Chinese Medicine can help recovery from shingles

By NICOLE NOLES, DOM LMT
New Hope Chiropractic

Shingles is the term used to describe a contagious recurrence of the herpes zoster virus that manifests with intense pain and a blistering rash along with flu-like symptoms or malaise. Although it’s more common in people over 50, shingles isn’t a disease for just seniors. Anyone who has had chickenpox has the potential to get shingles when the immune system is compromised.

Both allopathic and Chinese Medicine are important when it comes to treating shingles, but time and quick treatment is of the essence if you want to reduce the severity and length of symptoms.

In Chinese Medicine, shingles is considered a pattern of Toxic Damp Heat. The damp heat is a description of the rash, with the blisters manifesting the “toxic” part of the equation. When a patient present with a “hot” pattern such as shingles, the goal with acupuncture is to pick points to cool down the patient (reduce inflammation), help manage stress (intense pain causes a lot of emotional and physiological stress, and that’s normal) as well as “vent” the rash to help the body clear it out as soon as possible. The other important treatment strategy is to make sure the patient doesn’t add any “heat” by way of food, hot showers, or topicals that make things worse.

My preferred treatment schedule for patients includes a visit to the medical doctor first for confirmation and a prescription, if appropriate, then acupuncture and supplements as soon as possible to help manage the pain and speed healing. This is an excellent example of how allopathic and holistic medicine can work together to help patients feel better quicker. It’s definitely not appropriate to take a “wait and see” approach when it comes to shingles; it’s probably not going to get better by itself quickly if that’s what you’ve got.

My neighbor’s medical degree came from Google University

I guarantee that if you see a licensed medical professional, allopathic or holistic, you will not be the first shingles case to walk through their door. Your medical professional will give you advice and prescriptions that have worked for many people before you and are backed by science and experience. Many patients have questions and concerns about new prescriptions, and that’s normal. If you have pre-existing conditions, remind your doctor, and ask your questions before you leave, so that you feel confident about taking your meds or supplements as they are prescribed.

When you feel sick or have severe pain, it’s normal to look for relief from any source once you leave the doctor’s office, but many times, the information you get from Google, a “wellness” coach, or your neighbors can be conflicting or aggravate your condition. Trust your health professionals and try to resist the urge to lather yourself with a dozen different “natural” things that “worked for someone on this one online forum I found at 2 a.m.” Natural doesn’t always mean better, especially if you don’t have experience with that remedy. Save your experimentation for the kitchen.

On the other hand, there’s nothing wrong with researching your condition. Many of my patients like to surf the web for info, and I recommend searching whatever issue you have with the additional terms of “clinical trials” or “scientific studies.” A PubMed study, “Comparison of therapeutic effects of different types of acupuncture interventions on herpes zoster in acute stage,” (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23342782) found that with acupuncture there was significant pain relief starting about the seventh day verses medicine alone. Another study (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22043678) found that acupuncture, added to other traditional Asian forms of treatment like cupping, increased effectiveness.

Tips for getting through shingles:

  • If you have severe pain that lasts more than a day and you don’t remember injuring yourself or “overdoing” it, make an appointment with your doctor. If you see any signs of rash, see a doctor that day. If your doctor gives you a script, fill it and start taking it as directed right away. Make sure they also know about any other medications or over the counter remedies your take.
  • Do stay well hydrated.
  • Avoid spicy and fried foods. In Chinese Medicine, adding “hot” foods to a “hot” condition makes things worse and prolongs healing.
  • Eat a few extra servings of cooling foods like watermelon, iceberg lettuce and cucumber. Ice cream does not count! Try fruit-based popsicles instead.
  • Take tepid or cool showers.
  • Wash your sheets, towels, etc. with hot water and bleach, especially if your blisters oozed or burst.
  • Ask your health professional what topical products and supplements they recommend for you. Do not apply essential oils to an active rash.
  • Do follow your doctor’s advice. Do not reinvent your treatment plan, change your dosage, or skip your meds. You know your body best, but your health professional team knows what works best for most people.
  • Do not scratch your rash or pop the blisters.
  • Wash your hands often.
  • Try to manage your stress and rest often.
  • If you have a chiropractor on your health care team, get an adjustment, if appropriate.
  • Do NOT get a massage.

Shingles is an unfortunate complication of a disease you probably forgot all about, but your health care team can help you find relief.

