, color, and coating is sometimes used to assess a patient's condition.

  • Treatment will be prescribed based on the diagnosis reached via all these findings. For example, chronic bursitis in the shoulder could require 10 treatments, once a week for two and a half months, while an acute strain might call for only two treatments.

  • Sterile, disposable needles are a definite must. The acupuncturist usually dabs the skin with alcohol and then inserts the needles into points just below the skin surface in the epidural layer. They are left in place anywhere from 15 minutes to one hour. In rare cases, the acupoint will bleed slightly after the needle is withdrawn.

  • Acupuncturists will often leave the room after positioning the needles, occasionally dimming the lights to create a more restful atmosphere. Deep yogic breathing can be helpful.

  • Heat treatment (moxibustion) is used by some traditional acupuncturists in addition to needle therapy. The therapist burns the herb moxa, Chinese mugwort (Artemisia vulgaris), on acupoints, generally on a ginger slice to minimize discomfort. Another method known as cupping (when a glass jar is placed over acupoints) promotes circulation.

  • Acupuncture costs vary widely. Your first session may cost anywhere from $40 to $160. Follow-ups may run from $30 to $75.

    Does It Hurt?

    Many people feel a sting when an acupuncture needle is inserted but no real pain. Actress Liberty Godshall, who underwent acupuncture for Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, says, "You feel it a little, but any pain goes away almost instantaneously. Sometimes if an energy spot is hit, it feels like an electrical jolt. For me, the longer the needles were in, the more blissful I felt."

    Acupuncture needles are very thin — about 15 needles can fit into one conventional hypodermic needle. Acupuncturist Dr. Holly Gahn says, "Getting acupuncture is nothing like getting a hypodermic shot."

  • Accupuncture: The Mystery of the Needles

    An introduction to this age-old therapy

    Last year Americans made more than 12 million visits to acupuncturists for problems ranging from sore backs and nausea to cancer and drug addiction. While 30 years ago you might have had to board an overseas flight to find an experienced acupuncturist, today there are some 10,000 practitioners in the U.S., nearly 5,500 of them with state licenses. Of all the alternative therapies in the U.S., this ancient Chinese medical treatment is unquestionably the one creating the biggest buzz.

    So what, exactly, is acupuncture? Broadly speaking, a system of diagnosis and treatment that aims to restore health by stimulating key points in the body with ultra-fine needles. Increasingly, people are turning to acupuncture as a complementary treatment, one part of a healing approach that's drawn from a variety of medical disciplines.

    Acupuncture, which could date back as far as 5,000 years, is the Latin name for what the Chinese call Chen Chiu. (The Latin word acus means needle, and pungere means puncture.) According to traditional Chinese medicine, qi (pronounced "chee"), the body's life force or energy, circulates through 14 meridians, or channels. The ebb and flow of qi determine one's health, as does the balance of yin and yang, the two opposing forces that produce resilient health and vitality when in equilibrium. If the flow of qi is blocked, yin and yang become unbalanced and illness may result. (Poor diet, stress, and exhaustion affect the qi flow.)
    Acupuncture restores balance by rechanneling qi — stimulating any of the more than 360 acupoints connected to organs or systems in the body. "Health exists when adequate qi can flow smoothly," says acupuncturist Harriet Beinfield. "Depletion leads to illness and lethargy. Congestion leads to aches and tenderness."

    Since meridians, qi, and, for that matter, yin and yang are invisible, many Americans have difficulty accepting their existence. But scientists who have studied acupuncture's effects have developed a theory on how it works connected to endorphin release.

    Meridians could be the nerves connected to our major muscles, say the scientists. When acupuncture points are stimulated, it changes the flow of bioelectrical energy along the nerves and releases neurotransmitters, primarily endorphins, which are the body's pain relievers, the same chemicals that produce a sense of relaxation and well-being — the "runner's high." A Swedish study showed that the brain's endorphin levels had doubled a half hour after acupuncture.

    In fact, some researchers believe acupuncture helps people fight drug addiction by releasing endorphins into the system, thus calming the patients and allowing them to work on their problems in a reasonable state.

