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.

Slippery Elm Tea helps ease Diverticulitis and Diverticulosis symptoms

I inadvertently got diagnosed with Diverticulitis a couple of years ago, when I started back working at the office while I finished acupuncture school. Every night for the first two weeks back to work I woke up with a racing heart, anxiety and chest discomfort that wouldn’t let me go back to sleep. Finally I went to the ER, and my heart was just peachy keen, thank you very much.

So I expected to get diagnosed with panic attacks (which I’m pretty sure it was) but there was one puzzling symptom – my pain improved when I held my arms above my head for the MRI. (If I had figured that out earlier, I could have saved myself a middle-of-the-night trip to the ER!) The MRI comes back, and it turns out I had diverticulosis in my upper left quadrant. According to the ER doc, it was pushing up against my diaphragm and causing the chest discomfort.

Well, OK, I’m in my 40s, it’s certainly plausible, but I hadn’t had any abdominal distress. It took me awhile to piece together that the ongoing cramping, gas and discomfort was probably a sign something was amiss more than just lactose intolerance.

Along with this new diagnosis came a new sensitivity to foods, or a sensitivity I hadn’t noticed before. Popcorn and nuts were no longer my friends. After studying for my boards with a bag of kettle corn by my side, I spent the next three days in abdominal agony. Ditto with nuts. Or the bag of plantain chips that helped me get through a Saturday workday at home. Small, crunchy foods were the enemy – an enemy I loved and wanted more of.

Fortunately, slippery elm was my knight in shining armor.

Slippery elm is an unusual herb. It comes from a tree that grows in the north, and can be used as a food, much like you would eat oatmeal, but with a hint of maple under the blandness. It’s been said the battle of Valley Forge was won by Washington’s troops because they were able to live on this porridge through the winter. Back in the day, the bark was chewed on much like we chew gum today.

The mucilage properties of slippery elm improve conditions where coating mucous membranes is needed: sore throats, acid reflux, IBS, diverticulitis or bronchitis. As it coats, it also draws out toxins and reduces inflammation, giving those sensitive tissues time (and a barrier) to heal. It’s like putting a band-aid on the inside of the body. A poultice can also be made for exterior inflammation such as boils, skin diseases or infections.

The other important property of slippery elm is its ability to expand. The tea, when steeped, will swell like any other fiber. As the slippery elm absorbs water in the digestive tract, it expands and gently cleans out the intestines. So when I over-indulge in those foods I know I shouldn’t, out comes the slippery elm tea, and I’m feeling better within a day or so. Really, though, I should also be drinking this as a maintenance tea once or twice a week as well. And why not? It’s loaded with nutrition. Remember how I said slippery elm is a food? It can be a protein source for vegetarians, and contains vitamins A, B-complex, C, E, and K. It also contains minerals like calcium, iron, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, silicon, selenium, sodium, and zinc.

Some other random things I do to help my diverticulosis are:

  • Mixing nuts or chips with softer foods instead of eating them straight, or eating them in very small handfuls and small amounts.
  • Chewing food thoroughly is an often overlooked, but important lifestyle change. I’m usually a quick eater, which puts strain on the digestive system. If you don’t chew your food to a near-liquid, your digestive system has to work harder and your intestines are processing lumps of food, not the ideal near-liquid consistency it needs. Try to chew 50 times before swallowing. Whatever number you get to, it’s probably better than what you’ve been chewing. A little extra time in the mouth is worth less discomfort in the abdomen.
  • Aloe juice can also be a big help, but it’s not tasty. It coats the intestines much like slippery elm, although it does not have its fibrous qualities. If you do try aloe juice, remember more is NOT better. Start with an ounce or so. If you take too big of a serving it will clean you out in more ways than one!

Be kind to your belly, and if it’s having a rough time, soothe the savage pains with a dose of slippery elm. It’s a gentle and inexpensive way to get relief.

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.