Pointspace’s September roundup | Acupuncture does help for chronic pain and proven to treat tension-type headaches and migraines

Image: Katie Blench via Flickr


London said good bye to the Paralympic Games and hello to Christmas goods in the shops (yes really, mince pies and Santa-shaped chocolates). I discovered two really interesting facts:

  • Did you know Paralympic sprinter Jerome Singleton has degrees in math, physics and engineering and worked for NASA and CERN?
  • To celebrate the Jewish new year, Rosh Hashanah, a symbolic meal of apples and honey is eaten to represent hopes for sweetness in the months to come. So sweet.


1.  We all know that hand washing is the easiest and simplest form of defense against infections and cross transmissions. Indeed, Florence Nightingale was talking about it over a hundred years ago. We teach little kids the importance of hand washing. I have chronically dry skin from washing my hands before, during and after every acupuncture treatment with a client. So why is it that I still see people in public bathrooms splash a bit of water about, or even worse, just walk out? And why is it that there are still healthcare professionals, including doctors and nurses, who don’t practice regular hand hygiene?


2.  Acupuncture isn’t a cure-all for every symptom and condition under the sun, but there are certain issues that it is very effective for, pain relief being one of them. Due to the way clinical trials are designed though, it’s been somewhat difficult to really find a way to show acupuncture in a scientific setting. While we should be careful when using words like ‘proof’, a new study with evidence in support of an acupuncture analgesic effect is still interesting.

The study, published in the prestigious Archives of Internal Medicine on September 10th, showed that for each of the four conditions (back and neck pain, osteoarthritis, chronic headache, and shoulder pain) the analgesic effect of true acupuncture was slightly better than that of placebo acupuncture. However, the difference between true acupuncture and usual care alone was found to be much larger and of clinical significance.


3.  The same study also appeared in Medpage Today which provides physicians a clinical perspective on the breaking medical news that their patients are reading.  It discussed not only the analysis but also the mechanisms of acupuncture. “How acupuncture works” seems to be a defining question for many, a question which medical and technological advances can’t provide an answer for just yet. In an invited commentary accompanying the meta-analysis, Andrew L. Avins, MD asks:

“But whether that should mean acupuncture has no value for patients, largely because of uncertainty as to its mechanisms of action, is a crucial concern…. Perhaps a more productive strategy at this point would be to provide whatever benefits we can for our patients, while we continue to explore more carefully all mechanisms of healing.”

This is a welcome sensibility. As with the creation of the universe, just because we don’t know how it works doesn’t mean it doesn’t work.


4. It was a busy month for acupuncture. Information released by NICE (National Institute of Health and Clinical Excellence) on September 19th reported that overuse of painkillers is one of the most common causes of headaches affecting about one in 50 people. Women are five times more likely to suffer from these.

For tension headaches and migraines, NICE concluded that acupuncture is effective and recommended it as a preventative treatment. Read the full NICE report here.


5.  Bacon having a high salt content should be non news by now. But the very first sentence surprised me, bread is the biggest source of salt in the UK diet?


6.  This article got the geek in me very excited. One, it’s about genetics and two, it uses the word “holistic” to describe the complete picture instead of referring to alternative therapies or lifestyles.


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Are you taking care of your eyes? 8 ways for good eye health

Image: D Sharon Pruitt via Flickr


Your eyes are with you from the day you were born, so it’s only fair that you take care of them.


At the computer

A big cause for eye strain in most people is the computer. It’s become such a big part of our lives now that it really is important to remember to take little breaks often and a longer break every hour or so. Our eyes like to change focus often, and it’s never good to be staring at something for too long. They say that you need to repeat something 100 times to become a habit, so make it a habit to have a 30 second daydream. Not only are you refocusing your eyes, you’re also collecting your thoughts.


Walking

Take the time to soak in your surroundings when you’re out and about. It’s best to get yourself back in nature even if it’s just a quick stroll through the park. Be conscious of the birds or the squirrels or the dogs, and notice the twigs and branches and veins on the leaves. Breathe in the air and hear the sounds immediately around you.

Take time out from your book or newspaper when you’re on the train or the bus. Look out the window and let your eyes wander over the many colours and shapes of people, shop windows and street furniture. If I had kept my head down instead of looking around, I would have missed this charity shop’s great window display:


Play

Go out and throw a frisbee or play catch. A few summers ago I tried juggling, and although I never did manage to juggle three balls for more than four seconds, it did get me to use my eyes in a new range of motion Some people bounce a ball against a wall to help them think and it’s a great way to enhance your hand-eye coordination.