Nicole Noles Collins is a licensed acupuncture physician and massage therapist in Florida. Nicole has two bachelor’s degrees – Alternative Medicine and Professional Health Sciences – as well as a master’s degree in Traditional Chinese Medicine. She has a passion for both writing and natural health. Please visit her website at www.pcacupuncture.abmp.com and like her Facebook page at Vitalichi Acupuncture.

Tai chi can tip the scales of balance back in your favor

Exercise is the second pillar in the five pillars of health in Chinese medicine. The fact that it ranks second out of five (diet, exercise, bodywork, herbal medicine and acupuncture) underscores the importance of continued movement for continued function. The old saying “if you don’t used it, you lose it” applies not only to mind, but body, too.

In Chinese medicine, the preferred forms of exercise are slow, sustained efforts that are gentle on the joints. Tai chi, a softer form of martial arts, is a broad term for a specific series of exercises that is often described as moving meditation. The slow, gentle movements make it an appropriate form of exercise for just about anyone, especially for seniors.

There have been many scientific studies about the efficacy of tai chi for various conditions; here are just a few highlights:

• A study published in 2012 in the New England Journal of Medicine concluded “Tai chi training appears to reduce balance impairments in patients with mild-to-moderate Parkinson’s disease, with additional benefits of improved functional capacity and reduced falls. (Funded by the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke.)” (1)

• A group of 256 previously inactive adults, ages 70 to 92, were assigned to either a stretching routine or tai chi. After six months of exercise, the tai chi group had 38 falls verses 73 in the stretching group, with only 7 percent leading to injury verses 18 percent in the stretching group.

According to the study published in 2005, “the risk for multiple falls in the tai chi group was 55 percent lower than that of the stretching control group. …A three-times-per-week, 6-month tai chi program is effective in decreasing the number of falls, the risk for falling and the fear of falling, and it improves functional balance and physical performance in physically inactive persons, aged 70 years or older.” (2)

• In a study published in 2014, patients with multiple sclerosis had measurable improvements in balance, coordination, life satisfaction and mood compared to the control group of treatment as usual after six months of tai chi. While fatigue worsened in the control group during that time, the tai chi group had a fairly stable fatigue level. Their fatigue did not improve, but it did not worsen like the control group. (3)

• A 2004 study of patients with stable congestive heart failure found improvements in quality of life, distance walked, decreased serum B-type natriuretic peptide levels and a possible improvement in peak oxygen uptake with the addition of a tai chi exercise program to standard care. (4)

• A 2009 study evaluated short form tai chi for the following criteria: “Dynamic standing balance evaluated by the center of gravity (COG) excursion during self-initiated body leaning in 4 directions, standing equilibrium evaluated in sensory challenged conditions and functional mobility assessed by Timed-up-and-go score.” The results showed that tai chi improved everything, including vestibular integration, but not the timed-up-and-go score. (5)

• A 2008 study of 15 asthmatic children found that tai chi can improve pulmonary function in the short term, and it deserved longer, follow-up studies. (6)

• Female senior cancer survivors who were taught tai chi verses a control group who received health education had significantly lower systolic blood pressure and cortisol (stress) levels. (7)

The jury is still out on some alleged benefits
Can tai chi affect blood sugar? There are conflicting studies about that. A 2009 study states that 31 test subjects who completed a tai chi exercise program had improvements in fasting glucose, quality of life and performed more self care activities than the control group. (8)

Another study reports the improvements on insulin resistance and HbA(1c) were related to losing fat, not the specific tai chi exercise, but suggests a more intense form of tai chi that burns more calories might be effective for blood sugar control. (9)

An overall look at Pub Med articles will reveal conflicting studies on cardiovascular effects, too, but most studies trend in the direction that tai chi improves balance as well as reduces risk factors for chronic disease.

How do I get started?
Personal instruction is always the best method to learn a new form of exercise, especially if you anticipate needing adjustments for your current ability level. Check with your local gym or community calendar for classes. There are plenty of DVDs and YouTube videos for home practice, too.

Check in with your health care team before you get started, and get ready to bring balance back to body, mind and spirit.

Nicole Noles Collins is a licensed acupuncture physician and massage therapist at Vitalichi Acupuncture in Port Charlotte, Florida. Nicole has two bachelor’s degrees – Alternative Medicine and Professional Health Sciences – as well as a master’s degree in Traditional Chinese Medicine. She has a passion for both writing and natural health. Please visit her website at www.pcacupuncture.abmp.com and like her Facebook page at Vitalichi Acupuncture. For more information, call 941-979-9793.