    10 Ways to Alleviate Seasonal Allergies

    1. Avoidance tactics: The first line of defense for any allergy sufferer: Steer clear of any known enemies such as pollens, molds, pet dander, and dust mites. (Consult an allergist-immunologist if you haven't yet pinpointed your exact allergen.) Regular vacuuming, efficient ventilation, and air conditioning all help fight foes on the home front.

    2. Vitamins: Vitamin C is a natural antihistamine, according to many nutritional-medicine experts. This theory is borne out by research published in the Journal of Nutrition. In a study of 11 allergy sufferers, blood histamine levels dropped in those who took 1,000 milligrams of vitamin C for three days.

    3. Supplements: Quercetin can help prevent ragweed reactions, according to America's most vocal alternative-medicine advocate, Andrew Weil, M.D., a seasonal-allergy sufferer himself. He takes 400 milligrams of the antioxidant twice a day between meals about two weeks before — and throughout — the ragweed season. Quercetin (pronounced KWER-seh-tin) is available at most health-food stores.

    4. Traditional herbs: According to Weil, the herbal answer for allergies is stinging nettle. "I use it myself during the spring ragweed season in southern Arizona," Weil says. And a study at the National College of Naturopathic Medicine in Portland, Oregon, supports his view: Sufferers who took 600-milligram capsules of freeze-dried nettles experienced far fewer hay-fever symptoms than those who took a placebo. Buy the capsules at health-food stores, or brew a tea from the dried leaves (also available in health-food stores) and drink three cups a day.

    5. Ayurvedic medicine: Ayurvedic physicians attribute hay fever to ama, a toxic by-product of sluggish digestion. To purge the body of the poison, they recommend drinking eight to 10 glasses of warm water with lemon juice a day, as well as replacing dairy foods and wheat with fruits and vegetables.

    6. Traditional Chinese medicine: Ma huang, a.k.a. Chinese ephedra contains two potent decongestants, ephedrine and pseudoephedrine. (The latter is found in over-the-counter products like Sudafed.) The herbalist James Duke, Ph. D., recommends this simple regimen: Simmer one teaspoon of dried ephedra in one cup of boiling water for 10 minutes and drink up to two cups a day. Don't take more than two: It could trigger insomnia, elevated blood pressure, or heart problems.

    7. Acupressure: Acupuncture is recommended for hay fever by the United Nations World Health Organization, no less. So why not try the at-home version, acupressure self-massage? For quick relief, press on the point known as Large Intestine (LI) 4, between the fleshy webbing near the base of the thumb and the index finger. Breathe deeply and hold the point for one minute. (Pregnant women should not stimulate this point.)

    8. Homeopathy: In a study at the University of Glasgow, a homeopathic preparation of mixed grass pollens cut antihistamine use by 50 percent. Dana Ullman, M.P.H., author of The Consumers Guide to Homeopathy (Jeremy P. Tarcher/Putnam, 1995) also recommends Allium cepa (onion), Sabadilla (cevadilla seed) and Arsenicum (arsenious acid).

    9. Herbal bath: To calm an overactive immune system, Lisa Meserole, N. D., chair of the department of botanical medicine at Bastyr University in Seattle, suggests a 20-minute soak with two or three of these flowers: calendula, lavender, lime, eyebright, and German chamomile. Soak one-quarter cup of the herbs overnight in four cups of cool water. The next day, bring to a boil. Remove from heat; let steep, covered, for 15 minutes. Strain out plant material and add liquid to bath.

    10. Aromatherapy: Here's a fragrant remedy from Kathi Keville and Mindy Green, coauthors of Aromatherapy: A Complete Guide to the Healing Art (The Crossing Press, 1995). Place one tablespoon of rock salt in a small, capped vial. Add two drops each of eucalyptus and rosemary oil, and one drop of peppermint oil. The salt will absorb the oils. Inhale as needed.

    The Good News Aboud 'Bad' Foods

    Monosodium glutamate (MSG)

    Monosodium glutamate (MSG) -- an additive that pumps up the flavor of foods -- has been controversial since 1968, when a doctor wrote a letter to a medical journal about the headache and chest tightness he had after eating Chinese food. Follow-up research found no concrete link, but people have continued to blame MSG for reactions ranging from heart palpitations to nausea.
    In 1995, an FDA-sponsored review of decades' worth of data reaffirmed the safety of MSG for the general public at levels normally consumed. The report noted that only a small percentage of people experience short-term reactions to MSG, and only if they eat large doses (3 grams or more) at one sitting on an empty stomach. "But the average American gets only about half a gram a day," says Aurora S. Hodgson, Ph.D., chair and specialist in food technology at the University of Hawaii, "so it's not a major concern." The panel also warned that occasional single doses of 1.5 to 2.5 grams may bring on or intensify asthma attacks in those with severe asthma that is poorly controlled -- though more research is needed to confirm that.