Eat

The same healthy diet that’s good for your heart and arteries can also help preserve your eyes and vision. After all, vision depends on tiny capillaries to supply the retina and other parts of the eye with nutrients and oxygen. Studies have shown that there are several key nutrientsthat may help ward off age-related vision problems such as macular degeneration and cataracts. Regularly eating these foods can help lead to good eye health:

  • Lutein and Zeaxanthin may help protect against retinal damage and the onset of cataracts and age-related macular degeneration - Green leafy vegetables such as kale, spinach, turnip greens, romaine lettuce, broccoli, and Brussels sprouts
  • Omega-3 fatty acids may reduce inflammation and therefore protect against cell damage and age-related eye diseases - Salmon, tuna, and other oily fish, walnuts and flaxseed
  • Zinc helps with night vision and cataract prevention – Good sources include kidney beans, beef, seafood, poultry and pumpkin seeds
  • Vitamin C helps support blood vessels in the eye and may reduce the risk of cataracts – Fruit and vegetables like oranges, peaches, strawberries, tomatoes, and red bell peppers
  • Vitamin E protects the eyes from free radicals – Nuts such as peanuts, almonds, sunflower seeds, and hazelnuts


Emotions

In Chinese medicine, the liver is linked to the eye, so it’s no coincidence that when you’ve had an angry outburst or a particularly annoying day you tend to get headaches that creep in behind the eyes. Some people who are especially angry or irritable may notice that they have red eyes. Acupuncture can smooth liver qi to remove stagnation and allow it to flow nicely and evenly again or to rebalance the liver and remove excesses.

De-stressing is important: you may find exercise or a physical activity helps or that a softer approach such as meditation or even getting a massage. Start a hobby, practice mindfulness or just go out for a walk (remembering of course, to drink in your surroundings with your eyes).


Acupressure

There are certain acupressure points on the body that you can do yourself.

  • On the foot: press down on the spot between your big toe and the 2nd toe. Press down and hold, you should feel a slight ache or soreness. Don’t press so hard you leave fingerprint marks.
  • On your hand: locate the spot between your thumb and index finger, it’s the “meatier” part. As with the foot, rub and hold down, making sure you don’t press so hard you leave fingerprint marks.
  • On your face: Using your eyebrows as a guide, locate the area outside the bony rim (so between your eyebrow and your eye) and press gently along from the beginning of your eyebrow to the end.


Wear sunglasses

Protect your eyes from UVA and UVB rays to minimise the risk of macular degeneration and cataracts. Choose sunglasses that offer UV protection, and polarised lenses help reduce the glare, very handy when you’re driving. Sunglasses may be associated with summer months but they should be with you even in the winter if it’s a particularly bright day -there’s a reason skiers wear shades. Not only will you be protecting your eyes, it will stop you from squinting and getting those furrows between your eyebrows.


Get annual checkups

Even if your vision is fine, you should still have a check up every year with an ophthalmologist or optometrist. And should you suddenly get blurred vision, blind spots, floaters or flashing lights go to A&E immediately.

 
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Can acupuncture help with weight loss?

Image: Advantage Lendl via Flickr


People often ask me if acupuncture can help them lose weight. The fact of the matter is that an acupuncturist can help support your weight loss plan by offering advice based on Chinese food therapy. They can also help improve your general sense of wellbeing and to maintain good health which helps relieve the effects of stress and emotions.


However there is no magical acupuncture point which helps the weight magically drop away. You will still have to exercise and do all the usual hard work, but it can be easier and you will be more successful with the help of traditional Chinese medicine.


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pointspace’s August roundup | 5 Most Common Side Effects of Acupuncture

Image: Nick J Webb via Flickr


It’s been a slow start, but this summer was fabulous. I returned from my holiday to Hong Kong wonderfully recharged and refreshed, and London was basking in its post-Games glow. The Indian summer came as promised, what a delight it was to feel the warmth of the sun. For many people summer is the easiest time to be healthy, either through food or exercise, so carry on the good work through September!


Honey mangoes are delicious and juicy, so make sure you get some before the season ends in September. Don’t be fooled by imitations in supermarkets, the Pakistani ones are the best so seek them out at your local market or ethnic shops.