Green tea has good science to support health benefits

Tea conceptTea isn’t just for scones and English breakfasts. This beverage, steeped in history and ritual (pun intended) is the subject of daily consumption not only in American and European nations, but also in Asia. Although tea does not get its own pillar in the five pillars of Chinese Medicine, it is included in the first pillar of Diet. You could make the argument that it also belongs in the fourth pillar of Herbal Medicine because it functions not just as a beverage but a medicinal compound as well.

Many patients inquire about the health benefits of various supplements and teas, and about green tea specifically. So here’s an abbreviated look at some recent studies on the effects of green tea on various conditions:

• A study published in April 2015 concludes that “long-term dietary intake of Artemisia extracts and/or green tea extracts can be an effective strategy either to rejuvenate H. pylori atrophic gastritis or to suppress tumorigenesis” helping to heal the digestive tract. (1)

• A paper published in March 2015 found “the 10-year prospective cohort study by Drs. K. Nakachi and K. Imai revealed that drinking 10 Japanese-size cups (120 mL/cup) of green tea per day delayed cancer onset in humans by 7.3 years among females and by 3.2 years among males.” (2)

• In January 2015, results from a study on melanoma “suggest(ed) that green tea polyphenols (GTPs) induce a marked disruption of the uncontrolled cell cycle progression, and that may be a mechanism by which GTPs inhibit the proliferation or suppress the cell viability of melanoma cells.” (3)

• Another study published in January 2015 comparing irradiation verses green tea polyphenols “indicate that nerve allografts pretreated by green tea polyphenols are equivalent to transplanting autologous nerves in the repair of sciatic nerve defects, and promote nerve regeneration. Pretreatment using green tea polyphenols is better than pretreatment with irradiation.” (4)

• An abstract released in February 2015 concluded that “experimental data indicated that EGCG (the bioactive component of green tea) treatment suppresses cell proliferation of SSC-4 human oral squamous cell carcinoma (OSCC).” (5)

• In a study from February 2014, a study of elderly rats that had a hind limb immobilized for two weeks had better muscle recovery of the plantaris, a fast muscle, although it didn’t help the soleus, a slow muscle. (6)

• Results from a study in October 2014 found “long-term administration of cigarette smoke altered the cellular antioxidant defense system, induced apoptosis in lung tissue, inflammation and damage in liver, lung, and kidney. All these pathophysiological and biochemical events were significantly improved when the cigarette smoke-exposed albino rats were given Chinese green tea infusion as a drink instead of water.” The specific green tea variety used in this study is Lung Chen. (7)

• A study published back in 2011 found “epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG, 0·05 % in drinking-water), the primary polyphenolic component in green tea, effectively delayed the onset of Type 1 diabetes in non-obese diabetic (NOD) mice.” (8)

Most of these studies were done on rats and mice, but it provides a broad spectrum of potential health benefits of humans. At the very least, moderate daily consumption of green tea won’t hurt. A good rule of thumb is if it’s something that could normally be consumed, consume it in moderate dietary portions, not concentrated capsules. The biggest concern with green tea intake seem to be too much. Remember, more isn’t always better, and concentrated supplements typically remove other beneficial botanical compounds that frequently work together in ways science hasn’t pinned down yet. Here’s what rxlist.com’s updated guidelines say about possible side effects:

“Green tea is LIKELY SAFE for most adults when consumed as a drink in moderate amounts short-term. Green tea extract is POSSIBLY SAFE for most people when taken by mouth for up to 2 years … In some people, green tea can cause stomach upset and constipation. Green tea extracts have been reported to cause liver and kidney problems in rare cases.

“Green tea is POSSIBLY UNSAFE when taken by mouth long-term or in high-doses. It can cause side effects because of the caffeine. These side effects can range from mild to serious and include headache, nervousness, sleep problems, vomiting, diarrhea, irritability, irregular heartbeat, tremor, heartburn, dizziness, ringing in the ears, convulsions, and confusion. Green tea seems to reduce the absorption of iron from food. Drinking very high doses of green tea is LIKELY UNSAFE and can actually be fatal. The fatal dose of caffeine in green tea is estimated to be 10-14 grams (150-200 mg per kilogram).”(http://www.rxlist.com/green_tea/supplements.htm)

Like any change in your diet, talk to your health professionals to see if green tea consumption is appropriate for you. But it is generally regarded as safe. Moderation and proper preparation are the keys to getting health benefits from green tea.