    Palm Oil

    This so-called tropical oil (from the fruit of palm trees) achieved notoriety in 1988 when a massive advertising campaign driven by a wealthy Omaha businessman branded it -- along with coconut and palm-kernel oils -- as a culprit that hikes up blood cholesterol and leads to clogged arteries. Despite the lack of evidence to support the allegations, the campaign led many companies to reformulate their products, usually replacing the oils with hydrogenated vegetable oils.
    Now experts say the issue was overblown -- and there's very little reason to panic if your favorite brand of cookies contains palm oil. "The level of these fats in the American diet is too low to worry about," says David Kritchevsky, Ph.D., of The Wistar Institute, a research center in Philadelphia. Even before the use of tropical oils nose-dived, a government survey showed that they accounted for only about 4 percent of the average American's total fat intake. Furthermore, several short-term studies have shown that a diet high in palm oil -- the least saturated of the three -- doesn't ordinarily boost cholesterol in people with normal levels. (If you have high cholesterol, however, it's probably wise to err on the side of caution and avoid tropical oils when possible.)


    "Anybody who says saccharin is injurious to health is an idiot," said President Theodore Roosevelt at the turn of the century, when critics proposed banning it. Now it seems he was right -- experts agree that the no-cal artificial sweetener isn't a health hazard.
    Saccharin has been used for decades with no evidence of harm, but in 1977 the FDA proposed banning it after studies showed that it caused bladder cancer in rats fed very high doses throughout their lifetimes. At the time, saccharin was the only sugar substitute available in the United States, so a public outcry ensued -- and Congress passed a law that delayed the ban but required a warning label on all foods containing it. Later research failed to find a correlation between saccharin and health risks, even among diabetics, who tend to be heavy users. Finally, in 1991, the FDA quietly withdrew the proposed ban. And in 1992, researchers reported that the rat's physiology makes it susceptible to bladder cancer brought on by saccharin. The phenomenon is specific to the rat and does not occur in humans.


    They've been accused of causing every ailment from a pounding headache to high blood pressure -- but now research shows that they're not the villains we thought they were.

    It's official. A little bit of alcohol (whether your choice is wine, beer, or hard liquor) can help lower the risks of strokes and heart attacks, according to the federal government's newly revised Dietary Guidelines for Americans, released this year.

    The guidelines recommend no more than a drink a day for women, and 2 for men -- with meals. Food slows the consumption and absorption of alcohol, and at least one study suggests that a mealtime drink may help stop blood clotting that could occur when fat enters the bloodstream. A glass of red or white wine with a meal may even protect against food poisoning. Researchers have found that wine can kill bacteria responsible for several common types, including salmonella.

    On the sobering side, heavy drinking raises the risks of high blood pressure, strokes, heart disease, certain cancers, birth defects, accidents, and other problems. And some studies have linked even moderate alcohol consumption (1 drink a day or less) to an increased risk of breast cancer.

    Drinkers' risks vary a lot, according to age, overall health, gender, and family history. And although nondrinkers shouldn't start drinking for their health, responsible drinkers needn't feel guilty.

    Focus On Allergies: Food, Drink, Vitamins, Hormones

    The best of alternative medicine, from experts at Bastyr University, the country's leading naturopathic school

    Food & Drink Link

    Spring and summer bring blooms and buds of all kinds, and with them come pollen — lots and lots of pollen. And if you're one of the unlucky millions with sensitive sinuses, you know that pollen overload can take the beauty out of the season completely. After all, it's tough to enjoy the great outdoors when the only place you can breathe is inside with the air conditioning on high.

    No doubt you've also tried a long list of standard medical treatments, including allergy shots and decongestants, and know their drawbacks — drowsiness, foggy thinking, and fatigue, among others. Fortunately, there are safe and effective natural alternatives for treating seasonal allergies.