When I was in Hong Kong I spent a few days in Guangzhou, a city 3 hours train ride away in southern China. I met up with a family friend who had retired early last year. She told me about the upcoming tennis competition in the senior league that she was a member of. Before, she used to play tennis once a week; since retiring she had increased it to five days a week, 2 hours each time. Another friend in Hong Kong mentioned how he played tennis for two hours before work if he happened to have a late shift.


1. When you think of Asia and exercise, images of organised crowds of seniors slowly going through the moves of Tai Chi often come to mind. But it’s not just slow fluidity, it appears that any kind of activity is encouraged and embraced in China. London 2012 is meant to inspire a generation, presumably of future Olympians, but as the BBC reports, it should also inspire the over-70s.


2.  British cyclist Bradley Wiggins is the first person to win the Tour de France and Olympic gold in the same year. He was spotted this month having a cigarette while on holiday, and he’s not the only athlete to be seen smoking. So what impact does it have on their performance?


3.  Concerns about iron deficiency have eased with the wide availability of iron-fortified foods and drinks. Now more attention is being paid to the opposite problem: iron overload, which can cause serious problems, particularly in older people.


4.  Acupuncture does have side effects. The unintended consequences of acupuncture, while not life-threatening, should not be overlooked. The side effects of acupuncture occur frequently and can seriously impact on your quality of life. Read the five most common side effects of acupuncture.


5.  There’s something about black and white public service films. Poor Adralene can’t figure out why she’s unpopular, slouching into her chair at a party. “Her party dress is just as pretty, just as becoming as the clothing the others are wearing. And Adralene has a sense of humour…” What is it about Adralene? Turns out it’s her poor posture!


This film and others can be found at the Prelinger Archive.


6.  And now fast forward back to technicolour 2012 and here’s the ultimate guide to good posture: office edition.


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Pointspace’s July Round-Up | How to train your brain to be more optimistic

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Acupuncture and Health | Reaching wellness doesn’t happen overnight

Image: Ano Lobb. @healthyrx via Flickr


While I am recharging my batteries on holiday, I’m going to share two of my favourite articles. This second one is from the blog that you may have missed.


I have been embracing my culture. More precisely I have been trying to read the historical novel Three Kingdoms which is widely popular in China and neighbouring countries. Think King Arthur but older and grander.


I remember one Korean 12-year-old re-enacting excitedly a scene which involved sending covered boats down a river in the dark of night, camouflaged by mist. The enemy, thinking they were being attacked, aimed all their arrows at the boats and let fire. The boats were eventually recovered by the good guys, which were now completely covered with arrows they so desperately needed. This was one of the turning points for their fortunes and an example of strategy genius that has made many boys (and men) go into slight crises.


I had no idea what he was talking about.


So now, after almost a decade of trying, I’m finally midway through the book. I have been lucky enough to find a very good English translation (which is oh so important) and despite there being 15 characters introduced in the first chapter alone (some with other names they sometimes go by) I have to admit it’s been quite good so far.


To be honest, I dusted this book and gave it another try this time because there are just too many epic martial arts movies that are based on these events. There have been two which are particularly well choreographed with enough horsemen to scare off the “Lord of the Rings” series, but everything was just too complicated without any knowledge on the history behind it. So, bring on the original novel!


In chapter ten, Kongming, a counsel for one of the good guys (Liu Bei) was fighting off criticism for why his side hadn’t overthrown the enemy if they were as good as they said they were. Liu Bei’s men and resources at this point were vastly outnumbered by Cao Cao (one of the bad guys) and they were covering ground at a snail’s pace. Kongming retaliated:

“When a man is gravely ill, he must be fed weak gruel and medicated with mild tonics until his internal state is readjusted and balanced and his condition gradually stabilizes. Only then can meat be added to his diet and powerful drugs used to cure him. Thus is the root of the disease eradicated and the man’s health restored. If you do not wait until breath and pulse are calm and steady but precipitately use powerful drugs and rich food, the attempt to cure the patient is sure to fail.”


This brilliantly summarises the theories of Chinese medicine (and strategies of warfare so it seems) but it can also be applied to other things.

The main concept is not one of wait and bide your time, but of building a strong foundation:

  • A ballerina does not jump right into the Swan Lake, she spends years at the barre perfecting her technique.
  • The head chef doesn’t get to that level without knowing how to slice carrots thinly and quickly with dangerously sharp knives.
  • The accountant running the London Marathon for the first time will have spent months preparing for the event.
  • After recovering from a serious injury, the patient needs to undergo relentless physical rehabilitation before they can take those first steps again.