How to brew green tea correctly
The best way to brew loose tea is in a strainer that allows the individual leaves to unfurl and steep properly. When brewed at the range of 122 to 180 degrees for a minute, a good quality green tea can be brewed multiple times from the same serving. Preparing green tea in the traditional Chinese way ensures a good tasting tea that isn’t bitter. Steeping a green tea for too long or too hot ruins the tea and isn’t worth drinking. If caffeine is a concern, discard the first brew after steeping for 30 seconds and drink the subsequent brews. This works for any caffeinated tea, by the way.

With dozens of varieties of green tea available, good health is just a cup away.

Pubmed studies on the benefits of green tea
1. Helicobacter. 2015 Apr 10: Dietary Intervention of Artemisia and Green Tea Extracts to Rejuvenate Helicobacter pylori-Associated Chronic Atrophic Gastritis and to Prevent Tumorigenesis.
2. J Cancer Prev. 2015 Mar: Primary cancer prevention by green tea, and tertiary cancer prevention by the combination of green tea catechins and anticancer compounds.
3. Genes Cancer. 2015 Jan: Polyphenols from green tea inhibit the growth of melanoma cells through inhibition of class I histone deacetylases and induction of DNA damage.
4. Neural Regen Res. 2015 Jan: Allograft pretreatment for the repair of sciatic nerve defects: green tea polyphenols versus radiation.
5. Onco Targets Ther. 2015 Feb 20: Epigallocatechin-3-gallate suppresses cell proliferation and promotes apoptosis and autophagy in oral cancer SSC-4 cells.
6. Exp Gerontol. 2014 Feb: Epigallocatechin-3-gallate improves plantaris muscle recovery after disuse in aged rats.
7. Iran J Basic Med Sci. 2014 Oct: Chinese green tea consumption reduces oxidative stress, inflammation and tissues damage in smoke exposed rats.
8. Br J Nutr. 2011 Apr: Epigallocatechin gallate delays the onset of type 1 diabetes in spontaneous non-obese diabetic mice.

Nicole Noles Collins is a licensed acupuncture physician and massage therapist at Vitalichi Acupuncture in Port Charlotte, Florida. Nicole has two bachelor’s degrees – Alternative Medicine and Professional Health Sciences – as well as a master’s degree in Traditional Chinese Medicine. She has a passion for both writing and natural health. Please visit her website at www.pcacupuncture.abmp.com and like her Facebook page at Vitalichi Acupuncture. For more information, call 941-979-9793.

The tongue tells tales of your current health

Go ahead, stick your tongue out at me. I won’t be offended. Didn’t brush your tongue? Even better.

A patient’s tongue doesn’t lie; it provides valuable clues to internal health and is an important part of the physical exam in Chinese Medicine.

The tongue, like the ear, is a map of sorts to the body, as well as the only muscle of the body you can actually see. The front of the tongue represents the upper jiao, or the upper third portion of the body from the chest up. The middle of the tongue tells about the status of the internal organs, and the back third of the tongue corresponds to the pelvic region, or lower jiao. By looking at the color of the tongue, its shape, size, the coat and any markings on the tongue, an acupuncture physician can assess or confirm diagnostic signs or symptoms in a patient.

Stressed out and anxious? The tip of your tongue may be red and pointed. Is your tongue scalloped on the sides? You may be worrying too much and clenching your teeth.

In Chinese Medicine, an acupuncturist likes to see a thin white coat on a healthy pink tongue. A thicker coat can indicate problems with Phlegm (a type of pathogenic factor in Chinese Medicine) and no coat can indicate Yin Deficiency (a term that loosely translates to a lack of bodily fluids). A pale tongue can indicate Blood Deficiency (which is similar to, but not exactly like anemia in western medical terms) and a red tongue can indicate that Heat (our term for inflammation) is present.

A popular health clue circulated on the Internet reminds people to look for a deviated tongue as a possible sign of stroke. This can be a powerful clue when combined with other signs of stroke such as slurred speech or one-sided paralysis, but it’s not the only reason for a deviated tongue. I used to freak out my classmates whenever they looked at my tongue. The minute I stuck out my tongue, the next question they asked was about history of strokes. Nope. One of the side effects of TMJ for me is a deviated tongue, and when I get regular massage on my neck, scalp and jaw, it straightens out temporarily. So even in tongue diagnosis, there are no absolutes. But it is a good baseline indicator of health.