    If you've never worked with a naturopathic doctor, you should know that central to the tenets of naturopathic medicine are the beliefs that the body can heal itself, and that treatment should seek to support that ability with safe, natural remedies. When it comes to airborne allergies, I first ask myself why the body is reacting to natural molecules like pollen; I often find that the real reason lies in what a person regularly eats and drinks, not just in what they breathe.
    In the last 15 years of specializing in the natural treatment of allergies, it's become clear to me that about 80 percent of environmental allergies can be linked to adverse food reactions (sometimes mislabeled "food allergies"). When someone regularly eats foods they react to — such as those with wheat and sugar, and dairy products — the mucous membranes become irritated and much more responsive to elevated levels of pollen and dust.

    Foods Most Likely to Cause Allergies:

    • Wheat
    • Sugar
    • Chocolate
    • Beef
    • Bananas
    • Oranges
    • Apples
    • Soy
    • Eggs
    • Nuts (especially peanuts)
    • Milk products
    • Coffee

    Through elimination of or desensitization to the offending foods, the overall reactivity of the body drops. I've lost count of the number of patients who've gotten relief from their hay fever symptoms simply by avoiding wheat and sugar during hay fever season. They often get relief within two weeks — the time it takes for the body to clear itself of the reactive food residues. (Testing is usually done to find out which foods are causing a problem.)

    Vitamins & Herbs

    You probably also didn't know that your daily vitamin C supplement can help control allergy symptoms. Vitamin C's natural antihistamine properties make it a classic allergy treatment. A daily dose of 1000 to 4000 milligrams should help reduce the severity of sinus stuffiness and runny nose. Like vitamin C, pantothenic acid — a B vitamin — plays an important role in the proper functioning of the adrenal glands and has also been reported to help reduce allergic symptoms. (Low-functioning adrenal glands have long been associated with allergies.)
    There are a few herbs that can help, too, mostly by reducing sinus congestion. Urtica dioica, or stinging nettle, does a good job of reducing nasal stuffiness at a dose of 600 milligrams of freeze-dried extract two or three times daily. Ephedra, also known as Ma huang, also reduces stuffiness and is helpful for asthma as well. Unfortunately, this herb is also a stimulant and can cause a racing heart, or insomnia if taken at night. Because of its powerful effects on the nervous system, it should only be used under the guidance of a qualified naturopathic physician. Ephedra should not be taken by anyone with heart disease, high blood pressure, thyroid disease, diabetes, or prostate problems. Those on antihypertensives or antidepressants, and pregnant and lactating women should also not use it. In place of ephedra, a combination of garlic and fennel works well to reduce sinus reactivity, and is very safe.

    You've probably never heard of quercitin (pronounced KWHERE-si-tin), but this herbal extract is a very safe and effective treatment for all kinds of sinus reactions, including allergies, asthma, and hay fever. It works by inhibiting the release of histamines and will not interfere with standard antihistamines or bronchial dilators. The standard adult dose of the herb (which is derived from the bark of the white oak tree, quercus alba) is two capsules of 600 milligrams each, one to three times a day.
    Though quercitin is found in some foods — including onions, apples, garlic, cranberries, and cabbage — the amount in food is too low to derive any noticeable health benefit.

    The Role of Hormones

    The adrenal glands — one sits on top of each kidney — are responsible for handling much of the stress we encounter. (Because of this I often refer to them as the body's shock absorbers.) While it's not clear if tired adrenals lead to allergies or vice versa, we do know that improving how the adrenal glands work reduces allergic reactivity. Recent research links low total levels of the hormone DHEA (dehydroepiandrosterone), and a low DHEA-to-cortisol ratio (cortisol is another major adrenal hormone) to a tendency to allergies. If evidence of a hormonal deficiency is found, DHEA supplementation can raise levels into the normal range. (You may have heard about side effects of DHEA supplementation, such as acne and deepening of the voice, but you needn't worry; these occur only when levels of the hormone exceed the normal range, not when supplementation raises DHEA to normal levels.)
    All of these natural options, used individually or in concert, give wonderful help for those suffering from chronic allergies. Your best option is to see a licensed naturopathic physician for a comprehensive workup.