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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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 roundup | How to train your brain to be more optimistic

Image: Elena Gaillard/orchidgalore via Flickr

I may be slightly biased, but July is my favourite month. Sure there is my birthday (the excitement doesn’t wear off with age, I assure you), but it’s also the most relaxed month of the year. As a child, it’s when you finally settle into the long summer vacation and as an adult it’s when most of us take a little break to recharge and refresh.

This particular July has been quite dreary and grey in London. The constant drizzle and decidedly un-summery weather means
I still haven’t retired my scarf and coat. My poor arms haven’t seen the sun in ages!

Since the weather isn’t pulling its weight, I have been cheering up the flat with colourful flowers and fruit; the nectarines this year have been exceptionally delicious and juicy.

1.  Some brave souls have rebelled against the climate and are waltzing around town in flip flops (well, at least they won’t get wet socks). Unfortunately, these extremely flat shoes (including fashionable sandals) just aren’t that good for our feet.

2.  The damp we’re all feeling can be quite tiring, literally. In TCM too much damp can affect your body, and a weakness in your system can lead to damp, a bit of a catch 22 situation. One way to ward off the effects of damp such as lethargy, a sense of heaviness, headaches etc, is to strengthen your TCM spleen which really dislikes cold and damp. Fellow acupuncturist Carlo St. Juste Jr. describes 5 ways to prevent spleen qi deficiency.

3.  I’m optimistic the weather will turn though. As Elaine Fox, a psychologist at the University of Essex in England writes: “Optimism is not so much about feeling happy, nor necessarily a belief that everything will be fine, but about how we respond when times get tough. Optimists tend to keep going, even when it seems as if the whole world is against them.” Read more on how to make optimism work for you or as Dr Fox calls it: how to strengthen the “sunny” brain, and weaken the “rainy” brain.

4.  While short term stress can be good and have beneficial effects, chronic stress is bad and can siginificant harmful effects on our bodies and health. We can’t eliminate stress from our lives, but you can shift bad stress into good stress. Dr. Firdaus S. Dhabhar, associate professor of psychiatry and behavioral science at Stanford, explores how practicing compassion could prove effective in reducing or eliminating chronic stress.

5. For my birthday treat this year, I got to see the exhibition of Leonardo da Vinci’s drawings of the human body at the Queen’s Gallery in Buckingham Palace. It is truly awe-inspiring to see such detailed and thoughtful sketches that are 500 years old.

The muscles of the shoulder and arm, and the bones of the foot by
Leonardo da Vinci at the Royal Collection, Queen’s Gallery

The foetus in the womb by Leonardo da Vinci at the Royal Collection, Queen’s Gallery

You can see all the images here but if you’re in London, I urge you to see the actual exhibition in person.

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pointspace’s June roundup | How important is sleep?

Image: Jenny Pansing/jjjj56cp via Flickr

June has been quite an exciting month on the weather front. Londoners have experienced rain, sunshine, wind, rain, stronger wind, two hot days and then more rain. It is all very confused.

1.  The wind though has been spectacular. I haven’t actually seen a small child being blown away but I’m sure there were near-misses. Besides playing havoc with perfectly coiffed hair and Marilyn Monroe-esque skirt moments, the windy conditions we’ve been experiencing can have a larger impact on our wellness than you think. Fellow acupuncturist, The Acupunc, takes a traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) look at the invasion of wind and offers a soothing tea recipe.

2. The furore of New York City’s Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s plan to ban gigantic buckets of fizzy drink continues with cries of nanny-state and loss of liberty. In case you missed it, here’s my blog post about the soda ban.

3.  Do you drink tea? You should, it’s a good way to keep hydrated if water is a bit too plain for you. Everyone touts the benefits of green tea, but I would also recommend seeking out pu-erh tea. The flavour is much stronger but still clean and refreshing. Read more to see why tea is good for you.

4.  Lack of sleep can leave you tired and cranky which doesn’t do well for concentration but new research shows that lack of sleep can also lead to unhealthy food choices.

5.  And now for the catch-22: more studies show that obesity and depression are the root causes of daytime sleepiness. The common denominator seems to be that weight is definitely a factor with sleep issues, but is being overweight causing sleep disorders or does sleepiness and fatigue result in weight gain?

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pointspace’s May Round-up | How a little exercise brings big benefits and does a lack of vitamin D affect our health?

Image: AJ Batac via Flickr

What weather we’ve had this month! The wettest drought since records began all the way to the glorious week of summer. The important question, of course, is will it be a washout during the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee bank holiday next week?

1.  It’s typical that the weather is a bit rubbish around bank holidays, but a lack of vitamin D means much more than rickets. A Danish study adds to a growing body of evidence that the paucity of sunlight in the UK for most of the year not only makes us miserable, but could actually be doing us harm.

2.  Another preliminary study from Denmark showed that joggers live longer, with an average of 6 more years of life. The interesting thing about this research is that it appears, the “optimum benefit was realized for those who jogged at a slow-to-average pace between an hour and two and half hours done in two to three sessions over the course of a week.”

3.  And now from jogging to just plain moving. Last week I blogged about research showing that sitting is really bad for you. So in the scheme of things: sitting is really bad, standing is good and moving is even better. You would think then that running marathons is much better than sprinting – after all you’re putting in so much more effort for a much longer period of time. As it turns out, that’s another myth, so hurray for us time-strapped people. Time Healthland had an interesting interview this month with New York Times columnist and author Gretchen Reynolds about her new book on how a little exercise brings big benefits.