If you are wondering what your body is up to on the inside, stick your tongue out and just look in the mirror.

Nicole Noles Collins is a licensed acupuncture physician and massage therapist at Vitalichi Acupuncture in Port Charlotte, Florida. Nicole has two bachelor’s degrees – Alternative Medicine and Professional Health Sciences – as well as a master’s degree in Traditional Chinese Medicine. She has a passion for both writing and natural health. Please visit her website at www.pcacupuncture.abmp.com and like her Facebook page at Vitalichi Acupuncture. For more information, call 941-979-9793.

Auricular medicine offers needle-free acupuncture on the go

What’s the No. 1 comment I hear when I tell people I practice acupuncture?

“I hate needles.”

Aside from the fact that many of these same people also sport tattoos, this is a pretty normal reaction to needles, because most of the time needles equal uncomfortable but often necessary medical procedures. That’s when I usually launch into my “4-S” spiel about how acupuncture needles are small (about the width of a human hair), solid (which means less painful), sterile and safe.

Sometimes, though, that’s not enough to convince someone to try acupuncture, even if they have medical conditions that can be helped by acupuncture. So that’s when I start telling them about auricular therapy.

Auricular therapy is a fancy term for placing needles, plant seeds or crystals in or on the ear based on reflex points. Similar to Western reflexology, which uses the feet as a road map for the body, auricular medicine uses the ear as a map of the human body.

In Chinese medical theory, the ear is like an upside-down baby, with the head at the bottom of the lobe, the spine at the curve of the ear and the internal organs on the inside of the ear. By using a tiny probe to press on the ear, an acupuncture physician can find tender spots that may correspond to areas of imbalance in the body. Then the acupuncturist places a set amount of tiny, sterile seeds stuck to band-aids on those exact spots. The patient goes home in 15 minutes or less and presses on the seeds two or three times a day for about five days. After that, the patient takes off the seeds and washes their ear with warm soapy water. After a day of rest, the treatment can be repeated.

There are several advantages to using ear seeds. It’s great to use on younger patients who may not sit still for regular acupuncture. It’s also great for people who don’t have 1 to 2 hours for a traditional acupuncture treatment. And because it lasts for five days, it’s good for addressing anxiety, cravings and pain.

The downside is, if a patient doesn’t press the seeds a few times a day, the treatment doesn’t work. That’s because the pressing of the reflex points on the ear gives the brain a little wake-up call to go check in with the corresponding part of the body.

Sometimes patients are uncomfortable with the thought other people can see the seeds, but crystal seeds? That looks classy. You can take that look to the office any day.

When I was in school, I used ear seeds to help relieve my TMJ pain almost every week. One set of seeds per week, and I didn’t even notice my jaw discomfort. Once I became pregnant, though, my teachers told me the ear seeds were verboten, mainly because of the type of seed used.

After a few weeks or months of using the seeds, the body can become complacent and stop responding to the ear seeds, so sometimes it’s appropriate to take a break from seeds for a period of time, just like with regular acupuncture. Even without seeds, you can still practice auricular therapy at home by giving your ears a gentle massage, from bottom to top, once or twice a day for a quick pick-me-up.

That’s also a good way to get to know your ears and to check for lumps, scaly patches or other changes in your ear. While you’re at it, don’t forget the sunscreen if you are taking your ears outside in our beautiful Florida sunshine.

If you are pressed for time but still want to address your health issues, just lend an ear, and you just might find the relief you’re looking for.

Nicole Noles Collins is a licensed acupuncture physician and massage therapist at Vitalichi Acupuncture in Port Charlotte, Florida. Nicole has two bachelor’s degrees – Alternative Medicine and Professional Health Sciences – as well as a master’s degree in Traditional Chinese Medicine. She has a passion for both writing and natural health. Please visit her website at www.pcacupuncture.abmp.com and like her Facebook page at Vitalichi Acupuncture. For more information, call 941-979-9793.

Chinese Medicine is more than just needles

Say the word acupuncture, and immediately many people conjure up an image of pincushion patients with needles sticking out of them from every direction. And don’t forget the pain. Acupuncture is supposed to be really painful, right?

Not so.