Nowadays with the constant access of information available 24/7, people’s perception of time seems to be somewhat warped. I get frustrated if I’m still waiting to be connected to a customer representative until I look and see I’ve only been on the phone for 54 seconds. I’ve spoken to people (not my patients) who don’t think that acupuncture / TCM / massage / physiotherapy / (delete as appropriate) worked for their chronic condition when they’ve only had two sessions.


Sometimes we should just take a step back and realize that a house built carefully and with consideration is the strongest house on the street.


How else can you apply this thought to everyday situations? Let me know, and if you enjoyed reading this, feel free to forward it on.


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Five misconceptions about acupuncture

Image: Stephen Heron/Steve-h via Flickr


While I am recharging my batteries on holiday, I’m going to share two of my favourite articles. First up is one I wrote for AcuTake, a great source of information on how acupuncture can help you lead a healthier, simpler, more meaningful life.


As an acupuncturist, I do a lot of myth debunking. It’s understandable. After all, acupuncture speaks an entirely different language from the one through which most Westerners learned to see the world. However, with acupuncture continuing to grow in popularity and gain acceptance by mainstream medicine, it’s important to clarify a few myths and misconceptions that have a strong hold in our collective psyche.


Here are the five most common myths and misconceptions I hear about acupuncture.


“Acupuncture is only for pain.”

Ask most people what acupuncture helps with and the overwhelming majority will say pain. It is true that acupuncture can work wonders for back pain, headaches, neck pain, shoulder pain, leg pain, postoperative pain, and pretty much any other kind of pain you can think of. However, pain is just one of many ailments for which acupuncture can provide relief.


Acupuncture alleviates digestive problems, menstrual irregularities, allergies, insomnia, stress and anxiety, asthma, and several other conditions. While many acupuncturists are generalists who treat a wide range of ailments, some specialize. So do a little homework before booking an appointment to find out whether an acupuncturist has experience treating whatever you need help with. The AcuTake Acupuncturist Directory, searchable by condition, is a great place to start.


“Acupuncture doesn’t work because I’ve had it once and nothing changed.”

I hear this one a lot. It’s a myth that is easily debunked by thinking about your car. If you go for years without getting your car checked, when you take it to the mechanic it’s going to require more work than if you had come in for regular tune-ups. Similarly, if you’ve had back pain for six months, it will probably take more than one treatment before you notice results.


After your first treatment, an acupuncturist usually will provide an estimate for how many treatments you’re likely to need. This is always an estimate because response times to acupuncture can vary widely, but it’s a good guideline.


Acupuncture is a cumulative process, much like going to the gym: You don’t start running faster or lifting heavier weights after just one trip. That said, most people notice at least some changes after 10 treatments. If you haven’t seen any improvement after giving it 10 appointments, I suggest trying another acupuncturist.


“Acupuncture doesn’t work because we don’t know how it works.”

This is an understandable misconception. When it comes to concepts with which we are unfamiliar, it’s comforting to have solid proof. Although there is tentative evidence of acupuncture’s efficacy, definitive, Western-friendly proof of how acupuncture works is unavailable.


There is good reason for this. Controlled, double-blind trials are inappropriate for studying acupuncture. Most acupuncture research models look at a standard selection of acupuncture points to determine if they are effective for a certain condition. But from an acupuncture perspective, one condition can have several different causes—and therefore would require completely different point selections.


Researchers are beginning to look at acupuncture using MRI. I believe this method of studying acupuncture is the most promising yet. Rather than concentrating on people’s perceptions, which can be misled by placebos or prejudices, the MRI studies look directly at how acupuncture changes brain activity. These MRI studies also address findings from previous research that show effects from fake or “sham” acupuncture. Through MRI, we know that both real and sham acupuncture relieve pain but that the effects on the brain are considerably different.


We may not know yet exactly how acupuncture works, but we are gaining a better understanding of the therapeutic effect that acupuncture causes.


“Acupuncture hurts.”

I disagree with acupuncturists who say that acupuncture needles are so thin you can’t even feel them. In my experience, most people definitely feel acupuncture.


When needles are inserted in the right places, they often produce a feeling of heaviness, kind of like a dull ache. Since this sensation is unfamiliar for most people who have never had acupuncture before, it’s commonly interpreted as pain.


If I describe this dull-achy feeling to people before beginning a treatment, they are less likely to experience the sensation as pain. They are prepared, which means their bodies are less tense. Often the “hurt” associated with acupuncture can be attributed to anxiety about the unknown.


