What is Traditional Chinese Medicine and What Does it Treat?

Posted on 09/06/2012 in Chinese Medicine

I am often asked questions about what I do, what types of patients I see, and what exactly does Traditional Chinese Medicine and acupuncture treat? Dr. Andrew Weil is a Harvard trained MD who is world-renowned leader in the field of integrative medicine and has become a pioneer  on how to incorporate conventional and complementary medicine practices in one’s life to optimize the body’s natural healing power;  he wrote a nice summary on the philosophy of and place that Traditional Chinese Medicine has in our health care sytem. Enjoy!

“Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) is a healing system developed in China more than 2,000 years ago, incorporating therapies that are in some cases millennia older. In addition to treating illness, TCM focuses on strengthening the body’s defenses and enhancing its capacity for healing and to maintain health.

TCM encompasses how the human body interacts with all aspects of life and the environment, including the seasons, weather, time of day, our diet and emotional states. It sees the key to health as the harmonious and balanced functioning of body, mind and spirit, and holds that the balance of health depends on the unobstructed flow of qi (pronounced chee) or “life energy” through the body, along pathways known as meridians. TCM practitioners see disease as the result of disruptions in the circulation of qi.

Ascribing the healing abilities of TCM to modifying the flow of qi is problematic for many Western scientists and physicians, because qi itself – if it exists – cannot be directly measured, or even detected, through any known means. This has led some in the West to ascribe TCM’s successes to a biochemical mechanism, such as stimulating endorphin production via acupuncture needles to reduce pain. Several studies have shown that insertion of the needles does indeed stimulate endorphin release in the tissues. At least one study suggests it may work via influencing adenosine and adenosine receptors (adenosine is a molecule is considered by biologists to be life’s “energy currency”). Similar mechanisms may be at work for other TCM techniques such as acupressure, moxibustion and cupping (see below).

What conditions should TCM be used for? TCM can be particularly effective for complex diseases with multiple causes, including metabolic diseases, chronic and degenerative conditions (such as knee arthritis) and age-related diseases. TCM herbal formulas are also used to treat allergy and asthma, with some of these formulas now under intensive study in the U.S.

In the West, the most familiar TCM treatment method is acupuncture. Studies in the U.S. indicate that acupuncture can help relieve chronic low back pain, dental pain, migraine headaches, fibromyalgia and symptoms of osteoarthritis. It can assist in the treatment of emotional pain syndromes such as post-traumatic stress disorder, and used in conjunction with in-vitro fertilization can help achieve pregnancy.

In TCM, acupuncture has been used to treat addictions to cigarettes, heroin and cocaine. It is also used to treat conditions ranging from emotional disorders (anxiety, depression) to digestive complaints (nausea, vomiting, irritable bowel syndrome). It can treat pain syndromes due to injury or associated with chronic degenerative diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis. It can also be helpful in treating neurological problems such as Parkinson’s disease, and has also proved beneficial for promoting overall wellbeing.

Other TCM treatments include:

Herbal formulas: TCM makes use of a vast array of medicinal plants with antiviral, antibacterial and immunomodulating properties. Dr. Weil has said that many Chinese remedies appear to have significant therapeutic value and that some work on conditions for which Western doctors have no pharmaceutical drugs. Some TCM formulas combine eight to 12 herbs and may be prescribed in pill or extract form or as dried herbs to make a tea.

Moxibustion: Here, a burning cigar-shaped moxa stick, usually made of the herbs mugwort or wormwood, is held near acupuncture points to stimulate them with heat and improve the flow of qi. It is used along with acupuncture and TCM practitioners may recommend it for improvement of general health as well as for cancer treatment and treatment of chronic conditions such as arthritis and digestive disorders.

Qigong: This is a 5,000 year-old mind-body practice as well as an energetic form of movement done to enhance the flow of qi in the body. By integrating posture, body movements, breathing and focused intention, Qigong is designed to improve mental and physical health.

Tuina (pronounced tway-na): A form of manipulative therapy, tuina aims to open the body’s blockages and stimulating movement in the meridians and muscles. Practitioners may brush, knead, roll, press and rub the areas between the arm and leg joints (known in TCM as the eight gates) and then use range of motion, traction, massage, with the stimulation of acupressure points. Tuina is used in TCM for treatment of both musculoskeletal and non-musculoskeletal conditions.

Acupressure: Here, TCM uses pressure (not needles) to stimulate the acupuncture points and meridians in order to release tension, promote blood circulation and qi. A popular manifestation of acupressure is the use of wristbands that press on a meridian point to prevent or reduce seasickness, as well as nausea from any cause.

Cupping: This 2,500-year-old practice involves placing special cups filled with heated air on painful areas of the body. As the cups cool, the volume of air within them shrinks, creating suction on the skin that increases blood flow to the area. It is commonly used to ease aches and pains, relieve respiratory problems, mitigate coughs and wheezing, improve circulation and reduce menstrual symptoms. Cupping can leave bruises that can take a week or more to fade. It is not recommended for treatment of fevers, skin diseases or bleeding disorders. Sessions last 10 to 15 minutes and can be repeated once the marks from the previous session have disappeared. “

Restless Legs

Posted on 04/02/2012 in Wellness

If you regularly experience unpleasant sensations in the legs such as tingling and “crawling,” you may be suffering from restless legs syndrome. This disorder typically comes on at night and is characterized by an urge to move the legs when you’re trying to get to sleep–a movement that does not quell the symptoms and makes falling and staying asleep for a restful night very difficult. The symptoms can also arise during the day, especially during long periods of inactivity, such as a meeting, movie,etc…

While this movement disorder is not fully understood and reliable cures have not been found, there are some steps you can take to help relieve the symptoms.

1) If you smoke, stop smoking. Smoking impairs blood flow to the leg muscles and can exacerbate the symptoms.
2) Avoid caffeine and alcohol, both of which can make symptoms worse.
3) Take a calcium/magnesium supplement at bedtime. Try 500 mg of calcium citrate      and 250 to 500 mg of magnesium to calm nerves and muscles.
4) Get regular exercise, stretch and massage your legs on a regular basis, and try a hot, relaxing bath before bedtime. In the bath, you can add magnesium salts which will be absorbed transdermally and help to further relax your legs.
5) Try Acupuncture and herbs!  Both modalities can help to ease your symptoms along with appropriate lifestyle changes.

If you have questions or would like to know more, call Lauren!

Vitamin D Intake

Posted on 03/26/2012 in Nutrition

Did you know that an estimated 70% of the US population is deficient in Vitamin D? Recent studies of this nutrient have shown that it plays a critical role in health. Low levels of Vitamin D are associated with suppressed immunity, higher risk of chronic disease,  increased risk of depression, and increased inflammation. So, what can you do? Your body can actually produce Vitamin D so regular sun exposure is important. If you suspect your levels are low, speak with your doctor about getting your blood levels checked.

Lauren Hurst Acupuncture