The reality is that acupuncture is just one branch of the Chinese Medicine umbrella, and it’s not even the most important branch. Needling a patient is the most visible form of Chinese Medicine, but there is much more going on behind the scenes. An acupuncture physician not only treats patients with acupuncture, but educates patients on the five pillars of Chinese Medicine in order of importance: Diet, exercise, bodywork, herbal medicine and acupuncture.

Diet: Your acupuncturist knows that food is medicine; that’s why it is top of the list of the five pillars. With every bite of food, a person is either fighting disease or fueling it. And people eat way more than they get acupuncture! Just because diet is the top pillar doesn’t mean a person has to convert to veganism or give up their favorite food to be healthy. If Chinese Medicine had one keyword, it would be balance. When it comes to diet, that means creating meals that look like a rainbow, with a variety of color and flavor, including meat as a garnish, not a main dish. That also means not feeling guilty about eating “sinful” foods once in while, either, because being healthy shouldn’t be a painful sacrifice. Hydration is also a part of the first pillar. It’s a rare person who couldn’t improve their intake of water. As part of your office visit, your acupuncture physician will sit down with you and offer nutritional suggestions, but not a diet, tailored to your health goals.

Exercise: The goal of Chinese Medicine is to keep “qi” moving. The basic definition of qi is energy and oxygen. You need both to stay healthy. Gentle movement improves energy and circulation, keeps the muscles toned and the joints well-lubricated. Your acupuncturist will need to know what your daily activity levels are, and may suggest incorporating more movement into your day. Tai chi and yoga are excellent ways to care for the whole body in low-impact ways, but your acupuncturist will make suggestions based on what’s best for you. It’s up to you to also talk with your other health care providers and develop an activity routine best suited for your needs. Remember, qi equals energy, movement and life. The more you move, the more you can maintain good health.

Bodywork: The third pillar of Chinese Medicine is bodywork, and that’s no surprise, because brains are hardwired to respond to touch. People thrive on healthy touch. Regular therapeutic massage and chiropractic helps the body respond to stress more efficiently and keeps the joints mobile. In America, acupuncturists do not practice the chiropractic aspects of Chinese bodywork unless they are dual licensed. However, other forms of bodywork are included in their scope, and that could be tui na (Chinese massage), cupping, acupressure, etc. Many acupuncturists are also dual licensed in massage as well.

Herbal Medicine: Here’s where people’s perception of Chinese Medicine starts meshing with the reality of the five pillars. Herbal medicine is a big part of Chinese Medicine, and it’s considered to be a less invasive form of treatment than acupuncture. Your acupuncture physician is trained to provide guidance on what herbs and supplements are appropriate for a patient’s needs, but it’s important that a patient be honest about everything they take, from pharmaceutical medicines, to herbs, supplements and over-the-counter-medications. All of these play a big part in creating the chemical landscape in a patient’s body, and not everyone should be taking herbs or extra supplements. Just because Dr. Oz thinks something is awesome does not mean it’s awesome for you. Seek guidance from your team of medical professionals, including your acupuncturist, before you try something new.

Acupuncture: Finally — the needles! This is what people envision when they think of Chinese Medicine. It’s not voodoo, you don’t have to change religions, or even believe the needles will work in order to have a good treatment. Acupuncture works on what are called channels, or meridians, which are lines of energy that are connected to specific physiological functions. These physiological functions are not grouped or named in western medical terms, but they do conform to specific patterns that your acupuncturist is trained to look for. These meridians cover the entire body, usually starting or ending in the face, hands or feet. After 5,000 years, we can finally see them by injecting radioactive dye or using ultrasound. These meridians travel in the spaces between fascia, or the connective tissue that covers all muscles and organs in a three-dimensional web. Nothing is wasted in the human body, not even the “spaces.” Acupuncture physicians use their knowledge of these channels to give specific instructions to a patient’s nervous system by placing hair-thin, solid and sterile needles in specific locations. Each time a patient gets an acupuncture treatment, they are getting an individually written “computer” health program written just for them. The brain picks up the instructions and then begins to “run” the program. Sometimes results show quickly; sometimes it takes several sessions, depending on how much “malware” a patient has. Acupuncture is a lot like going to the gym. A patient can’t work out once, lose 20 lbs. and never have to exercise again. Acupuncture is just one tool to help patients re-balance their physiological functions.