I also make a point of telling my patients that acupuncture—rarely, but on occasion—can cause pain after a treatment. Sometimes needles in certain acupuncture points, after they’re removed, can cause a residual feeling of ache, almost like a bruise. When people understand ahead of time that this is a completely normal outcome, their perception of acupuncture as something that hurts seems to shift.


“Acupuncture is religious.” (Also known as “Acupuncture is voodoo.”)

I have been told, “I don’t believe in acupuncture because I’m a Christian.” Although it’s becoming less common as the general public gets more educated about acupuncture, the myth of acupuncture as a religion or supernatural phenomenon remains.


Acupuncture is not religious, nor is it voodoo. There is nothing supernatural or otherworldly happening during an acupuncture treatment. Acupuncture is a healthcare modality designed to help balance your body’s various, interconnected systems.


I believe some of the misinformation surrounding acupuncture’s origins and intentions stems from the word “qi,” which is often described as “vital energy.”


A better interpretation of what ancient Chinese practitioners meant by qi is simply oxygen. They understood that oxygen and nutrients were needed throughout the body in order for it to function properly. They called it qi and Blood, but acupuncture is merely a tool for moving the oxygen and nutrients our bodies need to thrive.


You don’t need to believe in acupuncture in order to experience its benefits because there is nothing to “believe” in.


If you’re wondering about any other beliefs about acupuncture, check out the AcuTake Acupuncturist Directory, where other acupuncturists from around the world debunk common myths about acupuncture.


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Sleep: The forgotten key to health and wellness

Image: Hugh Buzacott/HBuzacott via Flickr


Do you know the difference between sleep deprivation and insomnia? Not getting enough sleep doesn’t only mean you’ll feel cranky and sluggish. It has profound effects on your physiology and therefore your health and wellbeing.


I see quite a few people in my acupuncture practice with sleep disorders. Our hectic lifestyles today mean that there is more stress leading to lots of over-thinking. How many times have you gone to bed and your mind is still whirring away? Others fall asleep fine but they have difficulty staying asleep or they wake up early. The common factor is that all of this results in a sense of drowsiness when you wake up. Waking up feeling refreshed really is a gift you don’t notice until it disappears.


This is a very informative talk given by Dr. Ellen Hughes at The University of California, San Francisco (UCSF).


Be warned, it’s not a short ten minute clip; in fact it’s practically a movie but Dr Hughes’s enthusiasm makes the hour and the half fly by. The Q&A section at the end is quite interesting too.


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Rethinking disease with systems medicine

Image: Hartwig HKD/h.koppdelaney via Flickr


There’s an insightful and ironic quote about medicine from an unknown author which goes like this:

A Short History of Medicine.

2000 B.C.  “Here, eat this root.”

1000 B.C.  “That root is heathen, say this prayer.”

1850 A.D.  “That prayer is superstition, drink this potion.”

1940 A.D.  “That potion is snake oil, swallow this pill.”

1985 A.D.  “That pill is ineffective, take this antibiotic.”

2000 A.D.  “That antibiotic is artificial. Here, eat this root.”


It got a few chuckles out of me but it does show you how healthcare and medicine have come full-circle and we are slowly but surely understanding the importance of (w)holistic medicine.


As an acupuncturist, it comes with the territory that I don’t see a symptom as an isolated case separate from the rest of the body and the person. Why does this person have insomnia? Is it because of a back pain or frequent urination keeping them awake at night? Or is it because of stress at work so the overthinking makes it hard for them to fall asleep? Rarely does a health problem arise without other accompanying symptoms. They may seem unrelated but in traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) these are all clues just waiting to be noticed by the detective.


So it was with great delight that I saw a short video by Dr. Mark Hyman where he talks about “systems medicine”. Hardly revolutionary in the TCM and acupuncture world, his idea is that “historically we just try to find a drug for the bug or a pill for the ill, instead of really finding out how to treat the body as a system.”


Dr Hyman goes on to say:

“We’re moving from the idea that diseases are things, like bacteria that need to be treated with a drug, like an antibiotic, which was a wonderful paradigm for 20th century illness, but it’s not a good paradigm for chronic lifestyle-driven diseases. We’re looking to choose drugs over lifestyle to treat diseases that are really lifestyle-driven illnesses… The future of medicine is systems medicine. It’s predictive, preventative, it’s participatory and it’s personalised.”


It certainly sounds very familiar to TCM theory, doesn’t it?


Click here to watch the full video.


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