4.  What do you think is the cause of the obesity epidemic: our more sedentary lifestyles, the lack of exercise, genetics, poor diets or overeating? Carson C. Chow is an investigator at the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases trying to figure out why 1 in 3 Americans are obese. The surprising thing about Dr Chow is that he’s an M.I.T.-trained mathematician and physicist using mathematics to solve the problem. His work has brought up some interesting information such as “the fatter you get, the easier it is to gain weight. An extra 10 calories a day puts more weight onto an obese person than on a thinner one”. Read the complete interview here.

5.  As news of a “fat tax” on unhealthy food was being discussed, UK sales of processed breakfast cereals are dwindling with more and more people favouring healthier, more natural alternatives to the sugary brands. Nick Barnard of natural foods company Rude Health says, “I do think, in 20 years’ time, we might look back at the past 100-odd years and say: ‘We took good, natural, healthy, original grains, and turned them into sweet, scientific, industrial concoctions. Why?'” Put that way, it does seem all a bit silly, doesn’t it?

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pointspace’s April roundup | Why stress makes you sick and what makes a superfruit?

Image: ajbatac via Flickr

Bank holiday #1, Easter, the London Marathon and the hosepipe ban meant that the glorious first sightings of spring in March became a complete washout. For five minutes, followed by brilliant sunshine and then howling wind, some more sunshine and then a smattering of hail. Ah, the lovely London spring where you get four seasons rolled into one day, what thrill!

1. Politeness is great when you’re meeting someone for the first time, such as your future father-in-law or your new boss. But when it comes to your health, you can be too nice. Here are three ways that being polite can jeopardise your health and explain how to make better choices.

2. When you’re already plagued with relationship spats and financial woes, why is it that your immune system seems to abandon you too? Doctors have long known that high levels of stress may make people more vulnerable to illness, but now researchers report how psychological stress can wreak havoc on your health.

3. There is evidence that acupuncture is effective in treating a range of conditions including spinal injuries, infertility and the side effects of chemotherapy, and that its effects aren’t entirely due to the placebo effect. However, despite extensive research, the mechanism of this ancient healing art remains unknown.

4. Trigeminal neuralgia (TN) is characterized by intense pain in the face and new research shows that acupuncture is effective for its treatment.

5. Over the years, a lot of produce has been given the “super” label, usually over levels of antioxidants. You may wonder what is it about these fruits that lifts them out of the ranks of the ordinary into exalted superfruit status.

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Pointspace’s March roundup | Is meat bad for you and one easy step to improve your posture



Can you believe March is almost over? This year does seem to be flying by at an incredible rate. With the spring like weather, I have rediscovered the joys of Greek yogurt: with smoked salmon and avocado for a refreshing breakfast, or drizzled with honey and sprinkled with almonds and hazelnuts for a yummy snack. Later on in the year it will be delicious with some juicy blueberries or succulent sharon fruit. 


1.  A new study has shown that those who eat red meat (especially processed meat) have a higher risk of getting heart disease and cancer. While the debate continues on whether we humans were meant to eat meat, I do know that there are those who incorporate meat into a healthy diet and others who shun meat but exist on pizzas and fries. The important thing is to try to eat less smoked and cured meats and enjoy your food, whatever your preferences.


2.  Those of you who know me may have heard my traffic jam analogy when explaining how acupuncture works. I often tell my patients that the body is like the M25. Dr Zhen Zheng from RMIT University uses the same concept here in her short video.


3. Symptoms of Gulf War Syndrome include fatigue, skin rashes, muscle and joint pain, difficulty concentrating and emotional problems. There is no cure for Gulf War Syndrome but one doctor believes traditional acupuncture may provide relief.


4.  Feel yourself slouching more and more lately? Here’s a really simple way to improve your posture with almost minimal effort.


5. Finally, does birth order determine your personality? Do you think the order you were born influences who you are?

Photo credit: chris bartnik photography via Flickr

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Pointspace’s February roundup | Acupuncture Awareness Week and top sleep-deprived occupations



Snow in London two weekends in a row was a lovely impromptu present. It brought out some creative folk who deemed snowmen terribly passé: instead there were creations like a “Snowasaurus” and a giant turtle. Then as if being a leap year wasn’t enough, February this year decided to give us early sightings of spring with daffodils in bloom. 


1.  What do you think has more of an influence on our health and longterm happiness: conditions under which we were born with or decisions we make in mid life? Happily, a study had shown that we may indeed have more say in destiny.

The study of normal adult development at Harvard, one of the longest studies at 74 years, has shown some surprising and obvious answers. It turns out that having a difficult childhood matters a lot in early adulthood but less so as the years go by. Education is more important in determing life success than income or social status. The big revelation to have come out of the study so far is that your situation at 50 is a bigger indicator of your health and happiness at 70 than the earlier years.

2.  I once saw a documentary on Pixar, the animation company that made some of my all time favourite movies including Toy Story (1, 2 and 3) and Up. From great fun, open spaces to employees using kick scooters to get from one department to the other, it seems like a wonderful place to work. Silicon Valley has always had a long tradition of being geekily cool, which is probably what keeps their creative juices going. Therefore it should come as no surprise that companies like Google and Twitter offer their employees acupuncture  as “antidote to staring at computers all day” and to benefit wellness.

3.  This week (27 Feb – 4 March) is the UK’s first ever Acupuncture Awareness Week. TV presenter Clare Nasir talks about having acupuncture to support her IVF treatments (video).

4.  A chain of restaurants in the States has come up with a limited edition milkshakebacon-flavoured. Yes, it left me speechless as well.


5.  Finally, do you get enough sleep? A look at the most sleep-deprived and well-rested occupations in the US shows that there isn’t much much difference between the most rested and the most sleep-deprived: they still get less than the recommended 7-9 hours).


Photo credit: Mark Hillary via flickr

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