The bottom line is that there is no “magic cure” or one solution that fixes everything. It takes a good balance of the five pillars to create a solid foundation for good health. Like work and taxes, health is an investment that everyone spends time on sooner or later. Chinese Medicine is a proven map to good health, no matter what pillar a patient finds themselves on at any given time.

Nicole Noles Collins is a licensed acupuncture physician and massage therapist at Vitalichi Acupuncture in Port Charlotte, Florida. Nicole has two bachelor’s degrees – Alternative Medicine and Professional Health Sciences – as well as a master’s degree in Traditional Chinese Medicine. She has a passion for both writing and natural health. Please visit her website at www.pcacupuncture.abmp.com and like her Facebook page at Vitalichi Acupuncture. For more information, call 941-979-9793.

Mom was right – wear your scarf!

Fall finally made it here to Florida and – gasp – people are actually putting on long pants and closed-toe shoes. Along with fall wardrobe changes come cold and flu season, too. In Traditional Chinese Medicine, we not only treat colds and flu, which we call Wind Heat or Wind Cold depending on its presentation, we like to prevent them too.

Regardless of your geographic location, it’s time to stock up on a variety of hats, hoodies, scarves, and gloves. Mom was right; dressing appropriately for the weather is important for preventing illness.

In TCM, our terms for “disease” sound a lot like weather patterns. The most common “pathogen” we treat is Wind. TCM theory tells us that wind enters through the back of the neck before moving to other parts of the body. Think about the last time you got a chill. First you feel it the neck; it stiffens up and your shoulders get tense too. Then maybe you start with the chills and fever, or the headache. And when Wind invades the body from the outside, it likes to bring friends like Heat, Cold and Damp. They’re all BFFs in the TCM world.

If only you could stop Wind from getting in your body in the first place. That’s where Mom, and her reminders for dressing warmly, come into play. Covering the back of the neck and the head makes it harder for you to get chilled, i.e. Wind to enter the body. That’s why I keep my hair long as a constant protection against Wind. And when it is cold, or I know I am going out on the harbor, I cover the back of my neck with either a collared shirt or a scarf. Wearing a hat also adds protection, but remember the neck is vital to keep covered. It is also why in TCM theory mothers who just gave birth are encouraged not to wash their hair. Chilling the back of the neck after such a strenuous activity and blood loss leads to bone bi (arthritis) later in life, as Wind gets a wide-open door to settle down in the bones because the blood vessels are deprived of a large volume of blood and Wind travels to the bones in that suddenly empty space.

On the opposite side of the body, the feet are sensitive to and conduits of Cold, which is why acupuncture physicians tell you to always wear shoes, especially on tile floors. The Kidney channel, which is the meridian in charge of our lifelong energy and genetics, starts on the sole of the foot. The Kidney channel is connected to the low back and knees. If you have pain in either area, check to see if they are cold to the touch. If they are, then you know you have a little more work to do to keep them warm. The Kidney channel’s BFF, the Urinary Bladder channel, starts at the inner eye, travels over the scalp and down the back in two lines, and down the back of the legs and knees until it reaches the little toe. So Cold on the feet affects the two channels connected to the back.

Here in the US, we wear back braces for heavy lifting to protect the back. In China, they have a padded version that older people wear to protect the lower back from Cold. I don’t think it is a coincidence that the Japanese obi have a large sash at the back, either.

The take home point is TCM theory is a lot like Mom’s common sense. Keep important parts of the body warm, and you will be healthier. Your acupuncture physician will give you what may seem to be simple suggestions during your office visits, but creating good daily habits go a long way toward keeping you healthy when you aren’t getting needled.

Now go put a scarf on.

Nicole Noles Collins is a licensed acupuncture physician and massage therapist at Vitalichi Acupuncture in Port Charlotte, Florida. Nicole has two bachelor’s degrees – Alternative Medicine and Professional Health Sciences – as well as a master’s degree in Traditional Chinese Medicine. She has a passion for both writing and natural health. Please visit her website at www.pcacupuncture.abmp.com and like her Facebook page at Vitalichi Acupuncture. For more information, call 941-979-9793.

Faith vs. Medicine: Why acupuncture does not conflict with religion

Traditional Chinese Medicine is well-respected in Asia. After all, it grew up there. Here in America however, Chinese Medicine quietly accompanied the Asians who helped build the continental railroad in the 1800s. (To learn more, visit http://cprr.org/Museum/Chinese.html). It stayed under the radar until President Nixon’s historic trip to China in the 1970s. This was a pivotal moment for acupuncture in America, and it opened a whole new world of medicine to the U.S.

