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.

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.

Skin care starts from the inside out

A lot of people mistake me for my daughter’s older sister. Most people don’t peg me for 40 unless they see me first thing in the morning (I’m definitely NOT a morning person). Although I do sport quite a deep liver line (in Chinese medicine we call the crease between the eyes the liver line – it’s an indicator of stress or eyestrain) the rest of my face is fairly wrinkle free.

I get a lot of compliments on my skin, but that wasn’t always the case. I had the chicken pox twice as a child, and the second time left me badly scarred on my forehead and nose. Severe acne runs in my family too, and I certainly wasn’t immune as a teen. And my fellow TCM students saw firsthand the severe case of rosacea plus melasma I dealt with during my last pregnancy / miscarriage. I battled that for two years before getting it under control (but not cured, it’s a chronic thing). So I’ve learned a lot about skin issues. And I’ve been on the wrong side of staring and rude comments too.

Like it or not, people do judge other people by their skin. But it’s not just about beauty – our skin is the biggest organ of protection we have, and we as a society tend to treat it like a measure of beauty only and not of health. It’s not vain to take care of your skin; it’s just as important as taking care of the rest of you.

If you want beautiful skin, you have to be willing to work on it everyday for the rest of your life. It’s not hard, but it does take a little discipline and some dietary adjustments.

Here are my DOs and DON’Ts for beautiful skin:

• DO drink water. There is no substitute for hydrating your skin. If you are low on water, your internal organs get first dibs and shorts your skin. The rule of thumb I use is drinking half my body weight in ounces each day. Mind you, I don’t always make that benchmark, but I see a huge difference when I do stay hydrated. I especially love Voss water from Norway. I also keep an AquaGear water filter pitcher in the office. Nix the crystal light packets or anything with artificial sugar; there are plenty of cleaner versions of flavor packets available now. You can deal, especially if you have a good tasting water. Add a slice of lemon or lime if you have to have a little flavor.

• DO see a professional. It’s your choice whether you see a dermatologist, esthetician, Chinese doctor, or any combination. My dad and sister see a doctor. I have an awesome skin care specialist Nadine Toriello who helped me get my skin back to healthy. There are quite a few Chinese herbal formulas to help acne and itchy skin too. I used one to help help with the itching. Whichever route you go, it’s important to not pay attention to other people’s well-meaning but perhaps not accurate advice. Everyone who took one look at the oozing, itchy red-butterfly shaped mess on my face had a fix for me. Most of it made my face worse, not better. (And no, I don’t have lupus. I was diagnosed with a severe form of rosacea, pyoderma faciale, by a doctor. I also had symptoms as a child but had no idea what it was back then). Even some professionals I saw recommended things I felt weren’t appropriate, and it turned out they weren’t. So listen to your inner voice, and if you don’t see good results or it aggravates your skin don’t be afraid to speak up.

• DO create a full beauty routine. Emu oil is my go-to topical product, which I use daily. I also have a corrective makeup pallet that I can use to cover whatever blemishes I have. There’s nothing wrong with making your skin look the best it can every day.

• DO wear sunscreen. Every day. It will make a difference.

• DO remember that your skin “eats.” If you wouldn’t put it in your mouth, don’t put it on your skin. I use all natural soaps and neem shampoo (especially important since your hair gets on your face all the time). What I do get is amazingly soft and not-dry skin with a clean feeling that no other soap matches. Even the stuff in health food stores can be full of junk like gluten, parabens, phthalates, petrolatum or sulfates. Read labels. Every time.

• DO get a good night’s sleep each night. Enough said.

• DON’T drink alcohol, coffee, black or red teas, chocolate or spicy foods; limit the dairy and red meat too. Inflammation starts from the inside, and most of it comes from our diet. A lifetime of poor diet choices will show up on your face. My skin looks so much better when I avoid these things. I can see a difference within hours if I eat something inappropriate for my skin. Yes, it hurts. This is the hardest change to make, I won’t lie, but it is worth it. And when you do indulge, make sure the situation is worth it. You may want to invest in a good anti-inflammation diet book if you are ready to go hard-core. I think Dr. Perricone has one.

• DON’T touch or scratch your face. Wash your hands before and after if you must touch  your face. My rosacea itched and flaked so bad! It was nasty, and it was hard not to mess with it. That’s one reason why it’s so important to get a good serum for your face – if your skin isn’t itchy, you won’t touch it, and it will heal faster.

• DON’T let stress get to you – it will show up on your face! Massage, aromatherapy and acupuncture treat stress well.

• DON’T use those fancy microderm abrasion cloths unless your skin care professional tells you to. Learned that one the hard way too.

And here is the most important tip to remember:

• DO tell yourself you are beautiful, every time you look in the mirror. It doesn’t matter how scarred or acne-ridden or itchy your face is. It doesn’t matter what other people think or say about it either. You are beautiful, exactly the way you are. OWN IT! You deserve to feel beautiful everyday of your life.

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.