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.

You might also like:

Pointspace’s August Round-Up | 5 Most Common Side Effects of Acupuncture

How to Avoid Back Pain | Preventing and treating back pain


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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How Time of Day Affects Your Health

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Acupuncture is a (w)holistic therapy


Image: K Leoungk


I recently chanced upon this article which I think articulates the distinction between holism and wholism wonderfully. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, holism is the theory that an organism is the sum of its parts rather than separate individual pieces. However in recent decades, being holistic has taken on the connotation of being a New Ager which I think makes many people steer clear away from any therapy that is based on (w)holism.

This could be why many people approach traditional acupuncture with distrust. For some who are already skeptical and need science based evidence, the last thing they need is a distortedly incorrect image of crystal waving holistic soul realigning chanting.

I believe both holism and wholism have a place in people’s lives; anything that allows people to survive today’s hectic lifestyle must be worth preserving. However to be properly accepted in the mainstream, acupuncture must make the clear distinction that it is a wholistic therapy: that is health and wellbeing is dependant on factors such as diet, mental state and emotions as well as the physical state of the body. The soul and spirit are important factors but perhaps like the separation of church and state, we should leave that at the door when discussing the therapeutic benefits of acupuncture. 


Other posts you may be interested in:

Five Reasons to See an Acupuncturist

Integrating Western Medicine with Complementary Therapies: the importance of East meets West for healthcare


What would Florence Nightingale do?


Image: K Leoungk


Today is the centenary of  Florence Nightingale’s death. Nightingale’s theories and teachings are over a century old and yet it still has relevance in today’s society.

It seems incredible that before she came on the scene, washing hands and general cleanliness was not the norm in the first line of defense against infection. Incredulously, the ritual of hand washing seems now to have been lost on an entire generation or more. I myself have witnessed more than enough adults who seem unaware or unconcerned about the virtues of soapy water, especially in public places.


She also embraced the holistic approach of treating patients as a whole rather than just as parts. She recognized when treating injured soldiers during the Crimean War that their mental stability was just as important as their physical injuries. This approach is akin to that of traditional acupuncturists. We have long understood that sometimes, if you just treat the symptoms the problem may lessen, but rarely does it go away. Instead you have need to treat the root of the problem.

Nightingale advocated prevention over cure which is the fundamental logic of traditional acupuncture. Illness and ill health occur when the flow of qi is obstructed but if you can regulate qi so that it doesn’t even have the chance to to be blocked then you lower the likelihood of becoming unwell.

What would the nursing pioneer think if she were alive today? Would she be aghast that after all this time, hospital staff still need to be taught that cleanliness is of the utmost importance when it should be in society’s fibers? Would she wonder at the understaffed clinics and surgeries when the waiting time is endless and the consultation time is not even a fraction of that.


Or would she be glad that although it’s been a long time coming (in the West at least) we are remembering that nature is good for us. People in urban areas are making an effort to go to parks or further afield to the countryside. We are starting to understand that under the surface of every symptom, there is a person with a unique character. Would she be pleased that we also regained the knowledge that food is also a type of medicine. Better to eat fish than to take loads of omega-3 supplements. But even better is the fact that people at least try to take supplements. Our health is our responsibility – professionals are just there to better guide us along. 


Other posts you may be interested in:

Health and wellbeing | Six things we can learn from a construction site

East Meets West | The development of traditional Chinese medicine in the west