Now, in 2012, acupuncture has almost become a household world. Most people have at least heard of it. Still, people are hesitant to embrace this 5,000-year-old medicine. The two biggest concerns I hear are 1) I hate needles (understandable! But I have a way around that which I’ll share in another blog) and 2) But I’m Christian. I don’t believe in Qi.

What people are trying to articulate here is the misconception that by getting acupuncture to treat your health concerns, you are somehow converting to the religion of Qi and contradicting your current religious beliefs. Not so.

We’ve contributed to this ourselves by way of mistranslation. The Chinese style of writing is beautiful, symbolic and poetic in a way that English can never aspire to. This makes a true translation of any Chinese term impossible, since there is no way to articulate every nuance of just a single character, which has layer upon layer of meaning. So what you get is the best rough approximation in English that is the easiest to understand.

Unfortunately, Qi is one of those words that is most difficult to understand, because by its very nature, you can not see it, you can only feel it. Qi is the pin yin word, which uses the English alphabet to approximate the pronunciation of the Chinese word. Think of pin yin as the bridge between English and Chinese. The written Chinese character for Qi shows steam rising from a bowl of rice. It is the picture of steam in this instance that conveys the essence of Qi – the invisible force that animates all life. It’s so easy to just say Qi is “life force energy,” but that definition misses so much. Depending on who is doing the translating, you may instead hear that Qi is oxygen, a much more scientific and technical term. Yet oxygen (or Qi) is still the life force that animates all things, is it not? And if you don’t have it, you will certainly feel its absence quickly!

There is certainly a spiritual quality to the breath; most religions reference it in some way. There is also a mechanical and physical quality to the breath, and it can be performed for you with a respirator if you cannot breathe. But you do not need to believe in the religious quality of your breath or oxygen in order to breathe – your body will do it automatically for you. And so it is with Qi. It circulates in your body whether you consciously will it to or not.

But what about those funky meridians acupuncturists talk about? Meridians are the channels that Qi circulates in. We think of oxygen as only circulating in the blood, but if it does not reach every cell in your body there will be dysfunction or death. Same with Qi, but it has special channels, or meridians, that you can not see with dissection. Here’s my theory of why we can’t dissect a meridian:

Each muscle fiber in your body has a covering, or fascia. This fascia also covers bundles of muscle fibers. Then it also covers whole muscles, and groups of muscles plus organ systems. The entire network of fascia intertwines in a three-dimensional way that takes a lot of patience to unwind. And these networks of fascia create the spaces we call meridians. I can tell you where the meridians travel, and I can show you the fascia, but that was closest we could get to the meridians until we developed radiation and ultrasound technology. Now our technology is catching up to a point where we can document the meridian points and pathways instead of just taking it on “faith”. For the technically inclined you may want to check out these links and decide for yourself:

The Biophysics: Basis for Acupuncture and Health
http://www.amazon.com/The-Biophysics-Basis-Acupuncture-Health/dp/0974826103

No one practices Traditional Chinese Medicine as a religion. You are not required to believe in Buddha, Kwan Yin, or any other Asian deity to get results from acupuncture. There are no weekly services to get blessed with Qi. Just like any other aspect of health, you have to cultivate Qi with good habits and supplement it with herbs, acupuncture, wise dietary choices, and gentle exercise.

Remember, TCM has a 5,000-year history, which is a lot of time to practice and get things right. So it certainly is not an alternative or untested medicine. You don’t have to take it on faith – or change your faith – to get good results with acupuncture. A healthy dose of skepticism and an open mind are all it takes, and of course, showing up for your appointment on time. Ask your priest for religious advice and let your acupuncture physician take care of your health and your Qi with a valid, time-tested medicine – just don’t ask us for religious advice!

Nicole Noles Collins is a licensed acupuncture physician and massage therapist at Vitalichi Acupuncture in Port Charlotte, Florida. Nicole has two bachelor’s degrees – Alternative Medicine and Professional Health Sciences – as well as a master’s degree in Traditional Chinese Medicine. She has a passion for both writing and natural health. Please visit her website at www.pcacupuncture.abmp.com and like her Facebook page at Vitalichi Acupuncture. For more information, call 941-979-9793.